Winter holidays in your motorhome: Tips + Checklist

Holidays in the freezing cold, snow and frost are especially enjoyable if you can return to a warm and welcoming holiday home at the end of each day. For winter campers, nothing beats the feeling of getting nice and cosy inside your own camping vehicle. In this article about winter camping, HYMER offers valuable tips and a detailed checklist for anyone planning a winter adventure in their motorhome.

Checklist: How to prepare for winter camping in a motorhome

In this checklist you will find everything from preparatory steps to extra accessories for icy days – for the perfect winter camping experience.

A winterproof motorhome is always the best choice

Anyone travelling in a motorhome in cold temperatures will appreciate some extra space inside. Therefore, for winter trips, it is advisable to choose a slightly larger home-from-home. This will ensure there is enough room for bulky clothing, winter boots and all the extras that simply aren’t needed in summer.

Winterproof motorhomes are also much more comfortable in ice and snow. This goes without saying, as a vehicle designed to withstand winter conditions will naturally provide a greater level of comfort for its owners. By ensuring that your chosen model is equipped with

  • a heating system,
  • optimised insulation
  • and heated fresh water and waste water tanks

you will not only have less to worry about when planning your holiday – this will also save you time during the trip. The good news is that every HYMER motorhome is actually a winterproof model. Our experts are aware that many customers want to use their motorhome in winter and therefore design all models with the corresponding features.

However, even if you own a small, compact HYMER Camper Van, you can still enjoy travelling in winter. These vehicles can accommodate a surprising amount of equipment thanks to well thought-out storage space options. Therefore, with some careful planning and clever packing you will be perfectly equipped for a successful winter holiday in your motorhome. And by choosing appropriate optional extras and matching accessories, you can turn your HYMER Camper Van into the perfect companion for the cold season.

First things first: the frost monitor

A key component for motorhomes in winter is the frost monitor or FrostControl, which is installed as standard in conjunction with the Truma Combi heater. This is a safety valve that protects the boiler tank in combination heaters. In its normal state, the frost monitor is locked. However, if it gets too cold, the valve opens and the boiler is drained until empty. This serves to prevent damage to the pipes and boiler from frozen water. Due to the capillary effect, occasionally the fresh water tank empties as well as the boiler.

However, instead of waiting until the temperature is at or below freezing point, the frost monitor is triggered as soon the temperature falls to around three degrees Celsius. This is because the boiler must be emptied before the pipes have a chance to freeze up.

Once the valve opens, it does not close again until the temperature rises to around six degrees Celsius. Therefore, it is important to keep the vehicle warm enough to prevent the frost monitor from triggering unnecessarily.

For vehicles that do not have a frost monitor, when the outdoor temperature is low and the vehicle is unheated, the water should be drained manually to prevent damage to the appliances.

Electricity, gas and water in winter

In winter, you will obviously expect to spend longer in the dark and cold compared to the summer months. Therefore, you will need to ensure that you are constantly well supplied with electricity, gas and water.

Power requirements for winter camping

It is also worth keeping an extra eye on your vehicle’s batteries in low temperatures, as they are more prone to discharge and reduced performance in cold weather. Since winter camping in a motorhome usually requires more power than in other seasons, relying solely on the battery is not recommended. At campsites, it makes sense to use the shore power connection that is usually available.

Attention! Lay the power cables so that they cannot freeze to the ground or other objects. Furthermore, it is important not to lay the cables in areas where snow ploughs or spreaders could damage them. You should always use compatible power cables with a suitable conductor cross-section which do not exceed the maximum permissible length.

If you want to use the solar panels on your motorhome in winter, you should make sure that they are free of snow and ice. In addition, you should not expect them to deliver the same yields as in the summer. As a rule, the panels’ performance decreases in winter – another good reason to connect to the mains.

Stock up on gas for winter camping in a motorhome

In wintertime, you will also consume significantly more gas due to the fact that you will need to heat your motorhome more or less around the clock. According to the experts, an 11 kg gas bottle will last for three to four days before it needs to be replaced with a full one. Therefore, be prepared to refill or exchange gas bottles at your destination.

When it comes to your gas supply, it is also essential to ensure the correct mixing ratios. Butane is no longer gaseous at temperatures of zero degrees Celsius, whereas propane is. For this reason, a high propane content is essential in cold climates.

To find out whether or when you will need a new gas bottle, it is worthwhile investing in special level indicators that can measure the contents of a gas bottle, for example by means of ultrasound.

Another useful accessory for your motorhome is an automatic gas-bottle-switching system with crash sensor and “Eis-Ex” heating element. These systems offer numerous advantages.

Tip: gas supplies when travelling abroad

There are no standardised gas bottles or connections in the EU or Europe. Depending on the country, the bottle shape and size and/or the connection valve may differ. Therefore, you should ideally familiarise yourself with the common gas systems in your destination country before starting your journey. In any case, it is advisable to carry special adapter sets that will enable you to attach gas bottles with different connectors to your vehicle’s gas system or refill your own gas bottle while abroad.

Extra tip: If there is an existing external gas line at the campsite, it is a good idea to use this during the winter. You should contact the campsite in advance to enquire about this.

 

Advantages of a gas-bottle-switching system with crash sensor and Eis-Ex heating element

  • The gas system can also be operated while driving and the shut-off valves do not need to be closed.

  • The system automatically detects when one gas bottle is empty and then automatically switches to the other one. For example, this could remove the need to go outside at night to change the gas bottle.

  • The system’s (optional) Eis-Ex heating element prevents the pressure regulator from freezing and ensures a reliable supply of gas even at very low temperatures.

Tips for your water supply in winter

We have already explained one of the key points when it comes to ensuring an adequate supply of water in winter; namely, using the frost monitor correctly. In addition, it is essential that you take steps to keep all pipes and tanks free of ice. If your vehicle is equipped with insulated and heated tanks, this will never be an issue. However, this problem can be solved in other vehicles by using special heat mats and heat tape.

For extra comfort: If your motorhome does not have an insulated and heated waste water tank, open the drain while parked on a pitch and place a bucket underneath. This will allow the waste water to drain directly from the tank for proper disposal.

Tyres and snow chains:
For a secure grip on ice and snow

If you plan to drive a motorhome in winter, you should always make sure you have the right tyres. After all, the roads can become extremely slippery very quickly in low temperatures. The main purpose of winter tyres is to increase the personal safety of all occupants while also protecting other road users.

In addition, in certain countries (e.g. Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Czech Republic or Austria for vehicles over 3.5 t) there is a legal obligation to fit winter tyres during certain periods. In Germany and Austria (for vehicles up to 3.5 t), drivers are legally obliged to use tyres that are suitable for the prevailing conditions. Violations are punished with severe fines and penalties. Equipping your motorhome with winter tyres will therefore prevent a number of problems and hazards.

However, in some regions, you will need more than just the right tyres. On extremely slippery surfaces, a combination of winter tyres and snow chains is required to ensure safe driving. Although the use of snow chains is not generally required by law in all countries, they may be mandatory in particular regions or when driving on certain stretches of road – and there is no harm in including them in your winter luggage. In some areas, however, snow chains must be carried by law. For example, this is the case in South Tyrol and Norway – and regardless of the weight of the motorhome.

Tip: Before starting your journey, find out about the regulations in force on your route and at your destination as well as which road signs, if any, refer to the relevant regulations.

Ventilation and heating:
This is how it works

No matter how cosy things get when winter camping in a motorhome – proper ventilation is and remains one of the most key measures to prevent a build-up of damp and mould. To ensure this, open

  • the windows,
  • the roof hatch
  • and the doors

as wide as possible at least twice a day. This will create a draught and ensure the interior air is effectively exchanged. The fresh, cool air that flows into the motorhome can then absorb more moisture for a pleasant indoor climate. 

Tip to prevent damp: If snow trousers, jacket and boots are still wet after a long day in the snow, it is not a good idea to dry them inside the motorhome. Ideally, you should place them in special drying rooms on the campsite. Alternatively, you can hang up your clothes in the awning. If you absolutely must dry winter clothing inside your vehicle, we recommend hanging it up in the shower on a special bar provided for this purpose.

Correct heating

Of course, the purpose of the heating system is to provide pleasant warmth inside your motorhome. With this in mind, make sure that the heat can be distributed as evenly as possible throughout the interior and do not cover the outlets with items of clothing or newspapers. The gas bottle should also contain a healthy amount of gas. To avoid overly taxing the heater, it is also important that

the air intakes are free of ice and snow
and that any thermal bridges (e.g. the windscreen) are covered.

Caution! Never block your motorhome’s forced ventilation openings as they are designed to protect you from carbon monoxide poisoning.

To make it even warmer and cosier inside your motorhome, it is a good idea to build up a wall of snow around the base of the vehicle to prevent currents of cold air from passing underneath the floor, which can cool down the interior noticeably.

Useful winter accessories

A holiday in a motorhome, watching snow flurries outside the window while enjoying a warming cup of tea, can be one of the most romantic winter experiences of all. However, this should not blind you to the fact that winter also has some unique challenges in store. It is therefore advisable to add useful tools to your packing list, such as

  • an ice scraper,
  • a pocket torch,
  • a snow shovel.

Other items that could prove useful in winter and that we recommend taking with you are

  • a set of suitable jumper cables,
  • work gloves for icy temperatures,
  • a de-icer spray for locks,
  • a broom and shovel

Attention! If you are on the road in winter when it is snowing, it may be necessary to clear snow off your motorhome. Always do so at the first opportunity, because a large build-up of compacted snow on the roof can be hard to shift.

Recommended product:
  • Bonus winter warmer

    To make things even cosier at night, place the HYMER electric blanket under the fitted sheet and preheat it before going to bed. You could also use a floor heating foil or a heated carpet to help prevent cold feet inside your motorhome.
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Technical checks before your trip

If you will be using your motorhome in winter, test the lighting system ahead of time to make sure it is working flawlessly. It is also advisable to connect the vehicle to shore power before setting off in order to fully charge both the on-board battery and the starter battery.

As part of your technical checks before you hit the road, you should also check whether

  • the heating system,
  • the boiler,
  • the water pump,
  • the refrigerator
  • and other appliances

are fully functional. Last but not least, check the levels of

  • the antifreeze for the radiator, the windscreen washer fluid,
  • as well as the engine oil
  • and brake fluid.

Be sure to top them up if necessary.

Mandatory! Your motorhome should, of course, also have valid proof of the gas system and exhaust emission tests and – if necessary – gas test stickers during the winter.

 

So where should you go?
Our winter camping tips by region

Motorhomers looking for a fabulous winter camping experience should not limit themselves to the popular holiday destinations in their own country. As our travel reports show, it is also worth visiting areas of outstanding natural beauty in Norway, Austria, Iceland and the Dolomites.

Regardless of your chosen destination, be sure to comply with all applicable laws and regulations during your holiday. Otherwise you may be in for some unpleasant surprises with regard to

  • the available campsites,
  • your vehicle’s tyres,
  • your motorhome’s lights and the need to carry spare lamps,
  • the placement of warning signs,
  • the need to carry high-visibility vests
  • and even your ability to drive on public roads

depending on the region and country.

Tip for preparation: When planning your trip, do your homework and find out all key information about your travel route or destination.

Winter pitches

So you want to travel by motorhome in winter and enjoy overnight stays in all the charming beauty spots? In this case, it is essential to start looking for a pitch well ahead of time. This is mainly because some campsites and motorhome pitches are closed during the winter – so those that stay open get booked up all the faster. Especially around the Christmas and New Year holidays, good pitches are like gold dust.

First of all, take care not to park your vehicle under snow-covered trees. Ice and snow may fall down and cause damage to the roof, roof vents or other roof attachments.

Safety tip:

When camping, always ensure that your motorhome is parked on firm and level ground. There should be no large masses of snow or ice under the vehicle – these are unstable and could cause the vehicle to sink down as they thaw.

 

Looking after your motorhome in the cold season

Winter weather can ask a lot of your motorhome. Therefore, it is important that you carry out the required maintenance and winterise your motorhome to optimally prepare it for cold conditions. Rubber seals on windows and doors will benefit from treatment with a suitable spray that maintains their suppleness. You may need to repeat the treatment depending on the length of your stay; if necessary, even while still on the road with your motorhome in winter.

Alongside the usual cleaning and care of your motorhome in preparation for the cold season, professional underbody cleaning and sealing is a worthwhile additional step. This will help to increase the longevity of the body frame, wheel arches and the vehicle’s floor. The support jacks should be maintained and looked after in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Tip: Include the wiper blades when checking the rubber seals. The rubber blades should create a seal against the windscreen, wipe liquid off the glass cleanly and be free from cracks. If in doubt, it is a good idea to replace the wiper blades.

Driving style: Stay on the road

Driving is especially challenging on slippery roads and in snow flurries. Travelling with a motorhome in winter means having to drive extremely carefully. Always …

  • … stay within the applicable speed limits.
  • … take sufficient break on longer journeys.
  • … take into account extended braking distances due to rain, ice and snow.
  • … check that all headlights, indicators and limiting lights are in working order and free from snow and dirt.
  • … clear the roof of snow and ice before driving off.
  • … adjust your speed if visibility is poor (rule of thumb: drive below 50 km/h if visibility is below 50 metres).
  • … take special care on bridges, in north-facing areas and in forest aisles, as you could be surprised by frost and black ice.

Before departure, it is also advisable to check the weather forecast and see if any route alterations are necessary. In the event of a fierce storm or severe weather warnings, it may be sensible to postpone the trip or stay put for a day or two more.

For extra safety:

Wearing thick winter jackets underneath seat belts creates an additional risk. In the event of a collision, the distance between the occupant’s body and the seat belt may be too great, thus significantly impairing its effectiveness. It is also difficult to move freely in a thick jacket, which can be especially critical in situations where quick reactions are needed. For this reason, it is advisable to wear comfortable clothing behind the wheel and avoid bulky coats and jackets.

Conclusion: Winter holidays in your motorhome?
With good preparation they can be great fun!

Winter is a challenging time of year for motorhomers – there is a lot more to consider and take care of compared to the warmer months. Nevertheless, it is well worth embarking on a voyage of discovery through the ice and snow – and experiencing a new level of cosiness in a winter-proof HYMER model.

If you make sure you have everything you need before your holiday and take our tips into account, you will be more than ready for your (first) winter camping adventure with your motorhome! In our guide “How to properly winterise your motorhome” you will find all the important tips to bear in mind when you return home safely from your winter trip.

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