In the Snowbelt states, the camping season begins around the Easter holiday and ends around Halloween. On the off-season, RVers either snowbird to the sunbelt or decommission their coach for the winter. In recent years, RVs have specialized components that let people continue their adventures in the dead of winter. We’ll explore in detail what’s included in an arctic package on an RV that makes this possible.
Standard RV Arctic Package Features RV Manufacturers Include
1. Sealing the RV Underbelly
One of the big components of cold weather packages is insulating the RV underbelly. This started as an optional feature that quickly became popular. As customer feedback came pouring into all the various manufacturers, within the last 2-3 years, it’s now a standard feature among most of the RV categories.
The black corrugated plastic that seals the bottom has its own insulating properties. Between this material and subfloor are a layer of insulation, wiring, plumbing, and other necessary organs of the coach. It also protects the bottom components from road debris and other hazards.
2. Heated and Enclosed Holding Tanks
Ducted heating in RVs is not a new concept. The main conduit under the subfloor has been a standard design practice for decades. When the idea of heating the holding tanks became popular, designers readjusted the heat ducts to run alongside the holding tanks.
Some manufacturers use another method to heat the holding tanks. Electric heating pads warm the tanks and have a temperature sensor that turns them on automatically. Forest River uses this technology on some of its higher-end travel trailers and motorhomes. It saves propane and works while you’re traveling.
Enclosing the holding tanks doesn’t require a lot of insulating materials to keep them safe from freezing. They’re already protected from the floor’s insulation and corrugated plastic layer. This extra layer of insulation works together with the existing insulation to ensure the tanks don’t burst due to freezing water.
Sealing the underbelly and heating the holding tanks constituted Keystone’s Springdale’s Arctic Package for the series’ 20th-anniversary edition. The package offered the option to redirect heating ducts around the holding tanks and water lines to prevent freezing on slideout models only. In the 2020 and 2021 models, the feature is standard on all models.
3. PEX Pipe
PEX piping came to the RV industry at the cross-section of cost savings and added value. Rarely does a cheaper product have an increased benefit, but PEX was one of the few exceptions. Its malleability, temperature tolerance, and proven track record have been one of the game-changing raw materials to make RVs what they are today.
PEX stands for cross-linked polyethylene. Before PEX came around, manufacturers had to piece straight copper or PVC pipe with elbow connections in the walls. PEX has a rubber-like elasticity that allows the builders to snake a single piece of pipe to its destination. The pipe ends connect together with either stainless steel or copper crimp bands instead of PVC glue.
Builders also like it because of its color-coding. It comes in red (hot), blue (cold), and white (misc.). PEX is good with temperature. It won’t crack or burst in freezing conditions. Extreme heat or direct flames will melt it.
If your coach has exposed PEX in your bays, treat it like a vampire. Long exposure to direct or indirect ultraviolet light (the sun) will gradually break it down. Keep a good quality water filter on your incoming freshwater since high levels of chlorine is PEX’s garlic.
Jayco’s Climate Shield talks about the test results of PEX piping in their units. They show their water lines can hold up against temperatures as low as -40° Fahrenheit. For perspective, this is colder than the average temperature in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (the northernmost town in the state).
Jayco’s products can withstand temperatures between 0°F to 100°F. The Climate Shield technology comes on the following RV lines:
- Eagle travel trailers, fifth wheels, and toy haulers
- Eagle HT travel trailers, fifth wheels, and toy haulers
- North Point fifth wheels
- Pinnacle fifth wheels
- Talon toy hauler
- Seismic toy haulers
Common RV Arctic Package Features
1. Higher Insulation Retention Values (R-Values)
The resistance value (R-value) of insulation is the measurement used to determine how well insulation can resist heat transfer. For a more detailed explanation, you can read more about the types of insulation used in RVs and R-value in our feature article.
Typical units have ratings of R-7 insulation in RV sidewalls. Floors and ceilings have values in the upper teens or lower twenties. A travel trailer that has the best insulation is the Heartland Bighorn 3950FL fifth wheel. It comes from the factory with a ceiling R-value as high as R-40, sidewalls at R-11, and floors rated at R-38.
2. Thermal/Dual Pane Windows
In their video, you’ll learn that Outdoors RV equips thermal pane windows as a standard feature in their four seasons climate designed coaches. This type of window uses multiple sheets of glass with layers of argon gas between each pane. This layering technique creates an insulation barrier that prevents heat transfer.
3. Insulated Bays For Power Sources and Fuel
Part of what makes an RV 4 season package valuable is protecting those components you may not immediately think about. Lance’s 4 Seasons package includes a feature that insulates the battery and propane compartment.
Cold weather weakens batteries. If a battery is only half charged, it turns into a block of ice at -10°F. Propane returns to its gas form at -44°F, but the valves, tank, and other parts are vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Properly protecting your power sources is essential for extreme weather RVing.
4. Insulated Vents
Thermal packages on a camper may include insulation pads for the RV ceiling vents. These vents are particularly vulnerable to heat and air leaking since they’re only designed to be watertight. Very few polar package RVs come with vent insulation pads. Picking them up online or at any RV store is simple and affordable.
5. Reflective Sheeting on Privacy Shades
Reflective sheeting can keep your heating and cooling costs down since it blocks the radiant heat that comes from the sun. Arctic package travel trailers aren’t offering it industry-wide. You can pick up a roll online or at any hardware or camping store.
An exception is the Forest River Dynamax 5 series. This class C diesel motorhome has reflective sheeting material on the front privacy shade. This sheeting doesn’t have an R-value, but its radiant heat blocking properties eases the demands on your A/C unit.
6. Insulated Pads or Heated Mattress
Except for memory foam, mattresses don’t retain heat. Having an insulated pad or heated mattress can save you from a cold night’s sleep.
Late season camping with an expandable camper is possible with something like the Flagstaff Hard Side Pop-Up series. Some of the great features include a thermostatically controlled heated mattress, furnace, and insulated sidewalls.
7. Winterization Bypass Valves
Extreme weather packages on an RV do a lot, but they can’t do everything. You’ll need to winterize your RV water system with the proper antifreeze liquid. This non-toxic liquid prevents your plumbing system from drying out. Even though the PEX tubing can handle the temperatures, it elongates the lifespan of the pipe and the other components.
Bypass valves allow the antifreeze liquid to flow directly into your water heater and other plumbing parts. It also helps in the spring making the cleanout task simple. There are D.I.Y. methods to install this valve in yourself, but having it factory-installed is always preferred.
8. Bigger Climate Control Units
On a standard RV, furnaces will put out around 20- 25,000 BTUs of heat and air conditioners range from 13,500- 15,000 BTU. All season packages like the one on the Grand Design Imagine Arctic Package have larger furnaces to provide better heating for lower temperatures.
These high-capacity heaters top out at 35,000 BTUs. Air conditioners stay the same at 15,000 BTUs, but in many cases, there are at least two roof units. Some higher-end air conditioners have heat pumps built-in to assist with heating in cold temperatures.
9. Heated Mirrors
Some motorhomes like the class C Tiffin Wayfarer come with heated mirrors. Depending on the manufacturer, this can come as either standard or optional equipment. You’ll also find them on some class As.
10. Heated Basement/Storage
The advantage of having the main heating conduit running under the floor is the ability to heat the storage bays. Many RV makers are offering this option as well as insulating the storage bay doors.
The benefit is two-fold. First, it allows you to keep temperature-sensitive gear in your exterior bays without having to worry about anything freezing. Second, it creates a layer of warmth under the floor, so you won’t have cold floor issues.
11. Crack Resistant Flooring
Vinyl flooring technology has come a long way in recent years. In previous decades, people would open their RV up after storing it over the winter to find their flooring cracked. Linoleum and earlier versions of vinyl would contract to the point of cracking due to the temperature.
Today’s vinyl RV floors are thick enough and temperature adaptive to keep their integrity. Some of these vinyl materials have a slight R-value that works in concert with the various layers of the floor to increase the total insulation value.
Ice House RV Arctic Packages
There is a specialized category of travel trailer that’s emerging for those who enjoy ice fishing and winter hunting. These Ice House RVs have the ability to park directly on the ice. The trailer wheels and axles lift up so the underbelly can create a seal against the ice. The floor has fishing holes with removable caps giving fishing enthusiasts a mobile fish shanty.
Brands like Ice Castle Fish House, Glacier Ice House, and Yetti Outdoors produce models that have the creature comforts equal to some of the best RVs in the market. Smaller models have basic kitchenettes, fold-down sofas, and climate control. Higher-end units have bedrooms, dry bathrooms, full kitchens, and complete media centers with all the input sources you could want.
The cold weather packages that these RVs have mimic the features we mentioned above. The designers calibrate these amenities to fit their products for their purposes.
The insulation on icehouse RVs are a combination of fiberglass batt, spray foam, and reflective sheeting. The radiant sheeting protects the outer aluminum shell from heating up. When you’re on the ice, the last thing you want is to have your icehouse start to melt the surrounding ice.
The average Glacier Ice House has insulation values where the floor is F-14, walls are R-13, and the ceiling is R-13. Their explorer models increase the R-values up to R-18 in certain units.
2. Electric Fireplace
Many manufacturers use LED faux fireplaces as decoratives features. Icehouse RVs add electric fireplaces as a standard feature with 5,000 BTU heaters. Ice Castle Fish House installs this feature in many of their RV-styled icehouse coaches.
3. Non-Conductive Interiors
Materials like wood, rubber, and other non-conductive materials are a must for interior walls, floors, and ceilings. Yetti Outdoors uses a rubber subfloor with marine grade plywood flooring. Their walls use natural wood paneling. These materials help insulate against losing heat in the coldest of temperatures.
RV Arctic Packages Are Awesome for Arizona
Having an RV that can handle freezing temperatures in the Pacific Northwest doesn’t make you think about the American desert. To a thermodynamic expert, it makes perfect sense. With this type of insulation and other features, a coach with this equipment would have the ability to beat the heat of the hottest summer days.
This is why you’ll see some of these travel trailers in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and other sunbelt states. Heat transfer works both ways. Your RV arctic package features work just as well if it’s trying to contain it or keep it out.
If you need proof, try renting one through Outdoorsy in July. Anyone of these four seasons ready RVs are available all over the country. Once you take it out, you’ll notice that the air conditioner isn’t working hard to maintain the temperature.