Have you heard about 4 season RV’s? Wondering what they are and how to determine whether a travel trailer, 5th wheel or motorhome truly are four-season? It can certainly be confusing with salespeople and sites throwing the term around so freely.
The short answer:
Few models can be considered to be true four season RV’s. During my research I found these to be the most suitable RV’s for extreme weather conditions:
- Outdoors RV’s travel trailers and 5th wheels
- Heartland’s Bighorn 5th Wheel
- Northwood’s Arctic Fox travel trailers and 5th wheels
So, should you get one of these rigs if you want to go RV camping during winter time? Not necessarily. You actually have more options to choose from because a lot depends on what winter conditions mean in your case. And in some cases, even the above RV’s won’t suffice.
Keep reading to see what Four Season Abilities really mean so you can make the best choice for your needs.
As for myself.
I’ve spent the last few days exploring the topic of four season RV’s. While I have heard the term before, I didn’t give it much thought until a recent phone call with a friend. He told me about his recent purchase of a 5th wheel and we discussed our own search for an RV that will fit our needs. I also mentioned our plan to travel to Alaska in our future RV.
“You know you need to get a four season one, right?” he asked.
Which I did know. Vaguely. Sort of. Not really. It got me thinking about what the term actually means for us and which features I should be looking for.
Having read up so much about it, I’ve come up with the answer above. Let’s see why.
The meaning of Four Season RV
With manufacturers and salespeople throwing the term around so often, you’d think there would be an industry standard which clearly defines what a Four Season RV is.
In essence, different brands can and do create their own standards. They then create categories within their fleet – with some of their rigs labeled as Four Season ones.
If that’s not enough, some manufacturers now describe some of their RV’s as “True Four Season”.
It’s important to remember that these are actually marketing terms. I hesitate to say “marketing hype” because there is some meaning in the labels, as we’ll soon see. So, not “hype” per se but not an indication of any regulatory standard either.
What kind of weather can a “Four Season RV” withstand?
The term “four seasons” suggests the ability to camp in the RV through the heat of summer and the cold of winter. However, in most cases, when you talk about a “Four Season RV” you’re actually looking into the kind of winter weather conditions it can withstand.
The better equipped “true four season” RV’s are in fact capable of safe camping throughout harsh winter conditions that go as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Let’s take a look at both summer and winter.
I’ve seen several debates on whether or not “winter capabilities” indicate that an RV is good for hot summer days too. On the one hand, a huge part of weatherproofing has to do with insulation. As we all know, a well-insulated home is a benefit during hot days as well. Especially if you can open the windows at night, to let in cool air, and then keep them shut during the day.
However, with an RV, insulations may not be enough. Unlike a home, some RV’s have large windows, to give them an airy feel and make them less “claustrophobic”. They also tend to have thin roofs compared to a house (and definitely when comparing to a condo that has more floors on top of it).
Which means more radiation during a sunny day. Nice when it’s a sunny winter day. Not so nice when it’s over 100F outside on a hot Arizona summer day.
The thing you need to keep in mind here is that many of the RV’s that are sold as being “Four Season” are really geared towards winter. They may not be well-adjusted for extreme heat conditions.
These RV’s often come with a guarantee for camping in cold weather. Most so-called “Four Seasons” RV’s come with a guarantee of withstanding temperatures as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Which basically mean they have no guarantee for keeping the systems running when it goes below freezing point.
What they’re really saying is: This rig will keep you warmer than the environment on cool days. More so than our other RV models will.
Some RV’s boast the ability to get you into even colder weather extremes. These are the ones I mentioned before – sometimes called “True Four Season”. Some boast the ability to let you camp safely in temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit.
How much will you need to invest in keeping the RV warm or cool?
I’m not talking about the cost of the RV – which we’ll discuss later – but about the costs associated with keeping your RV warm during cold weather and cool during hot weather.
As for hot weather – a lot has to do with the number and strength of your air conditioners vis. a vis. the volume of air in the RV. Yes, insulation helps but even the best insulation will have a difficult time keeping temperatures down when it’s over 100F outside.
And to run your A/C you need energy which costs money. So, essentially, having a better-insulated RV can help you save on costs during summer.
As for winter time, the same insulation will help you keep warm air inside but you need to keep generating heat inside to maintain a comfortable temperature.
And here’s the thing.
If you have limitless resources of propane, you could use them to keep most RV’s warm even if they’re not “Four Seasons” by definition.
In other words, your RV will lose heat through the walls, roof and floor, but you’ll keep adding to it by burning more propane. It’s possible – but it will be expensive. As long as the temperature outside remains above freezing, you should be ok. Your pipes and tanks won’t freeze up and you’ll be warm inside – at a significant cost.
In that sense, as long as you’re not planning to RV in extreme weather conditions – i.e. below freezing temperatures – a “Four Seasons” RV will basically save you money on running costs during colder days.
Which brings me to the next question.
Do you even need a four season RV?
Assuming that you travel with your RV across North America – do you even need a rig that can withstand extreme temperatures?
Many people drive up north during summertime and back south for winter. After all, an RV is all about the freedom to move so why not do that according to the seasons?
As mentioned above, as long as you’re not camping in sub-freezing temperatures, you could get away with camping through a few cold nights, just by turning up the heat a little.
After all the four seasons in the US can be extremely different between one area and another. Winter in Michigan is not like winter in Florida. And if you’re talking about Alaska, then even spring and fall can be vastly different than what they are in the southern states of the Lower 48.
Assessing your winter weather needs
These are the three factors to keep in mind when assessing what kind of weather you might encounter while RV’ing during winter time:
- Wind factor
Location in the US
The US Department of Energy offers this map of climate zones in the US, in relation to insulation needs –
Alaska is mostly in zone 7 although it does have areas which are in a zone all to themselves… Zone 8. Since these areas begin north of Fairbanks, most RV’ers aren’t likely to get there, let alone brave a winter up there.
Essentially, look at where you’re going to be spending time in your RV during winter time. The lower the zone number, the less likely you are to need a Four Seasons RV. Having said that, these numbers are not the be all and end all of the weather conditions.
Even in zone 2 states like Texas and Arizona, you can definitely encounter very cold days with sub-freezing temperatures, especially if camping in high elevations. You probably will never experience sub-zero (in Fahrenheit) days during winter time, as is very likely to happen in zones 6 and 7.
Wind can really increase the chill factor outside which will affect your RV. It would do so more than in a home environment for one simple reason:
Wind can get under your RV – not just around it.
In many states you’ll see a sign before every bridge that cautions you: Bridge ices before road.
What that means is that even in temperatures above freezing, when the roads are still not icy, a bridge may go through far lower temperatures and become covered in ice. The reason for that is that air – and often wind – goes under the bridge.
The same thing happens to RVs because they are raised above the ground.
Four Season RV Feature Checklist
So, how to keep the inside of your RV pleasant through all four seasons and, more specifically, go camping or live in an RV in very cold weather.
Here’s what you need to be looking for when buying a Four Season RV –
- Wall and Ceiling Insulation
- Dual pane windows
- Heated enclosed underbelly (tanks)
- Hatch covers
- Pex pipes
- Heating ducts
- A good furnace
You may find only some of these elements in or all of them. The more of them you’ll find, the RV is better-prepared for dealing with cold temperatures, possibly down to zero Fahrenheit.
Let’s go over each of these items in detail.
1. Wall and Ceiling Insulation
As you can guess, good insulations is a key requirement here. So let’s take a minute to explain what it means, what it does and what that mysterious R value is.
How RVs lose heat
First, thermodynamics 101. Heat is a form of energy that can move around. Heat wants to move around to where it’s colder. Such is the nature of physics: things cool down to the average temperature around them. Which means the heat energy has moved from the warmer place to the colder place to equalize the temperature.
For our needs –
When you heat up the inside of your RV on a very cold day, heat will try and move out to make the outside warmer. Futile attempt, I know. Go tell that heat that a single RV can’t heat up the entire snow-covered surroundings. Nevertheless, this is what heat does.
The purpose of insulation is to make it difficult for heat to leave your RV and disperse outside.
Heat can leave the RV in one of two ways: Convection or conduction (there’s radiation too, but it’s negligible so let’s ignore that for now).
Convection in this context means air flow. So, any open windows or doors that let the heat out. Assuming there are no cracks in your RV, all you need to do is close them.
Conduction is where things get interesting. This is where heat is lost through the floor, walls and ceiling. The materials that make up the body of your RV can and do transfer heat through them.
RV Insulation and R Value
Clearly, you want the materials of which your RV is made to be resistant to conduction so that they lose less heat to the outside. That’s – in a nutshell – is the meaning of insulation. Choosing materials that are less conductive and having more of them in the “shell” of your RV.
R value is simply the measurement used to indicate how conductive or resistant a material is.
A higher R value means the material is less conductive and thus insulates better.
Manufacturers usually use several layers of different materials when building the body of an RV. They add up the R value of the materials to give you a final number of total R value for the walls or roof.
It’s important to know that this method has its flaws. Without knowing how thick each layer is and how much air is between the layers, it’s very difficult to assess the overall level of insulation that’s provided.
Having said that, having a high R value at least tells you the manufacturer has put significant effort into insulating the unit. It’s likely to be better insulated than a unit that hasn’t received the same treatment.
2. Dual pane thermal windows
Windows are prime candidates for heat loss. Even when shut, a thin layer of glass is not enough for keeping the cold out and the heat in.
That’s why four-season RV’s should always have thermal windows which usually means two panes of glass with some air trapped in between.
3. Heated and enclosed underbelly
The thing winter campers fear the most is for the tanks and pipes to freeze over the night. As temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water starts freezing. Not only does it render your water systems unusable, it can actually damage pipes.
That’s why one of the main elements in any true four season RV is an enclosed and heated tank/pipe area. This setup simply prevents your fresh water, greywater and blackwater tanks from becoming completely useless.
And yes, heating that area up takes some extra energy but remember, it doesn’t have to be as warm and toasty as the living area, just kept safely above freezing temperature.
Just like windows, the hatches at the roof of your RV are major “heat losers”. Many hatches have vents, meant to get the hot air out during summer. For cold-weather camping, you should replace them with a firm cover, or lid.
Try to get a dark – preferably black – hatch lid. It will absorb more radiation heat from the sunlight and will also keep the inside of your RV darker in the morning.
5. Pex Pipes
Pex pipes are flexible rubber pipes that can actually expand if water freezes in them. Once they thaw, they’re far less likely to have any ruptures or cracks in them. Other types of pipes – solid plastic or copper pipes – are far more vulnerable to freeze ups.
Most modern RV’s are using these pipes anyway because they’re actually easier to install and cheaper too. However, it’s definitely something to double-check in your Four Season RV. Even though your pipes are supposed to be enclosed in that heated underbelly – better safe than sorry. Just look for the blue and red flexible Pex pipes.
6. Heat ducting system
Most modern RV’s have them – with either floor openings or wall ones. The better the heat ducting system, the more adapted for cold weather your RV. Check to see how many openings there are in across the RV, including in the bathroom.
7. A good furnace
Last but not least, make sure your four season RV includes a solid furnace. An RV that only has an air conditioner with heat pump will not be enough when the temperatures outside get under 32F.
Look for a furnace with minimum 30K BTUs and remember to make sure it’s connected to an effective heat ducting system which will help allocate the heat evenly across your living space.
How about skirting?
Skirting is basically adding a layer of protection around the bottom of your RV.
Remember how we talked about the chill factor of the air and wind going underneath the RV floor? Skirting prevents just that.
Here’s a good explanation – and plenty of examples – of skirting by Canadian experts.
Now, skirting can be accomplished in many ways. Some of them more sturdy and permanent than others. That’s why skirting is often associated with winterizing an RV for storage during the cold season.
However, if you’re camping in harsh weather, a more temporary form of skirting could really help. Using a product like this one (Amazon link) –
You can install the hooks beforehand and then quickly hang the skirting when reaching your camping site. According to reviewers, this type of skirting can really help conserve heat and bring down the cost of heating your RV.
Examples of Four Season RV’s
Finally, let’s look at some real works examples.
It’s important to note that four season RV’s come in pretty much any category or class. It all depends on how much the manufacturer’s invested in the systems detailed above, from good insulation to excellent heat ducting systems.
With that in mind, I chose to bring you examples of Four Season rigs by type of RV. And if you’re not sure what these categories mean, check out my post about the various types of RV’s here.
Four Season Motorhomes
Actually, true four season motorhomes aren’t easy to come by. As a rule, motorhomes are considered suitable for three seasons camping. Once temperatures get close to the freezing point, owners of Class A, Class B and Class C RV’s usually head south.
A common answer to the question “How do you winter in your Class A RV?” would be “In Florida”.
It’s not that these rigs are inherently lend themselves less well to insulation or other winter camping elements. On the contrary. Class A RV’s already have their plumbing and tanks snugly secured within enclosed compartments. Heating them up is the easy part.
The real problem appears to be with driving. Moving these large Class A coaches across icy roads is something experienced RV’ers prefer to avoid if possible. It’s done – but not often.
The “toad” or towed vehicle often used by Class A owners to get around the campground is usually a small car, not really suitable for winter driving either. Compare that to towing vehicles of travel trailers and 5th wheels and you’ll see why camping in winter conditions becomes less appealing with a Class A.
I did find these motorhomes suggested as good Four Seasons rigs –
The Redhawk is a popular Jayco Class C model. It boasts good insulation with bead-foam creating an R-15 roof, R-9 floor and R-5 walls. The holding tanks are enclosed and heated too.
What separates the Redhawk from other Jayco Class C’s is the 31,000-BTU furnace. The Jayco Greyhawk for example doesn’t have a furnace – only an air conditioning system with a heat pump.
All in all, if you’re looking for a motorhome that offers reasonable Four Season abilities, this would be a great choice.
The Jayco Redhawk comes in three floorplans, in length from 22ft to 27ft. They sleep up to six people and quite a lot of cargo storage space.
Price: Starting at $87,893
While I could not find any statement saying that Tiffin’s luxury Class C rig is indeed four season compatible, it does have a few features which would put it in the category.
The Wayfarer’s 30 k BTU propane ducted furnace, heated mirrors and 12V pad heaters on black, fresh, & grey tanks, all make this RV a good candidate for those looking for an all-season Class C RV for cold – but not extremely cold – weather.
Available in four luxurious floor plans, this RV offers extra luxurious interior decor –
Recommended Manufacturer’s Price: $141,510
Just over 19 ft long, the Revel is Winnebago’s first 4WD and All-Season Class B RV. Keep in mind that this is a class B, so only fresh water and greywater tanks – but both are insulated for winter camping. There is a black water cassette which is warm and snug inside the vehicle (with an external door to get it in and out).
Winnebago is a trusted and loved brand name, so having a Four Season Class B to choose from them is making fans happy.
No matter the weather!
Price: starting at $142,049
Four Season 5th Wheel & Travel Trailers
Moving on to the towable options.
In case you’re not sure what the difference between a travel trailer and a 5th wheel is here’s the (very) short version –
A travel trailer aka camper is the basic trailer that you tow behind your towing vehicle, either a pickup truck or an SUV like so –
A Fifth Wheel is a special kind of travel trailer. It’s hitched directly to the bed of a pickup truck, providing a more stable towing experience. This is what it looks like –
The reason why I’m using them as a group in this post is that many RV manufacturers offer both travel trailers and 5th wheels, sometimes in the same line of products. Therefore these descriptions below will often refer to both types of towable RV’s.
Northwood Arctic Fox
The name “Arctic Fox” keeps coming up in any online discussion of true four season RV’s. And for good reason.
- Heated holding tanks
- Auto-ignition furnace with 1,000 BTUs!
- Multi-layered substrate walls with high-density block foam insulation
- Thermal Pane Windows
- Air ducting system
What more can you ask for?
The Arctic Fox 5th wheel is in six floor plans, in lengths of 29’5″ to 38’11”. Their travel trailer comes in two models: Arctic Fox Classic with four floor plans and Silver Fox or Arctic Fox Silver edition with three floor plans available.
Both the Classic and Silver editions appear to have the same all-weather upgrades. The differences vary by specific floor plan and possibly by year as well, so if you’re considering getting an Arctic Fox RV, make sure you check your specific model.
Price: I couldn’t find an official price on their site but looks like these units are at least $60K when bought new.
Heartland 5th Wheels and Travel Trailers
Heartland is a leading brand in the RV industry. They have several great 5th wheels which are really four season – even though their website seems to avoid the associate marketing hype (not a bad thing!).
Heartland’s 5th Wheels and travel trailers come with an enclosed underbelly, furnaces and heat ducting systems.
Let’s review the Heartland Bighorn 5th wheel to see how well adapted it is for cold weather.
I really liked to see that they proudly state their R values on all sides of the RV’s body. In the case of the Bighorn, we’re talking some impressive R Values:
- Main floor – R45
- Upper deck floor – R14
- Roof – R40
- Walls – R11
Those are some of the highest numbers around for R values.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. The Bighorn also features these great “Four Season” features –
- 42,000 BTU furnace
- Seamless one piece below floor heat duct
- Heated and enclosed underbelly & gate valves
- PEX water pipes
- Block foam insulation
Really, not a whole lot missing there!
The Bighorn comes in seven floor plans in lengths of 38 to 42 feet providing room for anything from three to seven people (depending on the specific floor plan).
Price: None indicated on Heartland’s website but according to RVTrader, we’re talking about around $50,000.
This manufacturer specializes in rugged true Four Season 5th wheels and travel trailers that are meant to be lived year-round and off the grid.
Their impressive cold-weather features include:
- Thermal Pane Windows
- Triple Layered Four Seasons Roof Insulation
- Enclosed Heated Insulated Underbelly
- Insulation Wrapped Holding Tanks
- Thermal Insulated Bedroom Ceiling Vent
- XL Furnace for Extreme Camping Heat System
These trailers and 5th wheels are rugged and built to face the elements. Definitely a brand to look for if your needs include true four-season abilities.
Lance Campers Four Seasons Certified Option
Lance is a leading RV manufacturer that specializes in truck campers and travel trailers. They used to manufacture 5th wheels as well but none are on display in their current website. You can buy their RV’s with an upgrade Four Seasons Package which includes many of the features described above:
- Dual Pane Windows
- Ducted Heating System
- Insulated walls and roof (using Azdel)
- Insulated Hatch Covers
Lance doesn’t mention any specific temperature range but their icon and website design show snow so presumably they’re talking about sub-freezing temperatures too.
Forest River’s Arctic Wolf and Alpha Wolf
Last but not least, Forest River has a range of RV’s of all types, from motorhomes through travel trailers and 5th wheels to toy haulers and truck campers. They specify R values in all of their models and many of them seem to be great for mild winter camping.
One model stands out when it comes to true Four Season abilities: the Arctic Wolf 5th Wheel.
The Arctic Wolf is a roomy 5th Wheel, accommodating four to eight people depending on the specific floor plan.
All Arctic Wolf designs include:
- Upgraded Arctic Insulation including an insulated Upper Deck
- 35,000 BTU Furnace
- Enhanced Fiberglass High Gloss Sidewalls
- Heated & Enclosed Underbelly