Mike Le CaplainSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Mike Le Caplain
Tow car tester extraordinaire, David Motton, has already explained how to keep safe on the roads during your caravan holidays this winter and reviewed the best used tow cars for winter, so now we turn our attentions to what you need to do once you get to your chosen campsite.
The touring season may end on the final day of October half-term week for many caravanners, but much as the temptation is strong to hang up our levelling blocks when the mercury begins to plummet and the white stuff starts to materialise, we caravan testers have to keep going, no matter what the colder months of the year throw at us. So here are our top 10 winter tips, to ensure your low season, off peak caravan holidays are as hassle-free as possible.
Pick a site – and stay there. For many caravanners, the journey is as much of the holiday as anything else. And we can see why – raising a window blind every two or three days to find a completely different view from the same window is addictive stuff. Come winter, however, and it’s best to keep your towing to a minimum, especially if road conditions are tricky. Quite apart from anything else, your choice of sites will be much more restricted at this time of year, so find one that’s open all year, and prepare to bivouac in for a good few days – or weeks, if you’re really going for it.
If the temperature is in proper freefall, then your biggest headache is going to be keeping your running water, er, running. Invest in a water carrier insulation wrap (even really good ones are less than £20, though the best are a bit more) and go for one that also insulates your submersible pump if at all possible.
Another top tip is to choose a pitch on which your water container gets whatever direct sunlight there is on a given day. In addition, it’s not unusual for a campsite's fresh water taps to freeze solid, so we’d recommend keeping a spare brimmed Aquaroll in the awning, just in case.
Oh, and don’t forget your waste water, either – it’s best to empty it every evening before the sun goes down, even if it’s only partly full. You don’t want to end up with a huge greasy, soapy block of grey ice rattling around inside that you can’t shift.
Butane (blue bottles) or propane (orange bottles)? Propane keeps working at much lower temperatures than butane, so while it’s dearer and less efficient than the stuff you burn throughout the rest of the year, swapping over during colder months is a bit of a no-brainer. You shouldn’t have to swap regulators, either, unless your caravan is getting on in years. If in doubt, check with your local dealer.
Keeping your caravan heated regularly and evenly throughout the day and night is crucial unless you want your pipes to start freezing. Don’t switch your heating down to minimum (or worse, turn it off completely) overnight, then compensate for the resultant icicles on your nose the following morning by cranking it up to maximum on gas and electric – it’s much better to keep the ambient temperature inside on a constant, even keel, 24 hours a day.
Give the interior a good blast of heat for half an hour or so when you first pitch your van, then gently ease it down so you’re at a constant average of about 21˚C. Switching to electric is advisable at night, though we wouldn’t recommend leaving fitted gas heating on unattended for any length of time. Stick to electric.
Much as we understand the appeal of having a twinkly mini Christmas tree all aglow on your front table and a string of lights bedecking your awning, remember that your electric hook-up is not infinite. It’s all-too easy to trip out your hook-up post with a job-lot of festive lights switched on, along with your other caravan lights and that constantly-boiling kettle.
If you’re lucky enough to wake up one morning to a campsite that’s thoroughly deep and crisp and even, then don’t neglect the resultant additional little jobs that come hand in glove with the white stuff. Don’t worry unduly about the accumulation on the caravan roof – it can actually help with heat retention, though be prepared for the possibility of a mini-avalanche in the event of a thaw – but do brush it off your awning; a particularly heavy fall can put undue strain on all those delicate poles and ties.
Be careful when clearing windows of ice and snow – use a plastic scraper to avoid scratching the soft plastic – and make sure your caravan step is completely cleared of the slippery stuff before you stand on it. Make sure the gas fire flue is kept clear of snow, too – naturally, the attendant heat should help with this as a matter of course, but you don’t want a build-up of toxic fumes backing into your caravan, even for a short period.
In the depths of winter? Are we mad? Nope. One memorably snowy and icy Christmas, a few years ago, an influx of guests meant that we pitched a caravan on our driveway for the duration to serve as additional sleeping accommodation. And what was the main problem reported by its lucky occupants? In the words of Cole Porter, it was too darn hot. Being novices at this sort of thing, they promptly turned the heating off, which in turn nearly froze the pipes. Keep the air warm, obviously, but maintain a gentle through-breeze using the windows’ night-latch facility to keep things fresh.
8. Keep the awning warm
A few years back, a select band of caravan manufacturers went through a phase of factory-fitting awning-warmers – in essence, a blown-air duct fitted to the nearside wall – but it never really caught on. Far better to have a mains socket fitted to the awning side of your caravan so you can keep a thermostatic blown air heater going (£20 from any discount store). Just remember that they can eat up a good chunk of your hook-up allowance.
9. Think before you buy
Many caravan manufacturers deliberately design their caravans so that most, if not all of the exterior services are arranged along the offside wall. The assumption here is that, given the choice, most of us don’t want messy hook-up leads and/or toilet cassettes anywhere near the awning. However, if you’re a serious over-winter caravanner, this might be an advantage, so keep this in mind when shopping for caravans for sale.
That said, we can’t think of any manufacturer who puts the water inlet on the awning side of their caravans, so you might want to think about fitting a second awning light on this side of the caravan for those inevitable after-dark refills of your water supply. And we’re sure we don’t need to remind you that, even if the gas fitment is there on the awning side, don’t even think about having an in-awning barbecue as a festive change, or to help with heating the awning – BBQs and awnings really, really do not mix.
10. Have fun!
Even if the picture-postcard Christmas weather you were hoping for turns out in reality to be wet, grey and windy, it’s still enormous fun to be away in your caravan over the festive period. Stock up on DVDs, CDs and games, and make sure your telly is working. And don’t forget your decorations, cards and presents. Your average British caravan cooker should make mincemeat (pun intended) of your traditional Christmas lunch too.
Now armed with expert advice, have a great time in your van this winter. And if you need some touring inspiration, don't forget to check out our travel guides. Happy holidays!