How we heat our camper without electricity

Camping is a favorite hobby of many, especially in the summer. But when the weather turns chilly, especially at night, sometimes you have to get creative in the way you stay warm. When your camper doesn’t have electricity, how do you heat it?

We don’t winter camping, but we do get cold weather when we’re camping in the summer months.  It is not uncommon for temperatures to drop to freezing at night.  So, while this article isn’t going to be a comprehensive guide into RV insulation and DIYing your own heating systems, it will give you some simple and practical advice about staying warmer in your RV when you don’t have an RV propane heater or electric furnace in your unit.  

a camper truck parked in a snowy campground

Tips on heating a camper without electricity and staying warm in your RV

Think through the size of your RV. Small spaces will be easier to keep warm. For a larger camper, decide if it would be better to only heat part of it or if you need to heat the entire unit.

If you have a main living area, for example, it may be best to heat that room when you’re using it for a game in the evening or making your breakfast in the morning. Then, for the night you could heat the sleeping area.

Many full time RV owners will spend the time and money to make sure their units are insulated well.  But, even some small efforts can go a long way at helping to keep the warm air inside and cold air out.  You could:

  • Make bubble wrap covers for the windows and vents 
  • Invest in some heavy insulating curtains for the windows and doors
  • Consider using a skirt around the outside bottom of the RV if you’ll be in one spot for a while
  • Even putting rugs down onto the floor will help add another layer of insulation under your feet

My Thrifty Tip: cardboard under rugs can help a lot. Our camper’s floor was always so cold in the morning. Slippers and heavy socks just weren’t helping. We generally don’t have heating in our trailer, so we needed a solution for our icy toes. I covered the floor in large pieces of carboard and cheap foam sleeping pads (and an old yoga mat). Then, I covered those with a woolen rug and a heavy woolen blanket. We have a very small camper so this was super easy to do and doesn’t seem odd. The layering on the floor has made an immense difference!

The sleeping area underneath a bed in a vintage camper
We covered our floors with rugs to keep it warmer

If you want to take a quick tour of our very old (and well-used) camper, check out this article here.

If you really need to amp up the insulation on your unit you might want to consider getting help from a dealership or handyman to find out which options would be easiest and most appropriate for your RV, and to make sure you’re getting the most effective and proper insulation for your particular unit.

RV Furnace and Heating Options

Here are a few heating options that may answer your questions about how to heat a camper in the cooler weather and cold climates.

VERY IMPORTANT: if you decide to go with a gas powered option, be sure to use a carbon monoxide detector for your safety, and read and follow each unit’s specific instructions.

1. Propane Heater and Stove

This option is versatile as well as compact. Powered by an inserted fuel canister or a connected propane tank, you have the option to use it for heating, cooking, or both at the same time. These are common and you can likely find one at your local hardware store.

2. Portable Propane Heater

Indoor-safe, small propane heaters can easily warm up small areas. Look for one with safety features such as automatic shut off if it falls over, if the pilot light is extinguished, or if the levels of oxygen in the room are too low. 

3. Catalytic Heaters

Catalytic heaters use a chemical reaction to produce heat. They tend to be pricier, but without a flame or resulting fumes, might be considered a safer option for inside an RV. They do get very hot though and are a fire risk if items are allowed to rest against it.

4. Do you have electrical hookups?

If you happen to be camping somewhere that you can access an electric outlet, you could run a cord into your camper (or connect your camper unit if that’s an option) and use some of these options:

  • Electric blankets
  • Electric space heaters
  • Portable electric heaters

Portable Electric Space Heater with Thermostat

For those with electric hookups at the campsite, this is a great option if you don’t have access to heating or electricity in your unit. You can purchase one that will blow hot air or just circulate air, making them convenient all year-round. These often have thermostats so they won’t run constantly and overheat everyone, but will keep your RV at a perfect temperature.

If you don’t have electricity in your camper, just make sure you pack a heavy duty (and long) extension cord and run it from the electrical box into your camper. And, take some time at home to consider how you plan to get the cord into your unit while keeping the bugs and brave squirrels out.

What if you don’t have access to electricity at your campsite?

Using an electric-powered heater won’t help at all if you don’t have access to electricity. For most of the camping we do, we don’t have access to electricity (nor do we have a working propane heater in our camper). Because of this, we’ve been exploring using a portable battery to power our electric heater.

There are a variety of portable battery bank on the market these days. Below is the portable 500W power station we’ve gotten. We intend to use it to run the heater before going to bed and in the morning as we find those are the times we really want the camper to warm up a bit. We also chose a unit that could be recharged with these portable solar panels.

A portable power station sitting outside on a wooden bench

Update: this power station isn’t quite powerful enough to run our heater… So, we’re now on the hunt for a lower wattage electric heater and a higher wattage power station… and then maybe we’ll have heat? But, what we do have is an off-grid way to run a fan, small appliances, and charge our devices via solar-power and that’s pretty cool!

READ MORE: Click here to read the whole review on our EBL 500W portable power station!

5. The DIY Terra Cotta Candle Heater

In a pinch or on a budget? You can heat a small room with just a candle and terracotta pot! Check out this video below for the specifics; however, even simple candles in a a tin can can give off a surprising amount of heat. Just be careful when using open flame!

6. A wood stove

Some people renovate their camper to add a small wood stove. This is a decent option if you are planning to live out of your camper year round, since it will be an investment. However, it can be a costly and labor-intensive renovation if you are only looking to take the chill out of a cool summer night.

A quick YouTube search will give you a whole bunch of various DIYs and tutorials for installing wood stoves into RVs, vans, and campers.

7. A Propane Lamp

A propane lamp could be a simple solution that may take enough of the chill out of the air to make your RV comfortable. Just be aware of fire safety and don’t let it run all night, unattended.

8. Cooking

Sometimes just the process of cooking a meal or boiling some water for tea generates enough heat to warm up the camper.

Our camper’s propane heater does not work, nor do we camp with electric hook-ups, but we’re always pleasantly surprised by how much boiling water on our propane stove heats up the camper in the cold mornings.

The counter and stove top inside a vintage rv camper triailer
Boiling water for our morning coffee, tea, and oatmeal really helps to warm up the camper!

Even if you don’t have a propane stove you could bring in your portable camping stove to boil your water in the camper.

Just remember, portable camping stoves are not intended to be used indoors, nor are they intended to be used for heating. So, ensure proper ventilation and make sure you’re cooking on safe surfaces.

Whichever process you choose for keeping your RV warm in cooler temperatures, be sure to keep safety in mind.

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