My First Frigid Night in the RV

A close up shot of a hand on a propane tank with the sun setting on an RV in the background.

I purchased my RV on a warm summer day, and one of my first thoughts was that I needed to figure out a way to keep my home cool when I wasn’t running the AC. I quickly learned that the awning could prevent the inside from getting too warm on hot days—an important lesson to learn early, because I planned to leave Michigan winters behind and chase the warmth instead.

I headed west, arriving in Moab to mild weather with highs in the mid-fifties and lows in the thirties—perfect for hiking. I took advantage by spending most of my time exploring the beautiful landscape that Moab has to offer.

But, a few days after I arrived, a cold front rolled in. The new lows were in the teens. When the sun went down, the temperature and lack of humidity made for bitterly cold evenings. Although I’d thought a lot about staying cool, somehow it had never crossed my mind how to keep the RV warm in cold weather.

Sunrise and sunset views from the bed tend to be some of my favorite moments while traveling in my Airstream.


Moab was still gorgeous, just a little colder! I decided to make the most of it. The next morning, I woke up, made some tea and sat outside, taking in the views from Goose Island Campground. I looked up nearby trails and decided to hike to Corona Arch, following it up with off-roading to see Dead Horse Point from a different perspective. Before I left, I adjusted the thermostat. I didn’t want to come home to a freezing RV, but I also wanted to conserve propane, so I set the heat to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, locked up, and set out.

After a full day of exploring, when I made it back to my Airstream, I noticed it seemed a little chilly inside. Everything was set as usual, but the air coming out of the heater felt cold. I changed the modes on the thermostat, I even reset it a couple of times, but nothing solved the problem. I tested my stovetop to see if it would work—no luck. “Could I have run out of propane?” I thought. I went outside with my flashlight and checked my regulator, where both indicators showed green.

I prayed that it was some other issue. It was too late in the day to refill my propane tanks, and if I had run out of propane, I’d have a long, cold night ahead of me. I launched into another round of resetting the thermostat and toggling modes, one more last-ditch attempt, praying that the propane would miraculously kick in. At this point, my frustration should have been enough to keep me warm, but I was freezing, and I realized I had to make the most of the situation. I bundled up in layers of clothing, including a thick flannel, and curled under my comforter. Shivering in the cold, I thought to myself, “I’m never going to run out of propane again.”

I made it through the night and counted down the hours until the earliest-opening business with propane services unlocked their doors. Fifty dollars later, I had two full tanks of propane, and I was so grateful for the warmth that I cranked the heat to 70 degrees. In an apartment, I had taken heating and cooling for granted—but now that I live in an RV, I’m fully aware of it at all times.

Since my first experience running out of propane, I’ve created a process to prevent another chilly night.

  1. Check your tanks in the morning. I did this daily until I figured out how much I typically used, then I cut back to one morning each week. When I ran out of propane, I was in an unfamiliar area, and it was already dark. I searched online for refilling locations, but everywhere I called was closed. Checking your tanks in the morning prevents that problem from happening. If I notice my levels are low in the morning, I have enough time to find a nearby propane refilling service.

  2. Always have at least one full propane tank. Now that I’m in warmer weather, I use much less propane, but I’m still aware of my levels. Since I’m rarely hooked up to electricity, I rely on my propane to cook my eggs in the morning, heat my water and occasionally warm up the RV at night. As soon as one tank is empty, I fill the empty tank or bring both tanks and top them off. Some gas stations have propane refilling, so I’ll usually check my levels when gassing up the truck. Better safe than chilly.

  3. Have an emergency plan for when your furnace stops working. Even if you have propane, it’s possible that your furnace could still malfunction. If that happens when you’re not hooked up to electricity, you may be in for a chilly night. I have enough blankets and flannels to get me through, but some people use a low-wattage space heater. I prefer to save space, but if you tend to be cold, you may want to find a space heater that fits your needs.

  4. Always be aware of the weather forecast. If I see a cold front coming in, I double check that my propane tanks are completely full before the weather changes. Since I mostly run off of solar power, I also make sure my batteries are charged when a series of cloudy days is predicted. No power, no furnace. And I recently purchased a generator as backup, so I can keep my furnace going if my battery levels are too low.

  5. Have someone walk you through the different thermostat modes for both AC and heat when you purchase your RV. And take notes! There’s a lot to take in, and you may not remember some of the finer points. I assumed I could just YouTube things when I needed to learn something on the fly, only to find that a lot of my favorite scenic areas come with a weak internet connection. Understanding your specific thermostat and how climate control works in your unit will carry you through any climate you encounter.

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