Chasing your next adventure? Make sure your RV can handle Colorado’s harsh climate
Buying an RV that will experience drastic changes in elevation and temperature needs to be equipped with all the right stuff
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When you can camp in 80-degree weather at 4,000 feet one day, but move to a site in the snow at 10,000 feet the next day, you’re going to need an RV that can keep up with your wild Colorado adventures.
“These changes in elevation can have dramatic effects on an RV — the amount of oxygen is significantly different, which affects the LP system (furnace, water heater, stove and more), not to mention the temperature swings,” said Paul Roach, general manager of Humphrey RV with locations in Grand Junction and Montrose. “You can jump from 80 degrees to 30 degrees in the same day, relying on your A/C and then your furnace in a few hours. How well your RV is insulated becomes very important.”
All RVs are not created equally, which is why Roach said anyone looking for an RV to use in places like Colorado has to be a savvy buyer.
“Be sure you know exactly what you are buying, because that great deal your Uncle Ned gets you in Texas might be your worst nightmare when you try to take it to 10,000 feet skiing or to Elk Camp and literally nothing works,” Roach said.
Here’s some of his best advice before you buy an RV for adventure trips in Colorado.
Ask yourself these three questions
- Where do you plan on going? (Determine the size of RV you need — they range from 10 to 45 feet — in order to get in and out of your destinations.)
- How many people will be joining you? (Determine the number of sleeping areas you will need.)
- How big is your tow vehicle? (Do you need a new Duramax, or will your Rubicon pull just fine?)
Cold weather considerations
There are some terms in the RV industry that Roach said can mislead people. Many RVs have one of the following stickers plastered on the side: “4 seasons,” “All Season,” “Extreme Weather Package,” or “Polar Package.”
“There is no industry standard that defines these terms, and every manufacturer has a different definition for their phrase,” Roach said. “So, one ‘Extreme Climate Package’ could mean it has an extra layer of insulation in the roof. Well, that’s not really going to keep your tanks from freezing when you’re skiing under the lights at Keystone, is it?”
He’s seen other examples of these variations in cold-weather packages include things like 2-inch-thick foam walls, but the RV still has single-pane windows.
“There are a few manufacturers that have their rigs taken into a massive freezer and have the temperature brought to freezing for a day or two — this type of test is legitimate,” Roach said. “If the rig survives the night in the freezer, you can trust that it will perform for you in the real world. In general, you get what you pay for. Unless the RV you are looking at has gone through the freeze test and passed, those climate packages are nothing more than lip-service.”
Humphrey RV orders its rigs as specifically tailored to the Colorado style of camping as possible — that means the biggest furnace, the maximum amount of A/C available and as many Enclosed Tank Valves — which prevent yucky situations from frozen tank valves — as possible.
A full underbelly covering will protect the bottom of the RV from things like mice, snow, cold, magnesium chloride, etc.
“if your RV does have a cold weather package, it will have a few heat ducts dedicated to heating the underbelly, keeping your water lines and tanks from freezing, but some RVs will only use a thin sheet of plastic for the underbelly, nothing more,” Roach said. “The best cold weather rigs will have thick plastic underbelly, then insulation, then tanks and heat. Word of caution: if your furnace is off, there is no heat being pumped into the underbelly and your tanks will freeze.”
Roach said the very best cold weather RV is the Arctic Fox line of campers — “there’s a reason they are named after an animal that thrives in the snow,” he said.
Colorado’s powerful sunshine
Colorado’s elevation means there’s less protection from harmful UV rays. Roach said the sun in Colorado is so brutal that it will do damage to most RV exteriors in a matter of years.
Most RVs have a gelcoat, like a boat, that doesn’t hold up like automotive paint. It needs to be waxed every year or so, and you can have a local paint shop put a clear coat over the gel coat, which Roach said helps tremendously.
The sun can also eat the plastic covers on RV roofs, so Roach recommends storing the RV under cover — preferably in a 14-foot-high garage built specifically for the RV. (For real — this really is a worthwhile investment.)
On the plus side, the harsh and brutal sun can produce tons of solar power.
“Solar panels have improved by leaps and bounds in the last decade and the efficiency is incredible these days. Pair that with a new lithium iron phosphate battery (not lithium ion), and you will be the happiest camper in all the land.”
That’s because the lithium phosphate batteries are the future of RVing, Roach said. They store more power, charge faster, are lighter and can cycle up to 5,000 times. And they can be drawn down to 5 percent, vs. 50 percent for a traditional battery.
“It’s the last battery you will ever need for your RV,” he said.
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A report released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, officials need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the Upper Colorado River Basin states will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the white paper.