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Pop-up campers are a home away from home, and they can take you anywhere, anytime – well, almost anytime. They can, unfortunately, be sensitive to freezing temperatures since the vinyl that makes up the windows and sometimes the sides of your camper get less flexible the colder it is.
Usually, 0 ºF (-17.8 ºC) is too cold for a pop-up camper since thinner vinyl starts to crack at around this temperature. However, some vinyl can withstand even lower temperatures, and there are ways to warm up the material and keep it from tearing.
So, let’s discuss what happens when you go camping with your pup in freezing temps. I’ll tell you the lowest temperatures that your camper can withstand and share some tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years to keep my camper in tip-top shape, even in sub-zero temperatures.
Can a Pop-Up Camper Break in the Cold?
If you already have a pop-up camper, you might have heard about how the vinyl windows and fabric-backed vinyl on pop-ups can crack in the cold. However, it has to be extremely cold for the camper to break, so you probably won’t have any issues if the weather is campable.
The vinyl windows and the flexible vinyl sides of your pop-up camper can break in the cold. That’s because temperatures below freezing make the vinyl stiffer and far less flexible, so when you set up or take down your camper, it might not be able to bend without breaking.
The vinyl used in the manufacturing of pop-up campers comes in many different thicknesses called gauges, and each gauge has a separate temperature rating. Usually, this vinyl is used for the windows, but sometimes, it can also make up parts of the sides of your camper.
Thinner vinyl that is less than 30 gauge has a breaking point of 0 ºF (-17.8 ºC). That means that, in sub-zero temps, you might not be able to open or stow your camper without damaging it.
However, vinyl with a higher gauge than 30 resists cracking far better than its thinner counterparts – at least to a certain degree. 30 gauge vinyl can usually withstand temperatures of up to -29 ºF (-33.9 ºC). 40 gauge vinyl stays flexible for slightly longer, with its crack point at -30 ºF (-34.4 ºC).
Most manufacturers won’t make pop-up campers with vinyl any thicker than 40 gauge. That’s because, as the vinyl gets thicker, it can become so rigid and stiff that its cold tolerance actually goes backward, and it can crack in warmer temperatures. For example, 60 gauge vinyl can start to break in temperatures of only -10 ºF (-23.3 ºC), and the tolerance only falls from there.
So, to determine the cold crack rating on your camper, check with the model’s specs to determine what gauge of vinyl you have. If you can’t find any information on your specific pop-up, you can also do a touch test to compare some vinyl samples to the materials used in your camper.
How To Use Your Pop-Up Camper in Freezing Temperatures
Since vinyl tends to crack when temperatures get very low, you should generally avoid letting your pop-up camper get so cold that it could break.
To use your pop-up camper in freezing temperatures:
- Use a heater in freezing temperatures.
- Lower your pop-up in the daytime.
- Slowly assemble and stow your pop-up when it’s cold.
So, let’s discuss your options and find a solution that will keep you and your camper warm during frigid nights.
Use a Heater in Freezing Temperatures
Heaters won’t just keep you warm – they will keep your camper warm too! The likelihood is that if you are worried about your camper freezing and cracking, you should also be concerned about how to stay warm in sub-zero temps.
There are tons of heaters and furnaces available on the market, and there are also tons designed just for use in a pop-up camper. However, some may be inefficient or dangerous to use in your pup, so it’s always best to do your research before deciding on a heating option.
If you want a recommendation, I’ve talked to some of my pop-up buddies from colder regions like Canada and New England to see what the consensus is on the best heaters for pups.
Here are the heaters that they rely on and recommend, which are all available on Amazon.com:
- 4, 000, 9, 000, or 18, 000 BTU per hour
- Heats up to 450 sq. ft.
- Hi-Med-Low heat settings
- Mr. Heater MH18B. This little propane-fueled heater won’t require any electrical outlets or voltage-matching, which makes it superbly simple to use. It also has an auto-shutoff, which is crucial when it comes to camper heaters. This great heater has lasted me well over three years without any issues, and it always keeps my pop-up toasty in temps below 20 ºF (-6.7 ºC).
3 Quiet Settings - including high heat, low heat, and fan only make this electric space heater ideal for warming up an area in your home. Combined with an adjustable thermostat this personal space heater is great for small areas. The product does not have a remote.
- Lasko Ceramic Adjustable Thermostat Space Heater. If you want an electric heater with the perfect features for camping, this one is the way to go. The Lasko is smaller than a toaster, but it packs a powerful heat punch with excellent reach. It’s pretty silent, which can be rather lovely during camping. My buddies in the north love this heater since it is so safe, reliable, and efficient.
Fast Heating Feature: Equipped with ceramic heating elements and rated power up to 1500W, only takes 3 seconds to heat up warmth for relatively small spaces, offering a comfortable and consistent temperature.
- PELONIS PHTA1ABB Portable Space Heater. This electric heater, which has two heat settings, is a fantastic all-year heater for pop-ups. It has all the best safety features, a small size, and it heats up in seconds to help you stay warm. With tons of people raving about it, this heater is the best pick for people who use their pop-ups frequently. However, the only downside is that it can be loud, so be prepared for a humming sound.
Lower Your Pop-Up in the Daytime
Since pop-up campers often get brittle when they are below freezing, waiting until it is warmer outside to pack up can save you from cracking the vinyl sides and windows.
Most people let their camper sit in the sunlight for around an hour with a heater on before closing up shop. That way, the materials that make up your pup will be as warm as possible, and they will likely slide back down into place quickly and easily.
Slowly Assemble and Stow Your Pop-Up When It’s Cold
When vinyl is cold, it still has some flexibility. However, just like bending any cold plastic or rubber, if you are rough with it or try to fold it too quickly, it could split or break.
In temperatures below 30 ºF (-1 ºC), be very slow when assembling and stowing your pup. Take your time, and don’t force the vinyl to bend. Allow the vinyl to stretch back into place slowly, and if it just doesn’t settle, use some heat from the sun or your heater to warm up the material. That way, you won’t have to deal with holes and repairs later.
Generally, temperatures below 0 ºF (-17.8 ºC) are too cold for a camper since the vinyl used to make your pup becomes brittle and can easily crack in sub-zero temps. Still, there are ways that you can use your pop-up in freezing temperatures.
You will want to keep the vinyl warm with a heater or the sunlight, and you should never stow or assemble your pop-up quickly, especially when it is freezing outside.
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