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Thursday, June 19, 2014

RVing at high altitude

katehonish on
Getting out and away from civilization sometimes means getting to new heights. Think Colorado, New Mexico, all those Rocky Mountain states. It's an adjustment for an RVer to climb to new heights – and it can be a challenge for your RV appliances. Some RVers swear that when they hit the "high country," they basically have to live without propane-fired appliances.

Traveling in high places with your rig can mean a few changes, but the drama of "no shower, no cold beer" may be a bit overblown. Both from personal experience of our own, and "as told by" RVers around the country, heading for the hills in the RV isn't a huge problem.

Water heaters seem to be the appliance that has some of the greatest trouble in the high county. They sometimes balk when attempting to light, but here's a trick that can help: Open the outside door, allowing more of air to get inside to the burner. That often is enough to stop problems in itself.

We've only found one instance of an RVer who said they had problems with their refrigerator not wanting to work at high altitude. At first they though something had physically gone wrong with the unit, but once they came down below 7,000 feet, the fridge worked fine. No others reported any problems. If you do take your rig high up and can't get the cooler to stay cool, then switch away from gas to shore power.

Other gas appliances at altitude? Seems like stoves and ovens work just fine; you will have to make the adjustments called for in cooking time, since water boils at a lower temperature, and leavening tends to gas more – causing baked stuff to expand quicker. Read your recipe and food prep details closely.

If you use a "blue flame" or catalytic heater, you may find that they won't work right – or won't work at all. This is because many of these "non-vented" appliances include an oxygen depletion sensor to protect occupants, lest the heater burn up all the oxygen, and leaving the "air breathing carbon units" without air. Get much above five or six thousand feet, the oxygen depletion sensor "thinks" the thin air has too little oxygen and simply shuts down the heater. Not much to be done about that, short of trying to defeat the sensor, which would NOT be a bright thing to do.

One common complaint about high level travel: Electrical generators often don't run as they should, if they run at all. Happily, most RVers reported that such wasn't a big problem, as it seems many use the generator largely for running air conditioners, and at higher elevations they generally didn't need the cooling units.

Happy high trails.


  1. We also have trouble getting our propane powered fridge to work consistently when we boondock above 7000 ft---and that comprises some of our favorite camping. In those instances we are rarely in a spot where we can plug in. All other alliances work fine, and the fridge works fine below 7k. Would appreciate any tips on tweaking the high altitude propane function. We clean and service the appliances regularly.

    '09 Itasca Navion

    1. It has been a few years and I am a little rusty on this point, but the LP regulator has a small cap on it that you take off and beneath it there is an adjusting screw to turn the PSI up or down that may help here; however, please verify this with a tech pro and would appreciate what you found back this way, TYVM.