The Camping Lifestyle: Recreational Vehicle Gear

After a Tough Year, the RV Industry Is Ready To Rebound

Mark Williams
May 21, 2010
The auto industry isn't the only place where people are hoping for the economy to recover. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, celebrating its 100th year, has come off one its worst sales years ever, but there are signs things are getting better.
All the newest motorhomes, travel trailers, camper shells, lightweight trailers, and more were on display at the RVIA's biggest show of the year in Louisville, Kentucky. Not surprisingly, attendance and the physical size of the show were down, but we did manage to find some interesting new products, big and small, that should make quite a few outdoor enthusiasts happy. Companies like Fleetwood RV, Winnebago, Gulf Stream, and Forest River are all in a fierce battle to respond to the changing demands of loyal cash-strapped customers.
Photo 2/24   |   06 Winnebago Industries Via And Itasca Reyo
Likewise, travel-trailer makers have created smaller, lighter products for buyers who continue to downsize their lifestyles. At the same time, hundreds of smaller, accessory companies displayed clever and more efficient widgets to those who love to camp.
Photo 3/24   |   15 MorRyde SRE4000 Trailer Links
While the industry is in turmoil, it looks like this could be a good shakeout, with the ultimate winner being the consumer. We've listed pricing, but your local dealer may be willing to negotiate on the bigger items. Fewer dollars in the marketplace mean prices are down everywhere and competition is brutal. It's a good time to be a smart shopper. Here are some of the highlights we found at the show.
Take It All with You
When you want to keep a low profile and the weather is nice, pop-up trailers are the way to go. And if you have bed toys to bring along, a great choice is the Starcraft RT. Designed with a flatbed deck up front, the RT is perfect for those who love to ride, and haul gear. The front platform has about a 1200-pound capacity (of course, you'll need to be extra careful calculating and measuring tongue weight); the camper has a full shower, cookstove, stereo, and sleeping for eight. Depending on how you want to option the pop-up, starting prices for the RT line begin around $25,000.
Photo 4/24   |   03 Starcraft RV Starcraft RT
Starcraft RV
800/945-4787
www.starcraftrv.com

Grill or Be Grilled
Coleman, which makes just about everything related to the great outdoors including some pretty cool lightweight pop-up trailers, showed off a new portable grille designed by Paul Jr., from Orange County Choppers. Ready for any local tailgate party or long-haul camping trip, the RoadTrip propane grille is fully collapsible and equipped with two slide-out diamond-plate shelves, and includes details like chrome knobs, integrated thermometer, electronic ignition, and optional mix-and-match grill, griddle, or stove. It comes with a five-year warranty. Expect to pay around $220 retail.
Photo 5/24   |   04 Coleman Portable Grille
Coleman, Inc.
800/835-3278
www.coleman.com

Eco-friendly Trailers That Look Good
Forest River isn't the first company to try to deliver a more eco-friendly product and it surely won't be the last, but the r-pod looks interesting. It's a reconfigurable small travel trailer that offers plenty of room and capacity for the adventurer who wants all the comforts and conveniences of a larger detached camper (refrigerator, stove, water heater, etc.), without the size or weight penalties. Weighing just over 2000 pounds, r-pod floorplans range in size from 16 to 19 feet long and offer a teardrop sloping roof for better aerodynamics. These smaller towing options start around $13,000.
Photo 6/24   |   05 Forest River Eco R Pod Friendly Trailer
Forest River, Inc.
574/642-3119
www.forestriverinc.com

Sprinter Chassis Creates Benefits
Most people know the Sprinter chassis is built by Mercedes-Benz, but relatively few know that nearly all the big motorhome makers have at least one product on that fuel-efficient chassis. Winnebago Industries actually offers two: the Winnebago Via and the Itasca Reyo. Both use the German-sourced 25-foot one-ton chassis and Mercedes-Benz's 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel and five-speed auto. Each is available with two types of slideouts and a long list of options. Sometimes called a Class B+, expect starting prices around $130,000, but that includes features like LCD touchpads, swivel seating, and a drop-down ceiling bed.
Photo 7/24   |   06 Winnebago Industries Via And Itasca Reyo
Winnebago Industries
800/537-1885
www.winnebagoind.com
A SMALLER KIND OF CLASS A
Gulf Stream makes everything from Class A motorhomes and toy haulers to travel trailers and fifth-wheels. This year it has come out with a unique Class A called the Montaj. Much smaller than normal slab-sided, behemoth Class A motorhomes, the Montaj uses a special Ford chassis that allowed designers to give the vehicle a lower center of gravity and a more aerodynamic shape. The results are intended to make the Montaj a money saver (compared with a typical Class A rig, whether it's diesel or gas) every time you take it out. The Montaj uses a 5.4-liter gas V-8 and reports fuel economy numbers at or near 13 mpg. Expect pricing to start around $110,000, with plenty of options available depending on your needs.
Photo 8/24   |   07 Gulf Stream Montaj Exterior
Gulf Stream
800/289-8787
www.gulfstreamrv.com

All the Conveniences, Without Towing
Probably the most compact yet luxurious way to go camping with your pickup truck is to buy a bed camper, like this one from Lance. A camper can be an efficient and simple way to get into the backcountry without the worry of hookup or breakover angles. Starting from $10,000, you can outfit just about any camper shell with running water, heat, a shower, stove, refrigerator, and more. This Lance 825 weighs about 1800 pounds, which makes it perfect for some half- and 3/4-ton pickups. Some trucks will require slight frame modifications to accept bigger bed campers.
Photo 9/24   |   08 Lance 825 Camper
Lance Camper
661/949-3322
www.lancecampers.com

Kitchen Slideouts are Here
One of the more clever options offered on newer travel trailers and fifth wheels is the outdoor kitchen slideout. For now, Pacific Coachworks is the only company to have the outdoor kitchen option (on its Tango model), but there are similar types of outdoor kitchens offered by other makers. Depending on how pampered you want to be outside, there's no reason you can't have a separate sink, refrigerator, and flat-screen TV for your outdoor party. Clever space-saving and tailgating have taken a huge leap forward. Look for other manufacturers to offer their own versions of outdoor amenities.
Photo 10/24   |   09 Pacific Coachworks Outdoor Kitchen Option
Pacific Coachworks
951/686-7294
www.pacificcoachworks.com

A Trailer for All Reasons
The Sylvan Sport is a small, compact adventure trailer that can be configured and reconfigured to handle your every outdoor need. Weighing in at 800 pounds, the industrially designed trailer has a payload capacity of an equal amount. Additionally, all Sports include lockable storage, a spacious tent design, and two air mattresses. The exterior frame is made from high-strength aluminum and offers numerous, attachable accessories. The base model starts around $6000, but Sylvan is said to run special offers on its Web site.
Photo 11/24   |   10 Sylvan Sport
Sylvan Sports
828/883-4292
www.sylvansport.com
The Nature of Compact Cool
Acting like a small, portable refrigerator, the S-28 soft-sided cooler will keep drinks and food cold by simply running on a truck's 12-volt power. The lightweight and collapsible model is thoroughly insulated and equipped with a small motor and fan to pull warm air out of the interior of the bag and blow it out through an exhaust port. The thermal bag has several exterior pockets, a Velcro close top, and sturdy strap. Expect pricing to start around $75.
Photo 12/24   |   11 S 28 Soft Sided Cooler
Dometic
800/544-4881
www.dometic.com

From Power Stroke to MaxxForce
Even though Ford decided to stop using Navistar International as the turbodiesel supplier for the Super Duty lineup, that doesn't mean International is going to let the 6.4-liter V-8 die. In fact, now called the MaxxForce 7, the International 6.4-liter TD V-6 is still available (albeit with quite a few upgrades and design improvements) and ready for commercial use. The MaxxForce 7 comes in three power configurations, with 200-230 horsepower and 560-620 pound-feet of torque. All engines are slated to meet current and upcoming federal emissions without the need for urea injection.
Photo 13/24   |   12 Navistar International MaxxForce 7
Navistar International
800/448-7825
www.maxxforce.com

Some Like It Quad
When it comes to toys, if your tastes lean toward the extreme, you'll want to throw your leg over one of these: The GG Quad is half motorcycle, half ATV, and all high-performance. With 95 horsepower and a six-speed trans, the GG Quad will get to 60 mph in less than five seconds. But as you might guess, this four-wheeled BMW-motivated bombshell isn't cheap. Prices will vary but start around $50,000.
Photo 14/24   |   14 GG Quad
GG Quad
214/559-4597
www.gg-quad-northamerica.com

Compact and Rugged Mobile Power
Weighing only 44 pounds, the Yamaha EF2000is generator is specifically designed to make as much power from as small a package as possible. Rated at 2000 peak watts, this little generator meets all CARB emission regulations and boasts being one of the quietest portable generators on the market. Perfect for small outdoor functions or long camping trips, these generators can also be connected in a series when more power is needed. Expect EF2000 units to run a little over $1000.
Photo 15/24   |   13 Yamaha EF2000is
Yamaha Motors
800/962-7926
www.yamaha-motor.com
More Wheel Travel for a Smoother Ride
Keeping the tires on the ground is always important for safe towing, however many axles you have. Unfortunately, standard independent or leaf-spring suspensions don't always provide the best ride, especially when carrying a full complement of gear, toys, and provisions. Mor/Ryde's SRE4000 is an aftermarket link/shackle specifically designed to cater to twin- or triple-axle trailers, providing the leaf springs with more flex and the tires with more wheel travel, resulting in a smoother, more controlled ride in all weather and road conditions. A twin-axle trailer will cost around $590, and triple-axle products start at $1200.
Photo 16/24   |   15 MorRyde SRE4000 Trailer Links
Mor/Ryde International
574/293-1581
www.morryde.com

Solar Power for Battery Protection
As much fun as it is to be out camping, towing a trailer, or on the road in a motorhome, your rig will likely spend most of its life sitting and waiting for you to take the next trip. As a result, its lead-acid batteries will slowly discharge. The solution is a solar-powered trickle charger like this one from PulseTech. Set the solar panel on top of the camper and connect it to the batteries; it automatically keeps the batteries exercised and fully charged. It'll also send out a high-frequency pulse to keep buildup off the battery plates. This topline model runs around $900.
Photo 17/24   |   16 Solar Powered Trickle Charger By PulseTech
PulseTech
800/580-7554
www.pulsetech.net

From Tow to Stow in 60 Seconds
To call the Tow-N-Stow trailer a clever solution is a huge understatement. The convertible compact trailer is designed to look like a normal pickup-bed-style carrier (it even has 1000 pounds of payload capacity) with a standard trailer hitch and axle setup. But in less time than it takes to unload a trailer, the Tow-N-Stow can convert to an upright cabinet with lockable storage and an adjustable shelving option. Additionally, the hitch, wheels, and suspension collapse into the back of the storage bed, so it looks like a standard garage tool bin when placed up against a wall. Tow-N-Stow trailers come prewired and start around $2000.
Photo 18/24   |   17 Lippert Components Inc Tow N Stow Trailer
Lippert Components, Inc.
574/535-1125
www.tow-n-stow.com

Better Vision for Safety
Just because your pickup truck or SUV didn't come with the factory towing package doesn't mean you can't have wider mirrors. Longview Mirrors has an easy slip-on conversion for just about every vehicle sold in the U.S. Each mirror slides over the existing O.E. mirror to provide extra, extended rearview visibility. The kit comes with an adjustable hook and knob so you can keep the fit tight. Pricing depends on application, but expect to pay around $100 for a set.
Photo 19/24   |   18 Longview Mirrors
Longview Towing Mirror
248/844-1400
www.longviewtm.com
Lighter Than Air Makes MPG
Many trailer manufacturers are filling their new trailer tires with nitrogen to reduce maintenance and cost, and they're recommending buyers do the same. The fact that nitrogen is not as inclined to working its way out of the rubber container means less time spent with a tire gauge and more time at optimum tire pressures. The better the pressures on your tow rig, the better fuel economy you'll get and more predictable emergency braking events will be. The nitrogen is even reported to reduce the speed with which tire rubber breaks down if stored outdoors.
Photo 20/24   |   19 Nitrogen Filled Tires
Check with your local RV trailer dealer for more information.

Active Damping
Bilstein now offers an Active Damping System designed to improve ride and handling in motorhomes. A standard feature on the topline Monaco models (and an option for select Mercedes-Benz SUVs), the ACD system is controlled by a monitoring computer that changes the force at each shock depending on what side-to-side and up-and-down motions are sensed, as well as acceleration and braking inputs. Additionally, the driver can choose from among several firmness settings. As you might expect, this system isn't cheap; it's about $10,000 for the kit, plus installation.
Photo 21/24   |   20 Bilstein Active Damping System
Bilstein USA
858/386-5900 (west)
704/663-7563 (east)
www.bilsteinus.com

A Diet for Your Trailer
With so much uncertainty surrounding the price of fuel, it was no surprise to see numerous weight-saving designs at the show. Part of a new breed of lightweight travel trailers, the Skylark sports a tapered nose and is made from materials specifically designed to save as much as 30 percent of the weight of an equivalent model. The smaller size and efficient use of materials mean the Skylark can be towed by a crossover, smaller SUV, or compact pickup. The Skylark is 22 feet long and weighs about 2900 pounds, with a starting price around $23,000.
Photo 22/24   |   02 Jayco Skylark Camper Trailer
Jayco, Inc.
574/825-5861
www.jayco.com

The Crossover of Motorhomes
Probably the biggest news of the show was the new Encounter motorhome. It's supposed to be the first "crossover" motorhome because it straddles the traditional Class A and Class C designations: It has the floorplan and storage capacity of a bigger Class A, but the value and efficiency of a smaller Class C. And it includes an exclusive "Hide-A-Loft" feature above the driver and front passenger seats that electronically hides a two-person sleeper cabin and air mattress. Pricing will start around $80,000.
Photo 23/24   |   01 Fleetwood Class Encounter Motorhome
Fleetwood RV
800/322-8216
www.fleetwoodrv.com
Photo 24/24   |   01 Fleetwood Class Encounter Motorhome Interior

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