Pocket Flashlight Review – Lumintop EDC25 & Lumintop SD26 Flashlights

In our mobile lifestyle in our RV we often find ourselves in the dark. I’ve written in the past about how Mark is a flashlight junkie, and I’m so glad he is, because no matter where we go or what we do he always has one in his pocket!

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight review Lumintop SD26 flashlight review 1000 lumen pocket flashlights

Two nifty pocket flashlights that are lighting up the dark for us!

A few months ago I reviewed the truly incredible Lumintop SD75 4,000 lumen flashlight, which is the brightest flashlight either of us has ever seen, by a long shot. It is truly like carrying around a car headlight.

When we started planning our trip to Thailand and Cambodia, Mark decided to upgrade his pocket flashlight to the Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight to take with him on the trip. I secretly wondered where he thought we would be going in the dark once we got to Thailand, but he felt this flashlight was a very important piece of gear that he just had to take with him.

Sure enough, we visited quite a few caves in Thailand, we snuck into the darkest corners of many jaw-dropping ancient Khmer ruins in Angkor, Cambodia, and we took several nighttime boating excursions on Cheow Lan Lake.

Oh my. He was a man in love…with his flashlight! Sigh.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight with shipping containers

The big Lumintop SD75 searchlight with its suitcase and the two Lumintop pocket flashlights: SD26 (left) and EDC25 (right).

When we returned home, he absolutely had to replace yet another of his small pocket flashlights with the Lumintop SD26 flashlight, another 1,000 lumen total “must have” for a true flashlight junkie!

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight with belt holsters

Lumintop SD26 (left) and Lumintop EDC25 (right): 1000 lumen pocket flashlights with belt holsters.

I wondered why a man would ever need TWO pocket flashlights, but of course he has had a flashlight in almost every drawer and cabinet and pocket since I’ve known him, so I’ve learned not to ask. But when the Amazon boxes arrived, I couldn’t help myself from asking him a little bit more.

What makes these flashlights so special?

First, they are extremely bright for their size. Both the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and the Lumintop SD26 flashlight use the latest Cree LED technology, and the beam they cast is astonishing.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight, with its Cree XPL-V5 LED technology, has a narrower beam than the Lumintop SD26 flashlight, which has Cree XP-L HD LED technology, and that is why Mark just had to have BOTH flashlights. Each has its purpose.

He uses the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight to peer into dark corners around the rig. From searching for that small bag of almonds he knows is at the back of the snack cabinet, to crawling under the trailer and looking at the backside of our trailer’s leaf springs where a locking nut recently decided to unscrew itself, to searching the back of the Man Cave (our fifth wheel basement) for his plumber’s wrench or PVC cutters, which he rarely needs so they’re stashed in the depths somewhere, this little narrow-beam flashlight is ideal.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight has a slightly wider beam and is best for short trips in the dark around the rig where he doesn’t want to carry the whopping Lumintop SD75 flashlight” . He keeps it in a cupboard near the door to shine outside when he hears a strange noise, and it’s the one he grabs for quickie nighttime jaunts in the dark where he doesn’t need to light up the whole world.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumen

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight (left) and Lumintop SD26 flashlight (right)

We took both of these pocket flashlights and the big Lumintop SD75 searchlight out with us on our nighttime hike in New Mexico’s Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness recently so we could see the difference in the light cast by each one.

Setting ourselves up near a short cliff, we shined each flashlight directly at the cliff at max power.

The characteristics of each flashlight were very clear to see:

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam_

Narrower and more focused beam of the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight (1000 lumens).

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam_

Slightly broader beam of the Lumintop SD26 flashlight (1000 lumens).

Lumintop SD75 flashlight 4,000 lumen beam_

The “car headlight” effect of the Lumintop SD75 searchlight (4000 lumens).

Changing our angle slightly, we repeated the test with the flashlights shining at the cliff from off to the right. The same characteristics of each flashlight were very clear to see.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight beam 1,000 lumens

Narrower and more focused beam of the Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight beam 1,000 lumens

Slightly broader beam of the Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight beam 4,000 lumens

Huge light from the Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen searchlight.

 

LUMINTOP EDC25 1000 LUMEN FLASHLIGHT DETAILS

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight — the smaller one with the narrower beam — is a true pocket flashlight, complete with a spring clip to clip onto a shirt pocket or the back pocket of a pair of pants.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam in shirt pocket

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight has a spring clip for pockets.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam in jeans pocket

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The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight comes with a belt holster which is a more secure alternative if going on a longer hike with it.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight in a belt holster

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight also has a belt holster.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is powered by a 3,400 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery (the battery is supplied with the flashlight). Simply unscrew the back end of the flashlight and slip the battery into it.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight and 3400 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is powered by a 3,400 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

To charge the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight, just unscrew it in the middle.

Unscrew the Lumintop EDC25 to access the charging port

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The battery is charged by connecting to a laptop or other USB connector. The flashlight’s charging port for the cable is located in the threads of the male half (the back half) of the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight charging port

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight charging port is located in the threads of the back half of the flashlight.

Plug the charging cable into the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight unscrews for charging

Ready for charging.

Then plug the USB end of the charging cable into the laptop. Initially, the flashlight will light up green.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight turns green when charging

Initially, the charging light turns green, but the battery is not charging yet.

In order to initiate the charging process, press the on/off button on the back end of the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight back end button to start charging

Press the button on the end of the flashlight to initiate battery charging.

Then the flashlight will light up red to indicate that it is charging. Once the battery is fully charged, the flashlight will turn green again.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight turns red when it is charging

The battery is charging while the light is red.
Once it turns green again, the battery is fully charged.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight has six modes. It can be set to five different light intensities and it also has a strobe mode where it flashes on and off very quickly.

 

LUMINTOP SD26 1000 LUMEN FLASHLIGHT DETAILS

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is also 1000 lumens but it is a little thicker and slightly shorter and casts a wider beam.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumen beam in hand

Lumintop SD26 flashlight, 1000 lumens.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight doesn’t have a spring clip on it but it comes with a belt holster to make it easy to take on hikes.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight in a belt holster

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight does not have a spring clip but it does have a belt holster for easy carrying.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is powered by a 5,000 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery (supplied with the flashlight). This slightly beefier battery allows the Lumintop SD26 flashlight to run for slightly longer than that The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight before needing to be recharged.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight and 5000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is powered by a 5,000 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is also charged with a USB cable. The charging port is hidden beneath a rubber cover.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight charging port

The charging port is located under a rubber cover.

Simply plug the charging cable into the charging port on the flashlight.

And then plug the USB connector into your laptop.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumens before charging

The battery charging process begins as soon as the flashlight is plugged into the laptop (or other) USB port.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight battery will begin charging immediately, and you’ll see a green light flashing on and off to indicate that the battery is charging. Once the battery is fully charged, the light will stop flashing and will stay green.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumens charging from laptop

The battery is charging as long as the light flashes green.
Once it stays lit solid green, the battery is fully charged.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight has seven modes. It can be set to five different light intensities and it also has a strobe mode where it flashes on and off very quickly. In addition, it has an SOS mode where it flashes Morse code for the letters “SOS.”

 

POCKET FLASHLIGHT SUMMARY

Both the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and the Lumintop SD26 flashlight are 1,000 lumen pocket flashlights that are o-ring sealed and water resistent and built with aerospace grade aluminum construction.

The thinner Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is 137 mm long, has a spring clip and bulges a little less in a back pocket, but its 3,400 mAh battery doesn’t last as long. It’s beam is narrower and more focused.

The thicker (and slightly shorter at 123 mm long) Lumintop SD26 flashlight does not need to be unscrewed into two pieces in order to be charged and has a longer lasting battery. It’s beam is slightly broader. It also has a cool “SOS” Morse code mode just in case you need to flash a call for help!

If you are a flashlight junkie like Mark — and I was really surprised after writing our Lumintop SD75 review that there are so many like-minded flashlight junkies out there! — then one of these two pocket flashlights might be something to consider for your life in the dark around your RV.

You can buy the flashlights at these links:

Our review of the Lumintop SD75 flashlight is at this link.

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RV Plumbing Tips – Cleaning RV Faucets, Sink Drains & Shower Wands

The effects of hard water on RV sinks, faucets and drains can be an ongoing problem for RVers. This page describes a few tips for how we remove these pesky mineral deposit buildups from our bathroom and kitchen sinks in our fifth wheel trailer and keep the water flowing smoothly in our shower wand and RV toilet rinse sprayer.

RV plumbing tips for cleaning RV faucets and drains and removing mineral deposits

RV plumbing tips for removing mineral deposits and cleaning RV faucets and drains.

We like the water to flow freely in our RV vanity sink faucet, kitchen sink faucet and in the shower and RV toilet sprayer wands, however, periodically these faucets begin to spray water in weird directions because their inner workings have gotten clogged up by mineral deposits from the hard water.

In our bathroom vanity, our first step is to remove and clean the screen filter in the faucet. Sometimes the faucet tip can be unscrewed by hand, but if we’ve let it go too long, we have to use a pair of pliers to break the faucet tip free due to corrosion that makes it impossible to unscrew.

Remove RV faucet screen with pliers

Remove the RV faucet screen (with pliers if it’s stuck!)

Then we unscrew the entire screen assembly from the faucet.

Disassemble RV faucet

The faucet tip unscrews from the faucet.

Dirty RV faucet screen

Ugh… the screen is pretty dirty. No wonder the water comes out funny!

This time the screen was very corroded. We remove the corrosion and mineral buildup by putting all the pieces in a bath of white vinegar for 20-30 minutes or so.

Prior to putting the pieces in the white vinegar bath, it is a good idea to make note of the order that these parts go into the faucet assembly!

Soak RV faucet parts in white vinegar

After noting how the pieces go together, soak them in white vinegar.

After the bath, the bits of corrosion can be seen in the white vinegar!

RV faucet parts get cleaned with white vinegar

Here are all the pieces. You can see the dirt that came off in the vinegar bath!

Using an old toothbrush, we scrub each piece until it is clean.

Use toothbrush to clean RV faucet screen

Use a toothbrush to get the screen totally clean.

RV faucet cleaning with toothbrush and white vinegar

Scrub all the parts with the toothbrush.

Then we reassemble the pieces in the correct order and orientation.

Reassemble RV faucet after cleaning 2

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Reassemble RV faucet after cleaning 1

Reassemble the pieces.

Put RV faucet together after cleaning it 2

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Put RV faucet together after cleaning it

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To make it easier to remove the faucet tip the next time we do this job, it helps to grease the threads with a marine PTEF lubricant prior to screwing the assembly back onto the faucet.

Lubricate RV faucet with PTEF lubricant grease

Lubricating the threads makes it easier to unscrew next time!

Lubricate RV faucet after cleaning

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Reassemble RV faucet

Screw it back into the faucet.

RV faucet cleaned and lubricated

Ta da! Now the flow will be smooth and full.

Our trailer has white plastic sinks in the bathroom and kitchen, and these sinks often develop a skanky brown ring around the sink drain. For years, we relied on Comet to clean these sinks. We sprinkled it on the entire sink, let it sit for a bit, and then scrubbed.

We recently discovered that Baking Soda is just as effective!! The fantastic thing about Baking Soda is that it is non-toxic. This is wonderful not only for our gray water holding tanks but also for the RV dump stations as well as the septic fields and municipal waste water treatment systems that are downstream from them.

It’s also really cheap!

Tips for cleaning an RV sink drain

White plastic RV sinks are prone to getting ugly stains.

Dirty RV sink drain

Yuck!

We simply sprinkle it on the sink and then scrub the sink with a damp Scotch-Brite scrubbing pad.

RV sink drain cleaning with baking soda

Sprinkle the baking soda in the sink and scrub the stains with a damp scrubby pad.

What a great result — a wonderfully squeaky clean sink!

RV sink drain is sparkling clean

Sparkling!

The drain plug also gets gummy, and we use an old toothbrush to scrub it clean with either baking soda and/or Murphy’s Oil Soap (a handy all around biodegradable cleanser).

In an RV that is used for dry camping a lot, like ours, the bathroom vanity sink drain can get really gross really quickly because in an effort to conserve fresh water not much clean water gets flushed down the drain.

This can result in foul odors in the sink drain, and it’s pretty unsightly too.

So, we do two things.

First, we scrub the inside of the bathroom sink drain with an old toothbrush. To get a longer reach down the drain, we taped our toothbrush to an old tent stake we had lying around. Anything long and narrow will work.

Toothbrush and extension rod to clean RV sink drain

Tape an old toothbrush to a long stick to reach deep down the RV sink drain.

Cleaning an RV sink drain

Scrub inside the sink drain.

We also scrub the sink drain plug.

Second, to keep the RV bathroom sink drain fresh smelling, we use Happy Camper Holding Tank Treatment which we’ve found is a particularly good deodorizer. We put scoop of powder in an old water bottle, fill it up with water and shake it well (the bottle gets warm as the enzymes get activated!), and then pour it down the drain.

Most of it goes into the gray water tank, but a small amount stays in the bathroom sink drain p-trap and does its magic there, killing off the offensive odors.

Use toothbrush to scrub RV sink drain plut

Scrub the sink drain plug with a toothbrush.

To keep our RV shower in tip-top shape, we clean the drain there as well. The biggest problem in our RV shower drain isn’t foul odors, because the shower drain gets flushed with lots of water everyday. Instead, the challenge with the RV shower drain is accumulated hair.

In a house, it’s easy enough to use a powerful cleanser like Drano to clean out any clogs caused by hair, but we don’t want strong chemicals like that sitting in our gray wastewater holding tank. Afterall, we want the enzymes and bacteria in the Happy Camper and Unique RV Digest-It holding tank treatment products we use to thrive and go to work breaking things down!

So, we use a long spring hook (and flashlight) to pull the hair out. It just takes a few minutes and then the drain is clear.

Some RV shower stalls may have drain components that can be removed for cleaning. Ours doesn’t.

Cleaning hair from an RV shower drain

Use a spring hook to pull hair out of the RV shower drain.

Periodically, the RV shower wand gets crudded up with mineral deposits just like our RV sink faucets do. Again, we rely on white vinegar to clean up the deposits clogging the spray holes in the shower nozzle.

First, we pour the white vinegar through the shower wand to let it soak from the inside.

Tips for cleaning an RV shower wand

The RV shower wand can be cleaned with white vinegar.

Then we soak the shower wand’s face in a bath of white vinegar.

Tips for cleaning an RV shower wand

Put the RV shower wand face down in a white vinegar bath to clean all the little holes.

If we’ve let a little too much time pass, we’ll also use a toothpick to clean out each hole in the shower head. We use bamboo toothpicks because they hold up well in water. Ordinary wooden toothpicks tend to disintegrate when they get wet. A scribe also works well.

The before-and-after difference in the flow of water through the shower wand is startling. When half of the little holes are blocked from mineral deposits and the other half have an impeded flow, the water can feel like needles on your skin. After cleaning the wand, it is more like a waterfall.

Clean each hole in an RV shower wand with a toothpick or scribe

Use a toothpick or scribe to clean each hole in the shower wand.

Lots of RVers love the Oxygenics RV shower head. We don’t use it because it doesn’t work well with the low water pressure we use to conserve water since we dry camp every night, but for RVers who get water hookups a lot, these shower heads are extremely popular. Of course, in hard water areas, these shower heads will need periodic cleaning as well.

The RV toilet bowl rinsing wand is also subject to corrosion from mineral deposits, and after a while when we go to rinse the toilet bowl we find the water flow from the sprayer is restricted and funky.

RV toilet sprayer wand cleaning

The RV toilet sprayer wand gets clogged with minerals too.

Again, it’s easy to unscrew the end of the toilet spay wand, put it in a white vinegar for 20-30 minutes, scrub it a bit with a toothbrush, and then put it back on the wand.

RV toilet rinse wand cleaning

Unscrew the tip of the toilet rinsing wand and soak it in white vinegar to clean the holes.

As an aside, if you have energy leftover after cleaning all your RV sinks, faucets, drains and spray nozzles, a spray bottle filled with a water and white vinegar mixture is super for washing the windows. As I wrote this, some flies got in our trailer and Mark started spraying them when they landed on the window next to him using a spray bottle filled with water and white vinegar. Besides slowing them down and killing them, he was really impressed with how clean the window was when he finished!

So, these are a few of the things we do to keep our sinks and drains flowing smoothly in our life on the road in our RV.

We hope they help you too!

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B&W Companion Hitch Performance in a Fifth Wheel Trailer Rollover Accident

The April 2017 issue of Trailer Life magazine featured our article on the new Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches. Ironically, just as that issue came out, a reader emailed us the harrowing tale of his recent fifth wheel trailer rollover accident.

Trailer Life Magazine Latch and Release B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch article

Trailer Life Magazine, April 2017.
Text and photos by Emily Fagan.
Installation by Mark Fagan and Mark Graika.

Like most RVers, we installed our hitch without giving much thought to rollover accidents, and we have been very happy with it.

The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch is special because it is designed to fit into the new puck sytems that the diesel truck manufacturers are now making available in the beds of their pickup trucks.

This makes it easy to install the hitch in the truck without having to take the truck to a shop.

Mark was able to install it in our truck with a friend’s help in about an hour, using minimal tools, and that included opening the boxes and reading the instructions. A step-by-step guide for how to install the B&W Companion OEM hitch are at this link:

B&W Companion OEM Hitch Installation Guide

The other fabulous thing about the B&W Companion OEM hitch is that not only is it easy to install but it is easy to remove from the truck.

Anytime you want to use the bed of your truck to haul something big like lumber, fire wood or furniture, it is a very straight forward process to take the hitch out of the truck.

The best part is that there are no hitch rails in the bed of the truck, so once the hitch is removed, the bed of the truck is totally flat.

These features are not part of the design of conventional fifth wheel hitches, like the conventional rails-based B&W Companion hitch (not an “OEM” model), so it’s a worthwhile to consider buying a truck with the optional puck system on it if you are considering buying a late model diesel truck.

When buying a truck/trailer combination, not only are the quality of the truck and trailer important, but the hitch is really important too, and not just for its ability to tow a heavy load…

We were shocked when full-time RVers Mark and Doran Gipson sent us photos of their terrifying rollover accident with their fifth wheel. They were towing their home, a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America fifth wheel, with a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500, and they were hitched together with B&W Companion hitch.

While driving at 60 mph on I-10 outside in El Paso in February, two very inconsiderate drivers suddenly cut them off in a series of swerves right in front of them.

Here is Mark’s description of what happened:

“We were going 60 mph and were cut off by two vehicles who decided to not exit on loop 375. They dove back into our lane within 2 car lengths. With no time to brake, I swerved to the inside lane only to have the second vehicle also move into that lane as well. I lost the trailer when I swerved back to miss the concrete median.”

The result was that the trailer went over on the driver’s side at 60 mph, slid 150 feet and hit its roof on the concrete median.

Hitchhiker trailer wheel trailer RV rollover accident

The Hitchhiker fifth wheel hit the pavement at 60 mph and slid 150 feet.
Most trailers would have splintered on impact.

Fortunately, as the trailer went over on its side, the B&W hitch — which comes in two pieces: a base on the bottom and a coupler on the top — separated in two. The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin as the trailer toppled over while the base stayed in the bed of the truck, allowing the truck to remain upright.

Hitchhiker fifith wheel trailer rollover accident with B&W fifth wheel hitch coupler still attached

The upper half of the fifth wheel hitch — the coupler — remained attached to the trailer
as it rolled over on the driver’s side.

So, while Mark and Doran came to a skidding stop in their truck, sitting upright in their seats, the trailer rolled over, detached and slid to a stop on its side.

Truck damage from fifth wheel trailer rollover accident

As the trailer went over, the fifth wheel overhang crushed the driver’s side of the truck bed.

If the truck had rolled over too, Mark and Doran could have easily been very badly injured or even killed. However, because the truck stayed upright, they walked away unscathed. Thank heavens!!

With the truck badly damaged and the trailer on its side on I-10, Mark called for help and a wrecking crew arrived. As he wrote to me:

“The wrecker driver came with two trucks and a trailer because he had not gotten to a 5th wheel rollover without the truck also on its side and the trailer in pieces. He said that it would collapse when he tried to pick it up. But he put it on its wheels and towed it to his shop and still can’t believe how well built it was.

“Things were tumbled around inside but we virtually lost none of our possessions.”

Fifth wheel trailer damage from RV rollover accident with Hitchhiker 5th wheel trailer

The wrecking crew righted the trailer and were amazed that it stood up just fine on its own wheels.
The damage to the trailer was cosmetic except for a roof rafter.

“We tested the slides and everything worked. The major damage was cosmetic on the side that slid and possibly a broken roof rafter where the AC unit came against the concrete barrier. Though everything was scrambled inside, nothing was broken. We lost almost nothing of our possessions including TV and computers.”

My husband Mark and I saw a trailer accident on the highway once, and the entire trailer was in splinters. That is what usually happens in trailer accidents and that’s why the wrecker driver arrived at the accident scene prepared to pick up a million pieces off the highway.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer sustained little damage in 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

The wrecking crew expected the trailer to fall apart when it was righted, but it stood right up.
They towed it away on its own wheels just fine.

It is quite a testament to the way the Hitchhiker Discover America trailers were built that one could fall over on its side at 60 mph and still be intact with the slide-out mechanisms still functioning and only cosmetic damage on the side that skidded on the asphalt.

Unfortunately, Hitchhiker (NuWa Industries) stopped building fifth wheel trailers in 2013, but used models of all ages can still be found. Our blog posts from our visits to NuWa in Chanute, Kansas, can be found at the following links:

B&W Trailer Hitches is located just a few miles away from the NuWa plant (NuWa is now called Kansas RV Center) in Humboldt, Kansas, and we enjoyed a wonderful factory tour and a unique American heartland small town celebration that was sponsored in part by B&W Trailer Hitches two years ago (blog post here).

For Mark and Doran, the key to their truck staying upright during their rollover accident was the way the pivot arm on the base of the B&W Companion hitch bent sideways and let the coupler break free as the trailer toppled over.

Bent pivot arm on B&W fifth wheel hitch after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Looking forward towards the cab of the truck, the pivot arm on the driver’s side bent outwards allowing the coupler to break free (with some small broken parts inside) while the entire hitch base stayed planted in the bed of the truck. This kept the truck upright.

B&W fifth wheel hitch bent pivot arm after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Bent pivot arm on the fifth wheel hitch base.

It is impressive that the B&W hitch allowed for the hitch coupler and hitch base to separate completely once one of the pivot arms on the hitch base began to bend as the trailer went over. As the wrecker driver noted, usually both the truck and the trailer roll over together because once the trailer starts to go over the hitch forces the truck over too.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch coupler after trailer rollover accident

The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin.
In this photo it has been removed from the king pin and laid in the bed of the truck for inspection.

B&W Companion hitch coupler after rollover accident broken pieces inside

The coupler is flipped upside down here to reveal the broken pieces inside.

Broken pieces inside the B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch after a rollover accident

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In the end, Mark and Doran decided to replace both their truck (a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500) and their trailer (a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America) as well as their slightly damaged B&W Companion hitch with a new set: a 2012 3500 Ram dually truck, 2012 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America and a new B&W Companion hitch!

We feel very blessed to have towed our fifth wheel trailer so many tens of thousands of miles and seen so many beautiful places in nearly 10 years of full-time travel. We’ve had our share of near misses, especially in our trip back east two years ago where traffic is blindingly fast on very crowded and confusing highways, and we’ve seen our share of accidents too.

One RV upgrade we did that has made a massive difference for us in dealing with sudden stops at high speed while towing our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer was a trailer disc brake conversion where we upgraded from standard trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is a pricey upgrade, but one we highly recommend doing.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel RV with B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch under sunny skies

RVing in a fifth wheel trailer is so much fun, especially in gorgeous places far from the open road.
But accidents do happen and good equipment — from truck to trailer, hitch and brakes — can make a huge difference in the outcome when things go wrong.

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Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall

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Is RV Solar Affordable? 3 Solar Solutions for RVs and Boats

Is RV solar power affordable or is installing a solar power system on a motorhome or trailer — or even on a sailboat — just too darn expensive to be cost effective? We never thought this question would be hard to answer until recently.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel trailer

Can a solar power installation on an RV or sailboat pay for itself?

Ever since we installed our first (very small) solar power system on our first full-time RV nearly ten years ago, we’ve been excitedly telling people it is a very affordable do-it-yourself project for anyone with some mechanical and electrical knowledge. And for those who can’t turn a wrench, it shouldn’t be that much more.

Our first 130 watt solar power system cost us about twice as much as the same system would today, but even at that high price, we felt it was dollar-for-dollar an equal value to buying a Yamaha or Honda 1000 generator. Best of all, once a little system like that was installed, it was a whole lot less noisy, expensive to operate and complicated to use than a generator would be.

At today’s super cheap solar prices, that little solar power system is even more valuable compared to one of those nice Japanese portable gas generators than it was 10 years ago!

Installing solar panels on a motorhome RV

Installing solar power can be a DIY project if you’re handy.

Recently, however, we’ve heard some crazy prices being quoted for installing solar power systems on RVs. We met one couple with a gorgeous brand new DRV Suites fifth wheel who were quoted $13,000 for a solar power installation. Not long after that, we read an article in a popular RV magazine describing a $12,000 solar power installation on a fifth wheel.

Yikes!! These are outrageous prices!!

We sure hope no one is finding they have to spend that kind of crazy money to get a solar power system installed on their trailer or motorhome or sailboat.

We’ve got oodles of articles on this website that go into the nitty gritty details of things to consider when designing and installing a solar power system on an RV or a boat (located HERE). However, all that theory aside, it’s not all that complicated.

Here are three solar power “packages” — with approximate prices — that will do the trick whether you’re a part-timer or full-time RVer.

Although it is possible to buy “pre-packaged RV solar power kits” online, we suggest hand selecting the components you want so that just in case any individual item has a problem it can be returned easily.

We’ve heard of cases where people bought a pre-packaged solar power kit online and then had problems returning a broken part because they had to return the entire kit — solar panels, charge controller, cables and all — just because the one item wasn’t working right.

 

SMALL RV SOLAR POWER KIT – 150 WATT SYSTEM

Affordable solar panel with a popup tent trailer

For part-time RVers, installing solar on the roof isn’t a requirement.

The following is essentially what we put on our roof and what we camped with off the grid every night for a year when we started.

The brands are not exactly the same, but these components are highly rated and will do the trick for anyone that wants a roof-mounted solar power system on their motorhome or trailer.

This kit includes both a solar battery charging component and an 110 volt AC power component provided by an inverter. If you don’t understand the distinction, please see our post: RV Solar Power Made Simple.

The simplest inverter installation is to connect the inverter to the batteries using heavy duty cables and then to run an ordinary (but long) power strip (or two) from the inverter to somewhere convenient inside the rig.

Rather than using the wall outlets in the rig, just plug the AC appliances into the power strip as needed, taking care not to operate too many things at once and overload the inverter.

Prices always change, so check the links to see the current prices.

The nice thing about this kit is that it is easily expandable. If a second or third solar panel is eventually desired (to double or triple the size of the system to 300 or 450 watts, for another $200 or $400), those panels can be purchased at a later date. At that point the solar charge controller can also be replaced with a bigger and more sophisticated charge controller (for $600).

 

PORTABLE FOLDING SOLAR POWER KIT SUITCASE – 200 WATT SYSTEM

Portable folding solar panel suitcase for RV and motorhome use

A portable solar power kit that folds up and can be carried like a suitcase is an awesome solution for weekenders, vacationers and seasonal RVers.

A really nifty alternative for anyone that isn’t super skilled with tools or that’s a bit spooked by electrical things, is a portable solar power kit that folds into a suitcase. These come with two matching solar panels, battery cables with aligator clips, and a panel-mounted solar charge controller. The solar panels are hinged together and can be folded towards each other. A handle on the side of one of them makes the whole thing easy to carry and store like a suitcase.

These portable folding suitcase solar panel kits come in all sizes. A good size is anywhere from 120 to 200 watts:

The advantage of a portable suitcase solar kit like this is that it is self-contained. If you think you might upgrade to a different RV soon, then there’s no loss in investment when one RV is sold and another is purchased. Also, if you decide to install a roof-mounted system at a later date, the suitcase solar panel kit can be sold to another RVer.

Another suitcase solar kit that includes a small charge controller to protect the batteries is Go Power’s 120 watt kit ($565).

As for the inverter, heavy duty cables and power strip, they are included here just to round out the package so you have AC power in the rig as well as the ability to charge the batteries just like the “small solar power kit” described above.

 

Affordable solar power on a motorhome

Installing solar panels on tilting brackets is popular, but only necessary in mid-winter. We’ve never done it.

With a big RV solar power installation, it is likely that the RV’s house battery bank will need to be upgraded or replaced too, so this package includes a “replacement” AGM battery bank.

The Magnum inverter is an inverter/charger that has a built in transfer switch, making it very straight forward to wire the inverter into the house AC wiring system so you can use the standard wall outlets in the rig rather than plugging things into a power strip.

We’ve been living exclusively on solar power since we started this crazy traveling lifestyle in 2007, and this system is larger than any system we’ve ever had on a boat or trailer. So it ought to work just fine for anyone who wants to RV full-time and do a lot of boondocking.

 

INSTALLATION COSTS

If you are not a DIY RVer, you’ll need to budget for the installation labor too. As a very rough estimate, I would allow for $500-$1,000 for a small system installation and $1,500-$2,500 for a big system installation. The variations in labor costs will depend on how difficult it is to work in your rig, how hard it is to mount the various components and run the wires from roof to basement, and whether or not you choose to have the batteries upgraded or replaced.

 

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

RV park and campground prices are all over the map, but assuming that the average cost is $25 per night for a site with hookups if you don’t take advantage of monthly discounts or $15 per night if you do, these systems can pay for themselves in anywhere from 18 camping days to 14 months, depending on what size system you buy, whether or not you do the installation yourself, and how you typically camp. Of course, this assumes the rig is equipped with a refrigerator that can run on propane and that if air conditioning is needed an alternative power source like a generator is used.

As with everything in the RVing world, starting small and cheap is the best way to go.

 

COMPLEX SOLAR POWER INSTALLATIONS

Solar panel arch with solar panels on sailboat transom

Installing solar power on a sailboat has its own set of challenges.

We have installed three different RV solar power systems and one solar power system on a sailboat.

We published an article in the February 2017 issue of Cruising World Magazine (one of the top magazines in the sailing industry) describing the solar power system we installed on our sailboat Groovy back in 2010. This system gave us all the power we needed to “anchor out” in bays and coves away from electrical hookups in marinas for 750 nights during our cruise of Mexico.

Cruising World has posted the article online here:

Sunny Disposition – Adding Solar Power – Cruising World Magazine, February, 2017

Installing solar power on a sailboat is very similar to installing it in an RV, but there is an added complexity because there isn’t a big flat roof to lay the panels on. Instead, we had to construct a stainless steel arch to support the panels. Fortunately, our boat, a 2008 Hunter 44DS, had a factory installed stainless steel arch over the cockpit already. So, we hired a brilliant Mexican metal fabricator named Alejandro Ulloa, to create our solar panel arch in Ensenada, Mexico.

Solar power installation on sailboat Hunter 44

We turned to Alejandro Ulloa of Ensenada, Mexico, for our solar panel arch
He can be contracted the Baja Naval.

Solar panel arch installation on Hunter 44 sailboat

Alejandro is an artist. He wrapped the arch in plastic to prevent scratches until it was permanently mounted on our boat!

Solar panel arch on sailboat Hunter 44

The arch went back to Alejandro’s workshop for tweaking after this measuring session.

Solar panel arch on sailboat Hunter 44 installed by Alejandro Ulloa

Dimensions now perfect, Alejandro mounts the arch permanently.

Getting the 185 watt 24 volt solar panels up onto the arch was a challenge. Getting solar panels up onto an RV roof is tricky too!

Affordable marine Solar panel installation on sailboat Hunter 44

Getting the solar panels onto the roof of an RV or up onto this arch takes two people (at least!)

Installing solar panels on an arch on sailboat (Hunter 44) with Alejandro Ulloa Baja Naval Ensenada Mexico

The second of the three panels gets installed.

The solar panel arch was going to double as a “dinghy davit” system with telescoping rods that extended out over the transom. These davits supported a pulley system to hoist the dinghy up out of the water. So once the solar panels were mounted on the arch, we had to be sure it could handle the weight of the dinghy.

Our dinghy weighed a lot less than the combined weight of Mark and Alejandro!

Strong solar panel arch and dinghy davit extension

Alejandro and Mark test the arch to be sure it can support the dinghy (which weighed half what they do).

The solar panels were wired in parallel because they would be subjected to shade constantly shifting on and off the panels at certain times of the day as the boat swung at anchor.

Wiring solar panels on a sailboat (Hunter 44) marine solar power installation

Mark wires up the panels in parallel.

Affordable solar panel installation on a sailboat

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Solar panel arch with dinghy davit extension supporting affordable solar power on sailboat

A beautiful, clean installation with wire loom covering the exposed cabling and the rest snaked down inside the tubes of the Hunter arch. The davit extensions for hoisting the dinghy are clearly visible under the panels.

Solar panels installed on arch on Hunter 44 sailboat

Nice!

Down below the cockpit inside a huge locker in the transom, Mark mounted a combiner box that brought three cables in from the three panels and then sent out one cable to the solar charge controller.

Emily and Mark Fagan aboard sailboat Groovy

The transom locker in our Hunter 44DS sailboat was very large!

Combiner box for solar panel parallel wiring on a sailboat

A combiner box brings the wires from the three panels together before a single run goes to the solar charge controller (this is optional and not at all necessary).

The solar charge controller was installed in the cabin inside a hanging locker in the master stateroom.

Xantrex solar charge controller installed in sailboat locker

We have an Outback FlexMax charge controller on our trailer but chose a Xantrex controller for our boat because there were no moving parts. We compare the two HERE.

The solar charge controller was located about 8 feet from the near end of the battery bank which spanned a ~14 foot distance under the floorboards in the bilge.

Two 4D AGM batteries in bilge of sailboat

We had four 160 amp-hour 4D AGM batteries for the house bank and a Group 27 AGM start battery installed under the floorboards in the bilge.
One 4D house battery and the Group 27 start battery are seen here

This 555 watt solar power system, which charged a 640 amp-hour house bank of 4D AGM batteries, supplied all of our electrical needs, including powering our under-counter electric refrigerator.

Usually our engine alternator provided backup battery charging whenever we ran the engine. However, at one point our alternator died, and we were without it for 10 straight weeks while we waited for a replacement alternator.

Why such a long wait for a simple replacement part? Getting boat parts in Mexico requires either paying exorbitant shipping fees and import taxes or waiting for a friend to bring the part with them in their backpack when they fly from the US to Mexico.

During that long wait our solar power system supplied all our electricity without a backup while we were anchored in a beautiful bay. Diesel engines don’t require an alternator to run, so we moved the boat around and went sailing etc., and lived our normal lives during our wait.

Solar panel arch and dinghy davit extension with solar panels installed on sailboat

View from the water — cool!

The dinghy davit extensions on the solar panel arch made it easy to raise and lower the dinghy from the water and also to raise and lower the 6 horsepower outboard engine.

Solar panel arch and dinghy davit extension on sailboat

A pulley system on the davit extensions made hoisting the outboard and dinghy a cinch for either of us to do singlehandedly.

Solar panel arch and solar panels on sailboat transom

For 7 months we left our boat at the dock in Chiapas, unplugged from shorepower, and let the solar panels keep the batteries topped off. Everyday during that time they put 19 amp-hours into the batteries which was essentially the power required to operate the solar charge controller!

At anchor, sometimes the solar panels were in full sun all day long if the current and wind and the pattern of the sun crossing the sky allowed the boat to move around without the sun coming forward of the beam of the boat.

However, whenever the sun was forward of the beam, the shadow of the mast and the radome fell on the panels. We could watch the current production from the panels go from full on, to two-thirds, to one-third and back again as the shadow crossed one panel and then two at once, and then one and then none, etc, as the boat swung back and forth at anchor.

Mast and radome cast shade on solar panels on sailboat

RV solar installations have to avoid shade from air conditions and open vent hatches.
On boats the shade from the mast and radome is often unavoidable.

Mast and radome cast shade on pair of sailboat solar panels

When the shadow fell across two 185 watt panels at once, it knocked both of them out of the system so only one of the three solar panels was actually producing power.

The coolest and most unexpected benefit of having our solar panels mounted on an arch over the cockpit was the shade that they provided. The sun in Mexico is very intense, especially out on the water, and it was wonderful to have two huge forward facing jump seats at the back of the cockpit that fully shade as we sailed!

Under the shade of solar panels and a solar panel arch on a sailboat

Made in the shade — What a life that was!!

We have more solar power related articles at these links:

SOLAR POWER OVERVIEW and TUTORIAL

BATTERIES and BATTERY CHARGING SYSTEMS

LIVING ON 12 VOLTS

Our technical articles in Cruising World magazine can be found here:

Do We Miss Our Boat “Groovy” and Sailing?

We describe our thrilling — and heart wrenching — first and last days on our wonderful sailboat in the following posts. It is very true that the happiest days of a boater’s life are the day the boat is bought and the day it’s sold!

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

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What’s A Girl To Do at the RV Dump Station?

Dumping the RV holding tanks is a nasty little job, but it’s part of the fun of traveling around in an RV, and we’ve all gotta do it. It’s really not all that bad when it’s a shared job, but of course that’s easy for us gals to say, because it’s usually our male partners-in-love-and-life who get to do the bulk of the dirty work.

RV dump station tips for women RVers-2

Despite lots of progress over the years for the types of work women can do, emptying an RV’s waste water holding tanks is a job many women are just as happy to leave to their better half.

Sometimes, when we go to an RV dump station, I am amazed to see a woman remain in the passenger’s seat of her truck or motorhome for the whole duration of the job. I’m not sure how these women have negotiated that arrangement with their significant other, but I figure they must be incredibly good cooks to be able to chat with a friend on the phone or check the latest on Facebook while their hubby is grinding it out with the sewer hose, the splashing water, and all that muck and mire.

RV dump station tips for RVing women

Mark looks like he’s having so much fun. Can I get away with doing nothing?

I wish my skills were so awesome in the kitchen that I could be exempt from doing anything at the RV dump station. But alas, in our marriage, I need to be a participant in this dirtiest of deeds to win brownie points for other aspects of our life together. Nonetheless, it took me a few years to find things to do while we were at the RV dump station that were truly useful and helpful.

We have a full set of “blue” RV dump station procedural tips below — but they don’t say much about the “pink” side of the job:

Dirty Little Secrets from the RV dump station

Too often at the beginning of our RVing lives I found my best efforts to help with setting up the RV sewer hose or screwing in the water hose ended up with me underfoot and in the way of the general flow of things. Mark had his methods, and I couldn’t read his mind as to what came next.

Few people are in truly sunny and radiant moods when they don their rubber gloves at the RV dump, and too often I found that my most valiant attempts to be helpful resulted in tensions rising between us.

RV dump station tips for women RVers

I think he’s trying to tell me something.

Then one day I discovered a way that I can be of significant help and get some important jobs done at the same time.

GIVE THE BLACK TANK A BOOST FLUSH

For starters, I fill two 5-gallon water buckets with water and carry them into the rig to dump them down the toilet after the black tank has been emptied. Even if an RV has a black water flush system like ours does, it is still surprising just how many little bits of gunk and human waste solids get flushed out when two 5-gallon buckets of water are poured down the toilet.

I fill the buckets while Mark gets the sewer hose out and attaches the clear elbow so he can see when the holding tanks are fully drained. Then I can scoot out of the way and carry the buckets around to our RV’s door before he begins attaching the black water flush hose between the rig and the water spigot. This way we don’t end up stepping on each when we first start working at the RV dump station.

RV dump station tips flushing black tank with buckets of water in toilet

We have two buckets and I fill each one with water to give the toilet and sewer pipes an extra flush.

The buckets are heavy to carry around to our trailer’s front door, but I don’t mind a little bit of a shoulder and arm workout, and I take them one at a time. Maneuvering a heavy bucket of water up stairs is excellent exercise for both balance and strength.

I grab the inside of the doorway with my left hand for extra balance, tighten my abs so I don’t throw my back out with the uneven weight distribution of carrying a heavy bucket, and I leverage myself up and set the pails down inside in the kitchen.

RV dump station tip flush black tank with buckets of water in toilet

The buckets are heavy, but I take my time and grab the door frame to keep my balance as I go up the stairs.

For those who can’t carry the buckets, your partner will likely be happy to carry them for you since this really helps ensure the black tank and toilet get a complete flush. Also, filling the buckets only half way or three quarters of the way can help not only lighten the load but keep the water from splashing all over the place and all over you.

CLEAN THE BATHROOM

The other task I tackle is cleaning the toilet room from top to bottom and cleaning the bathroom vanity and kitchen sink. I figure that if my sweet hubby is dealing with the darker side of RVing outside at the RV dump station, I can deal with the same stuff on the inside..

This insures the bathroom gets cleaned on a regular basis and also means that when we arrive at our next campsite not only are the holding tanks empty but our bathroom is sparkling clean and smells fresh.

So, once I get the water buckets inside the rig, I begin assembling the things I will need to clean the toilet and the bathroom. When I hear Mark’s knock on the wall, I know he has finished emptying the black tank and it is time to dump the buckets of water down the toilet.

RV dump station tips flush black tank

I pour one bucket at a time and Mark watches the flow in the sewer hose to make sure the water eventually runs clear.

Since the buckets are just inside the RV door, it takes me a minute to grab one and empty it. Then it takes a few minutes more to go grab the other one and empty it too. Having a few minutes between flushes is helpful because then Mark can monitor whether the water from the second bucket is running clear or is still flushing solids out. If there are still chunks coming out, then, depending on whether anyone is waiting to use the RV dump after us, I’ll fill another bucket or two with water and dump them down the toilet.

Sometimes I have the water pump turned on as I dump the buckets of water down the toilet and sometimes it’s turned off. Having it turned on means even more water flushes down, which is great, but it also uses up water from the fresh water tank. So, whether or not I have the water pump turned on depends on whether there are people waiting behind us at the dump station, as it will take a little longer for us to fill the fresh water tank if we flush a few extra gallons down the toilet as part of the dumping process.

Now that the black tank is completely flushed, Mark begins emptying our kitchen gray tank. We have two gray tanks, one for the kitchen and one for the shower. We empty the kitchen tank first because it is dirtier and has more things in it (like broccoli bits) than the shower gray tank which is just sudsy water.

While he works on emptying the two gray tanks, I get to work cleaning the toilet.

RV dump station tip woman cleans toilet and bathroom

If Mark is mucking around in gross stuff outside, the least I can do is muck around in gross stuff inside. This also gives us a clean bathroom when we set up camp.

Since we have a hatch in the toilet room that we leave open a lot, the toilet lid and the floor often get dusty in just a few days. So I remove everything from the toilet room and clean everything, including the floor.

Over the years we’ve found that the toilet bowl — more so than the black tank itself — can be a big source of foul odors. Unlike household toilets, RV toilet bowls are basically dry except during flushing, so urine can end up drying in the bowl and producing an odor.

Also, the flow of the flushing water doesn’t necessarily rinse every inch of the bowl, so some areas simply don’t get rinsed all that well, even when using the toilet’s spray nozzle. So, I go to town on the inside of the bowl as well as everything else.

We use two enzyme/bacteria based RV holding tank treatment products: Happy Campers RV holding tank treatment has worked best for us in extreme temperatures (very cold and very hot) and for controlling tank odors. RV Digest-It holding tank treatment has worked best for us in moderate temperatures to break down the solids in the tank.

Because these are both basically solutions of living critters, the toilet cleaning products we use can’t be too toxic or the colonies of feces-eating bacteria can’t get established and become self-perpetuating. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for the last few years with good results.

This is the soap that is recommended for cleaning the rubber roofs on the tops of RV’s, which is why we had it on hand to try on the toilet a few years ago. In addition to being biodegradable, what we like about it for cleaning the toilet is that it assists in keeping both the seals in the toilet bowl and on the black holding tank valve lubricated. I used white vinegar for cleaning the toilet for a while, and after a few months the black tank valve got really sticky. Since switching to Murphy’s Oil Soap a few years ago, that valve hasn’t gotten gummed up.

Periodically, we’ve found the seals in the toilet bowl have stopped holding water which meant the bowl drained completely dry between flushes. This allowed foul odors to come up from the black water tank. This problem is usually due to mineral and gunk build-ups on the seal.

So, I give that seal a really good cleaning too. The critical areas are on both the top and bottom surfaces of the rubber seal, that is, between the seal and the toilet bowl (the top side) and underneath the seal where the dome flapper (the “waste ball”) closes up against it.

RV toilet assembly and flapper valve installation

A disassembled RV toilet shows what the rubber toilet seal looks like without the toilet bowl sitting on it. To prevent it from leaking and draining the toilet between flushes, I scrub both top and bottom of the rubber seal.

I make sure the water pump is off at this point and hold the toilet flush lever down so I can get at the underside of the seal.

Often, the build-up is due to having hard water in the fresh water tanks which is very common in Arizona and other western states where the fresh water comes from deep, mineral rich aquifers.

RV toilet flapper cleaning tips

The seal needs to be completely free of mineral deposits on both the top and bottom, so I clean the area between the seal and the bowl on the top (red arrow) and below the seal on the bottom (the backside of the seal in this view).

At this point, depending on what Mark is up to outside, I’ll move on to other cleaning projects. If we have nearly emptied our fresh water tanks prior to coming to the RV dump station, it may take 10 minutes to refill them. Also, sometimes the potable water spigot is a little ways beyond the waste water dump area, requiring Mark to move the whole rig a few feet forward.

So, if there is time, I will clean the bathroom vanity sink and then move on to the kitchen sink. Depending on our plans for the next few days and depending on how much time I have at the RV dump, I may also add the holding tank treatment to the black tank, via the toilet, and add it to the gray tanks via the bathroom sink, shower and kitchen sink.

Sometimes, however, I prefer to wait two or three days until those tanks have some liquids in them before adding the holding tank treatment. And sometimes I add just a half tank’s worth of holding tank treatment at the RV dump station and then add the other half a few days later once the holding tanks have become partially full.

Of course, we add a capful of bleach to our fresh water tanks every few months, and that totally obliterates any colonies of anything that have started to grow in any of the holding tanks (including the fresh water tank) as the bleach water works its way through our plumbing system from the fresh water tank to the gray and black waste water tanks.

So, for us, creating fully self-sustaining communities of healthy organisms in any waste water tank is not 100% doable. But by using non-toxic cleansers we can help them along in between bleach blasts.

So, all in all, there is a LOT a girl can do at the RV dump station. We find we are both much happier about the whole process when we each have a set of tasks to do when we get there that are not only similarly grungy but are equally important and that take place in different parts of the RV.

The best part is that when we leave the RV dump station to go set up camp in a new, beautiful location, not only do we have empty waste water tanks but our bathroom is clean and fresh too.

Happy cleaning!!

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Goodies I use for my jobs at the RV Dump Station:

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Hitch Tighteners – Anti-Rattle Hitch Clamps Stop the Creaks & Wiggles!

We carry our bicycles on the back of our 36′ fifth wheel trailer with a Kuat NV bike rack inserted into the trailer’s hitch receiver (we reviewed the Kuat bike rack here). We installed this bike rack in 2012 and it has been great for the past five years of our full-time RV travels.

Kuat NV Bike Rack on back of fifth wheel trailer RV

We carry our mountain bikes on the back of our 5th wheel with a Kuat NV Bike Rack

To keep the bike rack from dragging on the ground in crazy places like steep gas station ramps or deep gulleys on small roads, we had a “Z” shaped “hi-low” hitch riser made. This raises the rack up quite high, so now the first thing to hit the ground is the hitch receiver itself rather than the bike rack.

Hitch extension with Kuat NV bike rack

A “Z” shaped “hi-low” hitch riser raised the bike rack so it can’t drag on the ground in a gully or dip.

As is often the case with hitch receivers, the bike rack isn’t a perfectly tight fit in the hitch receiver riser, and the bottom of the riser isn’t a perfect fit in the trailer’s hitch receiver either. So, the whole bike rack tends to wiggle.

We’ve used various shims to make it all tight, but too often they would wiggle loose over time, and eventually the bikes would be jiggling all over the place on the rack again.

Using a shim in a bumper hitch

We wedged shims in to tighten things up, but it wasn’t an ideal solution

Last fall we stopped in at JM Custom Welding in Blanding, Utah, to talk with Jack, the man who had made our “Z” hitch riser (more info about it here). We wondered if he had any tricks up his sleeve for making our bike rack arrangement less wobbly.

JM Custom Welding Blanding Utah

Mark and Jack of JM Custom Welding in Blanding, Utah

It turns out that he had solved this very problem for other customers by making a hitch tightener. This is essentially a hitch clamp that fits over the end of the hitch receiver and snugs up whatever is inserted into the receiver with some lock washers and nuts.

Bumper hitch tightener for car or RV hitch

Jack put this nifty hitch tightener on our hitch receiver.

Bumper hitch tightener for bike rack

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So, we got two of them, one for the top and one for the bottom of our “Z” shaped hi-low hitch riser extension.

Hitch tightener on RV for bike rack

He put a second hitch tightener on the trailer’s receiver as well.

The difference in the amount of movement of the bikes was absolutely astonishing. They were rock solid now!

Hitch tightener for bike rack mounted in bumper hitch

Looking down at both hitch tighteners on our hitch extension.

After installing the hitch tighteners, which was just a matter of tightening the nuts, Mark drove the rig around the JM Custom Welding dirt lot while I walked behind and watched the bikes, and they were steady as could be.

Hitch tighteners on bumper hitch mounted bike rack

Hitch tighteners at the top and bottom of the hi-low hitch riser extension.

Hitch tightener for bike rack mounted in bumper hitch

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But unlike the shim solution we’d used before, these hitch tighteners have stayed tight without needing any adjusting or fuss for several months and several thousand miles of driving on all kinds of roads.

Kuat NV BIke rack and bike rack extension and hitch tightener

The whole system is completely rigid now and has not needed any adjustments in six months of use.

The hitch tighteners do make for some extra steps if we want to move the bike rack from the hitch receiver on the trailer to the hitch receiver on our truck. However, we’ve started hauling our bikes in our truck in a different way using a furniture blanket, so there’s no need to take the bike rack off the trailer any more.

Mountain bikes on truck rather than a bike rack

An easy way to get the bikes from the trailer to the trail head!

Jack makes these hitch tighteners in batches, so if you are passing through Blanding, Utah, perhaps on your way to or from the beautiful Natural Bridges National Monument, just a mile or so south of Blanding you can stop by JM Custom Welding and pick one up! In 2016 the were $38 apiece.

We discovered later that hitch tighteners of various kinds are also commercially available. So, if Blanding, Utah, isn’t in your sights, you can choose from many different kinds of hitch clamps online.

However, a visit to Jack’s welding shop is very worthwhile, especially if you need any kind of custom metal fabrication done on your RV. He is very creative and does excellent work.

While we were in Jack’s office, we noticed a display of his for a folding storage solution for the beds of pickup trucks he’s created that fits right behind the truck cab. He calls it the “Jack Pack” and it is essentially a framed canvas storage bag the width of the truck bed that is easily opened to throw your bags of groceries into and then easily folded away when you need to haul lumber or fill the truck bed with something else.

If we didn’t have that part of our truck filled up with extra water jugs, we would have snagged one of those from him at the same time!

We’ve got a few more links below.

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Info on hitch tighteners and hitch clamps:

There are many brands of hitch tighteners on the market. These are a few:

There’s also a “Z” shaped hi-low hitch riser available:

If you need custom metal fabrication work done:

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Photography – Cameras, Gear, Tips and Resources

Since we began our full-time RV travels in 2007, photography has become a huge part of our lives. Photography is an ideal hobby for travelers, and it isn’t hard to learn. Our learning curve has played out on the pages of this website, and it is satisfying to see our improvement over the years. When we first started traveling, we each shot about 6,000 photos per year. Now we each shoot over 35,000 photos per year (a little under 100 per day).

Camera on a tripod - photography

Photography is a lot of fun, and it’s not hard to learn.

People have asked us what cameras and equipment we use, and how we improved our skills. This page presents all of our gear choices, from our camera bodies to our favorite lenses to our filters and tripods to the goodies we use to take our cameras out for a hike to the software we rely on for post-processing.

It also explains how we organize all our photos and lists all the books, eBooks and online tutorials we have studied to learn to take better photos. We are entirely self-taught, and the inspiring resources we reference here lay it all out in plain language.

We’ve invested in our camera equipment because photography is our passion and we do it all day long. What you’ll see here is good solid “value” gear that is above “entry level” but not “strictly for the pros” either.

For easy navigation, use these links:

The best time to buy camera gear is between Thanksgiving and Christmas during Black Friday week or when a manufacturer discontinues a camera model. An inexpensive but good quality DSLR that you can get for a steal is the Nikon D3300, discontinued in June 2016. In October 2016, a smoking deal includes the Nikon D3300, two lenses and a camera bag. Other Nikon D3300 kits are available too. This camera was replaced with the Nikon D3400 which is Nikon’s current (and terrific) entry level DSLR model

CAMERAS and LENSES

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Our Current Cameras and Lenses

As of 2016, we both shoot with Nikon D810 cameras. This is a professional level, truly awesome, full-frame 36 megapixel camera.

For three years prior to that, we both used Nikon D610 cameras. This is a full-frame, 24 megapixel camera. It is considered a “pro-sumer” camera, not quite professional quality but at the high end of the hobbyist ranks.

Although we have a big collection of lenses, we typically take no more than two apiece with us when we are out and about on foot. It’s just too much stuff to lug around!

I have a Nikon 28-300 mm lens on my camera which I use almost exclusively, simply because I love the flexibility of having both wide angle and zoom options with the twist of my wrist without having to change lenses.

Photographer with camera tripod in the water

When we got into photography, we jumped in with both feet.

Mark likes to pick a lens for the day and work within its limits. His favorites are prime (non-zooming) lenses, and he uses the Nikon 50 mm and Nikon 85mm lenses a lot. These are a lot less expensive than zoom lenses, and they are much faster lenses too (meaning they can be used in lower light). However, they do not have vibration resistance (also known as “image stabilization”), a technology that reduces the inherent wiggle caused by hand-holding a lens.

He also uses the Nikon 24-120 and the Sigma 24-105. These are very similar lenses, and we would have just one of them, but I used to use the Nikon 24-120 all the time before I got the Nikon 28-300, so he got the Sigma 24-105 to have one with a similar range. They’re both terrific lenses, so we can’t decide which one to keep and which one to sell!

We have a Nikon 70-200, which is a truly beautiful lens. For a long time neither of us used it much, but after I commented to that effect when I first published this post, Mark put it into his regular arsenal and uses it frequently now. It is a fabulous lens with excellent color rendition. Another advantage is that the zoom feature doesn’t lengthen or shorten the lens — it is always one length and all the zooming is physically done inside the lens. This means that dust doesn’t sneak into the lens when it is zoomed in and out the way it does with other lenses (like the 28-300, 24-120 and 24-105 mentioned above).

For wide angles, we have a Nikon 16-35 and a Nikon Nikon 18-35 so we can each shoot very wide angles simultaneously. Mark LOVES wide angle photography, and he uses these all the time. The 16-35 is more expensive, and was purchased as an upgrade from the 18-35, but he can’t seem to part with the 18-35 now, so I inherited it.

For super wide angles like at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona or for shooting stars at night (like the final image in this post or the first image in this post), we turn to the Rokinon 14 mm lens (with the Nikon focusing chip) or our very cool fisheye lens, the Rokinon 12 mm lens.

We have a Tamron 150-600 mm lens for shooting birds (like wild peach faced lovebirds here) and for wildlife — or even for stationary cacti at a faraway distance as in this image here. An alternative to this lens that is priced similarly is the Sigma 150-600 contemporary series lens. If it had been available, we probably would have purchased the Sigma 150-600 instead of the Tamron 150-600, but it wasn’t in production at the time. Another awesome option that has become available since our purchase is the Nikon 200-500 mm lens. That lens is on our wish list right now so we can each have a powerful zoom in situations where we want one.

What about those third party lenses?? Some are better than others, although Sigma’s Art Series lenses are really great these days (and expensive). When I was casting about for a “do it all” lens, we initially bought a Tamron 28-300 mm lens. It had terrible color rendition and didn’t focus for beans, so we returned it to buy the Nikon 28-300, which I totally love. I will be curious to see how the Tamron 150-600 stacks up against the Nikon 200-500 when we eventually buy it.

Our Past Cameras and Lenses

Do you need all this crazy stuff when you first get started? No!

When we began traveling, we purchased two Nikon D40 cameras, which were 6 megapixel crop-sensor cameras. Each came with a Nikon 18-55 mm lens, and we got a Nikon 55-200 mm lens for distance. This was a great camera model to learn on, and we published five magazine cover photos taken with it.

Coast to Coast Cover Spring 2012

Do you need to spend a bundle on a camera? No!
I took this photo with a Nikon D40 that you can buy today (used) for $100.

The Nikon D40 (and its modern day equivalent Nikon D3300) are “crop sensor” cameras (or “DX” in Nikon lingo). This means the sensor is smaller than on a “full frame” camera (like our current Nikon D610 cameras which are “FX” in Nikon lingo). This, in turn, means the image quality is slightly lower and if you blew up the image to poster size it won’t look quite as good up close.

The D40 was discontinued long ago, but can be found on Craigslist and eBay for $100 to $150 with two lenses. One that has been lightly used will work just as well now as it did years back.

How do you tell how “used” a used camera is??

If you have a Mac, an easy way to find out how many shutter clicks a camera has is to take a photo, download it to your computer, export it or locate it in the Finder, and open it in Preview by double clicking on it. Then click on Tools > Show Inspector, click the “i” button and then the “Exif” button. The Image Number is the number of shutter clicks the camera has on it. This works only for cameras that have a mechanical shutter, not for pocket cameras with an electronic shutter.

My only frustration with the Nikon D40 was that there was no built-in cleaning system for the camera sensor, so every time we changed lenses the sensor was vulnerable to picking up dust — and it did! We used the Nikon D40 cameras fro 2007 until 2011.

Today’s “equivalent” entry level DSLR is the Nikon D3300. It is a 24 megapixel camera that is far more sophisticated than the D40 and not “equivalent” in any way except the price point. If you want to get it in a kit with multiple lenses, filters, camera bag, tripod, etc., you can pick up a really nice the Nikon D3300 kits right here.

The Tamron 150-600 lens can be hand held

The Nikon D610 and Tamron 150-600 mm lens.
I’m in camo to keep from scaring the birds away.
Think it will work when I point this huge scary lens at them? Not!!

In 2011, we upgraded to the Nikon D5100, a 16 megapixel crop-sensor camera. Like the Nikon D40, this camera was also a “crop sensor” or “DX” camera.It came with a Nikon 18-55 mm lens. We got a Nikon 55-300 lens, and I ran all over Mexico with both of those lenses, switching back and forth all day long.

In hindsight, I should have gotten the Nikon 18-300 lens and spared myself the hassle of carrying a second lens and switching lenses all the time (I missed so many great shots because I was fumbling with the camera!). But I had read some iffy reviews of the first edition of that lens and decided against it (the current model is its 3rd generation and I’ve met people who LOVE this lens. Oh well!).

The best thing about that camera was the built-in sensor cleaner. Living in the salty and dusty environment of coastal Mexico, this was huge. The other fun thing about that camera was the flip-out display on the back. You could put the camera in Live View, then set it on the ground or hold it overhead and still see your composition on the back of the camera.

We used the Nikon D5100 cameras from 2011 to 2013. The Nikon D5100 has been discontinued. Today’s “equivalent” level DSLR is the Nikon D5300. It is a 24 megapixel camera that, again, is far more sophisticated than the predecessor that we had. This is an outstanding “intermediate” camera and can be purchased in a Nikon D5300 camera and lens bundle.

If you have a few more dollars to spend, the Nikon D7200 is even better. It is still a crop sensor camera, but it is very sophisticated. Like the others, if you are starting out, getting a Nikon D7200 Camera and Lens Kit is very cost effective.

Pocket Cameras

Sometimes carrying a big DSLR camera is inconvenient. We both like having a pocket camera for times when a DSLR is too big.

I use an Olympus Tough TG-4 camera when I ride my mountain bike. I used its predecessor when I snorkeled in Mexico too.

This camera is very rugged. The bruises it has given me on my backside are proof that it holds up a lot better than I do when I fall off my bike and land on it. I like it because the lens doesn’t move in and out when it zooms, and you can drop it and not worry about breaking it. Here are a bunch of photos it took: Bell Rock Pathway in Sedona Arizona.

Mark has a Nikon Coolpix A that he is nuts about because it is just like a mini DSLR. He doesn’t do crazy things like take photos while riding his bike one handed the way I do (and he’s less prone to falling off), so he doesn’t mind having a more delicate camera in his pocket. It is a 16 megapixel camera that has most of the features of a the Nikon D610, except it is a crop-sensor camera that has a fixed 28 mm lens that can’t be changed. It has been discontinued.

Prior to that, he had a Nikon Coolpix P330 (also discontinued). It could shoot in raw format, which was the reason he chose it, but it didn’t produce nearly the quality images of the Coolpix A.

Lots of folks use a smartphone for all their photo ops or as an alternative to their DSLR. We don’t have a smartphone, but we have used a lot of them at scenic overlooks when groups of people pass their cameras around to get pics of themselves. One thing we’ve noticed is that there is a big difference in dynamic range (the rendering of bright spots and shadows) between Androids and iPhones, with iPhones being much better. This is probably common knowledge and not news to you at all, and it may be partly due to which generation of smartphone a person hands us to get their portrait taken.

 

ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT and ACCESSORIES

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Batteries – We have two batteries for each of our Nikon D610’s, so we each always have a fully charged battery on hand besides the one in the camera. We’ve found the Watson batteries are a good alternative to the more expensive Nikon batteries. My Watson battery died shortly after the manufacturer’s warranty expired, and I was impressed that they honored it anyway and replaced it for me.

Memory Cards – We also have two memory cards in each camera (the Nikon D610 has two card slots in it). We use the SanDisk 95 MB/second SD cards. We like these fast SD cards because when we start shooting in a burst (holding the shutter down and letting the camera take pics as fast as it can — for instance, when a bison jumps over a fence in front of us), the faster the card can be written to, the faster the camera’s internal memory buffer will empty, and the longer the camera can keep shooting at top speed. Faster SD cards also download photos to the computer faster.

Every evening we download all our photos onto our laptops and reformat the memory cards in the camera. We’ve heard that this reduces the chance of the card failing and losing all our photos (which happened to me once long ago with a Kingston card – ugh!).

The Hoodman Loupe – A Game Changer! The Hoodman Loupe revolutionized our photography because we were suddenly able to see our photos clearly on the back of our cameras and then retake the photo if necessary. The loupe fits over the LCD screen, blocking the glare and magnifying the image. The lens is adjustable, so no matter how good or bad your eyes are, you can adjust it until you can see the image perfectly clearly. We have the original hard sided loupe. A new model collapses down so it can be stored more compactly. In a lot of the photos of me on this website, you can see my Hoodman loupe hanging around my neck!

Hoodman Loupe on a Nikon D610 Camera

The Hoodman Loupe lets you see the image on the back of the camera clearly, adjusted for your eyes, and without glare.

Battery Grip – Mark occasionally uses a Vello Battery Grip on his camera. This grip can hold extra batteries and also makes it possible to take portrait oriented shots (vertical images) while holding the camera as if it were upright rather than twisting your right arm over your head. Mark absolutely loves his. I use mine only occasionally because I can’t use it with my tripod L-bracket (see below).

Camera Straps – We replaced the standard Nikon camera straps with the Optech Pro Strap. This strap is thick and cushy and is slightly curved to fit the curve of your shoulder. It also has quick release clasps so you can easily unclip it from the camera when you’re using a tripod.

 

LENS FILTERS

For a long time we preferred the B+W brand for all our filters, although we’ve used a lot of Hoya filters over the years too. We’ve also tried Tiffen filters, but find they are hit-and-miss. Often, if a “lens deal” includes a filter with the lens, it’s not a great one. Most recently, we have begun buying Nikon filters which seem to be the best quality all around. Just be sure you get the right size for your lens (52 mm or 77 mm, etc.).

Camera UV Filter, Polarizing Filter and Neutral Density Filter

UV filter (top), Polarizing filter (left) & neutral density filter (right)

UV Filters – We have UV filters for all our lenses to provide protection for them.

Polarizing Filters – We also have polarizing filters for all our lenses. A polarizer makes it possible to enhance the colors or reduce the glare in certain lighting situations. It is best around midday and has less effect at dawn and dusk. It is wonderful around bodies of water and for removing the dashboard glare on the windshield when taking photos from inside a car. A polarizer adds a lot of contrast to an image, however, so while it can enhance a landscape beautifully, I’ve found it makes street photography of people too contrasty.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters – We occasionally use a graduated neutral density filter when the sky is very pale and the scene we are shooting is dark. This kind of filter is half colored and half clear. By twisting it so the colored part lines up with the sky and the clear part lines up with the darker landscape, the sky and landscape come out more evenly exposed. They are also very helpful for sunrises and sunsets.

Neutral Density Filters – When shooting moving water, a neutral density filter darkens what the camera sees enough so the shutter speed can be increased to show silky movement in the water without it being blown out and all white. These filters are also helpful if you want to use a very big aperture (small “F number”) to blur out a background and the camera’s top shutter speed isn’t fast enough to get proper exposure. These filters come in different degrees of darkness. A 10-stop filter is good for shooting a waterfall in broad daylight while a 4-stop filter is good for the same scene at dawn or dusk. We had fun with moving water photography at Watkins Glen in Upstate New York, the Blue Ridge Parkway in N. Carolina, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in N. Carolina.

 

TRIPODS

It is really hard to invest in a tripod after blowing the bank account on a nice camera, a few lenses, spare batteries, memory cards and filters. And you can have loads of fun with photography without getting a tripod. But if you want to play with shooting (and showing) motion (i.e., a car going by, clouds streaking across the sky or water flowing) or you want to have perfect exposure in very low light (like a sunset) without a flash, or you want to do some timelapse videos (very cool at sunrise in a big canyon) then a tripod is a must.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Sunwayfoto XB52-DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and
Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Most people end up upgrading their tripod several times because they just can’t believe, at first, that they have to spend good hard earned money on a tripod, and they go through a bunch of cheap ones before they bite the bullet and get a decent one! We did that, and lots of our friends did too.

The biggest difference between tripods is how much weight they can hold solidly, how easy they are to set up and adjust, and whether things drift or droop a little after you tighten the buttons. I have a Benro carbon fiber tripod that I absolutely love. The legs slide in and out really smoothly, and the adjustments are easy.

Mark has Sunwayfoto tripod legs and ballhead that he loves. We reviewed them in depth at this link:

Choosing a Tripod – Sunwayfoto Tripod and Ballhead Review

We both have the SunWay Foto L-Bracket that attaches to the camera body and lets us set the camera in the tripod in either Landscape or Portrait orientation very easily. I keep my L-bracket on the camera all the time for simplicity in case I want to grab my tripod quickly, but it means I can’t use my Vello Battery Grip. Mark loves his battery grip, so he has to switch back and forth between the regular tripod bracket that fits on the camera along with the battery grip and the L-bracket that doesn’t.

 

FLASHLIGHT

We love doing night photography, photographing the milky way and the stars, and doing light painting on old buildings for ghostly effects. At Waterton Lakes National Park we did a timelapse video of the Milky Way.

When we are hiking on a remote trail in the middle of the night, or light painting a building to make it appear visible in a nighttime photo, we find that a good flashlight is essential.

We use the fabulous, super high powered LED flashlight from Lumintop, the Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen flashlight. It is like having a car’s headlight in your hand!

Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen tactical flashlight

Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen tactical flashlight next to a pocket Mag Light

Built with heavy duty aerospace aluminum, it has a military grade hard-anodized aluminum finish and is water resistant to 2 meters. Offering 3 power levels plus a strobe, there’s also an LED tail light that can be used as a night light when we’re setting up our camera gear in the dark. It also has threads on the bottom for mounting on a tripod.

The flashlight batteries are rechargeable and there is a battery level indicator. The flashlight ships with a wall charger and 12 volt car charging cords, and it comes in a suitcase! The batteries are so strong, it can be used to recharge other smaller devices like cell phones via 2 USB ports.

This is not a pocket flashlight, but it has slots in the end for a strap that makes it very easy to carry.

We love this flashlight and just wish we had had it when we cruised Mexico on our sailboat, as it is far more powerful than the emergency floodlight we had for rescuing a man overboard!

 

HAULING, STORING & MAINTAINING OUR CAMERA GEAR

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With all this camera stuff, it can be a challenge to figure out how to carry it to scenic spots and where to store it in the RV and truck when we’re not using it. Also, our camera gear takes a lot of abuse from dusty air out west, salty air on the coast, and sunscreen from our faces and hands. So it needs to be cleaned periodically. Here’s where we’re at with all this right now:

Hiking With Camera Equipment

When we go on a hike of a few miles, it is likely to take us four hours or more because we stop to take so many photos. So, we want to have water, snacks, our camera gear, tripods, and possibly a jacket with us. There are a lot of camera-specific backpacks and sling style camera bags on the market, but none we’ve seen is really designed for hiking.

After a lot of searching, we finally decided to use big Camelback hydration packs instead of bona-fide camera bags when we hike with all our photography stuff, and we’ve been really happy with this choice.

I have a Camelback H.A.W.G. and Mark has a Camelback Fourteener. Both can carry 100 ounces of water, and each has enough capacity for the Tamron 150-600 lens along with everything else if need be. (We never take more than two lenses with us — one on the camera and one in the pack).

Camelback H.A.W.G. camera bag

The Camelback H.A.W.G. can hold a big camera.

We generally hike with our cameras slung around our necks so we can take photos with them as we walk. I put the Camelback on first and then put the camera on afterwards so the camera straps aren’t trapped under the shoulder straps of the Camelback. There’s nothing like getting caught in the Tourist Tangle!

My main criteria for choosing a Camelback was that I wanted to be able to put my camera (with the 28-300 mm lens attached) inside the Camelback and then close that compartment so I could scramble over something gnarly that required two hands and not worry about the camera slipping out of the pack. And it had to do that with 100 ounces of water in the hydration pack.

My other criteria was that I wanted to be able to hang my tripod on one of the Camelback straps and hike without carrying it in my hand.

The straps on the sides of the H.A.W.G. aren’t designed to carry a tripod, and they may fatigue over time, but I’ve been really happy with how this Camelback has held up on the many hikes I’ve taken with it so far in two years of owning it.

The straps on the sides of the Fourteener are designed to hold ice picks and things like that, so they are probably a little more rugged. If I had known about the Fourteener before I bought my H.A.W.G., I probably would have bought that model instead. Mark has had it almost as long as I’ve had my H.A.W.G., and he is very happy with it as well.

Camelback H.A.W.G. with camera tripod

The tripod fits neatly on the side of the H.A.W.G., and the camera straps aren’t trapped under the Camelback straps.

One really nice feature of both of these Camelback models is that they have a waterproof rain sack that can be pulled out of a hidden pocket and slipped over the whole Camelback, keeping the contents dry if you’re caught in a downpour. This came in super handy at the Duggers Creek Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway!

One of the tricks with backpacks in general is that, if they have a waist belt, you can loosen the belt a little, slip your arms out of the arm straps and then swing the pack around so it is in front of you. This way you can get something out of it without taking it off and putting it on the ground. This is fantastic when you want to swap filters, grab a snack, or change batteries without taking the whole darn thing off.

Once we get to an area where we’re going to take a lot of photos, we take the tripods off the Camelbacks and we carry them around in our hands until we’re ready to hike out again.

We carry a plastic bag (a shopping bag is fine) in our packs in case it sprinkles and we want to cover our cameras for a short time. We also carry rain ponchos so we can cover ourselves and our Camelbacks in the event of unexpected rain.

Short Walks With Photography Gear

If we are going to spend the day roaming around but not hiking, or if we’re taking photos a short distance from the truck, we don’t take the big Camelbacks. I use a small fanny pack to carry a spare battery and possibly a second lens. Mark likes to wear a photographer’s vest that has lots of pockets for all his goodies. He likes the one he has, but has his eye on the Phototools Photovest 14!

Storing All This Stuff

In the trailer we have Ruggard camera cases and Ruggard backpacks to hold the cameras and lenses. We also have camera cases in the truck. We’ve found good homes for the tripods in the truck too, and they generally stay there so they are with us if we arrive somewhere and suddenly wish we had them with us.

Cleaning

A great way to get the dust off the camera and lenses is to blow it off with the Giotto Rocket Blaster (the largest size is best). The Nikon LensPen Lens Cleaner is good for brushing dust off too. For smudges and smears, we use the Eclipse Camera Cleaning Kit which comes with a cleanser and pads.

Giotto Rocket Blaster & Camera Cleaning Kit

Giotto Rocket Blaster & Camera Cleaning Kit

Sometimes the camera’s built-in sensor cleaning system doesn’t quite do the trick, and getting debris off the camera sensor can be really intimidating. Rather than paying for an expensive cleaning at a camera shop, we’ve discovered that the Sensor Gel Stick sold by Photography Life does a phenomenal job (don’t get the cheap Chinese imitation ones). Check out the video under the product description here to see how to do it. It’s easy and we have done it many times.

 

PHOTO ORGANIZATION and POST-PROCESSING TOOLS

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We each have a plain MacBook Pro (no retina display) with 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB internal drive and slots for CD, SD card, Thunderbolt, etc. (2012-style case). We also each have a 4 TB external hard drive with a Thunderbolt dock that allows multiple drives to be daisy-chained.

We use Adobe Lightroom for most of our post-processing. The easiest way to learn Lightroom is the Julianne Kost Lightroom Videos. Julianne is Adobe’s “Lightroom Evangelist” (what a great title and job!) and her presentations are clear and concise.

Organizing photos is never easy, and everyone has a different method. Lightroom lets only one person work on a catalog at a time, so we each have separate Lightroom catalogs. We make use of the Smart Previews in Lightroom to get access to each other’s photos without transferring all the original photo files between our laptops. All we have to transfer is the catalog, previews and smart previews. It’s clunky — I know they could do better — but it works.

We also have a separate Lightroom catalogs for each year. The older catalogs are stored on external hard drives and the current year catalogs are on our laptops. We try to make sure all our photos are in two places (laptop and external drive or on two external drives). Some of our older photos are in Apple’s Aperture and our oldest are in Apple’s iPhoto, the two post-processing programs we used prior to Lightroom.

I don’t want to have to plug in an external drive every time I go into Lightroom, which is why we keep our current year’s photos and catalogs local to our laptops. We have our previous year’s catalogs and smart previews on our laptops so we can see and work with our older photos. If we need the full image of an older photo, we plug in the appropriate external hard drive, and the catalog on the laptop reconnects with the original images.

We don’t store anything in the cloud.

We organize our photos by location but like to have an overall sense of the chronological order in which we visited places, since that is the way we remember our travels. So, we label our folders with 2 digits followed by the state to bring up the states in the order in which we visited them.

Inside of each state folder, we name every download with a 4-digit date (month/day) followed by the specific location. For photos that aren’t location specific (like photos of our trailer disc brake conversion or fifth wheel suspension failure, we move them after downloading to a MISC folder and name a subfolder within it more appropriately or add them to an existing folder.

Lightroom Folder Organization

2 digits to order the states chronologically, then 4-digit dates on subfolders with the specific location.

Photomatix Pro is an excellent program for creating HDR (high dynamic range) effects from several identical photos taken at different exposures, and Topaz Adjust and Topaz Detail in the Topaz Suite of software are great for getting a little wild with crazy effects at the click of a button.

For panoramas, we use Panorama Maker to stitch together a series of photos.

We use the X-Rite Color Checker Passport to create custom color profiles calibrated to specific camera and lens combinations. It also comes with a gray card that we sometimes use to set a custom white balance for particular light conditions.

 

RESOURCES FOR LEARNING PHOTOGRAPHY

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Photography is something you can spend the rest of your life learning. We’ve been reading and studying photography books and blogs for a few years now, and we have found the following printed books and ebooks and online resources to be really helpful in conquering both the technical aspects of understanding what all those buttons on our cameras do and the artistic aspects of how to capture the essence of what we’re seeing.

Photography Books

Some of our Favorite Photography Books

BOOKS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

 

eBOOKS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

 

ONLINE TUTORIALS

The website that has taught us the most is Photography Life written by Nasim Mansurov and his very talented team. He has super detailed gear reviews and his site is read by many of the top professionals in the photography world. His tutorials are excellent, and he has two pages with links to them all:

We were very fortunate to meet Nasim at his 2012 fall foliage photography workshop in Ridgway Colorado. Those extraordinary three days were a real turning point for our photography.

 

BLOGS, TIPS and GEAR REVIEWS

The photography blogs we read regularly are these:

  • Nikon Rumors – The latest info about everything related to Nikon cameras: future products, recalls, Nikon deals and specials
  • Photography Life – The most comprehensive camera/lens reviews anywhere and a top team of writers producing tutorials
  • Ken Rockwell – The first online photography resources we found. We’ve been following ever since
  • Ming Thein – Excellent and detailed camera reviews and truly inspiring photographs
  • DigitalRev TV – Hilarious (and very informative) videos on all kinds of photography topics.
  • Thom Hogan – Interesting photography-related essays as well as gear reviews
  • Dreamscapes – Phenomenal, jaw-dropping photography that makes us want to keep learning, plus tutorials & eBooks
  • Michael Frye Photography – Creative tips and ideas for taking beautiful landscape photos
  • DxO Mark – A laboratory that uses industrial testing equipment to do comparative camera, sensor and lens ratings

 

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How to Heat an RV in Cold Weather and Winter Snow Storms

Heating an RV in cold weather during the winter, especially in a snow storm, is quite different than heating a house, and it often requires utilizing different kinds of heaters and a little creativity too.

RV camping and travel in snow in winter

Is that SNOW??!! We sure didn’t expect THAT!!!

A few weeks ago, at the end of September, we woke up to find ourselves in a beautiful snowstorm at 10,000′ elevation in Colorado.

We had to pull out all the stops to make sure we were cozy warm in our RV even though overnight lows were in the 20’s and daytime highs didn’t get out of the 40’s for a week.

Bikes on RV bike rack in snow in winter

We looked out our back window and saw snow covering our bikes!

The first order of business was to go outside and build a snowman, and Mark got right to it.

Winter RV tips for staying warm in cold weather

It’s snowing!!! Let’s make a snowman!!!

While he’s busy getting that snowman together, I wanted to share with you the strategies we’ve used for heating our RV without electrical hookups, because we use different heating appliances in different situations.

For “cool” conditions, like December and February in the Arizona desert or May in the Canadian Rockies, when lows are in the 30’s, keeping our buggy warm is a cinch with our blue flame vent-free propane heater that Mark installed back in 2008.

But in in “extreme” conditions, like this recent snowstorm on a mountaintop in Colorado, we use a different strategy and rely more on our RV furnace that was factory installed in our trailer.

We have tried different strategies in very cold weather at very high altitudes like this in the past, and this most recent cold spell was our most comfortable, despite the wet gloppy mess of snowy covered jackets, hats, mittens and boots and the sullen gray skies that persisted for several days. So, we seem to have gotten it right this time.

Of course, “lows in the 20’s” is far from “extreme” for North Americans living in houses with central heating, but it definitely feels extreme when living in an RV off the grid. In reality, RVs are most comfortable in temperatures that stay above freezing.

Winter RVing in the snow

The snowman gets sticks for his arms…

Even though high end RVs are marketed as being “four season” coaches, boasting high R-factors in the walls, ceiling and floor, you just can’t compare 1.5″ styrofoam walls that have a thin layer of gelcoat and wallpaper board to a residential house wall that’s made of 3.5″ fiberglass insulation covered with a half-inch of drywall, half-inch of plywood, Tyvek and exterior siding.

Besides the skimpy walls, we find that the RV windows are the biggest reasons for the poor insulation. The metal window frames are extremely cold to the touch when temps outside are in the 20’s, and all that metal around our many windows conducts the cold right into the rig.

Some folks like to have thermopane (dual pane) RV windows, but if moisture gets between the two panes, which can happen more easily in an RV that rattles down the road all the time than in a house that stands still on its foundation, the moisture is likely to remain there permanently, no matter what the weather does outside or how many years go by.

RV windows don’t seal all that well either. Our top quality, four season fifth wheel trailer is downright drafty inside, with a definite breeze that can, at times, flutter a tissue by the “escape” windows. You don’t notice it so much when it is 70 degrees both outside and inside with no wind blowing. But when it is a blustery18 degrees outside and we are trying to heat the rig to 65 degrees inside, the breeze by those windows is a shock.

The microwave vent is another drafty spot, and if the wind is howling outside and blowing directly on that wall of the RV, it blows right into the kitchen through the vent holes on the top of the microwave. One solution for that, of course, is to tape over the vent on the outside of the rig and not use the microwave for the duration of the cold snap (we haven’t done that, however).

Winter RV trip in the snow

The snowman gets a hat!

So, in our experience, keeping an RV and everything in it toasty warm when it is snowing out can require a little creativity.

Back in our house living days in snow country, we would set the thermostat to our preferred indoor temperature and keep it there 24/7, perhaps raising it slightly at the breakfast and dinner hours and lowering it slightly while we were at work or asleep.

When a blizzard blows into our RV lifestyle nowadays, we can have that kind of stable heat in our rig if we plug into shorepower with access to unlimited electricity. Portable electric heaters can back up the RV furnace, and RVs that have an air conditioner with a heat pump can use that (ours doesn’t).

We have a portable electric ceramic heater for just such an emergency where going to an RV park and plugging in is our best line of defense for weathering a storm.

However, it is possible to stay warm without hookups, even when it starts snowing.

RV in snow in winter

What fun!!

We rely on our vent-free propane heater for 95% of our heat year round. These little heaters use propane very efficiently, don’t need any electricity to run, and can be installed in an RV permanently to run off the RV’s propane tanks.

There are also handy portable models that can be stored in a closet when not in use and then placed anywhere in the rig where you want a little heat. These run on disposable propane bottles, so it isn’t necessary to plumb the heater to the RV’s big propane tanks.

Animal tracks in the winter snow

We found fresh animal tracks in the snow.

We have a detailed article describing the different kinds of vent-free propane heaters on the market, the pros and cons of each type and the type of heat they generate, plus a step-by-step guide for how to install one in an RV at this link:

How to Install a Vent-free Propane Heater in an RV

These heaters heat the rig amazingly quickly. We find that our 20k BTU blue flame heater warms our rig at a rate of about one degree every two minutes. So, in twenty minutes we can warm up our home by 10 degrees, and in an hour we can raise the inside temp by 30 degrees.

The best part is that we can hover over it and warm our hands, bodies and clothes, just like standing in front of a woodstove or fireplace. We do that a LOT and totally love our little heater for the terrific blast of instant hot air it provides!!!

How to heat an RV in winter and cold weather

When you’re chilled, there’s nothing like hovering over this heater!

We use our blue flame heater year round, and we have used it at elevations ranging from sea level to 10,000′.

This past year we traveled primarily in cold places where overnight lows were in the 30’s and 40’s. We went north through Utah, Idaho and Montana in March and April and spent May and early June in the Canadian Rockies. Consequently, we saw quite a bit of snow and hail, and during those months we used our heater almost every day.

Aspen and pine trees in winter snow

The snow in Colorado fell for hours and gave us a beautiful winter wonderland — in September!

Colorful aspens in winter snow storm with pine tree

Fall colors with snow – Magic!

We thawed out in July long enough to get overheated and write a blog post: “How to Beat the Heat in an RV.” Then it was back to the high elevations of Utah and Colorado in mid-August where we saw more hail and overnight lows in 30’s once again.

Our vent-free blue flame heater has been keeping us warm during all four seasons like this since Mark installed it in 2008!!

Snowy road with aspen for an RV in winter

.

Snowy road in winter

It was really cold, but it was so beautiful we didn’t mind!!

The basic difference between an RV furnace and a vent-free propane heater is this:

  • RV furnace – Uses a lot of electricity, uses propane inefficiently, brings fresh air into the rig (because it’s vented)
  • Vent-free propane heater – Doesn’t use electricity, burns propane efficiently, uses up oxygen in the RV

So each has its place under certain circumstances. In a nutshell:

— The ventless propane heater is awesome as long as there is sufficient oxygen for it to run. We like to use it in the mornings and evenings, and since we are in and out of the rig a lot, there is a lot of air exchange inside our RV from opening and closing the front door all day long as well as from all the drafts and breezes that blow in the RV windows and microwave vent.

— The RV furnace is best for other scenarios: in cases where there is a risk of the water pipes freezing (the hot air ducts keep the basement and water lines warm), at very high elevations in extreme cold, and at night, because it is vented and continually circulates the air in the rig. The RV furnace is very loud and tends to wake us up at night, however, so we don’t use it overnight very often.

So, we use our vent-free blue flame heater for 95% of our RV heating, and we turn to our RV furnace on rare occasions.

Aspen and pine trees in snow in winter

Fall colors and snow — a gorgeous combinations!

Dodge pickup truck covered in winter snow

This snowfall was definitely sticking around a while!

Vented vs. Ventless Propane Heaters and Propane RV Stoves & Ovens – Safety Concerns

An RV furnace is a vented system, meaning that it releases warm, moist air from inside the RV to the outside, and it brings cold air from outside to the inside of the rig. This makes it very inefficient in its use of propane, because it is essentially heating the outdoors as well as the indoors. Put your hands by the RV furnace vent outside, and they will get nice and warm and a bit damp too!

While RV furnaces are safely vented yet very inefficient, vent-free gas heaters are very efficient and are required by law to have an automatic shutoff when the available oxygen goes below a certain threshold (there is a built-in sensor that triggers the shut-off). We know when ours is about to shut off because the flame begins to sputter and make noise. Once it has shut itself off, it won’t turn on again until we air out the RV a little by opening the door or windows for a while.

Ironically, propane RV stoves and ovens are not required to shut off automatically when the available oxygen is depleted. To me, this makes them inherently quite a bit more dangerous than vent-free propane heaters.

Of course, an RV fitted with propane tanks is basically a rolling bomb, so it’s a very unsafe place to call home (I say this with a smile, because we wouldn’t trade our 9 years on the road for anything)!

Every time we have seen our blue flame heater shut itself off (probably 30+ times), the RV stove and/or oven has kept right on a-cookin’ without any hint that our supply of oxygen inside the rig was running out. We could easily have baked something in our factory installed propane RV oven and simmered something on our factory installed propane RV stove for hours while camped at 10,000′ with no inkling that the oxygen in our rig had dipped below safe levels!

Winter snow on RV steps

Welcome home…. Brrrrr!

Which Heater is Best Under Which Conditions?

For most of this year as we traveled in cold country, the lowest temperatures we saw were in the low to mid 30’s overnight. Daytime highs were in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s. These kinds of conditions are very similar to what we see in the southwestern deserts in the winter months (except January, which can be colder). These conditions are ideal for a vent-free propane heater.

We usually run our vent-free propane heater every morning until the rig is 60 to 75 degrees inside (depending on our mood) and then again in the evening if the temperature inside has dipped below 65. If the windows have fogged up from condensation (about 5% of the time, usually only in the winter), we run the RV furnace too to help dry the air out.

In general, we don’t heat our RV overnight in this kind of climate. We prefer to bundle up with down comforters instead. If we do run the heat at night, we use the RV furnace and set it to 50 degrees. If outdoor temps drop into the 30’s overnight, the RV furnace will come on once or twice in the pre-dawn hours.

Golden aspen in snow in winter

Golden aspen leaves in snow.

Ironically, if the outside temps dip really low — into the 20’s or teens — and daytime highs don’t get much past 50 degrees, then the RV furnace will start coming on before midnight and will come on every hour for 15-20 minutes as it struggles to keep the rig at 50 degrees.

Since we are light sleepers, this is extremely annoying. So, at the times we would want to run the RV furnace most — overnight when it’s really cold — we opt not to!

On overnights that we don’t heat the rig, when we wake up in the morning our bedroom is around 10-12 degrees warmer than the outside air (bedroom door closed all night) and our living area is around 5-7 degrees warmer than the outside air.

It is routine for us to wake up to temps in our trailer that are between 37 and 42 degrees. For us, that is a small price to pay for living off the grid, however, for many RVers it is good reason to get electric hookups and have more substantial and consistent heat in the rig overnight.

Aspen covered with snow in winter

The colors of Fall in Colorado.

There is a lot of debate about whether you can operate a ventless propane heater at high elevations. By the time we got caught in that September snow storm in Colorado two weeks ago, we had been living at elevations between 8,000′ and 10,000′ for 5 straight weeks, running our vent-free propane blue flame heater every morning and evening without a hitch.

Along with many weeks spent heating our rig at high elevations in previous years, including 8 weeks or so at 6,000′ or higher this past spring, our 5 weeks at 8 to 10 thousand feet this fall kind of proved the point for us: it’s no problem to run a vent-free propane heater at high altitudes in cool weather.

But in sub-freezing overnight temperatures and daytime highs in the 40’s under stormy skies at 10,000′ elevation, we’ve found a vent-free propane heater is best used in combination with the RV furnace.

Bikes on back of RV in snow

Well, we won’t be biking any time soon!!

Until the the snowstorm came to our mountaintop spot in the Colorado Rockies at 10,000′, we hadn’t been using the RV furnace at all. But once the temps dropped to the 20’s (lows) to 40’s (highs) at that elevation, we couldn’t rely on our blue flame heater exclusively any more and had to change our heating strategy for three reasons.

1) There is less available oxygen at 10,000′ than at lower elevations, and once the oxygen in the rig dipped below a certain level, the blue flame heater would shut itself off automatically. Because it was so cold outside, we weren’t thrilled about opening the windows and doors to let in more air just so we could turn on the blue flame heater again. It was time to use the RV furnace.

2) Our RV roof and ladder — along with our solar panels — was covered with snow and ice. Mark wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement to climb up there to clear off the solar panels, and I wasn’t about to get up on that slippery roof either. So, our batteries were no longer getting charged by the sun and wouldn’t have enough juice to run the RV furnace.

3) Vent-free propane heaters emit a lot of moisture. We had just had several days of torrential rain, and everything in our rig was wet. Our shower was filled with raincoats and rain hats hung up to dry, our boots and socks were wet and muddy by the door, our pants were wet and hanging in the bathroom and our bath towels refused to dry. While our blue flame vent-free heater would exacerbate the moisture problem, our RV furnace would help dry out the air inside our buggy.

Doing all these things gave us a nice dry and toasty warm environment to live in during this cold spell in snowy conditions at 10,000 feet.

To implement this heating strategy, we did two things. We stocked up on gasoline and propane and ran our Yamaha 2400i generator and RV furnace a lot. Sometimes we also ran the blue flame heater alongside the furnace.

Yamaha generator in bed of pickup truck in snow

Our Yamaha generator got a good hard workout for over a week.

The generator ensured that the batteries got fully charged. Because we were running our RV furnace so much, which burned up lots of electricity, the batteries were being depleted much faster than normal. So, not only did we need the generator because the solar panels were snoozing under the snow and ice, we also needed it because of running the RV furnace.

RV in snow in winter

A few weeks prior we had been roasting in the summer heat. What a crazy life we live in this RV!!

In general, we ran the RV furnace every morning until the rig was 65 degrees inside and then ran it on and off during the day and in the evening. If the air wasn’t too moist, we also ran blue flame vent-free heater alongside the furnace to warm things up faster. The vent-free propane heater never shut itself off, so the RV furnace was doing its job of circulating the air.

Golden aspen in snow by pond in winter

Getting creative heating our RV made it possible to enjoy views like this as it snowed.

Using the RV furnace also lessened the possibility of the water pipes freezing. The heater is ducted through the belly of the rig, and the warm air passing through the ducts helps warm the nearby water and sewer pipes. If the temps had gotten below 20 degrees, we would have run the RV furnace once or twice overnight as well just to be sure no ice formed in the pipes.

If we had had brilliantly sunny days every day, we may or may not have needed the generator. Our 490 watt solar panel array may have been able to charge the batteries fully, despite the additional load from the RV furnace.

Also, we probably wouldn’t have needed to use the RV furnace so much because the sun would have warmed up our rig and dried it out a bit during the day.

See how flexible and variable all this is??!!

Colorado fall colors after winter snow

This is why we came to Colorado at this season… Wow!!!

We have descended out of the clouds now and have been living at elevations between 5,000′ and 6,500′ for the past few weeks. The RV furnace is back on vacation and our trusty blue flame heater has taken over all the RV heating duties. Our generator is on break for another 6 months or year, and the shore power cord is buried somewhere in the basement once again.

RV in winter snow staying warm in cold weather

Snug as a bug in a rug!!

If you are going to be using your RV in cold weather this winter, we have another post full of tips for keeping warm that you might enjoy:

How to Stay WARM in an RV – Winter RVing Survival Tips

And if you think a vent-free propane heater is something you’d like to get, have a look at our detailed article that discusses the different types of heaters and shows how we installed ours:

Vent-free Propane Heaters (Catalytic, Infrared and Blue Flame) PLUS How to Install One in an RV

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How To Change The Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

One of the first questions we had when we began considering buying a new pickup truck to tow our fifth wheel trailer was: How do you change the inside rear tire on a dually truck? Well, a few days ago we found out!

How to change an inside rear tire on a dually truck

We got a flat on our dually’s inside rear tire (passenger side) while towing our trailer — Oof!!

Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually has been a fabulous truck for us since we bought it six months ago, and we’ve now got 9,100 miles on it now, 4,633 miles towing and 4,467 miles driving around without our fifth wheel trailer attached.

A few days ago, we stopped at the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana to get a photo. As I walked around the back of the truck, I heard a weird hissing noise. I stuck my head into the wheel well, and my heart sank when I saw a huge bolt head on the rear inside tire. I put my finger on it, and the hissing stopped. I lifted my finger and the hissing started again. Oh, no!

I almost didn’t have the heart to tell Mark, but after we’d gotten our photos of the dam, I told him the bad news.

We were in a pretty remote spot, completely out of cell phone and internet range. We hit the nifty “Assist” button on the rear view mirror of the truck to give Dodge a call and ask some questions about changing rear tires, but the call wasn’t able to go through.

Assist button rear view mirror Dodge Ram 3500 truck

Ram trucks have a cool “Assist” button that connects you straight to Dodge…if you’re not in the boonies!

The closest town was Libby, Montana. It boasts a population of 2,700 people, but it was 17 miles down the road.

So much for getting any kind of roadside assistance!

The timing for this little inconvenience wasn’t great. We’d been on the road, towing, for 100 miles, and Mark had just been telling me he was ready to call it quits and take a nap. Oh well. No napping just yet!

Luckily, unlike the last time we’d been stranded on the side of the road — when one of our trailer tires blew out four months ago, shortly after our trailer suspension repair — rather than being on the traffic side of an interstate with cars whizzing by at 75 mph, we were working curbside in a nice big pullout next to an extremely quiet country road where a car would leisurely pass by us every five minutes or so.

We unhitched the truck from the trailer to make it a little easier to get at the rear wheels. Mark got our bottle jack out from its storage spot under the driver’s side rear seat of the truck, and he began setting it up. I grabbed a stool from our fifth wheel basement and laid out some mats on the ground to create a work space for him.

From a lifetime of mechanical work, he learned long ago to protect his hands, so he pulled on a pair of leather work gloves that he keeps in the truck.

The first step for changing the tire was to remove the hubcap.

Remove hub cap on Ram 3500 truck rear wheel

Start by removing the hubcap to reveal the lug nuts.

Then, using a breaker bar, he loosened all of the lug nuts. Doing this with the wheel still on the ground is easier than after it’s lifted, because the wheel can’t spin.

Breaker bar to remove rear wheel on dually truck

Use a breaker bar to loosen the lug nuts while the wheels are still on the ground.

We used to carry a 4-way lug wrench for swapping out flat tires, but one time one of the arms twisted like a strand of licorice as Mark tried to unscrew a stubborn lug nut that wouldn’t budge. It was probably a cheap 4-way lug wrench. Most likely, a better quality 4-way lug wrench wouldn’t have done that, but Mark swore off of those things right then and there, and we’ve been carrying a breaker bar ever since.

The lug nuts on our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 required a 15/16″ socket. The ones on our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 require a 7/8″ socket.

Our bottle jack is rated for 12 tons, enough to hold up the axles of either our trailer or truck easily. More important, it’s also tall enough for the axles on our trailer which we raised a few inches higher from the factory standard during our trailer suspension overhaul to help keep our rear end from dragging on steep ramps at gas stations and on uneven dirt roads.

He unscrewed the top of the bottle jack to raise it up.

Bottle jack for fixing a flat tire

Unscrew the top of the bottle jack by hand to raise it.

He placed it under a flat metal piece that was welded onto the axle.

Bottle jack under the rear axle of a dually truck

Place the bottle jack under a solid flat spot on the axle.

The bottle jack comes with a two-part handle. After removing the two plastic end caps, one tube can be fitted into the other to make a long handle and give you some leverage while pumping up the jack.

Bottle jack handle for fixing a flat tire

Remove the plastic endcaps and fit the tubes together to form a long handle.

He pumped the handle up and down to raise the top of the bottle jack and lift the axle slightly so the wheels no longer touched the ground.

Raise the jack under Ram 3500 dually truck rear axle-2

Raise the rear axle of the truck by pumping the bottle jack handle.

With the lug nuts slightly loosened, he now used a Rigid cordless impact driver to remove them completely.

Impact driver to remove lug nuts fix rear flat tire Ram 3500 dually truck

A Rigid 18 volt cordless impact driver makes it a breeze to remove the lug nuts.

We got the impact driver, a cordless drill and a portable radio as part of a terrific kit that included two lithium-ion battery packs. We use the drill every time we raise and lower our fifth wheel’s stabilizer jacks, and we listen to the portable radio all the time!

He collected the lug nuts in the hub cap.

Fixing rear flat on Ram 3500 dually pickup

Collect the lug nuts in the hubcap so they don’t roll away.

Then he pulled off the outer wheel.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

Pull the wheel off.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

The outer wheel is off, now for the inner wheel…

The wheel studs on a dually are extra long to hold both wheels onto the truck. So, once the outer wheel was removed, he could pull off the inner wheel.

Remove the inner rear tire of a dually truck

Slide the inner wheel off.

And there was the culprit — a big fat self-tapping bolt!

Flat tire on a dually pickup

And there it is — a nasty self-tapping bolt. Arghh!!

Our 2016 Ram 3500 came with a toolkit for raising and lowering the spare tire. It is located behind a plastic trim piece under the passenger’s seat.

Spare tire toolkit in Ram 3500 truck stored under passenger seat

The toolkit for lowering the spare tire is under the passenger’s seat.

He pulled off the plastic trim piece to get the toolkit out.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 pickup truck

Here is the toolkit for lowering and raising the spare tire from its spot under the truck chassis.

Then he pulled the toolkit out from under the passenger’s seat. It is held in place with two knobs, one of which is tightened with a wingnut. When he put the toolkit back in place later, he had to align it before sliding it in, and then tighten the wingnut.

Mounting brackets spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit is held in place by these knobs (the left one is a wing nut).

The toolkit has several handle extensions and other goodies in it.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit has all kinds of goodies in it, including a lug wrench that Mark opted not to use since it is probably even more flimsy than a 4-way.

One of the goodies is an L-shaped handle, and there are several extensions that interconnect to lengthen the handle as well.

Spare tire toolkip Ram 3500 pickup truck

Two of these tubes fit together to form a long handle that attach to the L-shaped handle.

He assembled two handle extensions to make a long rod and attached the L-shaped handle to the end. Then he inserted this handle into a hole above the license plate bracket. There is a square fitting inside the hole. The end of the handle slipped over the square fitting.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

The L-shaped handle and extension tubes fit onto the square fitting in the hole next to the license plate bracket.

Then, he rotated the handle slowly.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

Twist the handle to lower (or raise) the spare tire.

This gradually lowered the spare tire from its storage spot under the chassis of the truck onto the ground

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 pickup truck

The spare tire is held to the truck chassis by a brace that compresses a spring.

The spare tire is held tight to the underside of the truck with a spring fitting that can be snugged nice and tight.

Spare tire mounting system Ram 3500 pickup truck

Bracket and spring under the spare tire.

Then he mounted the spare tire on the truck to replace the flat tire.

Mounting the spare tire on rear of Ram 3500 dually truck

The spare tire is mounted on the truck.

Next, he slid the outer wheel in place. Using his cordless impact driver, he replaced the lug nuts, tightening them in increments. Starting at the valve stem, he tightened the closest lug nut a bit and then tightened the one that was opposite, then tightened the next one, and then the one opposite that one, etc., working his way around the rim and tightening the wheel equally all the way around. Then he gave each lug nut a final tightening using the breaker bar.

Then he put the hubcap back on. It didn’t pop on really easily using his palm, so he used the top of a rubber mallet to tap it in place.

Replace hub cap on dually truck rear wheel

The hubcap didn’t snap in place using palms only, but the butt end of a soft rubber mallet did the trick.

Interestingly, we could now see exactly how much rubber we had worn off our rear tires in 9,100 miles, because the wheels didn’t hang down evenly.

Spare tire and used tire height difference on Ram 3500 dually truck

The brand new spare and 9,000 mile used tire are different heights.

Using a pocket knife, he got a rough estimate of just how much rubber had been worn off — maybe 1/8″ or so.

Rear tIre wear dually truck 9000 miles

About 1/8″ of rubber has come off of the tire in 9,000 miles of driving.

He raised the flat tire up into the storage spot under the truck chassis where the spare tire had been, and lowered the bottle jack under the axle so the truck was sitting on all four rear wheels again. We hitched the trailer back up and started to drive.

This little hiccup in our RVing lifestyle had taken about 30 minutes.

Our fancy new truck has a cool display (the DID, or Driver Information Display) that shows the air pressure in each of the six tires on the truck (this is the TPMS, or Tire Pressure Monitor System). We were both really alarmed when the spare tire reported that it had 17 lbs. of pressure while the other three rear tires all had 63 to 65 lbs. What the heck??

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

The tire pressure for the spare is 17 lbs. Yikes!! (huh????)

The dealership where we bought the truck had told us they’d aired up the spare when we bought the truck new six months earlier. Even though Mark usually uses a tire gauge to measure the air in the spare, he hadn’t this time because it was a brand new tire that seemed perfectly good, had the right sound when he thumped it, and bounced nicely on the ground.

But we grew ever more alarmed as the dashboard display showed 15 lbs., then 13 lbs., and then went to dashes. The road was super quiet, so while driving the 17 miles to get to the Les Schwab tire place in Libby, we pulled over several times to check that the tire wasn’t heating up… It wasn’t.

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

Now the tire pressure is dashes. What does THAT mean??

We made it to Les Schwab, and they put a terrific new kind of patch on the tire that mounts from the inside. It has a big round rubber flange that mounts inside the tire with a plug that fills the hole.

The spare turned out to have 65 lbs. of air pressure, just the way it should have. So, we all scratched our heads for a while about the weird air pressure numbers we’d seen on the dashboard.

Then our service guy suddenly brightened up. “I know what it was!” he said. “The spare tire doesn’t have a sensor in it to report its tire pressure to the truck, but the original tire did!”

So, as the original tire was being carried under the chassis of the truck, where the spare usually sits, it was transmitting its decreasing tire pressure to the console on the dashboard, and the dashboard was dutifully displaying the numbers as coming from the right inside rear tire even though the tire was no longer in that position. Eventually the tire pressure got so low it was below the minimum, so the display showed dashes.

It turns out that that option for the spare tire to have a sensor on the valve stem is only available on Premium models of Ram trucks. We never saw that option in any dealer option lists.

I just showed this post to Mark to see what he thought, and he looked at me in astonishment and said, “When did you take all these photos? This is great!”

“When you were changing the tire!” I explained. “I’m sneaky!” (And I’d MUCH rather write about changing a tire than do it myself!)

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One Ton Towing Machines and 75 Years of Trailer Life

The July 2016 issue of Trailer Life Magazine is featuring our article about what it takes for a One Ton Truck to be a true heavy duty towing machine. We are incredibly proud to have been asked to write this article about diesel trucks for Trailer Life, and especially that it appears in this month’s very special edition: Trailer Life’s 75th Anniversary Issue.

Trailer Life Magazine Choosing a Truck for Heavy Duty Towing

Trailer Life Magazine – July 2016
Article by: Emily Fagan. Photos by Mark & Emily Fagan
You can read the article here: One Ton Towing Machines

Trailer Life Magazine has been reviewing trucks and giving readers insights and pointers for towing trailers since 1941. As they note on the cover, Trailer Life is “North America’s oldest and most-read magazine for RV enthusiasts.”

Besides our 7 page article about selecting a diesel pickup truck for towing a heavy trailer, this issue looks back at 75 years of RV history and has some wonderful articles on the evolution of RVing.

2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck in Valley of the Gods Utah

Trucks and trailers have gone through a huge evolution in the past 75 years!

From the Bowlus Road Chief aluminum sided trailers that resembled an upside down boat and inspired the Airstream, to the Shasta trailers that my hubby Mark remembers from his boyhood camping days with his family, to the iconic Winnebago bread box motorhomes with the big “W” on the side that we still see people driving all over the country, this issue of Trailer Life takes us back in time.

1937 Bowlus Road Chief

A 1937 Bowlus Road Chief — precursor to the Airstream Trailer!

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer – Mark camped in one of these as a kid!

In this issue, they also talk about the resurgence of interest in retro trailers — we see so many retro trailers on the road as we travel! — and they also have a biographical article about the “Godfather” of Trailer Life Magazine, Art Rouse.

1950 Chevy and 1947 Tear Drop Trailer

We spotted a 1950 Chevy and 1947 Tear Drop Trailer in Sun Valley Idaho

1959 Streamline Trailer

We met up with owners/restorers of a 1959 Streamline Trailer in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

It is really exciting for our contribution about 2016 diesel trucks to be published this month right alongside such a fun and detailed retrospective look at the RV industry’s history.

Americans — and the world — have taken to RV living in trailers and motorhomes with great gusto for many years. We first got a true feeling for this long history when we visited the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in the heart of the RV industry — Elkhart, Indiana — back when we traveled through that area in 2010.

A Visit to the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum

Besides being able to go into the museum library and peruse yellowed copies of Trailer Life, Escapees Magazine and Motorhome Magazine, as well as many others, from decades ago (the advertisements are hilarious and say so much about American culture in each era!), we also took a walk back in time along their winding indoor “Road Back in Time” exhibit. This took us past and through small and classic RVs from every decade.

RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum Road Back in Time

The “Road Back in Time” at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Indiana

Some of the craziest and earliest trailers of nearly 100 years ago were just a canvas tent on wheels (some even had wooden wheels!). The museum also displays Mae West’s House Car and other exotics, as well as a few Shasta, Mallard and Coachmen trailers and Winnebago motorhomes from the 50’s to the 70’s.

1967 19' Winnebegao Motor Home

a 19′ 1967 Winnebegao Motorhome on the “Road Back in Time”

But the cool thing is to see these oldies-but-goodies out on the road and still in use as we travel, and to meet people who have bought brand new retro style trailers too. You can get the old fashioned look but have all brand new appliances with the latest technology. How fun!

Modern retro trailer RV

We had a chance to peek inside a brand new retro-style trailer in City of Rocks. NM – Wonderful!

Retro trailer RV

This fantastic retro trailer was pulled by a Honda Element… perfect!

Trailer Life Magazine has been celebrating their 75th anniversary all year long with some really intriguing online articles about the RV industry’s history. Here a link to a few delightful ones:

75 Years of Trailer Life – Online Article Index

For anyone contemplating the RV life or currently enjoying it, Trailer Life Magazine fills a special educational and inspirational niche. It is available both as a glossy print magazine and in digital form online.

After being subscribers ourselves for many years, we began publishing travel destination and technical features in their pages a few years ago (a sampling can be read here), and we still find something new and valuable in every issue. You can subscribe to Trailer Life’s print magazine or digital edition here:

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

We love vintage trailers and get such a kick out of seeing them on the road. We’ve had a few fun enounters with owners of special trailers who have lovingly restored them:

As for buying a big ol’ truck to tow a modern monster fifth wheel trailer, there are some important things to take into account, as not all One Ton trucks are created equal, by a long shot. We talk about a few of those “must have” features in this blog post:

What to Look For When Choosing a Truck for Heavy Duty Towing – Tips for Truck Buyers

There are also quite a few other articles about trucks and towing on this blog as well:

Blog posts about trucks and trailer towing:

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