2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler – Our Big RV Reveal!

Everybody loves celebrating “Big Reveals” announcing special surprises these days, so here is our Big RV Reveal: Our new rig for our summertime travel adventures is a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler!

My last post left off with a bit of a cliff-hanger after I described selling our Arctic Fox truck camper. I dropped a big hint about what was coming, though, with this final image:

The Journey Begins - Genesis Supreme Toy Hauler

It is the logo that appears on the back of all Genesis Supreme toy haulers!

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler ramp door

Back when we were full-timing, we struggled for several years with figuring out what to get to replace our 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel. We went on several factory tours in Elkhart, Indiana, and I even did a big research project that resulted in a feature article for Trailer Life Magazine about the larger toy haulers on the market at the time. It appeared in the September 2019 issue of Trailer Life.

However, we couldn’t find a toy hauler that was built as solidly as we wanted for full-time use. We also wanted a separate garage that was at least 12′ long, but that meant the whole trailer would be north of 40′ and even as long as 44′. That is a Really Long Trailer! And Mark was not enthused about towing such a huge beast.

Also, the longer trailers were often a bit skinny on Cargo Carrying Capacity for our RZR plus full tanks and all our stuff (you have all your worldly possessions with you when you’re full-time). We’d had enough trouble with failing axles and a failed suspension on our fifth wheel trailer (and it wasn’t even overloaded beyond the factory specifications) that we didn’t want to risk towing around a huge trailer that was at or near its load limit.

Basically, we wanted it all, but we wanted it to be fairly short and really stout too. But we couldn’t find such a rig.

While we were camping in our truck camper last summer, I realized we could make do with a tiny kitchen and tiny bedroom for a few months of travel but we needed a big open area inside the trailer to relax and stretch out — recliners, sofa, something! If we could convert that open area to be a garage for the RZR and bikes while we were in transit, I’d be thrilled!

It suddenly dawned on me that what we needed was an open box toy hauler!

These rigs have a big garage area that converts into a living space with moveable furniture. The advantage over a unit with a separate garage is that you can arrange the living room furniture any way you wish and the overall length can be quite modest. The disadvantage is that you have a stinky dirty toy in your living room when you travel. It’s a tough trade-off and one we’d never make if we were living in the rig full-time. But for a few summer months it holds a lot of promise.

We would be able to haul the RZR and bikes inside the rig rather than having the RZR outside on a trailer or the bikes collecting road grime on a hitch receiver mounted bike rack. It would also give us an onboard gas tank to fuel up the RZR rather than carrying jugs of gasoline and we’d have an on-board gas generator which would allow us to turn on the air conditioning at a moment’s notice. If we bought a modern open box toy hauler, the ramp door would convert into an 8′ x 8′ patio off the back of the rig. All huge pluses!

Here’s where we landed:

Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Floor Plan

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Floor Plan
Ours has the two slide-outs. The “power queen bed” is on an electric lift system.

But how did we end up here?

There aren’t a lot of open box toy haulers on the market. The big Indiana RV manufacturers are focused on building toy haulers with a separate garage because no one wants that stinky dirty toy in their living room.

However, a small builder in California, Genesis Supreme, is manufacturing them under the brand names Genesis Supreme, Vortex and Wanderer.

Ironically, while out camping last summer, we met a guy camping in a Genesis Supreme Vortex. It was a massive model — 42 feet long — and it was cavernous inside. He didn’t use it to bring any kind of toys with him, though. Instead, being a really outgoing and fun-loving type of guy, he’d set up the whole interior to be Party Central for him and his wife and his crowd of friends and family that he camped with regularly.

He could fit 18 people in his rig comfortably (he had several Euro Chairs and gravity syle reclining camping chairs for them all). He also had a fully stocked bar and a beautiful huge kitchen with tons of counter space. The bedroom had a king bed and the shower was a full size tub enclosure rather than a stall shower. He stored it 10 minutes from where he liked to camp and he’d just drive his truck from the house to the storage lot (an hour’s drive) and then hitch up and drive a few miles to go camping. An ideal situation for him.

We went back to our truck camper in awe and with fresh new ideas swimming around in our heads. We woudn’t want to tow that beast, but my oh my, the things you can do with an open floor plan and moveable furniture!

I began searching online for open box toy haulers and there were very few. Genesis Supreme makes open box toy haulers exclusively, however, and they had a really cool unit that would suit our needs: the Genesis Supreme 28CRT.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

The fresh water tankage was better than the Hitchhiker by 22 gallons and although the waste tanks were smaller than ideal they were manageable for shorter-term, on-the-go, frequently-moving travels. It also had a generous an on-board gas tank for the RZR and the on-baord generator:

  • Fresh Water: 100 gallons
  • Gray Tank: 40 gallons
  • Black Tank: 40 gallons
  • Propane: 14 gallons
  • Gasoline: 40 gallons

I used to wonder why toy haulers are so often built with huge fresh water tanks and totally inadequate gray tanks — where did the manufacturer expect all that water to go? Well, most have an outside shower or hose for cleaning off the toy before putting it away. So, the assumption is that much of the fresh water will be used that way and will end up on the ground and not in the gray tank. Needless to say, the manufacturers should provide an appropriately sized gray tank for people who won’t be pouring fresh water on the ground as they wash their toys.

The weights and carrying capacity were good too (CCC nearly 5,000 lbs) and could easily accommodate full propane/gas/fresh water tanks (which is how we typically travel) as well as the RZR and our gear, clothes, bedding, tools and food:

  • UVW: 15,000 lbs
  • GVWR: 10,110
  • CCC: 4,890 lbs

When looking for a rig, especially a toy hauler that will carry something heavy, it’s important to add up all the fluids in the tanks plus the toy and then estimate the weight of all the other stuff you’ll be carrying, including upgrades with hidden weights like extra solar panels and batteries.

Our RZR is 1,250 lbs, our two bikes are 50 lbs, a full 100 gallon water tank is 830 lbs, a full 40 gallon gas tank is 244 lbs, and 14 gallons of propane is 60 lbs. The total for all that is 2,434 lbs. That leaves a comfortable margin of 2,486 lbs for any upgrades we install, our kitchen gear, tools, spare parts, clothing and food.

We saw plenty of toy haulers that had just over 3,000 lbs of cargo carrying capacity, and some of those had a 160 gallon fresh water tank which weighs 1,328 lbs. We wouldn’t be able to use one of those rigs and bring any clothes or food.

The Genesis Supreme 28CRT is 3′ shorter than our Hitchhiker was, a foot taller and 6 inches wider:

  • Length: 33′
  • Width: 8′ 6″
  • Height 13′ 6″

Although we don’t have the measurement from the Hitchhiker, the Genesis Supreme appears to have less of an overhang behind the rear wheels, a plus when taking a tight turn which makes the back end swing out and potentially hit things. Years ago our Hitchhiker hit a guard rail which peeled the entire fiberglass endcap back about a foot, revealing all the insulation and wiring inside the wall. Ugh! The cost of the repair (covered by insurance) was 25% of the new purchase price of that 5th wheel.

It also appeared that the Genesis Supreme was higher off the ground than the Hitchhiker which is good when going through dips and washes.

There was a Genesis Supreme 28CRT for sale at a dealership an hour or so away, so I went there with a tape measure, notepad and camera in hand to see what it was like. Mark decided to stay home with Buddy and he just said, “If you like it, make an offer!”

I really liked it, but I wasn’t going to commit us to anything without him seeing it and liking it too! I came home and we went over all the photos and discussed it at length. He liked the looks of it but didn’t particularly want to go to the dealership to negotiate.

“I don’t want to buy anything unless it falls in my lap!” He said.

I agreed 100%. Fall-in-the-lap deals are the best. You set the stage, do your homework, and aim for success, but you can’t force the right thing to happen. I’ve come to realize that every seemingly “perfect” deal that tragically falls through does so because it is making way for a better deal to come along. I knew RVs were selling fast, though, and I was concerned we’d lose this one if we didn’t act soon.

I called Genesis Supreme to see how busy they were. It’s a small enough company that you can actually call and easily get through to someone knowledgeable who has real answers! They said they had several dealer orders for Vortex 2815V models in the coming months and that those units were identical to the Genesis Supreme 28CRT models inside but were painted a different color on the outside (battleship gray instead of white with black, blue and gray stripes). These units would be shipping with a higher MSRP, of course, but at least the unit at the dealership wasn’t the last one to be delivered for 12 months as I’d been told last summer about a Desert Fox model I liked and that was nowhere to be found west of the Mississippi.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

One night, I casually looked on Craigslist, and tucked in between all the dealership ads for 2022 Genesis Supremes there was a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT for sale by a private party. Huh?

I contacted the seller and he said he’d had it for 5 months and realized it didn’t work for his purposes. He’d bought it to visit his inlaws on weekends and travel a little on the side but decided it made more sense to buy a small second home near his inlaws and get a small motorhome for traveling.

That would all be much more money than a truck and trailer, but he was more concerned about getting the right solution than the cost. Plus, a second home is an investment that will generally appreciate whereas an RV is a asset that will generally depreciate in value. We were intrigued that he didn’t own a big motorized toy like a RZR and he used the trailer to haul two big tricycles for riding around his inlaws’ neighborhood.

I asked if we could see it and he said, “Yes, but unfortunately I’m storing it in a lot that’s 90 miles from where I live…”

It turned out his storage lot was right down the street from where we live! WOW!!

It seemed like a very cool opportunity was falling our laps!

We saw it, loved it, struck a deal that was way below what we would have paid at the dealership, and brought it home. The unit at the dealership didn’t have an onboard generator because of supply chain issues while this one had a generator and some other small upgrades already installed. It had been used so few times that the microwave and stereo still had plastic film protecting the display.

The furniture is black, which is not my first choice. The unit at the dealership had more appealing cream colored furniture and some lighter trim which lightened the interior significantly.

However, unlike a full-time rig where I’d be very fussy about the interior, we’ll be in this for just a few months at a time, and hopefully we’ll be outside doing and seeing exciting things most of that time. We don’t have to worry about the long dark months of winter when full-timers can wind up staying inside quite a bit.

Stepping inside, you are facing the kitchen, and the garage/living area is to the left.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Interior

The sofa is pretty comfy both for sitting and for napping (it’s a jackknife sofabed)

The length of the garage area is 15’11” from the ramp door to the refrigerator. Our RZR is 9′ long. There are two small 20″ deep slide-outs, one in the main area for a fold-up sofa/bed and one in the bedroom for some drawers and a closet.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler main living area

An open box floor plan allows you to arrange the interior however you like with moveable furniture!

The tiny L-shaped kitchen is workable although not optimal, but with some minor modifications we’ve made it more spacious (details coming in another post).

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Kitchen

The sofa and kitchen are on the driver’s side

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Kitchen closeup

The L-kitchen is small, but with some simple modifications (not shown here) we’ve made it more spacious

The interesting thing about open box toy haulers is that everything is geared towards making room for and bringing in that big ol’ toy. The jack-knife sofa can fold out into a full-size bed but it can also fold up against the wall to make room for a big toy.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler sofa side

The jackknife sofa in its “living room” position.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler sofa up in travel position

The sofa is folded up against the exterior wall in “travel position.”

The recliners are very light and can be moved easily. The official setup has a small removable table between them.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Recliners

The recliners are light and can be moved easily. The factory provides a removable pedestal table.

But they could also be set up in the rear. This is where the guy who towed around Party Central really had fun. He could arrange seating for all his friends and family in many different ways. For us, we’ll see how we end up using it. I like having options!

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Living room

The recliners can also be placed in the rear of the rig the way they are in many traditional fifth wheel trailers.

In the rear there is a queen size top bunk (60 x 80 inches) and two sets of “rollover” sofas that can face each other or be laid flat to form a full-size lower bunk bed (54 x 80 inches).

Both bunks can be raised and lowered. The sofas (lower bunk) are the ones that actually move up and down the track while the top bunk simply rides on top of them. There are stops placed a few feet down on the rails to force the top bunk to stop descending as the lower bunk is lowered. Once the top bunk has stopped, the sofas that make up the lower bunk can be lowered all the way down to be set up as either opposing sofas or as a single full-size bed.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Happijac beds up

The bunk beds in the back are in the fully raised position so you can walk (or fit a RZR) underneath.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Happijac halfway down

The top bunk rides on top of the two opposing sofas which flatten out to make a full size bed.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Happijac lowered

The top bunk stops descending at some stoppers placed midway down the track. The sofas (laid out as a lower bunk) descend down to traditional bed level.

The top bunk is really cozy and comfy and you get a great view out the window at the beautiful outdoors. The lower bunk is surpisingly comfy too, and what we’re finding is it’s fun to have it set up as a kind of lounging area, great for napping, reading a book or for watching the Outdoor Channel (Buddy’s favorite station on his Window TV).

Heading upstairs, the spaciousness missing in the kitchen has been totally regained in the bathroom. It is big and roomy.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bathroom sink and shower

The bathroom is very spacious.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler shower

Fancy stall shower.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bathroom

What the kitchen lacks in space, the bathroom makes up for in spades!

The bedroom is very small and the bed is a short RV queen (60 x 74.5 versus 60 x 80) that runs “north-south,” i.e., parallel to the road. There are two hanging closets, four drawers, a lot of storage over the bed and a cubby for laundry as well as a bedside table. Plus there are windows on both sides of the bed.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bedroom 1

The bedroom has good storage space but just a short RV queen bed (60 x 74.5 inches).

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bedroom 2

There is plenty of drawer and closet space in the bedroom.

Oh, look who just jumped up on the bed!

Buddy feels right at home here!

I think he wants to head outside, so let’s go.

Camping in a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

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One thing we love is that the windows are very large.

Camping in a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

The trailer is 13’6″ tall and you can see the height in this pic where Mark seems quite small next to it.

Another wonderful feature is the back patio. The ramp door opens up and hangs on cables from the frame to form a patio that can hold 3,000 lbs. A set of railings (by MorRyde) roll out and clip into place. Those rails will be handy for giving Buddy a way to be outdoors at times when we don’t want to let him run free.

Ramp door patio 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

The ramp door to the garage converts to a patio.

There’s a back gate you can open to get down to the ground.

Back patio of a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

It’s very cool to have an elevated outdoor space to hide out in!

Playing guitar on the patio of a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

Happy camper!

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler ramp patio

“What’s going on up there?”

Solar Power

Another bonus is that it came from the factory with a basic solar power setup. All the components are from Go Power. It’s a small system, but it may be enough for us to squeak by in the summer months when the days are long, the sun is high, and we use very little power because we go to bed at sunset and wake up at sunrise.

  • One 190 watt solar panel
  • Solar charge controller + Battery Monitor
  • 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter
  • Four 12-volt Group 24 wet cell batteries

We’ve never had a battery monitor before, so this is a new gizmo for us. We always kept an eye on the voltages reported on the solar charge controller to get a sense of how the batteries were doing. Now we can glance at the screen in the living room and it tells us the batteries are 100% charged, or whatever. How accurate it is, I have no idea!

As for all the other solar gear, we’ll do a summer with the factory installed setup and see how it goes. Down the road we might put more solar power on the roof and/or upgrade the batteries and/or upgrade the inverter. But for now, in 9 days of camping in mid-May, the system did just fine and the batteries were fully charged before nightfall. Of course, there’s always the onboard generator that has a switch in the kitchen and a switch by the bed so if you feel a need for power at 2:00 a.m., you can roll over, hit the switch, and snooze to the hum of the genny.

Sunset over a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

We really enjoyed our shakedown cruise and can’t wait to go on our bigger summer trip.

A few other big positives for us are:

Refrigerator

We didn’t want one of the huge 18 cubic foot four door refrigerators because they go through propane pretty quickly when boondocking and, over time, there have been more problems with them than with the smaller 6 to 10 foot double door refrigerators.

The double door 8 cubic foot refrigerator on this rig is the same size we lived with for all those years in our Hitchhiker, so we’re used to living with a small fridge. This particular one has a bigger freezer than our old one, so that’s a nice plus.

In our Hitchhiker, our 8 cubic foot fridge and our range used 7 gallons of propane every 3 weeks. If we had a refrigerator that was more than twice as big, we might be hunting for places to fill our propane tank every 7 to 10 days. It’s not always so easy to find propane, and it’s enough of a pain to unload the tank from the rig and into the truck and then chauffeur it to the propane store and load it back into the rig that we’d rather do it as infrequently as possible.

An electric fridge is fine if you have enough solar power to support it, but we’re just trying to have fun for a few months each year and we’re not looking for a long term full-time RVing type of solution.

Two Fresh Water Intakes and No All-In-One Compartment

Unlike most modern fifth wheels that have an all-in-one filling/dumping compartment on the side of the rig, this unit has all those things placed separately but near each other. We like having them all spaced out and operating independently of each other and not having to follow a chart for switches to be aligned different ways to go between dry camping, winterizing and full hookup camping.

Tank management on an RV

There are 2 separate fresh water intakes, one for filling the tank for dry camping and the other for a fresh water hookup.

The all-in-one sanitation compartments often have the fresh water intake recessed within the compartment which makes it impossible to add water to the tank with jerry jugs. It’s possible to rig up a pump to pump water out of a tank or jug and into that recessed intake, but we like the simplicity of hoisting a jug up and emptying it into the tank rather than getting out the pump and all that. Obviously, with some creativity, it is possible to make it very easy to use a pump and many people do.

Some rigs we’ve seen don’t even have a gravity fill fresh water intake which makes it difficult or impossible to add water to the tank from water jugs. The system uses switches instead to direct the water flow to the holding tank or to the interior of the rig.

This unit has one fresh water intake specifically for filling the fresh water holding tank that is located a little lower than the one on the Hitchhiker which will make it easier to access. It has another fresh water intake for a city connection for when we have fresh water available at our campsite (which is rare).

Electric Awning

Mark never thought he’d want or like an electric awning, but he’s loving this one. “As long as the motor keeps working!” he says. Hopefully it will because even I can open and close this awning in my sleep at 3 a.m. if I have to!

Keyless Door Lock

Again, we never thought we’d want or like having a keypad on the entry door that can be used in place of a key. But we love it! So often we approach the door and realize we don’t have the key with us. Now, we just punch in the magic code and Sesame opens for us!

There are keys for the door too, so you can use a key if you wish. There’s also a key fob with a remote so you can open or lock the door from a distance too!

RV keyless entry

Keyless entry is handy when you don’t have your keys on you.

Radio Reception and Outdoor Speakers

We could never get good radio reception on the radio in the Hitchhiker and that was something we noticed right away when we bought the Arctic Fox truck camper because it got great reception. It is so nice to listen to the radio and tune in to whatever is going on locally.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler outdoor speakers

Music outside – what fun!

We’ve enjoyed many a radio show consisting of call-in classified ads for farming and ranching equipment in the big rural western states, something we just don’t find elsewhere. The Genesis Supreme gets great radio reception and the outdoor speakers are an added bonus.

Shhhh — We promise to keep the outdoor volume down so we don’t bother the deer and the rabbits!

Sunset over a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

Hopefully we’ll enjoy many years of travel in this baby!

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Truck Camper Pros and Cons – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

Last year we jumped into the world of truck camper RVing as total newbies, and what a wild ride it has been! We learned a lot and want to share a few insights we picked up along the way plus give you some news about where this journey has taken us.

Truck Camper Pros and Cons

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Of course, our info about truck camper RVing is based on our limited experience with one particular truck camper, a 2005 Arctic Fox 860, and one particular truck, a 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually. Other RVers with different truck/camper combos have different experiences.

A large part of why we decided to get a truck camper after living in a fifth wheel for 13 years is that good friends of ours spent 25 years wintering in a fifth wheel in Arizona and going on short jaunts around their home state of Montana in a truck camper in the summertime. They absolutely loved the various truck campers they had over the years, and hearing their stories inspired us.

Truck camper and RZR camping in the forest

What could be better than camping in the forest and riding the US Forest Service roads in a Polaris RZR?!

TRUCK CAMPER JOYS:

There are many great things about truck campers and they all stem from their small size. Unlike most other kinds of trailers and motorized RVs, you can park it in an ordinary parking space, whether on the street, at a store, at a National Park overlook, in a National Park campground, or at the hospital, as we found out.

You can load it onto a ferry boat where fees are charged by vehicle length, and it will cost you half as much (or even less) than if you were towing a trailer.

You never have to be concerned about whether your rig will fit into any kind of campsite, and you can even pull into a friend’s driveway for the night without knocking things over as you plow through their neighborhood (been there, done that, yikes!).

If you plan to tow a boat, or a side-by-side, or a Jeep or anything else, you can hitch it directly to the truck. Of course, if the camper sticks out beyond the back of the truck, you’ll need a hitch extension, but at least you won’t be towing your extra toy behind a truck and fifth wheel in a long train that isn’t even legal to drive in a lot of states.

In our case, the truck we had to work with is a diesel. So, we could take our camper up any steep mountain grade and the truck didn’t even break a sweat. This meant we could transform our powerful truck into a motorized RV worthy of mountain passes with the modest incremental cost of purchasing an older truck camper.

Camping with Arctic Fox 860 truck camper Dodge Ram dually truck Polaris RZR and flat bed trailer

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WHERE TRUCK CAMPERS & TRAILERS ARE MORE OR LESS EQUIVALENT:

We were surprised to discover that our truck got the same fuel mileage when we were carrying the truck camper as it did when we were towing the fifth wheel. The camper weighs around 3,500 lbs while the fifth wheel weighed 14,000 lbs, so you’d think the truck wouldn’t work as hard with the camper, but that’s what we saw.

Our truck gets anywhere from 15 to 21 mpg when it is not towing or carrying heavy weight. It got around 9 to 12 mpg towing the fifth wheel trailer and it got about the same carrying the camper.

TRUCK CAMPER CHALLENGES:

This is where our learning curve took off.

Swing-Out Landing Legs for Dually Trucks

Our first discovery was that the wide hips of our dually truck couldn’t fit between the front landing legs of the camper. We had to replace the two front factory-installed landing legs with a special type that can swing outward so the truck could fit between them as it backed in under the camper to load it up. Then they could be swung back inward for driving.

Happijac Truck Camper Adjustable Dually landing leg

The wide hips of the dually required front landing legs that could swing open to let the truck back in. In this pic, the leg is in the “out” position.

Happijac Truck Camper Adjustable Dually landing leg

The landing legs can be rotated outward for loading and unloading the camper and then rotated inward for driving. Shown here in the outward position.

The camper we bought didn’t come with swing out legs so we had to add them before we could bring the camper home. The seller delivered the camper to an RV repair shop where we had the work done.

Install a Tie Down System

Our next discovery was that the camper must be tied down to the truck so it doesn’t slide off (the tailgate of the truck gets removed so the truck camper can be loaded into the truck bed).

We chose to go with the top-of-the-line Torklift camper tie down system which consisted of Torklift’s bolt-on anchor points (the Talon Tie Downs for the truck and the Camper Anchor Relocation/Repair Kit for the camper.

Once these were bolted onto the truck frame and the camper frame, we used the Torklift FastGun Turnbuckles to tie the camper onto the truck. The FastGuns are super secure and they have a quick release mechanism that makes them very easy to put on and take off when loading and unloading the camper.

Torklift Talon Camper Tie Down system and FastGun Turnbuckles

The Torklift Tie Down system has three components in each corner: an anchor point on the camper (“Camper Anchor Repair/Relocation Kit”, an anchor point on the truck (“Torklift Talon Tie Down”) and a connection between the two (“Torklift FastGun Turnbuckle”).

As great as this system was, the installation was another step in the process that needed to happen before we could take the camper home.

These two upgrades — swing-out landing legs and camper tie downs — were modifications to the rig that were much like buying a hitch, a hitch receiver, tow mirrors and a brake controller (or buying a truck with a factory installed Tow Package) for a truck/trailer combo. They are add-ons that must be done and done right before you can go anywhere, and they not only take time but add to the overall cost of the rig.

Truck and Truck Camper Marriage – A Match Made in Heaven?

We hadn’t realized before we bought our beautiful truck camper that when you match a camper to a truck (or vice versa), you are setting the stage for them to get married. Hopefully, they fall in love and it is a match made in heaven.

In our case, it wasn’t. Our dually long bed truck was a bit big for the camper. Coming from the world of trailers, we couldn’t imagine that a truck could be too big for any kind of RV setup, but in the world of campers the pairing of the truck and camper is so precise that it is possible to have too big and ungainly a truck for a given camper.

Campers are designed with specific sizes of trucks in mind. Our particular camper was advertised back in the day (2005 era) as being compatible with either a short bed truck or a long bed truck. Since it was short bed compatible, I don’t think the designers intended it to be paired with a long bed dually.

Loading and Unloading the Truck Camper – A Unique Issue with the Arctic Fox 860 and Long Bed Trucks

Arctic Fox 860 getting ready to load onto tr6uck

The camper is standing on its own four legs so so the truck can slide in underneath.

Like all truck campers, the layout of the bottom of our camper was a rectangle designed to fit in the bed of a truck. However, it had an extra box sticking out on the left side of the rear entry door. This box held all the sewer valves and the outlet for the sewer hose as well as providing storage for the landing leg controller, so it was not something that could be removed.

Arctic Fox 860 sewer gear box

The right side of this compartment is the left edge of the bottom of the camper that fits into the truck bed. So, the whole sewer gear compartment sticks out beyond the profile of the bottom of the camper (illustration below).

This simplistic drawing shows the problem. The truck bed is in red and the camper floor is in black. The sewer gear box sticks out of the rear driver’s side of the camper which reduces the clearance for loading the camper into a long bed truck by several inches:

Truck camper and truck bed layout

The sewer gear box sticks out from the side of the camper, making it a tight fit width-wise in a long bed truck.

Unfortunately, as we backed the truck in under the camper, we had to make sure not to hit that box while also ensuring that the dually wheel wells didn’t catch on the sides of the camper either. All this had to be in perfect alignment while backing up the full 8′ distance of the truck bed. We had about an inch to spare in total, and we had to back the truck perfectly straight for the entire 8′ length of the truck bed.

Arctic Fox truck camper on landing lengs

Okay, now back the truck up perfectly straight…

Arctic Fox 860 sewer gear box

Looking up at the bottom of the camper as it slides into the truck bed, you can see the sewer gear box is going to hit on the left side of the bed.

Arctic Fox 860 tight clearance loading camper on truck

After adjusting the truck so the camper’s sewer box doesn’t hit on the left side, over on the right side the camper just clears the dually’s inner wheel well. Phew!

Needless to say, it was a white knuckle affair every time we loaded or unloaded the camper, and it usually required jockying the truck forward and backward a few times to get it aligned perfectly. Sometimes we lightly bumped the tall spindly camper landing legs in the process, making our hearts jump. With every bump and shudder of the top-heavy camper, I was grateful it didn’t fall over.

Also, our 2016 truck bed was a few inches higher than the 2005-era trucks our camper was designed for. So, we had to raise the camper a few inches higher on those spindly legs than was originally envisioned by the designers. The camper looked like a giant bug with very long legs, and one time when the wind suddenly picked up to 30+ mph, the whole very top-heavy contraption began to sway on those spindly legs. We both ran for our lives for fear it might topple over on us.

Ironically, we’ve done plenty of challenging things with RVs and boats together, but nothing was as difficult or frustrating as loading and unloading this camper. Down in Mexico, we anchored our large beautiful sailboat in lots of dicey places, sometimes spending the night listening to waves crashing on rocks right outside our windows.

One time, in the violently unpredictable Sea of Cortez, our boat dangled, twisted and turned at the end of our taught 300′ anchor chain in powerful onshore winds with huge waves pounding the beach just a few feet behind us. Unnerved, we decided to leave that frightening setting for a safer spot on the other side of the island only to have a mammoth wave promptly crash over the deck and bend the one inch diameter stainless steel Garhauer racks holding our 14′ kayak as if they were made of rubber. The kayak was saved from the raging sea by a few stout lines that now seemed like pieces of sewing thread.

Arctic Fox 860 truck camper on landing lengs

Due to the higher bed height of modern trucks, the camper has to be raised a few inches higher on its thin legs than was originally intended.

Yet none of those experiences matched the panic that we both felt when we loaded the camper on and off our truck. It was an ordeal.

Because we couldn’t load and unload the camper easily, we essentially lost the use of our truck by itself, not only when we were traveling but also when we were home. At home, we felt like we needed to get another truck for hauling jobs in our daily lives (how silly would that be?!). While traveling, we couldn’t leave the camper in our campsite and instead always had to take pack it up and take it with us no matter how short a distance we needed to go. We did have the RZR with us, and we happily drive it RZR on lightly traveled roads, but we don’t drive it on highways or roads with fast moving traffic.

Leaving a campsite with camping goodies in it like a patio mat and camp chairs without a rig present is asking for trouble. Someone arriving at the campsite could easily assume the goodies were abandoned (we have found tons of abandoned camping gear on public land that we’ve watched sit there day after day). Likewise, having to put everything away inside the rig in order to drive a few miles somewhere is inconvenient.

This all sounds a bit dire, but I believe the ease of loading and unloading–which makes it either possible or impossible to drive the truck without the camper on it–is 100% dependent on how well matched the truck is to the camper. If it’s a good match, getting the camper on and off the truck shouldn’t be difficult. That said, we haven’t seen many truck campers in campsites that have been unloaded from the truck they drove in on.

The bottom line for us is that our truck and camper were not a good match for each other and they ended up getting a divorce. Thankfully, the divorce was an amicable one.

In Contrast: A Good Truck/Camper Pairing

When we sold the camper, the perfect buyer snapped it up, and we saw the difference that a good pairing can make.

Arctic Fox truck camper moves from one truck to another

We took the camper off our truck and got ready to load it onto the buyer’s truck.

He has a 2002 Chevy shortbed truck, and the camper fits it like a glove. He slid his truck underneath with ease, never having loaded a truck camper before, and he looked like a pro as he backed in. FIrst, the camper didn’t need to be raised very high for the truck to slide underneath. Then, the camper fit into the bed without that awkward sewer box even getting involved. Because it was a shortbed truck, the sewer gear box hung off the back of the truck and didn’t have to get squeezed into the truck bed. Undoubtedly, the designers assumed that half or more of their buyers would be people with shortbed trucks.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 fits well on a shortbed truck

The camper sticks out beyond the short bed of the truck unlike on a long bed where the back end is flush.

Arctic Fox 860 fits well on a shortbed truck

The troublesome sewer gear box doesn’t have to be squeezed into the bed of the truck because it hangs off the back — perfect!

As we watched the buyer load the camper on his truck so easily, it was obvious his new truck/camper combo would be a match made in heaven. Perhaps a bigger camper would have given us a better overall experience, but by this time we were ready to try something completely different!

PERSONAL CAMPING STYLE – IS TRUCK CAMPING FOR YOU?

Flowers

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Besides the technical issues of pairing the truck and camper, there’s also a huge difference between living in a camper and living in a larger rig. Obviously, a truck camper is a small space. But there is more to it than that.

The space is quite vertical, especially if the camper door is on the back of the camper at the level of the truck bed. The bed of our truck — which is the floor level of the camper — is at chest height for me. So, we had to step up from ground level to chest height just to enter the camper.

Torklift makes a stair system called the Glow Step that folds down to the ground accordion style from the truck bumper. Some folks nickname the Glow Step the Stairway to Heaven because it is such a long staircase. I found portable plastic stairs that fit into the camper while we traveled. These were sturdy and easy to go up and down.

When the truck was unhitched from the utility trailer it was a straight shot into the camper: two steps on the plastic stairs and two steps on the camper’s stairs. If we left the trailer hitched up, we had a turn in the staircase.

Stair solution for Arctic Fox 860 truck camper-2

A two-step staircase was a cheap solution for climbing up to the entry door where there are two more stairs before entering the camper.

Stair solution for Arctic Fox 860 truck camper

With the flat bed trailer hitched up to the truck, we step up to the trailer tongue and then up into the camper.

Mark also made a very clever platform out of plywood to fit on the tongue of the RZR trailer. This made a staircase landing where we could pause to open the door when our hands were full. We usually kept the RZR trailer attached to the truck, so this platform was a really nifty upgrade and didn’t take him long to make. We kept it in the RZR when we were driving.

Stair solution for Arctic Fox 860 truck camper towing utility trailer

Mark built a platform for the trailer tongue that gave us a landing midway up our staircase.

Stair solution for Arctic Fox 860 truck camper

This stairway solution worked really well.

Because the buyer’s truck bed was much lower than ours, he didn’t need the plastic stairs and could get away with a 7 inch step stool, if even that. See? Match made in heaven.

Many truck campers have the entry door on the side of the camper rather than on the back. Because of the placement of this door, the truck camper hangs off the back end of the truck. The beauty of a side entry door is that it is substantially lower to the ground than a door placed on the back of the camper. This reduces the number of stairs needed to get up to the doorway and makes it much more like going into a trailer or motorhome.

The disadvantage of a side entry door is that if you plan to tow something behind the truck, you will need a hitch extension because the hitch receiver on the truck will now be recessed under the floor of the camper.

Once inside the camper, whether it is a rear entry or side entry door, you can sit at the dinette, stand in the kitchen or bathroom, or crawl into the bed. For one or two people this is fine — it’s just tight living. You’re out seeing the world anyway, so who cares? However, we found it is not so easy if you have pets.

Buddy had only one choice for where he could spend time comfortably in the camper: on the bed. He could sit at the dinette, but didn’t like to do that for longer than a few seconds.

Puppy at the camper dinette

Buddy joins us at the dinette.

Puppy at the truck camper dinette

“Hi, Mom.”

Pup at the dinette of Arctic Fox 860 2

“What’s for lunch?”

He could also be on the floor, but he was under foot and not comfortable standing there. So, in the end, his only place in the camper was on the bed. He loved it there, though. He could watch the world outside through the windows on either side of the bed and it was soft and comfy.

Pup lying on the bed in a truck camper RV

Buddy’s favorite place was up on the bed where he could stretch out and look out the windows.

However, he was kind of stuck there. He’s a good jumper, but it was a long jump down to the floor and we didn’t want him jumping up and down off the high bed for fear the pounding would be tough on his slender limbs or we’d get in his way accidentally and cause him to injure himself.

He could aso jump up into the camper from outside on the ground, but again, we weren’t keen on having him jumping around in case we accidentally stepped in his path while he was jumping and injured him.

A quiet spot for pup under a truck camper

Buddy loves the outdoors, but with the truck camper he had to wait for one of us to help him in or out.

Camping dog

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So, we ended up having to lift him in and out of the camper and also lift him on and off the bed. This meant he had no independence, and he was kind of stuck wherever he was, either outside in the campsite or inside on the bed, until we helped move him. In contrast, when we had the fifth wheel, he could come and go as he pleased.

SELLING AN RV IN TODAY’S CRAZY MARKET

Campsite with Arctic Fox 860 truck camper, dually truck, RZR and flat bed trailer

Everyone wants to get out into nature and leave Lockdown World far behind.

So, after our trip to Quartzsite we knew it was time to sell our Arctic Fox camper and buy something different (and exciting!).

We learned a lot in the selling process. If you are selling an RV these days, here are some things we learned when we sold our camper on Craigslist in February, 2022.

First, the market is moving really fast and NADA Guide is not keeping up. We priced our camper based on dealership asking prices for similar untils nationwide that we saw listed in RVTrader.com. The asking prices were through the roof and insane. They were essentially double the NADA Guide prices. But we went with the flow and asked an insane price that fit in with the others.

We’d had our eyes on the RV market for a while and had noticed that good quality used rigs in excellent condition were selling quickly. We’d see a cool rig one day and it would be gone two or three days later. That happened repeatedly.

Woods with flowers

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We put the ad up on a Tuesday and had some calls and made 3 appointments for showings on Saturday. None of the three who saw it on Saturday bit right away, but we had interest from five other people calling us from 200 to 1,000 miles away.

Saturday night I got a call from a serious buyer who put down a substantial deposit and promised to be out to pick it up on Tuesday. He lived 1,200 miles away and it would take him 2 days to drive to our place. Plus, he wanted to install new tires on his truck before making the trip. I changed the ad to “Sale Pending.”

On Sunday, all three people who had seen the camper the day before called to make offers. Meanwhile, four other people from 40, 180, 200 and 250 miles away respectively all made full cash offers, saying they could come with cash in hand the next day (Monday) to pick it up. I told them I had a deal pending that would take a few days to close and that I would call them if it fell through. Four of the prospective buyers kept in close touch during the next few days to see if the deal fell through.

Needless to say, the buyer was good to his word. Once he arrived, it took two days for him to complete the formal wedding ceremony between his truck and our camper. He got the tires he wanted before the trip and was able to find tie downs that fit his truck in a shop within an hour’s drive.

He was a smart shopper. He told us he had been looking for a camper like ours for over a year, and he had missed out on four previous deals because he didn’t move fast enough. That’s why he was willing to make the deposit sight-unseen and drive 1,200 miles to get the camper.

When I notified the other four prospective buyers that the deal had gone through, they were all sorely disappointed. Undoubtedly, they approached the next prospective deal they saw very differently.

Creative use of utility trailer while camping

The flatbed trailer was a fun place to hang out and get a slightly elevated view.

Of course, I have no idea if this kind of insanity in the RV market is ongoing out there three months later. A lot has happened in the world since then, and the inflation of both consumer goods, gas and diesel plus rising interest rates will surely put a damper on the enthusiasm people have for buying RVs. However, that is the RV sales experience we had just a short time ago.

It’s possible it could take a while for world events to affect the prices and availability of used RVs. Just prior to the financial crisis in September of 2008, we began shopping for a sailboat to go cruising. However, it wasn’t until January of 2010 that we began to see used boat prices finally begin to come down, due largely to marine loan foreclosures.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR RLT??

Lots!

We bought another rig, which I’ll introduce in the next post. Our RV buying story in this crazy market was just as wild as our truck camper selling story, and so far we think we made the right choice and totally love it.

When we went adventuring in the truck camper last year, each time we left we enthusiastically packed for 5 to 7 days. However, we invariably came home after only two or three! I don’t know if it was due to boredom or feeling fidgety or because we were living in such a confined space, but that was the pattern each time we took the camper out.

Two weeks ago we took our new rig out on its maiden voyage shakedown cruise. Cautiously, we packed for just 3 days only to find we had to run out and restock our essentials twice! To our great surprise, when we finally had to head home due to a prior engagement, we realized we’d been out for 9 happy days.

So, right now we’re buttoning up the homestead and packing up the new rig so we can head out and see the world for a few glorious summer months!

The Journey Begins

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2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper – Grand Tour!

After 13 years of living on the road, first in a 2007 27′ Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer and then in a 2007 36′ Hitchhiker 34.5 RLTG fifth wheel, we switched gears and moved back into a sticks-and-bricks home.

But we didn’t want to give up the thrill of the open road completely! Since we still owned our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually pickup truck, we decided a truck camper would do the trick for shorter duration adventures.

A 2005 Arctic Fox truck camper turned up on Craigslist in excellent condition, garage kept and barely used. Counting our lucky stars, we took the plunge, bought it, and have been having fun setting it up and taking it on a few short trips.

Here’s a quickie tour of the camper that will be our new little home on wheels.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

Our new little buggy!

The Arctic Fox 860 has one slideout on the passenger side and is on the smaller size for a long bed truck camper. It is designed to be carried by a single rear wheel pickup truck so it is an easy load for our dually.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

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One of our goals was to be able to travel with our Polaris RZR in tow. We had triple towed the RZR on a small flat bed trailer behind our fifth wheel for two years. That worked, but it was cumbersome.

Having the RZR right behind the truck now rather than 40′ behind us makes it a lot easier to bring the RZR along on our travels. One thing that Mark has found, though, is that because our utility trailer is only 5′ wide, he can’t see it in the rear view mirrors when he’s driving unless he makes a very sharp turn. This makes it a bit tricky to back up!

Also, because our utility trailer is only 10′ long, it holds our Polaris 900 series UTV but can’t carry our bikes at the same time. I have a secret wish for a larger utility trailer which might solve both problems… we’ll see!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

We can tow the RZR easily with this new rig.

The Arctic Fox 860 does not extend beyond the back of the truck. Many larger truck campers hang out a foot or two beyond the back bumper of the truck. With those campers you need a hitch extension to tow anything behind. With this model, the RZR trailer hitches directly to the hitch receiver on the truck without an extension.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper towing Polaris RZR 900 XC

The camper doesn’t hang far off the back of the truck, so the RZR can be hitched directly to the ball mount in the truck’s hitch receiver.

FLOOR PLAN

Arctic Fox 860 truck camper Floor Plan

Arctic Fox 860 truck camper floor plan

CAPACITIES

Here are the tank and HVAC capacities for the Arctic Fox 860:

Fresh Water: 46 gallons, including 6 gal. hot water heater
Gray Water: 25 gallons
Black Water: 25 gallons
Propane: 14 gallons (60 lbs.)

Furnace: 20k BTU
Air Conditioner: 11k BTU

INTERIOR

Oh look, there’s Mark at the door. Let’s head inside!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

Come on in!

The interior is open and bright.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The slideout (right side of the pic) gives the interior an open feeling.

The dinette is on the passenger side as you walk in and it’s very comfortable for two. Since there are no recliners or sofa, we both like to turn sideways on the benches, lean against a cushion behind us and stretch out our legs!

The louvered window makes it possible to keep the window open even when it drizzles.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The dinette is comfortable and the window brings in lots of light.

The three-way 6 cubic foot refrigerator can run on 12 volt DC electricity, 110 volt AC or propane. The fridge is the same size as the one in our Lynx travel trailer that we lived in during our first year on the road. Our fifth wheel had an 8 cubic foot refrigerator.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The 6 cubic foot refrigerator is a 3-way (12v DC, 110v AC, or LP) .

The bathroom is on your left as you enter, behind a sliding door, and the kitchen is beyond that.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The bathroom and kitchen are on the left (the driver’s side) as you enter.

This camper has two showers, one in the bathroom and one outside. Back in our days of camping in our little popup tent trailer, we made good use of our outdoor shower and got a kick out of bathing in the fresh air (in remote places, of course!). Mark used to love showering on the back of the boat too!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Wet bath (ie., the toilet is your shower companion)

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Wet bath

The kitchen is small but very workable and I’ve found it easy to make good meals in it.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Sliding pantry rack

The cupboards and drawer space are sufficient.

Years ago, for the boat, I bought a stainless steel Magma nesting pots and pans set which has several sizes of pots, pans and tops that all stack into each other along with two removable handles. I’ve always said this high quality, handy dandy compact kit would be ideal for a truck camper, and it is! (I just noticed that Camco and Stansport make similar smaller sets that are much less expensive).

I’ve never used the plastic cutting board sink covers in our previous RVs, but I find I tend to cover one side of the double sink all the time in the camper to get a little more working area when cooking.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Small but functional kitchen

When we took the camper out for our first overnight, we quickly realized we needed a little trash can. Mark improvised and converted a Deschuttes Pale Ale 12-pack box. Ya gotta have a little whimsy in life, so we’re keeping it for now!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Mark’s Deschuttes Pale Ale trash can is working out well!

The bed is in the cabover part of the camper and is a queen size 60″ x 80″ mattress.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The bedroom 🙂

On either side of the bed there are two shirt length hanging closets with mirrored cabinet doors. There’s also an alcove with a window on each side. This makes the bed feel wider than a queen.

Each alcove has lift-up tops to access a deep storage area underneath. We can easily fit two week’s worth of summer clothing with plenty of room to spare.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Each of the window alcoves has a deep storage area beneath cabinet doors that lift up.

At the foot of the bed on the driver’s side there is a TV cabinet with a slide-out tray for the TV.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

There is a large cabinet for a TV at the foot of the bed on the driver’s side (kitchen side).

On the opposite side at the foot of the bed a small door opens to reveal a full-length hanging closet that goes deep below the level of the bed.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Behind this door is a full length hanging locker.

And that’s the tour!

I’m heading out — I think there’s a hammock under the trees waiting for me out there!!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

A sweet little home that fits right into the bed of our truck!

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Finding a Fifth Wheel Trailer or Toy Hauler to be a Full-time Home!

May 2019 – We’ve been on the hunt for a new fifth wheel trailer to replace our current one as our full-time home for a few years now, and in the last week or so we’ve been closing in on what we want.

Search for a new fifth wheel trailer RV-min

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It’s been a long and wild ride, but I know a lot of our readers have been going through the same roller coaster of emotions — from elation to frustration — in the search for an RV, so I thought I’d share a little about what we’ve seen and been thinking about in our own quest.

Banana bread served in an RV-min

An RV home can be very warm and inviting and cozy.
Warm banana bread in on a cold morning…what could be better?

We love our life on the road and we have a cozy home, but our zippy and fun RZR out back has sent us on a wild goose chase for a way to bring it along and still enjoy all the comforts of home. Triple towing is a tricky business, so buying a toyhauler seemed like the obvious solution at first and our search began there.

Luxe Fifth wheel toyhauler from The RV Factory-min

The Luxe toyhauler is very high end.

We started our search without a budget in mind. We wanted to see what was available regardless of price, so we visited The RV Factory where the semi-custom Luxe trailers are built.

These trailers have 3.25″ wide walls with graphite infused styrofoam insulation, and they feature 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5″ wheels and disc brakes along with gorgeous cabinetry and top of the line everything.

Luxe RV fifth wheel toy hauler frame with disc brakes-min

Disc brakes are standard on the Luxe

These are such high end trailers that all the drawers have dovetail joints.

Dovetaile joints on drawers in Luxe Fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min

Dovetail joints on the drawers…sweet!

The interior of the finished toy hauler they had on display at the factory was bright white and sumptuous. During our visit, we ended up chatting with a Luxe owner at the factory who was getting a few minor repairs taken care of. He’d owned his trailer for six months and was very happy with it. We just weren’t sure we wanted to tow a trailer this heavy.

We submitted our ideal toy hauler floorplan to both New Horizons and Space Craft (we also submitted it to Featherlite which we discovered is no longer building toy haulers). Both companies expressed concern that our truck, even with its dual rear wheels and 4.10 rear end, might not be able to tow one of their trailers if it exceeded 40 or 41 feet in length.

Our design was likely in the 42 to 43 foot range, but despite several phone calls and one two hour long in-person meeting, we never got far enough in our discussion with either manufacturer for them to put the design in their CAD software and draw it out.

This made us look more closely at the mass market toy haulers which are all in the 42 to 45 range. They are a bit lighter than the high end rigs, if less durable, of course.

White interior Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min (1)

Clean and crisp white Luxe toy hauler interior

Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV White interior-min (1)

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By far, the most ruggedly built trailer for its weight that we saw was the Aluminum Toyhauler Company fifth wheel trailer. These folks come to the toyhauler market from the stackable race car end of the trailer world. The ATC fifth wheel toy hauler has a truly massive cargo carrying capacity, but it lacks some of the other toy hauler features most RVers take for granted. When we visited the factory in September 2018, the ramp door didn’t convert to a patio. It may now.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer-min

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) makes a rugged but lightweight rig

The ATC is purpose built for outdoor enthusiasts who expect their equipment to hold up under harsh conditions. All the interior cabinetry is aluminum and custom made in-house, and the whole trailer can be power washed inside and out. There are no slideouts but future models may include them. They have a basic open box model that you can modify to your own needs, and they’ll install a garage wall if you’d prefer an enclosed garage.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer interior-min

ATC prides itself on having no wood in the rig — that way nothing can rot, no matter how wet ‘n wild it gets!

Another interesting tour was the Sundowner factory tour at their plant in Oklahoma.

These aluminum trailers are also really well built although they are using Lippert axles in the current builds (they used Dexter until a few years ago). Coming to the toyhauler industry from the horse trailer world, they are designed around a gooseneck hitch. The beauty of the gooseneck hitch is that the bed of your truck doesn’t have a big ol’ fifth wheel hitch hogging up all the space when you’re driving around unhitched.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV-min

Sundowner makes beautiful gooseneck hitch toy haulers

Sundowner builds its own entry doors and ramp door, and like ATC, their ramp door didn’t convert to a patio at the time of our visit. But it may at a later date.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Garage-min

Looking into the garage of a Sundowner toy hauler

When a trailer is designed to use a gooseneck hitch, the height of the trailer is kept quite low. The Sundowners are around 11′ tall as compared to 13′ 6″ for most conventional mass market toyhaulers. This makes them more aerodynamic but also means the bedrooms are not standing height. They are more like the bedrooms in a truck camper.

Gooseneck trailers are designed this way because the arm of the gooseneck hitch is quite long, and the higher the trailer roof is, the longer this lever arm becomes and the more the roofline will sway from side to side as the trailer goes down the road, putting all kinds of lateral stresses on the frame.

Sundowner does a lot of custom and semi-custom work, and they will happily design a trailer that is 13′ 6″ tall and has standing height in the bedroom, but that is not typical of their designs.

One interesting thing with both the ATC and Sundowner trailers is that because they are coming from the stackable car trailer and horse trailer markets, their trailers sit quite low to the ground and the ramp doors have a shallow angle. This is great if you are driving your muscle car or sports car into the garage because the back end of the car won’t drag as you drive in. But it is less important for the folks with a rock climbing RZR that can drive up onto anything.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Interior-min

The cabinetry and finish work in the Sundowner is top notch and many different woods and fabric are available.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Bedroom-min

The gooseneck hitch means the ceiling is low in the bedroom, but that
doesn’t mean it can’t be romantic!

We also visited several mass market trailer factories in Indiana. At the time we were most interested in the Keystone Raptor and KZ Venom. We saw a beautiful Keystone Raptor 421CK at a dealership in Wyoming prior to going to Indiana. It was the first toy hauler we had ever walked into and said, “Wow. We could live in this!” However, the garage was only 11′ long and we’d decided we needed at least 12′ to fit our RZR and bicycles.

KZ RV Fifth wheel frame with flooring installed-min

A KZ fifth wheel gets its flooring

The thing about toyhauler garages is that the patio doors and railings take up anywhere from 8″ to 16″ at the back of the garage when they are folded up against the closed ramp door. Also, there is a slope at the back of the garage floor that is about a foot long. It is there to extend the ramp angle of the ramp door so the ramp angle isn’t too steep. These two things combined can eat into the garage length by quite a bit. The 13′ garage might may have only 10′ 8″ of flat floor space, and that was typically what I saw with my tape measure in the various garages we looked at.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer under construction-min

KZ fifth wheel walls and front cap get started

Also, if there is a side patio and some of it is built onto the garage sidewall, the garage will lose about 8″ of width where the side patio folds into the trailer.

Likewise, if there is a 2nd bath or half bath in the garage or living area, some of the garage floor space or living area floor space will be lost to the bathroom.

It makes a big difference in the livability and usability of both the garage and living space if the door to that half bath opens into the living area or into the garage. Whichever way it is, you don’t want to block the bathroom when you’re parked!

Some Heartland Road Warriors now have a moveable partition around the half bath that becomes a wall when you’re parked but folds out of the way when you need the extra inches for your toys.

KZ Durango. You don’t realize how huge the openings are for the slideouts til you see it like this!

Most toy haulers have a loft area above the garage that runs the full width of the trailer along the wall that separates the garage from the living area. It’s worth some thought to decide if you’d prefer the loft area to open into the garage or into the living space. It may also be possible to modify the loft wall on one side or the other post-purchase so you have access from both sides.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer being built at the factory-min

The sidewalls of the main part of the trailer are quite minimal!

We also visited the Highlander RV plant which is the Open Range toy hauler brand.

Highlander Open Range fifth wheel toyhauler RV-min

The Highlander toy hauler from Open Range

Open Range is owned by Jayco which is owned by Thor. The Highlander toy haulers come in at a lower price point than most. Jayco is known for employing Amish people on the assembly lilnes, and they really do. We saw their buggies in the parking lot and driving around the area.

Highlander Open Range Toyhaulers with Amish buggy in Indiana-min

Lots of Amish people work on the RV assembly lines

Amish buggy in Shipshewana Indiana-min

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From what we saw, all fifth wheel trailers and toy haulers are in a very similar way that aims towards a specific price point. I don’t know that there is much quality difference from one mass market brand to the next since it seems the same overall manufacturing methods and materials are used in all the brands. Certain features are given different names in the marketing literature to distinguish each brand, but it often boils down to the same basic things.

I was astonished when our guide pulled out an 8′ wide roll of a material that looked like aluminum foil and said it gave their trailer an extra R-14 of insulation throughout. All I could think is that there are aspects of RV manufacturing that are pure smoke and mirrors, and to me this was one of them.

This metal foil has been used to produce great insulating R factors in certain scenarios, but it has to have at least two inches of air on either side of it, among other things, for the insulating properties to work. When it is installed in such a way that is is flush up against the other layers of material in the wall or ceiling, that big R-factor vanishes.

Hydraulic lilnes for auto-leveling and slide-out mechanisms on fifth wheel trailer-min

“So, which hydraulic line goes to the curbside slideout? ’cause I think it’s leaking!”
Not all of what we saw inspired confidence.

Some of what we saw made it obvious why customers often have so many problems with their RVs, but our visit to the MORryde plant was an immersion in quality, much like our factory tours at Trojan Battery and B&W Hitches in the past. They had a cool toy hauler out front with their logo on it that was used for trade shows.

MORryde trade show toy hauler-min

The MORryde tradeshow toyhauler

On the Independent Suspension assembly line, MORryde’s signature RV product, we saw axles marked “NH” and “DRV” for New Horizons and DRV. Those trailer brands offer the Independent Suspension as an option. How cool is that?!

fifrh wheel ready for MORryde IS upgrade at the factory-min

An unpainted DRV waits for a MORryde Independent Suspension upgrade.

We had been visiting dealerships on a regular basis for several years prior to our Elkhart visit, and we continued to look at toy haulers after we finished our factory tours in Indiana. Road Warrior (Thor/Heartland) was a brand we looked into, and the 427, which is now the 4275, was a possibility in part because of the side patio and MORryde ramp door.

Unfortunately, my favorite floorplans were the older Road Warrior 427s that had a big sliding glass door going out to the side patio and a tiny fireplace/entertainment system that didn’t block the door. As the model years went by for the 427, the door with the big view onto the patio got smaller and the fireplace and TV got bigger.

Grand Design Momentum 399TH Toyhauler slide patio-min

The Grand Design Momentum 399TH has a nice big sliding glass door heading out to the side patio.

One thing that is very enticing about a toy hauler is the ability to put a workbench in the garage. Most bigger toy haulers nowadays have a 2nd bathroom with the door going into the garage, which limits the wall space for putting in a workbench if you are toting a big RZR.

Fuzion Toy Hauler Fifth wheel garage-min

Will a small 30″ workbench fit between the two doors in this Fuzion 429?

At first, the idea of two bathrooms didn’t excite us because it is a mammoth waste of space for a couple. But then we realized that with a 2nd bathroom you get double the black tank capacity because most designers place a black tank below each toilet to let gravity do its magic of filling the tank as the toilet is used. Some of them drain the little half-bath vanity sink into the rear black tank too.

It is my understanding that the DRV Fullhouse uses a macerator on the toilets to pump the fluids from both toilets to a single black tank, so adding a 2nd bathroom doesn’t double the black tank capacity in those trailers.

The more we did our own soul searching about what we really wanted in our new trailer, the more we realized that we couldn’t go backwards when it came to tank capacities. Our current Hitchhiker has 70 gallons of fresh water, 78 gallons of gray split between two tanks (50 for the shower and vanity and 28 for the kitchen sink) and 50 gallons of black.

Reducing any of these numbers would impact the way we live since we rarely get water or sewer hookups. Unfortunately, although most toy haulers offer over 100 gallons of fresh water, which is awesome, many have a bit less than 50 for the black tank unless they have a 2nd bathroom.

So the decision for us became a trade-off between living space (giving up part of the living area and/or garage to accommodate a second bathroom) and black tank capacity. Argh! Big black tanks do exist. The Arctic Fox 35-5Z has 65 gallons of black tank capacity with just one toilet.

The Keystone Raptor 421CK floorplan that we loved (except for the 11′ garage) was replaced with the Raptor 423 which has a 13′ garage. But it has just a 44 gallon black tank which contributed to taking it out of the running. Also, the designers took 2′ out of the bedroom to increase the garage length from 11 to 13 feet, and they turned the bed so it was “north/south” or parallel to the driving direction instead of being perpendicular to it.

Trailer designers are constrained in overall square footage for their designs by the RVIA (RV Industry Association). This group increases the maximum allowable square footage a little bit now and then, but for right now the limit is 430 square feet.

This seems to be a bit of an arbitrary number, but it is an important one. When you see very long trailers with very shallow and short slide-outs, it may be due to this maximum square footage. Turning a perpendicular bed that’s partly in a slide-out into a “north/south” bed that’s parallel to the curb with no slideout eliminates a few square feet. The designer can then use those square feet somewhere else in the trailer, like lengthening the garage.

We spent a lot of time lying on these “north/south” beds and opening and closing the small wardrobes in the driver’s side slideouts. This type of bedroom was not as appealing as the perpendicular bed with the big closet in the front cap, but it is the predominant design these days, probably due to the square footage constraint.

Grand Design Momentum Toyhauler Bedroom-min

Many toy haulers have a “north/south” bedroom where the bed runs parallel to the road rather than perpendicular. You can walk around a queen but a king goes almost to the curbside wall.

The biggest challenge in our search is that most dealers stock only a few toy haulers of whatever brands they carry. So there were several floorplans we wanted to see that we still haven’t seen, even after two years of traveling around and a visit to the factories in Elkhart Indiana. The KZ Venom 4012TK is an open floorplan U-kitchen design much like the Raptor 421CK/423 that I’d love to see. Maybe someday!

I’d also like to see a DRV Fullhouse, specifically the LX450. Until we began our search, I didn’t realize that even though DRV is not an independent company any more, they still allow some customizations to be made to their trailers. Working with a good dealer — we heard that Rolling Retreats in Oklahoma was outstanding — you can ask for all kinds of customized things and some might be granted.

I was very surprised when I found out that the factory would be willing to remove the 2nd bathroom and the dinette cabinetry in the Fullhouse LX450. I had other ideas for those spaces that would work better for us. But I have yet to see a Fullhouse toy hauler in person — they always seem to be at least 400 miles away and never in the direction we’re headed. And ordering any trailer without seeing something pretty similar in person first makes me uneasy.

The other thing that made the search particular frustrating is that all the folks selling toyhaulers also had regular fivers on their lots. So, although we couldn’t see the KZ Venom toy hauler we wanted to see, the dealer had the KZ Durango Gold 380FL available. We walked inside and instantly fell in love with the huge rear bedroom with its 2nd entry door on the driver’s side. This didn’t help our search for a toy hauler!

Where Raptors were sold we often saw Montanas, which are also Keystone products, and Mark fell in love wih the storage space in the massive pullout shelf under the raised living room in the Montana 3790/91. This was yet another reminder that If you don’t have a 13′ dedicated garage and you’re willing to go up to 40′ or longer in a trailer, you can get a really spacious rig!

And where Momentums were sold, Grand Design Solitudes were also on display. We both fell totally in love with the massive bedroom and walkin closet of the Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The twin vanity sinks and gargantuan closet were wonderful, and the big bright windows opposite the bed along and the window over the bed’s headboard were fabulous.

I’d never been in a fifth wheel where I felt I could spend happy daytime hours in the bedroom, but in that rig I surely could.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Fifth wheel trailer RV bedroom-min

The Grand Design Solitude 373FB has a gorgeous bedroom suite with an enormous bathroom and walk-in closet

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Bedroom-min

Good morning sunshine — the Grand Design Solitude 373FB bedroom has a wall of windows!

So, the toy hauler idea went out the window because we began to think we’d triple tow with something like this beautiful Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The only problem is that it is 41′ 4″ long and that would put us over the limit for triple towing in every state except for South Dakota where the limit is 75 feet!

Back to the drawing board we went where we revamped our search to be for smaller trailers. Suddenly, at long last, we were able to see an Arctic Fox 35-5Z after wanting to see one for a long time. This is a really well made trailer built on Northwood Manufacturing’s own in-house constructed frame with a traditional floorplan.

The great thing about Northwood Manufacturing / Arctic Fox is that they are the only trailer manufacturer left that offers a long list of options. All the others pump out identical trailers one after another except for a very few items the customer can choose such as dual pane windows, an onboard generator and exterior paint.

Arctic Fox 35-SZ fifth wheel trailer RV living room-min

The Arctic Fox 35-SZ is built on a custom in-house frame and offers lots of choices for options

At Arctic Fox you can choose to have either one air conditioner or two. You can get an electric fireplace under the TV or you can have wooden cabinets in that space instead. You can opt for a 10 cubic foot propane/electric RV fridge, which gives you an extra foot of counter space and upper and lower cabinetry to boot, or a 12 cubic foot RV fridge or an enormous 18 cubic foot RV fridge. You can also get a residential 110v AC electric fridge.

This is awesome because there are some RVers, like ourselves, who would prefer to have more cabinet and counter space and let the veggies and beer fight it out for themselves in a smaller 10 cubic foot fridge.

Also, since we dry camp all the time, we power our 8 cubic foot fridge with propane 24/7. When we’re not using propane for heat and are just using propane to power the refrigerator, the hot water heater and the stove, we go through a 30 lb. (7 gallon) tank of propane every three weeks. In our experience, it is not always so easy to find places to fill our propane tanks, especially in certain parts of the country.

If we were to go from our current 8 cubic foot refrigerator to an 18 cubic foot fridge, we would more than double the amount of propane our fridge uses. We would probably go through that same 7 gallon tank of propane in about 9-12 days instead of 21 days. If the trailer’s LP tank compartment allows 5″ of extra height, then we might be able to switch to using the taller 40 lb. (10 gallon) tanks instead and we might make the propane last a little longer. But those big tanks are unwieldy to carry around.

Lastly, RV propane refrigerators are expected to last only about 8 to 10 years. A replacement 8 cubic foot fridge is around $1,400. A replacement 18 cubic foot fridge is $3,700. That’s a huge difference!

Even if you have an extended RV warranty (which is an excellent idea – here’s why), the warranty contract will cost a lot more to purchase if your rig has a big expensive refrigerator in it than it would if the fridge were a smaller cheaper model. After all, the warranty company has to calculate their potential costs if things in your rig (like the refrigerator) fail.

KZ allowed buyers to order trailers with smaller RV fridges and opt out of the electric fireplace until last fall, and that is one of the reasons we were so interested in the KZ trailers.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB fifth wheel trailer-min

Many Grand Design Solitude trailers have a TV that lowers into a cabinet revealing a nice big window behind (on the right in this pic). This is fantastic for folks who don’t watch TV during the daytime.

Perhaps the biggest thing for us, though, is the tank capacities. Small tank capacities certainly rule out a lot of brands! The Grand Design trailers have excellent tank capacities, especially the toy haulers with a 2nd bathroom where you can get as much as 157 gallons of fresh, 106 of gray and 106 of black. Wow!!

Double vanity sink in bathroom of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

No more lines for brushing teeth!

So, last week we were back to looking at toy haulers. We went to a dealership where we saw a Fuzion 429 which had a very cool walk-through kitchen layout with the sink set on an outside corner with long counters running along either side. There was tons of cabinet space and it had and an interesting country style decorative motif.

But the slide-outs were so shallow we would be challenged to replace the furniture if we ever wanted to because the fronts of the theater seats and sofa were all set on rollers to roll in and out with the slide room. The fronts of replacement furniture could be set on casters, perhaps, but it might look a little funny.

I’m not keen on being married to an RVs furniture just because it is on rollers.

One thing I’ve noticed with most of the Thomas Payne theater seats is that if I sit with my back touching the backrest, my feet can’t reach the ground. They’re about 2″ short. This is really uncomfortable! I’m 5’4″ but have fairly long legs for my height, so I imagine that most women would be in the same position. So, for me, replacing the furniture at some point is a likely scenario.

We prowled around other toy haulers, and as I stood in the kitchen of one and thought about where I’d put my dishware (I’d already resigned myself to storing pantry goods in the 18 cubic foot fridge because that’s where the bulk of the kitchen shelving was), I realized there was no cabinet in the kitchen for plates or glassware. Those would have to go in a drawer in the kitchen island or in a cabinet outside of the kitchen area.

A similar thing had happened when I stood in the kitchen of another toy hauler a few months earlier and opened the slim upper cabinet door above the sink. The shelf in there was big enough for just one coffee mug — as long as it didn’t have a handle — and no more.

Space is at such a premium in a toy hauler that the designers have to be super creative to make a living area that has both comfortable seating and sufficient usable storage.

Ironcially, Mark had skimmed through Craigslist before this last dealership trip, and he found a 2011 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America for sale. We walked inside it and knew we’d found our rig. It was just like the one we’d lived in for the last 12 years but with some important differences!

Woo Hoo!!

This Hitchhiker had factory installed 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5 inch wheels and disc brakes. This was huge!

Every new trailer we’d looked at so far, including most of the toy haulers, would require an upgrade to disc brakes and in many cases an upgrade to bigger axles too, and none but the highest end manufacturers offered those things as a factory installed option. Almost all the trailers had tandem or triple 7k lb. axles and 16″ wheels. Many were Dexter brand, which is terrific, but the cargo carrying capacities were really skimpy almost across the board.

One lovely 38′ fifth wheel had a mere 1,800 lbs of cargo carrying capacity. This would have to include fresh water, solar and battery add-ons and all of our belongings. Several toy haulers had just over 3,000 lbs. of cargo carrying capacity which leaves little room for food, clothes, lilnens, appliances and kitchenware once the 1,200 lb. toy is loaded and the 850 lbs. of fresh water and 450 lbs of fuel are put in the tanks (water is 8.3 lbs per gallon).

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV Living Room-min

Hitchhiker Discover America – Looks familiar!

Besides the big axles, this old Hitchhiker’s 17.5″ wheels were a massive plus too. Bigger tires on fifth wheels are much less prone to problems caused by grinding the tread into the ground when making tight turns. Blow-outs are all too common with fifth wheel trailers, and although bad tires are often to blame, it’s also possible that the steel belts eventually fall apart under the twisting lateral loads induced by tight turns.

How funny this was, though. We’d come full circle and were right back where we’d started trailer-wise, more or less.

It was only after we began making calls to line up folks to replace the stained carpets and do a detailed cleaning so we could get our soon-to-be new-to-us home back on its wheels as soon as possible after the closing that we realized the handyman projects on an 8 year old trailer were feeling more like work than like fun!

That wasn’t what we wanted!

Totally stressed out, we walked away from the deal at the last minute. We felt better immediately.

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV-min

There are some incredible deals to be found on the used market for highly regarded brands of yesteryear.
But buying used has its challenges too.

This whole process can be both exhilarating and depressing. Just like buying a sailboat or a house.

Our offer for our cruising sailboat Groovy was the 5th offer we put in on a boat over the course of a year. One deal went so far south we had to get the California Boating and Waterways agency involved. On another deal we paid $1,300 to get the boat surveyed (like a house inspection), and backed out when we got it hauled out of the water and saw the forest of seaweed growing on the hull.

But our persistence and careful approach paid off. In the end, Groovy was a much newer, cleaner and far cheaper boat than any of the others we’d made offers on!

In the RV industry there are very few structurally well built and cleverly designed new trailers out there, and going with a used one that was well built and beautifully crafted in its day years ago opens a whole new can of worms. For those who love renovating, it’s a great way to go. But not everyone does.

On our way home we decided to take one more look at some new fifth wheels just to change our mindset, so we pulled into a dealership and asked to see a line of trailers we hadn’t seen before.

Lo and behold, the first rig we walked into was fantastic. Holy cow! It had almost everything we wanted and the few things it didn’t have were upgrades that would be fun and exciting to do. Who woulda thunk?!

Home sweet home

Home sweet home.

Is our search over? We don’t know, but we’ve got a hunch it is. We’re giving this latest idea a few weeks to simmer and we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, have faith that your ship — or RV — will come in. It’s out there somewhere. It just takes a ton of online research, dozens of walks through dealership lots and, more than anything, some heartfelt soul searching to find it.

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Triple Tow or Toy Hauler? How to RV Full-time with a RZR?

We have spent the last two years going back and forth about whether to move into a new fifth wheel trailer or a new toy hauler as we look forward to our second dozen years of non-stop travel and full-time RV living. We’ve been to tons of dealerships and did a bunch of toy hauler factory tours in the Elkhart area of Indiana as well as in Missouri and Oklahoma (there’s more about those tours is in the 2nd half of this article).

Triple tow Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' fifth wheel and Polaris RZR on utility trailer-min

The Train

Right now we are in the testing phase of toting our Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on a 5′ x 10′ utility trailer in a triple-tow configuration (sometimes called a double-tow) behind our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and 2007 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer.

Triple-tow fifth wheel RV with Polaris RZR side-by-side UTV-min

Another view of The Train

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the past few months since we started this experiment, triple towing is working out a whole lot better that we expected!

This may be in large part because the utility trailer is only 5′ wide compared to the 8′ width of our fifth wheel trailer, so even on a tight U-turn, the wheels on the fifth wheel carve a tighter turn than the wheels on the utility trailer. So, if there’s something we don’t want to roll over or hit, the vehicle at risk is the fifth wheel, just as it has always been!

The utility trailer just cruises along behind. It’s a little caboose!

When we’re triple towing we notice a lot more chucking action than when we don’t have out caboose connected. This is due to the accordion and jerking action of the three vehicles moving apart and back together as they rumble down the road. It’s not a violent sensation, but we can definitely feel it.

Gas station with RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’ve been to a few gas stations… yikes!

We have been to several gas stations fully hooked up as The Train. Even though The Train is quite long and winds up curved far behind us as we turn in to the pump, as long as the gas station is large enough and there aren’t too many customers, it all works out.

Gas station with RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

That RZR sure is a long ways from the pump!

We have also been to several RV dump stations with The Train, and again, as long as the approach and exit to the dump station aren’t too narrow or laid out in a tight turn, we can align the fifth wheel sewer hose and other goodies with the RV dump station while the truck and utility trailer sit in a curve ahead of and behind the dump station sewer.

RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’ve been to a few RV dump stations.

RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’re okay dumping our tanks as long as it’s fairly long!

We set up the utility trailer with a spare tire and tire cover just in case that trailer gets a blowout. At this point we don’t have a backup camera to watch the utility trailer while we’re towing. That may come in the future but will take some research as we figure out which model and where to place the monitor in the already full cockpit of the truck.

Unfortunately the utility trailer is too small to carry our bikes as well. A 12′ long trailer would be long enough, but our RZR came with this trailer so it’s a natural starting point. So, for the moment, we have left the bikes behind at a friend’s house.

Triple tow Polaris RZR 900 behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’re leaving the bikes out of the equation for the moment.

When loading the RZR onto the utility trailer, Mark drives the RZR’s front wheels flush up against the front of the trailer which leaves enough room behind it for two 5 gallon gas tanks lashed down on the utility trailer.

Triple tow Polaris RZR 900 behind fifth wheel trailer-min

With the wheels flush against the front railing there’s room for two 5 gallon gas tanks in back.

Before hitching up The Train the very first time, we had to sort out the different heights between the tongue of the utility trailer and the hitch receiver on the back end of the fifth wheel.

Our fifth wheel trailer now sits some 6 to 8 inches higher than it did when we first bought it. After our fifth wheel got a desperately needed suspension overhaul when the suspension failed (blog post here), the fifth wheel sat higher than it had originally. Then, when we installed the MORryde SRE4000 equalizers, it sat even higher.

This is awesome for those pesky gas station ramps and other sharp dips in the road that are so steep they cause the back end of the fifth wheel trailer to drag on the asphalt. It’s also great for bumping over washes and other things on gnarly dirt roads.

However, all that good drag-avoidance stuff got thrown out the window with the decision to triple tow!

The utility trailer has 15″ tires and sits quite low, and in order to keep that trailer relatively flat instead of nose-up while towing, we had to put a 10″ drop hitch mount on the fifth wheel trailer’s hitch receiver to reach down to the utility trailer’s level.

Fifth wheel trailer triple tow 10 drop to bumper trailer-min

We needed a 10″ drop hitch mount to reach down to the utility trailer

We use a receiver hitch tightener to eliminate any possible rattling in the connection between the receiver hitch and the hitch mount, and an electric plug ensures the lights on the utility trailer are powered and light up at night as well as when Mark hits the brakes.

Trailer light connection and hitch receiver tightener for triple tow fifth wheel and bumper pull trailer-min

The hitch tightener keeps things from rattling and the electric plug lights up the lights on the utility trailer

If you stand behind The Train at night and have someone tap the brakes in the truck, it’s quite a light show because not only do the lights on the fifth wheel light up, but the ones on the utility trailer do too. We almost never tow at night but it’s good to know The Train is so visible on dark and stormy travel days.

RV in rainbow stormy skies Glacier National Park Montana

It was a dark and stormy morning…

We’re really glad we decided to jump in with both feet and buy a RZR before we figured out how to transport it because there is nothing like hands-on experience to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

This is also why we always encourage new would-be full-time RVers who haven’t owned an RV before to get a cheap and small RV and go have some fun before investing big bucks in a full-time rolling home.

The biggest surprise we’d never thought of before is that it is super handy to have a utility trailer to tote the RZR behind our truck when we’re going to a trailhead that is a long distance from our campsite.

Dually truck Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition and utility trailer-min

There’s an advantage to being able to tow the RZR to a distant trailhead.

Although our RZR can go 70 mph and is licensed for the road, driving it on the highway is not what we got it for. We’d rather drive 25 or 50 miles to a trailhead in the comfort of our truck and then arrive with the RZR gas tank full of gas so we can enjoy our off-road adventures without worrying about carrying spare gas.

The RZR has a 10 gallon fuel tank and gets about 15 mpg. So far, none of our adventures has been more than about 40 miles, so we don’t foresee a need to carry gas with us on the RZR any time soon.

At the end of a day of off-road adventure, after the sun has set, we find it’s much safer to drive our truck on the highway than to be out there in a little open air buggy that sits a lot lower on the road than most cars and trucks.

Utility trailer ramp down to load Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

The RZR rolls on and off the trailer ramp.

Lastly, we’ve wanted to ensure that Buddy loves the RZR. For us and our lifestyle there’s no reason to own a RZR if our puppy doesn’t want to come along. We’ve integrated him into our lives so he doesn’t spend any time in our fifth wheel by himself. If we’re going to have RZR adventures, he’s going to be a part of them.

When we’re in the RZR, Buddy sits on my lap. I don’t want to go more than about 35 mph with him sitting in there. He’s not too keen on the loud noise of the RZR engine on the highway and of vehicles passing us, and I have to say, neither am I.

His favorite thing riding in the RZR is to sniff the air when we’re off-road, watch for rabbits, and to stare down at the dirt road going by just below RZR door. All that is lots of fun at 10-15 mph, our typical dirt road speed.

Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on utility trailer-min

Mark has mastered driving the 56″ wide RZR onto the 60″ wide trailer!

We have a B&W Stow & Go hitch on the back of our truck, and the utility trailer hitches up to the truck very easily. After one or two tries loading the RZR, Mark has figured out how to align it so it drives in without rubbing the wheels on the railings at all even though the railings are 60″ apart and the RZR is about 56″ wide.

Ready to tow Polaris RZR 900 on utility trailer behind Dodge dually Ram truck-min

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When we arrive at a trailhead, Mark drops the ramp door of the utility trailer, hops in the RZR, and backs it down the ramp. The driver’s door on the RZR swings out above the railing on the utility trailer, so he can get in and out of the RZR easily when it’s on its trailer.

Preparing to tow Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS edition towed on utility trailer behind dually truck-min

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Dodge Ram dually tows Polaris RZR on trailer-min

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Unloading Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS edition off of trailer-min

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The RZR came with a windshield, roof and a fancy stereo that the previous owner had installed, and this XC EPS edition of the RZR 900 includes upgraded wheels, wider fender flares, a hitch receiver and the Polaris Ride Command navigation system.

However, the trunk is just a shallow open area at the back, not the best place to store stuff if you don’t want it to get dirty.

We tossed around ideas and finally bought a Lifetime 55 quart cooler that sits very nicely on an old welcome mat in the back of the RZR. It is lashed down to keep it in place.

Lifetime cooler used as trunk for Polaris RZR 900-min

We use a Lifetime 55 quart cooler for easy flip-top trunk system.

What we love about this cooler is that we can keep all the little essentials we always want with us — emergency water, toolbag, flat repair & spare air kit, first aid kit — in the bottom of it at all times, and we can throw things like jackets, hats, cameras and snacks on top as we need them for each ride.

The flip top lid makes it super easy to access everything in the cooler, and it has an excellent seal when it is closed which keeps everything inside dust free. We’ve also put a long shank padlock on the cooler to keep the less determined thieves out. Of course, anyone that really wanted that cooler and its contents could simply carry it away.

Another great feature of the cooler is that the things in the bottom of it don’t get overly hot. The engine sits right below the RZR’s trunk area, but since this little “portable trunk” is actually a cooler, there’s lots of insulation between the contents of the cooler and the engine below.

You can see a hilarious video of a grizzly bear trying to get into one of these coolers here.

We’ve found that the multi-use trails that allow motorized vehicles are not only lots of fun for riding but are also great for running and hiking too. Sometimes Buddy and I hop out to run while Mark drives.

Unlike yours truly, Buddy can easily keep up with the RZR and loves chasing it at top speed. But after he’s done a 5 minute mile with some surges to 3 minute mile pace thrown in, he’s usually ready to ride again, and he happily jumps back in.

Dog and Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Need a ride?

Dog approaches Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Come on in!

Dog jumps in Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Easy!

We’ve experimented with quite a few scenarios for arriving at a campsite and unhitching the bits and pieces of The Train.

The utility trailer has to be hitched up to something — either the truck or the fifth wheel trailer — in order to drive the RZR on or off of it. Otherwise, once the RZR wheels roll on or off the ramp the tongue of the utility trailer will fly up in the air.

So, at campsites where we want to use the utility trailer with the truck to take the RZR somewhere, we have to move the utility trailer from its caboose position at the end of The Train to a place where it can be hitched to the truck, and then we reverse its location before we leave.

We can move the utility trailer around small distances by pushing or pulling it ourselves. However, if the RZR is on the trailer, neither is going anywhere until the utility trailer gets hitched to either the truck or fifth wheel.

The RZR has a hitch receiver on it, and we purchased a ball mount for it, so the RZR can tow the utility trailer around if needed. This is handy in small campsites since the big long bed dually truck isn’t very maneuverable in tight spaces.

Tow Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on utility trailer-min

Luckily the RZR can also do the job of towing the utility trailer, if needed.

Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition towed on utility trailer-min

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Again, we learned a few things that we hadn’t thought of before.

First, although it seemed daunting to back the fifth wheel to the utility trailer to hitch it on when it’s already got the RZR loaded on it, it’s not all that bad. Using our two-way radios as Mark backs up the fifth wheel and I stand at the tongue of the utility trailer, and then using our feet to shove the tongue of the utility trailer the final inch or two, we can get it done quite easily.

Second, if the utility trailer is already hitched to the fifth wheel but is at an angle to the fiver and not aligned straight behind it, there is a lot of lateral force on the fifth wheel’s stabilizing jacks and the front landing legs when the RZR drives onto the trailer.

If the utility trailer is aligned with the fifth wheel, the fiver takes the impact much better (I’ve stood inside the fifth wheel and felt it both ways!).

Strap down Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on uility trailer-min

Mark has sorted out how best to tie down the RZR on the utility trailer.

Close trailer ramp door for Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

The ramp door folds up.

We are liking this triple towing thing and may stick with it. We’ll see. If we do, then our new home search will be focused on conventional fifth wheel trailers rather than fifth wheel toy haulers.

There are pros and cons to both conventional fifth wheels and toy hauler fifth wheels. Here are a few we’ve come up with:

Conventional 5th Wheel Toy Hauler 5th Wheel
More Living Space Less Living Space
More Closet Space Less Closet Space
More Cabinets Fewer Cabinets
Bigger Kitchen Smaller Kitchen
Recliners + Sofa + Dining Table Pick any two
Generally, bed in slide w/ windows each side Generally, bed not in slide & window on one side & small wardrobe on other
Modest fresh water (60-90 gal) Huge fresh water (100-150 gal)
No gas tanks (onboard generator propane) Two gas tanks for toy & onboard generator
Outside RZR Storage Enclosed RZR Storage
Outside Bikes Enclosed Bikes
Porta-bote or inflatable kayak possible Porta-bote AND tandem inflatable kayak possible
Workbench on truck tailgate Workbench/toolbox in the Garage
No Porch/deck (except KZ 382MBQ) Back Deck AND Possible Side Patio (always includes 2nd bath)
Tow RZR to trailhead behind truck Drive RZR on highways to trailhead
Triple tow not legal in some states Always a legal beagle
Can travel w/o caboose Full length toy hauler is always with you (47′ in some cases!)

TRAILER LIFE ARTICLE – SHORTCUT to TOY LAND!

The March issue of Trailer Life Magazine features an article I wrote surveying some of the 2019 offerings in the toy hauler market. I chose four different toy haulers to highlight in that article and included another dozen models in the lineup.

Our personal favorites for sheer innovation and cleverness and/or ruggedness are the Aluminum Toy Hauler fifth wheel and the Keystone Raptor 427.

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) has been making stackable car haulers for the high end racing car set for ages. They build an incredibly strong and durable toy hauler. Unfortunately, they don’t have any models with slide-outs yet, but their toy haulers are built like tanks and can haul 9,700 lbs. of stuff in a trailer that has a GVWR of 21,000 lbs. Unbelievable!

The Keystone Raptor 427 is a fabulous new entry into the garage-under-the-master-bed style of toy hauler. Montana and Grand Design have these floor plans too: the Montana High Country 380TH and Grand Design Momentum 376TH (and formerly the Grand Design Solitude 374TH which was discontinued a few months ago).

I included the Montana 380TH in my full-time fifth wheel article in Trailer Life Magazine that appeared in the October 2017 issue.

All of these manufacturers place the bedroom in the rear of the trailer and put a small garage big enough for bikes or a motorcycle under the bed itself. A workbench could fit in this garage. The bed above the garage raises and lowers if you need full standing height in the garage.

Montana and Grand Design place the kitchen in the middle of the rig. Montana has a beautiful open L-shaped kitchen with counters along two walls, a style that I like, and Grand Design has an island kitchen that is very popular. Both put the living room in the fifth wheel overhang.

The clever idea in the Raptor 427 is that the kitchen, which doesn’t need vaulted ceilings, is smartly placed in the part of the trailer where high ceilings can’t exist: the fifth wheel overhang. I don’t know what the headroom is there, probably around 6′ 4″ or higher, but it was more than sufficient for cooking, dining and even entertaining a cocktail party or buffet crowd! And there’s a window in the front cap so you can see out in all directions.

The kitchen is truly vast, and there is a side-by-side dinette for two that overlooks the living room. We just loved the design. For us, though, it’s too long a trailer since we’d have to tow our RZR behind (it’s 44′ long), and we’d prefer hydraulic slides to cable slides in the bigger slide-outs. Our two hydraulic slide mechanisms and single worm-gear electric slide mechanism on our current trailer have pushed our slides in or out an estimated 2,000 times so far.

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 3-min

The Keystone Raptor 427 has an immense kitchen in the front of the trailer.

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 6-min

The counter space is incredible (although I could do without the purple lights)

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel view into Living Room from Kitchen-min

Seating for two overlooking the rest of the trailer – very cool!

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 7-min

Opposing loveseats in the slides plus dual recliners facing the TV (not seen in this pic).

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 4-min

Looking back up into the kitchen above the recliners

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel ramp door-min

The bike or motorcycle sized garage is under the bed. The ceiling raises and lowers.

You can read my article discussing the various toy haulers on the Trailer Life website here: Shortcut to Toyland with 16 Great Fivers

The March issue of Trailer Life happens to include two other articles of mine with photos by both of us: a feature article about RVing in the Canadian Rockies and my back page column about lovely Maroon Bells in Colorado!

If you are new to RVing, Trailer Life is a good magazine to subscribe to. If you are a motorhome person, the sister publication Motorhome Magazine (which also features our work from time to time), is another excellent magazine.

Another outstanding RV magazine and RV advocacy group and discount camping membership club and mail forwarding service, among many other things, is Escapees RV Club which we highly recommend joining.

IMPRESSIONS from VISITING the TOY HAULER FACTORIES

When were in Elkhart, Indiana, last fall (2018), we visited several RV manufacturing plants. We hadn’t done a factory tour in Elkhart since the spring of 2009 when the industry was in the midst of collapse.

The consolidation in the RV industry since the beginning of the recession of 2008 has been staggering and has whittled the list of RV manufacturers down to three conglomerates: Thor, Forest River and Winnebago. It has also reduced the list of major component suppliers down to two, Lippert Components and Furrion. Mom-and-pop shops making fifth wheel trailers independently of these conglomerates like Aluminum Toy Hauler, New Horizons and Space Craft and smaller component suppliers like MORryde are exceedingly rare.

The fraternity of talent at the top of the RV industry is very close knit and goes back many decades. If you follow the mergers and acquisitions back to the 1960s and 70s, the same names appear over and over in the executive suites of each company. The brothers who founded Keystone together with another executive who oversaw its huge growth sold it to Thor which itself was the result of the acquisition of failing Airstream from Beatrice Foods. After the three held top executive positions at Thor, these three men went on to found Grand Design and oversee its growth and sale to Winnebago. One of the partners sat on the Board of Directors over at Lippert Components, and after the sale to Winnebago another of the partners left the RV industry to start a pontoon boat company in partnership with Lippert Components.

The advantage to the rise of the conglomerates is wonderful economies of scale, but the flip side for the brands under these corporate umbrellas is the loss of the wild frontier style innovation that made early RVs so fun and funky as well as the forced adoption of quality standards that may not match the standards these brands had back when they were independent companies.

A Dishwasher = “That True Residential Feel”

Perhaps the most shocking thing for us was to discover how few people in the RV industry actually own and use RVs. I asked the general manager of one brand and a national sales rep of another what kind of RVs they owned, and the answers were, “I’m too busy to vacation in an RV” and “My wife likes hotels.”

This lack of personal RV experience has caused a disconnect between the manufacturers and their customers’ needs.

A perfect example was when a top executive at one brand told me that full-timers want a true residential feel to their fifth wheels, so every unit in his line of full-timer fifth wheels would be shipped with a dishwasher in it starting in 2019.

Now, of course, lots of full-timers want a dishwasher in their RV, but a lot of full-timers don’t want one.

Another executive at a different company told me, “Well, the dishwasher is a great place to store your dishes in an RV.”

It is? I’m not keen on mixing my clean and dirty dishes in the same storage place!

A National Sales Rep proudly showed me the outdoor kitchen on his toy hauler. He was so excited about it when he pulled it out, “Emily, you’re going to love this!” But when he pulled it out, it came to shoulder level on me. I’m 5′ 4″. I raised my arm and made a stirring motion with my hand in front of my chin and said, “I can’t cook like this.” He was crestfallen.

I began asking the executives we were meeting how they get their feedback from customers, and it seemed that they rely on a combination of the orders placed by the dealership buyers and by talking to people at trade shows.

So, it turned out that because 95% of the units of the one brand had been ordered with dishwashers in 2018, it was obvious there was a massive demand for dishwashers. So that’s why all units will have dishwashers going forward.

Similarly, since the sales rep with the outdoor kitchen had seen only grins and enthusiasm when he showed it to folks dropping by the booth at trade shows, he thought his outdoor kitchen was something his customers loved.

Ironically, doesn’t it make sense for dealers to put predominantly fully decked out units on their lots to show customers what can be ordered? And when you’re gallivanting around at an RV trade show and having a ball dancing in and out of tons of brand new units, are you really going to tell that smiling and friendly sales guy that his outdoor kitchen would never work for you?

The takeaway we got from all this is not to be shy and to find out who the buyer is at your local dealership and to tell them what you like and don’t like about the units on their lot. It seems that the closest the residents of the RV manufacturers’ executive suites come to their customers is the contact they have with the folks ordering their units in their dealer network.

ESCAPEES RV CLUB and WINNEBAGO

Fortunately and fabulously, Escapees RV Club and Winnebago have begun working together to get real feedback from real RVers into the design process. This project is in its earliest phase right now, but the emails I’ve received from Escapees about it are very encouraging. It is because of this kind of innovative and forward thinking at Escapees that we keep recommending our readers join Escapees. (They give us a tip if you mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up, but we’d recommend them anyway!).

Founded by Kay and Joe Peterson, Escapees RV Club has been led by three generations of family members who have spent years on the road living in their RVs. They are the real deal when it comes to understanding the RV lifestyle.

TRAILERS BUILT by the AMISH

On a completely different note, some folks feel that a trailer built by Amish hands is of better quality than one made by other hands. It certainly makes for great marketing, especially for the companies that are in the heart of Amish country and employ lots of Amish people. We saw Amish workers in some of the plants, both men and women, but we didn’t see how their work could be substantially different than the work done by anyone else on the same assembly line.

Amish buggy at Open Range RV factory-min

The Amish really do work at the RV factories. They do the same jobs as other assembly line workers.

The factory workers are given jobs to do and are told how to do them. The quality standards and aseembly techniques are determined by corporate goals in areas like profitability, target market share, and unit build time to completion.

While a conscientious individual might put tremendous thought and care into a backyard project at their own home, the work they do on the assembly line at their job for an employer will be done the way management demands and not necessarily in a way that they would choose for their own personal project at home.

Before I tell you, take a quick guess at how long it takes to build a 44′ toy hauler fifth wheel. A month? A week?

At the Raptor plant we were told it takes 3 days. At the KZ plant it is 2.5 days. They have a ton of hands working simultaneously, and they all get the job done as quickly as possible.

INDEPENDENT MANUFACTURERS – ATC, Sundowner, Luxe, Space Craft, New Horizons

Independent RV manufacturing plants like ATC and Sundowner (another new entrant into the toy hauler market coming frome the horse trailer industry) take a few days longer to build their units than the bigger mass market brands. This partly because fewer people work on each trailer at a time, and partly because they start from scratch and build their own frames, doors and ramps rather than buying a ready-made frame, door and ramp.

Both ATC and Sundowner looked appealing to us, and we toured each plant. ATC is near Elkhart in Nappannee and Sundowner is in Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, without any slideouts we couldn’t fit our lives and belongings into an ATC fifth wheel toy hauler, and although the Sundowner toy haulers are an aerodynamic two feet shorter than standard fifth wheel toy haulers and are built with a fifth wheel gooseneck hitch which makes a fabulouos connection to the truck and completely frees up the truck bed when you’re not towing, they are also built with a very small bedroom because of the short gooseneck overhang.

However, for folks who have other lifestyle needs than ours, both the ATC and Sundowner deserve a good long look as they are sturdy, well built and rugged trailers that can be modestly customized on order and that have an intermediate price point between the mass market trailers and the high end custom units (New Horizons, Luxe and Space Craft). We visited Luxe and went to Space Craft a second time but will get into that in another post.

ALTERNATE SUPPLIERS – MORryde, Dexter

I mentioned the RV parts manufacturer MORryde, and as we studied toy haulers it seemed to us that there are two components in toy haulers these days where the MORryde version is superior to the competition: the ramp door and the stairs. Likewise, the Dexter brand of axles is considered to be superior to the competition (although the axle brand is a moot point if you plan to upgrade to the MORryde IS suspension which replaces the axles completely).

When our second factory-installed axle failed on our current trailer after our first axle failed and was replaced under our extended warranty, we replaced both axles with Dexter brand at our own expense (not under warranty) and have been very pleased.

So, in our evaluation of toy haulers during our own personal search for ourselves, the brands we focused on came with these MORryde and Dexter components. Generally, if a brand doesn’t specify in its marketing literature that it has a MORryde or Dexer branded component, then it doesn’t have it. There is marketing value in advertising that your trailer includes these brands, and the RV manufacturers call it out in their literature.

One of the side benefits (or disadvantages, depending on your point of view) of massive industry consolidation is that a hugely dominant parts supplier can strong arm its customers into buying its products by bundling them or offering other perks as part of the deal, something like: “If you buy our doors and windows we’ll throw in our stairs for free,” or “If you buy our stairs and ramp door we’ll warranty the frame for three years.”

MORryde Zero-G Ramp Door

Check out this video comparing the deployment of the MORryde Zero-G ramp door and the Lippert ramp door:

MORryde StepAbove

We like the old fashioned flip down front stairs on our fifth wheel, but that design is antiquated these days. The MORryde stairs called the “StepAbove” deploy easily.

FINAL TID-BITS

One of the interesting fallouts from the wholesale decimation of the RV industry that began in 2008 and went on until 2013 or so is that the smaller companies that survived the downturn did so because they engaged in some true soul searching and revised their self-image.

The folks at B&W Trailer Hitches began making farm fencing, and they had enough cash flow to pay their employees to work for the town where they are headquartered, providing groundskeeping and other municipal services. This not only kept everyone employed but it heightened their pride in their town and their loyalty to their company. Amazing and very smart. The folks at MORryde also branched out into non-RVing related products in a similar way.

The management at ATC took a long hard look at how to motivate their assembly line workers to make the best product possible. Rather than providing incentives based on the number of units produced, which is a common metric, they offered incentives that focused on quality control and reducing mistakes and system failures. ATC has the longest and deepest warranty of all the fifth wheel toy hauler manufacturers.

PHEW — THAT WAS LONG!

We’ve got more thoughts to share as we ponder this fork in our less traveled road. At the moment we’re leaning towards a new traditional fifth wheel trailer because the triple-towing seems okay, but who knows what the coming months will bring as we travel further afield and encounter a wider variety of situations with our rig.

Stay tuned!!

Triple tow Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' fifth wheel and Polaris RZR on utility trailer-min

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— Published March 2019

Escapod Teardrop Trailers – Rugged Campers for Off-Road Adventure!

April 2018 – In our RV travels we love taking small roads from one destination to another because there’s more to see and you never know what you’ll bump into.

As we were towing our trailer in Utah from Strawberry Reservoir to Huntsville, we found ourselves driving through the village of Wanship. As we turned a corner, we noticed several cute tear drop trailers parked by the sidewalk.

Escapod teardrop trailer rugged RV for backcountry off-road travel-min

What a cool looking teardrop trailer!

Our heads whipped around to get another look as we drove by, and we noticed two big red garage bay doors were open and a teardrop trailer was peeking out of one of them.

Escapod Trailers manufacturing facility Wanship Utah-min

There was a teardrop trailer in one of the garage bays.

Did they build teardrop trailers here? We quickly found a place to pull over and walked back to see what this was all about. We noticed a petite trailer frame glinting in the sun and the company name “Escapod” on the building.

Escapod Teardrop trailer manufacturing Wanship Utah-min

Out front there was a trailer frame waiting for a teardrop body.

Manufacturing Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Escapod trailers are ruggedly built with strong frames made from 2×2 inch steel tubing.

We’d never heard of Escapod trailers before, but we LOVE teardrop trailers. So, we went over to one of the models to have a closer look.

Escapod Teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Sturdy, tough and ready for back country camping.

Then we heard a voice behind us and a tall, lanky fellow came over and introduced himself. He was Chris Eckel, and he had recently moved to Utah from New York to become a partner in Escapod Trailers alongside the founder Chris Hudak.

“Would you like me to open it up for you?” He asked.

Yes indeedy!!!

Escapod trailer rugged backcountry off-road teardrop trailer RV

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Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The back end lifts up to reveal a galley with drawers, shelves, a high end cooler and a cooktop.

We were very impressed with the quality of the woodworking and the craftsmanship of the trailer all around.

Galley kitchen Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The woodwork is top notch.

Like most teardrop trailers, the galley is in the back. There is a stove set into a stainless steel countertop, and sliding doors in the back open up to shelving. Three finely crafted drawers are set next to a high end cooler.

Stove in Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The stove is recessed into the countertop.

Chris explained that the origin of Escapod was the desire for a well built and rugged trailer that could handle anything the backcountry might throw at it but could be purchased at a reasonable price.

Too often teardrop trailers are either relatively plush and unsuited to off-road travel or they are sufficiently sturdy yet astronomically priced.

Escapod is filling the void of top quality off-road durability for those who are budget conscious.

Front exterior Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The front of the Escapod is aluminum, ready for tough back country travel.

Hitch and battery Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

A Group 27 12 volt battery powers the rig.

There are lots of options that can be added to an Escapod trailer. The unit we were looking at has an awning, but you can even add a rooftop tent to make the trailer a double-decker and have more sleeping options than the residential sized queen bed inside.

Tour Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

An awning provides shade and the propane tank is easily accessed.

There is a door on either side of the trailer, and we poked our heads in to see more beautifully finished cabinetry inside. There is storage space at the head and foot of the bed, an opening hatch vent with a fan, opening windows in each door and a fixed window at the head of the bed.

Besides having wonderful air flow through the trailer for hot summer days, Escapod trailers are very well insulated for winter travel as well.

Interior Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Inside: a residential queen bed, storage space with push button latches and a hatch vent with a fan.

Inside Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The doors on either side both have opening windows and the front cap has a fixed window.

What a neat little package!

The foundation of any trailer is the frame, and with large fifth wheel trailers almost all the frames are made by Lippert Components. However, with small trailers like the Escapod and other independently manufactured teardrop trailers, the frames are often made by the trailer builder.

The Escapod frames are purpose-built for off-road travel in the outback.

Escapod Trailer frame-min

The frame is built right here at the Escapod manufacturing facility.

Sideview trailer frame Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

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The Escapod foundation includes high end gear like torsion axles, heavy duty Firestone Transforce AT tires and Mickey Thompson wheels.

Escapod Teardrop Trailers off-road rugged frame-min

Torsion axles ready for the Firestone Tranforce AT tires mounted on Mickey Thompson wheels.

While Chris Eckel told us all about the Escapod teardrops, we saw Escapod’s founder, Chris Hudak, hard at work welding a new frame.

Welding trailer frame Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Escapod founder, Chris Hudak, welds a frame.

A nearly finished Escapod teardrop was in the next bay. Escapod builds two trailers a month, and each one is built to order for a particular customer. When we visited in April they had trailers on order through July, so the wait for a new trailer was about 3 months.

Although all Escapod trailers have the essential basics in common, Chris works with each buyer to understand exactly how they intend to travel with their trailer, and they discuss which options will make the most sense for their particular needs.

Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Somewhere out there an excited buyer is eagerly waiting for this Escapod to be finished!

The GVWR for an Escapod trailer is 3,500 lbs, and the basic model with a few options and a full 20 gallon water tank is just 1,500 lbs. So you have a whopping 2,000 lbs of Cargo Carrying Capacity to work with, making it easy to carry a kayak or bicycles or a rooftop tent system on top or load up the cupboards and cooler with anything that might be needed on a camping trip.

Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

These tough little teardrop trailers can take you anywhere you want to go.

Folks who live in relatively gargantuan fifth wheel trailers like our 36 footer may raise an eyebrow at the idea of doing any kind of long term travel in a teardrop trailer. However, it’s feasible. Last year at Sturgis Bike Week we met a man who designed his own teardrop trailer that he could tow with his motorcycle. It had a twin bed inside. He had lived in it for nine years and was truly loving life!

Homemade motorcycle teardrop trailer-min

Home for nine years to a very happy motorcycle camper!

The Escapod motto, “Born in Utah. Bred for Adventure. Tow and Behold” invites customers to go boondocking with their trailers out on America’s public land down remote and precarious dirt roads that those of us with big fifth wheels would never dare try.

And you can go for weeks at a time. Chris told us he took his girlfriend on a six week trip all around the back roads of the west in an Escapod last year and they had a blast.

A hot water heater and shower nozzle hookup are possible, but a solar shower bag is also a great way to go. We used one on our sailboat all through our Mexico cruise on days we’d been at anchor so long that our engine heated hot water was no longer hot.

Slogans Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Born in Utah. Bred for Adventure. Tow and Behold!

The Escapod we looked at came in at just under $14,000, a remarkable deal for a quality trailer. For those who are worried about such a big purchase, Escapod has several teardrops available for rent so folks can try before they buy. Even better, they have plans down the road to build rental fleets and partner with outdoor outfitters in America’s most beautiful locations.

We are so tickled we bumped into Escapod as we rounded the bend in Wanship, Utah. What a neat discovery!

Escapod owners Chris and Chris and dog Milo-min

Chris Hudak (left, he’s the founder) and Chris Eckel (right) and canine camping companion Milo

It turns out that Trailer Life recently did a fabulous article surveying the many teardrops that are being built today. The article is here: Tiny Trailers: New Era Teardrops. Escapod is the third teardrop in the list under a fabulous photo of an Escapod in Utah’s red rock country.

Unlike the market for larger travel trailers and fifth wheels that has less than a handful of independent builders and is dominated by a few conglomerates, teardrop trailers are the wild west of trailer building. Independent builders are staking claim to portions of this unusual market and building trailers to suit their special niche. How fun!

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What are the Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer?!

What features are most important in a fifth wheel trailer you’ll be living in full-time? That’s a big and interesting question, and Trailer Life Magazine recently assigned me the very fun task of surveying the fifth wheels on the market today and selecting twelve models that would make a good home on the road.

The results of my review are featured as the cover story of the October 2017 edition of Trailer Life Magazine.

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017

Trailer Life Magazine, October, 2017. Article by Emily Fagan

As I mentioned in my blog post about what to look for in a full-time RV, whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome, choosing a rolling home is an incredibly personal decision. There is no ideal rig for all RVers. The most important thing is that you walk inside, look around, and say, “Ahhh, this is home!”

But you’ve also gotta look at the nuts and bolts underneath the rig, and that’s what this blog post is about.

Whatever fifth wheel you buy, there is no need to break the bank. Obviously, higher quality trailers cost a lot more than lower quality trailers do, but life on the road is a thrill no matter what kind of rig you live in, and if you can’t afford the top of the line, you’ll still have just as much fun as those who can.

Also, sometimes going with a used trailer, especially at the outset, beats buying new. There are lots of used fifth wheels of all ages for sale all over the country.

A great resource for viewing a variety of rigs and comparing prices of specific models is RVTrader.com. Another excellent resource, especially for Canadians, is RVDealers.ca.

We have met a couple and a single fellow living full-time in older fifth wheel trailers that cost them less than $5,000. They were very happy with their rolling homes and were thrilled to have the freedom of a life on the road.

Likewise, we met a couple who had lived in a popup tent trailer for four years, a couple who had lived in a tiny half-ton pickup camper for two years and we met a young pair of mountain bikers who had just moved out of their tent home of the last 18 months and into a 17′ travel trailer a few weeks before we camped near them.

If you can’t afford the latest and greatest, it is still very possible to be a full-time RVer and live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget!

However, my Trailer Life assignment was to look over the many brand new fifth wheels on the market, find twelve models that spoke to me, and highlight some of the things that I think are important when shopping for an RV that will be lived in 24/7/365.

You can read the article here: Full-timing Fifth Wheel Trailers in Trailer Life Magazine

For reference, we have pics and specs and a description of the fifth wheel trailer we live in at this link.

LEARN BY DOING

If you haven’t done much RVing yet and you are planning to move out of your current home and set off on a life of adventure on the road, the best way to figure out what features you need and want in your full-time fifth wheel is to get some practice RVing first.

I can’t state strongly enough the value of buying a cheap little RV and going and having some fun on weekends and vacations before jumping into the full-time RV lifestyle. This is especially true if you’ve got a year or more to go before you will actually start full-timing.

Nothing is better than hands-on experience, and you can use the little rig as a trade-in on your full-time RV. The minimal amount of depreciation is a great investment in your own personal education in the RV lifestyle! Here is a blog post about that.

So what DO you look for in an RV when you are replacing your sticks-and-bricks house? After all, the the most important factor is no longer Location, Location Location! Different folks look for different things, but here’s what we look for whenever we check out a new fifth wheel at a dealership (which we do frequently!).

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017-min

A survey of fifth wheels for full-timing by Emily Fagan
Trailer Life Magazine Cover – October 2017

CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY

The first thing we look at is the trailer’s Cargo Carrying Capacity. This is the amount of weight the trailer is designed to carry safely and legally. Trailer manufacturers are required to post a sticker on the exterior of the front end of the trailer on the driver’s side that indicates what the CCC is.

Surprisingly, there is a lot of confusion about exactly how the CCC is calculated and whether or not the fresh water or the propane in the tanks is considered cargo or part of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW). The official definition, according to certain RV standards groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is:

CCC = GVWR – (UVW + propane weight)

That is, the Cargo Carrying Capacity is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating less the sum of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight and the propane weight.

However, it is much more common for manufacturers to calculate CCC as simply the GVWR less UVW and not count the propane weight as part of the equation. This is also known as the NCC (Net Carrying Capacity).

NCC = GVWR – UVW

The propane weight is only 40, 60 or 80 lbs, depending on whether the two propane tanks are 20 lb., 30 lb., or 40 lb. tanks, so it is not that important whether it is included in the calculation of CCC or not, and it is easy to see why the terms CCC and NCC are often confused and used interchangeably.

In addition to stating the CCC on a sticker on the trailer, the manufacturers are also required to have a sticker indicating how much the fresh water in the trailer weighs when the fresh water tanks are full. One gallon of water weighs about 8.35 lbs. or 3.785 kg.

Fresh water is officially considered to be cargo, so if the trailer is towed with its tanks full, then the CCC available for everything else (food, clothes, tools, barbecue, bikes etc.) is reduced by the weight of the fresh water weight as stated on the sticker.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

This detailed sticker shows the weight of the fresh water tanks when full (830 lbs in the fresh water tanks and 100 lbs in the hot water tank) PLUS it shows the weight of the Black and Gray waste tanks (1,569 lbs.) AND it shows the cargo carrying capacity of the trailer with water tanks both full (1,372 lbs) and empty (2,302 lbs).

If the trailer doesn’t have the official CCC stated on a sticker, it’s usually possible to find the GVWR and UVW values on a spec sheet and simply subtract UVW from GVWR. This simple calculation of GVWR – UVW is the easiest way to compare the carrying capacity from one trailer to the next, so that is what we like to go by when we are making a direct comparison.

So how much should the Cargo Carrying Capacity be for a fifth wheel trailer that’s used as a full-time home? In our experience, the nearly 3,500 lbs. of CCC on our trailer is barely enough. Because we boondock all the time, we travel with our fresh water tank and hot water tank full and our gray and black tanks empty so we can stay a maximum length of time at our next destination.

Other folks may find they can get away with less, but to us, if you are shopping for a big trailer to live in full-time, a CCC of less than 3,000 lbs. is going to be insufficient in the long run. If you are shopping for a fifth wheel toy hauler, then you’ll need 3,500 lbs. for your stuff plus more for the weight of your toy(s).

Interestingly, the manufacturers often provide a lot more storage space in their fifth wheel trailers than the CCC of their trailer can reasonably support. Our cabinets and shelves aren’t even full, and we are still at the maximum limit for CCC in our trailer.

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

A much simpler sticker on another trailer shows a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.
By implication this does not include any water weights because all liquids in the tanks are cargo.

So, just because a trailer you are looking at has voluminous shelving, a big pantry, and two huge closets, you won’t necessarily be able to fill all that space and still remain at or below the CCC of the trailer.

Another surprise is that smaller trailers frequently have larger carrying capacities. This can be seen in a single product line when a manufacturer uses the same frame for several models. The smallest and lightest model built on that frame will obviously have more carrying capacity than the largest and heaviest one.

We also saw it in dramatic fashion when we compared a tear drop trailer and a toy hauler on a dealership lot once (blog post here).

One caveat to keep in mind if you overload your trailer is that you risk being found liable if you are in an accident with a fatality and it is discovered your rig was over its weight limit. This is true both if the truck is too small for the trailer and/or if the trailer itself is loaded beyond its capacity.

FOUNDATION – FRAME, AXLES, TIRES. SUSPENSION, LANDING JACKS & BRAKES

The foundation underlying a fifth wheel trailer consists of the frame, axles, tires, suspension, landing jacks and brakes, and although this is not the glamorous part of the trailer, it is arguably the most important.

It is possible to upgrade some of these components to improve the overall unofficial GVWR and CCC of a trailer and to improve its stopping power as well. The axles, tires and suspension can all be replaced with beefier parts, and if the trailer has electric drum brakes, these can be upgraded to electric over hydraulic disc brakes (described in detail here).

RVers are encouraged to weigh their rigs on a regular basis to ensure that they are staying within the official GVWR for their unit. We weigh ours every year or two. Escapees offers the very thorough SmartWeigh program at several of their RV parks across the country, and we describe our experience with that program at this link: “Making Weight” With Your RV.

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with Escapees SmartWeigh program

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with the Escapees SmartWeigh program

It is important to note, however, that just because you’ve got bigger axles, better rated tires and beefier suspension, you won’t “officially” have a new GVWR. The trailer will support its payload better, but in the case of a horrific accident, if the GVWR value is referenced and your trailer is somehow found to have been over that weight, you may be considered liable.

Frame

The next thing we look at in a trailer is the frame and axles. Almost all trailers are assembled on frames built by Lippert Components. A few manufacturers build their own frames in-house.

Axles

Most fifth wheels are also built on Lippert axles. The highest end fifth wheels are built with axles made by Dexter. They advertise the fact and consider it to be a premium feature. In some cases Dexter axles are an option, and some buyers simply replace their axles after making their purchase.

Both of our Lippert axles have failed. The first time was in Nova Scotia. We could tell because our tires began wearing very strangely and very very fast. We limped to Maine to have the rear axle replaced with another Lippert axle.

New RV axle installed on fifth wheel trailer-min

We replaced one of our trailer axles in Bangor Maine.

Fortunately, our extended RV warranty saved the day financially, but the time lost and overall frustration of having a big failure on the road was not fun. (Blog post about that experience here).

The second time was when our front axle failed in Arizona, and again, the tell-tale sign was bizarre tire wear on the trailer tires. This time we decided to replace both axles with the Dexter brand. Unfortunately, our extended RV warranty did not bail us out on this occasion, but the $3,000 expense of having both axles replaced and correctly aligned with Dexter axles was well worth it, as our tires have been wearing very evenly ever since.

Suspension

In addition to axle failures, our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension failed upon our approach to Arizona from New Mexico. We had the entire suspension overhauled, and fortunately our extended trailer warranty covered the repair (blog post about that experience here). This experience made us realize just how important the suspension is on a trailer.

New fifth wheel trailer suspension installation-min

We replaced our failed fifth wheel suspension system in Arizona.

Most fifth wheel trailers come with a conventional leaf spring and gas shock suspension system. However, some fifth wheels come with an axle-less rubber suspension system from Mor/Ryde. Many people love and swear by the soft ride of this suspension. Over time, however the rubber does wear out and needs to be replaced (as do conventional shocks).

Tires

The weight rating on the tires is an important aspect of the overall GVWR rating of a trailer, and upgrading the tires is an easy way to boost the GVWR and increase the CCC. Of course, the legal rating for the trailer will always depend on how the trailer was built at the factory, but by upgrading the tires you can quickly give the trailer much needed support if you are approaching the limit.

Tire ratings vary on most fifth wheels between E-rated (10 ply) tires for lighter trailer to G-rated (14-ply) for the heavier ones. Some of the heaviest trailers have H-rated (16-ply) tires but those require wheels that can handle higher air pressure.

Check the tire ratings on a prospective full-time fifth wheel as well as the axle brand and axle weight ratings. If they are already big and beefy, you will save yourself needing to upgrade them later. On the other hand, if you love the trailer but those things are a little skimpy, budget in an upgrade when you contemplate the purchase price and its impact on your bank account.

We upgraded the E-rated (10-ply) tires that came on our trailer with G-rated (14-ply) tires. When we swapped axle brands, we stayed with the 7,000 lb. axle rating because we had upgraded our trailer’s electric hub brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and the bigger 8,000 lb. axles required different brakes.

Brakes

Most fifth wheel trailers come with electric drum brakes. The stopping power is so-so. More expensive brands of fifth wheels offer electric over hydraulic disk brakes as an option. You can also replace the electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes at a later date.

We upgraded our electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and what a massive difference in stopping power! The upgrade costs about $3,000 or so, but we felt it was worth every penny. Our blog post about that upgrade is here.

Fifth wheel electric over hydraulic disk brake conversion-min

We upgraded our standard electric trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes in Texas

If you think you might upgrade the entire under carriage of your trailer — axles, brakes and tires — because you are at the outer limit of its CCC, you might consider going to the next size axle. We did our upgrades piece-meal as things broke or ore out, but if we’d done it all at once we might have gone with 8,000 lb. axles and corresponding brakes.

Landing Jacks

Conventional electric landing jacks on the front of the trailer are less expensive than hydraulic self-leveling jacks, and they are more commonly found on the more affordable brands of fifth wheel trailers. Hydraulic leveling jacks appear on higher end fifth wheels as standard features or as an option.

We have been happy with our electric landing jacks over the years, and even though we did have to replace them at one time, it was a relatively easy DIY job that Mark was able to do while boondocking in the desert!

Operating the electric landing jacks on a fifth wheel trailer-min

Without a hydraulic leveling system, on extremely unlevel ground we put blocks under the landing legs.

The disadvantage of electric landing jacks is that the side-to-side leveling of the trailer has to be done by sliding something under the wheels to prop up one side of the trailer, and sometimes we have to prop up the front end of the trailer too. We carry 5′ x 1′ x 1″ strips of a sliced up heavy duty rubber mat for this purpose. We used to carry 5′ long 1×8 pine boards. Lots of folks carry the plastic leveling platforms.

Hydraulic leveling jacks can do most or all of the leveling without the need for anything being placed under the tires. Just hit the button and watch the trailer level itself. In the most off-level situations it may still be necessary to prop up one side of the trailer with something under the wheels.

Leveling boards under a fifth wheel trailer-min

Usually all we need is one or two mats under our wheels. In rare cases we have to stack higher!

Another great benefit of hydraulic leveling jacks is that if you need to jack up one side of the trailer to work on the tires, wheels or suspension, you can use the hydraulic leveling jacks instead of a portable jack placed under an axle. It’s safer and easier.

The only disadvantage of hydraulic leveling jacks is simply that they are complex and might fail. Occasionally (though extremely rarely) the legs have been known to fall down while the trailer is being towed. Of course, technology improves with every year, so these kinds of problems are less and less common.

“FOUR SEASON” – INSULATION and R-FACTORS

Lots of trailers are billed as “Four Season,” but in reality, you can’t compare living in an elevated box with 2″ to 3.5″ walls with living in a house that stands on a foundation and whose thick walls are built with layers of drywall, Tyvek, plywood and siding.

That being said, “Four Season” coaches are generally better insulated than others. Just don’t expect to be totally warm and cozy and free of condensation when there’s a blizzard and temps stay below 0 F for a few days!

Fifth wheel trailer RV in snow blizzard-min

We have experienced several blizzards in our trailer,
but RVs are not really made to be “four season” the way that houses are.

RV Insulation

Some folks have toughed it out in an RV through real winters in the northern states, but the majority of full-time RVers spend their winters in mild climates where overnight temps in the teens are a rare and cold exception. We have tips for keeping a rig warm during the winter months and keeping it cool during the summer months in these blog posts:

Winter RVing tips – Staying Warm!

More Winter RVing tips – How to heat an RV in Winter Weather

Installing a vent-free propane heater in an RV

Summer RVing tips – How to Beat the Heat and Stay Cool When It’s HOT!

There are various ways to insulate an RV and there are pros and cons to the different types of insulation that RV manufacturers use.

Some higher end fifth wheels are built with conventional wooden studs and fiberglass insulation as this may provide greater insulation.

Wooden studs are less apt to conduct warm air to the outside than aluminum framing is. On a cold winter morning it is easy to see where the aluminum framing is on an RV if you go outside because you can see the outline of the aluminum framing on the trailer wall.

RV windows dripping with condensation in winter-min

Condensation forms inside our windows on a particularly moist and freezing winter day.

However, fiberglass insulation has been known to fall down off the studs over the years, leaving the tops of the walls uninsulated. Usually, the front and end cap and the areas between the roof trusses are all insulated with fiberglass insulation as well.

Most fifth wheels are insulated with styrofoam, and the styrofoam used varies in quality. The use of “blue board” polystyrene styrofoam made by Dow Chemical was one of the big selling points in the NuWa Hitchhiker brand of fifth wheels like ours (NuWa no longer builds trailers). We’ve also heard this product referred to as “Blue Dow” foam.

When we did a factory tour at NuWa before we bought our trailer, we were told that the folks there had tested the strength of the blue board by driving a truck over a piece that was suspended by its two sides, and it didn’t break. We were also each handed a piece and challenged to break it. We couldn’t.

Interestingly, it may be this very strong styrofoam in the walls that kept a Hitchhiker fifth wheel intact recently when it rolled over at 60 mph on the interstate (blog post about that here).

Besides providing strength to the fifth wheel frame, Dow blue board foam has a very high R-factor.

A few high end fifth wheels are built with this kind of insulation nowadays. Most, however, are built with a weaker and less insulating kind of styrofoam.

R-Factors

When looking at the insulation R-factors that are advertised by the RV manufacturers for the walls and roof of a fifth wheel, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the number may be for the most heavily insulated part of the wall or roof. RV windows, doors and roof hatch vents have very low R-factors for insulation, and that is where most of the heat is lost.

How much heat is lost through RV windows? Just look at what percentage of a fifth wheel wall is actually windows!

Also, some fifth wheel slide-outs are built with thinner walls and less insulated roofs than the main body of the fifth wheel. Ours is. Again, what percentage of the fifth wheel’s walls and roof are part of the main structure and what percentage are slide-outs?

EXTERIOR WALL and ROOF MATERIAL and MAINTENANCE

Exterior Walls

Fifth wheel trailers are built with various materials as the exterior surface of the walls and roof. Lower end trailers have an exterior fiberglass finish of filon. This is what was on our first full-time travel trailer. It doesn’t shine and is a little harder to keep looking spiffy.

Waxing a fifth wheel trailer front cap-min

Maintenance, like washing and waxing the massive exterior of a big RV, is just part of the lifestyle.

The next level up is a fiberglass gelcoat exterior. This is shiny and can be maintained to a glossy finish by waxing the trailer twice a year. Unfortunately, the pretty swirly stickers that give fifth wheel trailers their colorful look will begin peeling off after about 4-5 years.

The highest level finish for a fifth wheel trailer is automotive paint. This is an extremely durable finish and the swirling paint patterns will never peel off. It is also very expensive (figure on about $10k) and is found only on the highest end fifth wheel trailers.

Roofs

Most fifth wheel roofs are “rubber” roofs. These usually come with a ten year warranty, and they are pretty much ready for replacement at the end of ten years! Fiberglass roofs are more durable. If you are going to install solar panels on the roof, you may need to be a little more careful with a fiberglass roof to be sure you don’t crack it when you drill into it.

Rubber roofs can be made of EPDM or TPO. As EPDM roofs begin to age, they start shedding a lot of dust, and every time it rains this creates streaks down the sides of the trailer. Cleaning the roof often helps reduce the streaking, but it’s very hard to eliminate the problem all together once the roof begins to deteriorate a few years into its lifespan. TPO roofs do not have this problem.

CAMPING STYLE

Other than these basic structural features, the rest of the decision is pure fun fluff stuff. The most important thing to ponder when you’re shopping for your new rolling home is how you anticipate living and traveling in it. What is your camping style? That is, how do you want to camp and where will you travel?

Roads are bigger and straighter in the western states than in the eastern states, so bigger rigs are easier to travel in out west.

Many privately owned RV parks accommodate “big rigs” across the whole country. However if you are more into “camping” in natural settings, the sizes of campsites in government run campgrounds vary a lot.

Boondocking in an RV-min

Some RVers love boondocking. Others don’t.
Knowing your own personal camping style helps a lot when it comes to buying a full-time rig.

States Park campsites are often quite large and frequently come with hookups, but they can be pricey too and there are rarely discounts for seniors or for long stays. Campsites in the National Parks and National Forests are often very small, often have no hookups, and may therefore be slightly cheaper, especially for holders of the Federal Lands Senior Pass.

Holding Tank Capacities

So, will you be dry camping a lot or will you get hookups most of the time? This makes a difference in what kinds of holding tank capacities you’ll need.

If you’ll be getting hookups most of the time, then there is no need for big holding tanks. However, if you’ll be dry camping a lot, then big holding tanks will mean you can stay put a little longer before you have to go to an RV dump station .

Our fresh water tanks and hot water heater are 70 gallons combined, our two gray water tanks are 78 gallons combined, and our black tank is 50 gallons. This has worked well for us dry camping every night for the better part of ten years.

We do carry 25 gallons of fresh water in the back of our truck in jerry jugs, but we don’t often need to use that water since we typically stay in places for less than two weeks before moving on, which is about how long our holding tanks last.

One nice feature if you are going to boondock a lot is to have an easy way to refill the fresh water tanks. We have a gravity fed fresh water intake that we can fill from a fresh water hose or from our jerry jugs.

Refilling RV fresh water tanks-min

We have a gravity based fresh water intake on the side of our trailer.
Unfortunately, it is rather high up (and it doesn’t need to be!).

The handy thing about this is that with our trailer the ratio of fresh water capacity to gray and black capacity means that we run out of fresh water before we fill up the gray or black water tanks. Being able to top off the fresh water lets us camp in one spot a little longer before we have to pack it up to go to an RV dump station.

“SOLAR READY” and SOLAR POWER

If you are going to be dry camping a lot, you may want to consider installing a solar power system, and there are a few things to keep in mind about that as you shop for a full-time fifth wheel.

We have a ton of info about solar power on this website. An index of links to our many articles is here:

Solar Power for RVs and Boats

Solar power doesn’t have to be a big, expensive and difficult thing to add to an RV (here’s an article summarizing several types of RV solar power systems).

A portable solar power suitcase that includes a pair of solar panels and a solar charge controller and cables to connect to the batteries all in one package is a nifty way to have solar power available without installing a permanent system on the roof and in the RV basement.

Simply set up the panels on the ground and connect them to the trailer batteries whenever you need to charge the batteries up. The “suitcase” feature makes it easy to stow the system when not in use.

However, most folks who live in their RV full-time and also boondock frequently prefer to install solar panels on the roof permanently and install a solar charge controller near the batteries and install a big pure sine wave inverter too.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel roof-min

Full-time RVers who dry camp a lot usually end up installing solar panels on the roof.

If this is in the back of your mind, you might get excited when you see a fifth wheel (or other RV) advertised as “solar ready.” Unfortunately, in many cases this is a very misleading term. A solar power system that will let you live without electric hookups for days on end will be at least 200 watts and more likely 500 watts or more. The cabling necessary to carry the currents these panels produce is generally 8 or 10 gauge wire.

If a rig is billed as “solar ready,” find out how many watts the prospective solar system could support and check out the size of the cable that goes to the roof. “Solar ready” may simply mean that a skinny cable has been run from the batteries to the roof to support a 50 watt panel. This is great if the batteries are fully charged and you are leaving the rig in storage outdoors for a few months. However, it is not sufficient to live on comfortably.

Also, if you plan to install a full-timer solar power system, check the battery compartment. How many batteries are there? What size are they (Group 24? Group 27?)? How many batteries can you add in the compartment?

Fifth wheel battery compartment-min

We had the battery compartment customized to support four golf-cart sized batteries.

A good sized battery bank for boondocking for long periods is four 6-volt golf cart sized batteries (Group GC2). If the battery box in the fifth wheel you are looking at can’t hold that many batteries, think about where else you might put them and whether there is ample support (they are heavy) and venting (wet cell batteries need to be vented).

Of course, a basement compartment can be beefed up with a piece of angle iron welded onto the frame and/or vents and conduit going to the battery boxes.

We have a series of articles explaining how RV batteries work, how to charge them, different battery types on the market and more at this link:

RV Battery Charging Systems

ACCESS TO SYSTEMS THAT MIGHT NEED REPAIR

While you are crawling around the basements of prospective new rolling homes, try to find all the major components that might fail and might need to be replaced.

If you are a DIY RVer, this is critically important. However, even if you are going to hire out the repair jobs to various RV shops around the country, their jobs will be much easier and cheaper if the systems are easy to access.

Easy access water pump under sink of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

It isn’t “pretty” but it sure is nice to have easy access when it’s time to replace the water pump!
Mark replaced it so fast he’d finished the job before I got pics of his work!

For instance, see if you can find the water pump, hot water heater, power converter, inverter (if there is one), etc.

We once met a fellow with a beautiful brand new travel trailer, and Mark spent an hour with the guy trying to find the power converter. It was hidden behind a fixed wall somewhere and they never did find it!

CREATURE COMFORTS and LIVABILITY

When you give up the luxuries of hearth and home in a stick-built house to wander around the country in an RV, you want to be comfortable. Even though you may be just fine with “roughing it” when you go camping on week-long vacations, it is different when you don’t have a “real” home to go home to.

For us, the move up from our vacation-purposed popup tent trailer to our full-time 27′ travel trailer was such a big step that the travel trailer looked truly luxurious. It had a sofa, dinette and bed in the living area, all of which were good places for relaxing. It seemed just dandy. However, after spending many long hours in it during our first winter, we realized that we wished we had true recliners to relax in. That simple desire is what spurred us to hunt for (and find) our fifth wheel trailer!

Beds

If you have been sleeping in a king size bed at home, switching to a queen bed on the road may be a big challenge. It was for us! It’s a shock to find out the love of your life has so many arms and legs!

Beds in RVs are often slightly smaller in one dimension or another than their residential counterparts, and those lost inches do count. For your reference, here are the standard residential bed sizes, width by length, in inches:

Queen: 60″ x 80″
King: 76″ x 80″

Here are some of the sizes that we’ve seen in fifth wheel trailers, width by length:

Queen: 60″ x 74.5″ (shorter than residential)
King: 70″ x 80″ or 72″ x 80″ (narrower than residential)

We have never seen a full width king size bed in a fifth wheel trailer except in a custom design. This is something to keep in mind if you think you might upgrade your trailer’s factory installed king mattress sometime down the road. Will the new residential king mattress, which is wider than the old mattress that came with the rig, fit on the platform without being squished?

Floorplan and Functionality with Slide-outs Closed

One of the things that we tend to think about when we stand in a beautiful, spacious fifth wheel trailer on a dealership lot is how functional the rig will be when all the slide-outs are closed. Some folks never go in their trailers without opening the slide-outs, but we do it all the time at rest stops and at the grocery store.

Ask the salesman to close the slide-outs on your prospective new full-time fifth wheel and find out which things in the kitchen, living room and bedroom you can no longer access.

NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer Flooplan-min

The open floorplan of our ’07 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel trailer.

Can you get into the fridge for a beer? Can you access the pantry for goodies to make a sandwich? Can you microwave something or boil water in a teapot on the stove? Can you wash the dishes after lunch? Can you use the bathroom? Can you get into the bed? Can you sit on a chair in the living room or at your dinette?

These may sound like goofy questions, but when you live in an RV full-time it is surprising how often you may want to use the rig without having to open the slide-outs.

If you roll a shopping cart loaded with groceries up to your front door at the supermarket, can you put them all away without opening the slide-outs? If you visit a friend and park your rig in front of their house for a few days, can you access your clothes and bed so you don’t have to stay in their spare bedroom?

Fresh bread baked in an RV oven-min

We can bake bread when the slides are closed.
Not crucial, but it’s nice to have access to the entire kitchen.

We are fortunate with our fifth wheel’s floorplan because we can access almost everything without opening any of the slide-outs. The only things we can’t get to are the two recliners in the back of the rig and our dresser drawers (opening the bedroom slide 6 inches is enough to get into those drawers). We have actually lived in our trailer with the slide-outs closed for several weeks at a time. It’s skinny, but it’s doable.

Unfortunately, the super popular island kitchen floorplan designs generally don’t allow for full use of the kitchen when the slide-outs are closed. However, there are loads of open floorplan designs that were popular a decade ago, like ours, that the RV designers may eventually revive. After all, there are only so many possible floorplans for a fifth wheel trailer!

Residential Refrigerator vs. RV Fridge

RV refrigerators that run on both 120 volt AC power and propane gas are being replaced in many fifth wheel trailers with residential refrigerators that run exclusively on 120 volt AC power. With some fifth wheel brands you can order the rig with either type of refrigerator. In other cases you can only order it one way and you would need to do the replacement yourself after you’ve bought the rig.

RV refrigerators are wonderful because you can dry camp in your RV for months or years on end and have refrigerated food the whole time. All you need to do is keep the propane tanks filled. Our 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator uses about 30 lbs (or 7 gallons) of propane every three weeks.

RV refrigerators have a few negatives, however.

One downside to RV refrigerators is that they are not self-defrosting. You need to defrost them. After decades of living with a frost-free refrigerator, it is a shock to go back to the olden days (if you were around then) of having to defrost the RV fridge every month or so.

However, my amazing hubby Mark has perfected the art of defrosting and he can now pull it off in about 20 minutes. So, it’s not that bad a chore if you stay on top of it (and if you have a wonderful partner who is willing to do it for you!). See the blog post about quickie fridge defrosting here.

Defrosting an RV refrigerator-min

Mark has simplified the refrigerator defrosting process so much it takes him only 20 minutes. Lucky me!

Another disadvantage is that they don’t modulate the temperature in the fridge with much precision and they aren’t particularly well insulated or energy efficient. We keep a small thermometer in the fridge so we have a feeling for what’s going on. The temp inside varies greatly depending on whether the wall behind the fridge is in the sun or shade and whether the temp inside our rig is 40 degrees, as it is on some winter mornings, or 90 degrees as it is on some summer afternoons.

Our fridge is usually on level 4 or 5 (the coldest two settings) because we like our beer to be ice cold. However I do sometimes find my yogurt has frozen a bit on the edges.

RV refrigerators also have a shelf life. It is about 8 years!

We found that out the hard way when our RV refrigerator died and we had to get it replaced. Luckily the replacement was straight forward and was covered by our extended RV warranty (blog post about it here).

New RV refrigerator is fork lifter through the trailer window-min

Our new RV refrigerator is slid through our dining room window on a fork lift.

The biggest surprise when we got our RV fridge replaced was we found out the warranty companies expect those fridges to last only 8 years. Of course, they figure that into the cost of the warranty, as they should. So, even though we were shocked that ours died, our warranty company wasn’t surprised at all.

Perhaps the most damning thing about RV refrigerators is that they run on propane and they have been known to catch fire and torch entire RVs. A burning RV burns to the ground in seconds because of the propane tanks and manufacturing materials. There was a rash of RV refrigerator fires about a decade or so ago which is part of what pushed the industry towards building RVs with residential electric refrigerators instead.

However, RV life isn’t totally rosy with residential refrigerators either, especially if you want to boondock or dry camp for extended periods of time.

While a residential refrigerator may be a highly efficient Energy Star appliance, it may not have a solid locking mechanism to keep the doors closed in transit or rails to keep the food on the shelves while in transit (check on that). And it will require a lot of power to run while the rig is not plugged into a power pedestal.

A 12 to 14 cubic foot residential refrigerator requires a little over 300 kwh per year to run. This is about 0.8 kwh per day, or, very roughly, about 80 amp-hours per day.

In the winter months when the sun rides low in the sky and is up for a short period of time, an RV will need about 400 to 500 watts of solar panels and 450 amp-hours of batteries just to run the refrigerator. This is about what it takes to run everything else in the RV! An 18 to 22 cubic foot refrigerator will require even more.

This is not to say that it is impossible to install a big enough solar power system to run a residential refrigerator — we’ve had readers contact us to say that they have done it and they’re loving it! — but the expense and weight of the batteries and of the solar panels is something to consider before signing on the dotted line for that beautiful new fifth wheel trailer with its residential fridge.

Also, even if boondocking is not your style, be sure that the battery bank and the inverter that support the residential refrigerator when not hooked up to electrical power are sufficiently big enough to keep the fridge running as you drive. We have heard of 1,500 watt inverters just not making the grade with a big residential fridge (2,000 watts was needed). Or, just turn the fridge off and keep it closed until you get where you are going. Of course, residential refrigerators are not designed to be turned on and off frequently.

Lastly, the fabulous thing about a big, shiny, 22 cubic foot stainless steel residential refrigerator is that it can hold a ton of food. There will be no more turf wars between the beer and the veggies (gosh, would we ever love that!).

However, all that food weighs a lot, and big fridges often become storage places for old containers of food you’ll never eat. If you are buying a full-time fifth wheel that is skinny on its Cargo Carrying Capacity, then a huge refrigerator that can hold lots of food may push you into possession wars between food, tools and clothes in the closet.

On the bright side, a residential refrigerator is much less prone to failure than an RV fridge, and in the rare event that you have to replace one, it could easily cost thousands less than an RV fridge.

I Like the Fifth Wheel But I Don’t Really Like That Couch!

While it’s ideal to find a rig that has furniture you totally love, a fifth wheel trailer is just a box — floor, walls and ceiling — and any residential furniture can be put in that box. We have replaced both our dinette chairs and our recliners in the course of living in our fifth wheel all these years, and last week we replaced the couch!

Storage benches in RV dinette add comfort and storage space-min

The old chairs were elegant, but these cushy benches are much more comfortable.
Plus they give us more storage space!

Here are blog posts about some of the changes we’ve made to our furnishings:

Add Storage and Seating Capacity at your RV Dinette!

Can You Sell Old Stuff on Craigslist in the RV Lifestyle? Replacing our Recliners!

We also replaced our mattress with a fancy Simmons Beautyrest mattress.

RV DEPRECIATION

After all this discussion of what to look for in a fifth wheel trailer for full-time living, it is important to remember that the brand new fifth wheel you buy today will be worth about half of what you paid for it ten years from now. If it is well maintained it might be worth a smidge more. If it isn’t, it may be worth less.

What’s worse, the fact that it was lived in full-time rather than kept in a garage and never touched will turn many prospective buyers away or make them hit you up with a low offer.

RV Depreciation over time

Hmmm…. An RV’s value declines with time.

On the flip side, going RVing full-time is a dream, and it’s hard and maybe even unfair to put a price on your dreams.

If you have the funds and you can spend a lot on a rapidly depreciating fifth wheel trailer without crippling your finances later in life, definitely go for it.

What could be better than casting off on a dreamy new lifestyle in a dreamy new RV?

No matter what you buy, negotiate hard. You are in the driver’s seat — until you are in the driver’s seat! Many mass-market manufacturers anticipate selling for about 70% of MSRP. Others are closer to 80%.

If you go custom, well, you’re be paying for the very finest of the finest. So, the focus will be on getting exactly what you want rather than haggling over the price. With a custom rig you get what you ask for… so be knowledgeable and smart about what you ask for!

If you aren’t sure of you future finances, and you aren’t sure if you’ll like the full-time RV lifestyle, and/or you aren’t sure if you’d prefer a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome as your house on wheels, consider getting a cheaper model or a used trailer to start.

We understand this dilemma well. We would LOVE to have a new trailer now. After all, ours is ten years old and shows a lot of wear. But…

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL?

The rig you live in is just part of the equation of putting together that champagne lifestyle of full-time RV travel. The real reason most folks run away in an RV is because they want to get out and see something of this continent, get to know the different regions of our country and of our neighbors’ countries, and knock a few travel destinations off their bucket list.

Appalachian Mountains RV Trip Coast to Coast Magazine Summer 2017-min

Our cover photo for our Coast to Coast magazine article about the Appalachian Mountains
Summer 2017 issue

The options of places to visit are limitless, and we’ve got 10 years worth of travel tales on this website that tell the stories of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been since 2007.

I’ve also written a lot of articles for Trailer Life Magazine showcasing different parts of the country that make for an enjoyable RV destination.

Georgia On Their Minds Trailer Life Magazine September 2017-min

The Antebellum Trail in Georgia is a terrific RV route for folks heading north/south through Georgia.
Trailer Life Magazine – September 2017. Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

A few of these feature articles have turned up in Trailer Life over the past few months and can be read at these links: Georgia on Their Minds, The Quaint Side of Canada, and Downeast Maine. Images of the first two pages of each article are below.

I also have a bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life that showcases a beautiful photo of a gorgeous spot along with a few words about what makes that place special. My most recent columns have focused on: The Rocky Mountain Beach Town of McCall Idaho and a Forest on Fire – Fall Colors in Colorado.

Trailer Life Magazine is a monthly national magazine and it offers not only mouth-watering photos and stories of places to take your trailer, but it also devotes a lot of pages to technical issues that trailer owners face.

Nova Scotia RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine July 2017-min

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is tops on many RVers’ lists
Trailer Life Magazine – July 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

The technical editorial staff at Trailer Life is both very knowledgeable and very meticulous about ensuring what they discuss and review is accurate.

I have written a lot of technical articles for Trailer Life, from discussing RV roof maintenance to RV dump station tips to an article about the 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and one about the new puck based OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches.

Downeast Maine RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine June 2017-min

Downeast Maine is a hidden jewel north and east of famous Acadia National Park
Trailer Life Magazine – June 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

I have always been amazed at the extensive review process and discussion process that each of these technical article has undergone. Every little minute detail is reviewed for accuracy, sometimes spawning some lively debates.

There are a gazillion RV blogs out there that make for super fun reading and research and learning, but there is something to be said for a magazine that has been in print for over 75 years. Some people on the team have been with the magazine nearly half that time!

Trailer Life is hard to find on newsstands these days. New Camping World members receive a few issues as part of their membership (or they can get Motorhome Magazine if driveable RVs are more to their liking). If you get an annual subscription at the link below, you’ll see the article I’m working on about “first-timer” fifth wheels when it comes out!

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

Have you been shopping for a full-timing fifth wheel? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Boondocking in an RV-min

There are loads of fifth wheels on the market that would make a fine full-time home. Enjoy the search!

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Choosing a Trailer for Full-time RVing: Cargo Carrying Capacity

The other day we found ourselves at a fabulous RV dealership in Missoula, Montana: Bretz RV and Marine on I-90. This is a huge place that has a mammoth inventory of trailers and motorhomes that spills over several lots. What a great spot to go RV shopping!

We LOVE RV shopping and have been at it since before we started traveling full-time!

But what brought us here? Well, the 99 cents per gallon propane deal they are offering was one thing, and the free and extremely well laid out RV dump station was another. What a place!

Bretz RV & Marine Free RV Dump Station and 99 cent propane

A free dump and ultra cheap propane brought us to a very cool RV dealership in Montana

After we’d dumped and gotten our propane, we decided to have a look around the RV lots and check out some of the very pretty RVs. Bretz has an enormous selection of Airstream trailers, and we got a huge kick out of seeing a few up close. Beautiful!

Airstream Travel Trailer RV

How fun it was to prowl around these classic Airstream trailers.

I have written a little about what to look for in an RV for full-time living, and one of the things that a lot of new RVers don’t realize when they go shopping is how important it is to get a trailer with an adequate Cargo Carrying Capacity.

Cargo Carrying Capacity is the difference between what the RV weighs when there is nothing in it (the “Unloaded Vehicle Weight” or UVW) and what it weighs when you have loaded it down with all of your personal belongings plus food, water and propane as well as upgrades like solar power, washer/dryer, a big battery bank, a generator, a bike rack and bikes, etc., (the “Gross Vehicle Weight” or GVW).

It is important not to exceed the Cargo Carrying Capacity!

If you do, then you’ve gone over the trailer’s GVWR (“Gross Vehicle Weight Rating”) which is the maximum safe weight for the trailer when it is fully loaded.

On older trailers the GVWR is posted on a sticker that is placed on the outside of the trailer up near the front on the driver’s side. On newer trailers there is usually another sticker that indicates the Cargo Carrying Capacity.

Fifth wheel trailer cargo carrying capacity sticker

A sticker for the trailer’s weight capacities is usually on the driver’s side up by the hitch.

A few weeks after we moved into our 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer back in 2008, we took it to a truck scale. We reported on this blog at the time that it weighed 13,850 lbs. This was close to the trailer’s GVWR of 13,995, but not over.

Phew!! We had lived in it a very short time and had filled the cabinets only 1/3 of the way!

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

Right after moving into our new fifth wheel in 2008 we hopped on a scale to see what it weighed.

After we finished our sailing cruise of Mexico in 2013, we had to squeeze our lives back into our trailer, and we had a tough time getting rid of all the wonderful things we’d picked up from sailing.

So we had our trailer weighed using the Escapees Smartweigh Program at the Escapees RV park at North Ranch near Wickenburg, Arizona. Our trailer had gained 250 lbs. and now weighed 14,100 lbs. The weight on our rear axles was 11,250 lbs.

The trailer was built with two 7,000 lb. axles. It also came from the factory with E-rated (10-ply) tires that were rated to carry 3,032 lbs. apiece, or 6,084 lbs. per pair on an axle.

When it comes to GAWR (“Gross Axle Weight Rating”), the axles are rated according to the weaker component, whether it is the axles or the tires. So our GAWR was 6,084 lbs. due to the E-rated tires. However, by upgrading to G-rated (14 ply) tires that are rated to carry 3,960 lbs. each, or 7,920 lbs. all together, the weak link became the axles themselves rather than the tires. So our GAWR was now 7,000 lbs. due to the axles.

Either way, the 11,250 lbs. actual weight we had on our axles was well within both the original axle rating of 12,780 lbs for the pair (6,084 per axle x 2 axles = 12,780) and the new axle rating of 14,000 lbs for the pair (7,000 per axle x 2 axles = 14,000 lbs).

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

In 2013 we began to worry about the battle of the bulge.

Our Escapees Smartweigh weighing revealed that our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck was overloaded. After we upgraded to our new 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually, we went to a truck scale two more times to see how we were doing.

We knew the trailer weight was well within the towing capacities of the new truck, but we had had to replace a trailer axle in August 2015 and then replace the entire trailer suspension (ugh!) in October of 2015. Needless to say, we were concerned about the weight on the trailer axles.

When the trailer was weighed this time around, the weight on the trailer axles had increased to 11,600 lbs., 350 lbs. higher than two years earlier, but still well within the limits of the 14,000 lbs. that the axles and tires could carry.

Discussing the weight of a fifth wheel trailer RV

Mark gets the low-down on our truck and trailer weights.

We didn’t weigh the truck and trailer separately, so we don’t have a figure for the overall trailer weight yet. However, my suspicion is that the extra 350 lbs. on the axles means our 14,100 lb. overall trailer weight has increased by 350 lbs. to about 14,450 or so. This means the trailer is 455 lbs. or so over the its GVWR of 13,995 lbs.

Living light in a fifth wheel RV trailer

Despite having many cabinets that are only partially full, our trailer is over its weight limit!

Besides being overweight, we’ve learned something important from this.

The UVWR (“Unloaded Vehicle Weight Rating”) on our trailer is 10,556 lbs. Since 13,995 GVWR – 10,556 UVW = 3,439, this means the Cargo Carrying Capacity of our trailer is 3,439 lbs. That’s a little above average for most fifth wheel trailers.

However, if our trailer’s true weight is now 14,450 lbs., then the cargo we are actually carrying weighs 3,894 lbs (because 14,450 True Weight – 10,556 UVW = 3,894 Actual Cargo Weight).

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

A few weeks ago (in March 2016) we were back on the scales again.

So, what this means is that for us to live in our trailer comfortably over a period of many years, as we have done, we need a trailer with a Cargo Carrying Capacity of around 4,000 lbs. Other RVers may have different requirements.

Frankly, if we were to buy a new trailer, we would be looking for a Cargo Carrying Capacity of at least 5,000 lbs.

We dry camp 100% of the time, so we always tow the trailer with the fresh water tank full (since we will need a full tank when we set up camp). Water weighs 8.3 lbs. per gallon. So, our 70 gallons in the fresh water tank and 10 gallons in the hot water heater, weigh 664 lbs.

Our waste tanks are empty when we travel.

RVers who don’t dry camp at all can travel with as little as 20 gallons or so of water all together between the fresh water tank and hot water heater, or 166 lbs. of water weight instead of 664 lbs. like we have.

So, what does all this have to do with our RV window shopping at Bretz RV & Marine the other day?

Well, whenever we go RV window shopping, we routinely check the weight capacity sticker on every trailer we look at, because overall GVWR and Cargo Carrying Capacity are just as important to us as the kitchen and living room layout. And while we were checking out cool new trailers, we got a big surprise…

I LOVE little trailers, and I was smitten by a sweet tear drop trailer called the Little Guy Rough Rider.

Little Guy Rough Rider Travel Trailer

The Rough Rider – How Adorable!!

What a fun little trailer! It even has a cute saying on the back…

Little Guy Tear Drop Trailer I Go Where I'm Towed To

“I Go Where I’m Towed To” — Funny, that’s what Mark says!!

We also really liked a big Redwood fifth wheel.

Redwood Fifth Wheel RV with 5 slide-outs two doors

A beautiful Redwood fifth wheel trailer caught our attention.

It was a monster with two exterior doors and five slides. Wow!!

Redwood Fifth Wheel with five slides

This big beautiful baby has two exterior doors and five slides!!

Well, which one do you think can carry a heavier load — the little weekend trailer that is just a bed on wheels with a wee mini-kitchen on the back, ideal for summer camping, or the big “full-time,” four season fifth wheel trailer that might replace someone’s house??

Ahem, not the trailer you’d think.

The stickers on these two trailers gave the following:

Rough Rider Teardrop Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity: 1,925 lbs.
Redwood Full-timer Fifth Wheel Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity: 1,876 lbs.

Little Guy Rough Rider Travel Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity

The weights capacity sticker for the teardrop trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,925

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

Weights capacity sticker for the big beautiful fifth wheel trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.

Wow!

Reeling from this sticker shock, we wandered around the RV dealership lot a little more and found a wonderful big fifth wheel toy hauler.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV front

Curious about cargo carrying capacities for toy haulers, we checked out this big trailer.

This triple axle behemoth had three slides and was built to carry big toys with motors, like ATVs, motorcycles, and other goodies.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV

Three slides and three axles — ready to go do some ATV adventuring in style!!

Like all toyhaulers, it had a big door in the back that would drop down to become a ramp so you could roll out on your ATV or motorcycle with ease.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV Rear

The back has a huge door that drops down to form a ramp so you can ride out!

So this big guy was built to haul a big load, right?

Well, not exactly. It has a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 2,302 lbs. That is just a little more than the Little Guy Rough Rider teardrop!

The sticker on this toy hauler makes it very clear that when the trailer’s fresh water tank and hot water tank are both full, then the Cargo Carrying Capacity drops to 1,372 lbs.

So, your clothes, food, generator, on-board gas tank, propane tanks and your big toys like your ATV or motorcycle can’t weigh more than 1,372 lbs. all together if you wish to dry camp. If you are going to get hookups, then your limit will be 2,302 lbs., still a very tight squeeze if your toys weigh a few hundred pounds.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

If this toy hauler is towed with empty water and waste tanks, it can carry 2,302 lbs.
If the fresh and hot water tanks are full and waste tanks are empty, it can hold just 1,372 lbs.

I’m not advocating one RV brand over another or knocking any particular RV brand with this info. Far from it! These specs and stickers come from random trailers that appealed to us and that happened to be on the dealership lot the day we were there.

When we have wandered through other RV dealership lots in different states at other times, we have discovered that many very popular brands have similar specs.

Florence Coffee Kiosk next to Bretz RV & Marine

Need a pick-me-up after looking at all those trailers and calculating all those numbers?
There’s a great little coffee kiosk next door to Bretz RV & Marine!

The important thing is that if you are shopping for a trailer that you are going to tow a lot, you should try to estimate how much weight you will put into it, including however much fresh water it will have in it when you hitch up. Then make sure the trailer you buy has sufficient cargo carrying capacity.

Unsure what your stuff weighs?

You can use a bathroom scale to get a rough estimate of what your clothes weigh by putting your laundry basket on it or weighing yourself holding your laundry basket and subtracting out your weight. You can also grab a bunch of clothes/jackets on hangers and do the same thing.

Likewise after a big grocery shopping spree — weigh yourself holding bunches of bags of groceries before you put it all away. Then look at what you already have in the fridge and pantry. The same can be done with pots and pans, dishware, tools, shoes, bikes etc. And don’t forget any upgrades you plan to do to the trailer after you buy it.

Or use our numbers as a guideline. We still haven’t filled all the shelves in our fifth wheel!

Happy shopping!!

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Go Cheap, Go Small, Go NOW!! Have Fun & LEARN in a Small RV

A few weeks ago we camped in Sedona, Arizona, with two good friends who own popup campers. We were reminded how much fun these little trailers can be and how much we learned in the two years we owned ours before we started RVing full-time in our first big trailer.

If you are thinking about RVing full-time sometime down the road, a year or more from now, the most valuable thing you can do in the meantime is buy a little rig and go play. There is no better way to learn about RVing than to go out and do it, and a small RV provides an awesome introduction.

You can trade in the little rig for a bigger one when you are ready to take the plunge and go full-time.

RV camping in Sedona Arizona

We camped in our fifth wheel with good friends who have two different styles of popup campers.

We owned our popup for two years and spent every possible weekend and vacation in it before we started full-timing. We towed it all over the place. It was routine for us to travel 300 miles with it for a long weekend or to tow it 1,500 miles on a week’s vacation.

Popup camper tent trailer RV

A popup tent trailer folds up small and opens up to be a nice sized rig with beds on each end.

Before we even knew what full-time RVing was, we had already learned a lot about the RV lifestyle from camping in our popup.

We dry camped in it most of the time, so we learned little things like exactly how much water we typically used in a day, and how to take a one gallon shower. We made all kinds of classic rookie mistakes as we tried to keep our battery charged, and we figured out how to “live small” and cook in a dollhouse sized kitchen.

The surprising thing is that our popup camper had many of the same basic systems as our current fifth wheel trailer that we now live in year round. It had DC lights, a propane RV fridge, 26 gallons of water, including a 6 gallon propane hot water heater, a water pump and a propane furnace. It had a shower and a two burner propane stove, and it could hook up to shore power for electricity and to a city water connection for water.

Popup tent trailer RV and campfire

Home sweet home!

It even had one thing our current RV doesn’t have: a king size bed!

There were two things it didn’t have. One was a toilet. When we bought it, we knew we’d be camping in campgrounds, and they always have toilets, so we decided that rather than give up precious space in the trailer for a toilet and have to deal with dumping it, we’d just use the campground toilets instead

It also didn’t have an air conditioner. We knew we’d be camping in places where we wouldn’t need one, so why pay for something we wouldn’t need?!

Toyota Tundra towing a popup camper

A popup trailer is small and easy to tow and fits in the garage!

The fun thing about running around in a little RV is that you can can go almost anywhere the Big Rigs go and get a taste of living a nomadic lifestyle without spending a fortune.

We took our popup camper to some wonderful RV parks and hooked up to electricity and water just like the big fifth wheels and motorhomes. We stayed in RV parks in San Diego (right on the water – wow!), and the Bay Area in California (in a cool wooded area not too far from the city), in the Moab Utah area where we bicycled in the red rocks, and in New Mexico, where we bicycled in the mountains.

Chalet and Popup tent trailer RV

Our friends have two styles of popup: an A-frame (smaller & lighter) and a tent trailer (big beds on each end)

Camping in these RV parks gave us a chance to wander around the loops and meet people that were experienced RVers. We’d talk with them about their rig, find out what they liked and didn’t like about it, and we’d get their advice for what to look for if we ever wanted a bigger RV (we had NO idea we ever would!) and we’d get suggestions for where to travel with our little popup.

We learned about full-timing, and we learned about work camping, and we discovered a world we’d never known anything about. We supplemented that education with online research and magazine subscriptions, but there is no better way to understand an RV’s systems than to use them, and no better way to understand the RV lifestyle than to live it.

Chalet folding trailer RV

This is a Chalet A-frame, and it has a twin bed, a dinette that folds into a full size bed and kitchen.
The beauty of an A-frame is it’s light enough to be towed easily by a minivan.

Lots of people email me expressing interest in going full-time and some express interest in boondocking too. These are big steps, and having as much first-hand experience as possible before you jump in is a really good idea. Online resources are great, but they are limited and only go so far.

If you haven’t done much tent camping, and you dream of camping in the wild, learning how to dry camp in a cheap, small, rolling box is a wonderful way to start. It’s a lot of fun, and it will teach you what to look for when you buy a bigger rig, and more importantly, it will help you decide if it’s something you enjoy before you make a big commitment and turn your life upside down.

Boondocking is basically glorified tent camping in a fancy rolling box.

If you are interested in solar power, you can learn all about it for just a few hundred dollars with a folding solar panel kit and an inverter. The batteries on a popup are right there on the trailer tongue. So, it’s easy to see what’s going on!

Before you go full-time, you can sell the solar panel the kit, either with the little trailer or without!

Popup Camper Moab Utah

Here’s a pretty campsite in Utah’s red rocks.

The transition to full-time RVing is a lot less stressful if you are an experienced RVer already. It’s not a requirement, and plenty of people jump right into living in an RV without ever having used one before, but I think that having hands-on experience is the best way to go.

The wonderful thing about getting a little “starter” RV and playing with it for a while before going full-time — besides all the fun you’ll have — is that the mistakes you make don’t cost much, and you haven’t got a lot at risk.

Popup camper Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia

Here’s another a great camping spot — on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia

If you don’t like it, you can sell it.

If you DO like it but have some unexpected repairs, they won’t break the bank and you won’t be trying to live in it while it’s being fixed.

Best of all, you can go home after every excursion and take a long hot shower, wash your clothes in your own washing machine, and you can savor your photos and your memories in the comfort of your big living room, all things that will no longer be possible once you commit to the RV lifestyle full-time.

Another great thing about a little RV is that if you have a small budget you can use it to live your full-time travel dreams.

A few weeks ago we camped next to a couple in their early 40’s who are a river rafting and white water kayaking guide (him) and a mountain biking guide (her). They live in a 17′ travel trailer, and they absolutely love it.

They boondock full-time with the seasons as their jobs move between Colorado and Arizona. The trailer is a huge upgrade for them. They lived in a tent for a few years until this past October when they bought the trailer.

Summerland Travel Trailer by Springdale

A river rafting guide and mountain biking guide love living in this 17′ travel trailer.

We’ve known a lot of 40-somethings over the years who lived in much fancier digs, with granite counter tops and sleek cars in the driveway. But they weren’t happy with their lives. It was enlightening and motivating and inspiring to spend time with these two people who had decided fifteen-plus years ago, right out of college, that they wanted to spend their days doing what they loved, even if it meant having a very simple home.

We’ve also met people living in a popup tent trailer and a half-ton pickup camper.

So, for those who think a nomadic lifestyle is out of reach financially, it just depends on how you want to live.

Our friends Rich and Mary bought our popup camper from us when we went full-time nearly nine years ago. While Rich was setting up camp, he let me take pics of the process so I could show you just how easy it is to set up a popup tent camper.

Here are the steps:

First you crank it up with a cranking tool that comes with the trailer.

Cranking up a popup tent trailer at campsite

First, crank up the roof all the way.

Popup tent trailer roof cranked up for camping

The roof is fully raised but the bed slides are still inside the trailer.

Then you pull out the bed slides on either side. Each slide locks into place in the open position.

Sliding out a bed slide in popup camper trailer RV

Pull out the bed slide at each end. In many models one or both beds is a King.

Then you put the support struts in place. While traveling, these are latched under the bed sllides. Once the bed slide is opened, just hook the end onto a latch on the frame.

Support struts for bed slide in popup camper RV

Attach the supports for the bed slide.

Popup tent trailer roof bed slide out for camping

The bed slide is in place but the canvas tent isn’t propped up yet.

Then go inside and remove anything that’s hogging up space. Rich stores his solar panel inside while traveling, so he takes it out at this point.

Popup tent trailer RV solar panel

Bring out whatever is stored inside: solar panel, camp chairs, patio mat, etc.

This popup camper — a 2005 Fleetwood Colonial — has a slick lower half door that folds down to become the entrance step. There are lots of designs out there, but this is common in the old Fleetwood lineup.

Setting up the door in a folding tent trailer RV

Fold down the entry step.

Popup camper trailer RV Setting up the door

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Now remove the door from its travel spot where it is suspended from the ceiling and put it in place using the velcro strips on either side. The door and its frame are one unit, so the hinging is solid, but it stands upright in place using latches and velcro.

Door in place folding tent trailer RV

Lower the door from the ceiling and press it into place along the velcro strip on the canvas.

Now open up the canvas above each bed. There is a special support rod that hooks in place that holds up the center of the canvas roof over the bed and gives it its shape.

Inside popup tent trailer RV queen size bed slide

Prop up the canvas over each bed with the support rod
You can hang things from the loop – a lantern, fruit basket, whatever.

Popup tent trailer RV queen size bed slide

The canvas over the bed slide is fully opened.

Now crank down the landing jacks. These give the camper floor a bit of rigidity as you move around inside. The interior isn’t huge — it’s just a 10′ by 8′ box or so — but you can walk around. Having the landing legs down keeps the floor solid.

Cranking down the stabilizer jacks in popup camper trailer RV

Lower the landing jacks.

Last of all, set up the gray tank. This is a bucket outside the back of the trailer! If you want to see exactly how much water you use to wash dishes, there it is!

Popup camper gray water tank

Set up the gray water tank (this popup camper doesn’t have a toilet).

The shower is a shower wand on the back of the popup camper. We just wore bathing suits and stood on interlocking rubber mats. If you are more modest than that, you can set up a shower enclosure.

We didn’t have any kind of solar gear when we owned our popup. We used a battery charger in our garage to charge the batteries before we’d go on a trip, and that was it. We learned really quickly how to be conservative with electricity.

Rich decided to install a second battery on the trailer tongue. He also bought a solar panel and had it wired so it could be connected to the batteries easily.

Another super easy alternative is to get one of the portable suitcase solar panel kits that is designed for RV use.

You can also run heavy gauge wire from the batteries to an 800 or 1,000 watt inverter located inside the popup and then run a power strip from the inverter to a handy place in the rig so you can charge your phone or laptop or run a small appliance.

Popup tent trailer with RV solar power

Put out the patio mat, raise the awning and set up the solar panel. Done!

What a fabulous rig!!

If you are looking forward to having big RV adventures on the road someday in the future, make that “someday” be today! Go out and get a cool little RV and have a blast.

Popup tent trailers like ours are a little heavier (the GVWR is 3,000 lbs.), so both we and Rich bought Toyota Tundra pickups to tow it. An A-frame popup is lighter, because there are no bed slides, so our friend Mark tows his with a minivan.

More info and links for specific popup camper manufacturers below.

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Dodge Ram 3500 Dually Truck – Best RV Fifth Wheel Trailer Towing

Choosing a truck to pull a trailer is a critical decision for RVers, because getting there, and particularly getting there safely, is the first and most important part of enjoying the RV lifestyle! Towing specs and towing guidelines always give the outer limits of what a truck can safely tow. Too often, in towing situations, the trailer is a little too big for the truck, or the truck is a little too small for the trailer, pushing the truck right to its outer safety limits or beyond.

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

The 2016 Ram 3500 Dually is an awesomely powerful truck for towing big and heavy trailers

The truck-trailer combo may be just a little out of spec on paper, so it may seem okay, like you can get away with it, but it is a really unwise decision. Not only is it absolutely no fun to drive a truck that is screaming its little heart out to tow the load its tied to, but if you have an accident and it is determined your truck was towing a load that is beyond its safety limits, you will be liable.

Heaven forbid that there is a fatality in the accident — either yours or someone else’s. There are lots of horror stories out there of people’s lives that were transformed because someone decided not to get a truck that could tow their trailer safely.

Of course, truck and trailer salesmen don’t help. We have heard time and again, “That truck is fine for this trailer,” or “This trailer will be no problem for that truck.” Don’t listen to them! Trust your instincts and your gut feelings. If you are studying the specs and are nervous that your truck *might* be too small because your trailer puts it on the hairy edge of its specs, then you need a bigger truck or a smaller trailer.

2016 Ram 3500 diesel pickup dually truck

We have been amazed at the huge difference between our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel and this new 2016 Ram 3500 dually

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Sizing a Truck and Trailer for Safe Towing

This article covers all the specifications we studied and were concerned about when we placed the order for our 2016 Ram 3500 truck to tow our 14,100 lb. 5th wheel trailer. You can navigate to the various sections with these links:

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The Trade-In – 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed diesel truck with 6.7 liter Cummins engine

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When we bought our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel long bed diesel truck with the 6.7 liter Cummins engine, its purpose was to tow a 7,000 lb. (fully loaded) 2007 Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer. Our 2004 Toyota Tundra (4.7 liter engine) had been okay to tow that trailer on paper, but when we took it on its first mountain excursion up and over Tioga Pass on the eastern side of Yosemite in California, it could not go faster than 28 mph with the gas pedal all the way to the floor. What a scary, white knuckle drive that was. Who needs that?

2004 Toyota Tundra towing 2007 Fleetwood Lynx Travel Trailer 27'

Our ’04 Toyota Tundra half-ton pickup rests as it tries to tow our 27′ travel trailer over Tioga Pass… sigh.

We replaced the Toyota Tundra with a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 which was rated to tow much bigger trailers than the little Lynx travel trailer, so all was good with that small travel trailer. However, within a year, we upgraded our trailer from the lightweight Fleetwood Lynx to a full-time quality, four season, 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker LS II fifth wheel trailer that the scales told us was 14,100 lbs. fully loaded. Suddenly, our big beefy diesel truck was at its outer limits!

Dodge Ram 3500 towing a fifth wheel trailer boondocking

Our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 tows our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer

We drove our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 and 36′ fifth wheel combo for seven years without a mishap, but it was not an ideal situation. The truck would strain in the mountains and would wander in strong cross winds on the highway. We installed a K&N Cold Air Intake Filter and an Edge Evolution Diesel tuner which helped the engine breathe better and increased its power (see our Edge Evolution Tuner Review), and we installed a Timbren Suspension Enhancement System to keep the truck from sagging when hitched to the trailer. But the frame of the truck and the transmission were still stressed by the heavy load on steep inclines.

We wanted a truck that was well within its towing limits and that could tow our trailer effortlessly.

TRUCK and TRAILER WEIGHT RATINGS

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The weight ratings for trucks and trailers are an alphabet soup of confusion that takes a little imagination to grasp. Here’s a synopsis:

UVW Unloaded Vehicle Weight The weight of the vehicle without fuel, people and stuff
GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating The heaviest weight the vehicle can safely be when it is loaded up with fuel, people and stuff
GCWR Gross Combined Weight Rating The most a truck-and-trailer combo can safely weigh when hitched together and loaded up with people, fuel, food, etc
Payload The GVWR less the UVW The amount of weight the truck can safely carry. Compare to the trailer’s Pin Weight
PW Pin Weight The actual weight on the truck’s rear axle when a trailer is hitched up. Compare to the Payload

The Pin Weight is most easily visualized by first imagining yourself standing on a bathroom scale and making a note of your weight. Then your teenage kid walks up and puts his arms around your neck and hangs on your shoulder. The weight on the scale goes up a little bit, but not a huge amount, because your kid is still standing on the floor on his own two feet. The more he leans on you, the more weight the scale shows.

The difference between the weight the scale shows when your kid is hanging on your shoulder and the weight it shows when you’re by yourself is the “pin weight.” In the case of you and your kid, the “pin weight” might be 30 lbs.

5th wheel trailer and Ram 3500 dually truck hitched up towing

The Pin Weight is the weight of the trailer at the hitch pin, a value that has to be calculated.

The following chart shows the factory safety weight ratings given by Chrysler and NuWa and the actual weights for our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 truck and ’07 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker 5th Wheel trailer. We had our rig weighed by the Escapees Smart Weigh program at their North Ranch RV Park in Wickenburg, Arizona. This is a detailed, wheel by wheel, RV specific method of weighing.

Our truck, when loaded, carries fuel, 24 gallons of water, a generator and BBQ, the fifth wheel hitch, several leveling boards, two huge bins of “stuff” and ourselves, as well as the pin weight of the trailer. So, even though the pin weight itself was within tolerance on our ’07 Dodge 3500, all that other stuff made the truck way overweight. Moving those things to the trailer would clog our fifth wheel basement and would just make the trailer way overweight instead.

2007 Dodge Ram 3500 SRW (Single Rear Wheel) Truck

UVW GVWR GCWR Payload/Pin Weight
Rating 7,147 10,100 21,000 2,953
Actual 8,025* 10,850 22,125 2,850

* LOADED with passengers, fuel and cargo but not towing

2007 NuWa Hitchhiker 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer

UVW GVWR
Rating 10,556 13,995
Actual 14,100
2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck payload is 6,000 lbs

Besides the pin weight, our truck carries spare water, a heavy hitch, leveling boards, and generator.
And there’s more stuff plus ourselves in the cab!

We improved our trailer’s cargo carrying capacity by upgrading from E rated tires to G rated tires and by revamping the suspension completely (I have not yet written about that project). So, even though some elements of the trailer frame are still at the spec limit, we have some leeway with our trailer in those places where the rubber meets the road.

The truck, however, was over its limit for both GVWR and GCWR, and it was pushed nearly to its max when towing.

The 2007 Ram 3500 towing guide is here: 2007 Dodge Ram Trucks Towing Guide. Our truck is on p. 20, on the 2nd to last line. Search for this text: “D1 8H42 (SRW)” (you can copy and paste it from here).

 

DIESEL TRUCKS ON THE MARKET

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There are three brands of big diesel pickup trucks on the market: Chevy/GMC, Ford and Dodge. People have lots of brand loyalty when it comes to diesel trucks, and the bottom line is it’s pointless to get into a religious war over truck manufacturers. That said, the following are our personal opinions and there is no offense intended to anyone who loves a particular brand.

GMC makes the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra which both have the Chevy Duramax 6.6 liter engine and the Allison transmission. The Allison transmission is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.

FORD makes the Super Duty series of trucks which have Ford built engines and transmissions. Ford has modified its Power Stroke engine several times since the early 2000’s. The current engine is a 6.7 liter engine and it has performed well. Earlier models, the 6.0 liter engine and 6.4 liter engine, both had significant problems and were less reliable.

CHRYSLER makes the Ram series of trucks which have the Cummins 6.7 liter engine and Aisin transmission. The Cummins engine is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.

With the late model Ram trucks there are two models of 6 speed automatic transmissions to choose from. The 68RFE transmission was the only one available for our ’07 Dodge, and we found it developed problems over time (before our installation of the K&N Cold Air Intake and Edge tuner). It stuttered on climbs and didn’t always shift smoothly. The new (in 2013) Aisin AS69RC transmission is much more rugged and reliable and is now available as an option in the Ram Trucks lineup.

Dodge Ram 3500 diesel dually truck

All three big diesel truck brands are good. After much research and many test drives, we chose the Ram 3500.

PICKUP TRUCK SIZES

All trucks are categorized into eight weight classes, from Class 1 (lightest) to Class 8 (heaviest) according to their GVWR. Pickup trucks fall into the smallest (lowest) three classes:

Class GVWR
Class 1 0 – 6,000 lbs
Class 2 6,001 – 10,000 lbs
Class 3 10,001 – 14,000 lbs

All three classes of pickups are referred to as “light duty” trucks, as compared to dump trucks and semi tractor-trailers in the higher “medium duty” and “heavy duty” classes. Within the pickup truck market, however, they are referred to as “Pickups” (Class 1), “Full Size Pickups” (Class 2) and “Heavy Duty Pickups” (Class 3). So, even though a large diesel pickup is marketed as “heavy duty,” it is not technically a heavy duty truck. It’s just a heavy duty pickup. This may be obvious to many, but sure had me confused at first glance.

When we were first time truck buyers shopping for a truck to pull our popup tent trailer, the advertising made the ’04 Toyota Tundra look like it was a heavy duty towing monster that could pull a mountain right across a valley. But it is not so! Pickups come in all sizes.

Dodge Ram truck grill and Toyota Tundra truck grill

Toyota Tundra and Ram 3500 — Which one is the towing monster?

Pickup truck sizes are referred to as “half-ton” “three-quarter ton” and “one ton,” and they are numbered accordingly:

Size Ford Chevy/Dodge
Half-ton 150 1500
Three-quarter ton 250 2500
One ton 350 3500

Ford also mass markets 450, 550 and larger pickups. Some people make custom Chevy and Dodge trucks in those sizes too, but they don’t come from the factories that way.

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck with fifth wheel trailer at campground

Ensuring the tow ratings of the truck are well beyond the actual weight of the trailer is essential.

For reference, a ton is 2,000 lbs. The truck naming convention comes from the original payloads these trucks could carry when they were first introduced decades ago. Back in those days, a half-ton truck could carry 1,000 lbs. (half a ton) in the bed of the truck. A three-quarter ton could carry 1,500 lbs and a big one ton truck could carry 2,000 lbs.

In 1918 Chevy had a very cute half-ton pickup that was basically a car with sturdy rear springs. By the mid-1930’s pickups came with factory installed box style beds, and a 1937 Chevy half-ton truck went on a 10,245 mile drive around the US with a 1,060 lb. load in the bed. It got 20.74 miles to the gallon!

As the payload capacities increased, the manufacturers assigned model numbers that corresponded to the weights the trucks could carry. But technology advances never quit!

2016 Ram 3500 dually and 36' fifth wheel trailer RV

Our 2016 Ram 3500 dually can tow this trailer with one hand tied behind its back.

Since those early times, truck and engine designs have improved dramatically, and the payloads modern trucks can carry now is significantly higher. For instance, the payload of a 2016 Toyota Tundra, a half-ton truck, is 1,430 to 2,060 lbs., depending on the options, making it essentially a “one ton” truck. The payload of a 2016 Dodge Ram diesel can be as high as 6,170 lbs. (and even higher for the gas HEMI version), making the 3500 model more of a “three ton” truck than a one ton.

In the modern trucks, the major difference between a three quarter ton 250/2500 truck and a one ton 350/3500 truck is the beefiness in the rear end suspension for supporting a heavy payload, that is, the number of leaf springs on the rear axle. In our opinion, if you are going to spend the money to buy a three quarter ton truck for towing purposes, you might as well spend the tiny incremental extra few bucks to buy a one ton.

LONG BED vs. SHORT BED PICKUPS

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Pickups come with more than one bed size. A “short bed” truck has a box that is a little over 6′ long and a “long bed” truck has a box that is around 8′ long. When a fifth wheel hitch is installed in the bed of a pickup, it is placed so the king pin of the fifth wheel will be over the rear axle. In a short bed truck this leaves less distance between the hitch and the back of the pickup cab than in a long bed truck.

The advantage of a short bed truck is that the two axles are closer together, so the truck can make tighter turns. This is really handy in parking lots and when making u-turns. The truck also takes up less space when it’s parked, again, a big advantage in parking lots.

2016 Ram 3500 diesel truck dually

A long bed truck is less maneuverable when it’s not towing but is preferable for towing a fifth wheel trailer

However, when towing a fifth wheel trailer, there is a risk that the front of the fifth wheel cap will hit the back of the pickup cab when making a tight turn. For this reason, there are special sliding fifth wheel hitches, and some 5th wheel manufacturers make the fifth wheel cap very pointy and even concave on the sides so there’s room enough to ensure the pickup cab doesn’t touch the fifth wheel cap on tight turns.

The advantage of a long bed truck is that not only can it carry more and bigger things in the bed of the truck, but when it is hitched to a fifth wheel trailer, doing a tight turn will not risk the front of the fifth wheel hitting the back of the truck cab.

Also, you can open and close the tailgate when the fifth wheel trailer is hitched up. We can actually walk from one side of our trailer to the other through the gap that’s between the open tailgate and the front of the trailer, even when the truck is cocked in a tight turn.

A long bed truck allows the tailgate to be open when hitched to a fifth wheel trailer

With a long bed, the truck can be at a sharp angle to the trailer and still have the tailgate open.

For folks that use their pickup primarily in non-towing situations and take their fiver out for just a few weekends a year (and stay close to home), a short bed truck is fine. However, in our opinion, if you are going to tow a large fifth wheel frequently, and especially if you are a seasonal or full-time RVer traveling longer distances, a long bed truck is the way to go.

We bought a long bed as our first diesel truck for our little travel trailer, knowing we might eventually get a fifth wheel, even though it takes much more real estate to back a travel trailer into a parking spot with a long bed truck that it does with a short bed truck (because the pivot point on a travel trailer is behind the bumper rather than over the truck axle, forcing the front end to swing exceedingly wide to make a turn).

When we use our truck as a daily driver, even though we always have to park away from the crowd and walk a little further, and we sometimes struggle making u-turns and maneuvering in tight spaces (it takes nearly four lanes to do a U-turn in a long bed pickup without the trailer attached), we have never once regretted having a long bed truck.

SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs. DUAL REAR WHEEL (DUALLY)

In the one ton class of trucks (Ford 350, Chevy/Dodge 3500), there is an additional consideration: single wheels on the rear axle of the truck (“single rear wheel”) or two pairs (“dual rear wheel” or “dually”).

The advantages of a single rear wheel truck are:

  • Only 4 tires to maintain instead of 6
  • Changing a flat will never involve accessing an inner tire under the truck
  • No wide rear fender to worry about at toll booths and drive-through bank windows and fast food windows
  • Easy to jump in and out of the bed of the truck from the side using the rear wheel as a foothold
  • Can handle rough two track roads better because the rear wheels fit neatly into the ruts
  • Gets traction on slick ice, snow and muddy roads better than a dually

The advantages of a dual rear wheel truck (“dually”) are:

  • Wider stance supporting the weight of the king pin (or bumper hitch)
  • Can carry a heavier payload — heavier trailer pin weight and/or bigger slide-in truck camper
  • Much safer if there’s a blowout on one of the rear wheels, and you can still drive (for a while)
2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel and 14K lb. fifth wheel trailer

A dually has a wider stance, providing more stability, and it can handle much more weight in the bed of the truck.

Why do you need to get in and out of the truck bed from the side? Climbing in on the tailgate is great, and there is a very handy foothold at the license plate mount on the 2016 model that is low enough for a short person to reach easily. However, when the truck is hitched to the fifth wheel, it’s not possible to climb in from the tailgate, and sometimes we need to get into the bed of the truck when the fiver is attached!

For instance, we keep 22 gallons of spare water in the bed of the truck in 5.5-gallon jerry jugs. I’m the one who holds the hose in the jugs while Mark goes to the other end of the hose and turns the water on or off at the spigot. We could switch roles, but I like that job!

When we’re hitched up, I have to get into the bed of the truck from the side to get to the water jugs. I plant one foot on the rear tire, and I hoist myself up and over the side. Getting over that fat fender is not so easy with the dually!

When hitching/unhitching, Mark also reaches over the side of the truck to loop the emergency break-away brake cable from the trailer onto the hitch in the truck bed. That way, if the trailer comes unhitched as we’re driving, the quick yank on the small cable (as the trailer breaks free) will engage the trailer’s own brakes as we wave it goodbye behind us.

Obviously, for both of these maneuvers, the width of the dually fender makes reaching into the bed of the truck a whole lot harder. Doing these things on a single rear wheel truck is trifling by comparison!

RESEARCHING SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs DUALLY TRUCKS

Our biggest debate was whether or not we should simply buy a new single rear wheel truck that had the latest engine and drive-train and chassis improvements or if we should take the plunge and get a dually. We do occasional research online, but our preferred method of learning about things in the RV world is to talk to experienced people in person, especially since we are out and about all day long and we enjoy meeting new people.

So, we interviewed every single dually truck owner that we ever saw. For two years! Whenever we saw a dually parked somewhere, we’d look around to see if the owner was anywhere nearby. If so, we’d walk up and ask him about his truck.

Did he like it? What did he tow with it? How long had he had it? Was it his first dually? Did he have trouble maneuvering in tight quarters? Had he towed that same trailer with a single rear wheel truck? How did they compare?

Diesel dually Ram 3500 pickup

We asked lots of people how their dually performed compared to a one ton single rear wheel long bed truck towing the same heavy trailer.

To our astonishment, although we searched for two years for a person who had towed the same large fifth wheel trailer with both a dually and a single rear wheel truck, and we talked to dozens of dually truck owners who had towed all kinds of trailers, we found only one who had towed the same fifth wheel trailer with both styles of truck.

This guy was a rancher with several big cattle and horse trailers as well as a 40′ toy hauler fifth wheel. He’d been towing comparable trailers with single rear wheel long bed trucks for over twenty years. Three years ago he’d switched to a dually, and he said the difference for his toy hauler was night and day. He’d never go back.

Another fellow told us the ranch he worked on had both single rear wheel and dually trucks and that the duallies were used exclusively for the big trailers because they were better tow vehicles.

Fender flare 2016 Ram 3500 dually pickup truck

We LOVED the new, sleek styling on the Ram duallies.
Our biggest questions: is the wide dually fender flare a pain? How does it do at toll booths and drive-through windows?

This was very convincing, but an interesting side tid-bit we learned is that many folks go either dually or single rear wheel when they buy their first diesel truck for a big trailer, and they stick with that type of truck when they replace it. Guys love their trucks, so we heard few complaints, but when folks raved about how their single rear wheel or dually was the ultimate towing machine and that they’d never switch, when pressed for details, we found they didn’t have first-hand experience using the two different types of trucks to tow the same large trailer.

For those looking to conduct their own research, in addition to talking with ranchers and horse owners, one of the best sources of information we found was the trailer transport drivers who drive their own personal trucks to tow both large RV and horse trailers from the manufacturers to the dealerships where they are sold..

 

TEST DRIVES and CHOOSING A TRUCK BRAND

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Our questions would have all been answered in a heartbeat if we could have hitched our trailer onto a dually sitting in a truck dealership lot and towed it up a mountain and on a few back roads. However, that wasn’t possible.

Perhaps in the future, because of the fantastic new hitch puck systems that can be factory installed in pickups these days, dealerships will decide to keep one of the nifty B&W OEM fifth wheel hitches on hand for prospective customers to do just that (if they can sort out the liability and insurance issues).

Ultimately, we held out on the dually versus single rear wheel decision until the very end, but we knew inside that if we did buy a new truck it would probably be a dually. So every test drive we did was with a dually truck.

We took all three brands of pickups out on over 200 miles of test drives at 25 or so dealerships.

Ram 3500 dually pickup diesel

Going for test drives is lots of fun and is the best way to learn the product

Dealing with Slick Salesmen

A reader wrote me recently to say he was intimidated by the sales tactics at car dealerships, so he was reluctant to do many test drives or much dealership research. That is a real shame, because the only way to learn about trucks is to spend time with them, test drive them, sit in them, crawl underneath, study what’s under the hood, read the marketing literature, and hound the salesmen with questions.

After all, the salesmen are there to teach you what you need to know about the product, and if they don’t sell you a truck today, they are helping another salesman (or themselves) sell you a truck tomorrow. What goes around comes around, and any good salesman understands that. You can easily deflect the high pressure sales tactics by saying, “We are starting our search and just want to do a test drive today. We won’t be ready to buy for a few months.”

Where to Do a Test Drive? Where to Buy?

The best places to find knowledgeable diesel truck salesmen and buy big diesel trucks, especially duallies, is in cattle ranching country. As we scoured dealerships from San Diego to Maine and from Sarasota to the Tetons, we found urban areas generally have few big trucks on the lot and the salesmen know very little about diesel trucks. Cattle ranchers, horse owners and big commercial farmers know their trucks, and so do the salesmen they work with.

Dually Ram 3500 truck and 5th wheel trailer camping

The most knowledgeable truck salesmen are in places where people need and use big trucks — a lot!

Our first test drives were focused on the turning radius and maneuverability of a dually truck as compared to the single rear wheel truck we knew so well. It was hard to tell, but the turning radius seemed to be the same or better (and we now feel the 2016 Ram dually definitely turns tighter) than our old 2007 single rear wheel Ram.

As for general maneuverability, Mark didn’t notice a whole lot of difference driving a dually versus our single wheel truck. Frankly, owning a long bed diesel truck period means you have to park in the back 40 and walk long distances anyway, so we soon realized that dealing with a dually in parking lots would be no different.

We did one round of comparative test drives on the uphill entrance ramp to an interstate in Baker City, Oregon. We visited each truck dealership in town, and when we did our test drives, we floored each dually truck on the incline to see how powerful it felt. The 2015 Chevy won by a long shot, against the Ford and Dodge 2015 models, but did not feel as powerful as our single rear wheel ’07 Dodge Ram (at that point our truck had the K&N Cold Air Intake and Timbrens but did not have the Edge Evolution Diesel tuner).

Fifth wheel trailer and Ram 3500 diesel dually truck at campground

Our trailer snuggles up to its new companion, a 2016 Ram 3500 dually

Deciding Factor – The Cummins Engine

In the end, the deciding factor for us for choosing a brand was the Cummins engine. This was true when we were researching our ’07 single rear wheel truck and again when researching the 2013-2016 duallies. Lots of people wish they could buy a pickup with both the Cummins engine and an Allison transmission in one brand of truck, a combo that is on many commercial trucks. But that’s not possible.

For us, the simplicity of the inline 6 cylinder Cummins engine (as compared to the more complex V8 engines in the Chevy and Ford) along with the longer stroke (inherently higher torque) makes a lot of sense. Inline engines are used commercially in big rigs and tractors, and the 6.7 liter Cummins engine has a long and solid track record, not just in Ram trucks but in many commercial applications as well. The Cummins quality control and manufacturing seem to be top notch.

Here is a fantastic video showing a Cummins engine being built:

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HORSEPOWER, TORQUE, TOWING and PAYLOAD CAPACITY OF THE 2016 DODGE RAM DUALLY

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Amazingly, with each passing year, the payload and towing capacity of each brand of truck jumps higher. From the time we started test driving duallies in 2013 until we placed our order for our new 2016 Ram 3500, the horsepower and torque across all three brands increased, and the towing and payload capacities climbed too.

Built with the right options, the 2016 Ram 3500 diesel truck has an eye-popping, 385 horsepower and 900 ft-lbs. of torque with a GCWR of 39,100 lbs. It can tow a trailer weighing 31,210 lbs. and has a max payload of 6,720 lbs.

This is absolutely astonishing, and neither the Chevy nor the Ford trucks match that torque right now.

Accurate comparisons between brands are challenging within the same model classes, however, because there are different standards for making measurements. Ram Trucks uses the SAE J2807 standards, while other manufacturers don’t. Also, we were able to locate Ford’s towing and payload capacity charts online (see the links at the bottom of the page), but did not locate a similar chart for GM.

Some of the head-to-head tests between the brands that are posted online are also a little misleading, because, for instance, a Ram 3500 is pitted against a Ford F450. Even though both of those models are Class 3 trucks (10,001 to 14,000 lbs GVWR), one would expect the Ram 3500 to compete head to head with the Ford F350, not the Ford F450.

Ram 3500 dually truck_

Best in Show

Here are the towing and payload capacities of the many models of Dodge Ram trucks:

2016 Towing and Payload Capacities of Ram Trucks

The one we ordered is on the last line of the second section on the fifth page. Search for this text: “CREW CAB LONG BOX, 4X4, DRW

AISIN TRANSMISSION

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As mentioned above, the Ram trucks are sold with two options for the transmission. After our troubles with the old 68RFE automatic transmission in our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500, we wanted the new and better one, the AISIN AS69RC automatic transmission. In the Ram Trucks marketing literature, the 6.7 liter Cummins engine is paired with the AISIN AS69RC transmission to make their “High Output Engine” because it delivers max torque at the low end for heavy towing situations. This combo became available in 2013.

RV boondocking fifth wheel trailer Quartzsite Arizona

“High Output” engines on Ram Trucks pair the Cummins 6.7 liter engine with the Aisin AS69RC transmission

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REAR AXLE GEAR RATIO

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The rear axle gearing on a pickup determines the GCWR for the truck (the maximum safe weight of truck and trailer hitched together and fully loaded) and the maximum weight trailer that the truck can tow safely. It also makes a huge difference in how the truck drives, both while towing and not towing.

Rear axle gear ratios are given as a ratio, for example “4.10” which means 4.10:1 or “3.73” which means 3.73:1. The ratio refers to the number of teeth on the axle ring gear as compared to the number of teeth on the driveshaft’s pinion gear. With a 4.10 rear end, the driveshaft has to turn 4.1 times in order to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. With a 3.73 rear end, the driveshaft must turn 3.73 times to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. So, with a 4.10 rear axle ratio the driveshaft’s pinion gear is spinning more quickly at a given speed than with a 3.73 rear axle ratio.

“Easier” Gears vs. “Harder” Gears

If you think of riding a bike, when you have the bike in a “hard” gear, it takes a lot of leg strength to turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke will cover a lot of distance. For example, going uphill in a “hard” gear would be especially hard. Your legs are turning really slowly and straining and you’re wishing you could put it in an “easier” gear! But when you descend in that same gear, you can hit high speeds easily. Back to trucks, this is like having the driveshaft turn a little to make the wheels turn a lot as it does with the 3.42 or 3.73 rear axle gear ratios found on Dodge Rams.

However, when the bike is in an “easy” gear, just a small amount of leg strength will turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke doesn’t get you very far. For example, going uphill isn’t so bad — you can inch up slowly — but once you began descending you’re spun out because your legs can’t pedal fast enough to hit super fast top speeds. In the truck world, this is like having the driveshaft turn a lot to make the wheels turn a little as it does with the 4.10 rear axle gear ratio.

Long bed pickup Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

Wide Load!! The highest tow ratings are achieved with a high rear axle gear ratio (like 4.10)

Towing Heavy Loads vs. Driving Fast on the Highway

So, on a truck, the higher ratio (4.10) is ideal for towing heavy loads. It takes more turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck, so the engine revs higher, putting it in the power band for RPMs, and the heavy load gets moved. But the top end speed and fuel economy get sacrificed a bit.

With a lower gear ratio (3.73 or 3.42) it takes fewer turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck. When the truck is zipping along at highway speeds, the gears are turning a little more slowly (lower RPMs) than they would with a 4.10 rear end, which saves on fuel efficiency and makes the fastest attainable speed a little higher.

The highest tow ratings are achieved with a 4.10 rear end, so the heaviest trailers will be best if towed by a truck with a 4.10 rear axle gear ratio. However, if most of your towing is with lighter weight trailers, and your driving will be primarily on interstates, and your personal preference is to drive fast, a 3.73 or 3.42 rear axle gear ratio may make more sense.

Our ’07 Dodge had a 3.73 rear end. The problem was that at the speeds we tended to drive — 55-65 — the engine would lug. Mark manually changed gears a lot to try to keep the RPMs up, but he found it fatiguing to have to monitor the gears so closely and to change gears all the time.

We also don’t drive on interstates very often, and when we do, we’re the grannies of the road, moseying along in the right lane.

Sunset over a 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

We take life, and the open road, fairly slowly, so a 3.73 rear end, which is awesome a 75 mph,
was not the right choice for us.

4.10 vs. 3.73 – RPMs at Different Speeds

We wanted a 4.10 rear end on our new truck, but we wanted to be 100% sure this would truly make the kind of difference we expected. So, on one Ram dually test drive we drove a stretch of highway in our ’07 Dodge at various speeds between 45 and 65 mph, noting the RPMs in a notebook, and then we took a 2015 Ram 3500 dually with a 4.10 rear end out on the same road at the same speeds. The salesman raised an eyebrow in surprise when we marched into the dealership and announced we wanted to do a test drive at various speeds to note the engine RPMs, but he went along with the idea!

On that test drive we found the 4.10 rear end shifts out of lower gears sooner than the 3.73 rear end, and generally keeps the engine RPMs about 100-200 RPMs higher at each speed. Our new truck bears out those findings.

So, how can you tell if a truck on the dealer lot has a 4.10 rear end without peering at the window sticker? Check underneath the back end of the truck. The differential is the big round casing that hangs between the rear wheels. On trucks with a 4.10 rear end, the differential has a series of vertical cooling fins on it. These help keep it cool since the gears spin faster and it is designed for heavier towing loads, both of which make it heat up.

Cooling fins on 4.10 differential for 4.10 rear axle gear ratio

Looking under the rear end of the truck, the differential has cooling fins if the rear axle ratio is a 4.10

BEEFED UP FRAME

Besides the more powerful engine tuning and transmission, Ram has improved the truck frame on the dually considerable. Every aspect of the frame is more sturdy than it used to be, making the truck not only powerful enough to pull heavier loads but strong enough to withstand the multitude of forces as it hauls the load up a mountain.

Beefed up suspension Ram 3500 dually truck

Peering under the front end of the truck, the frame has been strengthened for heavy towing

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FOUR WHEEL DRIVE (4×4)

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We learned with our ’04 Toyota Tundra truck towing our 7,000 lb. 27′ travel trailer that four wheel drive is a necessity for us in our RV lifestyle. In our first weeks of full-timing, a small, wet grassy incline prohibited us from camping in a campground in Texas, because our truck kept slipping and couldn’t tow the trailer up over the short rise! From that moment on, we’ve felt that a four wheel drive is mandatory if you are going to tow a big trailer.

Also, while descending a really gnarly, skinny, twisty, single lane road on a mountain in Utah, with grades of 10% or more in places, we discovered that the safest way to drive DOWN a very steep descent is to put the truck in four wheel drive LOW gear, and creep down the mountain at 5-10 mph using the exhaust brake. This tactic was a lifesaver for us on that mountain with our ’07 Dodge truck and fifth wheel trailer. Without it, we would still be living at the summit of that mountain!

The following link has more tips for driving a big RV in the mountains

2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' 5th wheel RV at campsite

4×4 low gear allowed us to creep down off a mountain summit and find new campsites elsewhere!

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PUCK SYSTEM FOR MOUNTING A FIFTH WHEEL OR GOOSENECK HITCH

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The new Dodge Ram and Ford Super Duty trucks have a really fantastic option for a factory installed puck system in the bed of the truck where you can mount either a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. During our truck search, GM did not have that option on their trucks. However, GM trucks now have the puck system as well.

B&W Trailer Hitches makes a fifth wheel hitch specifically for each truck brand’s puck system. We installed one and you can read about it at this link: B&W OEM Companion Fifth Wheel Hitch DIY Installation. The three hitches are shown below, Ram, Ford & GM:

This option has five holes in the bed of the pickup, one in the center for a gooseneck hitch and four outer ones to hold a fifth wheel hitch. The idea behind this mounting system is that rather than drilling holes in your brand new truck bed to install hitch rails to support a fifth wheel hitch — the method that was always used until this new system was devised — you can buy a hitch designed for these puck mounts and simply drop it in.

Gooseneck - Fifth Wheel Towing Prep Puck System

Looking towards the tailgate, there’s a gooseneck puck in the middle and four pucks in a square
to mount a fifth wheel hitch. The bed is totally flat without the hitch in it.

If you want to use the bed of your truck for hauling, and you won’t be towing your fifth wheel, you can easily remove the fifth wheel hitch temporarily and have the entire bed of the truck available to you. Not only is it a snap to remove the hitch, but the bed of the truck will be flat and obstacle free because there won’t be any hitch rails installed in it.

Installing a B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch

The B&W Companion Fifth Wheel Hitch is easily installed and removed (facing the front of the truck)

Another huge benefit is that installing the hitch is an easy do-it-yourself job. We have a detailed pictorial step-by-step guide showing how to install a B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch here (it took just one hour from start to finish!):

Installation Guide for B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch – Step-by-Step Pictorial

To see the specs, pricing and details about this hitch, visit these links:

EXHAUST BRAKE

Our 2007 Dodge Ram came with an exhaust brake built into the turbo. Mark LOVED this brake and used it all the time, both towing and not towing. The only thing that bugged him about it was that coming down mountains with our trailer hitched on, he often had to shift gears manually and feather the gas pedal to keep the truck going the speed he wanted.

The 2016 Ram trucks have an improved exhaust brake that has two modes: max braking power and constant speed braking. We definitely wanted that option!

BACKUP CAMERAS

Dodge Ram trucks have two backup cameras, one that aims at the bed of the truck (for hitching and unhitching) and one that aims behind the truck (for backing up). Beginning in 2016, both of these cameras could be set to display their image on the main touch screen display (in the 2015 model, one camera would display in the rear view mirror while the other would display on the touch screen display).

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck with fifth wheel trailer RV camping

It’s nice to have a backup camera when backing the truck in next to the trailer!

AUTO-LEVEL SUSPENSION

An option on the 2016 Ram trucks is to have four leaf springs with computer controlled air bags to provide for auto-leveling of the rear suspension. This is instead of the standard six leaf springs without air bags that have a fixed height suspension.

Without the air bags — the standard configuration — the “rake” of the truck’s rear end is four inches, meaning that the rear end of the truck is raised four inches higher than the front to compensate for the weight of the trailer which will push it down when it’s hitched up. For a shorter person, this is quite high, and I was astonished how much higher the tailgate of a 2016 Ram truck sits than our old ’07 truck did.

With the air bags, the rear end is raked only one inch, making the whole back end of the truck much easier to access for those of us who aren’t that tall. In addition, there is an “Alt Ride Height” button that can be used to lower the back of the truck one more inch. Hurray for short people!

When the trailer is hitched onto the truck, pushing the truck down, the on-board compressor kicks on and pumps air into the air bags, raising the back end of the truck until it achieves its normal one inch rake. If you prefer to drive with the truck level, the “Alt Ride Height” button can be pressed to lower the back end one inch.

When we did our test drives, we found that the duallies with the auto-level suspension had a slightly smoother ride when not towing than the ordinary leaf spring only models did. This has proven true with our new truck too.

VENTED and HEATED LEATHER SEATS and STEERING WHEEL plus OTHER GOODIES

As we test drove different trim levels of trucks, we decided that if we were going to buy a new truck, we’d go all out and get the many little conveniences and options that are a “splurge” but that make using the truck a pleasure.

Interior leather seats Ram 3500 truck

Let’s go for a ride!

Heated and vented leather seats with power seat adjustments and lumbar support, a side step to make it easier to get in and out of the truck, independent climate control for driver and passenger, a CD player, OWL on/off-rad tires, the fancy electronics console with the big touch screen display and GPS nav system and power adjustable pedals were all on our list.

Most of these options are bundled into the Laramie model of the Ram 3500 trucks.

Interior cockpit and dashboar Ram 3500 truck

The Laramie comes with a beautiful interior that includes all the fancy stuff.

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THE OPTIONS LIST FOR OUR 2016 DODGE RAM 3500 TRUCK:

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  • Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 3500 Long Bed
  • Dual Rear Wheels
  • AISIN AS69RC Automatic Transmission
  • 4.10 Rear Axle Ratio
  • 5th Wheel / Gooseneck Towing Prep
  • Auto-level rear suspension
  • Diesel Exhaust Brake
  • Cargo and Backup Cameras
  • LT235/80R17E OWL On/Off-Road Tires
  • Tubular side steps
  • Power adjustable pedals
  • CD player
  • Top level Nav/GPS Display with voice activation and climate control
  • Tan colored Heated/Vented Leather Seats and Steering Wheel

The Tow and Payload Ratings for the 2016 Ram 3500 dually with the above options as compared to our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel are the following:

Rating 2016 Dually 2007 SRW Trailer
UVW 8,319 7,147
GVWR 14,000 10,100
GCWR 39,100 21,000 lbs.
Payload 5,565 2,953 2,850
Max Trailer Weight 30,200 13,700 14,100

Even though the make and model of these two trucks is the same, separated by just nine years, these numbers show that they are two radically different trucks!

After doing so many test drives, studying all the material and thinking about this truck for two years, there was no way we would give up any of the options we wanted, especially the ones that made the tow ratings and payload rating so high. But we never found a dealership that ordered this exact truck for their lot. Time and again, Mark would find a truck that was close, but there would be some things missing and other things we didn’t want.

So we decided to order the exact truck we wanted and wait 8 weeks for it to be built.

We had a ball ordering this truck through Airpark Dodge in Scottsdale, Arizona, where a marketing connection with Alice Cooper made one of Mark’s lifelong dreams come true. See our really fun blog post:

Alice Cooper Sells Us a New Truck!

Once the truck arrived, we installed our very cool new hitch in less than an hour:

Installation Guide for B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch – Step-by-Step Pictorial

A significant difference between our 2007 Dodge Ram truck and our new 2016 Ram dually is that the new truck requires occasional refilling of the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluide) tank. Here are some tips we’ve discovered about DEF since we purchased our new truck:

How to Put DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in a Truck and Which Brand is Cheapest!

How to Change the Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

Trailer Life Magazine also asked us to write about what into our choice of our new dually truck. You can read more here:

One Ton Towing Machines – Our dually truck feature article in Trailer Life Magazine

We installed an Edge Juice with Attitude CTS2 Programmer on this truck and Mark loves it. We haven’t yet written a review, but we did review the Edge Evolution CS Programmer we installed on our 2007 Dodge Ram HERE.

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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

More info about Pickup Trucks, Ram Trucks, Tow Ratings, etc.:

Here is more info about the trucks and trailers we have owned

Note (July 2018): Folks have asked us if we like our truck now that we’ve driven it for two and a half years. We LOVE our truck. It now has about 40,000 miles on it, about half of that towing, and we couldn’t be happier with it.

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