Fuel-conscious families looking to get into the RV lifestyle or veteran travelers who want to downsize from their big rigs don’t have to forego upscale amenities.
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Many RV manufacturers are appealing to both demographics with lightweight travel trailers that are designed to be towed by fuel-efficient vehicles equipped with amenities that compare to residential living.
It’s not unusual for lightweight travel trailers to have elaborate kitchens with Corian countertops or other solid-surface facings, leather furniture, fireplaces or HDTVs that rotate so they can be seen in the living area and the bedroom.
Although some have dry weights of around 7,500 pounds, requiring a half-ton pickup as a tow vehicle, others as short as 16 feet come in as light as 2,900 pounds and can be towed comfortably with an SUV or crossover vehicle.
Buyers should exercise caution when choosing a tow vehicles based on dry weight. To be sure, taking the trailer to a scale to determine true weight with fluids full is the best way to properly match a tow vehicle to a trailer, especially when relying on smaller vehicles with lighter towing capacities.
“We are giving customers some of the luxuries they don’t usually see in a travel trailer,” said Ryan Elliott, product manager for Dutchmen’s Aerolite travel trailer. “And you can still tow it with a half-ton pickup or beefed up SUV.”
Some manufacturers take the guesswork out of buying a new RV by limiting options, such as the Travel Lite Cobblestone, which has a molded front cap that looks like a wall of granite coming toward you. The effect is striking.
Looks aside, the key to Cobblestone’s success, from the perspective of Travel Lite Vice President Dustin Johns, is that the trailer leaves the factory loaded — there are no options. “I can’t think of another thing to put in this RV,” Johns said.
John Stringer, with Forest River’s Flagstaff/Rockwood Division, sees the trend toward lighter travel trailers among people who have owned larger RVs before. “A big part of the lightweight growth has been previous owners who want to move into something lighter,” Stringer said.
As manufacturers have worked to reduce weight, many have relied on so-called composites, or lightweight space-age material that commonly can be found in side walls and subsurfaces throughout an RV. Weight also is saved, even if it’s only a few pounds, with LED lighting, for instance, inside and out in many models.
All of this comes at a cost, however. If you want luxury, you’re going to pay for it. Lightweight, upscale trailers typically start in the mid-$20,000 range and rapidly increase from there — some topping out on the other side of $40,000.
Here is a look at some lightweight upscale travel trailers available this year:
Airstream has been building travel trailers for more than 75 years and the Jackson Center, Ohio, RV builder has figured out how to pack a lot into a little package in the Sport, available in 16- and 22-foot floorplans. With dry weights of 2,900 pounds and 3,600 pounds, respectively, the Sport can be towed by small pickups or SUVs. Primarily a couple’s trailer, the Sport offers layouts with a rear bed and a wet bath (16CNB) or a front-bed configuration with a full rear bath (22FB). The exterior still has Airstream’s iconic bullet shape with bright aluminum side walls accented by a chrome beltline and rub-rail inserts. Features include LED taillights, front tinted panoramic windows, exterior showers, cast-aluminum heated-and-enclosed tanks, stainless-steel sink, removable under-bed storage boxes and a bright aluminum-finished interior. MSRP: $40,491 (16CNB); $47,467 (22FB).
Airstream, 877-596-6111, www.airstream.com
Travel trailers from Canadian manufacturer Bigfoot Industries, Armstrong, British Columbia, are built much like a boat, with two molded fiberglass shells — a top and a bottom — that eliminate the need for traditional framing. Available in 17- and 25-foot rear-entry floorplans, dry weights are 3,100 pounds and 4,450 pounds, respectively. As might be expected from a Canadian manufacturer, Bigfoot travel trailers offer four-season comfort with ducted furnaces and air conditioners along with high insulation values. Standard features include thermopane windows, stainless-steel sinks, face-framed double-screwed cabinets, spring-filled foam mattresses, heated-and-enclosed tanks, stabilizer jacks, oven and range top, electronic water heater, porcelain toilet and outdoor shower. MSRPs: High $30,000s to low $50,000s.
Bigfoot RV, 250-546-2155, www.bigfootrv.com
Dutchmen Manufacturing Company, Goshen, Indiana, seeks to equip its Aerolite with amenities not typical to lightweight travel trailers, including king beds, aluminum wheels, tinted frameless windows, power awnings, heated-and-enclosed underbellies, and an outdoor camp kitchen and shower. Dutchmen offers a wide variety of layouts among Aerolite’s 15 floorplans, ranging from an 181/2-footer with bunk extensions to a traditional triple-slide 37-foot layout. The 35-foot triple-slide 319BHSS floorplan is a standout with a bath-and-a-half and two rear bunks. Equipped with lightweight Schwintek slideouts, the 319BHSS front bedroom has a dry weight of 6,974 pounds for a retail price in the low $30,000 range.
Aerolite, 574-537-0600, www.aero-rv.com
EverGreen Recreational Vehicles prides itself on building among the first “green certified” RVs with its Ever-Lite, an eight-floorplan travel trailer series. In the RV context, that means that the company practices recycling and waste reduction in its construction techniques while using composite materials in its RVs. The Ever-Lite, built with lightweight recyclable materials from Compositek Inc. in its side walls and wall linings, is certified “green” by nationally recognized TRA. Available in 27- to 36-foot lengths with up to three slideouts, Ever-Lite dry weights range from 4,400 to 7,600 pounds. Even then, the Middlebury, Indiana-based manufacturer EverGreen doesn’t come up short with amenities that include Corian countertops, aluminum-framed windows, front and rear stabilizer jacks, solid-wood cabinet doors, crown molding, double-door refrigerators and raised-panel interior doors. MSRPs start at $26,900.
EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, 574-825-4298, www.goevergreenrv.com
There are plenty of floorplans to choose from in Forest River’s Rockwood Signature Ultra-Lite series — 19 of them, in fact, 10 of which are designed with V-nose front ends. That not only makes them more aerodynamic, but also allows the Middlebury, Indiana, manufacturer more interior flexibility. The traditional fiberglass-and-aluminum Signature, with a front cap and optional tan side walls, comes in lengths from 30 to 32 feet with up to three slideouts — all with dry weights lighter than 7,500 pounds. With very few options, the Signature Ultra-Lite is equipped with Dexter torsion axles for more stability, electric awnings, frameless windows, Corian countertops, stainless-steel appliances, solid-wood raised-panel cabinet and door fronts, Lazyboy leather recliners and 32-inch LCD HDTVs with surround sound. Base MSRP: $32,600.
Forest River Inc., 574-642-2640, www.forestriverinc.com
For 2013, Heartland RV has introduced a 36-foot double-queen-bed rear-bunk layout in its lightweight widebody North Trail travel trailer series. The Heartland NT31BHDD floorplan, with a dry weight of 6,399 pounds, is designed with a single sofa/booth dinette “king” slideout. It’s available with white or distinctive tan side walls and black accents around the windows, doors and baggage doors. The aluminum-and-laminated-fiberglass NT31BHDD offers an outside kitchen and a rear door that opens into the bath area. Standard features include 61/2-foot ceilings, an outdoor shower and speakers, heated-and-enclosed underbelly, dual ducted-air, LCD TV, radius countertops, conventional oven with three-burner stovetop, raised-panel overhead cabinet doors and Beauflor floors. MSRP: $27,750.
Heartland RV, 877-262-8032, www.heartlandrvs.com
The outdoor kitchen that swings out on the Keystone Bullet Premier 32BHPR floorplan is notable in that it is fully loaded with all the amenities. With a 34-foot 9-inch length and 7-foot arched ceilings, the 32BHPR has a dry weight of 6,180 pounds. Featuring a single 36-inch-deep slideout containing a convertible bed and convertible dinette along with double-bed rear bunks and a front queen bed, the fiberglass-and-aluminum Premier 32BHPR can sleep up to 10 people. Features include a color-infused, dual-radius gelcoat fiberglass front cap, pass-through storage, frameless tinted windows, rolled roof edges, aluminum wheels, Williamsburg leather furniture, flush-mounted puck lighting, smoked-glass mullion cabinet doors and a full entertainment center with a 46-inch LCD TV. MSRP: $35,481.
Keystone RV, 866-425-4369, www.keystonerv.com
The new 34-foot 8-inch triple-slide Spree 322RES floorplan from KZRV, Shipshewana, Indiana, is designed for folks who want to decide the specific features they want in a trailer. Standard with fiberglass-on-aluminum side walls, the Spree 322RES can be spiffed up with the company’s LX option that includes a fiberglass front cap, high-gloss gelcoat exteriors, awnings with LED lights, 32-inch LED TVs, 6-foot 10-inch barrel ceilings and innerspring mattresses. Standard package options that also will upgrade the Spree 322RES include Corian countertops, a light-tan champagne exterior, front and rear stabilizer jacks and outside grill. The Spree 322RES LX, with a dry weight of less than 7,300 pounds, has a retail price of $35,950. It is among 16 24- to 36-foot Spree layouts offered by KZRV.
KZRV LP, 260-768-4016, www.kz-rv.com
A fireplace is optional in the new Lance 2295 travel-trailer floorplan, which is designed with an almost 7-foot-long streetside dinette slideout. The Lancaster, California-based manufacturer lightens the entire fiberglass-and-aluminum Lance line by using Azdel composites and substrates both inside and out. The 27-foot Lance 2295, with a dry weight of 4,185 pounds, has a private front bedroom with a walk-around queen-size bed with wardrobes on each side along with a rear bath that extends the width of the trailer to provide a private dressing area with a wardrobe. A fireplace or additional storage can be located beneath a 32-inch LCD TV that rotates between the living area and the bedroom. The Lance 2295, with $28,557 MSRP, also is the company’s first travel trailer with a pullout exterior kitchen with a two-burner cooktop and sink.
Lance Camper, 661-949-3322, www.lancecamper.com
Northwood Manufacturing in La Grande, Oregon, combines upscale amenities with a luxury cabin feel in its two-tone Snow River “Rugged Lite” travel trailer, available in 25- to 30-foot lengths. With three single-slide floorplans, Snow River dry weights range between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds. Snow River’s white fiberglass side walls are highlighted by a mocha front cap and black exterior accents. Inside, distressed solid-wood cabinets and interior doors framed in black give the Snow River a cabin-like feel. Designed as a four-season coach that can be used off-road, Snow River has a 20-watt solar panel, Lippert Equa-Flex suspension with off-road clearance, black aluminum wheels, 1-inch-thick luggage doors and heated-and-enclosed tanks along with pass-through front storage. Base MSRPs: $23,000 to $29,000.
Northwood Manufacturing Inc., 800-766-6274, www.northwoodmfg.com
With five 15- to 23-foot floorplans, including a new 22-footer with a slideout, the Cobblestone travel trailer from Travel Lite, New Paris, Indiana, is void of options. That means Cobblestone, with a dry weight between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds, has features that include power awnings; electric A-frame jacks; 19-inch flat screen TVs with DVD players; molded “Granicote” countertops; raised panel cherry cabinets; dinette tables; 3-cubic-foot, three-way refrigerator; two-burner stovetops with built-in microwaves; beveled-edged hardwood floors and heated holding tanks. The Cobblestone also is designed with a “Granicote” finish on the front cap that sports specs of white, black and dark brown to create a granite-looking appearance. Retail prices start at $17,999.
Travel Lite, 855-831-3525, www.travellitecampers.com