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Fun and Frustration Outside the RV Mainstream

As much as I like having solar panels on my RV it has always seemed strange that they should be so over-praised by many RV bloggers. I always thought it was just the emotional gratification of feeling Green, and look forward to going to heaven and sitting on the right-hand side of Thoreau or Gandhi. The other reason for over-promoting solar panels is ad income of course.

Now that the monsoons are hitting the Southwest, you need a generator to boondock camp. Oh sure, it's easy to say that you "just" need to try harder to conserve electricity; but rainy and muddy days are the very times when you spend most of the day indoors and need the most electricity.  

While considering the camping location of a nearby camper who was out in the open, I suddenly had a "new" thought about solar panels -- new to me, that is. He had a large and prominent satellite TV dish on his small rig. Ahh, no wonder he needs to stay out in the open -- his boob toob wouldn't work with trees blocking the signal. Once resigned to camping in the open, it doesn't hurt anything to have a roof-full of solar panels; in fact they'll cool the roof slightly.

And all these years I've considered parking in the summer sun -- instead of the shade -- as an act of foolishness caused by having solar panels on the roof of the RV; whereas in fact, for most RVers, it's the satellite boob toob that causes them to park in the sun and fry all summer. This thought took a decade to grow in my thick head because nothing is less desirable to me than bringing a TV into the camping experience. Of course some people would say that about my wireless internet addiction.

This experience was wryly amusing to me. There are other examples of how surreal or comical it can be to be outside the RV mainstream. For instance I was studying a small travel trailer in the consignment lot, the other day. The gravel underneath the trailer was rough and a bit wet, but there I was, snooping around underneath the trailer, looking for trouble, complaining about the 14" tires and the low drain plumbing. Meanwhile 99% of normal RVers would only want to step inside the trailer and flutter their eyelashes over the floor plan, window treatments, color scheme, etc. When I stepped inside, I just rolled my eyes at all the nonsense: microwave oven, convection oven, 3 burner stove (in a small trailer!), stereo system, etc. 

Consider what trivial junk the inside of an RV really is! Why oh why do people think that you need to see a glossy brochure or YouTube promenading all the superficialities of interior decor? Or the excessive window area? (It makes a positive visual and emotional impression, but it is one of the worst features of a standard RV.) Meanwhile they ignore (or deliberately repress) information such as ground clearance, interior standing height, axle rating, battery storage, etc.

Shopping for a new trailer and tow vehicle has been fun and frustrating for me. Thanks to one blog ( I learned the shocking news that the Ford Econoline van is being discontinued in 2013. It is being replaced by a full-sized version of the Transit van. Will it have small tires and tight wheel wells, thereby restricting it to pavement? Perhaps van-lovers will have to condescend to pickup trucks and get a Toyota Tacoma with a "good" cap -- not that any cap is much good compared to a van.

I have finally found a travel trailer that is desirable for a (probably single) boondocker: the Carson Kalispell. Short, light, and high ground clearance! Why do they omit the interior standing height from their website -- that makes me very nervous! If I bought a stock unit I would have to send the following items to the dumpster: refrigerator, furnace, water heater, battery, converter/charger, microwave, stereo, water reservoir, awning, cabinet doors, dinette table, foam, etc. And after paying for them! Gosh I hope it's possible to buy a custom unit.


d. said…
Check out Taylor Coach models (, light weight and easy towing...they also have a series of YouTube walk-throughs they just started this year...I don't know if the tire size and plumbing is able to be customized, but they are wonderful people, a family owned business, and I plan to buy another from them when I retire (just bought a Bobbie in April, in fact it's mine in the video).
Anonymous said…
That’s a cute little trailer. I understand getting rid of some things as certain items are either not needed (you already have or don’t want) or probably weigh too much. But I’m curious about the dinette table and cabinet doors. Would you just set up the bed and carry a folding table for projects, writing, etc? How will you keep stuff from falling out of the cabinets without doors? Honestly, a furnace and water heater in that small of space does seem like overkill. If you're getting rid of so much, what about a self-designed cargo trailer? -b-
Anonymous said…
"Gosh I hope it's possible to buy a custom unit."

Looks like you can.

"Carson offers great flexibility. You can design just the right unit for your needs from our long list of options." -b-
Anonymous said…
Might not want the water holding tanks for water, but if a deck plate is installed, they could be used for storage. -b-
Anonymous b, with a small trailer it might be a good idea to use folding or hinged table surfaces. The desk and the dinner table will be the same thing of course.

My only chair would be a real office chair.

I hate opening cabinet doors into my face and then looking for a flashlight since they are dark inside. You don't need doors to keep stuff inside; just screw a thin slat of wood across the lower front of the cabinet. Then use eye-hooks and bungee cords to block stuff from popping onto the floor.

Better yet, take all of the manufacturer's cabinetry out and have a couple nice campfires with it. Use plastic boxes, plastic sliding drawers, and simple shelves to store things.

A custom designed cargo trailer might be the way to go. They are a lot cheaper than buying all this crap from the trailer company and then dumping in a landfill.
Unknown said…
Based on the stripping of the RV interior, it appears you would end up with a hard sided tent on wheels. :-)
Wandrin, indeed that IS what I want. Or put it this way: a high ground clearance, lightweight, short box with a roof that never leaks, with minimal windows, and nothing but cubic feet inside.

I'll finish off the interior with plastic storage units, thin plywood, furring strips, and bungee cords.
Anonymous said…
This guy did a really nice 10' cargo trailer conversion.

Anonymous said…
A novice believes what they want is important.

An adept knows what they do not is even more so.

Tends to be the long term effect of experience in just about anything.

You start out with everything and the kitchen sink only to end up with the barest essentials and an artful way of stretching them towards infinity.
b, the last thing I would put in a small living-box is a wood stove. How much carbon monoxide would it take to poison you? A propane-burning catalytic heater is much safer.

Besides, where does the wood come from?
d, about : I really like how they allow you to customize the inside of the trailer. Their entire product line uses 13" tires, and the wheel wells wouldn't allow you to substitute bigger tires. ("Flipping" axles or using bigger tires also invalidates the frame warranty.)

My current cracker box has those damnable little shit tires -- big mistake for boondocking.
d, forgot something. In general, the Small Trailer Syndrome afflicts virtually all small lightweight trailers. They want them to be safe and easily towable for SUVS, minivans, or small trucks. So they go with 13" tires and low ground clearance.

The Carson Kalispell is the only exception to the syndrome that I know of. If anybody knows of another brand, let me know.
Ed said…
"But I’m curious about the dinette table.."

That was the very FIRST thing that I threw out. The second thing was the TV, TV shelf and overhead cabinets on the right side of the 'living room'. The third thing was the cabinets on the left side of the living room. It made a world of difference in how open and spacious the area now looks.

I also threw out the forced air furnace and now use a Wave heater as well as moving to warmer climes as much as possible.

I work and eat off of a lap top desk. The only inconvenience that I find in doing so is I do not have enough space to also write at the same time.
Bob Giddings said…
If you know precisely where you want to be, you can outfit for only that and nothing else, and be happy. My problem is that I change my mind from time to time. Sometimes I even want to watch TV. And I like to bake bread in a real gas oven.

The main thing is to get out there, however you do it. The bulk of what I'm after is just being there, whatever the ride.

But it's true enough that nothing frustrates a man like getting 90% of what he wants. Ungrateful bastards that we are. I get as cranky as you with the awful choices available.

But then I consider: Nobody can make a living catering just to me. If some mass marketer actually made exactly what I'm after, that would mean everyone else wants it too. And then all the quiet mountain byways I prefer would be littered with masses of grumpy unshaven rugged individualists in interchangable Tilly hats, head down and elbows up, pushing and shoving to take my spot.

Shudder. Nope. I'll take the halfass used trailer solution instead, accept the inevitable need to perfect, and quitmybitchin.

Well. Until next time.

Bob Giddings said…
O, and you might enjoy this site:

Anonymous said…
Well, I didn't say it was perfect, but I still think he did a nice job. Looks kind of like the interior of a sailboat.

I don't know about the CO issue other than the stove is vented and propane heaters can also be a concern. Additionally a monitor seems appropriate as well as cracking windows.

On feeding the fire, BLM cattle happily provide all the free fuel you could ever want or need. -b-
Anonymous said…

If they give you a hard time on options:

Carl, thanks for the link. LivinLite seems like an innovative, all aluminum, lightweight trailer. But since the whole product line has 13" wheels, it's best for non-backcountry campers.
Anonymous said…
Well said Bob.

Casita has a 13' trailer with 15" tires and a high lift axle.

Yes b, those 15" tires on the Casita are great. So is the weight. Casitas are good for somebody as tall as, what?, 5'9"? I don't care for the uninsulated walls and the lower ceilings along the edges, or the need to use through-bolts through the skin every time I want to add shelving.
Bob Giddings said…
If I was a toy person, I'd like a toy trailer, like the little Casita. Back when I was a lot more limber, I actually traveled in a 13 foot trailer pulled by a jeep. Campers of a certain age may remember the Scotty. It was a knockoff of that, and I treated it like a hard-sided tent I didn't have to set up, as mentioned above.

But crawling into a trailer that small is more like wearing your home than living in it. At least since my back started giving me problems.

Boonie, have you ever considered a box van? I met a guy named Jake at the Navajo Monument that used one as a garage for his Harley, and pulled an Aerolite trailer with it. Just a big ol' box you can outfit like you want.

You can see it here, about half way down. Click the picture to see a bigger one:

Up in Alaska I saw a similar box van without the trailer. They had taken out the slide up door and built a little porch on the back, big enough to hold a couple of lawn chairs. Looked pretty comfortable.

And nothing does stealth like a converted box van. You could even paint it UPS brown and parked it in the middle of the street, anywhere in America.

Anonymous said…
Nothing screams mainstream RVers better than yapping dogs and a generators. Want to park in the shade and have your solar panel in the sun-try an extension cord.
Teri said…
I agree that there are a lot of unnecessary things in an RV. I don't own a TV, either. But what about the refrigerator, you say you would take it out, what do you eat and how do you keep things cold. I eat almost a vegetarian diet, I occasionally will buy some cooked chicken or fish, but I still need a place to keep it and the fresh vegetables cold.
Teri, My standard RV frig gave out after many years of pretty good service. As an experiment I replaced it with a Whynter frig, compressor-driven like a standard household frig except that this is high efficiency and runs on 12 volt DC (This is not a cheapo thermoelectric 12 volt frig.) It doesn't use expensive propane of course, but it uses 15-20 amp-hours of energy over 24 hours. Cools well. We'll see how many years it lasts.

(Search "whynter" in this blog's search box.)
Anonymous said…
Check out the livin lite VRV:


Looks like they offer 15" tires on that platform.