How to Pick the Right Camper For Your Next Adventure
TEXT BY JEN DEROSE
ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRIS VAN DUSEN
From our July/August 2019 issue
These adventure-ready rigs go the extra mile in terms of comfort and convenience.
It’s hard to resist the call of an open Maine road — and a comfy bed and flush toilet under the stars. But with a dizzying array of recreational vehicles on the market, ranging from Pinterest-worthy camper vans and vintage trailers to more-is-more motor homes, which one is right for you? Let our guide to the major styles, driven by local experts on the ground, steer you in the right direction.
Averaging around 20 feet long, Class B vans are the smallest RVs. There are two types: Class B motor homes, such as the Winnebago Revel and Airstream Interstate Nineteen, that have tiny kitchens and baths, fold-down beds and tables, and raised or pop-up roofs, and conversion vans, like the beloved Volkswagen buses (last produced in 2013) and new Mercedes Sprinters, which are blank slates ready to be customized. Vans win the convenience category: they’re all in one (no hitching/unhitching a trailer or setting up a semi-permanent campsite), fit into regular parking spaces, and are easy to maneuver on the road. Some models also have four-wheel drive and run on efficient diesel fuel, getting an average of 20 mpg. But be prepared for a tight squeeze. Most vans only sleep two adults and have limited (or annoying) storage. Think: a bath that doubles as a closet with removable shelves.
Who They’re Best For: Minimalists who like to hop from place to place in search of their next adventure.
Cost: About $150,000 for a souped-up Class B motor home; pared-down versions, such as the bath-less Pleasure-Way’s Tofino, are about half that. New conversion vans run $40,000 to $56,000; plan to spend about $15,000 on a DIY overhaul and at least $40,000 on a pro job. You can nab a converted VW bus for about $25,000, but note that VWs have a reputation for requiring frequent repairs.
Conversion Considerations: “Some van conversions are as simple as adding a composting toilet and some mattresses, and for less than $1,000, you’re on your way,” says Robert Thibodeau, general sales manager at Prime Motor Cars Airstream in Scarborough. At the other end of the spectrum, “the sky’s the limit.” Top-of-the-line rehabs can include insulation, custom kitchens with tile and built-in cabinetry, hardwood floors, and leather seating. “But keep in mind that once you start upfitting, you’re adding weight and decreasing fuel mileage,” Thibodeau says.
Popular symbols of midcentury America, camper trailers — particularly vintage models — are making a comeback. “People are remembering that grandma had one and they want to relive that,” says James Roy, of Silver Moose Restorations. Styles varied over the decades, starting with the aircraft trailers (such as the Airstream), which take their silver-bullet looks from the 1930s aviation boom. Subsequent decades brought more models named for their shapes, including “teardrops,” “bread loafs,” “canned hams,” “eggs,” and “squares,” many of which are available in reimagined and replica versions today. Trailers range from 8-foot-long efficiencies that fit a double bed (and not much else) to 30-foot-long abodes equipped with sleeping space for six and tricked-out kitchens and baths. They’re lightweight enough to be towed behind a small SUV or truck, but driving with a “caboose” on your tail takes some getting used to.
Who They’re Best For: Families — especially those with young children who need to ride in a vehicle with car seats — and day-trippers who want to unhitch at a campsite and set off by car.
Cost: $10,000 to $70,000 for a new trailer, depending on size. Vintage models in fair condition average $6,000 to $10,000. Factor in $1,800 to $2,200 per linear foot to have one professionally rebuilt.
Old-School Cool: Vintage camper quality often trumps that of newer models. “They were made with real wood versus today’s particleboard and plastic,” says James Roy, of Monmouth trailer-restoration company Silver Moose Restorations. “But there’s a lot more to repairing and rebuilding them than people think,” he adds, noting that you’ll likely need to pony up for welding, plumbing, electricity, finish carpentry, and sheet metal work. Retro campers also tend to require more frequent repairs (and hard-to-find parts) than their new counterparts. For those willing to make the investment, however, “we can make them last another 40 years,” Roy says.
LARGE MOTOR HOMES
Class A motor homes are the luxury liners of the RV world, ranging from 28 to 50 feet long and packed with all the conveniences of home. Class C motor homes are similar but smaller — around 28 feet long and distinguished by the overhang that extends over the cab. Both types typically sleep at least four and have one or more private bedrooms, separate showers and baths, kitchens, “slide-outs” (walls that bump out to create more interior space when you’re parked), flat-screen TVs, and more. Class As can also tow a car. “Traveling with pets is better in these, because there’s a lot more room to walk around,” says Reid Lanpher, general manager of Scott’s Recreation in Turner and Manchester. On the flip side, motor homes gorge on gas — think 8 to 15 mpg. And while you don’t need a special license to drive one in Maine, laws vary by state, so check DMV websites if you’re planning a cross-country trip.
Who They’re Best For: Retirees and vacationers planning to spend weeks or months on the road.
Cost: $70,000 to $200,000 for a Class A motor home; $70,000 to $150,000 for a Class C.
Financing Factors: RVs are classified as luxury vehicles and require a special RV loan. These are similar to a home loan, with a 10-to-20-year term. Vehicles with cooking and sleeping areas and baths may be considered a second home, making your loan interest tax deductible. Plan on being on the road full-time? Many lenders only give loans to those who have a permanent address, so be prepared to hunt around for a sympathetic banker and to fill out extra paperwork.
Falling between a camper trailer and large motor home, fifth wheels are named for their specialty hitch — derived from wheel-plate hitches mounted on 19th-century horse-drawn carriages — that attaches to a truck bed. Ranging from 22 to 40 feet long, they combine the freedom of unhitching at a campsite with big-vehicle amenities, such as space to sleep four to 10 and full kitchens and baths. They’re more stable, and have a better turning radius, than camper trailers and are a foot or two taller, “so you don’t feel so confined,” says Debbie Wardwell, general manager of Lee’s Family Trailer Sales and Service in Windham. Want to tow your toys? Some fifth wheels, known — aptly enough — as toy haulers, have garages for ATVs, motorcycles, snowmobiles, kayaks, and the like.
Who They’re Best For: Comfort seekers who want to sleep a crowd and own — or are willing to purchase — a truck.
Cost: $30,000 to $95,000, plus $500 to $3,000 for the hitch.