05 March 2012

RV Debate: Best RV for Boondocking?

There's no doubt about it. Every boondocking enthusiast has an opinion about this topic. Some RV'ers argue that the fifth Wheel is the best boondocking RV because of its roominess and large holding tanks while others say the truck camper is the best because of its compact size and maneuverability. Still others contend that the Class B van conversion can't be beat because it can go practically anywhere and can tackle any type of terrain. So which RV is really the best when it comes to boondocking? The answer really depends on your personal needs, your budget, and the kind of places where you typically like to go. If you're looking for an RV and are interested in boondocking, this article will help you make an informed decision before buying.

For the purposes of this article, boondocking is defined as RV camping in the "boonies" without water, sewer, and electrical hookups, and does not include urban camping in places like Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and Flying J truck stops. Now in no particular order, let's take a look at the best boondocking RVs.

1. Pop-up 4x4 Truck Camper: 

An off-road, rock crawling, boondocking machine, it's also one of the cheapest and most versatile RVs on the market. The canvas portion of the pop-up means it won't be as stout a four-season camper as hard-sided models, but what it loses in insulation, it gains in reduced weight, in a lower profile, and in a lower center of gravity. These attributes enable it to climb steep inclines and avoid low tree branches, important considerations for those who like to camp far off the beaten path. It can also be detached, so you can use your truck for 4-wheeling, collecting firewood, and hauling things like kayaks to the lake, etc. 

Pro's: Small size, highly maneuverable, low profile, detachable, lightweight, low cost, can tow a boat or vehicle, great off-road capability. 

Con's: Not much living space, small holding tanks and battery compartment, poor insulation due to canvas use on pop-up walls.

2. Hard-side 4x4 Truck Camper:

A wonderfully agile, all-season boondocking rig. Its moderate profile means that you won't be able to rock crawl nor tackle narrow, heavily forested back roads, yet it's still small and nimble enough to reach all but the most remote locations. While it lacks the luxurious accommodations of a large motor home or fifth wheel, it still offers moderately sized holding tanks and all of the accoutrements you need to camp comfortably while off-the-grid. Still, some models come with as many as three slide-outs, that increase living space, but also increase weight. And like it's pop-up cousin, it can be detached so you can use your truck for off-roading, collecting firewood, and hauling your boats to the lake. 

Pro's: Small size, detachable, highly maneuverable, all-season, can tow a boat or vehicle, excellent off-road capability.

Con's: High profile, small living space and battery compartment. 

3. Small 4x4 Class C motor home: 

A terrific, all-terrain boondocking RV. The 4x4 capability, low profile, and low center of gravity means that these nimble little beasts can go practically anywhere off the beaten path. You won't find lots of headroom, large holding tanks, or huge storage spaces in these, but you will find everything else you need to live comfortably while you camp in the wilderness. Unlike truck campers, you don't have to leave your RV to move from the driving area to the living area unless you want to, an important consideration for safety and when camping in bad weather.

Pro's: Small size, well-insulated, very maneuverable, can tow, terrific off-road capability, inside access between driving and living areas, all-season, low profile. 

Con's: Small living space,  small holding tanks and battery compartment. 

4. Pop-up Trailer:

This low-cost, low-profile RV won't win any beauty contests, but it can be towed practically anywhere by any vehicle. You won't find luxurious accommodations in these either, but you will find two large sleeping areas, a small kitchen, and a large sitting area, enough to keep most families happy and comfortable. Most provide only a small fresh water tank, so if you want to boondock for a long period of time you'll need to bring extra water with you. Some of the larger, fancier models are equipped with a platform that can haul a quad or a couple motorcycles, and some are even equipped with a toilet and small shower. 

Pro's: Low cost, low profile, detachable, lightweight, high ground clearance, great off-road capability, wide range of tow vehicle options.

Con's: Not much living space, tiny holding tanks, no bathroom, poor insulation due to canvas use on pop-up walls.

5. Travel Trailer:

Available in numerous sizes and floor plans, and very affordable, this venerable RV is a great choice for couples and families. While it does have some off-road limitations, the axles can be flipped to increase ground clearance which will allow it to be taken on very rough roads. Some models have fairly large holding tanks, storage areas, and can support up to two batteries on the A-frame. Unlike motor homes, it can be detached to set-up camp so your tow vehicle can be used for other activities. And unlike a fifth wheel, it can be towed by practically anything with a large enough tow rating.    

Pro's: Low cost, comfort and livability, all-season, plentiful storage, detachable, multiple tow vehicle options. 

Con's: Not very maneuverable, moderate profile, limited off-road capability.

6. Fifth Wheel Trailer:

A great choice if you like your elbow room and have children. While it tows much better than a travel trailer, and is as roomy and comfortable as many Class A motorhomes, it's high profile and large size will also restrict you to easy access boondocking areas like those found at Quartzsite. However, all the features that you would want for boondocking, such as large holding tanks, a large battery compartment, and plentiful storage can be found in this RV. The huge amount of roof space can also accommodate several solar panels. Due to its size and ease of towing, it's a very popular choice with full-timers and boondocking enthusiasts.

Pro's: Large holding tanks and battery compartment, comfort and livability, all-season, plentiful storage, detachable, best tow platform, some floor plans can sleep up to eight, low cost relative to the Class A motorhome.

Con's: Large size, high profile, poor maneuverability, poor off-road capability, very limited tow vehicle options (pickup trucks only).

7. Class A Motorhome:

This ungainly monster is pretty limited on where it can go, but once you get there, you'll be very comfortable doing it. Up to 40 ft long, this mansion-on-wheels offers copious amounts of storage, plentiful elbow room, large holding tanks, and can comfortably sleep up to eight. The massive roof and large battery compartment can also accommodate a first-rate solar power system with multiple banks of batteries, great for extended boondocking. It's also the most expensive class of RV on the market. In spite of this, though, it's still a very popular choice with full-time RVers and for those who love to boondock.

Pro's: Sleeps up to eight, large holding tanks and battery compartment, comfort and livability, all-season, plentiful storage, can tow a vehicle, inside access between living and driving areas.

Con's: Large size, high cost, high profile, heavy in weight, poor maneuverability, poor ground clearance, and limited off-road capability

8. Toy Hauler: 

The new-kid on the RV block. Most commonly found in either a travel trailer or fifth wheel configuration, it provides not only plentiful living and sleeping areas for you and the kids, but also a garage to haul your favorite toys. Unlike the standard travel trailer and fifth wheel, it's built for boondocking from the factory. It comes with massive fresh water and waste water holding tanks, a large battery compartment, a generator, and even a gas station to fuel your toys. The large, slightly-angled roof can also accommodate numerous solar panels, a big plus for off-the-grid camping. Unfortunately, this lumbering beast is also very heavy and not very maneuverable, which greatly limits you to flat, easy access areas like those found in the desert.

Pro's: Built to haul toys, large holding tanks and battery compartments, comfort and livability, plentiful storage, all-season, some floor plans can sleep up to eight.

Con's:  Large size, very heavy, high clearance, poor maneuverability, very limited off-road capability.

9. Class B 4x4 Van Conversion: 

Another off-road, boodocking machine. It's true this go-anywhere beast doesn't offer large holding tanks or much elbow room, and can sleep only two persons comfortably, but it's probably the best off-road RV on the market today. Steep inclines, large boulders, and low tree branches usually aren't a problem for this 4x4, low-profile unit. In spite of its size limitations and the fact it doesn't provide a full bathroom (most offer just a toilet), it still offers most of the features that you need to camp comfortably while off-the-grid. A perfect rig for a couple who really enjoy hiking and rock climbing and who really enjoy the great outdoors. 

Pro's: Small size, all-terrain vehicle, highly maneuverable, can tow, low profile, and high clearance.

Con's:  Tiny living area, small holding tanks and storage areas, poor insulation. 

So, which RV is the really the best RV for boondocking? I took a poll on this website in early 2012 to find out. Here are the results based upon 175 responses:
  • Pop-up 4x4 Truck Camper: 26 (14%)
  • Hard-side 4x4 Truck Camper: 60 (34%)
  • Small 4x4 Class C Motorhome: 21 (12%)
  • Pop-up Trailer: 7 (4%)
  • Toy Hauler: 7 (4%)
  • Class A Motorhome: 13 (7%)
  • Class B Van Conversion: 9 (5%)
  • Travel Trailer: 13 (7%)
  • Fifth Wheel: 19 (10%)
As you can see, the hard-side, 4x4 truck camper won in a resounding fashion at 34% with the pop-up 4x4 truck camper coming in a distant second at 14%. A big thanks to everyone who participated in the poll. 

A special thanks to Don Kingfield, Glenn Orsted, and Dave Rogers for permission to use their photographs for this article.

9 comments:

  1. I think that it's more of first a decision if you're into boondocking or EXTREME boondocking.

    Most regular boondocking can be done with a decently outfitted RV, though how far out you can get will be dictated by road conditions.

    Some of the moderate areas, a 4x4 powered rig with a shorter length becomes a necessity, usually the moderate area is where towables become less practical and large motorhomes are out of navigable road.

    From there, ya move into EXTREME boondocking, which usually involves driving Jeep trails or other extremely rugged terrain where center of gravity becomes more of an issue.

    This is where the Pop ups and other expedition grade rigs come into their own.

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  2. I voted for a 4x4 TC pop-up although I have a hard side TC. Anything besides a TC whether a PU or HS can't go where they can go.

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  3. The Class B conversion I have in process will have a full bathroom with a 40 gallon fresh water tank and 4 solar panels but it's not a 4x4. Where does it fit in your categories?

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    1. Hi Linda,
      I don't have a 4x4 either, so that's a good question. The examples in this article are simply the best configurations, in my opinion, for each class of RV. With a full bathroom, 40 gallons of fresh water, and 4 solar panels, it sounds like your rig will be a great boondocking RV.

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    2. Ok Ladies & Gentleman here is my take or as they say IMHO (in my humble opinion)

      The small (26FT type) fifth wheel simply cannot be beat
      1) hookup & unhook in 5 mins (TC I have seen folks scared to take em off at CG's cause of the drama 2 get em back on; quickest time i have seen is 25 mins on a SRW- with a lot of stress)
      2) very inexpensive; low cost compare to any reasonable RV (any hard side TC Lance, Artic Fox etc.. heck even the TT & tent trailers R not much cheaper
      3) Large holding tanks and battery compartment
      4) comfort and livability
      5) all-season,
      6) plentiful storage
      7) best tow platform
      8) Best height profile (unless it is a tent trailer & some TT's) hardside TC.. they higher than small 5er's & not nearly as safe on the road.. vast majority of TC owners R over their GVWR
      9) more stable on the road.. (no concern with all the aftermarket equipment u have 2 buy 2 make the TC stable on the road) no concern about GVWR;
      no need to worry about.. Can i go with full tanks of water etc..can I bring the extra beer;) no need to stress about OH what can we bring & what do we have 2 leave behind... Love watching the convo with husband & wife.. (if u left ur stuff i could bring more of mine :)
      10) Length? most TC have carriers on the front & back cause they need storage..this increases the length to say 22ft for truck + 2@4ft carriers = 30 ft long; never mind about the TC's that pull trailers for their stuff; Yipes!; the 26ft 5er has only 22ft behind the truck
      11) very maneuvable? 90 degree turns
      see link for Example if u have short bed truck
      http://www.goevergreenrv.com/page/107/Reese-Revolution-5th-Wheel-Hitch
      12) compared to a TC u have more tow vehicle options (with TC u have to have minimum 4 a small TC a 3/4 ton truck) 5er Can be a half ton truck;
      26Ft only weighs about 6k lbs with 900lbs in the box
      13) 5er's are more marketable when u decide to hold their value more
      14) small 5er cheaper to maintain (with a TC u spend more maintaining ur truck (brakes to stop all that weight, springs, tires etc..) your truck cannot be allowed to slip on tire maint etc.. 5er has it's own wheels & brakes & they last a lot longer; People I know with TC's spend a lot of money maintaing their trucks!
      Note: unless u are going off into some deep woods ..not just off the beaten path..but deep woods then i would say not to many places that I cannot take a small 5er that u can take ur TC or other RV's. The big TC's on dually's are not deep woods type rv's..
      And when u look at REAL WORLD usage.. u will find most do not take their RV's into the deep woods... off the beaten path is accessable by the small fifth wheels

      Bottom line :) Fifth Wheel gets my VOTE!!

      The 5er kid!

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    3. It's hard to argue with you. You make a great case on the positives of a fifth wheel.

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  4. Mike,

    Whatever happened to the cutaway van Class C motorhome RV type in your final article??

    We have camped with our rugged E450 24 foot 4X2 Class C motorhome into boondock sites where we would never want to be towing anything or in a Class A motorhome!

    (Perhaps so few of us with this type of rig boondock with them that any survey results would wind up being only a very small percentage.)

    P.S. I would have posted my name but couldn't find a way to do it using the "Comment as:" reply choices, so I had to use Anonymous.

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    Replies
    1. My 4x2 truck camper setup isn't in the article either. This article just takes a fun look at the most ideal rigs in each class of RV and isn't meant to be exclusionary.

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