More and more people are choosing to purchase RVs, hit the road, go camping, and go camping. Michigan has always has been an attractive destination for RVers for decades.
As potential RV owners look to purchasing their own RVs, lightweight and ultra-lightweight RV models continue to be of high interest. “Since 2020 we have seen this segment blow up. They are not ‘intimidating’ to tow, and it has allowed a lot of first-time buyers to come into the market. The main segment we see is retired couples and single travelers. We do sell some families in this segment, but it’s very rare to see that,” explains Matt Veurink, Veurink’s RV, Grand Rapids.
These RVs range from 1,000 pounds to around 6,000 pounds, dry weight, which has a lot to do with the chosen materials. “Lightweight generally refers to laminated-built trailers,” says Veurink. “What this means is that instead of a traditional wood frame and aluminum exterior, the manufacturers will build the trailers with aluminum framing and fiberglass siding. They finish the process by laminating the walls to create a superior bond and strength. On average, the same size camper can be around 10% lighter. The manufacturer also uses lighter materials in the walls to keep the weight down but not cause issues to the integrity of the wall. This is a more expensive construction, but many consider a much superior build.” Michael Fegan, Woodland Airstream, Grand Rapids, adds: “Lightweight means that you do not need a full-size pickup truck to be able to tow. With Airstreams, we would say anything under 5,000 GVWR, or fully loaded with all your gear, would be called lightweight.”
Sound interesting? Let’s go through some of the reasons why a lightweight RV might be a good option to consider.
Many lightweight RVs and ultralightweight RVs can be towed by a wider range of vehicles. “If you have a SUV or mini-van you are limited on what you can tow. But a family can fit into this vehicles, so the RV manufacturers build trailers light enough for a family to comfortably travel and camp!” says Veurink. It’s also a “safer towing experience for newbies” says Fegan.
Check the towing capacity of any existing vehicle that you intend to use for towing to see if it matches the RV you would like to purchase. Better yet, start with this information and trim down your search by your tow vehicle’s tow rating, which can be found in your owner’s manual. “Everyone has an opinion on what you can and should tow,” says Veurink. “My recommendation is to leave 800-1000 pounds between what you can tow and what the RV weighs unloaded.” Using an existing vehicle is helpful in that you don’t need to think about purchasing a new vehicle to accommodate an RV’s weight. Don’t simply take an RV’s “dry” weight (meaning, unloaded) as your starting point. Your tow vehicle needs to be able to tow the RV fully loaded with all your gear and any possible liquids.
Compared to a lot of RV types, a lightweight or ultralightweight towable RV is more cost effective to purchase, new or used. It’s a great way to get started with RV camping and traveling with an RV in tow if you’ve never done so before. A lightweight or ultralightweight travel trailer on the upscale side can run $20,000-$40,000, but you can definitely find models that are much lower than that. “You can get into a small light weight camper in the low to mid-teens price point,” explains Veurink. “NuCamp [which is sold at Veurink’s RV dealership] start as low as $20,000 and can range over $60,000.” At Airstream, their lightweight model is called Basecamp. “Used Basecamps can be anywhere from $30-50K depending on year and size. New Basecamps are between $50-60K depending on size and options,” says Fegan.
Not only are lightweight RVs and ultralightweight RVs easy to tow, they are easier to travel with and maneuver. Larger, longer, and heavier RVs sometimes are restricted from certain campgrounds, national parks, or roadways. Smaller, lighter RV trailers often have enhanced aerodynamic designs, making them easier to trail and easier on your gas mileage. This is a nice bonus if the environment is on your mind, as a lightweight or ultralightweight RV requires less energy to move and utilize.
Many manufacturers are increasingly making lightweight and ultralightweight RVs with sustainable, lighter materials, so they are better for the environment while remaining as durable as heavier RVs. But they don’t skimp on insulation, which is very important for RV life.
Just because an RV is lighter doesn’t mean it has less than its heavier counterparts. What has Matt Veurink seen lately? “Depends on the price point. But I have seen a lot of our lighter weight RVs come more loaded. Just because they’re smaller doesn’t mean they can’t have great features. But you should expect all the amenities of a bigger camper: stove, refrigerator, A/C, heat, bathrooms and much more! The camper can be quite sizable and spacious inside, yet super light.” Other features can include dedicated sleeping areas, living spaces, good insulation, and storage. As with any RV type, look for the appropriate combination of layout and amenities that match your travel needs.
Lightweight RVs certainly offer a lot of perks. But are there circumstances when a lightweight RV might not be the best choice? “The downfall will be size, as they say in the boating industry, you always want the next size up! If you can tow larger and heavier, go for it! You may find that you don’t need to trade in for the larger model down the road,” explains Veurink. However, lightweight RVs are a great fit for many. “It really comes down to what the potential buyer wants to accomplish.” Dealerships know their RVs and manufacturers inside and out, so take advantage of their knowledge as you take steps toward this investment.
Lightweight RV Options
NuCamp (Veurink’s RV): “When it comes to teardrops or lightweight campers, there is no one better. From the start of production to the final end user, this company goes above and beyond. They only source the best materials in their RVs. They are always working on something new behind the scenes that will make their company grow but also improve quality. They are a relationship-type company and take what their dealers say very seriously. I highly recommend the brand to other dealers and of course, our customers.”
Basecamp (Woodland Airstream): Basecamp is for a customer that loves being active and is sick of tent camping… likes to bring gear like bikes, kayaks, fishing gear, etc. Basecamp is Airstream’s #1 selling travel trailer across the board.”