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When the coronavirus cancelled international trips, cooped-up travelers decided to safely hit the open roads instead. So-called “Covid camping” went through the roof last year as more Americans switched to remote working, among other factors.
The RV Industry Association reported that wholesale shipments of recreational vehicles in June 2020 were up nearly 11% compared to June 2019.
The boom in trailer traveling was unexpected among hobbyists who “originally thought this was going to be a severe downturn in the hobby with initial lockdowns and campground closures and restrictions,” says Michigan-based retiree Terry Bone, who runs the vintage camper and trailer club, Tin Can Tourists, with his wife, Michelle. “We all were surprised to see quite the opposite.”
Geneva Long, founder and CEO of Bowlus, says sales inquiries “skyrocketed” to 4.5 times higher in 2020 than the previous year. The California-based company’s handmade high-end trailers go for upwards of $190,000, and it recently announced a new model, the Terra Firma (which starts at $265K), that won’t be ready to deliver until 2022 as high demand has pushed the production calendar.
“We’re predicting that the trend is going to continue in 2021 and beyond,” Long tells Rolling Stone. “The Bowlus is always something that sparks the imagination for RV buyers, and demand for the winter season delivery is up significantly. Not only that, our purchasers are people who are new to RV’ing,” she says, including globetrotters with a renewed interest in domestic travel by land.
Happier Camper, an L.A.-based maker of lightweight modular travel trailers, has “seen order rates grow as much as 200% during the pandemic,” says co-founder Ryan Edwards. “In addition to releasing new campers, people’s habits were really starting to change.”
Adds co-founder Derek May: “We are seeing a major shift back to a preference for ‘slow travel.’ People are falling in love with the great American road trip all over again, and want to travel with intention. We saw the pace of everyone’s life change dramatically in early 2020. Prior to 2020, we were really connecting with the younger digital nomads, the empty-nesters hitting the road again, and folks who were really interested in minimalism and tiny homes. We saw parabolic growth in those industries but everything changed last year, and so did everyone’s priorities.”
Bone adds that more women have joined the club in recent years (Tin Can Tourists has 2,500 card-carrying members and over 40,000 Facebook group members), “and we are seeing the ‘digital nomad’ impact because of the workplace mobility influenced by the pandemic. We see more families camping together and people camping while they work.”
May of Happier Campier agrees. “We’re seeing more younger families want to pass on the love for the outdoors with the next generation. Happier Camper is also primarily represented by women: well over 50% of Happier Camper owners are female, and a lot of them own their own business. In addition to the digital nomads, a lot of these women own a startup or small business and use the camper for pop-ups, or to meet with clients on the road.”
Long says the Bowlus — inspired by the original 1930s designs of aircraft builder, Hawley Bowlus — was an attractive option because of its lightweight and easy-to-maneuver design. “You’re not having to plan ahead and pay to stay in an RV park that’s outside national parks,” where the average permitted trailer length is 27 feet. (The company’s trailers are about 26 feet long.)
“People took advantage of the situation to find the time to work on their trailers and find new trailers to restore, and then used their trailers to enjoy the outdoors while being able to socially distance and get out,” adds Bone. “The pandemic was a boon for recreational activities as they were activities that people could safely enjoy and allowed them to get away a bit from the anxiety they might be experiencing.”
What Are the Best Accessories for Your Camper or RV?
For those who go the route of a vintage RV, Tin Can Tourists’ Terry Bone suggests that travelers “take care of the items needed to make your trailer safe. Get the major systems checked and repaired, including running gear such as lights, brakes, tires, axles and bearings, the propane system, and plumbing. Make sure the trailer is sound to tow and use,” and that it doesn’t exceed your vehicle’s tow limit. He notes that the club’s Facebook group is also great resource for beginners, and its website has an entire section dedicated to inspection tips for prospective vintage trailer buyers.
“I believe that the most essential thing to have is the courage to get started. I see so many people post that they will come to an event or have their first campout when their trailer is finished, but it is always a work in progress. Life is short and you don’t want to miss the memories and experiences camping in a vintage trailer will bring you,” he adds.
Happier Camper’s Derek May notes that his company’s Adaptiv modular system has “all things you need — inside or out — are included such as outdoor seating and kitchen features. You don’t need to bring something extra with you, and that’s the whole point. The best trip you can have is the one you just go take. If you have the essentials, you don’t need to have all the newest doodads to enjoy a camping trip. Just get out there!”
Whether you’re driving a motorhome, towing a high-end glamper, or going for a fixer-upper teardrop trailer, the last thing you want is to add more to your load. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best RV and camper trailer accessories that you won’t mind bringing along — check out our top picks below.
Note: don’t have your own RV? We like Outdoorsy.com, which lets you rent an RV, camper van or trailer for both short-term or long-term use. Need something fancier? You can even rent the same RV that Mariah Carey took on her recent Christmas vacation. Head over to Outdoorsy.com to choose your vehicle and dates, and have it delivered to your door in time for your next great trip.
1. Helinox Chair Zero Ultralight Compact Camping Chair
This lightweight camping chair by Helinox can support up to 265 pounds, and packs up into a portable 13.5-inch-by-4-inch carrying bag. It weighs in at just over one pound, thanks to a sturdy aluminum alloy frame and weather-resistant ripstop polyester seat. We like that it’s easy to assemble, and the compact seat folds to 20 inches wide by 19 inches deep by 25 inches tall.
2. Lastbus Wireless Waterproof 1080p Backup Camera with Night Vision
If your trailer doesn’t have a built-in rear camera, it’s worth getting this wireless one for safety and peace of mind. This kit comes with two waterproof 1080p cameras (each with a 170-degree wide-view angle) and delivers clear video to a seven-inch HD LCD monitor. The wireless cameras have a range of 330 feet and easily hook up to your tail lights, and the monitor includes a cigarette lighter adapter for power.
3. Trailblazer 2-in-1 Portable Fire Pit and Grill
If a campfire is an essential part of your travels, this two-in-one portable fire pit and grill is a quick and convenient way to bring one with you everywhere. It takes less than two minutes to set up and can burn wood or charcoal, so you can use it for outdoor cooking.
4. Outland Firebowl 870 Premium Outdoor Portable Propane Gas Fire Pit
In situations when you don’t have access to firewood (or simply don’t like the smokey smell), Outland’s Firebowl portable fire pit is a great mess-free alternative that takes minutes to set up. It measures 19 inches wide and long by 11 inches tall, and hooks up to your propane line.
5. Eagles Nest Outfitters DoubleNest Hammock
For the times when you want to hang out in the fresh air, try this two-person hammock. It’s made of 70D ripstop nylon and features triple-stitched seams, and supports up to 400 pounds. The built-in stuff sack makes it a cinch to pack up into the size of a softball. Multiple colors available.
6. Caravan Sports Infinity Zero Gravity Chair
Comfort-seeking campers can really kick back and relax in Caravan Sports’ Infinity Zero Gravity Chair, which lets you sit upright or recline in a range of positions. It has an adjustable headrest that can also be used for lumbar support, and supports up to 300 pounds. When open, it measures 25.5 inches long by 45 inches wide by 65.5 inches high; it folds into a compact size of 38.8 inches long by 24.4 inches wide by 6.3 inches high. Multiple colors available.
7. GigaTent Pop-Up Pod
When nature calls (or you simply need some privacy), this pop-up pod by GigaTent is a great accessory to have on hand in trailers that don’t have built-in bathrooms. It measures 36 inches wide and deep by 69 inches tall, so there’s enough room for a portable toilet or a shower bag.
8. Zamp Solar 170-Watt Roof Mount Kit
If you’re out on the road or camping, you’re likely not expecting the usual creature comforts. That being said, having a off-the-grid backup source for electricity is always a good idea, and Zamps 170-watt solar panel kit is a good option for most RV sizes with basic appliances.
It can power up single or dual 12-volt battery packs and mounts to your roof, making it easy to access the most amount of sunlight when you’re traveling on a bright day. Depending on your setup, note that you may also need an inverter to convert the solar panels’ DC power to AC power for charging household appliances in your RV.
9. Sawyer Tap Water Filtration System
Let’s say you’re out of your backup water supply, and you don’t trust the quality of the tap water you’re hooking up to. Sawyer’s tap filter is a good RV accessory to have on hand in case of emergencies when you may not have potable water available, as it can filter 99.99% of bacteria (like E. coli, cholera, and salmonella) and protozoa as well as 100% of microplastics.
This travel-friendly filtration system can handle up to 500 gallons of water per day, and it’s compatible with standard garden hose spigots and certain faucet aerators.
10. Glamplife Recycled Reversible RV Rug
If you’re particular about the aesthetics of your RV accessories (say, your welcome mat), then there are plenty of design-minded options. This waterproof and reversible 9-foot by 12-foot rug is made of recycled plastic with a protective UV coating, so it’s easy to clean and can withstand prolonged exposure to the sun. It has binding on the edges to prevent fraying and the corners have stake loops to keep it in place, and it comes with a handy storage bag. Available in multiple designs.
11. Umbra Enfold Over the Door Organizer
Storage can be hard to come by in camper trailers and RVs, and this over-the-door organizer by Umbra lets you make the most of your space. It has four gusseted pockets and a removable hamper with handles, so you can use it for dirty laundry or as a trash can.
12. Coghlan’s Pop-Up Trash Can
Whether you’re a “leave no trace” type or just need another spot to stow away stuff, this pop-up container is a versatile accessory for RVs. This durable 600D polyester can collapses into a flat disc for easy storage, and grommets at the base allow you to secure the can to the ground with stakes. You can zip the top closed to keep trash out of sight (or away from pests), and the carrying handles make it easy to move the can when it’s full. Multiple sizes available.