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Pros and Cons of buying an Ultra-Light Travel Trailer


Sandra1953

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I am planning to go full-time in the next two years and have been investigating ultra-light travel trailers. I've narrowed it down to two - Oliver Elite II or Keystone Bullet.

 

I will be a solo traveler, so don't need a huge house on wheels. I thought I'd go lightweight because of the smaller size and the fact that I won't need a huge truck to tow it.

 

I am wondering what the downsides are of the ultra-light, lightweight class of trailer. Will there be more sway? Will I get blown off the highway by every passing semi?

 

Any and all advice (pro and con) will be most welcome.

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Generally, in most product lines, the "Ultra" lite trailerss are jsut that. Built with light weight materials, thin walll, light weight frames and are cheaper. There are a few manufacturers that build a higher quality Lite unit...you might look at Livin' Lite.

 

Ken

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Welcome to the Escapee's RV club and forums! We are very happy to have you become a part of our group!

 

We own an ultra-lite travel trailer and while I don't entirely agree with Ken, I very much agree that they are not a good choice for fulltime RV living. We were fulltime for nearly 12 years and I do not believe that any ultra-lite that I am familiar with would serve at all well in temperature extremes, as you are bound to experience at times when fulltime. It is very difficult to totally avoid cold and these RVs are low in weight because they are constructed using aluminum, which is a wonderful medium for conducting heat, making them very difficult to keep warm if it gets cold. You simply can not build an RV of the quality and durability needed for full-time living and keep the weight to the limits which the ultra-lite lines require.

 

They do have more issues with wind effects and sway controls are absolutely necessary. They also have less cargo capacity and storage than would a heavier RV design and that means that you won't be able to take that much with you for year around living. The waste tanks will be outside and exposed to the weather and so freezing will be a problem. We love our little travel trailer but it is only suitable for seasonal use. We would not choose it if we did not now have a home-base for spending periods of weather extreme in.

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...I am planning to go full-time in the next two years and have been investigating ultra-light travel trailers. I've narrowed it down to two - Oliver Elite II or Keystone Bullet....

Welcome to the Escapees Forum!!!

 

The two trailers you mention are in my opinion at different ends of the small trailer quality spectrum. The Bullet is built with the weekend/vacation user in mind and is in, by Keystone's own product grouping, the entry level group of products.

 

The Oliver Elite II is a product that the manufacturer advertises as a four season trailer. At 7000# GVWR(about 1,000# heavier than the smallest Bullet), it is really not light for its size. Its cargo carrying capacity of 2,400# (for a base model) is likely adequate for a single individual, especially when considering that a tow vehicle like a pickup with a cap, SUV or van with an appropriate GVWR can provide lots of additional storage. The egg profile trailers generally tow much better than the square box style trailers offering less frontal resistance and less flat side surface area. With an adequately sized tow vehicle, a good weight distribution and sway control hitch the egg trailer owners that I know seem pleased with how their trailers tow.

 

There does not seem to be all that many travel trailer owners that are active on this forum and I know of only a few that own a fiberglass trailer. I suggest that if you have not already, you explore the websites of the Fiberglass RV Forum and the Egg Camping Club. RV Sue and her Canine Crew has a website about her travels and life in a fiberglass trailer.

 

Again, Welcome to the Escapees Forum and good luck with your search for the right RV for you.

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Thanks so much for the welcome, the input and suggested resourcess.

 

Reading RV Sue's blog got me started along the lines of fiberglass, because she has a Casita. I did some research and thought that the Oliver offered a bit more comfort for full-time living than RV Sue's BLT (best little trailer). Technomadia lived in an Ollie for 3 years and had good things to say about it on their site...though the time they kept it seems rather short.

 

I had originally considered a Class C Sunseeker, but changed my mind when I realized that when I needed to go anywhere other than to the campground, I'd have to pull up camp or tow a smaller vehicle. Rather than the cost of owning and maintaining 2 vehicles, I switched to the ultra-light class of TT.

 

I do plan to use the tow vehicle for extra storage. i ruled out the truck with a cap out of concern that a lightweight trailer with a lightweight back end of the towing vehicle might not be a good combination.

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i ruled out the truck with a cap out of concern that a lightweight trailer with a lightweight back end of the towing vehicle might not be a good combination.

 

I don't believe that this is an issue. In fact, I would guess that most lightweight trailers are being towed with pickups, so I wouldn't eliminate a truck from consideration if that is what you prefer.

 

What the lightweight trailers allow is safe towing with a lighter weight half-ton truck, rather than needing a 3/4 or one-ton pickup. They also are better suited for towing by SUV type vehicles than the larger, heavier trailers.

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...I do plan to use the tow vehicle for extra storage. i ruled out the truck with a cap out of concern that a lightweight trailer with a lightweight back end of the towing vehicle might not be a good combination...

I am somewhat confused by this statement. If you read many of the travel trailer forums, it seems at least to me, that folks have more issues towing with an SUV than a pickup. The Oliver Elite II at 7000# would put somewhere between 700-1050# (10-15% tongue weight) on the rear of the truck. A cap and extra stored cargo will add to that. In an SUV, to pull a 7000# trailer, you are into a full size SUV like the Ford Expedtion. The extra seats, etc. of an SUV do add weight, but also take up space and reduce both cargo volume and weight capacity. The wheelbase of the tow vehicle in relation to the length of the trailer being towed is a factor in whether a trailer will sway. The longest wheelbase of the Expedition is 131". A regular cab, long bed F150 with the 3.5 Eco-boost engine has a wheelbase of 141" and can have a maximum payload of over 3000#. From what I could see in a quick look, the Ford F-150 with the 3.5 Eco-boost seems to have substantially higher payload capacity than either the Dodge or Chevy/GMC 1500s. Vans are available with longer wheelbase than the SUVs and can have impressive cargo capacities, but I couldn't find all that much about towing capabilities above 7000# in the Ford line. Chevy has some models with 10,000# max towing.

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Thanks for the info. I was thinking along the lines of a van as RV Sue has done...larger enclosed area for storage. Based on what's been written, I'll reconsider the truck.

 

I am new to towing (as you can tell) having towed only a popup trailer and a canoe trailer.

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...I was thinking along the lines of a van as RV Sue has done...larger enclosed area for storage. Based on what's been written, I'll reconsider the truck...

A full size van can be a good tow vehicle. The position of the rear axle in relation to the hitch (closer than in a pickup) does help stability when the tow vehicle is empty, but they are still tail light. When towing you will always have at least the tongue weight of the trailer on the tow vehicle. In new, it looks like Chevy/GMC would be your only choice in a van for towing the Elite II. In used, the E350 if properly configured would likely be a possibility. I don't think any of the Mercedes Benz/Sprinter based vans will have enough towing capacity for the Elite II so if that ends up as your choice of trailer you would be looking at an older dodge full size van.

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When we went to the Tampa Rv show last month, we were very impressed with the new light weight trailer offers from Lance, the truck camper people. They had features such a dual pane windows, enclosed furnace-heated tanks, rigid foam block insulation that will not sag, and Azdel instead of luan backings. Many of their finishings were NC cut and didn't require moldings to cover up construction imperfections. They also had some very efficient floorplans.

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Don't limit yourself to just a trailer. Small motohomes with a "toad" (the car or truck you tow behind a MH) work very well for solo travelers.

 

Not saying one is absolutely better than the other. Just do a little more research.

 

Hooking and unhooking a "toad" from behind a small motorhome is easier or at least as easy as connecting a tow vehicle to a trailer. I have had experience with both over the last 11 years (and towing a poptop trailer for 25 years before that).

 

Maintaining two vehicles is not that great an issue. When we retired and started traveling and then going full time, I had the same opinion about two vehicles. Then we moved to a MH and toad and prefer this arrangement.

 

Here a blogs of two solo women in small class C's.

 

http://taketothehighway.com/

http://winnieviews.blogspot.com/

 

You may be able to email the above two bloggers to get more info.

 

I was going to suggest RV Sue's blog, but I see you have already been there.

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Here are a couple more links in case you have not already found them: Oliver Forum, Casita Forum, Escape Forum. Here is a link to the webpage of a member of this forum that travels extensively in a fiberglass trailer.

 

For some higher quality trailers in the style of the Keystone Bullet, checkout the smaller Arctic Fox and Winnebago Minnie travel trailers.

 

Others can only tell you what they think is best for them and why. Good luck finding the right RV for You!!

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Everyone is so generous with sharing very useful information. I've been puzzling over these things for a month now on my own and never discovered as much as I have in one quick post on Escapees forum. Thank you! So nice to be part of a community.

 

I am planning a trip to TN to see an Ollie in person. Will know more then. Will hit a few RV shows this year, too.

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I agree very much with what Trailertraveler has said about the Oliver after looking it over, but it does have an aluminum frame but as long as it is only the frame that is aluminum, that won't be a major issue. Most of us think of an ultra-lite RV as one that is under 5000# so the Oliver is clearly not that lite! I also agree that a truck might be your best choice for towing. I drove vans a lot over the years and they are even lighter in the rear than a pickup until you add weight to them, but if you keep enough in the back that does change. If you shop for a van to tow with, but sure that you choose one with rear wheel drive as you do not want to tow a 7000# trailer with a front wheel drive van. I can't recall ever having been in an Oliver, but the website is very impressive.

 

We did look hard at the Casita when we downsized to our present 20' RV but as impressive as they are, we simply did not feel that we could spend several months in one happily as there are two of us. They are very well built and have some great features but the largest is only 17' long and too cramped for us.

 

The other thing that I would caution you on is to be very sure that you can adapt to the small space. I am an advocate of smaller is better, but it is important to have enough space to be comfortable in and to carry what you want to take with you as trading RVs to solve a mismatch is very expensive.

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I know nothing about the Oliver but am skeptical about having to sit around a table, full-time. The big problem in all of the small trailers is comfort. Like Kirk, we downsized from a fiver to a 23' trailer when we got off the road. We love the smaller trailer but this summer we lived in it for a couple months and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. The uncomfortable furniture got really uncomfortable when living inside 24/7. We sure missed the space and the nice rockers and couch in a bigger RV. Those table seats don't have the support or depth for comfort. You'll need a truck and be prepared to be digging around the bed (with a canopy) all the time for all of your stuff. There won't be much storage in the trailer. JMHO

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While Kirk uses his trailer for part time and seasonal use, it would be a stretc to use it full time. It would help to keep it in the southern states where the temperatures are not as extreme in the winter.

 

But with out a good A/C unit, it could be hard to keep cool in the summer.

 

My answer is aimed at your requirement to use the trailer for full time use. Having had lite weight trailers and are now full time is a full time rated and 4-season trailer, there is a big ddifference in livability.

 

Ken

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Hello Sandra1953, IMHO there are few ultralites that will hold up to lots of use. If you want to really enjoy the RV experience, target a towable that weighs in at 50-70% of your manufactures tow rating. A full size van or pickup is a very stable platform to tow with. The pickup will probably give you way more driver options. We use a GMC duramax with a Outdoors 20FQ. Way too much tow vehicle, but a very pleasant trip. I have towed the 20FQ with with my wives Buick Raineer. It is set to tow 7500# and although I am under that with the TT, it is not nearly as relaxing a trip. As to your RV, make a list of what you consider must haves and search to that list. We wanted a high capacity water tank, walk around queen, separate sleeping area, no super slide, as short as possible and as close to 4 season usability as possible. That small list really thinned the massive herd of RVs to choose from. After you select a few candidates, get out there and look. Then start to hit the owner reviews and ask real owners more questions. It's far cheaper to spend more time choosing that to buy the wrong rig the first time. Be aware your needs will change and your rig will need to change too. We're on number 15 or so and like most Rvers, we're still looking for the perfect rig. For the moment, we couldn't be happier with the 20FQ. Has all we need and we can get in to most any primitive campground. It loves the dusty roads here in NW Montana. Good luck.

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My plan for f-t travel is to truly be a nomad. I want to see all of the U.S., moving through the deep South and SW in the winter and going to more temperate areas in the summer. I know I can't completely avoid bad or cold weather, but the plan is to minimize it.

 

Small is good for me because it will just be me and my dog. I've had a house and a big yard and am done with all that. Not looking for a huge house on wheels that is better than my current house. :rolleyes: I like living small. What some might consider less comfort, I consider less work, lower costs and less struggle to maintain. There won't be as much room to acquire more stuff.

 

Yes...it would be nice to have a walk around bed and I have thought long and hard about it. But, I'd hate to buy a larger rig, just to accommodate that preference (not necessity).

 

I have given my living conditions a lot of thought over the past five years. Now is the time to get down to the mechanics of it all and make solid plans.

 

Even though I plan to go small, I still relish the ideas/comments. This helps me think everything through and maybe reconsider some decisions. Thank you all...what a wonderful community.

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My plan for f-t travel is to truly be a nomad. I want to see all of the U.S., moving through the deep South and SW in the winter and going to more temperate areas in the summer. I know I can't completely avoid bad or cold weather, but the plan is to minimize it.

 

Small is good for me because it will just be me and my dog. I've had a house and a big yard and am done with all that. Not looking for a huge house on wheels that is better than my current house. :rolleyes: I like living small. What some might consider less comfort, I consider less work, lower costs and less struggle to maintain. There won't be as much room to acquire more stuff.

 

Yes...it would be nice to have a walk around bed and I have thought long and hard about it. But, I'd hate to buy a larger rig, just to accommodate that preference (not necessity).

 

I have given my living conditions a lot of thought over the past five years. Now is the time to get down to the mechanics of it all and make solid plans.

 

Even though I plan to go small, I still relish the ideas/comments. This helps me think everything through and maybe reconsider some decisions. Thank you all...what a wonderful community.

 

Great to hear that. Too many get caught up in the training that you must have a house and keep a yard to be normal.

After reading your replies so far, I think you are a lot further in your knowledge of what it's going to take than you might think you are. Your statement about a light weight rear end of a pu and a trailer not being a good match, shows wisdom and understanding. I bet you've seen rigs going down the highway with the tail waging the dog as they say?

 

I looked at the Oliver some when it started coming up on youtube. Similar in design to the Casita or Scamp, but perhaps a bit more refined. IMO, if you have not done much extended period camping or towing yet, you may as well start with something you can afford easily and sell when/if you decide it is not working out.

 

If you have a connection fast enough to watch much youtube, I might suggest you watch some of Pippi Peterson's videos. She chose a used motor home for her and her dog to travel in. She decided to do as many of the maintenance and repair procedures as she possibly can, by herself. She videos much of it and is an inspiration to anyone considering full time rv living. IMO.

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If you are considering towing with a smaller TV, I'd look at some of the expandable trailers like the Trailmanor (possibly even the new rise - similar to the now defunct HiLo trailers. Don't forget the larger A-frame trailers like the Chalet XL series - though diminutive to some, they are veritable mansions compared to my little LXE Aliner.

 

Here's an piece I wrote about my Aliner. http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/living-traveling-pop-aliner-trailer/

 

http://trailmanor.com/wordpress/rise-travel-trailers/

 

http://www.chaletrv.com/folding-trailers/xl1936

 

And if you do have a 1 ton dually you might also want to consider a truck camper. Chalet has some of the nicest I've seen too. You'd be surprised how much room they have inside. I even looked at one with 4 slides and an 8cf fridge!

http://www.chaletrv.com/truck-campers/ts116fb

 

Of the two trailers you mentioned, the Oliver is probably your most durable choice, though you pay for this in weight. It's good if you don't like to tinker, but it is hard to customize if you do. You are sort of limited to what they give you.

 

My DW and I plan on FTing in a little bigger TT, but we will only be staying in more moderate climates, so are not looking for a 4 season model. However, if you want a 4 season TT that's a little roomier, perhaps a small Arctic Fox, like the 22g would be a good choice as it only weighs in at less than 4,700lbs dry and has a reasonable 2800lb CCC, leaving room if you want to add a fair sized solar system and heavy batteries to boondock with. http://northwoodmfg.com/index.php?page=model&make=arctic&id=1060 They come highly recommended too.

 

Chip

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While the Oliver is a very well built trailer that is capable of 4 season camping, there are other choices in the fiberglass "egg" family, most of which are considerably less expensive and still very high quality. I have a web page dedicated to fiberglass trailers that includes blogs, manufacturer's links, rally photos, etc. Both Oliver & Bigfoot make 24'+ fiberglass trailers, but if you are willing to go a bit smaller, fiberglass trailers ranging from 13' to 21', including a 21' fifth wheel available from other manufacturers.

 

I am doing pretty much what you describe as your plans - I travel the country solo in a 17' Escape 17B pulled by a RAV4 Sport. The trailer has a dry weight of 2100 lbs, loaded for a long trip it weighs in at 3010 lbs, with a tongue weight of 345 lbs.

 

I've towed the trailer almost 56,000 miles over the last 4 years, including 3 cross country trips, the last 304 days. While I have to admit the trailer starts feeling a bit "cramped" after 3-4 days of rain, most of the time I'm outside, hiking, taking photographs, etc. I usually do most of my cooking outside as well, even though the Escape is fully equipped, including a bathroom, shower, refrigerator, etc. I have a pair of 6V batteries & solar which allows for me dry camping for as long as 3 weeks (or until my tanks fill), and spent last winter in the Southwest, mostly along the Colorado River in Arizona. Small trailers are handy if you enjoy the national parks and some of the smaller state & city/county parks across the country. While most have room for larger trailers, the smaller you are, the more likely you will fit in what is left. Very handy if you travel without making reservations.

 

My journals of my travels are linked here.

 

On edit, sorry for reposting the link to my Fiberglass Trailer page - I missed Trailer Traveler's link to it.

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I am also a fan of RVSue and her ability to find amazing boondock spaces and her willingness to adopt (and adapt) solar technology to her style of RVing. She does some terrific photos, too. And anyone trying to "monetize" a blog could learn a lot from her. So I know where you're coming from.

 

We still have our TT (a 1970 Streamline 21' - think Airstream) mostly because I have enjoyed so many days taking it fishing, kayaking and mountain biking as well as long trips down to beaches in SoCal. When we bought it, 6 years ago (for $4,000!) I had a bum knee that made it difficult to be inside small bathroom facilities. The Streamlines have HUGE bathrooms (our 21-footer has two closets in the bathroom which is separated from the living area by a pocket door). Even though we have a 36' DP I still take the TT on solo adventures where I can park it out of the way and have a home base for lunch (and naps). It's so easy to tow with my '94 3/4-ton Dodge standard cab long bed (with a canopy) that I don't hesitate to hitch it up even for long day trips.

 

So I was surprised at the Oliver (which I liked, mostly). The price is... well.... spendy. And it's not all that light. The next model up from my 21' trailer (which weighs 3500 lbs) was only 4,000 lbs and seems far more livable to me. And the Airstreams, Streamlines and Silver Streak TTs were so well built that there are lots of them available ready-to-tow on craigslist. Like Airstreams, the smaller versions are the most expensive; this is a 180 change from when they were built when 30' models were more popular but the Streamlines and Silver Streaks are bargains compared to the Airstreams.

 

You might want to look around at these trailers. I got curious after reading your post and then seeing the prices and found this in Pahrump's craigslist: http://lasvegas.craigslist.org/rvs/4859016361.html. And here is a floorplan of that model (and mine, too, for that matter): http://www.tompatterson.com/Streamline/Brochures/1969/6913.php. (You can use searchtempest.com to find similar items on craigslist within a range of miles from your location that you can set.)

 

These were top-of-the-line travel trailers in the late 60s and early 70s and not at all featured as "ultra light". But check the weights. Notice all the Streamlines have tandem axles (which I think are important for handling and braking). A dresser in the bedroom with a big bed, a usable bathroom and shower, and refrigerators, stoves with ovens, double sinks, and closets!

 

You can see my Streamline on www.nwkayaking.net; along with the solar panels I used to keep my battery charged.

 

I'm not at all sure there has been all that much progress.

 

WDR

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I've spent a lot of time looking at fiberglass trailer sites because they appeal to me. If I was buying one I'd buy either an Oliver or an Escape as they seem better suited to varied weather. I would buy a twin bed model because being able to get into bed from the side is important to me. Plus I could then use the second bed for lots of storage. The van I recently sold had a 30" wide bed so I know I can be comfortable with that size; narrower would be a problem keeping me from using the side dinette as my bed. Just in case you haven't looked at the Escape yet, here's a link to their website: http://escapetrailer.com.

 

Linda Sand

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I know nothing about the Oliver but am skeptical about having to sit around a table, full-time. The big problem in all of the small trailers is comfort. Like Kirk, we downsized from a fiver to a 23' trailer when we got off the road. We love the smaller trailer but this summer we lived in it for a couple months and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. The uncomfortable furniture got really uncomfortable when living inside 24/7. We sure missed the space and the nice rockers and couch in a bigger RV. Those table seats don't have the support or depth for comfort. You'll need a truck and be prepared to be digging around the bed (with a canopy) all the time for all of your stuff. There won't be much storage in the trailer. JMHO

 

I'll have to second Earl's comments on comfort and claustrophobia - he makes many good points. Our Surveryor Sport 220 is just slightly longer than the Elite II you're considering, but has a slide with the dinette in it. Even with a slide and a large outside awning, things can feel very tight during a multi-day rainy stretch. We also don't have to convert the seating/dining area for sleeping, either. Earls comments on the comfort of the seating are very important. It seems (from your handle) that we may have been born the same year, but I hope your back is in better shape than mine. The flat foam cushions are not suiting for more than an hour or so of sitting. We usually "retire" to the bed with extra pillows for reading, etc.

 

Other things to consider are the so-called "wet bath" in the Elite II. This means that the toilet and the lavatory are essentially in the shower stall, so get wet when you shower. I didn't look long enough on the web site to find the tank capacities, but fresh and grey water capacities are usually the limiting factors for boon-docking. The configuration of the underbelly and plumbing are also important for four season use... are the water lines protected from freezing?

 

These fiberglass trailers have much in common with smaller fiberglass sailboats and yachts with which I've been involved for 40 years. They have many good characteristics, but "breathing" (air exchange) and condensation can be an issue. In cooler or more humid climates, you may need to take measures to avoid condensation the the resulting mold and mildew.

 

All of these are reasons we will be switching to a fifth wheel (with real furniture, larger tank capacities, better insulation, and a heated underbelly, as we move toward full-timing later this year.

 

Good luck on your adventure!

 

Rob

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