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News & Blogs The latest trend in RV'ing: Getting way off the grid

Crazy Hobo Johnny

Wise Sage
Jul 20, 2018
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Milwaukee Wisconsin
(CNN)Recreational vehicle makers often boast how their RVs and trailers can feel just like home. Besides their cleverly packaged bathrooms and kitchenettes, when you park your rig at a campground you can find something else that will make you feel you never left home: neighbors.

Often lots of neighbors. Sometimes noisy ones. Just like at home.

That's why a lot of campers these days are enjoying the seclusion of "boondocking," or camping away from traditional campsites. And away from all those other campers.

"You drive around. You find yourself a spot, you don't have any services of any sort," said Amanda Watson who's been living in a 1998 Safari motorhome with her husband for eight years. "That's what I consider boondocking."

RV'ing in generalhas becomeincreasingly popular over the past few years. And that's been especially the case recently, with the coronavirus keeping people away from shared lodgings. Now, even once-secluded spots are getting less secluded, especially ifit's near a cell-phone tower. Not having running water or sewer access is one thing, but apparently no one wants to be away from the Internet.

"We have discovered, particularly in the Southwest where the land is really wide open and the cell signal travels far, that we have gotten a good cell signal in some really remote places," Watson said.


The Polydrop KJ-20 trailer.

It's a trend that has spawned numerous small startupcompanies, like Opus, Polydrops and EarthRoamer, to make trailers and recreational vehicles designed for venturing far from paved -- or even unpaved -- roads. Traditional RV companies, like Winnebago and Airstream, have also taken noticeand are now turning out trailers and camping rigs with bigger, knobbier tires and more ground clearance to clamber over rocks and ruts.

Dry camping

Some homeowners rent out campsites that are often just easily accessible spots on their private land.Butif you want to getto places that are more remote and away from drivable asphalt or gravel roads, you'll want a rig designed for that.

Compact size isalso important. You don't want something that's difficult to maneuver around boulders or between trees on the way to your secluded campsite.


The Opus OP2 trailer.

About three years ago, California architecture student Kyunghyun Lew set out to design a camping trailer light enough to tow behind his wife's Mazda3 or almost any SUV. He designed the Polydrop trailer, now available in four different stylesfrom about $14,000 to $20,000, all of which resemble a space pod from a 1970's science fiction movie. With air conditioning and heating, it offers a comfortable place to sleep. A fold out kitchenette is also available and Lew says he is also working on a built-in toilet. For now, campers will have to improvise.

Another company, Opus -- founded in the United Kingdom but with its US headquarters in Pittsburg, California -- offers rugged folding camping trailers. Advertised as "Tough Luxury," most Opus models are designed as, essentially, a tent in low-profile metal box riding on knobby tires.

They come in various sizes, some with just enough room for two to sleep or big enough for four or six. Prices start at about $20,000. The tents inflate -- they have an inflatable frame -- in a couple of minutes, according to the company. The trailers have slide out stoves for cooking and also offer refrigerators and freezers. They also have water tanks that hold enough clean water to last several days.

Opus offers a hybrid model, too. For a starting price of $47,500, it's more like a traditional metal-bodied camping trailer with a cloth-walled extension that unfolds from the roof for extra space.


The Airstream Basecamp 20X.

Meanwhile, traditional RV companies have responded tothegrowing popularity of boondocking with their own models. Airstream recently introduced the Basecamp 20X. Costing nearly $50,000, it is a more rugged version of the company's futuristic looking compact aluminum trailer. It joins the smaller Basecamp 16X, which costs a little over $40,000.

These versions have greater ground clearance, more rugged tires and a redesigned back endthat allows them to be towed up steep inclines without scraping the ground. There's also more protection on the windows to keep them from being broken by tree branches.

These trailers allow people to get further into the woods and those pretty lakeside spots.

"It's more like what we put in our brochures," said Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler.

Winnebago, meanwhile, recently unveiled the Revel, a new off-road-oriented version of a traditional Winnebago motor home. With prices starting at about $175,000, it has all-wheel drive and more ground clearance and is also relatively compact for easier maneuvering.

As they showed off prototypes of the Revel, Winnebago designers realized they were dealing with a different sort of customer. Usually people want to know how big of a TV they could fit in an RV.


The Winnebago Revel.

"We were hearing things like 'Can I leave the TV out? Do we have to have a TV?," said Chris Bienert, product manager at Winnebago.

What customers really wanted was to leave out as much as possible to make room for more of their gear.

For those who want to go even farther afield, there's EarthRoamer. ThisDacono, Colorado-based company modifies Ford Super Duty trucks, turning them into massive go-anywhere camping rigs that look like they just drove back from the apocalypse.

This level of "go anywhere" does not come cheaply. Prices for EarthRoamer's smallest truck -- which is still pretty huge -- start at $590,000. With options, the average price approaches $700,000. Prices for the larger model -- definitely huge -- start at $1.7 million.


The EarthRoamer HD, the largest of the company's RVs.

These custom-built trucks come with carbon fiber camper bodiesand have huge lithium batteries and solar arrays so they can stay off the grid for weeks at a time. They also have very high ground clearances -- the smaller truck rides more than a foot off the ground -- for getting over uneven terrain and strong diesel engines.

One company you'd think would be really unhappy with this whole boondocking trend would beKampgrounds of America. KOA rents out a whole lot of those campsites with their convenient amenities.

Not so, said Whitney Scott, vice president of marketing for KOA, because, at some point boondockers will have to come out of the forest. Sooner or later, she said, they'll want to empty their sewage tanks and do some laundry.

Also, it's just nice to take a break from totally roughing it.

"Sometimes that little store down theroad with a chocolate bar can be a great thing to have," she said.

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We sell all kinds of other stuff in our Etsy store!

Matt Derrick

Permanent Wanderer
Staff member
Aug 4, 2006
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Austin, TX
I'm on the fence as to whether this is a good thing or not, mainly because capitalism just always finds a way to make money on this kind of stuff, and god, look how obsenely expensive all those vehicles are. I honestly don't understand how anyone can afford that. I make a LOT of money at my current job and it would take me 5-10 years to pay something like that off.

I mean, I didn't move to the woods just so I can pay fucking rent there.

i googled the Polydrop KJ-20 trailer, it STARTS at 15k. for a teardrop. that' not including something to tow it with. fucking ridiculous.


Aug 13, 2019
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Southern Arizona
Most of those cost more than a house. I know not everyone wants (or can) build out a van, box truck, cargo trailer etc, but if you can or even rehab a good older RV you would be much better served. Plus it would be your layout.

The downside to more mainstream RV users and coverage is more trash and more locations that get shut down. Eventually I fear a huge RV or boondocking use tax, with rangers knocking on doors to make sure you have your use/camping permit.

Deleted member 25988

I closed my account
I recently came across a video of a couple who quit the RV lifestyle after 5 years because it's become so blown up that they can't get places to stay. It's a bummer for sure.
Yeah having a RV is kind of dumb. They're nice and all but good luck finding a free place to park. It's why I stay with a minivan: I can park inside parking garages, it's way easier to stealth park and it's way cheaper on gas. I can literally park it anywhere and people just think it's a soccer moms van ☺️


Burrito fund contributor
StP Supporter
May 27, 2019
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Tacoma, WA
Even mainstream RV'ers are having trouble finding places to park for free. Because the lifestyle has literally exploded since COVID-19 and people are trashing BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands which are free. Because of that, BLM is shutting it down. The old adage of "Pack it in, pack it out. Leave no trace except footprints" is more appropriate than ever.


Jun 17, 2019
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We’ve moved out of our RV for the first time In over four years because of Covid and the issues caused by it. We were still managin to find a few inexpensive or free spots around, but it was becoming totally hit and miss. We have a spot we rent for the summer in Wisconsin, so we‘re just staying in this area until things settle down and are more predictabl.


High mileage, good condition, needs TLC.
Sep 9, 2019
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Hurley, NM 88043
Last year, when my disability came through with several years back pay, I bought a truck and travel trailer in order to vagabond as a rubber tramp. The trailer is a pretty normal 20ft that has bath and kitchen, couch and bed. It's nice for one person and I have taken it places you never would think a sane person would take a travel trailer. The road to Luna Park in the San Mateo Mountains, the high country of the Gila, the rutted roads of the Cooke's Range are all places people seldom go and a few even have great signal. As long as you go real slow over the rough places, you can get pretty far in and isolated. I like the fact that I can bring the comforts of home almost anywhere. With my truck, I can get even further afield if I wish as it is a formidable beast that cost way too much and worth every penny considering I need to rely on it getting me out of the places I get into.

Trailers require regular maintenance. They have tires, batteries, brakes, suspensions, hoses, appliances, slide-outs, doors, and windows. Over time, constant vibrations from the road will loosen screws and cabinets and other unforeseen gadgets. Bearings need lube as well as a myriad of other moving parts. Speaking of parts, replacement parts are expensive. The entire market for RV parts and supplies is a huge racket designed to separate you from your money. Towing will halve your mileage in your vehicle and put extra wear on your tires and engine. Being able to drop the trailer and explore with the truck saves going into very rough areas or lets you explore those areas without harming the trailer.

There are pluses and minuses for trailer life. As with any path, you have to choose what's right for you. I'm currently trying to buy a home in the southwest since Covid has made travel more difficult plus I am in a high risk group for dying from the damn bug. Being isolated is no problem, I'm safe in the boonies and can find plenty of boonie places to hide out in. One cannot stay isolated indefinitely though. I need supplies, food, gas, and occasional human contact to stay sane. People are acting sketchy and the future is uncertain. I've rented apartments my whole life so I don't want that money drain but having a more permanent base seems like a good idea. The USDA loans money to credit-rich, cash-poor individuals for homes in rural areas. If I am successful, I'll have a sweet place in the SW with millions of acres of public land all around to explore. I may even sell the trailer and just use the truck for camping as it has a topper.

I prefer simplicity and if I had it to do all over again I'm not sure I would go the trailer route. It has been fun though and I am able to take my cats with me. I've successfully avoided a lot of people doing this and if you avoid large population centers and the public lands around them, or the really well known areas, you will find plenty of isolation. You might have to work a little harder at it but it's still out there.

There are a lot of choices out there at a range of prices. If you want to live in one, getting a 4-season trailer, like Artic Fox, is best. Most are 3 season and winters can be brutal in a trailer. Water hoses can freeze and burst, sewage lines can clog. I have a gas generator for electricity in the woods, propane for heating, cooking and refrigeration. In winter though, RV parks are pretty much the norm. I'm in one right now and we have a cold front coming through with freezing temps. I've unhooked the water, drained my waste tanks, filled my propane bottles ($27), put insulation in the windows and skylights so I can be prepared for temps in the 20s. If it gets any colder, I'll need to move 50 miles south to a lower elevation where it's warmer. I pay $250 plus electric here but I found a park near Deming for $185/month. RV park living can be cheap but you end up being packed together pretty tight which is not to my liking.

Hope that this long winded essay is helpful. Feel free to hit me up with any questions.


Burrito fund contributor
StP Supporter
Jan 2, 2009
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Foothills of the Cascades, western WA
I take RV trips with my uncle in his 26' RV occasionally. He almost never pays to camp somewhere. We usually just drive up a dirt logging road somewhere and find a little pullout with a nice view to park for the night. We never have a problem except around the Olympic Peninsula....the logging companies have a lot of those roads gated off. You have to pay a small (I think) fee for a permit to be able to camp on them. But otherwise, yeah...we have found some really nice spots in the woods doing this. Who wants to go to a campground somewhere where theres a bunch of screaming kids and you're so close to your neighbor you can hear them fart in the morning.

Personally, I would never own an RV. It's too much like glamping for me. Now a converted off road van with some nice roof racks would be sweet!


Jan 24, 2017
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South Central Iowa
Some of those are really awesome - but not very practical for most of us "poor" folks! It might be funny trying to fly a sign or jug for gas with one of those sitting behind me. :p

Good thing I'm happy enough in my old converted van (currently a 1989 GMC Vandura, previously a Chevy G20 Gladiator). I'm okay with being somewhat basic. :)
Mar 11, 2021
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Been traveling out of old project class c,,,and let me tell ya,,,its not my cup of tea personally
Gas guzzler is an obvious one
But it is also annoying driving it around the cities[its a 28 fter]
Which is why I stick to BLM land mostly,,,but still have to go into town to restock food etc...
Dont buy an RV they said
Guess I had to experience for myself

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