Thursday, March 23, 2023


Beware the “ultra-lite” RV

I just returned from the 2023 Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, Florida. Over four days, I toured hundreds of trailers and coaches, from $15,000 pop-ups (Formica counters) to $1,500,000 Prevost bus conversions (Carrara marble counters).

I noticed that one of the RV industry’s favorite misspelled words is “Lite.” As in the Rockwood Ultra Lite, Travel Lite RV, Jayco Jay Feather Ultra Lite, Venture RV Sonic Lite, Wildwood X-Lite, Palomino Real-Lite, Highland Ridge Range Lite, Gulf Stream Ameri-Lite, Coachman Apex Ultra-Lite, Keystone Outback Ultra-Lite, ad nauseam. RV companies get more mileage out of a word than we get out of our RVs! (Ba dum tss).

But this post isn’t an English lesson. It’s a word of caution to all RV shoppers that “Lite” is a slippery sales word, a verbal sticker that can be slapped on any RV regardless of its poundage. If you’re truly looking for an ultra-lite RV, you need to look beyond the brochure.

Allow me to explain. Let us consider the Rockwood 2608BS Ultra Lite Travel Trailer (I promise I won’t make any jokes about the “BS” in the title). This is a 29’8” travel trailer, riding on dual axles, with two slide-outs, two entry doors, glass slider windows, and a 5/8” plywood subfloor. It tips the scales at 6,836 lbs. dry weight. Does that sound “ultra-lite” to you? I bet your tow vehicle wouldn’t agree! “Lite” is a relative term.

A Rockwood ultra lite RV

Now, I’m not taking a shot across the bow of Rockwood or Forest River or any particular RV manufacturer. The 2680BS is just an example that you can’t trust the appellation; you need to know the anatomy.

The relationship between lite and low-cost

First things first: I would caution you against combining “lite” with “affordable,” both of which devolve into euphemisms when mixed together. Good lightweight things aren’t cheap. There are only two ways to squeeze weight out of something inexpensive: Make it smaller, or make it shoddy. This is where you get into the world of non-walkable roofs and slap-it-together stick ‘n’ tin construction. Walk inside, and you’ll notice all the walls sound hollow, and there aren’t enough shelves in the cabinets. The interior feels like a cave because there aren’t enough windows. The bathroom has a $5 plastic wrap curtain instead of a frosted glass shower door. And was the chassis twisting when you drove over that speed bump, or were the towing mirrors just dirty?

The truth is that high-end RVs often weigh more than low-end RVs, even though they use composite materials, simply because they include more furniture, use a stronger chassis, and have 4-season construction. Super-lightweight towable RVs may even have aluminum frames, tankless water heaters, and lithium batteries, all of which cost a pretty penny.

How to shop for an ultra-lite RV

If you want a high-quality, lightweight RV, look past the name and focus on the design.

1. Shop small

A r-pod ultra lite RV

The easiest way to save weight is to go smaller. If you think you need a 28’ trailer, can you get by in a 26’? If yes, have you looked at a 24’? Do you need a 96” wide body, or can you get by with a 90” narrow width? Are you willing to downsize to a single-axle trailer? Would you consider a Murphy bed or a shared master bathroom? Every slide-out, every foot adds on the pounds.

2. Trust composite materials

Underside of Azdel Composite Panel
Underside of Azdel composite panel

Most composites used in RV construction are some type of “sandwich panel” made from bonded layers of materials. RV walls are the most common application of composite technology. Nowadays, many manufacturers are also turning to composite floors, which weigh 20-50% less than a comparable OSB or plywood floor. A wood-free composite panel is best, as some of the lauan-foam-lauan sandwich floors of yesteryear have been known to delaminate and rot.

3. Look for the Azdel Onboard sticker

Azdel weighs less than lauan plywood, and if it’s been used in the walls, roof, and interior of your RV, it can save several hundred pounds. More on that here.

4. Inspect the furniture

OSB Underside of Bed in Storage Compartment

Cheap furniture made of particleboard or MDF is always heavy, and most anything wrapped, like Formica countertops, will be made with those offending materials. Instead, look for real plywood, or even better, Lite Ply, an imported plywood with an all-poplar veneer core weighing 40% less than regular plywood. Also look for honeycomb cabinet slab door construction, a technique borrowed from the boating industry.

5. Pinch the windows

Traditional RV slider windows are made of 1/8” single-pane glass. Euro-style acrylic windows cost significantly more, but they’re made with dual plastic panes, so they weigh less and insulate better.

What’s worth sacrificing for weight savings?

If you’re hunting for an ultra-lite RV camper, we’ve just barely scratched the surface of design possibilities! Here are some examples:

  • You can pick a TPO roof, which weighs less than EPDM (and doesn’t chalk).
  • You can switch to lithium batteries, which weigh about half as much as lead-acid batteries.
  • You can replace your rooftop air conditioner and save 20-30 lbs.
  • You can replace drawer fronts with bungee cords.
  • You can replace all the cabinet door handles with finger holes.
  • You can cut your toothbrush in half.

And the list goes on.

But don’t make weight savings a fetish. There are some places the extra weight is worth it. Personally, I don’t believe in non-walkable roofs, even if 1/4” plywood does weigh less than 3/8”. I’ll splurge on solid surface countertops any day. And I love fold-down RV steps, even if they do weigh more than traditional collapsible steps.

I leave you with a tip: Every RV has a sticker on the driver’s door jamb or the front curb-side wall that tells you the dry weight of the unit. That’s where you can get the actual weight as it was delivered from the factory (brochures or salespeople may not include the weight of forced factory options). That’s also where you can judge cargo capacity, but that’s another story!



4.7 12 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
1 month ago

I encourage anyone truly looking for an “ultra-lite” to look at molded fiberglass trailers. My 17 ft LilSnoozy (molded fiberglass does not include only the living compartment but runs from tongue to rear bumper) weighs…I forget exactly, I weighed it on a truck scale, but I THINK it was 2436 lbs. Might have been 2346 lbs. Hadn’t unloaded from the camping trip & we still had water in the tank. All manufacturers but 2 are in the USA & those 2 are in Canada. Manufacturers have 4 season campers & 5th wheels & you can get a table/ bed conversion, or a dedicated bed space.. Some have a/c some don’t. Of course you won’t have slides in a molded fiberglass but that is something I & my companions in the molded fiberglass world don’t regret not having. Check out all the molded fiberglass units available @

1 month ago

This is the same tactic advertising has used forever. It is also the same tactic used by the news media and politicians. Carefully chosen words in structured sentences to manipulate your emotions; when, if we take the time to analyze, we will find tautological vagueness large enough to hide behind…legally.

captain gort
1 month ago

On the sales end, the RV “industry” is rife with sleaze almost everywhere you look. Its extremely rare to find an exception to this. Worse than 3rd-tier used car lots on the wrong side of town. True lowbrow mentality everywhere you look. And this “COVID” mania has artificially driven up the “list” prices by 50-75% from just a few years ago for the identical unit today..while build quality has suffered. I have bought 3 brand new trailers since 2012….the last, just before “COVID”. I am very happy with my 2019 model. Lots of value for the price and it has been durable, so far. I look forward to the coming time that the “COVID RV mania” era utterly crashes and they have to practically give away their bloated inventory or go bankrupt. THEN, there will be deals. This is the WORST time to own an RV EVER.

1 month ago

After touring our local “dealers” show last Friday both my wife and I were amazed at just how cheap looking most, say 70% or so, of the TTs, we walked through. We are diesel motor home folks but like to visit the show just to walk and talk camping and looking for new trends while stuck in the cold and snowy Northeast. What really stuck out was how some of the higher-end TT names like Outback cheapened. From really cheap cabinets stapled together to vinyl upholstery that is as thin feeling as a piece of paper to the modern white or faux French Oak looks we came away very un-impressed with the industry’s newest offerings. We also saw signs posted outside many rigs boasting “you can pull this with your F-150”, then you realize that rig is 32 feet long, how can that be possible?

1 month ago
Reply to  Lonewolf

 “you can pull this with your F-150”, then you realize that rig is 32 feet long, how can that be possible?

Simple. In the spirit of earlier comments, many F-150s are rated to tow over 10,000 lbs, with some rated for 13,000 lbs. That does not mean that every F-150 can tow the trailer, but some can. Then, it also does not mean that an F-150 can tow the trailer safely.

Just because a truck has a “towing rating” of a huge number, does not mean it can safely handle or tow a long, heavy trailer, not to mention the cargo capacity and tongue wt numbers, which to me are more important in the equation than towing capacity.

Jim Johnson
1 month ago

LOL. I’d like to add two more words where you should carefully look behind the sticker: Premium and Deluxe. Marketing folks are paid to make something sound fantastic.And sometimes the product really is. But always do your research.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

I’ve always wondered how a trailer with three slides comes anywhere near “lite”. And of course, any lite trailer can be towed by a half-ton pickup.

Gordon den Otter
1 month ago

The origin of words like “lite” is that there are laws about truth in advertising that assign specific meanings to certain words. By picking a similar, or misspelled, word, salesmen can give the same impression without having to steward to the legal meaning. For example, if something is “on sale”, it must be at a lower price than it has been for a certain time period (usually some months). But to say “on special” means NOTHING!

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
1 month ago

Good point!!

Donald N Wright
1 month ago

Advertisers like to throw around words which will attract buyers. When going to a show, be prepared, ask questions, and the salespeople will flee. So, how was the RV improved? Why does it need four steps to enter the RV? Ask about the suspension and the warranty. Comment you know what Azdel really is. Oh, the manufacturer bought the custom cabinets on sale from Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.