Yesterday we talked about how to get the most out of a gallon of fuel and what kind of RV it would take to accomplish that. In particular, we focused on motorhomes and, it turns out, Class Bs are the way to best sip fuel.
But what if you don’t want a motorized RV? There are a number of really interesting options for you, too!
Your tow vehicle
While I’ve seen a lot of folks saying that they’re going to get a less-capable tow vehicle to improve their fuel economy, this is almost a fallacy. You basically have to expend a certain amount of energy to overcome the losses of wind resistance and weight.
Further, a lighter tow vehicle may not be as well-suited to handling situations that are challenging.
For example, we used to tow our small 19’ travel trailer with a Nissan Frontier. That was a great truck in every respect, but passing semis would toss the truck and trailer all over the road. On average, I would get 11-13 miles per gallon when towing.
Upgraded to a Ram 1500
I then upgraded to a Ram 1500, a significantly larger truck. It tows more safely and comfortably and gets about 11-13 miles per gallon when towing.
Why the same fuel economy? Again, it just takes a certain amount of energy to overcome wind resistance. But the larger Ram handles the crosswinds better, is more comfortable and is just a better towing experience.
So moving to a smaller tow vehicle might result in the same amount of fuel used in towing, depending on the trailer, and may also put you at a disadvantage.
What you tow
You can extrapolate that by reducing the aerodynamic drag, you will increase your fuel mileage significantly.
Let’s say your biggest consideration is fuel economy after all. Believe it or not, there are ways to get incredible fuel mileage when also towing a trailer. You’re just going to have to get rid of a wheel or two.
Looking back in the past we’ve examined a few trailers that are so small you could legitimately and safely tow them with a motorcycle. So you could hop on your Hawg or spread your Gold Wings and actually still go camping.
A motorcycle as a tow vehicle? Yep.
The first of two that we’ve looked at in the past is the Kompact Kamp trailer. This all-fiberglass trailer features a lot of higher-end components as part of the build—including a torsion axle suspension. When it’s folded for travel, it will follow along behind your motorcycle and weighs barely more than the rider himself or herself, assuming that the rider weighs less than 260 pounds.
Come on. I’ve been to Sturgis. Some do. Some don’t.
But the Kompact Kamp actually does weigh about 260 pounds, which means it’s perfectly within the capability of a motorcycle to haul it around. But then you unfold the top and now you have 6’4” of interior height and a queen-sized bed.
At just about 100 pounds more, the Time Out Trailer is also designed to be towed by a motorcycle and also starts as a small, square box but then unfolds into quite a space. One of the principal differences is that the Kompact Kamp actually sets up such that the tent is off the ground. That’s pretty cool.
I have four wheels
If your tow vehicle has four wheels and you want something larger, but maybe an actual full-sized pickup isn’t already in your driveway, one of the options you might have is the Polydrop P17A.
This highly unusual trailer uses a lot of clever space management to actually offer sleeping for four inside its angular body. Since I wrote the original article about this, the company has expanded to three variations of their main theme. Those include a model with a full rear kitchen and one designed more for off-road use.
A simpler offering is from the folks at Little Guy dubbed the MyPod. This is almost exactly what the name implies: a small, egg-shaped trailer. However, this is also a model that’s only suited for two people essentially but, at just 760 pounds, it can be towed by many very small vehicles such as Subarus and the like. Many smaller SUVs, too, would be well-suited to haul this little trailer around.
I have the big wheels
The most popular vehicle in the U.S. is the full-sized pickup. But, as mentioned, even a small and lightweight trailer can have such a large frontal area that your mileage economy will go from okay to no way. In fact, when I’m not towing, I can get 21-22 miles per gallon on the highway. Lob on even my 3,200 pound trailer and that drops to the aforementioned 11-14 miles per gallon. And, yeah, I drive to optimize efficiency.
Options for better mileage
So let’s look at some of the options that will get you better mileage even with a pickup. The caveat for this is that the trailer actually has to live below the height of the tow vehicle when on the road.
One way to accomplish that is with the Forest River Flagstaff pop-up trailer such as the 278TSCSE. This might be one of the larger pop-up trailers you can get—so much so, in fact, that it has a toilet and a shower aboard. Wow.
But, when traveling, the top is no higher than the vehicle towing it. This cuts down on wind resistance and can lead to better fuel economy. Plus, this also makes the trailer garageable.
That’s true also of the TrailManor offerings. These tried-and-true very lightweight trailers have a very innovative pop-up top and go from travel mode to camp mode in a matter of moments. I really like these and I wonder if, as people become more concerned about fuel economy, this style of trailer won’t become more popular with other manufacturers? But TrailManor is the company that has the secret to a great pop-up mechanism.
I’m a big fan of Canadian company Safari Condo, and their Alto R1713 is one of the more unusual RV offerings out there. This swirl-shaped travel trailer goes from tow mode to camp mode in short order and, in camp mode, offers a lot of capability and space. Unlike many others, it is pretty accessible even with the top down. You could certainly load the fridge and get to the bathroom.
But with the top popped, so to speak, you get a very spacious trailer that tows well and is fully featured. Further, the company just upgraded the options on this trailer to include a pretty healthy solar package, as we detailed in the most recent review.
Wedge-shaped Safari Condo Alto cuts through the air
If popping tops isn’t on your agenda, Safari offers another Condo model that was specifically tested in the wind tunnel—the Safari Condo Alto A2124. This is the most wedge-shaped trailer I’ve seen and was designed to cut through the air and minimize the impact on fuel consumption by the tow vehicle.
Part of the way it accomplishes this includes the optional air conditioner. It sits below the dinette rather than up on the roof. While this trailer is certainly unusual in its appearance, it’s very functional. Imagine if we had shown someone in 1980 a car of today—they would be shocked. Perhaps this is a glimpse at the trailer of tomorrow.
One other trailer that’s been tested for aerodynamics is the Snoozy II. This, too, offers a wedge shape but more traditional than the Safari Condo’s. The Snoozy II is built by a boat manufacturer and carries a lot of the build philosophy over to this travel trailer.
In order to minimize aerodynamic drag, there is an air conditioner available but it’s at the rear of the trailer. The same can be written about the vent fan for the bathroom.
One last option in this family is the Airstream Base Camp series. Available in a larger 20-foot model or the original 16, these trailers take Airstream’s unusual shape to the extreme with a greatly curved front face and an overall shape that drops down a bit in the back. I really like these units as they offer good cargo carrying capability as well as a very useful interior.
While there is a roof-top air system on the Base Camp, it’s at the back beyond where the roofline starts to drop so it may not have as big an impact on air flow.
One more thought
There is one more option to look at before we step both into the future and into the past tomorrow—the pickup camper. There are a number of companies that make these but, traditionally, they create additional height which, in turn, creates additional drag.
At least one company, Four Wheel Campers, offers a relatively small increase in vehicle height with their aluminum pop-top campers. Using a simple, but effective, pop top mechanism, these campers actually only add a few inches to the height of the pickup they’re on—which means a smaller impact on fuel consumption. Nifty!
Another way to save fuel
All three domestic pickup manufacturers also make versions of their half-ton offerings with small diesel engines. If fuel economy is your chief consideration, this might be the way to go if you’re also thinking of a new tow vehicle.
While a lot of people mention that they want a smaller tow vehicle, this may be less than ideal unless you have a really small trailer.
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Tony comes to RVtravel.com having worked at an RV dealership and been a lifelong RV enthusiast. He also has written the syndicated Curbside column about cars. You can find his writing here and at StressLessCamping where he also has a podcast about the RV life with his wife.
These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.
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