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RVs that use the least fuel – Part 2: Towables

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. 

Changing lanes

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. 

No pops

ISafari Condo Alto R1713f you think that converting a trailer from travel mode to camp mode is something you’re not interested in doing, there are two-and-one-half choices here. But first, the half. 

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. 

Don’t miss Part 3 of this series in tomorrow’s RV Daily Tips newsletter. Sign up here for a reminder. 

*****

I would love to read your comments and suggestions over on our new forums, where you can weigh in and start or join a discussion about all things RV. Here’s a link to my RV Reviews Forum.

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.

Got an RV we need to look at? Contact us today and let us know in the form below – thank you!

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Barry Nystedt
6 months ago

Hi Tony, I read your article with great interest. As referenced in another comment, I have a Aliner Expedition (with off road package), their largest at 18′. I towed it with my 2013 Nissan Frontier SV 4×4 with the 4L six engine. I do love the power train and the nimble handling of the Frontier, which tows the Aliner with ease. I ran between 14.5 – 16.5 at 60-65 max mph. Lucky if I can get 22-23 max mpg on the highway with a light load. I try to drive efficiently, not easy, on rough congested roadways.

Roger Spalding
6 months ago

Tony, I realize that it must be difficult coming up with a new RV to discuss every day. You do a great job and I read you column first thing each morning. However, the whole situation surrounding mpg is artificial and contrived. I don’t know about you, but I do not like the government interfering with my life, but also manipulating the lives of countless others with no real benefit; causing harm without justification. Gasoline will soon hit $8.00 per gallon with the possibility of going even higher. Everyone has their own reason why this is happening. I’m not sure buying Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan gas (all enemies of America) is the answer. You can’t legislate inventions which don’t exist.

Lucky in Kc
6 months ago

I have a TrailManor 2720 and absolutely love it. I have to look in my rear view mirror just to make sure its back there when towing. It tows so nice, no wind drag. I get 16mpg when I am towing the same when I’m not. Pop’s up in 2 minutes rain or shine and the inside doesn’t get wet when setting up in the rain. I have a 6 cyl F-150 I tow it with. You can see over the top to back it in a space the first time. You tow 20 feet but it opens up to 27 feet. Full bathroom, queen bed, double bed and dinette can sleep 2 children. Wouldn’t trade it for nothing. Look at TrailManor.com for all the options available with one.

Bob p
6 months ago

I had a Time Out trailer pulled behind my Yamaha Roadliner 1900 cc, the bike didn’t even know it was back there. It also had the 5000BTU ac that fits in the small rectangle on the side in the photo. Great camper, queen size air mattress, dressing room, no toilet or shower though. Ya can’t have it all and still be economical. Enjoy your articles.

Simon
6 months ago

Interestingly, the article doesn’t mention speed as the faster you go, the more the aerodynamics of the vehicle pair become. For me, the single greatest factor in saving gas while towing is speed. When I’m towing my Casita, if I push to 80, I’m looking at 10 ish mpg. But bring that down to 55, I’m at 22 mpg. Towing with Ram 1500 diesel. So, in my trip planning, I tend to avoid highways and take the more scenic route. It may take longer, but it’s much lighter on the wallet.

mtbmitch
6 months ago

The RV industry has had 14 years since the last time fuel prices soared. For the most part they still build a rectangle with a improperly sloped front. If fuel goes to 7$, half the RV industry will be on life support. Thankfully there are several fiberglass manufactures such as Casita, Scamp, Escape (B..C.) and Alto building aerodynamic TT’s. Cortes out of Ohio has the most promising design. Camping is about enjoying the great outdoors. So while it may be painful getting 16mpg towing, at least we will be out in the forest this summer.

captain gort
6 months ago

There is no magic bullet. Whatever and whenever you tow, your mileage will drop or even plummet. Sure, if its tiny, the drop is less. But so is your comfort. Welcome to RVing!

Bob p
6 months ago
Reply to  captain gort

If you think it’s bad now wait until the EV towing starts. Then you will be crying, not over the price of fuel, but over the 2 days it took you to get to your destination with ICE vehicles. In an EV every 100 miles you have to 1.Find a charging station 2. Hope there’s not a line waiting to recharge, 3. Unhook your RV because the rechargers are designed for cars not trucks pulling trailers, 4. Plug in and find some place to kill a couple of hours while recharging. Don’t forget to add this extra time into your itinerary, now that 2 hours to destination is closer to 4 days, then you have to do the same thing coming back home. Gee a 2 week vacation just turned into a 6 day vacation with 8 days traveling time. Ya gotta love green this and green that. The planet has survived multi colors for longer than we’ve been around, but now it’s gotta be green.

Snayte
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob p

Good thing no one is forcing you to EV tow.

dale rose
6 months ago

I have a 2011 ford F150 with the 3.5 ecoboost engine. I get 8-9 mpg when towing my 6,000 travel trailer, and the same 8-9 mpg pulling an empty enclosed car hauler which is 3,200 pounds empty, and the same mpg when there is a car inside, along with a lot of other things. A technician at the Ford dealers said that when a 7 pin cord is plugged in for a trailer, the computer parameters are reset and weight doesn’t really affect the mpg. It’s engine cannot get a tuner programmer installed to help with economy. The 3.5 engine has lots of power, with twin turbo’s, but fuel economy is something I had to get used to.

Scott Ellis
6 months ago
Reply to  dale rose

Your tech is full of it. Aerodynamic drag is by far the major factor on the highway, and all of your examples are roughly the same in that respect. Dragging a big sail through the air takes a lot of energy, period, and no “tuner,” even if you could get one, can change that.

Bob p
6 months ago
Reply to  Scott Ellis

There is a company making tuners for it, Five Star Tuning is exclusive for fords.

Donald N Wright
6 months ago

I am surprised that the A-frames like the Aliner, or traditional popup trailers were not on the list. Nor were car top tents or pickup expandable campers. Maybe next time.

RallyAce
6 months ago

We pull a 4,000 lb travel trailer (Jayco JayFlight 195RB) with our Honda Pilot with the 5K towing package. We got 11.7 MPG last fall on a 2,000 mile trip while towing at the speed limit and no faster than 70 MPH. We get 19 city and 24 highway when not towing. While not the quickest thing on the road, it towed admirably and I never felt we were abusing the tow vehicle. I will admit that I have decades of towing experience and have carefully packed to make sure all weights are within spec and evenly distributed side to side.

Dennis Johnson
6 months ago
Reply to  RallyAce

We pull a rig same weight and size with a 2015 Dodge Ram crew cab with the 305 hp 3.6 V6. Have gotten up to 12.5 mph. Get 23-24 not towing. Never tow over 60mph ever. Loss of control at 70 is a recipe for disaster.

Steve
6 months ago

Like Tony, we towed our 4800# GVWR, 21’9″ travel trailer with a Nissan Frontier King Cab 4 x4. We had the same problems with passing trucks, hills on Interstates, and headwinds. We averaged 11-12 mpg when towing and 22 mpg on the highway and 19 in town when not towing. And never used the cruise control when towing.

When we ordered our 8650# GVWR, 26’7″ fifth wheel, we bought a Ram Crew Cab 4×4 with a Cummins turbodiesel. We averaged 12-13 mpg when towing and 23 highway, 16 in town when not towing. And we never even noticed when a semi passed us on the highway or when climbing small hils. In fact, I generally set the cruise control on Interstates and let it handle anything but steep hills (we live in Colorado, so have plenty of those). The real advantage for us was the exhaust brake, a real lifesaver on Colorado mountain downgrades!

Leonard Rempel
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Agreed on the exhaust brake! I love mine!

Stitz
6 months ago

It would be great to get better MPG while towing. I have a Dodge Ram 1500 with a 5.7 Hemi, towing a 26′ 6000lb trailer. I average about 8-8.5 MPG at 65 MPH interstate driving.

Bob p
6 months ago
Reply to  Stitz

Drop down to 60 watch the difference, I tow a 5480# TT with my Nissan Frontier SV CC 2WD, I followed my SIL at 68-70 mph one trip and got 6.1 mpg. The next trip same route I didn’t keep up with him and instead drove 60-62 mph, 9.3 mpg. According to all the experts below 55 weight is your worst factor, above 55 wind resistance is the killer of economy. That’s why many trucking companies govern their trucks at 60-63 mph. Nowadays you’ll see owner operators driving their 90 mph capable trucks at 60-62 mph.

Leonard Rempel
6 months ago

11-13 mpg with a Ram 1500 and a travel trailer? How fast are you going? Speed is the #1 determining factor in mileage. I tow a 35′ Montana 5th wheel with a Chevy 3500 dually diesel longbox and AVERAGE 12.5 mpg. My secret? I tow no faster than 50-55 mph. Want to go 65-70? No problem, but your mileage will drop to 9-10 mpg. Yup, that is 20-25% LESS mpg when you add a little speed. What’s your hurry anyway?

colin grant
6 months ago
Reply to  Leonard Rempel

I agree with you. Diesel engines like 1800 – 2000 rpm or lower.

David
6 months ago

Ford’s hybrid F150 gets much better mileage than the others when not towing, average when towing

Bob M
6 months ago
Reply to  David

My 2021 F150 hybrid is not getting the 24 mpg advertised. The 2018 Silverado I traded in on it got 22 MPG on the interstate and around 19 mpg around town. 9 mpg towing a 8000# travel trailer. Haven’t towed with the F150 yet but the powerboost engine seems to have more power than the 8 cyl Silverado.

Warmonk
6 months ago

I used to pull an 8500 pound travel trailer with a half-ton v-8 gas 4×4. It was also the daily driver. The all-in total cost of ownership was $1.07 per mile. The biggest single contributor to that cost was maintenance & repair at 27 cents per mile. Fuel came in at 16 cents per mile. I had that truck for five years. Lifetime fuel mileage came in at 16 mpg. Pulling that trailer was at the maximum capability of that truck and it showed in the maintenance and repair costs.

I switched to pulling the same trailer with a GMC 3500 v-8 gas 4×4. Again, it was also the daily driver. The all-in total cost of ownership was 78 cents per mile. In this case, fuel was the single biggest contributor at 26 cents per mile. I had that truck for three years and would have kept it had not unrelated circumstances been at play. Lifetime fuel mileage came in at 13 mpg. That truck didn’t even know when it was pulling a trailer and when it was not.

Fuel is not always the biggest cost factor.