There’s no denying that “glamping” in an RV is a lot of fun. While camping in a tent can be a lot of fun, too, the temperature swings, the lack of a bathroom, and not having a mattress like you have at home can all make the experience a lot less exciting for many people. Having a travel trailer to carry along can give you the comforts of home while still being able to experience the great outdoors. Plus, there’s the growing world of urban “boondocking,” where RVers stay overnight in the parking lots of friendly businesses, and you can’t usually do that in a tent.
But, the world is changing. Back in the day, nobody cared that their tow vehicle got its MPGs slashed in half because fuel was cheap, available practically behind every utility pole, and most of us didn’t know that we were causing so many problems with all of those emissions. Today, gas and diesel are both expensive (especially diesel as of this writing), nearly all those rural gas stations closed down, and most of us know now that we can’t keep burning fossil fuels like it doesn’t matter.
The seemingly obvious answer to this is electric trucks and SUVs capable of towing, but there’s a catch. Coming up with the torque to tow big trailers is easy. Electric motors can make enough torque to snap your neck. But, continuing to make that kind of power over hundreds of miles? Not so much. Losing half of your range in an ICE pickup isn’t a big deal, but losing half of your electric range (or more) is a deal breaker when the whole point of camping is to get away from civilization (you know, where most of the charging stations are today).
Think I’m exaggerating? I ran the numbers in 2021, and they’re not only grim but have been proven accurate as electric trucks come to market. People are either going to have to ditch the big triple-axle travel trailer, or they’re going to have to find more efficient ways to RV on electric power.
Efficient Options Have Improved Since Then
To many people this may have seemed like an unsolvable conundrum. People don’t want to give up the space and the creature comforts, so they’re just not going to go electric until battery supplies become so plentiful that a 500 kWh pickup truck doesn’t cause industry problems (probably sometime in the 2030s). For most of the industry, a trailer marketed as a “light weight” camper might still be 4000+ pounds and with aerodynamics hardly better than a brick.
Smaller options like teardrops (the actual teardrop-shaped ones, not bogus things like “squaredrops”) save range by being efficiently-shaped. Popup campers (aka “tent campers”) have been another low-profile and sometimes light weight option, too. But, people don’t like these options because there’s limited space, limited amenities, and in the case of popups, limited privacy and insulation.
But, the industry seems to be aware that things can’t be like this forever. If RV manufacturers and retailers are going to remain relevant, they need to cater to electric vehicles more. And, that’s exactly what appears to be happening.
For the rest of this article, I want to highlight some glimmering rays of hope I’m seeing in the industry as 2022 comes to a close.
The Aliner Evolution Might Enable Electric Boondocking
As I’ve been shopping for a camper for my family, I’ve wanted something I can tow with an EV. Specifically, I’d like to at least take it on some of its trips with my Bolt EUV. I recently upgraded the tires and added emergency supplies like a spare, and I’ve started calling it the Bolt EAV (for “Electric Adventure Vehicle”) because it has proven to be pretty capable on rough rural roads where I like to see the sights.
One camper that caught my eye pretty quick was Aliner’s hard-sided popup campers. Like a canvas-sides popup camper, these fold down to be pretty small during towing, which cuts back drastically on drag. Plus, they offer units as light as 1200 pounds (dry), so they definitely offer something my EAV can tow. Want proof? Just look at what this couple did.
But, like any family, my wife and kids want the amenities. They want things like a toilet, a shower, and room to stand up inside the camper. We can’t be the only ones who wanted all this while not adding too much weight, because a couple months ago Aliner released its new Evolution camper:
If you watch the video, you’ll see right at the beginning that it folds out like any Aliner camper. The roof sections pop up to make the familiar A-frame the brand is known for. But, the guy keeps going and pops out some more sections on each side, giving the camper a more normal box shape inside again (but with the peak in the middle). Inside this sub-2300-pound camper are all of the things people want in a hard-sided camper, including a toilet, an innovative hidden house-sized shower, a fairly normal kitchen, and two queen-sized beds (that can split into two bunks).
It’s everything a family of four would want, but they also included some clean technologies that should impress readers here. It comes standard with 180 watts of built-in solar power, plus a port to plug in more solar panels when you’re parked. It also has a built-in ducted air conditioner with a built-in heat pump, which should allow some EV owners to stay comfortable overnight on vehicles that can provide a couple thousand watts of power (assuming you’re not in an RV park with shore power), whether it’s summer or winter.
This means that many EV tow vehicles could serve as a battery pack to allow you to boondock the camper while still having niceties like air conditioning and heat without burning fossil fuels. Perhaps more importantly, a 2300 lb. camper with a low profile isn’t going to destroy your EV’s range the way a normal camper would, and you don’t have to give up much to choose this camper instead.
Other Promising Developments
I’d like to quickly mention two other things that show me this isn’t just a coincidence. There’s a real trend toward easier to tow campers afoot.
Earlier this year, I mentioned the Happier Camper HC1’s new version with a small bathroom built in. Unlike the Aliner, it doesn’t fold down, but it’s a lot lighter and still has a fairly small footprint. Plus, it has a big hatch that opens in the back for cargo use and has a reconfigurable interior to serve different families on different trips. This helps families get the most out of camping by making the space more useful.
On top of that, DIY camper builders are cutting even further into that bleeding edge with cheap composite designs (mostly glue, cloth/screen, and foam) that both look great and weigh almost nothing. These designs vary from true microcampers that a Vespa scooter can pull to relatively large projects. So, the industry definitely has room to keep improving in 2023 and beyond.
But, for that to happen, we need to keep pushing for efficiency instead of demand that EV manufacturers put in bigger and bigger batteries to haul around a bunch of weight it turns out we didn’t ever really need.
Featured image by Aliner.
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