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How to determine which a travel trailer buy

How to Determine Which Travel Trailer to Buy

Published on February 20th, 2021
Updated on January 9th, 2024

The travel trailer category has the widest selection of all the RV categories. It’s easy to become frustrated trying to find the best one.

In this article, we’ll answer a series of questions to help you narrow down the travel trailer category. Our walkthrough of RV characteristics using example travel trailers will give you the perspective you need to determine the worst and best camper for your unique requirements.

Reading About Travel Trailer Common Problems Correctly

We now live in a world where online customer reviews are as powerful as word-of-mouth advertising. You’ll find travel trailer customer reviews on the best travel trailer brands forums, dedicated social media pages, and blogs. As you read, make sure you’re considering the source and taking every opinion with a grain of salt. 

  • Is the reviewer basing their ideas on expert research, or is it a personal opinion? 
  • Could their experience be the effects of lapsed preventive maintenance, or was it a manufacturer flaw?
  • Did the reviewer buy the RV new or used? Did they perform a proper inspection before they bought the RV?
  • Are they giving you the whole story?

You’ll run across articles that talk about how RVs are poorly made or poor-quality RV manufacturers. While some lemons pop-up once in a blue moon, generally, it boils down to preventive maintenance. Over 90% of all problems on a travel trailer are avoidable when you complete a maintenance checklist 2-3 times a year. 

The most common issues with travel trailers usually have to do with the water system or leaks. When you store your RV in the off-season, make sure you keep your PEX piping moisturized with anti-freeze liquid. PEX becomes brittle if it’s left dry for too long. Have some silicone caulk with you while you inspect the seams. A small dob smoothed out with your finger will seal potential leaks.

The best time to complete the maintenance routine is when you first pull the travel trailer out of winter storage, right before you winterize it for the off-season and mid-season if you are using it heavily. Use an RV inspection checklist when you buy your coach. 

These checklists take you through a visual inspection through the unit to check virtually everything.  Save it to your computer because you can use the same list for your maintenance routine. Hang on to each copy with your notes, so you have a maintenance history if you decide to sell later.

The most reliable RV brand is the one that fits you and your family’s needs and wants. A family of four may find a Gulf Stream perfect for them. The next couple to walk into the same RV dealership may determine Palomino Pumas are the best quality travel trailers. 

Characteristics to Consider When Searching for a Travel Trailer

A parked travel trailer

Is the RV Rated for Full-Time Living?

Suppose you’re buying a car. You want something great on fuel in commuter city traffic, keeps your payments as low as possible, and easily maneuver in parking structures. If the car sales representative walks you over to a full-size V8 SUV, you’re probably going to turn around and leave.

Travel trailers work the same way. You’ll find many sub-categories among the travel trailer category. The definition of each category use factors like length, specialty construction, and other factors. Some blend in together, while others are clearly defined. Through upgraded suspension and construction features, many small and mid-size travel trailers can fall into the off-road category.

The Coleman Lantern 263BH is a midsize entry-level travel trailer in the on-road sub-categories. It’s also a bunkhouse travel trailer under 7,000 pounds. Midsize means it’s between 25-30 feet in length. The coach falls in the bunkhouse domain since it has family-friendly bunk beds. The weight is important to match the proper tow vehicle. A Range Rover Discovery has a maximum towing capacity of 8,201 pounds.

ModelColeman Lantern 263BH
Length30.7 Feet
Dry Weight6,084 Pounds
GVWR6,895 Pounds
Sleeps6-8 People

RV manufacturers design entry-level travel trailers to be lightweight, affordable, and ideal for those who don’t have a lot of experience in the RV lifestyle. The coaches have all of the necessary features at a good level, but RV makers will save the granite countertops and high-end components for the luxury level units. 

Beginning-level travel trailers are great for the weekender and part-time traveler. When choosing an RV to live in, the best RV is the one that pairs well with your style of camping. Those who want to live the full-time RV life will want a longer coach, have upgraded features, and have enough storage to fit their entire household.

If you’re just starting your RV adventure, you may want to cross off the higher-end travel trailers on your list. There’s no doubt they’re gorgeous, but if you’re taking your trailer out on weekends only, save yourself thousands of dollars by choosing an entry or midsize level. If you get more serious about camping down the road, your dealer can use it as a trade-in.

What Exactly Is an All-Season RV?

An all season RV

In elementary school, you learned that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. In recent years, many of us are still waiting for that as we see snow in April (I mean, c’mon…April?!). With weather forecasts like this, it can make you wonder if four-season RVs are worth buying. Most of the time, people underestimate the strength of standard RV insulation. 

From the 2018 models forward, virtually every manufacturer now seals their RVs’ underbelly and plumb the furnace ducts around the holding tanks to prevent freezing. Like Lance, some brands offer optional cold weather packages that further protect components that help during early or late season camping. Standard RVs work well in 30°F temperatures.

Actual all-season RVs stay comfortable at zero degrees Fahrenheit and lower. They’re also great for beating the heat in locations where the average summer temperatures are over 100°F. The cost of this higher R-value isn’t only financial; these travel trailers are heavier and focus more creature comforts inside. 

The Outdoors RV Mountain 270RLS is apart of their midsize Blackstone Class. The sidewalls are 3-inches thick (instead of the standard 1.5-2-inch standard), have a triple layer of fiberglass batt in the roof, and uses reflective insulation to aid in UV heat retention. The thermal dual-pane windows use argon gas to barricade the interior temperature from getting out.

ModelOutdoors RV Mountain Blackstone Class 270RLS
Length30 Feet
Dry Weight8,295 Pounds
GVWR11,000 Pounds
Sleeps6 People

The furnace, holding tanks, and other features the biggest possible for long-term off-grid camping. The Mountain Travel Trailer comes prewired for a gas generator and solar panels. The trailer comes with a 13.5K BTU air conditioner with the option to upgrade to the 15k version. 

If your planning on camping in extreme climates like Alaska or Northern Canada in the winter, an Outdoors RV Mountain might work for you. Those setting up in the Arizona Desert or South Florida might find these RVs advantageous. For those looking to camp in the rest of the United States, an all-season travel trailer may not be your ideal match.  

Why Are Travel Trailers Built so Poorly?

The average lifespan of an RV is about 20 years. Yet over 70% of all Airstreams, like the Airstream Classic 30RB, are still on the road. When someone asks us why are travel trailers built so poorly, we do the one thing you’re not supposed to do: answer them with a question. A question like that comes from people who’ve read a few negative articles or someone with a bad experience. Here at RV Troop, we do our best to learn the whole story first.

ModelAirstream Classic 30RB
Length31.3 Feet
Dry Weight7,788 Pounds
GVWR10,000 Pounds
Sleeps5 People 

Airstream Classic 30RB Walkthrough (Airstream Classic 30RB Walkthrough (Video)

In some cases, it has to do with the construction and materials of the travel trailer. Airstreams are so expensive because of the airplane quality riveted aluminum shell, unique framing, solid wood cabinetry, and name-brand features. 

RV manufacturers have strict safety and quality standards set by various government and private authorities. With the heavy competition in the market during the internet age, RV companies can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel. Once an RV is complete, they go through a multi-point inspection. Many even have a particular bay where each coach goes through a simulated rainstorm for 30 minutes.

Throughout the life of the RV, it takes a lot of punishment. Road conditions and weather always rattle the coach. Seals and hardware are put to the test as parts adjust to the temperature. There are numerous other factors travel trailers face. 

Performing regular preventive maintenance routines, as we discussed above, gives your RV the best chance of staying in the best condition for however long you own it. If you decide to sell it later on, the better shape it’s in, the greater the potential for a good resale value. 

Aluminum Frame vs Wood Frame RVs  

Travel trailers with wooden frames and corrugated aluminum shells use a conventional building method that requires less special tooling and training to construct. In the RV industry, insiders refer to them as Stick and Tin travel trailers. Aluminum framed versions with gel-coated fiberglass panels have the nickname of laminated builds.

With so much positive press going around about the laminated RVs, why are there so many conventional RVs selling? Are aluminum frame RVs worth it? Like everything else, that depends on how you’re using the travel trailer and what’s most important to you.

Suppose one of the frame supports in each coach needs replacement. In a conventional trailer, you remove a section of the interior wall, replace the individual 2×4 beam, and you’re all set. For aluminum-framed RVs, you have to replace the entire sidewall. During construction, the outer wall, frame, and insulation are sealed and laminated together. If one part fails, you have to replace it all.

On the other hand, laminated travel trailers are better on gas mileage since they’re more aerodynamic. There are many pros and cons on each side. Your RV dealer can discuss them in detail with you. 

The Grey Wolf Black Label Editions give you the best of both worlds. The travel trailer has a conventional construction. Instead of the corrugated aluminum shell, you can have a gel-coat fiberglass sidewall shell for a slightly higher price. Either way, the front, and rear caps are molded fiberglass. The roof uses a PVC membrane for strength.

ModelForest River Cherokee Grey Wolf Black Label 26DBH
Length31.9 Feet
Dry Weight5,795 Pounds
GVWR7,7250 Pounds
Sleeps10 People   

Are RV Slide-Outs Worth It?

When the slideout first appeared in 1990, it spread like wildfire throughout the RV Industry. It was one of the defining factors that separate the Classic Era (1971-1989) from the Neo-Classic Era (1990-2007). For most of the Neo-Classic Era, slideouts were so popular; no one could privately sell their RV if it didn’t have a slide in it.

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In today’s Modern Era, non-slide-out RVs are gaining ground. Innovation and creative floorplans are making 8-foot wide travel trailers spacious. Travel trailers without slides are lighter than their slide-out comparisons and easy to access on travel days when you pull over. Slide-out edges tend to leak interior air if the weather stripping isn’t maintained.

Jayco’s Jay Flight SLX 8 264BH is a bunkhouse travel trailer with no slides. An eight-sleeper without a slideout is a testament to the incredible engineering Jayco has. There’s so much room; Jayco added a two-seater sofa that sits perpendicular to the wall. It creates a natural barrier separating the master bedroom yet keeps the sleeping space from feeling claustrophobic.

ModelJayco Jay Flight SLX 8 264BH
Length29.5 Feet
Dry Weight4,690 Pounds
GVWR6,000 Pounds
Sleeps8-9 People

Slide-outs do give travel trailers extra width when extended. If you spend a lot of time inside the coach or entertain your friends, slide-outs might be worth the extra weight and cost. When you’re shopping for your perfect travel trailer, keep an open mind when you walk through RVs without slides for sale. They may surprise you.

Which RV Has the Best Reviews?

If you go to an RV show or check out an RV brand’s website, you’ll come across specific models and floorplans with “Best in Show” badges or some variation from a top-rated RV industry magazine. In the RV Industry, winning one of these annual awards has great marketing benefits and tells them they’re on the right track. 

As a consumer, it shows you what RV has the best reviews. Does it mean it’s better to buy an RV at a show? Since the first 1970 RV Show in Pennsylvania (the one that became the Hershey RV Show), manufacturers and dealers come to one location to show the public the latest RV World innovations. Show prices are at levels you won’t see during the rest of the year.

Dealers usually mark down their inventory on their home lots to RV show prices, making this time one of the best months to buy an RV (the off-season is also a great time to buy as well).

But the real question is; how significant should the critic’s reviews be when you decide which RV is right for you?

The writers of these top magazines and journals have years of experience. When they hand out their “blue ribbons,” make sure you know why they’re doing it. For example, the inTech Sol Eclipse won 2020 Best in Show for its tall ceilings as well as its balance of form and functionality.

ModelinTech Sol Eclipse
Length17 Feet
Dry Weight2,695-2,775 Pounds
GVWR3,500 Pounds
Sleeps2 People
AwardRV Pro Best in Show 2020

Like RV Troop, the magazines are a great source of information, but the decision is ultimately yours. You may have different needs in a floorplan that don’t line up directly with their ideas. The writers use similar sources we do when they put their articles together. 

When you narrow down your final options to the top three choices, that’s when you should consider the best in show RVs the most if their reasoning lines up with your priorities. Make sure you are keeping up to date with RV Troop too. Our in-depth research focuses on the diverse interests and preferences RV consumers have during the buying process.

The Best Way to Learn Which Travel Trailers to Avoid

A travel trailer parked near the lake

If you want to learn more about the travel trailer category, check out our complete discussion on everything you need to know. As you continue to research the various brands, floor plans, and other options, gain some first-hand knowledge by renting a few from peer-to-peer RV rental companies like Outdoorsy, RV-Ezy, and RVshare.

For the best results, make each rental as diverse as possible. For example, try a Forest River entry-level non-slideout. For your second rental, take a weekend to try a KZ mid-size with a slide-out that can go off-road. Your third rental could be a Keystone laminated with multiple slide-outs.

Mix it up as much as you want. Buying an RV is a big investment. Renting some from real owners instead of corporate fleets allows you to experience what it would be like for you and your family. Keep track of what you like and don’t like. Once you have a list of all your needs and wants, you’ll have a better chance of finding that perfect RV and know which travel trailers to avoid.

Welcome to the RV Lifestyle!

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
-- Andre Gide

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