Hybrid RV

What Is a Hybrid RV? And Why Buy? (Pros & Cons)

Large families that want to enjoy the RV lifestyle sometimes feel their choices are limited when it comes to finding an ideal RV that fits their needs. Families of six or more want an affordable lightweight coach where everyone will be comfortable. One of the most underrated subcategories of travel trailers is hybrid RVs.

We’ll show you how hybrid RV trailers can be the right camper for you from the inside out. You’ll learn what they are, their best features, and the camping styles they’re best suited to. We’ve also balanced the discussion with some of the shortcomings from experts and owner feedback.

Key Points

  • Hybrid travel trailers are ideal for large families that need a lightweight RV.
  • Fuel-Efficient V6 SUVs can tow hybrid trailers.
  • Hybrid RV campers can sleep between 6-10 people.
  • Hybrids are excellent for campgrounds, including the U.S. national parks.
  • The fabric soft-shell bed areas don’t insulate sound or temperature like a hard-shell

What is a Hybrid Trailer

A hybrid trailer with sleeping spaces outside of the RV’s frame

Hybrid trailers are a subcategory of small or ultra-lite travel trailers. On the front, back, and rear off-door side (depending on how many the coach comes with) are panels that look like rock guards for windows. The panels hinge down 90-degree to create platforms for sleeping spaces outside of the RV’s frame.

The sleeping space uses fabric (a nylon composite) to enclose the bedroom. When fully deployed, the bed spaces look like pop-up camper beds connected to a hard-shell travel trailer. Each fold-out sleeps, two people. The interior has a dinette and may have a sofa that folds out to take advantage of the hybrid RVs maximum sleeping capacity.

Inside the hard-shell trailer are other travel trailer amenities like a full galley-style kitchen, full dry bathroom, an entertainment system with room for an LED TV, and cabinetry for storage compared to a traditional mid-size travel trailer.

Those that gravitate to this subcategory of travel trailer have big families or big groups of people that travel together. They want a travel trailer that matches well with their fuel-efficient SUV. The RV must also be budget-friendly so they have plenty of vacation money to use the coach.

History of Hybrid Trailers

In the Neo-Classic Era (1989-2007), many RV consumers traded in their gas-guzzling V8 tow vehicles for less powerful but more fuel-efficient four-or six-cylinder versions. New technologies and building innovations came out of this period making all categories of coaches lighter.

From a design standpoint, it almost felt like the Vintage Era (1910- 1942). RV engineers had new “toys” to change the rules of RV building. Fiberglass alternatives like Azdel and other materials gave engineers the strength, lightness, and other benefits to reconceptualize traditional designs. New construction products also allowed new RV prototypes to come to life.

One of the designs to come out of this “lightweight challenge” was the hybrid RV. The first models appeared at RV shows in the 1990s. They started with two fold-out sleeping spaces, but engineers found ways to make them with one or three.

For a while, they were their own category. As they normalized into the RV world, RV makers phased them into a sub-category of travel trailers. Hybrid travel trailers are an alternative option for small travel trailers. Their floorplans, construction, and general features are different enough to warrant a discussion separate from travel trailers.

Hybrid Trailer Specification Ranges

QUESTION ABOUT HYBRID TRAILERANSWER
Lengths18.7- 25.9 feet
Sleep6- 10 people
Dry Weight (empty weight of the RV)2,790 – 4,056 lbs
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (a.k.a. GVWR- the most weight the RV can safely hold)3,456 – 6,880 lbs
Price$19,500 – $40,300

Ideal Tow Vehicles

When towing an RV, you always want to leave enough horsepower and torque for the total weight. Besides the RV’s dry weight, you have to factor in the weight of your gear, passengers, and personal gear. After that, you’ll still need horsepower and torque for acceleration and road conditions.

We recommend saving either 500-1,000 pounds or 20% of your total tow capacity. Either figure is a rule of thumb in the RV world. Learn more about RV weight factors in our article on the importance of knowing your numbers when RVing.

MODELTOW CAPACITY
Toyota Highlander5,000 lbs
Ford Exlorer5,600 lbs
Nissan Pathfinder6,000 lbs
Jeep Grand Cherokee7,200 lbs
Dodge Durango8,700 lbs

Popular Hybrid RV Manufacturers of Hybrid Trailer

As bunkhouse travel trailers become more popular, hybrid trailers are getting less attention from the industry. Some of the Big Four (REV Group, Forest River Inc., Thor Ind., and Winnebago Ind.) and their subsidiaries still produce them. You’ll find hybrid RVs within their small/ ultra-lite travel trailer lineups.

BRANDMANUFACTURER
Coachmen Apex NanoForest River Inc.
Flagstaff ShamrockForest River Inc.
Jayco Jay FeatherThor Ind.
Keystone Bullet CrossfireThor Ind.
KZ EscapeThor Ind.
KZ Sportsmen ClassicThor Ind.
Palomino SolAire ExpandableForest River Inc.
Rockwood RooForest River Inc.

Hybrid Trailer Standard Features Expectations

A standard hybrid trailer in the mountains

Kitchen

The kitchens in hybrid trailers are in a short galley-style configuration. You’ll have a single basin sink, two-burner cooktop, microwave, and smaller oven. There is room on the counters for your coffee pot and other cooking devices, but the flip-up counter, sink lids, and stove cover will come in handy for meal prep work.

Refrigerator sizes are impressively large for this subcategory of travel trailers. You’ll find fridges between 4-8 cubic feet in size. Some hybrid RVs have outdoor kitchens with propane cooktops, LP quick-connect hookups, and dorm-sized refrigerators to enhance the outdoor living space.

Living Room

Every hybrid RV camper will have a four-seater dinette or U-shaped six-seater. Models over 20 feet in length may have an additional fold-out sofa. The combined seating area will have a reinforced wall section to place a TV mount nearby. The mount will give people on both furniture pieces a chance to see the screen comfortably.

Bedroom

The best advantage of a hybrid trailer is the bed spaces existing outside of the RV’s frame. Privacy curtains for RV hybrid bedrooms are standard features. The hybrid RV mattress pad will measure to a full or queen-size. Many have a light and fan fixture within the bed areas.

Bathroom

With so much space available, you’re going to find all-in-one dry bathrooms in the hybrid RVs. Skylights above the shower will give taller people a chance to stand straight and move around. You’ll find plenty of legroom and storage for all of your toiletries and linens for your entire family.

Storage Tanks

All three holding tanks (fresh, grey, and black) will come standard with hybrid RV trailers. Most of the sewer tanks have a capacity of around 30 gallons, and fresh tanks can range between 40-50. Six-gallon propane or LP/Electric water heaters are par-for-the-course too.

Storage

When you have a travel trailer designed for many people, storage space is essential. Cabinetry storage exists overhead. You’ll find a pantry and a wardrobe in bigger coaches. The expandable sections have cargo nets for personal items and clothing. Strategic storage under the dinette and other hidden space is exploited as well.

The exterior will come with two bays that may or may not pass through to each side. If you’re a large family or a big group, smart packing strategies are always advised.

Power and Propane

The single or dual propane tanks power the cooking devices, furnace, and water heater. Most versions will have a quick connect line to attach your LP barbecue from your RV tanks.

Hybrid RVs have a reinforced roof if you want to install solar panels up there. Otherwise, solar panels will plug into the port that comes as a standard feature from every manufacturer. Hybrid trailers work on a 30 amp system, so you can plug directly into a gas generator that has an outlet for your shore power cord.

Technology

Hybrid trailers have a multimedia system built-in and a space to attach your LED TV of choice with a mount. Most will have interior and exterior speakers to enjoy your music. Cold evenings can be overcome with the 5,000 BTU heater in the LED fireplace.

The impressive technology in hybrids is the components that don’t draw your eye. The innovations that go into the fabric material to make it water and puncture-resistant are continually evolving. The engineering that goes into the soft-shell material has the best insulating values compared to five years ago.

Climate Control

Both air conditioners and furnaces are standard features in many hybrid RVs. A/C units are usually 13,500 BTU with the option to upgrade to the 15,000 BTU version. Since this subcategory doesn’t reach a length bigger than 26 feet, the smaller A/C unit should freeze you out of your RV at its lowest setting.

Great Examples of Hybrid Trailer

A different type of an RV on the market

The examples below represent expert and consumer feedback of the 2021-2022 model years. There are plenty of used hybrid RV trailers on the market that fulfill these rankings and more. New or used, when purchasing an RV, make sure you come prepared with an RV inspection checklist to look the components over to make an informed decision.

The Smallest Hybrid RVCoachmen Apex Nano 15X
The Best Hybrid RV Trailer FloorplanPalomino SolAire eXpandable 185X
The Best Hybrid RV With an Outdoor KitchenForest River Flagstaff Shamrock 235S
The Best High Tech Hybrid RVJayco Jay Feather X23B
The Cheapests Hybrid RVKeystone Bullet Crossfire 2190EX
The Best Hybrid RV Trailer Under 3,500 lbs.KZ Escape 160RBT
The Best 18 ft. Hybrid RV With a SlideForest River Rockwood Roo 23FK

Matching to Your Camping Style

Hybrid travel trailers aren’t for everyone. The subcategory has many advantages and disadvantages you should consider. To determine what your own RV lifestyle should be, make a list of requirements you must have, want to have, and what to avoid before you start shopping for an RV. Match the RV to your lifestyle, not the other way around.

Positive Hybrid RV Trailer Reviews and Ratings

If you have experience setting up a pop-up camper, you’ll like hybrids. After you level the jacks, the fold-down platforms open to position smoothly. The interior tension bars that hold the fabric up work the same way as pop-ups. If it’s raining when you pull into the campground, you can wait it out inside the trailer instead of your car, as you did with a pop-up.

Full-size bunkhouse travel trailers have the ability to sleep up to ten people but have price points higher than hybrids. Bunkhouses have upgraded features, but they’re longer and heavier. For those that want an RV that’s more budget-friendly and doesn’t need an elaborate interior (because they’ll be spending most of their time away from the coach), hybrids are a better option.

Armed with your America the Beautiful Pass, you can enjoy all of the wondrous splendor the U.S. National Parks offer. The average length limit of the national parks is 30 feet. Some have campsites as long as 40, while others are as small as 20 feet. Hybrids range from 19-26 feet in length. This makes them ideal for many of the park’s campsites.

Bigger units will have a lot of open floor space to walk around. Since the bedroom areas are on the outside of the floorplan, the RV designers fit the other features within the interior space with room for many people to move around. Versions with a slideout will make you feel as if you’re in a double slide unit due to the openness.

Is A Hybrid Trailer Worth It?

A parked soft shell RV

The evolution of soft-shell RVs from canvas to high-tech nylon composites breathed new life into the fabric RV categories. The level of water-resistance makes the camping experience better than ever. Yet, you still have to inspect your coach for evidence of moisture seeping through.

Modern fabric material does a decent job containing the interior temperature. Using the fan on the bedroom’s light fixture will draw in the A/C or furnace air, but you may still notice a subtle temperature difference between the main hard-shell trailer and the soft-shell bedrooms.

If you’re looking to dry camp with your hybrid RV trailer, it’s possible with some considerations. Connecting your RV hybrid with solar panels on the roof and your storage tanks will give a family a long weekend of essential basic utilities. Fold up the beds when you’re away from the coach so bears and other uninvited guests don’t gain easy access through the fabric.

The Next Step

Now that you have a good perspective on hybrid travel trailers, your next step should be trying them out. Doing your homework by researching them will take you so far. Renting a few from a peer-to-peer company like Outdoorsy or RVshare will give you and your family firsthand experience.

You can rent from real owners in your local area or near the vacation destination of your choice. Some will deliver the RV and set it up for you if you want to start your vacation immediately. The owners will walk you through the coach to show you how everything operates and answer all of your questions.

With each rental, we advise you to try a different brand and floorplan to maximize your experience. For example, try the two-bedroom Coachmen Apex Nano. The next time out, try the Forest River Rockwood Roo three-bedroom. Your third weekend, check out the KZ Escape 160RBT one-bedroom or 180RBT two-bedroom. Rent as many as you like affordably.

As you’re trying out new and used hybrid RV campers, continue reading through the many feature articles on the RVTroop website. We’ll give you an unbiased walkthrough of today’s coaches and the best tips to enjoy the RV lifestyle.

When you’re ready to buy, you’ll have the knowledge of your research from experts in the field and first-hand knowledge of which floorplan works for your family. All of this knowledge and experience can save you thousands when buying your own RV. If you visit an RV center with used hybrid trailers, you could find a quality coach and save even more.

Welcome to the RV lifestyle!

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