Home away from home

As I’ve previously posted, in the Spring of 2015 my wife and I decided to purchase a camper. In the process I did a lot of research about the towing capability of our 4Runner and the realities of owning and towing a travel trailer and simply want to add to the information that is available. There are a fair number of 4Runners in the world and it was very helpful to gain some insight from others experience by reading posts on various blogs and forums, especially http://www.toyota-4runner.org/, the place for all things 4Runner.

My wife and I camped in tents together when we were younger but as time passed my wife was less and less enamored with camping in tents so it faded away for some years. I continued to camp on many canoe trips and of course numerous Boy Scout camps when I was a Scout in addition to all of the time with my sons over the years. We have reached the stage where the kids are well on their way to being on their own so it seemed like time for my wife and I to renew camping together. We love the outdoors but sleeping in a tent gets a bit old. So we decided to get a camper to solve that problem.

Now the question was what kind of camper. There are a lot of types of campers in all shapes and sizes. We knew we didn’t want a motorhome for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was cost.  A fifth wheel wasn’t possible as we don’t own a vehicle to tow it and it would be bigger and more expensive than we needed for just the two of us. We knew we’d be towing something and given that our tow vehicle is a 2008 Toyota 4Runner V6 that left pop-ups, hard side folding campers, and travel trailers. We ruled out pop-ups and hard side folding campers as they are too small. So given our interests, budget, and towing capacity we started to look for a medium size travel trailer. Given a towing capacity of 5000 pounds for a V6 4Runner I knew we’d need to be at or less than 4000 pounds to stay below the 80% of tow capacity rule of thumb.

Thankfully here in Wisconsin we are swimming in RV dealers. There are literally 5 dealers within 20 miles of our home. The closest one was Roskopf’s RV Center so we paid them a visit to see what they had in travel trailers. As with most dealers they have a lot of campers. We went through a number of them but to large extent it was sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, most everything was either too small or too big but after a bit of looking we found the one that was just right, a 2015 Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB. We purchased the camper from Roskopf’s and were very pleased with the experience. Brian Roskopf provides great customer service and definitely goes the extra mile to take care of his customers.

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB and Toyota 4Runner (V6)

With a trailer largely selected there were some towing options to sort out. The hitch that is on a V6 4Runner is a Weight Carrying (WC) hitch. A Weight Distribution (WD) hitch is on V8 4Runners as they have greater towing capacity. The reason you might want a WD hitch is so that you can use a Weight Distribution Hitch with the trailer. You can’t use a WD hitch with the WC hitch. The trailer weighs 2885 pounds empty and the GVWR is 3750 pounds so that kept us below the 80% of towing capacity rule of thumb. The question was did I want to go to a WD hitch or stay with the WC hitch. I did a bunch of research , spoke to friends with travel trailers and WD hitches, and spoke to our RV dealer and it seemed as if the consensus was that changing the WC hitch on the truck out for a WD hitch and adding a WD hitch to the trailer was probably more than was required for the size of trailer and towing capacity. So we have been using the WC hitch though I have added a Curt Sway Control kit. I’m going to add a Firestone Ride Rite Air Helper Spring Kit this summer to level the truck off a bit. The hitch drops about 2 inches when the trailer is attached (empty tanks.)

Curt Sway Control kit installed

Curt Sway Control kit installed

With this setup the trailer tows very well. No hair raising moments when semi trucks pass you on the interstate. The trailer happily settles in at or near freeway speeds and cruises along. Depending upon conditions the mileage on the truck drops 5-7 MPG when towing the trailer. Our favorite place to camp is a 180 mile round trip from home. We typically get around 14-15 MPG towing the trailer. The worst has been 11.5 MPG on a trip in which the outbound portion was a particularly windy day with strong quartering head winds all the way to camp. That was a long drive. The brake controller that I chose is the Tekonsha P3 and I use Tow-N-See towing mirrors.

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Starcraft figured out a way to pack a lot of useful features and comfort into an 18 foot travel trailer.

18QB interior - front

18QB interior – front

18QB interior - rear

18QB interior – rear

18QB bathroom

18QB bathroom

Happy Camper

Happy Camper

As we’ve always had an electrical hook-up we’ve not boondocked with it yet so I can’t say how long the house battery lasts. I have ran tests with an ammeter to get a sense for all of the loads in the camper. All of the lights inside and out are LED. Here are my measurements:

Device Current (Amps)
Everything off 0.020 A
Furnace 4.5 A
Water Pump 6.5 A
Water Heater 0.8 A
Outside Light 0.5 A
Bedroom light 0.5 A
Bed light 0.3 A
Sink light 0.3 A
Table light 0.5 A
Switched inside lights (2) 0.72 A
Radio 0.26 A

The camper comes with one house battery (group 24, marine crank @ 80 F: 795 A, Cold Crank @ 0 F: 550 A, Reserve Capacity: 140 A) and at some point I plan to add a second battery and a portable solar panel and charge controller once we do go “off the grid.” Tank capacity works out to 5 days. The fresh is 26 gallons, gray is 15, and black is 9. If we go into camp with a full freshwater tank, gray empty, and black with some content due to starting the toilet we can go for 5 days with each of us showering each day, using the toilet (though we will use the campground toilets on occasion), and washing dishes at least twice a day. At the end of five days black and gray indicate that they are full and fresh indicates 1/3 (the granularity of the display for the tank monitors is in thirds.) In terms of LP, through all of last camping season we used about one-half of a 40 pound tank. We typically run the refrigerator on LP for the drive to camp and then switch it to electric. We used the heat a bit late in the Fall and the stove on occasion and of course the water heater is LP and that ran a fair amount each trip.

We camped 23 days last year and are very happy with this camper. It is just the right size for two people and has just the right amount of creature comforts. You can enjoy the outdoors and have a nice place to retire to at the end of the day or wait out a rainy day.

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2 responses to “Home away from home

  1. i love your setup! We have a 2015 AR-One Maxx 19BHLE
    currently towing it with a 2015 Tundra. I would like to tow it with the wife new 2017 4Runner Limited 4X4 I just ordered
    any thoughts would be Great

    • Mark: Thanks for the comment. I probably don’t have many more thoughts than what I posted about the setup that I use with my truck and trailer. My guess is that your trailer is a bit heavier than mine. Will the new 4Runner be a V6 or V8? As you know the V8 has a higher towing capacity and I believe that it may have the WD hitch but I don’t know that for sure. If you’re ordering new it’s likely worth looking into that. If it’s a V6 you’re probably closer to the tow limit than I am with my trailer. It depends what you’re comfortable with. I wanted to stay at or below the 80% rule of thumb though who really knows where that number even came from.

      We are very happy with how our truck and camper perform. It’s not setting any land speed records. It’s comfortable cruising along at 60-65 on the interstate. I don’t push it harder. The sway control kit works nicely. I got to test it once when I had it attached properly but had forgotten to tighten the tension down. The first semi that passed us on the interstate reminded me that I hadn’t tensioned the sway control. : ) Other than that the only thing still on the list is to add the airbags to the rear suspension. We’ve done two seasons worth of camping without a problem. I’m only going to add them to level the truck back a bit. It’s probably not necessary but they aren’t that expensive and it’s worth the piece of mind. Other than that enjoy your new truck.

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