Previous RV experience: Renting a 25ft class C out of Vegas touring national parks.
What I liked about it: staying IN or near the parks near to the action.
What I didn't like: Class C was a little too wide for some of the side roads. Used a lot of gas.
What I'd like to do: Explore the parks in the pacific northwest where I live. Stay in or close to parks. Go hiking, biking.
work on narrow side roads and well maintained dirt roads (like barlow pass)
seat and sleep two
comfortable sitting space for two to survive a day in the rain
hot water (shower not required but would be nice)
tall enough to stand in and change
operate in three seasons (be able to function slightly below freezing in an emergency)
be heated or heatable
I don't mind cooking outside - as long as you're moving around I'm usually fine. If you have downtime though either after a hike or because of bad weather, I'd really like to have a small heated space available to stay in. I initially thought about a Suburban as it does most of this, but when caught in the rain it'd be a little tight and cold.
Any specific suggestions? Should I look at pop-up truck campers?
For what you want, a T/C sounds like the ideal combination. But, it will also depend on what you have for a P/U to put it on.
The Pop-Up type will allow more clearance, and probably save both weight and fuel, but will be tougher to find used.
I don't know if they (pop-up) are as warm in the colder weather, but you'd be dry, and you can always run the heater in such a small space.
Another option might be a Class "B" conversion van, but from reading what you like to do, having a 4x4 P/U would really allow you to get away from it all, and camp just about anywhere. Yes, there are some 4x4 conversion vans, but they are very expensive.
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Either a truck camper or a small camping van (B Class) would work pretty well if you want to do these things and keep the camper with you. If you're looking to set it up and unhitch to travel these roads then something small like Casita or Skamp, A liner or pop up trailer would all work for you according to your own budget and taste. Any of those could easily be towed by smaller SUV or truck or even a jeep or jeep type ATV.
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So... you're possibly looking for the SUV of RV's. Consider a truck camper and a 4x4 pick-up. The advantages are: the camper goes where the truck goes, height being the main consideration (pop-up or hard side); The camper can be off-loaded and the truck used for whatever reason, daily driver, sight-seeing, and yes, towing, even with the camper loaded. Check out the Truck Camper Forum and note the "sticky" posts regarding, 'photos' and 'trip reports'.
Take a peek. You might find something of interest in that style of camping. Just be aware that TC's aren't the least expensive way to RV.
I'd suggest a popup due to the wanting to work on narrow roads. Sounds like you might be headed down a dirt or gravel road or two and smaller is better. But the popup would give you open space and taller than Rpods or Aliner campers.
If a popup isn't your thing and you want a TT, check out http://www.livinlite.com/
Their quicksilver popups or Camplite TT's might be the right thing for you. Rugged but small and lite and they have offroad packages for better handling of the more primitive camping style I think your talking about liking.
Good luck in your search. PM me if you want more info on them. I don't own but have researched them a ton.
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Hope your travels are safe and the friendships made camping are lasting.
For your desires, I would look at a 3/4 ton pickup and a 8 foot camper. Or one of the popup campers and a 1/2 ton pickup. Either combination will work. The 3/4 and 8 foot camper will have a bit more comfort due to the fact it will not have any canvas to get damp. Picking a light camper with minimal insides should be fairly easy and you could probably pick up a decent one about 10-12 years old off of craigslist for really cheap.
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My RV style is like what you want yours to be. I do love my Tiger 4x4 Class C, 20 feet long, 87 inches wide, but wish it were smaller. I agree with the above posters: a smallish 4x4 pickup with a popup TC should suit your needs well.
thanks for the insightful responses (keep 'em coming!)
we have a cr-v so most likely we'd have to get a different/additional vehicle. the buzzy engine in the cr-v gets into high RPMs without anything in tow ;-) but this also means I'm flexible in what vehicle to pick.
I looked at roadtrek and sprinter vans and I did like the size, but they're awfully expensive for a first RV where there's a big chance you'll learn you really wanted something else. Also, the ones I looked at very fairly high end, which isn't something I'd want to pay for. I don't want to live in it, I want a heated box to drive around in. Head out Fri night, crash in a parking lot, head to the Oregon coast, do a hike or whatever, do some BBQ, go back home.
I don't plan on going anywhere that needs 4WD or high clearance. In fact I might not want to pay the permanent fuel cost overhead for 4wd.
Picking out a used truck and used truck camper certainly is a relatively inexpensive and flexible way to go; I'll also find out if there are any dealerships that sell lighterweight TTs.
Having owned a LTV Sprinter Class B for 6 years, it seems it would fill all your requirements and then some. They are expensive but fuel economy is good. You might look for a good used Sprinter or other B or check out Sportsmobile that customizes vans to your needs.