2014 RV and Camping Show Review

The "Retro" brand camper at the show.

The "Retro" brand camper at the show.

A few weeks ago Matt and I drove about an hour away to check out the Springfield RV and Camping Show. We were hoping to check out some Sprinter campervans (our current obsession) and see what the new season brought with camper technology. Now is the beginning of camping season, and all of the new models are being unveiled.

But as you can probably guess, I’m not too keen on all the “new model” campers (or anything new really), I’m obviously more interested in older vintage campers and the like. I was hoping to see a few teardrops and small campers, of which there were just a few. Mostly though, the campers were humungous behemoths of RVs with tons of silly accessories. I mean, the campers were literally insane. I would say the average camper was 40’ long and had 4 huge pop-outs for “extra space”. The world of campers and RVs is increasingly luxury-driven and has little to do with actually spending time in nature, which I have to say is very disappointing. Most of the RVs feature 60 inch flat screen TVs and kitchens that would be considered fancy overkill even in a regular house. As we left the exhibition center, Matt turned to me and said, “Not enough small campers, huh?”. That was my complaint too.

But for all of the many, many mammoth RVs there were just a few tiny campers hiding in one of the last aisles. I’ll share those here so you can get a sense of the small camper market available today. One interesting thing to point out is that some companies are embracing the “retro” camper look and feel (well, kind of) and there was even a camper company called “Retro”.

It did occur to me while we were walking around, “A tiny house on display at an exhibition like this would be a big hit!”. It would be neat if someone locally would show off their tiny house build, because it definitely would stand out in the sea of normal (kinda boring) giant RVs. I also thought that I should organize a few vintage campers to be on display and promote vintage trailer life, rallying, and Tin Can Tourists. Maybe next time!

There was a woman selling what she called a tiny house, but it didn’t have any space for a bed which I thought was a drawback. Though the design was neat and it looked nice from the outside you could tell it was not made from the high quality materials that I prefer tiny houses be made from (as they usually utilize real wood and nice finishes). This “tiny house” vardo was clad in vinyl siding and was not finished thoroughly. Perhaps it was just a quick “display model” and not meant to show the quality of their actual products.

The Tiny Home/Vardo style "camper" at the Springfield, MA RV Show.

The Tiny Home/Vardo style "camper" at the Springfield, MA RV Show.


The interior of the same Vardo style "tiny home" camper.

The interior of the same Vardo style "tiny home" camper.

 

I really liked this little “MyPod” camper. It was futuristic and tiny and light! Definitely something I could see myself towing with the Element. The only problem I had with it was that it had a big giant TV inside on one of the walls and it also had a built in Air Conditioner. I see both of these things as unnecessary but maybe those are the features that consumers are asking for?

The little MyPod teardrop camper - how much do you really need?

The little MyPod teardrop camper - how much do you really need?

One of the major things Matt and I noticed is the crazy amount of space that the bathrooms took up in many of the larger campers and RVs. I mean, in most of the ones we went inside of, at least 25% of the floor plan was usurped by the bathroom. That is crazy to me! In my experience, having a bathroom doesn’t really add much comfort in relation to how much precious space it takes up. In most cases, you’re either going to be parked at a campground with ample bathroom facilities or in the woods, in which case who cares where you pee? To me, bathrooms are a waste of space in a camper. I say either move those functions outside or figure out a way to have them fold out of the way. I can tell you from experience that having a toilet doesn’t really add a significant sense of comfort when camping (though having access to a shower DOES). This might not be the case for everyone, but I’m just really comfortable peeing outside (lots of practice!).

 

This brings me to another point about modern RVs and campers. Until you’ve gone camping or spent a good amount of time in an RV or other camper, you can’t possibly know what you really want or what suits your unique needs best. I can DEFINITELY see how many, many people at the show, having never bought a camper before, could be convinced by all the glitz and glamour that they really need all the modern features that those 40’ giants had to offer. You could definitely get caught up in it all. But until you’ve spent some time out on the road, you can’t really imagine what it’s like to function in such a compact space, and you won’t really know what you need and don’t need until you try a few different things out. For this reason, I suggest renting a few different types of campers (even just for a day or two) before making such a large investment. Coming from my own experience, I definitely feel like this is true. You can’t really imagine what you will use and not use until you’ve lived in the absolute minimum. For example, I thought that the fact that my COMET camper had no shower would be a huge problem (it isn’t). And I thought that having a toilet in the COMET was absolutely necessary, even if it meant that a good percentage of my sparse 100 sq. ft. was going to only have that single, solitary function (as a place to poop and pee). It wasn’t until Matt and I lived out of my car for a month and a half while on our first Tiny House Road Trip that I realized what was important to me and what wasn’t. It just seems like a lot of people might end up buying campers with way too many features in them, and then that might take away from the actual purpose of camping. But, To each their own.

 

After the RV and Camping Show we went to an amazing donut shop called Donut Dip. It hasn’t changed one little bit since the 60s and still has all the original hand-painted signage and counters/booths inside.

The lovely Donut Dip retro donut box. Yes, I kept the box!

The lovely Donut Dip retro donut box. Yes, I kept the box!

 

The donuts were amazing (is it disgusting that I ate 5?). The best part, however, was that in the process of trying to get out of the parking lot, we saw this:

What a freakin’ beauty. I mean, my heart stopped when I saw this. I would like to figure out what make/model this is and who owns it, because even though I swore off buying any vintage campers until I had finished the ones I already harbor, I said nothing about vintage RVs. Oh god, seeing this gorgeous hunk of junk just made me realize how much more I appreciate the design of the past.

In conclusion, I like vintage trailers better than modern ones not only because they look amazing and are made of higher quality materials (think birch wood and metal as opposed to plastic and particle board), but also because they were simple. They utilized the space available in a nice, efficient way, and didn’t rely on features like built in TVs and granite counter tops to make an impression. Call me old fashioned.


Now, if you want to see some really interesting and smart modern RV design, check out the German HymerCar. I’m definitely a fan of this layout and floorplan.