Our RV Setup

by May 19, 2020RV Life

The type of RV you choose will drastically impact the experience you have on the road. The tradeoffs in design and functionality are felt constantly. A lot of RVers, including us, end up changing rigs after they learn more about their needs and preferences. We did a ton of research and shopping, but experience will still reveal things you’d never have considered. 

We will share both our first setup, and our current, and describe some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Class A Motorhome with Jeep 

When we began planning our RV lifestyle, one thing we didn’t feel we could part with (or, more specifically, that Devin couldn’t part with) was our Jeep. Going on Jeep rides had become one of our family’s favorite activities to do together. So, we almost immediately decided we wanted to get a motorhome. Dolly’s mom was going to be staying with us, and we felt having a floor plan with 2 bathrooms would be helpful.

Many of our other purchase decision were made on silly things like couch layout. We really got lucky that our motorhome ended up having features that actually mattered.

We ended up getting a 2016 Fleetwood Bounder 35k. It was 36ft long and ran on a Ford V10 gas chassis. We bought it used from RVTrader.com. We learned that buying an RV is much more difficult than purchasing a car, and financing is harder than getting a home loan. This ended up making us purchase from a dealer on our next RV.

The RV came with a residential fridge, which also meant we had a sizable battery bank that came with the RV (4 golf cart batteries). We installed 900 watts of solar, to make the RV more off-grid friendly.

We towed our Jeep with a Ready Brute tow bar. I liked this model because it didn’t require a pneumatic accessory to trigger the brakes on the Jeep. It was durable, had a great warranty and customer service, and was easy to set up.

Our Jeep was a 2013 Wrangler Unlimited Sport. It had a 4 inch lift and 35 inch tires. We bought it as an adventure vehicle, and it was thoroughly equipped for that. The biggest change we made before our trip was to get rid of our hard top and purchase a soft top. We opted for a frameless fastback top from Besttop, so that we could easily remove and store the top. We even created a portable stand for our Jeep doors so we could be completely topless and doorless. We took it on mountains, beaches, red rock, and more. It’s a pretty easy vehicle to work on, there’s an extremely strong community who will help you if you have questions.

The only drawback with this Jeep was that most of the time, it was our daily driver. The tires and lift made it less comfortable for long drives. We certainly used the lift and tires a few times, such as in Moab, Utah. But for the majority of our driving, a stock Jeep would have been more comfortable (and economic). A stock Jeep will perform well enough for most off-road adventures we would take. Stock would be our preference, if we were to use this setup again.

What we liked about this setup:

  • The size was about perfect. Large enough for comfortable living. Small enough that we didn’t worry about fitting into most campgrounds or camp sites. 
  • It’s very convenient for long-distance drives. You can pull over and sleep without leaving the rig or opening up the slides. On stormy days, this is huge. You can make food while you’re driving, if you want to. Our son enjoyed playing with his toys at the table, or watching a movie on our TV, while we were on the road.
  • The Jeep is a fantastic getting around vehicle. It let us have adventures we otherwise couldn’t have.
  • Class A’s have tons of basement storage. This was helpful, especially in the beginning, as we were still trying to downsize and minimize.

What we didn’t like:

  • Single living space made it hard to have alone time
  • Poor office setup. We were all in one space, everyone had to be quiet when Devin did work meetings. It was miserable.
  • Extra maintenance. There was an extra engine to change oil, maintain, and take care of. We also worried about it breaking down and getting stranded. This happened to us once at the very beginning of our trip.
  • It felt small and dark. The windows were small and few. The roof was fairly low.
  • Putting the motorcycle on the hitch carrier behind the Jeep was a pain, and felt a bit risky. We had some scary moments.
  • Finding gas stations that can fit our rig was really tricky. We used Costco a lot, as their were usually decent and orderly (ie no cars zipping around from all directions), but they can also be really crowded
  • Onboard propane is less convenient, or more expensive, to fill. 

Our current setup

The single biggest pain point with the Class A was the office space. Devin was on meetings constantly, and that forced everyone else to be silent all the time. It wore on us, especially since Dolly and Kalepo couldn’t always hang out outside, whether for inclement weather, too many mosquitoes, or sometimes…nosy neighbors. We were considering getting a house again.

On a whim, we went to an RV dealer and looked at other rigs. We walked through a toy hauler fifth wheel and fell in love. We joke now that we bought our fifth wheel because we wanted a door. It’s somewhat true. There’s a solid door between the garage and the living area which blocks sound. The garage is Devin’s office, and with the door closed he can’t be heard, and he can’t hear everyone else. It means everyone can go about their business.

The garage space is also great for exercising. We had a motorcycle, and it was far more convenient to haul it inside the RV. We also liked the idea of keeping our dog, Luko, exclusively in the garage to minimize the fur and dirt she tracks into the rig. She could really make our living area messy in the Class A.

We also love the feature where the toy hauler ramp can be set up as an outdoor patio. It’s a great outdoor space, but much cleaner. It feels less messy than having chairs laying around outside.

Our fifth wheel is a 2019 Keystone Fusion 427. It’s about 43ft long and, fully loaded, weighs about 19,000 lbs. It’s a beast. And, that can be a pain. It’s harder to find places to park and more difficult to get into sites now. But once we’re in, it’s great.

To pull it, we bought a 2013 Ford F-450. We opted for the F-450 over the F-350 because of two reasons. 1) F-350’s are infinitely configurable, from a single rear axle with a short bed to a dually long bed. There are so many package combinations and shopping for the right truck was simply a pain. With the F-450, you knew you were getting what you needed. 2) The F-450 has a tighter turning radius than the F-350, which we felt would be important since our rig is so large. Given the prices weren’t that different (for used, at least) it seemed like a no-brainer decision.

Due to a dealer mistake, we were given a 2016 F-450 to replace our 2013 after a few months. This worked to our benefit as we got a newer, better truck for the same price as our original. 

What we like about our current setup:

  • The door. It’s everything
  • The open floorpan and layout. It feels so roomy because of the higher ceilings. There are tons of windows. The interior is light and modern.
  • The garage makes a great office, and a multi-functional room
  • We were able to get a second motorcycle
  • Washer/dryer hookups. No more laundromats!
  • Driving the truck is more comfortable than driving the RV. The Class A just didn’t handle well, and it was white knuckle more often than I’d like.
  • You can fill diesel in the truck lanes. Super easy to find gas stations we can fill at while we’re towing.
  • Removable propane tanks makes filling a breeze. Just take them somewhere in the truck.

What we don’t like:

  • We all miss the Jeep. Devin cries about it sometimes (quite frequently).
  • The size is cumbersome. Curvy roads are scary. Finding campsites is harder. Everything is more complicated. 
  • It’s harder to park in the campsite, which is really just another way that size plays into the equation. The size is a huge hassle when moving the rig around. 
  • Setting up the RV is a bit more involved, although we also believe that this rig has taught us we were skipping things we should have done on our Class A, but didn’t. 
  • Less basement storage, but we’ve also appreciated the challenge to downsize.
  • The F-450 is not fun to drive around town when not towing. It’s a great towing machine. It’s not a great grocery store machine. It’s also not a great “explore the city” machine. It’s long, it doesn’t fit in any parking spaces, it’s super wide. Driving around San Francisco, for example, was absolutely nerve wracking. We take the motorcycles more, when we can.

Which is best?

Now that we’ve tried two rigs and have more experience, we can appreciate the value of different setups. We sometimes envy the people with camper vans, who can stealthily camp in beautiful, remote places and take cool instagram photos of their legs facing their open doors with a beautiful landscape behind. We don’t get those views as frequently from where we camp. We appreciate the simplicity of motorhomes. We love the durability and aesthetic of Airstreams. 

There is no best rig. And your needs may evolve as your life changes. If you have a setup now, we’d be interested in hearing what you are using, and what you like and what you’d change if you could! The comments will help others who are looking for their first RV. 

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