Our RV's Limiting Factors: Size

This is the third part of a four part series that talks about what prevents our RV from being perfect for us, along with potential solutions for the problems. The posts in the series are:

  1. Water
  2. Batteries
  3. Size (this post)
  4. Heating

SIZE

When we were shopping for an RV we specifically looked for a small fifth wheel. While we achieved that, it’s still not the most portable rig, especially when it comes to boondocking. The Toaster is 25’ long but the truck adds another 17’ to the overall length, totaling a combined length close to 42’. Yikes! So far we’ve found boondocking sites without too much trouble, but in certain areas (ex: in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, WA) it’s work to find sites big enough for us. Like other RVers who boondock, there are a handful of things* to keep mind when we are looking for sites:

 
  • Road condition to get to the site
  • Length, width (our slide opened increases the width of the RV by several feet) and height (the solar panels add a couple of feet to the original height) of the potential spot
  • Turning radius to get in and out of the site

*This is not a complete list of things we have to consider when looking for boondocking sites. This list is just of things we think about regarding the physical size of the RV and truck. Wheelingit has a very comprehensive and well-written four-part blog about boondocking for new RVers. It’s worth bookmarking it.

Roads like this is doable with the Toaster but pain to drive on towing it.

Roads like this is doable with the Toaster but pain to drive on towing it.

As much as we would like, we can't just turn down any interesting dirt road we see and hope to find a spot to camp. Too many things can go wrong if we do that while towing the Toaster. We also can't go as deep into the woods as we'd like. As much as I dislike planning, I have to when it comes to boondocking. Sometimes a lot of time is spent staring at maps, looking at forest service websites, scouring online for any information on previously camped-at sites. There's always some worrying about whether the information we've complied is actually accurate in reality. Boondocking got a lot easier after we found out about Campendium. This is a great site for RV camping whether you're boondocking, staying at an RV park or campground. This site is our primary resource for finding boondocking sites. Our concerns about finding current information are rarely an issue with Campendium since there are dated reviews for most of the sites.

Even with all the planning, it's a still a good idea to get out of the truck and scout before driving into a tight spot. A few extra minutes spent walking around, or even taking the bikes down a road to be sure, are well worth it.

VAN ENVY

That's why we envy vans - Vanagons, Sprinters, Transits, etc. because they are able to boondock almost anywhere. Their ability to be stealthy in urban and wooded environments, along with their maneuverability down unknown dirt and forest service roads is awesome. They are better to travel to Mexico in, something we'd like to do one day.

 

This is Big Blue, Tim's (aka Van Tramp's) van. That's Moose inside the van. He's adorable and Tyki's boyfriend.

This is Big Blue, Tim's (aka Van Tramp's) van. That's Moose inside the van. He's adorable and Tyki's boyfriend.

There are many moments when we wish we could downsize to something smaller, whether it's a van or even a small motorhome. But it's not an option for us if we want to be fossil fuel free. The main two things that help us work towards becoming fossil fuel free are our solar equipment for the RV and running the truck off waste vegetable oil.

RIG SIZE AND SOLAR

We've used all the viable space on our RV roof to install enough solar panels to power everything we need inside the trailer. If we downsized our rig to something smaller we would lose at least half our current roof space and a lot of battery space as well. You would think that a smaller rig would need less electricity. I thought that, but Jerud and I chatted more about it: our electrical usage would not reduce very much with the size of the RV.

The three biggest energy users in the RV are our electrical stovetop, our two mini-tank water heaters, and the ceramic space heater. But even if we lived in a van we would still cook the same amount as we do now and use the same amount of hot water. Having less space to keep warm in a van would save us some electricity, but not much: we typically close off the bedroom and only heat in there, overnight mostly. This reduces the heated space by 2/3. Still larger than a van, but not a whole lot - and vans aren't as well-insulated as our RV.

RIG SIZE AND WVO

Then there's the waste vegetable oil (WVO) system. There is just way too much equipment needed for a WVO system to get everything into a van - and definitely not in combination with the solar equipment. We are able to live on the road and burn WVO because our truck is mostly filled with the required equipment. This includes:

 
  • The tank that holds 37 gallons of filtered WVO
  • The pump to collect grease from restaurants
  • Containers to collect the dirty grease into
  • Our filtering system for cleaning the collected grease
  • Spare parts
  • Cleaning supplies (WVO can get messy)

Solution: An all-electric rig (driving portion included) is our dream. That would eliminate all the equipment associated with burning vegetable oil and let us downsize a lot. It could be an electric truck with a slide-in camper or even a tiny motorhome. But since it's not going to happen anytime soon, we're going to keep our set up as-is and in the meanwhile research and plan other ways to be fossil fuel free in a smaller set up. Perhaps it'll be Live Small | Ride Free - Part Two.

Give us a shout below in the comment section and tell us what your ideal boondocking RV setup is.


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