After four years with our TAXA trailers we decided it was time for something different. Although we loved and do not regret our TAXA journey, it was time for a change. Our journey took quite a few twists and turns, and there were many along the way who wanted us to want what they wanted. But like many TAXA owners (and former owners), we were not your “typical” RV crowd. Our focus on a trailer was not about spending time inside of it, but what cool places it could help us explore. And unlike the typical “bigger is better” philosophy, we were willing to accept limits to stay smaller, more maneuverable, and keep our impact to our ecosystem as minimal as possible given that we wanted to town a tiny apartment with us wherever we went.
As we dug into this search, I learned more about towing that I had previously understood from our small car, small trailer experiences. I learned that tow limits live in theory, not reality. And I learned that it is VERY hard to match a tow vehicle to a trailer without being able to stand next to the ones you want first.
DISCLAIMER: Before we go on, there is an important thing every reader of this post needs to understand. What I am about to share here is our journey to find the right trailer and tow vehicle. I am far from an expert and am not trying to offer recommendations about the right pairing for you. But I think this journey, and the tools that I will share here, might be useful in understanding what goes into making this assessment for your situation.
The Start of Our Story
In 2017, we bought our first trailer. A small TAXA Outdoors Cricket to tow behind our Subaru Outback. This was a beautiful trailer that was light enough to push and pull around. Not long after that, we upgraded to the TAXA Outdoors Mantis, something we thought would be far better for our future family of four. I have lengthy blogs about why we loved each of those. But the reality of those rigs for a family of four was a bit harder. I grew tired of the efforts to keep water out of the tricky pop top on the Mantis (a problem we did not have on the Cricket because the Mantis had a very flat roof, and the whole Cricket roof popped up, not leaving all these places that water would pool and seep into the trailer). My partner wanted something we could all comfortably be in without having to play Tetris (now we just have to do the tango to move around each other). And we were both over having to climb over the other to get in and out of our bed.
We explored so many rigs. We looked at a variety of cheaper, white boxes that many major brands built (we hated their look we hated the cheapness of their builds, and we hated how they felt inside). We looked at some larger Teardrops like the T@B and fiberglass trailers like the Scamp and Oliver Elite, but none had a realistic floor plan for a family of four. We liked the Alta campers, but having the dealer be across an international border felt like a pain. And we kept coming back to the Airstream. It fit the bill, large windows orienting the inside to the outside, although maybe not the quality they once had, still leagues above much of their competition.
We looked at every 16–20-foot model, trying to find the right balance for us. We settled on the Basecamp 20X. We thought it could be towed by our tow vehicle at the time: the Toyota Highlander. It had the largest bed that we didn’t have to crawl over each other to get out of. And it was oriented much like our old Mantis and Cricket, for outdoorsy families wanting to have a home base from which they could go explore the outdoors.
Will It Tow?
Before we had always had small enough trailers compared to our tow vehicle that we were not approaching the limits of our tow vehicle. But the Basecamp with a GVWR of 4300, had the potential to really push things. For starters, according to factory specs, the Basecamp had a whopping 15.3% tongue ratio, potentially putting us at 650 lbs of tongue weight. With a payload of 1500 lbs, we were going to have to keep cargo in the Highlander to a minimum. Of course the secondary challenge there is that the Basecamp only had an 800-lb payload capacity (again, according the the factory, often these numbers can change by the time it gets to you due to add ons and other factors).
Could we do it? Probably? But it was going to be very tight. We’d really felt like the Mantis was a large as we wanted to tow with the Highlander (GVWR of 3500, probably weighed around 3200). With the need to move camping gear into the Basecamp, we were likely looking at a max loaded trailer of 4300-lbs. We were feeling more and more uncomfortable with this tow vehicle and trailer combination, but we also remembered how expensive a truck was these days. Particularly when we wanted to be sure to have safety features like forward collision prevention. But it was December of 2021. Used car prices were high, Ford and some other manufacturers were offering 0% financing on their half ton pickups, and we figured we needed to go take a look. Amazingly, we found a near perfect vehicle on the lot, already marked $4.5k down from MSRP. It didn’t have tow mirrors, which while a bummer, was a worthy sacrifice to save thousands not having to custom order (and wait for) a truck. And it had an odd tow configuration that brought some strange questions about what the actual tow ratings were (though given our chosen trailer, even the low end of 7000-lbs would be plenty).
And so we bought our first pickup truck.
If only the story ended there. But of course, with a new tow vehicle in hand, we asked the question: what other trailer options are now open to us? We began looking at Caravels and 23 and 25 foot Flying Clouds. There were several things we really liked about the Basecamp: it was outside adventure oriented, it had really great rear angle of departure which would be important to get up our driveway, and it had a very large bed. The tight corner beds in some of the more family-friendly Airstreams was just too tight for us, and did not really escape the challenge of the inner sleeper not having a clear exit if they needed to get up.
It left us with only a handful of options: the Basecamp 20, the Flying Cloud 23 FB, or the Flying Cloud 25. The problem with both the Basecamp 20 and Flying Cloud 23 FB was the 2nd sleeping space. It was very tight. 40–45 inches wide. It would work for a while, but there would be a time limit before it would no longer work for the kiddos. And we did not see this as a disposable item. This really needed to be our trailer for quite some time.
What the 25 offered was the L-shaped dinette. It could truly sleep two people in it. And if you wanted to avoid the setup and takedown each day of the table, you could get a bunk bed over the queen bed. But the 23FB was already pushing it (at an actual 23.8 feet long). And the 25FB and 25RB were both 25.9 feet long. It was more trailer than we wanted. AND, they were both very tongue heavy and would likely end up being too much trailer for our tow vehicle.
There was another model that had been discontinued: the Flying Cloud 23 Corner Bed (CB). It was exactly 23 feet long, it had the L-shaped dinette that could truly sleep two, and a corner bed in the back (with the option to add a bunk bed: the CBB). The problem was, we already ruled out the corner bed as being too small for us. As we were considering options, we had also thought about the Globetrotter, as it came with a twin bed option (at the time it was the only 23-foot model that did). For camping purposes, those separate beds could actually make for some more usable space and more comfortable sleep for my partner and I.
And that’s when the Airstream community on Reddit provided our answer. Instead of thinking of the corner bed for my partner and I, think of the L-dinette for us. This was perfect in so many ways. It was the twin bed option we had considered. It allowed us (when the kids were older) to put them to bed in the back, while we continued to watch TV in the front (with headphones). It was perfect. Except it was discontinued. As it turns out, we came in at just the right time. Our dealer had 10 slots left that could be filled with any of the Q1–2 2022 models, of which the 23CB was included. And so we were, miraculously, able to get the perfect floor plan for us. It genuinely sleeps 4 adults plus one extra 1 kiddo or adult under 150 lbs (in the bunk). It was the smallest and lightest dual axle trailer we could get from Airstream. So, would our trailer tow it?
Looking at the Numbers
This is where things get hard. Unlike our previous tow vehicles, the theoretical tow limit of our F-150 (11,300 lbs) was wildly beyond the payload capabilities of the truck. In other words, while we knew the engine could handle it, could the frame (and the axles, and the suspension, and the tires, and, and and…)?
The 23FB has a 10% tongue weight according to the manufacturer specs, but the 23CB was at 13.5%. Not as severe as the Basecamp, but I also had to assume there was a chance it could be higher. We did things to avoid that (Lithium batteries on the tongue rather than heavier AGM, lighter solar panels, etc.). But we still had to figure out if the 400-lbs of extra payload our truck had from our previous vehicle was enough.
I began down a rabbit hole that led me to RV Tow Check, a site and app that talk about limits and how to determine what your vehicle can tow in reality. I ran scenario after scenario in the app, gaining more understanding of how it worked, an eventually got frustrated that I was having to constantly go through the whole process every time I changed a few numbers. Understanding now how the formulas worked, I began work on my own spreadsheet that allowed me to compare multiple scenarios all at once.
I was conservative with my numbers, and everything looked like it was going to work. The question was, would my simulations live up to reality?
Simulations are one thing, but in the end, what matters is the actual weight on each axle. With our new trailer in tow, I finally made the trek to get it weighed. Now to understand the weigh in process, it is important to understand weight distribution. Now, there is a lot of debate about this topic, and if I had a 3/4 ton (F-250, RAM 2500) or a 1 ton (F-350, RAM 3500) truck, I might be able to tow on the ball no worries. But aside from being required for our vehicle for any trailer above 5000 lbs or 500 lb tongue weight, for our setup we were going to need a weight distributing hitch. We happened to already have a BlueOx SwayPro from our previous setup. We just needed a larger ball and some heavier tension bars.
What you need to do when you weigh, is weigh the tow vehicle and trailer with the weight distribution bars installed, weigh it again with them off, and a third time with just the tow vehicle, no trailer. Additionally, you might want to weigh with your weight distribution hitch setup in a few different configurations. Most can adjust the amount of distribution. For the BlueOx, that is through what link you slot into the latches. On my first trip, I weighed at link 8 and link 9. These were my numbers:
You also need to know the ratings on your trailer and tow vehicle. For me, that was:
- Front Axle GAWR: 3525
- Rear Axle GAWR: 3800
- Truck GVWR: 7050
- Trailer GVWR: 6000
Now there are a few caveats to these results:
- It was impractical to bring the family for this weigh in, so we are shy about 300 lbs of passengers and personal belonging (but I overloaded the tow vehicle on purpose by about 100-lbs, so a net change of 200-lbs in the tow vehicle).
- Not everything was packed in the trailer, there’s probably another 100-lbs of food, clothes, and a portable crib.
- I had originally been going for returning my front axle (referred to as the steer axle above) back to it’s un-hitched amount, like I would have with our old SUV. But it was later pointed out that trucks are different and expect a load in the bed (hence why from factory the rear often sits higher than the front). According to the Ford tow guide, I should be going for halfway between my unhitched and hitched without weight distribution bars numbers. (See this image from the Ford tow guide for more). At my next weigh in, I’ll be testing links 7 and 6 as well.
Luckily, there is room for the missing weight, and adjusting the links is easy enough. So we made it! Within the limits, though we will need to be conscious of what we bring. It’s a sacrifice we are willing to make for maneuverability, better fuel mileage, and not having to buy yet another new truck.
Is That the End?
Of course, despite being in the numbers, some people will still look at this and say I need a bigger truck. And would we be able to tow without a weight distribution hitch? Would it tow more easily? Maybe. But that’s not our journey. We are carefully within our vehicle specs, and we keep our speed in check. We don’t need to go 75 down the freeway. 65 is just fine (and the upper limit we have set for ourselves for safety). Slower if the conditions warrant it.
We are comfortable with our setup. It feels stable and well matched on the road, we stay within the manufacturer’s limits of our vehicle, and our trailer is exactly what we wanted and nothing more.