In previous eras, wood was predominantly the primary building material for RV frames. With fuel-efficiency affecting towing capabilities, the RV industry changed with the times by using aluminum instead of wood as a framing material. Here are 9 lightweight campers with aluminum frames that are the best examples of how manufacturers to consumer needs.
Factors that Changed the Market
There are many factors that changed RV construction methodology. Causal issues like fuel prices, down economies, and changing consumer needs are major considerations. Other factors like advances in technology led to cost-saving building methodologies and new construction materials.
If you level the playing field to 2020 prices, did you know we’re not paying the most expensive prices at the pump? Paying almost $150 a tank for your motorhome’s gas tank, or $60 every 200 miles for your SUV’s tank can seem harsh. Think about what it would be like if you were paying these prices:
The Top 5 Highest Gas Prices in U.S. History
- 1918: $4.27/gallon
- 2012: $3.99/gallon
- 2008: $3.86/gallon
- 1981: $3.83/gallon
- 1934 & 1938: $3.66/gallon
The lowest price per gallon happened in 1998. Adjusting for 2020 prices, you’d fill up at $1.61/gallon. For perspective, during that year, President Bill Clinton was in office, and that was a mid-term election year.
New Era in the RV Industry
During the 2008 financial crisis, the RV industry when through a big shift. Big players became small, some went out of business, others were bought out, and new players hit the marketplace.
While all of this shifting was happening, the auto industry went through its own changes. Previously, the top consumer concerns when buying a car was safety and reliability. After the financial recession, fuel efficiency joined those concerns. Today’s passenger vehicles expend the least amount of fuel in their categories than any other time.
A byproduct of this is some loss in towing strength. To compensate, the RV industry had to find lighter weight construction materials to build their products that these new modern vehicles could tow and lessen the fuel expenditure.
The industry was already starting to frame some of their coaches with aluminum, but other new ultra-light camper materials were hitting the scene like Azdel and other fiberglass-type materials. RV manufacturers retooled and redesigned to make the lightest travel trailers on the market today.
RV Aluminum Frame Construction
Aluminum framing starts with extruded square tubing created to size. This minimizes having weak points at unnecessary points. Skilled welders piece the frame together.
Each aluminum frame goes through testing for strength and rigidity. This metal weighs less than hardwoods, yet is many times stronger. Builders install secondary aluminum frame supports to hold windows, doors, and cabinetry. The frame is responsible for keeping holding the walls, bolted-on features, and resist wind.
The other great thing about aluminum is its resistance to moisture, pests, and other degradation concerns. Oxidation (rust) never breaks through the first layer. It’s not flammable, and can handle virtually any climate humans would normally camp in (the Antarctic projects uses other materials).
The Best Lightweight Campers With Aluminum Frames
We’ve selected nine of our favorite lightweight travel trailers with aluminum frames. Their weights make them mid-size SUV-friendly. Each is an example to appeal to a different audience to show how this framing has advanced the RV world.
1. Airstream Basecamp 16
- Dry Weight: 2,585 pounds
- Length: 16.3 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 2 people
- Starting Price: $37,900
Who wouldn’t start a “best example” list of Americana without showcasing an Airstream? The Basecamp is a small aluminum travel trailer with the same quality construction of its bigger sister coaches.
Its rear doors have great utility value for storing long items while you’re traveling. The attachable rear tent adds extra interior space when you’re set up. This year’s model also has a side tent that fully encloses to use as additional guest quarters.
The interior of the coach has a full kitchen, a wet bath, and a full dinette that folds down to a queen-size bed. To add a personal touch, you can choose from three different colors to accent the grey interior.
This is a 21st century RV with the latest in technology. There are pop-up charging stations with 110v and USB ports. You’ll also find a great place to install your LED TV with a media system that accepts all inputs.
2. Palomino Backpack HS-750 Truck Camper
- Dry Weight: 1,870 pounds
- Length: 16.5 pounds
- Center of Gravity: 27 inches
- Sleeps: Up to 3 people
- Average Price: $20,000
Not all RVs come with wheels. Palomino’s Backpack HS-750 is an aluminum frame truck camper that many full-time millennials are gravitating to as an alternative to the #VanLife. It fits comfortably in any half-ton pickup with a standard or long cargo bed.
This coach has all of the amenities you need for long term adventures. A full kitchen, wet bath, queen bed, and full-size sofa with a removable table. Its solid construction can take all of the punishment of off-road trekking.
You’re definitely “wired for sound” with this camper. It’s prewired with a solar port, satellite jack, media center, and all the charging stations you need to stay connected to the world. There’s even an external battery kill switch to prevent your battery from running dry when you’re traveling.
3. KZ Sportsmen Classic 180TH
- Dry Weight: 3,250 pounds
- Length: 21.6 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 5 people
- Average Price: $17,500
Aluminum RV frames are especially important when it comes to toy haulers. Having a coach that has the strength to carry your motorized toy, yet light enough to keep not max out your towing capacity is essential. The KZ Sportsmen Classic 180TH balances this perfectly.
This travel trailer toy hauler gives you a lot of creature comforts in a small RV. After a day of blazing your own trail, you and your friends can rest comfortably on the double-sized front bunks. The spacious dry bathroom gives you enough room to clean up.
The media center can set the mood both inside and out with speakers in both locations. The fold-up sofa has a removable table where you can enjoy your meals and watch the game or favorite show.
If you don’t want to turn on the A/C or furnace, open the windows and pull down the rear door screen to enjoy the evening. Nature’s always more enjoyable without having to worry about mosquitoes and other critters bothering you.
4. Lance 1575 Travel Trailer
- Dry Weight: 2,775 pounds
- Length: 15.9 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 4 people
- Average Price: $38,000
Lance Camper builds some of the best lightweight truck campers and travel trailers in the industry. The 1575 has a lot of room and features worth consideration. This aluminum framed trailer uses Azdel sidewalls in concert with rigid foam insulation to contain inside temperatures and dampen sound.
The U-shaped dinette sits on a slideout. It sits up to six people and folds down to sleep two guests. The front master bed measures to a queen, giving RVers plenty of room to sleep. Lance thought creatively by making the dry bath without a sink to maximize space.
The overhead cabinetry, 6 cubic foot refrigerator, and under bed storage that’s accessible externally will give you a lot of room to store everything you need. Lance even put two corner overhead cabinets in the slideout as a way to make use of unused space.
Lance also added many conveniences. Most of the industry adds back up camera brackets, solar prewiring, media centers, and reinforced walls for TV mounts. Lance goes a step farther by syncing the locks with their Keyed- Alike system so the entry door, storage bays, and other locks use all the same key. There’s even an option to add a keyless entry panel.
5. Riverside Retro 190BH
- Dry Weight: 3,415 pounds
- Length: 20.6 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 6 people
- Average Price: $19,000
Riverside RV has a Retro series of trailers that give you that vintage look with modern technology. This vintage aluminum travel trailer has an aluminum frame, corrugated aluminum sidewalls, modern appliances, but aesthetics that remind you of the 1950s.
The Retro 190BH is a bunk bed floorplan with the bunks in the rear, queen master up front, and full kitchen mid-coach. The full dry bathroom is in the rear driver’s side corner.
The interior has medium wood paneling, a monochrome checkerboard vinyl floor, and interior cushions that match the exterior paint. The color scheme has the 50s diner look with a white base and diner accent color that runs along the side of the RV.
Modern conveniences include an electric awning, LED lights, electric charging ports, and dual climate systems. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can pop in your favorite 50’s CD in the media center and play it through the outdoor speakers to start your an impromptu sock hop at the campground (sorry, poodle skirts and cardigans aren’t included).
6. Travel Lite Falcon F-Lite FL18RB
- Dry Weight: 2,176 pounds
- Length: 18.2 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 4 people
- Average Price: $23,000
If you’re looking for something with a futuristic post-modern look with a full bathroom, Travel Lite’s F-Lite series might be something to consider. The 18RB has a rear dry bathroom with a lot of storage in it.
The cabinet doors have black frames with frosted glass. The LEDs inside the cabinets that give off ambient light and set the mood. Despite the dark coloring, the walls, ceiling, and vinyl wood flooring give an overall light open feel inside.
Like the bigger Falcon series, this aluminum-framed travel trailer has an aerodynamic shape that cuts wind resistance. This helps with fuel economy but doesn’t neglect interior space.
7. Jayco Jay Flight SLX 7 183RB
- Dry Weight: 3,250 pounds
- Length: 21 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 3 people
- MSRP: $19,943
Jayco sets a high benchmark as an industry leader for aluminum frame RV manufacturers. Many of the innovations they bring to the RV industry set the tone for each model year.
Jayco uses a plywood alternative called lumber core. Like aluminum, it’s a lightweight material that’s very strong. This material allows their cabinetry to hold a lot in small dimensions.
They’re also very creative in finding storage in their furniture and other components. You’ll find a lot of space under the master bed, dinette seats, and you can keep your storage bays sanitary by placing your sewer hose inside the rear bumper.
This multi-purpose mentality has led to other ideas. On the 183RB, Jayco placed the outdoor speakers on the awning arms. They also use PEX piping for their plumbing. This pipe is thinner and more flexible than PVC. This helps to keep the plumbing out of the way for storage needs.
8. Keystone Passport 175BH
- Dry Weight: 3,421 pounds
- Length: 21.3 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 5 people
- MSRP: $19,481
The Passport 175BH is a unique bunk bed model with a cargo door on the rear driver side. This utility door allows you to store bigger items when you’re traveling. As you unpack, you can easily pull them out without having to walk them through the RV.
This Keystone unit received a Best In Class award for its use of storage. Only an aluminum-framed coach could accomplish this design. Wood framing requires support beams to be closer together. A wide cargo door on the side would be cost-prohibitive.
Between the two rear twin bunk beds, front queen master, and fold down dinette, this RV sleeps up to 5 people. The tub style shower and spacious bathroom are possible through the sacrifice of a sink. Washing up isn’t a problem with the large single basin kitchen sink.
This small travel trailer has a lot of character with the front interior cap wood panel accent and standard sidewall wallpaper. You’ll enjoy the wide walkway of this non-slideout coach. It’s also all-season ready if you decide to take that late fall or early spring trip.
9. inTech Sol Dawn
- Dry Weight: 2,650 pounds
- Length: 16 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 2 people
- Average Price: $28,000
You’ll always recognize an inTech Sol coach by its front panoramic window and tilt forward design. The Sol Dawn has a front dinette that sits up to six people and a rear kitchen full of gourmet level amenities.
The U-shaped design of the dinette gives the RVers the choice of sleeping configuration. They can lay together in a queen-sized bed laying east/west. Otherwise, the north/south option allows two sleepers to have their own space in a two twin layout.
The wet bath has a touch of luxury to it with plenty of space and a porcelain commode. The woven vinyl floor is easy to clean and is resistant to wear. Overall, this travel trailer has the elegance mature campers seek, without the complexity of upkeep.
Charles Joseph is one of the original authors of Camper Smarts from when it first started.