Outfitting an RV

December 30, 2009
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Congratulations if you recently purchased a new or used RV. You should be able to look forward to years of camping fun, with your own clan and the extended family of RVers everywhere, including those friends you haven’t even met yet.

Unlike a new car, you can’t simply hop in and start using a brand-new RV. There are many small and large items that can make your trips the best they can be. If you are a first-timer, you’ll probably need a lot of gear, but even experienced veterans will find that there are many new products on the market that can enhance their travels.

If you are a new RVer you may need to start from scratch, although some material can come from your tent camping equipment roster. The items and quantities you’ll need will vary with the type and size of your RV, and the number of adults and children you’ll be taking along. Before you start shopping, obtain a catalog and make up a list of items needed. Then, do a short shakedown camping trip locally, where you can pick up any items you overlooked before you head out on a longer journey.

Starting with the outside of your RV, you’ll want some folding chairs and a table, and perhaps some patio lights or at least a lantern of some sort. Most RVers like to picnic and/or cook outdoors, and a compact barbecue grill, utensils and cleaning tools are good items to have. You can connect an LP-gas barbecue to your LP-gas cylinder(s) with a specially made connector kit, or use throwaway canisters or even charcoal briquettes. A doormat to wipe dirty feet is a must. Ground covering is great to have, and if you like to sit outside in the evening, patio lights are nice. If you camp in mosquito country, a screened enclosure, along with mosquito repellent, coils or bug sprays can help keep the critters at bay.

Camping World: 888/626-7576; campingworld.com.
Dometic Corp.: 574/294-2511; dometicusa.com. (Awnings)
Travel Chair: 253/851-7519; travelchair.com. (Camp chairs)
Weber: 800/446-1071; weber.com/us. (Barbecue grills)

If you have a new tow vehicle, it will need to be prepped. If it didn’t come with a brake controller, you’ll need one. Automatic transmissions work hard towing, and although new vehicles are normally well equipped for coolers, an auxiliary cooler can add durability. Diesels towing heavy trailers should have an exhaust brake, especially for mountain driving.

A variety of hitch designs are available for travel trailers. Some are designed to reduce sway, while others require add-on hardware to achieve the same results. For high hitch weights, weight-distributing equipment is a must because it helps distribute the load. Some other items to consider are sway controls, electric A-frame jacks and tire-pressure monitoring systems.

B&W Trailer Hitches: turnoverball.com. (Hitches and truck beds)
Cequent Performance Products: cequentgroup.com. (Towing accessories, brake controls)
EZ Connector: ezconnector.com. (Trailer plugs)
Gale Banks Engineering: bankspower.com. (Exhaust brakes, tow-vehicle enhancements)
Hensley Mfg. Inc.: hensleymfg.com. (Hitches and accessories)
Hopkins Mfg. Corporation: hopkinstowingsolutions.com. (Tire-pressure monitors and accessories)
Transfer Flow Inc.: transferflow.com. (Auxiliary fuel tanks)
Valley Towing Products: valley.us.com. (Hitches and accessories)

It’s important to have good visibility to the sides and aft, particularly when towing. In many states it’s also the law. If your tow vehicle doesn’t have mirrors that extend or provide an unobstructed view when towing, there are a number of aftermarket products available.

Strap-on mirrors can be attached temporarily while towing and removed when not needed, which is a good solution for folks who change vehicles frequently or only tow occasionally. There are also mirrors that slip over existing mirrors so you don’t have to drill holes into the vehicle for mounting. You’ll also need wide-angle mirrors for merging and changing lanes. A back-up camera is helpful, especially for large trailers. A number of mirrors and other devices designed to help with hitching up while alone are also available.

ASA Electronics (Voyager): asaelectronics.com. (Back-up cameras)
McKesh Mirrors: mckeshmirrors.com. (Extending mirrors)
Two Loons Trading Company: swifthitch.com. (Back-up camera)
Power Vision: powervisionmirrors.com. (Electrically extending mirrors)

RVs come from the factory with a 25-foot power cord, yet sometimes it won’t reach the shorepower outlet. So, pick up an extension cord of the same wire gauge (or heavier) and with the same type of plugs as the original one. RVers should carry several electrical adapters, depending on whether their RV has 30-amp or 50-amp service.

If your RV has a 30-amp power cable and plug, get an adapter that lets you plug into a 50-amp outlet, as some RV parks now only have these. With either a 30-amp or 50-amp plug, you should have reducers to get power when only a smaller 15/20-amp outlet is available. Don’t run an air conditioner with this, as it provides limited power.

Campgrounds are known for having low-voltage problems, especially during times of heavy air-conditioner use. Low voltage can overheat and damage electric motors and other appliances. A plug-in voltage/polarity tester is inexpensive and will show if the campground’s electrical receptacle is wired correctly, and lets you monitor voltage. If voltage is below about 108 volts, avoid using the air conditioner. In the rare case the outlet is wired incorrectly, do not plug your rig into the receptacle. Report the problem and ask for another site. RV voltage regulators are available that use a special transformer to boost low voltage and circuitry that limits excessive voltage to protect appliances.

Additionally, electrical surges from nearby lightning strikes and other sources can damage sensitive electronic components, including computers, circuit boards and other expensive items. To protect your electronics from power-line surges, you’ll need a surge protector. Surge protectors are rated in joules, and the higher the number, the greater the surge protection. If a lightning storm is in the area, you should disconnect from shorepower and run on battery power or a generator until it passes.

If you plan to camp where shorepower is unavailable, you’ll want a portable generator or solar power (or both) to supplement battery power. Before buying a generator, research the capacity needed and where to store it. Many pickup owners install one in the bed; others carry it in a compartment and place it on the ground while in use to isolate noise and vibration. Also make sure the genset is not excessively noisy—as many contractor units are—and observe park quiet hours. If you go with solar panels, take your time to read up on what’s needed, including mounting, charging capacity, controllers and extra batteries and an inverter.

Inverters allow you to operate 120-volt AC appliances from 12-volt DC supplied by batteries. Inverters are rated for continuous and surge (brief, for starting motors, etc.) output wattage. Add up the wattage ratings of any appliance you intend to use at the same time and leave a safety margin of about 10 percent. Keep in mind that inverters require a lot of current (amperes) from batteries and you may have to add capacity.

To connect to a campground’s TV hookup, pick up a 25-foot RG-6 cable. There are many new satellite antennas and accessories such as satellite finders and tripods, in addition to conventional antennas available at RV dealers.

American Honda Power Equipment Division: hondapowerequipment.com. (Generators)
AM Solar: amsolar.com. (Solar systems)
Yamaha Motorcorp USA: yamaha-motor.com/generators. (Generators)

On conventional travel trailers, LP-gas cylinders are often exposed, and aftermarket covers can improve the look of the trailer significantly. An automatic changeover valve for use with two cylinders should already be on the trailer, and LP-gas–level indicators are available combined with leak detectors and shutoff valves for safety. RVs should have onboard LP-gas–leak, carbon-monoxide and smoke detectors.

RVs typically come with one fire extinguisher, which is sufficient for cooking fires, but isn’t large enough for engine fires or other large blazes. We recommend you have at least one 5-pound fire extinguisher that’s rated for classes A, B and C. It should be stored where it is readily available, not stuck away in a storage compartment.

Marshall Brass: marshallbrass.com. (LP-gas accessories)

Water spigots are not always within 25 feet, so obtain two 25-foot lengths of white RV water hose. This hose is designed for potable water and does not add a chemical taste to drinking water. The 5?8-inch diameter hose flows a lot more than 1?2-inch hose and is recommended for high-demand situations. Many RV parks have excessive water pressure, which can burst plastic plumbing used in RVs, so you need a water-pressure regulator that limits pressure to about 45 psi.

A compact utility hose that rolls flat is great for washing the rig and a variety of campground chores. It’s good to have a tee that connects the hose at the city-water connection, along with some screen-type hose washers.

And you never know what’s in the water, so many RVers add a water filter. These are typically in-line filters with hose couplings at both ends mounted before the RV water connection.

Camco: camco.net. (Water accessories and chemicals)
General Ecology: generalecology.com. (Purifiers)
Hydro Life: hydrolife.com. (Filters)

Some other items are handy for your RV, including a bubble level to level your RV at camp and to be sure the refrigerator works properly. Check fore and aft and side to side.

To save weight, buy plastic leveling blocks, as opposed to wooden ones, and be sure tires are fully supported to protect them from internal damage.

You’ll want a tablecloth, utensils, dishware, pots and pans, etc., and a holder for condiments and napkins. And for the fridge, thermometers, spring-loaded bars that keep items on shelves and fans that circulate air to improve hot-weather performance are all are handy to have.

For bedding, many campers like to use air mattresses with conventional sleeping bags along with their favorite pillows. Line drawers with anti-slip material to keep things in place while traveling. For the toilet room, besides toiletries, chemicals and RV toilet paper, get a small toilet brush and storage container and cleaning supplies.

When it comes time to put up the RV for a while, tire covers help keep the rubber from aging and cracking from sun exposure. Better yet, get a cover for the entire RV. A battery maintenance charger (electric or solar) will extend the life of your batteries during storage.

ADCO: adcoprod.com. (RV covers)
Covercraft: covercraft.com. (Truck covers/Accessories)
Deltran Battery Tender: batterytender.com. (RV battery chargers)
Geico: geico.com. (RV insurance)
Maxxis: maxxis.com. (RV tires)
Michigan Truck Spring: truckspring.com. (Tow supplies, trailer hitches)
Sea Eagle: seaeagle.com. (Inflatable boats to go in the RV)

As new RV products are constantly inundating the market, we’ll keep our eyes open for more must-haves. For us gadget freaks, that’s half the fun!

From Camping Life’s January/February 2010 issue.

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