Things have been different this year.
The one consistent thing we’ve noticed in our Roadtreking travels this year is how many new RVers we are encountering out there. That, of course, coincides with the continuing news of record sales from the industry and campgrounds reporting dramatic increases in occupancy.
Last year, the RV Industry Association sayd 430,000 recreational vehicles of all kinds were sold, an increase of 15% over the year before. And Kampgrounds of America says that business is the best it’s ever been at anytime in its 57 year history.
Those campers are younger and younger. In KOA’s 2017 North American Camping Report, the company sayid millennials and Generation Xers now make up 72 percent of the 75 million households in U.S. that are regular campers.
Most of those younger campers are in tents and towables and RV manufacturers have taken note, rushing to market new models that can be towed by the family car. The Erwin Hymer Group of North America, the corporate owner of Roadtrek Type B motorhomes, is about to put on line a brand new factory to manufacture a line of super lightweight touring trailers aimed squarely at this new demographic.
Airstream recently introduced its 16-foot Basecamp trailer, that combines its signature streamlined aluminum body with a minimalist design that targets younger campers who live an active lifestyle but drive smaller tow vehicles.
Winnebago now makes a slew of small and lightweight towables, whose growing sales accounted for almost half of the company’s fiscal second-quarter sales of $370.5 million.
And across the board for the whole industry, sales of smaller Class B campervans have been seeing double digit growth and, when all the dust settles this year, Class Bs are expected to become the fastest-growing segment in the motorhome industry for 2017. Their lighter weight, easier maneuverability and off-the-grid capabilities with extras like solar power and lithium batteries make them particularly appealing to younger RVers.
Where we have most seen it is in the places we go boondocking.
That’s our preferred style of camping, staying in dispersed sites in state and national forests. We used to never have a problem finding a spot, let alone have neighbors as we retreated deep into the woods or on Bureau of Land Management properties. Now, we usually always have neighbors and sometimes actually find all the good spots taken.
At a spot we like a lot in the Gallatin National Forest in south central Montana this summer we were surprised to see three small trailers camped together at a spot where we never saw a soul in previous visits.
They were a group of three couples, all friends from the high tech towns around California’s Silicon Valley on an extended trip across the west. Eventually headed for Colorado, they were all in their late twenties or early thirties. One rented their trailer, the other borrowed one from relatives and third couple – Dale and Arris Crossway – had recently purchased a five-by-nine-foot teardrop trailer they towed with their Subaru Outback.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” said Dale, as they all smiled a welcome to us. “We have a multimillion dollar view. Only worry is the bears. We had one come through here last night so be sure to lockup your food.”
None of the three couples grew up camping. All were new to it, though they all were active kayakers, runners, hikers and mountain bikers.
“Everybody loves our teardrop,” said Arris. The other two couples were in larger, more traditional trailers. “What do you want to be that next year, they’ll all have one?”
All three pulled out early the next morning, headed up the Beartooth Highway in a little caravan.
Jennifer and I are delighted to see younger RVers out there. We’re just going to have to be a bit more secretive about our favorite boondocking spots.
It seems like everyone has caught on to the benefits of the RV lifestyle and the joys of boondocking, something much easier to do with smaller RVs.