Earlier this week, I decided to try something a little different and presented you with a few dirt-cheap used campers for sale. A lot of people want to go camping in an RV, but can’t stomach the idea of paying over the average price of a new car for one. At the same time, buying an old camper can bring headaches, like water damage. So, how about something new that doesn’t break the bank? When I went to the RV Open House, I toured some neat and cheap campers, let’s take a look at them!
When I went to the RV Open House in Elkhart, Indiana I noticed a common theme among the RV manufacturers. Most of them brought the biggest, best campers that they had in production. I’m talking about campers with multiple bathrooms, laundry facilities, and interiors that look like a luxury apartment. And the technology is out there, too, from campers that park themselves to Class A rigs with lane-keep assist. Oh, and at the show I also found a bumper-pull camper that was so tall that it had an upstairs loft.
But all of those campers cost a lot of money, some of them probably more expensive than your home. Thankfully, RV manufacturers haven’t forgotten about the smaller end of the market, and in-between the giants were little guys that won’t break the bank.
Aspen Trail LE 17BH – $23,104
As I noted in my cheap used camper piece, Dutchmen first opened up shop in 1988, building travel trailers and later fifth wheels. Back then, the company positioned itself as an entry-level brand, and it remains that way today. Dutchmen’s aggressive pricing caught the attention of Thor Industries, and the company has been under the Thor umbrella since 1991. And because the RV industry has so many layers, Dutchmen has a number of sub-brands under its name, including Aspen Trail, Coleman, Voltage, and more.
Dutchmen’s 17-footers are some of the least expensive campers in its lineup that you can still stand up in. For example, the Coleman 17B can be had for just $21,000.
And you still get everything that you’d expect in a camper from sleeping for five to the all-important shower and flushing toilet. With a dry weight of just 3,078 pounds, it could be towed by a wide variety of vehicles, too. Unfortunately, while Dutchmen brought Coleman campers to the show, I didn’t see this one there. So, let’s take a look at the next best thing that Dutchmen did bring. This is the Aspen Trail LE 17BH. It’s the same size as that Coleman, but $2,104 more expensive.
As I said before, Aspen Trail is a sub-brand of Dutchmen. Launched in 2012, it exists as an entry-level camper with a few more features and more upscale looks. Keep that in mind as we go over this camper.
The first thing that I noticed is that the Aspen Trail LE 17BH isn’t as tall as the larger travel trailers in the Aspen Trail line. This isn’t an illusion, as when you count the air-conditioner this sits 9 feet, 2 inches tall. Aspen Trail’s larger campers sit about two feet taller. That said, interior height is 6 feet, 10 inches, so most people will fit fine.
Before we move inside, let’s take a look outside. Yes, this unit had just two stabilizer jacks. Aspen Trail’s spec sheet specifies four jacks, so it’s unclear why this one was missing two. This trailer features corrugated metal siding, which I like more than fiberglass. This isn’t going to bubble on you less than ten years down the road!
You also get an awning, but I must note that the awning and the trailer’s small size does give you a bit of a problem. See, the door can swing open and impact one of the awning’s arms. To prevent that, this trailer has an L-shaped plastic hook that slides into a holder.
It’s supposed to keep the door from hitting the awning arms, but it doesn’t take much to overwhelm and bend that hook. The door uses friction to hold itself in place, but a good gust of wind or a kid running out of the camper can send the door crashing into the awning arm. This isn’t a big deal, but I’d recommend putting some rubber or something at the top of the door so the impacts don’t damage anything.
Inside, the Aspen Trail uses its space efficiently. Up front is a Queen-size bed. That sits up against the dinette, which also transforms into a bed. Across the aisle is a galley kitchen, featuring a small, two-burner stove, sink, microwave, and refrigerator. The addition of an electric fireplace is pretty neat. As for plumbing, all three holding tanks are just under 29 gallons each.
In the back is a bunk bed and a bathroom. The bathroom felt small, but usable. Overall, I like this interior. The quality is about as you’d expect at this price range. Everything feels really lightweight and thin. This is an interior that should last, so long as you try to take care of it. Speaking of weight, it comes in at just 3,069 pounds, so once again it can be towed by many vehicles.
Little Guy Micro Max – About $30,000
One thing that I noticed at the Open House is that a number of manufacturers do not advertise their prices. I was told by a dealership at the show that manufacturers will sometimes change pricing throughout the year, so a price published one day might not be valid a month later. For this camper, I looked up advertised prices at dealerships. And, depending on the dealer and options, you’ll be paying around $30,000.
Over in the independents area of the Open House were a few companies selling teardrop travel trailers. One of these companies was Little Guy Trailers, a company of Xtreme Outdoors. Little Guy tells its history like this:
Late in 2002, an idea was hatched in North Canton, Ohio to bring the past to the present. The idea to resurrect and take teardrop camper trailers to the masses was taken over to a couple brothers in Elkhart, Indiana where they began prototyping a 4×8 Retro trailer in their garage.
As the quantity of trailers ordered increased, the operation was moved out of a garage and into a manufacturing facility. Over the next couple years, production gradually and consistently ramped up from 2-3 a week to 3-4 a day.
The company’s founder, Joe Kicos, wanted to revive the teardrops of the 1930s and on. In an interview, Kicos indicated that Little Guy campers were specifically inspired by the Benroy teardrop of the 1950s, but adapted to have some modern design and amenities. Since then Little Guy has assembled thousands of teardrops, some so lightweight that they could even be towed by a motorcycle.
The Little Guy Micro Max is Little Guy’s smallest camper that you can stand up in, and it has a lot going for it. This trailer weighs just 1,860 pounds, allowing it to be towed by an even greater variety of vehicles. It also sits really low to the ground, which is great for people who don’t want to climb into a camper. Oh, and it’s as small as it looks. Total length is 15 feet, 11 inches with an exterior height of about 7 feet. That means that it could fit into many residential garages, saving you money on storage costs.
Having a camper this tiny does come with some drawbacks as compared to the cheaper Aspen Trail. The biggest, I think, is that the interior is just 5 feet, 9 inches tall. I’m 5 feet, 6 inches tall and had just a few inches of headroom. Taller people will have some problems.
The Micro Max is also not the best equipped for being off-grid. Its fresh water tank is just 12 gallons, with the gray tank being just 8.5 gallons, and Little Guy says that those capacities are subject to change due to supply problems. You’ll notice that I omitted a black tank, and that’s because there are no bathroom facilities of any kind onboard. You can get an optional toilet, which takes up about half of the space of the front dinette area.
That toilet is also in an awkward spot, where you’ll be pooping in full view of whoever you’re camping with.
But if you don’t care about any of that, the interior is pretty nice inside. Quality feels better than the Aspen Trail, and you do still get a functional galley kitchen.
Little Guy does sell an off-road version of this camper, but I must note that the off-road version is the standard camper plus bigger tires and a 3.5-inch axle riser lift kit.
There’s no underbody protection, so this isn’t something that you’re going to be dragging too far off of pavement. All of this said, if you must have something that fits in your garage, I’d grab one of these with the optional toilet.
Little Guy MyPod – About $15,000
Once again, Little Guy didn’t publish pricing, but it seems that you can get them for about $15,000 at a dealership. When I was at the Open House, I chatted with a motorcyclist who owns one of these. They told me that they tow it with a Boss Hoss V8 trike, but he’s seen them hauled by Honda Gold Wings and Harley-Davidsons.
These are the kinds of campers that you get when you need something that weighs under 1,000 pounds, but don’t want to have tent walls.
The Little Guy MyPod weighs in at 840 pounds and for your $15,000, you get a tiny fiberglass camper with a tongue weight of just 110 pounds. This is a trailer that even a 25-year-old kei car from Japan could tow.
There’s not much to it, as your amenities are largely just a TV, an air-conditioner, stereo, and power outlets. However, you do get a 6-foot, 3-inch bed to sleep in. Again, this is really meant for motorcyclists traveling across the country wanting to sleep in something more solid than a tent. Alternatively, you can tow it with your Smart, Mitsubishi Mirage, or any other small car, really.
Riverside Retro 135 – About $18,500
Riverside RV is another company that I found out in the independent manufacturers area. This company is still somewhat a startup, and it specializes in modern campers that look like they come from the 1950s. What I liked about Riverside’s trailers is that the company essentially sells three variations of the same travel trailer. Riverside tells its story like this:
During the most turbulent financial crisis since the 1920s in 2008 Riverside RV had its beginnings. In a backyard shed on US 20, close to LaGrange Indiana, the entrepreneurs began building trailers. Since the location is in the middle Amish country, it has an Amish driven workmanship, with a high percentage of Amish employed in production.
In 2012, Riverside was bursting at the seams, desperately needing more space as it continued to grow, the business was relocated to east of LaGrange. Growth took Riverside from a 50′ x 125′ building to a 150,000 sq. ft. building.
In recent years, the company was traded from Vohne Liche Manufacturing to Chinook Motor Coach. Riverside says that it’s still a small operation, where its factory builds just a few campers a day. The company thinks that by taking its time, better campers will come out of the other side.
Riverside offers the Retro, Intrepid, and Xplorer. The floor plans and overall dimensions appear to be exactly the same across the board, so all you have to do is pick the style that you like best, then choose the size that you want it in.
For me, I loved the Retro 135. Once again, pricing isn’t on the manufacturer’s site, but it looks like you’ll be paying about $18,500 for one, which is pretty darn cheap.
Part of why it’s so cheap is because it’s a little stubby trailer. At 15 feet, 9 inches-long, it’s just a touch longer than the Little Guy. But unlike the Little Guy, the Riverside Retro maintains a ceiling height of 6 feet, 3 inches. It comes in at 9 feet, 6 inches, which unfortunately means that you’re not parking it in your garage.
Starting with the exterior, the siding is finished in metal. It’s not a traditional corrugated style, but it looks the part.
The Retro is supposed to look like a teardrop camper from the 1950s and I’m not sure that it pulls off the look. However, I absolutely adore the bright colors and a dedication to the theme down to moon caps, matching wheels, and white wall tires. These trailers are certainly pretty!
Another thing I like is that the entry door is at the rear. That means that the door isn’t going to get in the way of the awning.
Inside, the retro theme continues with the interior. Right next to the door is a small bathroom, which includes a flushing toilet and a shower. In front of that is a small galley kitchen. To your right is a sofa (or optional dinette) and up front is a Queen bed.
You also get over 36-gallon fresh and a 32-gallon gray tank. They’re accompanied by a 17-gallon black tank. Add a generator or solar panels and I bet this little guy could spend a weekend off-grid, maybe longer. You get all of that, including an air-conditioner and heat in a package that weighs in at 2,640 pounds.
You could probably squeeze four people in there, but honestly, I think this would be perfect for a couple. It’s cheap, it’s lightweight, and it looks neat.
As for quality, one of the trailers that I toured had a seat cushion that was too small, which revealed the plywood underneath. And when I touched most surfaces, I was reminded that the trailer was under $20,000. That said, nothing felt like it was going to break in a stiff breeze, so it should last a decent amount of time.
I will note that this list isn’t a complete round-up of all of the cheaper campers at the RV Open House, just some of my favorites. There were plenty there!
After all, I never even got the chance to see what Forest River is selling. And if you want to go even cheaper, there are always pop-up campers and tent-based campers. Going fiberglass is an option, too, as you can still get absolutely adorable units from the likes of Scamp and Casita.
But if you want a new camper with hard walls and don’t want to spend a ton of money, you can get some good bang for your buck out there. Going inexpensive means giving up on luxury materials and there might be some weird design decisions here and there, but I’d absolutely go camping in any of these trailers, the little motorcycle trailer included.
(Photo credits to the author unless otherwise noted.)
the Retro 135 is my pick.. less expensive, Amish-made, sensible design..
Is Forest River the only company that makes pop ups anymore? They and A-Liner are the only “small campers” my local Camping World has.
Camping World bought out the big local RV dealer spring 2021.
Mercedes, these seem to be all great little trailers especially for a couple or small family just getting into RVing. The prices the last couple of years for used RVs are nuts so here you have a bunch of brand spanking new units at reasonable prices. The odds of buying a used RV with hidden water damage is pretty great and buying new avoids that. I’ve owned a number of travel trailers and I am just tired of towing them and setting them up at a campsite though. I’ll leave them for the younger generations.
Aspen Trail 17BH: I bought a brand new one of these in 2021 for $16k. It is outfitted exactly as you depict in the article. It was also a complete POS that was falling apart from day one. I did many many hours of my own work to bring it up to snuff. It is possible that it was just a COVID lemon. But there was a lot more wrong with it than I expected.
I added two aftermarket scissor jacks to the front corners and improved stability greatly.
The l-shaped door latch broke on me almost immediately. After modeling and 3d printing several replacements, I ended up re-engineering an infinitely more robust door prop made from PVC pipe and 3d printed parts.
All of this and more are detailed in my thread on the keystone rv forums.
Read more here: https://www.keystoneforums.com/forums/search.php?searchid=15039202
I should add that I have been extremely happy with my 17BH since making all of my modifications and repairs. We have covered thousands of miles in it and slept comfortably every time.
Sorry, bad link. Here’s a link to the actual thread: https://www.keystoneforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=46356
I really start wondering if instead of importing JDM you should go for European caravans.
What an awesome write up! While people may scoff at some of these prices, for a new unit more than a few of these are decently priced all things considered. I still can’t believe they want 15k for the Little Guy, I remember pricing out build your own kits 5 years ago and wondering why the hell all these teardrop tiny trailers were so expensive for what you get.
Wow, I am from North Canton, OH and I live about 2 blocks from the Little Guy Trailers’ first showroom (2002). I assumed it was just a dealer, amongst many, selling Little Guys, how wrong I was. These were neat little trailers. My son and I used to walk there and check out the trailers on a regular basis. Thanks Mercedes!
Would love to tow a MyPod with our ND Miata (I wonder if you could specify Mazda red?) but cannot, for the life of me, figure out why a TV comes as standard.
Heck, build your teardrop. It took me a bit over a year, for a grand total of ~3500 bucks. You’ll get to practice woodworking, wiring, advanced caulking materials and adhesives, annealing and bending extruded aluminum, and dealing with sheet aluminum. These kind folks at http://www.tnttt.com can provide guidance.
I got some cool trailers in that price range to show ya.
These are at least built like…well…not like RV’s.
God I love your rose colored devil may care attitude and the screw $30,000 is cheap but I say here No. If I had access to the tools and materials I could design and build a better, more economical, longer lasting trailer, Rv, or Motor Home. I bet less than half the costs of these bizarre pretty chachkis. Heck Mercedes take one of your $2000 smart for twos, take out the heavy bits, and you got a better 2 person camper than the $15,000 job. Also you can buy a horse trailer put windows and furniture in it for $15k and it’s better than that 1 window monstrosity. Now it seems you claim skills in the motor world. Why don’t you build one? Or are you just a journalist? Write about stuff you can’t do?
I hope I don’t come of as harsh because I love your stories. I am giving you the utmost respect because I know you can do it if you try. So please don’t take offense.
You know that saying ‘please don’t take offense’ after you say something blatantly offensive doesn’t actually work, right?
I feel like the last part of your post was a little extra, but I do agree with the sentiment of the first bit. 50% isn’t far off; most of the trailers, class C’s, B’s and Ford/Chevy chassis class A’s invoice for 50-65% of MSRP. I have no information on the larger class A’s.
You have the right idea, Looks like Larry C in the comments built his own for $3500
A CLC Teardrop would be larger and lighter depending on how one built it out than the Mypod for maybe around the same price, though you have to DIY. I’m not into camping, but seeing one of those almost made me interested, plus it would match the wood kayaks.
I built a CLC kayak 25 years ago that is still paddling well and looking great. I would trust their design/materials and my construction to last much longer than any of the factory-built stuff.
This would not be for me as I would feel trapped. I need space. Which is why when/if I buy one it will a 30+foot motor home or fifth wheel. Plus with 3 of us and the feline overlords, someone would be thrown out in minutes in something that compact.
That being said, if you want an easy to setup tent, you should go for it. There is no best RV, there is the best for your needs.
“Plus with 3 of us and the feline overlords, someone would be thrown out in minutes in something that compact.”
Looks like the feline overlords would own a new camper in short order. 🙂 But yes, you’re absolutely correct! The best camper (or tent) is the one that fits you best.
“Looks like the feline overlords would own a new camper in short order.”
Marking pee is a powerful force!
Being Female overlords this is not much of a problem.
As long as they’re spayed or neutered, marking pee is not an issue.
Very true. We would be the drivers of the vehicle and allowed to sit in it.
I have seen the ones with huge sunny window areas and beds that do not fold. I know where they would be.
If I had the scratch, I’d get a class B rv and take one of my cats with me (the one that gets bullied). That way she could see the country and take a vacation from the others.