The Living Clean Guide to Less Toxic Camping Gear (Part 1) – Vehicles

 

A Mercedes Sprinter used as an RV. Photo Credit: Outside Van.

October 15, 2018

By Lisa Petrison

For about five years (between 2009 and 2013), I spent most of my time on the road at campgrounds, in order to be as free as I could from toxic mold exposures.

I had never camped before starting mold avoidance, but I felt so much better in pristine places that I was motivated to spend as much time as I could being as clear as possible.

I also was interested in exploring the Locations Effect and so traveled around a great deal in the western half of the U.S., visiting hundreds of different locations in 25 states.

At first, I was sleeping mostly in a tent (though I moved inside my Toyota 4Runner when the fierce desert winds kicked up).

Eventually I bought a (used) Casita Travel Trailer and towed it around with me.

More recently, I have been living in a building but still go camping on occasion.

I replaced my SUV with a Ford Transit Connect cargo van, which works really well for shorter camping trips for one or two people.

(I also have really enjoyed using it as a day-to-day car, though of course it would not work with children since there are no back seats.)

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked in the Mold Avoiders group is about camping equipment purchases.

As was the case for me when I started out, many of the individuals asking these questions have never been camping before and have no idea what kinds of items they will need to purchase before heading out into the wilderness.

In addition, individuals who are pursuing mold avoidance have particular needs with regard to camping equipment, since they are attempting to avoid mold exposures and also may be chemically sensitive.

My own first experience camping was with mold avoidance pioneer Erik Johnson, who kindly spent a week with me in the Lake Tahoe area in Summer 2008.

Having gone camping with Erik saved me quite a lot of time and effort when deciding what kinds of camping equipment to purchase for myself, since (at least to start out) I mostly just tried to follow his example as closely as I could.

I therefore can see why others pursuing mold avoidance may benefit from some help in choosing what items to purchase.

Especially for those starting out, the wide range of issues to consider can seem really overwhelming.

This article series is designed to serve as a starting point for camping novices to get a sense of what kinds of items are available as well as what the pros and cons of different choices may be.

Although I have gotten much input already on different camping vehicles from those in the Mold Avoiders group, my hope is to update the information presented here as time goes on, as I obtain more experience with products myself and as I get additional reports from others.

I therefore would like to invite all of those reading this article to share information about their own experiences in the comments section below or in the Mold Avoiders group discussions.

Additional articles in this series discussing other kinds of camping gear will be released in the near future. Please sign up for email updates from Rabbit Hole (which provides information on mold avoidance topics) to be notified when these are released.

Other information that I think is likely to be of interest to individuals considering gear purchases is linked in the relevant sections in this article.

 

Facebook Forums: 

Mold Avoiders

Mold Avoiders On the Road to Recovery

Mold Safe Cargo Trailer Conversion Brainstormers

The Erik Johnson Effect

 

Books:

Erik Johnson – Erik on Avoidance

Lisa Petrison & Erik Johnson – A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance

Sara Riley Mattson – Camp Like A Girl

 

Blogs:

Bryan Rosner – Lyme Book

Ana Harris – Ana Harris Writes

Corinne Segura – My Chemical-Free House

Bob Wells – Cheap RV Living

 

Videos:

Bob Wells – Cheap RV Living

 

A RAM pickup truck with a metal shell, pulling a Coachmen Freedom Express. (Photo credit: Bryan Rosner.)

Making Choices

At first glance, an almost infinite selection of vehicle alternatives exist for those with the goal of getting out into the wilderness to do some camping.

Unfortunately though, many of these choices are inappropriate for those pursuing mold avoidance, due to toxicity issues or other issues.

As a result, the vast majority of mold avoiders that I have seen benefit from extended camping so far have gone with one of just a few different options:

1. A cargo van or passenger mini-van, sometimes with some basic modifications.

2. A cargo trailer with some basic modifications, pulled by an SUV or pickup truck.

3. A fiberglass trailer (usually Casita or Scamp), pulled by a vehicle of some kind.

4. A Livin’ Lite CampLite trailer, pulled by an SUV or pickup truck.

5. A Coachmen Freedom Express trailer, pulled by an SUV or pickup truck.

6. A tent along with some kind of vehicle.

 

All of these options have good track records of working out for people, and therefore may be worth some serious consideration by those just starting out.

However, none of these options is perfect by any means.

For instance, cargo vans and cargo trailers require some effort before they feel livable.

Fiberglass trailers often feel very toxic until they have off-gassed and may be especially likely to become contaminated with the sewer toxin that I have referred to as “Mystery Toxin.”

The Livin’ Lite Camplite is not as mold-resistant as it used to be and reportedly is now out of production.

The Coachmen Freedom Express is a large family trailer that may be challenging to tow and that seems to have some potential of going moldy.

Only being able to tent camp can be very limiting and sometimes uncomfortable, even for those who generally enjoy sleeping outdoors.

I therefore have put some effort into identifying some less-discussed options (most introduced to the market in the past year or two) that seem to have the potential of working out for at least some mold-reactive people.

From a general perspective, one good thing to consider upfront may be whether the living/sleeping quarters should be metal or fiberglass.

While many mold avoiders have had success with both of these choices, there are significant differences between them.

Fiberglass is very lightweight, holds its value well, and is pretty comfortable in both summer and winter; however, it is much more likely to get cross-contaminated in ways that cannot be easily remedied.

Metal is much more contamination-resistant, but it can become searing hot in summer and bone-chillingly cold in winter. It also may be rejected by some of those individuals who feel that EMF avoidance is a priority.

Regardless of what material is used, choosing a vehicle that is white rather than some other color may make a big difference in terms of how livable it is during the summer months.

Another important issue to consider may be how best to deal with cross-contamination and other toxicity issues.

For instance, people who are going to be spending time in problematic locations (such as for work) may not want to bring their sleeping vehicle to those places even if it is made of metal.

Rather, parking a trailer to be used for sleeping in a good location outside of town and then just leaving it there may be much safer.

Having a designated place to store contaminated belongings (or otherwise toxic gear such as propane tanks or gasoline generators) that is away from the sleeping area also may be very useful.

Many other factors may be important to consider as well, and I will try to touch on some of those in the remainder of this article.

Note that because there are so many vehicles of all types that are no longer in the marketplace, I have not attempted to provide information here on any models that are no longer in production.

Hopefully this article will provide insights relevant to evaluating a wide variety of used vehicles as well as new ones, however.

Please feel free to share information about both used and new vehicles in the comments.

 

Video:

Cheap RV Living – Which RV Is Right For You?

 

Heading out to the wilderness. (Photo Credit: Outside Van.)

Cars, Trucks & Vans

Virtually any car, truck or van can be used for tent camping trips, especially if people are willing to go fairly minimalist in what they bring along with them.

I have seen people even in small sporty cars have a really good experience on extending camping trips, for instance.

Therefore, if people already have a car that feels good to them, I would not necessarily let the size prevent them from giving camping a try.

On the other hand, some vehicles do have attributes that may work better for camping than others.

Here are some factors to consider.

 

* Can you sleep in the vehicle?

Even if the intention is to sleep in a tent or hotels all of the time, having the option of being able to sleep inside the vehicle can be really helpful.

For instance, strong winds (which are especially common in the Southwest desert) can make tent camping impossible, while rain or cold may make it unpleasant.

Some people have a difficult time finding a tent they can tolerate, and do better in a vehicle.

Being able to sleep in one’s vehicle also can be helpful on those occasions when campgrounds or other places to pitch a tent are not readily available or when a tolerable hotel cannot be found.

While vans tend to be the most comfortable vehicles for sleeping use, SUV’s and pickup trucks also may be fairly comfortable.

For instance, before I purchased my travel trailer, I kept all my possessions in large plastic storage bins. During times when the wind would get to 50 mph or more (which happened a least a couple of times a week), I would stack all the bins (covered with a tarp) outside and then sleep quite comfortably while stretched out on my camping mat in the back of my SUV.

The 2011 Honda Element.

A shell added to the back of a pickup truck serves a similar purpose, keeping belongings protected during travel and providing a sheltered space for occasional or regular sleeping.

Most of the reports that I have gotten suggest that for people who are even a little chemically sensitive, a metal shell may be more tolerable than ones made of fiberglass or similar materials.

For those who have yet to purchase a truck shell, several companies make tents specifically for use in truck beds.

I’ve also heard of a few shorter women who have slept comfortably on the bench seats in the front of their pickup trucks.

In addition to not disrupting possessions being stored in the back of the truck, sleeping in the front of the truck provides the advantage of being able to use the heating  or air conditioning for brief periods of time during the night if necessary.

The Honda Element was a “crossover SUV” designed specifically for camping that also has been reported as being quite comfortable for sleeping.

At least in the earlier models, the inside had the ability to be cleaned with a garden hose.

Unfortunately the Honda Element has not been offered in the U.S. or Canada since 2011, but rumors that Honda may be bringing it back have made their way into the trade press repeatedly over the past couple of years.

Toyota also seems a little interested in offering a small camping SUV and showed off a concept car (the Toyota FT-4X) at auto shows last year. Whether anything like that ever will make its way to the marketplace, I don’t know.

A few hatchback cars also may provide enough room for at least smaller individuals to stretch out to sleep comfortably.

There actually is a company called Habitents that makes moderately priced tents for use inside several popular hatchbacks. I don’t yet have any reports on those tents from mold avoiders in terms of toxicity issues, though.

Regardless of what kind of vehicle is being purchased, spending some time lying in it to get a sense of what the sleeping experience is likely to be like is a good idea.

 

* What is the towing capacity?

In many cases, people start out with avoidance by experimenting with tent camping, but then eventually decide that they want to upgrade to towing a trailer of some kind with them.

Choosing a vehicle that has the ability to tow the sort of camper that might be desired may make things easier down the road, preventing the need to trade the vehicle in for something else.

The Nissan Pathfinder SUV.

Note, by the way, that it is important that the recommended towing capacity of the vehicle be significantly higher than the listed weight of the trailer since belongings (and, if present, tanks) will make the trailer significantly heavier.

For instance, Casita recommends that its trailers (which are listed as weighing less than 2500 pounds) be pulled only with a vehicle rated to be able to tow 3500 pounds or more.

Even if people who are tent camping are not interested in buying (or ready to buy) a full-size trailer for living or sleeping purposes, a small gear trailer to use for hauling belongings may be worth considering in some circumstances.

This kind of trailer is easy to tow and can be sold easily if a decision is made to upgrade to something bigger.

In addition, especially if possessions are being stored in bins, a gear trailer will not need to be as pristine as it would if it were being used for sleeping purposes.

Finding an acceptable one at a good price therefore may be easier than finding a good sleeping trailer.

 

* What are the off-road capabilities? 

Especially if people are hoping to camp for free in wilderness areas, being able to get off the road can be important.

Owning a truck or SUV with four-wheel drive and a high clearance may make this kind of boondocking much easier.

Personally, although my Toyota 4Runner was specifically designed for this kind of usage, I actually never did much off-road driving myself and so don’t feel like I’m giving up much by switching to a van.

For some other people, this factor may be very important, however.

 

* What is the toxicity situation? 

Most new vehicles (especially passenger vehicles with carpet) tend to be pretty toxic due to the usage of fire retardants and other chemicals.

In addition, the carpet and seats in vehicles can become moldy or cross-contaminated; mold can grow in the HVAC system; and other kinds of toxic issues can emerge over time.

Diesel vehicles also may be irritating to many people.

Obviously, choosing a vehicle that feels good with regard to mold when being purchased is especially important.

In addition, some vehicles seem to be more likely to go moldy than others over time.

For instance, larger Toyotas have been notorious in terms of the propensity of their air conditioning systems to become moldy, and so I would be unlikely to buy another Toyota unless I were sure that this had been fixed through a redesign.

Commercial trucks and vans that do not have carpet may be less risky than passenger vehicles with regard to both mold growth and cross-contamination.

 

* What would the storage of possessions be like? 

For the most part, the number of possessions carried along on camping trips tends to expand to fill whatever space is available.

However, if possible, I would suggest thinking carefully about what possessions are absolutely going to be needed and then choosing a vehicle that will accommodate them (and in a way that makes things reasonably easy to access).

 

Of course, other issues such as price, gas mileage, reliability, likely repair costs, availability of dealer service shops in remote locations, drivability, design and comfort also need to be considered.

Unfortunately, finding a vehicle that excels in terms of all these criteria may be impossible, meaning that some compromises are likely going to need to be made.

A Habitent being used with a Toyota Prius.

For instance, small cargo vans are very good for hauling gear and sleeping, but most of them can only tow a lightweight vehicle and also cannot go off-road very well.

Full-size cargo vans are good for a variety of purposes (including cooking and bathing), but may start to seem cumbersome when they are the only transportation mode available.

Pickup trucks are good for towing and for going off-road, but are not as good for sleeping or living purposes. It also may be difficult to access gear in a pickup truck since there are not any side doors in the back.

SUV’s are great for towing and for accessing gear, and they may be moderately okay for sleeping. I’ve not been able to find any currently on the market that do not have carpet, though.

Personally, I think that an ideal camping vehicle for me at this point in my life would be a souped-up small cargo van providing an insulated vinyl interior;  an overhead vent fan and RV windows; a towing capacity of about 3500 pounds; and a pleasant driving experience.

The closest currently available vehicle seems to be the new Mercedes Metris, but the downsides of it being difficult to get serviced and also driving like a truck have made me hesitant to spring for it.

 

Hatchback Camping Tents: 

Habitents

 

Truck Tents:

Guide Gear (Compact)

Guide Gear (Full Size)

Kodiak

Napier Backroadz

Rightline Gear

SportZ (Ground)

SportZ (Truck Bed)

 

Vehicles: 

David’s Been Here – Camping SUV’s and Trucks

U.S. News – Best Towing SUV’s

Car and Driver – Honda Element

SUV Trend – Honda Element Redesign

Toyota – FT-4X Concept Car

Auto Blog – Toyota FT-4X

 

Vehicle Camping:

REI – Sleeping in Your Car

Lifehack – The Hatchback Life

All Camping Stuff – Truck Bed Tents

 

Sara Riley Mattson’s Ford Transit. (Photo Credit: Sara Riley Mattson.)

Large Vans

Quite a few mold avoiders have reported good experiences living in or spending large amounts of time in bigger cargo vans.

A good thing about cargo vans is that they tend to be much more widely tolerated than RV’s or standard cars.

Because they are basically just a metal shell (usually without even any carpet on the floors), they are less likely to cause people problems with chemicals when they are new than are most cars.

They also are less likely to develop mold issues later on (though of course, the air conditioner in any vehicle can develop a mold problem.)

The big empty box in the back of the van provides a blank slate that may allow for a wide variety of uses and personalization.

In addition, some of the apparent downsides of using a van as an RV actually, in the context of mold avoidance issues, may turn out to be major pluses.

For instance, while RV’s come standard with a variety of attractive equipment, those items may be especially toxic at the beginning of the RV’s life and may be difficult or impossible to remove if they become contaminated later on.

The “blank slate” of the cargo van gives users much more opportunity to incorporate only items that they can tolerate, rather than being stuck with whatever the RV company has decided to include.

While the lack of built-in plumbing in a van may seem frustrating, microbial growth in RV tanks has become a major problem that has caused quite a few mold avoiders to lose their rigs entirely or to have to get rid of their tanks.

A Mercedes Sprinter 4×4. (Photo Credit: Sportsmobile.)

Figuring out a way to take care of bathroom, kitchen and laundry needs without using tanks from the start therefore may be a good idea, many people now think.

The Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter are both very popular choices among van dwellers in general, including those pursuing mold avoidance.

The Nissan NV and the RAM ProMaster are similar, although I have heard of fewer mold avoiders so far having purchased those vans.

All of these large vans have at least some models that are more than 6 feet tall inside – a desirable attribute for many people who are living in their vans since it is then possible to walk around in the back.

The Ford Transit (with the U.S. version made mostly in Kansas City) is a fairly affordably priced vehicle that gets good reports with regard to design and maneuverability.

Unfortunately, the reliability of the Ford Transit is not reported to be all that great.

Even if repairs are covered under the warranty, having a van need to spend time in the shop getting fixed can be frustrating for those who are counting on having it available as their main living quarters.

The Mercedes Sprinter (assembled in South Carolina) is a more expensive van that also seems to be well-liked in terms of its design and handling by people using it for camping or living purposes.

For those who want a large van with all-wheel drive, the Mercedes Sprinter seems to be the only one available (though a few companies do offer conversion packages of other vans for this).

The Nissan NV Cargo Van

While the Mercedes Sprinter may or may not be a little more reliable than the Ford Transit at the beginning of its life, getting repairs done after the warranty has expired may be very expensive.

In addition, Mercedes dealers with mechanics that service the company’s commercial products are located pretty much only in large cities, and other mechanics may not be qualified to work on these vans.

The large number of Ford dealers in small towns that service trucks and vans provides a big plus in comparison.

The RAM ProMaster (assembled in Europe and Mexico) is made by Fiat, which makes me even more nervous in terms of its likely reliability.

Conceivably it might be possible to get a RAM ProMaster at a good price, however.

The Nissan NV van series is assembled in Mississippi.  I have not known any mold avoiders who have purchased one of these vans, but – especially since I am concerned about the reliability of the vans competing against it – I would take a good look at it if I were in the market for a van in this size range.

General Motors appears to have a reputation of making pretty good van engines (with van dwelling guru Bob Wells stating that Chevrolet is his top van pick), but unfortunately it seems that no vans with high roofs are available from either Chevy or GMC.

The RAM ProMaster being used as a camper van. (Photo Credit: Alaska Daily News.)

While some people remove the factory roof and add a high top (for a few thousand dollars), this seems to me like it might have the potential of leading to leaks that eventually could cause mold problems.

A decision about van size also will need to be made.

While very large vans may seem to be desirable since they are more spacious, they also may be more difficult to drive and may be more limited in terms of maneuverability in cities.

Living as minimally as possible in order to be able use a smaller van (including possibly one with a lower ceiling) is worth considering, therefore.

Unfortunately, finding a good used cargo van is likely to be a challenge. Typically, small businesses wear their cargo vans into the ground, and van dwelling has become so popular that good used ones tend to get snapped up really quickly.

Those who are considering a particular used van should think hard about reliability and service issues, and should consider carefully how it feels with regard to toxicity, before making a decision.

A Chevrolet Express cargo van.

While a wide variety of companies offer professional conversions of large vans, these tend not to work out very well for those pursuing mold avoidance due to the problematic materials that these companies generally want to use.

The conversions offered by these companies also tend to be extremely expensive, often surpassing the cost of the vehicle itself.

I suggest that those who are interested in living in a full-size van start out by reading Sara Mattson Riley’s book (Camp Like a Girl) and Ana Harris’ blog (Ana Harris Writes) before making decisions about conversion issues.

Large amounts of information on conversions and many other issues related to van living also is available from the van dweller community.

 

Large Vans:

Chevrolet Express

Ford Transit

GMC Savana

Mercedes Sprinter

Nissan NV

RAM Promaster

 

Van Converters:

Outside Van

Safari Condo

Sportsmobile

Terracamper

 

Mold Avoidance Information:

Sara Riley Mattson – Camp Like a Girl

Ana Harris – Ana Harris Writes

 

Cheap RV Living Videos:

Why To Live in a Van

Which Van to Buy (1)

Which Van to Buy (2)

 

More Information:

Bob Wells – Cheap RV Living

Connect Team – Recommended Cargo Vans

Parked in Paradise – Best Van to Live In

Car and Driver – Diesel Cargo Vans

Reddit – Mercedes Sprinter vs. Ford Transit

Gear Junkie – Camper Van Companies

My Modern Met – Van Conversion Companies

Dwell – Van Conversion Companies

Anchorage Daily News – Van Life Trend

Car & Driver – All-Wheel Van Converters

 

A Ford Transit Connect being used to tow a small trailer.

Small Vans

Although small cargo vans are much more limited in terms of potential living space than a full-size van, they seem to me to be a highly overlooked potential choice for many camping situations.

For instance, for those who plan to mostly tent camp, a small cargo van would be a great way to haul around all needed camping equipment, food and supplies.

It also would serve as a good emergency shelter for times when wind or rain makes tent camping impossible or unpleasant.

A small van also has the potential of serving as an alternative to a hotel – useful not just in terms of saving money but also because on some occasions finding a hotel that is tolerated may be difficult or impossible.

In combination with a light RV without tanks (such as a Happier Camper or a Scamp 13′ Travel Trailer), a small van could provide a very pleasant camping setup.

For instance, the van could be used primarily for storage (and maybe for bathroom-type activities), allowing the camper to be reserved as an attractive and clutter-free space for cooking, sleeping and hanging out.

In addition, small cargo vans are not much more expensive than a compact car and are quite easy to drive. They also get excellent gas mileage.

Personally, although I recently have been living in a townhouse in the Midwest, I still want to be able to periodically get really clear by camping in the wilderness.

Therefore, when I needed to buy a new car, I decided on a Ford Transit Connect.

The RAM ProMaster City.

With an extended body length, hatchback, cruise control, remote control mirrors, rear window defrost and a reverse sensing system, the van cost me a grand total of $21,500 (not counting tax).

I feel like that was a pretty good deal and have been pretty happy with my choice so far.

The Ford Transit Connect (which is based on the Ford Focus) drives much more like a car than like a big van and has been quite comfortable for long-distance travel.

As a day-to-day town car while at home (without kids to tote around), it has worked out great.

The size of the cargo space in the extended-length version that I purchased is 88″ L x 46″ W x 50″ H, with a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds.

I also really have enjoyed the panoramic view provided by the enormous windshield and side windows, as well as the large amount of headroom, in the front of the van.

Although I am concerned about reliability, supposedly this little van is at least somewhat better on that score than the Ford Transits are.

The fact that there are many Ford dealerships even in small towns makes me feel more secure in heading out on the road, too.

Production facilities for the Ford Transit Connect are in Spain and Turkey.

The RAM ProMaster City (which is to my understanding entirely built in Turkey) is another small van that I briefly considered purchasing.

The fact that the car is made by Fiat made me pretty nervous with regard to potential reliability problems, however.

The towing capacity of the ProMaster City is about 2,000 pounds, and the cargo area – at 87″ L x 60″ W x 52″ H – is a little larger than that of the Ford Transit Connect.

The Nissan NV200 cargo van.

Another small cargo van is the Nissan NV200.

It is assembled in Mexico from parts made in Japan, and has a cargo space that is 82.5″ L x 48″ W x 53″ H.

The main disqualifier for me with regard to purchasing the NV200 was that to my understanding, the company does not advise towing anything at all with it.

The fact that it might be difficult to find a Nissan dealer to take care of repairs on the road is another small concern that I had.

One thing that I do really like about the Nissan NV200, though, is the way that the passenger seat folds down to create a table that can be used as a work desk or eating area.

That could be very convenient and also would work much better than an empty seat for extra storage when I am traveling on my own, I think.

The Mercedes Metris is another small van that I considered pretty seriously.

These are currently very difficult to find new or used, but I did finally get a chance to drive one that was about 18 months old.

The Mercedes Metris Cargo Van.

One good thing about the Metris is that the cargo area size is a little more roomy than those of the other small vans – 121″ L x 66″ W x 55″ H.

In addition, the Mercedes Metris is rated much higher when it comes to towing – 5000 pounds compared to 2000 for the Ford Transit Connect.

On the other hand, the Mercedes Metris would have cost more than $10,000 over what I paid for the the Ford Transit Connect.

For that much money, I could buy a nice little lightweight camping trailer to tow with my Ford van on my camping trips.

Probably the camping trailer would hold its value much better than the Mercedes Metris, and it also would be much more pleasant for camping than only having a larger van.

The Metris also drove more like a big truck than a car, and so would have been much less comfortable for either long-distance or day-to-day travel.

Probably the biggest reason that I chose the Ford Transit Connect, though, is because it felt really good to me from a toxicity point of view (e.g. better than any used or new Mercedes that I have ever been in).

The Ford Transit Connect is about the same size as a typical passenger minivan (and is actually available in a passenger version that could be worth considering for some people).

I feel that the cargo version has much more potential for camping than a minivan since it has more room in the back, however.

In addition, compared to passenger mini-vans, it is much less toxic due to the lack of carpet and is a little lower in price.

However, for people with children or others who need to transport more than two people at once, a cargo van would not be appropriate.

The back of the 2018 Honda Odyssey with the seats removed.

The other advantage of the passenger minivans over most small cargo vans (except the Mercedes Metris) is that several of them have a high towing capacity – up to 3500 pounds.

(Why the small cargo vans have such wimpy engines in comparison, I’m not sure.)

The Honda Odyssey is said to have really good reliability and is (like most Hondas) well-liked by its owners. Towing capacity is about 3000 pounds.

A problem with the Honda Odyssey is that the floor of the current version is reportedly not very appropriate for sleeping purposes once the seats in the back are taken out of it.

Older Honda Odyssey models are reported as much better for sleeping purposes.

The Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan (both with towing capacity of 3600 pounds) are said to be better than the Odyssey for sleeping purposes, with seats that easily stow away rather than needing to be removed.

I’ve known several people who have made do sleeping in their Grand Caravans for extended periods of time while on the road, for instance.

The Kia Sedona is another minivan that gets good reviews, but I have not yet heard from any individuals pursuing mold avoidance who have owned this car. The towing capacity is 3500 pounds.

The Dodge Grand Caravan minivan.

The Toyota Sienna is the one minivan in the market that offers four-wheel drive, and it also appears to be strong in terms of safety and reliability. Towing capacity is 3500 pounds.

However, Toyota has had major problems with the air conditioners on its larger cars getting unusually moldy, with lawsuits suggesting that this is due to a design flaw.

Although I used to be extremely loyal to Toyota due to their reputation for being reliable, I now have a hard time suggesting that anyone purchase a larger car or truck from them until it is clear that this air conditioner problem is fixed.

 

Small Cargo Vans:

Ford Transit Connect

Mercedes Metris

Nissan NV200

RAM Promaster City

 

Small Passenger Vans:

Chrysler Pacifica

Dodge Grand Caravan

Ford Transit Connect

Honda Odyssey

Kia Sedona

Toyota Sienna

 

More Information:

Trucks – Small Cargo Vans

 

The Happier Camper trailer.

Campers

A major problem with conventional travel trailers and other conventional RV’s is that they almost invariably are built with hidden wood in the construction, sandwiched between the inner and outer walls.

Usually this wood is in the form of a plywood roof cap, but metal frames that are “stuffed” with wood for additional support (or even larger amounts of wood) also may be found in the walls of some models.

Especially when the RV is used in colder conditions, this kind of construction provides the perfect breeding ground for mold.

Even in quite dry climates, and even if a dehumidifier is used religiously, significant condensation will occur between the inner and outer walls when the outside temperature is colder than the inside temperature.

In a conventional RV, this provides mold spores the exact conditions they need (a dark and wet environment with plenty of processed cellulose) to grow like gangbusters.

In addition, almost all RV’s (including those – like Airstreams and many fiberglass models – that have no wood in the walls or roof) use a layer of plywood in the floor for support.

Some manufacturers (such as Casita and Scamp) coat this wood heavily with fiberglass or plastic, making it less likely to become moldy. Still, the potential for mold growth exists.

Another problem with conventional RV’s is that the materials used inside (especially the glues) tend to be especially toxic.

This means that even compared to a regular car, RV’s can take a great deal of time to off-gas.

In many cases, even moderately sensitive people may not be able to tolerate the chemicals in RV’s for several years after their manufacture.

Effectively, what all this means is that individuals with mold illness generally are not able to use most kinds of RV’s at any point during their life cycles, since older RV’s tend to be intolerable with regard to mold (and in a way that is impossible to remediate effectively) and newer ones tend to be intolerable with regard to chemicals.

A few RV’s have been used successfully by these individuals (or seem to have potential to be used successfully), however. These are discussed in this article.

 

The 13′ Scamp travel trailer.

Small Camping Trailers

This is a category that I see as consisting of trailers that are about 1500 pounds or less.

The light weight means that they can be pulled by larger cars, full-sized vans, mini-vans and some smaller cargo vans, in addition to trucks and SUV’s.

Most of these units do not include bathrooms or plumbing, and they are generally not suggested by their manufacturers as being appropriate for full-time living.

They more are designed as a way for people to pursue outdoor activities in a camping type of set-up, but with a little more comfort than tent camping would generally provide.

The Scamp 13′ camper (1300-1600 pounds and made in Minnesota) is an established option in this group.

This is a classic fiberglass travel trailer, with enough room inside for a bed that converts into a dining area, a kitchenette, and either a second bed (especially appropriate for children) or a small bathroom area.

(Casita used to offer a very similar small trailer, but discontinued it a few years ago.)

A big downside to Scamp trailers of all sizes is that they tend to take quite a bit of time to off-gas, due to the materials that are used during their manufacture.

In addition, the walls of the Scamp are covered with a fuzzy fabric material that is reported to be virtually impossible to clean properly if the trailer becomes cross-contaminated with mold toxins.

A good thing about Scamp trailers, however, is that they have established reputations of lasting for a long, long time.

Although conceivably the floor (solid wood heavily coated with fiberglass) in a Scamp could go moldy, this seems to happen pretty rarely even in older units.

In addition, the egg-like design of the fiberglass shell is especially helpful since it is impervious to leaks.

The solid fiberglass insulation between the inner and outer walls also is quite effective, allowing the trailer to be used comfortably in more extreme temperatures than most metal RV’s.

The Happier Camper.

Scamps – and perhaps especially the 13′ models – are extremely popular on the resale market, selling very fast and for a very high percentage of their original sales price even when they are quite a few years old.

Since new Scamps may take a year or more to off-gas to the point where they are really tolerated by mold-sensitized people, the scarcity of used models can be very frustrating.

They have so much potential (and are available for such a reasonable price) that it may be worthwhile to purchase a new one even if it cannot be used right away for sleeping purposes, though.

A new fiberglass mini-trailer that seems that it may have fewer off-gassing problems than the Scamp is the Happier Camper (made in the Los Angeles area).

The Happier Camper is about 10′ long and weighs about 1100 pounds. As with the 13′ Scamp, the interior height is just over 6′.

I tend to think of the Happier Camper as the Apple Computer of the camper world, in that it has won much praise for its simple but functional design.

It is basically a plain fiberglass shell inside and out, available in seven attractive color schemes and with the ability to add a variety of sleek modern components as desired.

Although the Happier Camper is quite expensive (nearly $20,000) for a small vehicle without tanks, I am feeling a little enamored with it and am tempted to take a trip to L.A. just to take a look at it.

Provided that off-gassing is not a problem, and provided that it doesn’t have any unforeseen problems, it seems like it might be just about perfect for many people pursuing mold avoidance.

The Weiscraft Little Joe. (Photo Credit: Pop-Up-ing Blog.)

Another very small and lightweight fiberglass trailer is the Weiscraft Little Joe.

The trailer is 12.5′ L x 5.5′ W on the outside, with an interior height of 6′. The weight is 1100 pounds.

The base model features a dinette that converts into a two-person bed, along with an optional mini-kitchen and portable toilet.

The Weiscraft Ponderosa Little Joe is the same basic trailer, but with more amenities (including a 30-gallon freshwater tank, a small shower/toilet enclosure, a full kitchen, a propane furnace and an air conditioner).

The weight of the Weiscraft Ponderosa Little Joe is about 1500 pounds.

Weicraft apparently builds only a small number of trailers, all to order, and even most people on the fiberglass trailer forums have never heard of them or seen them.

The prices seem a little lower than for a Happier Camper with the same amenities, but still, these are not inexpensive campers by any stretch of the imagination.

I would like to hear a report on them from someone who can gauge the toxicity situation.

The company is located in Henderson, Colorado (northeast of Denver).

The Taxa Cricket.

Another new, thoroughly modern light camper (1500 pounds) that is even pricier than the pricey Happier Camper is the Taxa Cricket.

The Taxa Cricket is made of aluminum and has freshwater and greywater tanks; a pop-up roof using tent material; and the ability to upgrade for off-road use.

Based on the videos that I have seen, the Cricket is attractive (in a quirky way) and seems solidly made.

The Taxa Cricket gets good reviews from general camping publications, and it seems to me that the simple design might limit off-gassing problems.

However, I am concerned about the fact that the Cricket is made in Houston, since I fear that it might arrive feeling cross-contaminated.

In addition, I have heard that the fabric in the pop-up roof tends to get grungy looking, and that makes me worry that it will start to feel bad pretty quickly.

The floor (solid plywood coated with plastic) also is a concern.

Still, I am intrigued by this trailer and would like to take a look at it.

Even more intriguing to me is the company’s much smaller and much less expensive camper, the 900-pound Taxa Tigermoth.

This aluminum trailer is designed primarily for outdoor enthusiasts who want to bring their gear into the wilderness and to have a sheltered place to sleep, without having to deal with the expense or the size of a conventional camper.

The Taxa Tigermoth

The inside of the trailer is designed with just enough room for two people to be able to spend time sleeping and lounging, with lots of storage space under the seat cushions.

One full wall of the trailer lifts up to create a covered outdoor area, and an additional optional awning can shelter the outdoor kitchen area (which consists of a pull-out drawer with camping stove and supplies).

There is also an optional outdoor shower with shelter; a built-in electrical system with battery and optional solar panels; and an abundance of ways to store gear indoors and outdoors.

Unfortunately, I found one report on a forum of someone who said that the roof on his Taxa Tigermoth was leaking until (at the direction of a Taxa representative) he put some sealant on it.

Having the potential for roof leaks does not sound like a good combination with the wood subfloor.

Nevertheless, this little trailer seems so appealing from a functional point of view that I’m still interested in taking a look at one.

The Quite Lite Tail Feather is an insulated modular shell product made of plastic that is designed to be mounted on a flatbed trailer and then towed into the wilderness for camping purposes.

The description on the website reads:

The Tail Feather Camper is a lightweight, modular shell that will adapt to many small utility trailers. The shape of the camper provides a surprising amount of interior usable space as well as low wind resistance when traveling.

A simple screwdriver is all that is required for assembly. The camper can be removed and function as a semi-permanent shelter, or disassembled and neatly stored away when not in use. Cabinets and benches collapse flat to save space when stored.

Furnishing options include a 3-shelf wardrobe, counter with storage shelf, counter sink with water pump and tanks, and a dinette that converts to a bed that easily sleeps two. 

The Extension Kit increases the length of the Tail Feather Camper by 1 panel. It includes 2 wall panels and a roof extension with an additional 14″ vent.

The standard camper size for the Quite Lite Tail Feather is 5’x8′.

The Quite Lite Tail Feather.

The weight (not counting the flatbed trailer needed for use as the base) is 375 pounds.

The product has not yet been released, but the company is estimating May 1, 2019, as the initial shipping date.

Quite Lite also is going to be selling a similar Quick Cabin (base size 10’x10′) that is designed to be easy to put together and usable in wilderness areas.

My main concern with these products is that the plastic material might off-gas to a very large extent, and so I am hoping to get some reports on whether that is the case.

The company is located in Longmont, Colorado (north of Denver).


Update 11/3/18: 

Although teardrop trailers have a bad reputation for going extremely moldy due to wood in their construction, the Little Guy MyPod is a 100% fiberglass option that weighs only 630 pounds (and thus can be towed by almost any kind of vehicle.

The Little Guy MyPod.

The Little Guy MyPod is designed only for resting and sleeping, rather than for other activities.

The entire interior is taken up with a full-size bed, and an entertainment system (with large TV screen and stereo) is included.

The interior space is about 135″ L x 60″ W x 37″ H.

The walls are carpeted, and an air conditioner and a Fantastic fan are included.

The Little Guy MyPod is available in five different colors and has an optional roof rack.

A tent designed specifically to fit the vehicle may be purchased separately.

The camper is made in Uniontown, Ohio (near Canton).

 

Small Camping Trailers:

Happier Camper. $19,000+.

Little Guy MyPod. $11,000.

Quite Lite Tail Feather. $6,000+.

Scamp Trailer (13′). $11,000+. 

Taxa Cricket Camper. $29,000+.

Taxa Tigermoth Camper. $13,000+.

Weiscraft Little Joe. $15,000+.

Weiscraft Ponderosa Little Joe. $20,000+.

 

Additional Information:

The Cynical Sailor – 13′ Scamp

Today – Happier Camper

Tree Hugger – Happier Camper

New Atlas – Happier Camper

Pop-Up-ing – Weiscraft Little Joe Ponderosa

Small Trailer Enthusiast – Taxa Cricket

Travel Channel – Taxa Cricket

Fatherly – Taxa Cricket

Tiny House Tours – Taxa Tigermoth

Do It Yourself RV – Taxa Tigermoth

Mt. Comfort RV – Taxa Tigermoth

Camping World – Taxa Tigermoth

Tree Hugger – Taxa Tigermoth

Fatherly – Little Guy MyPod

 

My Toyota 4Runner and Casita Travel Trailer in 2009. (Photo credit: Lisa Petrison.)

Midsize Travel Trailers

Vehicles that I am referring to as “midsize travel trailers” are between about 15′ to 19′ and weigh somewhere between 2000 to 3500 pounds.

All of these units have kitchen areas and at least the option of having plumbing (including an indoor shower), and likely will require an SUV, a pickup truck or a van with a powerful engine for towing.

These trailers usually are quite comfortable for a single person to live in even on a full-time basis.

They would be a little bit more cramped for two people for full-time living, but still may work out well (especially if those individuals are spending much of their time outdoors or away from the trailer at work).

From 2009 to 2013, I lived most of the time in a Casita 17′ Travel Trailer.

The 16′ Scamp Travel Trailer.

It seems to have been a really good choice for me, for a number of reasons.

For instance, it was quite comfortable for one or two people, with a layout that worked really well for me.

I had virtually no problems with it in terms of the construction, even though I put more than 100,000 miles on it.

It was pretty warm in winter and pretty cool in summer, even without any heating or air conditioning.

It was reasonably priced upfront, and it kept its resale value extremely well.

The Casita (about 2500 pounds and 6’1″ tall inside) also was very easy to tow with my Toyota 4Runner (2005 Sport Edition with a V8 engine).

Pulling the trailer was barely noticeable with that SUV and had almost no impact on my gas mileage (about 18 mpg).

Although the amenities were pretty basic, the Casita contained pretty much everything that I needed in order to live comfortably – including a small bathroom with shower and flush toilet; a reliable water heater; a kitchen sink; a two-burner stove; a Dometic gas/electric/battery refrigerator/freezer; and an overhead Fantastic fan.

The outdoor shower also was a nice bonus, especially when I wanted to wash things before bringing them inside the trailer.

As with other fiberglass “egg” trailers, the construction of the Casita does not include any wood in the walls or ceiling, and the seam-free design prevents water from entering through the roof.

It thus will not go moldy in the same way that a typical trailer does.

The Casita does have a wood subfloor, heavily coated in fiberglass, however.

The 17′ Escape Trailer.

After a number of years on the road,  the inside of my front closet smelled slightly musty to me (probably due to water from the bathroom getting into the flooring), but I did not react to that mold and it didn’t seem to be  noticeable when the closet door was closed.

A much bigger problem for me was that the fiberglass material and the carpet on the walls sucked up certain kinds of environmental mold toxins (especially the sewer-based toxin that I have referred to as “Mystery Toxin”) like a sponge.

Although taking the trailer to altitude for a little while and then cleaning it thoroughly mostly resolved small cross-contaminations, I nonetheless was very motivated in the Casita to not spend any time at all in places where I felt even very small amounts of that toxin.

The other main problem with the Casita is that it may take a year or more to off-gas to the point where even moderately chemically sensitive people can tolerate it.

After a failed attempt at buying a new Casita from the factory, I ended up finding a three-year-old unit in Wyoming and driving a long way to pick it up.

Used Casitas (or other fiberglass RV’s) that have spent their lives in less pristine areas unfortunately may not be nearly as good for people as the Casita that I bought in a clean area of Wyoming was for me.

In fact, I would guess that part of the toxicity issue with new Casitas may be that they are made in Rice, Texas, which is just south of Dallas.

My feeling from visiting that area is that it is affected by enough of the “Mystery Toxin” that it has a negative effect on the RV’s manufactured there, exacerbating their chemical issues and increasing the time needed for effective off-gassing.

The 16′ Scamp is very similar to the Casita. The main difference seems to be that the inside walls have a fuzzy cloth material on them rather than carpeting.

The Oliver Legacy Elite.

Scamp’s manufacturing operations are in Backus, Minnesota. This is a very small town in the northern part of the state, and – though I don’t yet have any reports – the air quality conceivably might be pretty good there.

Based on the small number of reports that I have so far, I do think that Scamps may become tolerable a little more quickly than Casitas do. It would be interesting to get some side-by-side comparisons on this.

Another fiberglass trailer that is very similar to the 16′ Scamp and the 17′ Casita  in terms of a wide variety of factors (including size, features, weight and price) is the 17′ Escape Trailer.

It is made in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, but can be easily imported to the U.S.

One potential advantage of the Escape is that it has plain inside walls (rather than carpet or fuzzy fabric).

I don’t yet have enough reports to know whether it becomes tolerable more quickly than the Scamp or the Casita, though.

The Oliver line of fiberglass trailers is more than twice the cost of the Casita, Scamp or Escape.

The factory is in Hohenwald, Tennessee (which is about 70 miles southwest of Nashville).

Oliver has a very good reputation in general; is said to not have wood in the subfloor; and does not use carpet or fuzzy material on the walls. It therefore may be worth investigating for those who have the money available.

The Airstream Nest.

The Airstream Nest is a brand-new fiberglass trailer that is almost the exact same price of the Oliver.

Unfortunately, I have yet to hear of any mold avoiders who have done well in conventional aluminum Airstream trailers.

It seems that leaks from the seams in the aluminum shell in combination with the wood subfloor make mold growth likely to occur, even though the shell of the trailer does not include any buried wood.

However, it is possible that this new fiberglass Airstream will work out better for people.

It appears to be a very attractive trailer from an aesthetic perspective, at any rate.

A 17′ Bigfoot travel trailer.

Airstream trailers are manufactured in Jackson Center, Ohio (about halfway between Columbus, Ohio, and Ft. Wayne, Indiana).

For those who are interested in sleeping in a trailer during the winter months, a Bigfoot RV trailer may be a particularly good choice.

The company’s trailers include super-thick insulation, thermal-pane glass and other features that are designed to allow comfort down to 10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The company is located in Armstrong, British Columbia (a small town in a sparsely populated area about 200 miles west of Banff National Park).

A camper that could be used easily during the winter months has the potential of being really helpful to many people, especially if the off-gassing period is not too long.

I’d really like to hear some reports on these trailers, or maybe to go pay the factory a visit, therefore.

Eggcamper (made in Grandville, Michigan) is another fiberglass trailer with a pretty good reputation, but production has been suspended for a few years and I am not sure if the company is going to be starting up again.

A Livin’ Lite CampLite Trailer.

Quite a few individuals pursuing mold avoidance have had success over the past decade or so with Livin’ Lite Camplite trailers (made in the small town of Shipshewana, Indiana, which is near South Bend).

The introductory models of the CampLite were entirely made of aluminum and other metal in terms of the structure and the floor, virtually entirely eliminating the risk of any mold growth.

Off-gassing issues with the CampLite, while not non-existent, have been reported to resolve somewhat more quickly than with the Casita or Scamp.

Aluminum construction (while being of concern for  some people trying to avoid EMF’s) seems to be much more resistant to cross-contamination than is fiberglass construction.

Unfortunately, some construction changes incorporating different materials have made more recent versions of the CampLite seem to be more risky with regard to mold.

The Safari Condo Alto with extendable roof.

More recently, it has been reported that the company has decided to discontinue the CampLite line entirely.

Although the CampLite line has included a wide variety of recreational vehicles (including toy haulers and truck campers), the most popular sizes for those pursuing mold avoidance likely have been the 15.5′ trailer (2500 pounds) and the 18.5′ trailer (2900 pounds).

Compared to fiberglass trailers, the CampLite has the main disadvantage of tending to be quite cold in winter and uncomfortably hot in summer.

Reports also have suggested that CampLites may not be as durable or hold their value as well as most of the fiberglass trailers.

The Safari Condo Alto (made in Quebec) is a line of aluminum trailers without wood in the frame or floor. They are built with the specific intention of lasting for decades, without any rot or rust.

The trailers are lightweight (1600-1700 pounds) and have an aerodynamic shape, allowing them to be pulled behind a small SUV.

The Taxa Mantis Trek.

While the trailers are best known for having a retractable roof that floods the trailer with light when open, a fixed-roof version is also available.

Another new mid-sized possibility is the Taxa Mantis Trek (19′ and 3000 pounds).

Like the smaller Taxa Cricket, this camper is designed mostly for those who want to get out into the wilderness for active pursuits.

However, it also includes a few more standard RV features (including a large grey water tank and propane hookups).

As with the Cricket, a pop-up roof using tent fabric provides additional ventilation and head room.

 

Midsize Fiberglass Trailers:

Airstream Nest. $46,000+.

Bigfoot Trailer. $38,000+.

Casita Trailer. $20,000+.

Escape Trailer (17′). $20,000+.

Oliver Legacy Elite. $48,000+.

Scamp Trailer (16′). $20,000+. 

 

Other Midsize Trailers:

Livin’ Lite CampLite. $21,000+.

Safari Condo Alto. $30,000+.

Taxa Mantis Trek. $33,000+.

 

Pricing Information:

Two Plus Lu – 2017 Scamp Lineup

See Dealer Cost

 

Additional Information: 

Small Trailer Enthusiast – Manufacturers

Trailer Life – Fiberglass RV’s 

The Willful Wanderer – Fiberglass Trailers

EI Wellspring – CampLite

New Atlas – Mantis Trek

Traveland RV – Mantis Trek

New Atlas – Safari Condo Alto

We’re The Russos – Safari Condo Alto

 

The Oliver Legacy Elite II.

Large Travel Trailers

Large travel trailers are a least 19′ long and usually weigh 3000 or more pounds. They are appropriate for couples or for families with children, and require at least a mid-sized SUV or pickup truck for towing purposes.

Trailers in this category almost always have fully functional kitchens, bathrooms and climate-control systems.

While they provide many of the comforts of a real home, traveling in a large trailer may be challenging and expensive due to limitations in where they can be parked as well as maneuverability issues.

One well-liked large trailer is the 19′ Scamp Fifth Wheel, a fiberglass model (made in northern Minnesota) with a loft bedroom area that juts out over the bed of the pickup truck towing it.

Like other Scamp and Casita trailers, the Scamp Fifth Wheel is lightweight (between 3000 and 4000 pounds) and low-maintenance.

A Scamp 19′ Fifth Wheel.

It is moderately priced with extremely good resale value, reducing the risk involved in purchasing it.

While Scamps seem fairly unlikely to develop mold growth problems, they may become cross-contaminated easily.

In addition, off-gassing issues may take a good bit of time to die down.

Escape (which is manufactured in British Columbia) offers several different larger fiberglass travel trailers that are similar in a variety of respects to the Scamp.

These include a 19′ regular trailer, a 21′ regular trailer, and a 21′ fifth wheel trailer.

The weight is 3000 to 4000 pounds.

The 21′ Escape Trailer.

The Oliver Legacy Elite II (23′ long and about 4600 pounds) is more than twice the price of a large Escape or Scamp, but it also has the important advantages of having no wood in the floor and no carpet or fuzzy materials on the walls.

Oliver is located in Tennessee and has a pretty favorable reputation in the fiberglass RV community.

Bigfoot RV (located in Canada) produces 21′ and 25′ fiberglass RV’s that are designed to be usable and comfortable in very cold temperatures (such as minus ten Fahrenheit).

The trailers have high-density insulation, thermal-pane windows, a 30,000 BTU propane heater, and other construction features making them especially suited to four-season use.  The weight is 4300-5500 pounds.

Several families pursuing mold avoidance have purchased the Coachmen Freedom Express during the past couple of years.

Although this is a conventional-looking RV with “aluminum and wood bow trusses” in the roof, the side panels and floor are free of wood in their construction.

A Bigfoot RV trailer being used in the snow.

The relatively small amount of wood in the roof still has the potential of getting moldy in a way that cannot be remediated, especially if the RV is used in a cold climate.

However, the likelihood that the Coachmen Freedom Express will become moldy does seem considerably less than with most other conventional RV’s, and so far those mold avoiders who have lived in them have reported doing well.

Another positive feature of the Coachmen Freedom Express Select (the least expensive model) is that off-gassing issues are reported to be fairly low.

In fact, several people who are moderately chemically sensitive in general have reported being able to tolerate new versions of this RV without any waiting period – a minor miracle in the RV market.

In addition, I have some reports of people who have traded in a fairly new version of this trailer (such as less than a year old) for a new one after cross-contamination occurred.

The cost to do this has been reported to be fairly low (such as less than $5,000).

The Coachmen Freedom Express. (Photo Credit: Bryan Rosner)

The Coachmen Freedom Express is sold at RV dealers throughout the U.S., making it fairly convenient for people to try them out.

The series includes models ranging from 20′ to 32′ long, weighing 3500 to 7000 pounds.

The similar Coachmen Freedom Express Pilot is a 20′ long trailer weighing about 3800 pounds.

Unlike any of the fiberglass trailers, all of the Coachmen Freedom Express trailers include slides that provide more of a roomy feeling inside when the trailer is parked.

Although Livin’ Lite CampLite RV’s appear to be permanently out of production, it may still be possible to purchase a new one (as well as older used ones).

The larger CampLite units are 21′ to 23′ long and weigh around 5,000 pounds.

ATC Aluminum Toy Hauler specializes in trailers that are used primarily to transport motorcycles, ATV’s, boats and other recreational “toys,” but that with a few upgrades also can serve as a living quarters.

While the inside is not as homey in appearance as may be the case with some RV’s, the relatively plain design may be much better suited to individuals with many chemical sensitivities.

ATC Aluminum Toy Hauler.

As was the case with the original CampLite trailers, the structure of the ATC toy haulers is entirely made of metal and therefore is impervious to mold and rot.

Model sizes range from 25′ to 41′, weighing 4,000 to 10,000 pounds.

ATC Aluminum Toy Hauler also is the manufacturer of a new large aluminum trailer called the Living Vehicle.

This product was inspired by the large classic Airstreams and is positioned as an alternative to buying a condominium or townhome.

The Living Vehicle is about the size of a typical tiny home (215 square feet), but has much higher-quality construction and design materials.

The structure is all aluminum and other metals, without any wood. Reports so far suggest that off-gassing is minimal.

The company’s Live Series (8300 pounds) is designed for extended off-road use in even very hot or very cold climates, with a variety of features that make it appropriate for full-time living.

The Living Vehicle.

The Travel Series (scheduled for release in the next few months) is considerably less expensive and also is lighter weight, but is intended only for occasional shorter trips.

Those with large amounts of money to spend on a solid mobile dwelling also could consider a renovated classic Airstream from ESK Productions.

The company is owned and run by Justin Taylor, son of the late Tad Taylor (who made a reputation for himself a few years back renovating old Airstreams for use by chemically sensitive individuals).

It is my impression that the renovations make the Airstreams more resistant to mold and rot issues, but I certainly would want to look very carefully into the issue before committing to one.

 

Large Fiberglass Trailers:

Bigfoot Trailers. $44,000+.

Escape Trailers. $25,000+.

Oliver Legacy Elite II. $54,000.

Scamp Fifth Wheel. $20,000+. 

 

Other Large Travel Trailers:

ATC Aluminum Toy Hauler. $40,000+.

Coachman Freedom Express Pilot. $20,000+.

Coachman Freedom Express Select. $20,000+.

Livin’ Lite CampLite. $30,000+.

Living Vehicle (Travel Series). $90,000+.

Living Vehicle (Live Series). $150,000.

 

Airstream Renovations: 

Justin Taylor – ESK Productions

 

Mold Avoidance Information:

Bryan Rosner – Lyme Book

Ian and Nikki Sharp – Beyond the Mold

Debra Lynn Dadd – Chemically Sensitive RV’s

 

Additional Information:

Tree Hugger – Living Vehicle

Forbes – Living Vehicle

Tiny House Blog – Living Vehicle

 

A Bigfoot 2500 truck camper.

Truck Campers

Another possibility to consider is a truck camper, which fits into the back of a pickup truck.

A good thing about truck campers is that they can be much easier to maneuver and park in cities and towns than a trailer would be.

For instance, Erik Johnson spent quite a few years living in the Reno-Tahoe area in a mold-resistant truck camper that he built by hand (since the conventional ones kept going super-moldy on him).

Erik said that he chose to build a truck camper because he could drive it everywhere he went, and therefore was able to take a quick shower immediately after any time he got hit with mold.

These frequent showers (as many as 10 per day) were largely responsible for why Erik was able to recover so quickly from his illness despite living in a problematic area, he said.

Erik Johnson’s custom-made truck camper.

Unfortunately, most of the truck campers in the marketplace are conventionally built, with a wooden roof cap and other buried wood that will quickly go moldy (especially in cold climates) with frequent use.

Livin’ Lite CampLite does offer two models of mostly-aluminum truck campers that might work better, but 2018 is said to be the last model year for these.

Another good possibility is the Canadian company Bigfoot, which makes three fiberglass truck campers (ranging from 2000 to 3200 pounds).

The Bigfoot 2500 series of truck campers (which is more expensive) is designed for use in winter temperatures down to -10F.

I’d really like to hear some reports about these.

 

Truck Campers:

Livin’ Lite CampLite. $23,000+.

Bigfoot. $30,000+.

 

Information:

Truck Camper Magazine – Bigfoot Interview

Truck Camper Magazine – Bigfoot Pricing

 

The WeeRoll Silver Cloud aluminum trailer.

Cargo Trailers

A major problem that people wanting to pursue mold avoidance have faced is that virtually all of the RV’s on the market have toxic issues associated with them.

Almost all recreational vehicles are intolerable on the front end to those with even mild chemical sensitivities, and most have the tendency to go moldy very quickly due to buried wood in the construction.

A solution to the problem that seems to have the potential of working for almost everyone is the use of a plain metal cargo trailer as a travel trailer.

Because these cargo trailers are in essence just a plain metal box, they tend to be well-tolerated even by very sensitive individuals and will not go moldy.

(In many cases, cargo trailers do come lined with plywood, but this can be removed.)

Cargo trailers also serve as a blank slate, allowing people to bring in and remove modular components as they choose.

Erik Johnson’s converted cargo trailer.

Additionally, cargo trailers can be purchased at a low initial cost.

Even with the needed conversion, the expense of putting together a cargo trailer is generally much, much less than buying a new or even a used commercial RV.

The downside to cargo trailers is that converting them to a livable space may take some tools, skills and effort.

Electric wiring, windows, ventilation, insulation, flooring, wall coverings and – if desired – plumbing may be the minimum that is needed.

In some cases, cargo trailer companies can add some of these items for a reasonable up-charge.

Still, the conversion can be much more involved than most people – especially sick people – can do themselves, and finding a professional to do the work can be a challenge.

Very recently, a couple of companies in Florida started offering already-converted small cargo trailers to the marketplace, with a particular focus on the van dwelling community.

These converted trailers are reasonably priced (most are well under $10,000) and basic.

The descriptions make it seem like they will likely be much more tolerable for those with mold-related illness than are conventional RV’s. I’m looking forward to hearing some reports about them, therefore.

The all-aluminum WeeRoll Mod 1, available for $3795.

WeeRoll Campers (based in Ocala) offers a variety of steel and aluminum trailers, at prices ranging from $3,000 to $8,000.

Most of the trailers are 6′ tall inside, but a few are shorter and designed only for sleeping purposes.

The weight ranges from 700 to 1400 pounds.

In a video produced by Cheap RV Living, one of the company’s owners discusses the appropriateness of the all-aluminum WeeRoll campers for those with mold sensitivities:

Bob Wells:
For the people who want the lightest rig, you now have an option of an all-aluminum trailer.

Tom from WeeRoll:
I have several. I have the WeeRoll Breeze ($3495). If they are still wanting the 4′ height, I have a 5′ by 8′ by 4-foot tall, all-aluminum.

Bob:
Which is a foot wider than your Runaways and most of your teardrops.

Tom:
There is nothing in there that can rot. There is no wood. There’s insulated walls. However, if you do want birch walls on the inside of that, I will put birch walls in. But a standard unit, you could park in your swimming pool. Well, the axles are steel, of course. But everything else is all-aluminum.

Bob:
Do you know how much that weighs?

Tom:
It’s brand new, I don’t have a weight on it, but I’m thinking it’s going to be 750-800 pounds max.

Bob:
It’s going to be as light as any trailer you can buy will be, being all-aluminum. And for a number of you – and I know a number of people who are facing in this – they have problems with mold, they have problems with chemical sensitivity. They can’t even be around the plywood walls because of off-gassing. There is treated plywood in nearly all of these trailers. They can’t be around those things. 

An all-aluminum trailer solves all of those problems. Because it’s completely cleanable and it has no off-gassing. No chemical sensitivities will be an issue at all.

I knew a friend who had such a mold sensitivity that he could not be in anything. He walked into a house and he could smell the tiniest bit of mold, and it would knock him flat on his back. He bought an all-aluminum trailer – solved that whole problem.

There are people out there for whom an all-aluminum trailer is going to be a lifesaver.

And no matter what size your vehicle is, it can tow that! It’s going to be, we think about 700 pounds. So for those of you who need the lightest possible trailer, he’s got that.

And you have one that’s under $3000.

Tom :
I have one for $2995. Basically it’s a 4′ x 8′ x 4′, comparable to the Runaway, all-aluminum. Insulated. Not a stitch of wood or steel in it, except the axle.

Bob:
And you have a new model, the Cloud.

Tom: 
I had a vision to have something just amazing, and you’ve seen that it’s been a success for Airstream – that silver anodized brushed aluminum.

I have two coming out that we’re trademarking, called the Air Camp. It’s a 5′ x 9′ x 66″, at $5295.

And I have a Silver Cloud here, which is 6′ x 10′ x 66″, at $6395. (1050 pounds)

Bob: 
So that’s all-aluminum. All-aluminum skin, kind of looks like an Airstream, has extra windows.

 

The other Florida company converting cargo trailers is Runaway Campers (based in Summerfield).

At present, Runaway is offering only steel units (4’x8′ or 6’x8′) that are a maximum of 46″ high inside.

The weight is 700-900 pounds, and the purchase price is $3500 to $5000.

A Runaway travel trailer.

Finally, Rejuvanest is a small company in Arizona with an interest in customizing cargo trailers for individuals who are chemically sensitive.

Their first offering – described on their website – was about 7.6′ L x 6′ W x 6.5′ H and 1500 pounds. The cost is stated as just under $10,000.

Erik Johnson discusses the concept of converting a cargo trailer for mold avoidance purposes in detail in the book Erik on Avoidance. It is available for free in PDF format from the Paradigm Change site (and also for a small fee in Kindle format from the Amazon site).

Joey Tuan discusses his own experiences living in a custom trailer for mold avoidance purposes in the blog article “A Toxin-Free Home for $7000.”

Cheap RV Living provides a substantial amount of information on converting cargo trailers into RV’s as well.

 

Wee Roll Campers:

Wee Roll Website

Cheap RV Living – Wee Roll Video

 

Runaway Campers:

Runaway Website

Cheap RV Living – Runaway Video (1)

Cheap RV Living – Runaway Video (2)

 

Rejuvanest Campers:

RejuvaNest Website

 

Cargo Trailer Manufacturers:

Aluma

Cargo Pro

Carson Trailer

Featherlite

Look Trailers

Pace American

Wells Cargo

 

Additional Information:

Erik Johnson – Erik on Avoidance

Joey Tuan – Converting a Cargo Trailer

Cheap RV Living – Living in a Cargo Trailer

Cheap RV Living – Why Live in a Cargo Trailer

 

The Sylvan Sport Go.

Tent Trailers

Tent trailers usually have a primary planned use of hauling a variety of gear (especially sporting equipment such as bikes or kayaks) when on the road.

A pop-up style tent (and in some cases kitchen facilities) then are available to be easily set up when stopped at a campground or RV park.

One popular model is the Sylvan Sport Go, which I had a chance to see about ten years ago when I met up with a fellow mold avoider who was towing one with her small SUV for her first camping trip.

Despite being quite chemically sensitive, she did pretty well sleeping in the Sylvan Sport Go without any off-gassing period having been necessary.

The Go weighs only 840 pounds and so can be towed easily by a wide variety of cars and small vans.

When parked, it folds out easily into a good-sized tent (10’6″ L x 7′ W x 6’4″ H) that can be used for both sleeping and relaxing purposes.

As a bonus, an awning folds out from the Go, providing an additional 114 square inches of covered living space.

The Taxa Wooly Bear Adventure Trailer.

My main concern with the Sylvan Sport Go is that the tent material might start to grow mold or become cross-contaminated.

Replacing just the tent portion of this trailer is reported to cost $750.

The fact that the Sylvan Sport Go is manufactured in North Carolina also makes me concerned, since reports suggest that things are a mess there subsequent to the recent hurricane.

The Taxa Wooly Bear Adventure Trailer is primarily designed for hauling gear such as bikes but also has a significant amount of storage space.

The Wooly Bear also provides what looks like a nice outdoor kitchen facility as well as the ability to perch a tent on the top.

The weight is about 900 pounds.

As mentioned earlier, Taxa is located in Houston.

Apparently similar to the Taxa Wooly Bear is the line of pop-up tent trailers produced by Turtleback Trailers (located in Phoenix).

Again, although tent sleeping is possible with these trailers, the main purpose really seems to be the hauling of gear and a kitchen set-up.

A Turtleback Trailer with kitchen setup and above-ground tent.

In looking at the pictures of the Taxa Wooly Bear and of the Turtleback vehicles, my first thought is that the tents seem pretty precariously balanced up in the air.

I’m not sure at all that I would feel comfortable sleeping up there, and I also worry that the tent would be expensive to replace if it became moldy.

On the other hand, since some people have complained about toxic mold growth under the floors of their regular tents, perhaps having the tent located well above the ground, where it would get lots of air circulation, actually would be a really good thing.

In any event, these trailers at minimum do look like a very nice (though also very pricey) way to haul sporting equipment into the wilderness, for those with that objective.

 

Tent Trailers: 

Sylvan Sport Go. $10,000. 

Taxa Wooly Bear. $7,000.

Turtleback. $11,000+.

 

Information:

Curbed – Sylvan Sport Go

Gear Junkie – Wooly Bear Trailer

Hi Consumption – Wooly Bear Trailer

Expedition Portal – Turtleback Trailers

 

The Hybrid Trailer Company gear trailer.

Gear Hauling

In some cases, individuals who are driving a car or pickup truck or van would like to have some extra storage space for their possessions, but do not feel that they need an additional sleeping space.

For instance, I feel that my Ford Transit Connect is a good car to drive on a day-to-day basis and that it provides a good sleeping environment for me on short trips.

On a longer trip though, the amount of gear that I may want to bring has the potential of filling up most (or all) of the space inside the van, making sleeping arrangements much less comfortable.

The idea of being able to carry some of my gear separately – either in a gear trailer or in a cargo box – thus has some appeal for me.

In addition, especially for those who are chemically sensitive, a gear trailer may be helpful for carrying items such as propane tanks or gasoline-operated generators.

A 4’x6′ Look cargo trailer.

The ability to remove contaminated items from the sleeping space and to store them in a gear trailer for a time also may be helpful in many cases.

Several of the cargo trailer companies produce small aluminum models (such as 4′ W x 6′ L x 4′ H) that would hold a significant amount of gear but weigh only 500 pounds or less.

Another possibility is something like the Hybrid Trailer Company cargo trailer, which is specifically designed for families going on vacation in their cars.

The Hybrid trailer is made of aluminum and weighs only 220 pounds. The internal storage space is 40″ x 60″ x 22″.

The Weiscraft Roughneck is a larger fiberglass trailer – 9′ x 5′ x 3′ (internal storage space). The weight is about 500 pounds.

A cooler, kayak or other outdoor equipment can easily be mounted to the top, and a large amount of gear can be stored inside.

The inside of a Weiscraft Roughneck.

In addition, the Weiscraft Roughneck is promoted as having the potential to be used for sleeping purposes.

The construction is actually exactly the same as the company’s full-size Little Joe trailers, except that it is only half the height and has fewer amenities inside.

Although interior height is only three feet, the length and width allow plenty of room for two people to sleep next to one another, plus providing some extra floor space.

While I’m not sure that this is a space that I would want to sleep in on a regular basis, it could be a welcome option to have it available on nights when weather conditions make tent camping impossible or unpleasant.

Unfortunately, any kind of well-made trailer (at least when new) seems likely to cost at least a couple thousand dollars, no matter how small or stripped-down it is.

Maybe it would be possible to find a less expensive used one though.

A SportRack cargo box.

Another option for those who would like a little bit of additional storage space without spending a lot of money is to purchase a cargo carrier to mount on the top of their car or van.

Thule and SportRack are popular providers of these cargo boxes.

While it is likely that these kinds of carriers may cut down to some extent on car performance or gas mileage, reports suggest that their aerodynamic designs as well as the relatively affordable price may make them worth considering.

Cargo boxes that attach to the back of the vehicle – such as one made by Thule – also may be a possibility.

 

Gear Trailers:

Hybrid Trailer Company Deluxe. $3,000+.

Weiscraft Roughneck. $5,000+. 

 

Cargo Boxes:

SportRack Vista XL Cargo Box. $380.

Thule Atlantic Rooftop Cargo Box. $460.

Thule Transporter Hitch Cargo Carrier. $600.

 

Additional Information: 

Nikisoft – Hybrid Trailer Co. Trailers

 

About This Blog

Lisa Petrison is the executive director of Paradigm Change. Formerly, she worked as a marketing and research consultant to a number of large companies, as a business school professor, and as a journalist. Her Ph.D. is in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Living Clean in a Dirty World is a community blog project on recovering from mold-related illness. It is presented by Paradigm Change.

Mold Avoiders is a recovery help forum offered by Paradigm Change. It consists of a Facebook group as well as a standalone website.

More information on recovering from mold-related illness – including the popular book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance – may be obtained via the Paradigm Change website.

The Beginner’s Guide is available for free in PDF format for those signing up for occasional email newsletters on mold avoidance topics. In addition, paperback and Kindle versions are available from Amazon.

The book Erik on Avoidance includes a large number of quotes from Erik Johnson summarizing his mold avoidance experiences and conclusions. It is available for free as a PDF download and also as an Amazon Kindle book.

Erik’s recovery story is summarized in the book Back from the Edge: How One Man’s Discovery Brought Him From Desperately Sick With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome To the Top of Mt. Whitney in Six Months. It is available for free in PDF format for those signing up for occasional updates from Paradigm Change, as well as for a small fee in Kindle format from Amazon.

This Living Clean blog series includes affiliate links to Amazon and to other retailers and manufacturers of camping products.

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