A little preparation = a lot more time for fun!
This is not a wish list or a random gathering of stuff. These are hacks we use with Rocinante that provide good results. Some are more "hacky" than others, but bear with us. We hope that by sharing this, we can save you some time when considering the same issues and potential solutions in your own RV.
Amazon Affiliate Disclosure
Every item mentioned below is something we bought at normal prices and then used while camping. We neither seek nor accept items at "discounted prices" when telling you what has worked well (or not so well!) for us.
However, if you click a link below that leads to amazon.com, it's an Amazon affiliate link. So, if you buy something from Amazon after clicking a link here, there's a good chance they will thank us with a small percentage of your purchase $.
The affiliate links on this page to things we have bought and used are the only places in our blog where you'll see anything resembling advertising. That said, we sincerely appreciate you reading and commenting on our blog. If you happen to click an Amazon link, we also appreciate your love and support.
Before we settle into any camping spot with electric service, we check the power. First, we check the electrical socket to make sure it's properly wired, via a power receptacle checker. One of the most interesting things about shore power is that we want it, but bad power can be a threat to Rocinante. We've very rarely seen an improperly wired outlet, but if such a condition goes undetected it can create a serious hazard. An outlet checker is the best insurance we can buy.
Once we verify the outlet is properly wired and working, we measure the voltage at the post so we know whether we may be able to use our heat pump / air conditioner. If the voltage is in the green range on the meter the answer will be "yes," at least some of the time. Voltage changes over time in a campground, however, especially as multiple campers start running their units on the same grid. So, we then plug our volt meter into a visible outlet in the trailer where we can keep an eye on it.
We recently added a TRC ElectraCheck digital monitor to our tools. It's a little more expensive, but we like that it checks for correct ground and voltage at the same time. It alarms if the ground is bad or if voltage is too low / too high. One tool to do several things, always a winner in an RV. We plug this into the post and then if all is well we plug it inside the trailer to warn us if anything goes wrong while we're camped.
Preventing surges and sags
We always use a Progressive Industries EMS / surge protector that monitors and displays info on the power coming into Rocinante. This device helps protect against sudden surges in voltage that might otherwise fry her electronics, and shuts off power altogether if the voltage gets too low to safely run our heat pump / air conditioner. We used to have a TRC surge protector, but we've since replaced it with the one above, and we actually like the new one better.
We used to have a TRC voltage regulator that we sometimes added to the circuit between the surge protector and the post. This was especially helpful for our peace of mind if we had to leave our dog, Skipper, in the trailer while we went out on an adventure. However, unless this was a specific concern, we did not add that box to the circuit.
Our pup passed away in February of 2016 after 14 wonderful years with us, so we no longer need the regulator for him. In addition, this device, which was well out of warranty, died in mid-2016 and per TRC could not be repaired in the field. Instead of shipping it back for service, we recycled it and have no plans to buy a new one.
When we used the voltage regulator in addition to the surge protector, we also used a 30 amp extension cord between the post and the regulator. This allowed us to put those two boxes under the trailer, on Lynx blocks to keep them off the ground, where they are a bit less visible to passersby and safer from puddles or passing cloudbursts.
So, that circuit, when we needed the regulator, was: post -> 30 amp extension cord -> voltage regulator -> surge protector -> RV power cord -> RV. Without the regulator, when the geometry of the post allows it we do this: post -> surge protector -> RV power cord -> RV.
We run into a variety of shore power configurations while on the road, so we keep a couple of adapters in our toy chest. One adapts a 15-20 amp outlet to a 30 amp cord, and the other adapts a 50 amp outlet to a 30 amp cord. This allows us to plug Rocinante into pretty much anything. When we use the 15-to-30 amp adapter we can't run our heat pump / air conditioner or electric hot water heater but we can run things like Rocinante's lights, fridge, fans, propane furnace and microwave.
Upgrading the converter
We replaced Rocinante's Converter / Charger to help take better care of her batteries. Airstream provided a Parallax 7355 converter / power center, which includes a single stage converter that does not sense the state of the batteries while charging them. This is inconvenient when we need a quick charge, and could be disastrous if we let it keep pushing energy into fully charged batteries. In the latter case, some have reported that their single-stage converter literally boiled the batteries dry, destroying them in the process. We want to leave our trailer plugged in with the power switch in the "Use" position so the batteries are always fully charged and ready for our next adventure, so this was a concern for us.
It looks like Parallax has since replaced the 7355 with the 8355, but the new model appears to have the same charging profile.
Our replacement converter / charger, the Progressive Dynamics 4655, is a smart three-stage charger. It detects the state of the batteries and applies optimal charging amperage and voltage. We get a fast charge when the batteries are low, a slower charge as they approach full, and then a float charge once they are full. It also means we can safely leave Rocinante plugged into shore power all the time while she's in storage, and each time we go out on an adventure her batteries are ready. It took a little time and effort to make the swap, but we were able to do the work ourselves. Here is our story of the replacement experience, which we posted to the Air Forums.
Do you need one?
We vigorously debated this question for some time. After all, we have 150 watts of solar power on the roof, shouldn't that be enough?
Turns out, not enough if we want to do any serious amount of boondocking. This is for two reasons specific to us (and maybe you). First, we have a pair of Group 27 batteries, which gives us roughly 100 available amp-hours of power. That's not a lot of power for off-grid camping more than a day or three, unless you're stingy. Second, 150 watts of solar is rather puny, even when considering our small battery bank. This is especially true in the Pacific Northwest where we do much of our camping - low sun angles in spring and fall, and lots of evergreens shading us in the summer.
We rarely need air-conditioning where we camp, but we still need more power than we can get from our current battery / solar setup. While we plan to upgrade both at some point, it will cost thousands of dollars to achieve our goal and as of now we're just not camping enough to justify the expense. Until we get around to that, a generator is a good solution that will also prove useful in the long term.
Choice of fuel
We really hated the idea of carrying around gasoline. Gasoline anywhere outside the truck's gas tank is a smelly and potentially dangerous thing to have around. We just did not want to deal with it. Your feelings on this subject may differ, but ours were firm on this point.
We also know that our trailer has a low pressure propane port on the front, primarily intended to run gas grills. After doing some research, it became clear that this port is also fine for fueling a generator. Some folks have even managed to run a pair of 2000 watt generators, in parallel, from the same port.
So, we decided to buy a propane-fired generator. We were fine with the idea of a tri-fuel generator (one that burns gasoline, propane and natural gas), but after looking at them we did not like the external attachments to the generator. Stuff that sticks out like those adapters do can get banged up in transit, and we did not want to deal with that.
About this time, we found GenConneX, which specializes in modding Honda generators to burn only propane. The entire solution fits nicely inside the original Honda case. That was perfect for us, because we don't ever intend to burn gasoline in our generator.
Preventing GFCI issues
When supplying power to your RV from a generator, you will have to deal with the question of GFCI outlets. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets protect you from serious problems that can result from, you guessed it, ground faults. You could drive a 3-foot copper stake into the earth and use that as the ground for your generator, which might make the GFCI happy - or might not. It is surprisingly hard to create a truly effective ground when you're out camping.
However, there's another way, referred to as "neutral bonding," which is actually the right thing to do when working with a generator and mobile equipment such as your RV. Here's one of many articles on the subject. It's relatively easy to make your own neutral bonding adapter, but we chose to buy one instead.
As we noted above, we were attracted to GenConneX and decided to purchase our generator package from them. Specifically we bought their "Package RV 2," which includes a Honda EU2000i Companion, propane hoses (low and high pressure), a neutral-bonding adapter, and a quart of synthetic oil. This is a little more expensive than Package 1 because it is based on the higher-priced Companion generator and includes the adapter. On the plus side, this package makes it super-easy to user our standard RV power cord. We are careful to draw no more than 20 amps because our 2000 watt generator can't handle a 30 amp load without a second unit in parallel, but it's perfect for us. So far, we're super-happy with GenConneX and the generator package they sold us.
Airstream provided an interior in-line water filter that sits, hidden, under the sink in the galley. It's a great idea, but that filter only handles water that comes out of the kitchen faucet. The rest of the trailer would get whatever comes out the spigot at our campsite. Most of the time that will be just fine, but we thought a bit of sand or other undesirable elements might get into in the water supply. With that in mind, we went with an external water filter.
One challenge is that while modern Airstreams come with a pressure regulator, that's also inside the RV. So, while that regulator protects the trailer, it doesn't protect between the trailer and the spigot.
So, here's what we chose: An external high-flow pressure regulator, a filter with a 5-micron barrier and activated charcoal, and a high quality drinking hose. The filter stops more than bad taste and grit, btw - it also stops bacteria, fungus, etc.
When we camp at a site with water or fill our fresh water tank, here's what we assemble:
* Teflon tape goes on threads of the filter to reduce drips and dribbles (We did this the first time we set up the filter. Honestly, the doggone filter connections still drip a bit, but not too badly.)
* High volume regulator goes on the spigot
* Short section of hose from the regulator to the filter - this came with the filter
* The filter goes into a metal stand and connects to the drinking hose. We recently bought a plastic filter stand, which is an excellent fit for the filter and looks very promising. Once we've used it on a camping trip, we'll let you know whether we like it under field conditions.
* The drinking hose connects to the trailer's water inlet or goes in the fresh water tank for a fill
For our kitchen, we bought a few items specifically for Rocinante. We were able to furnish the kitchen, in large part, from our parents' estate. So, we already had a set of Corelle dishes and cups, and silverware for four. We had a set of nice knives of random origin that happened to fit into a single wood block, a few pans of various sizes, and the usual collection of kitchen utensils and "Tupperware", especially a cork puller for those true glamping moments.
Here are a few things we did not already have and are working well for us.
It was immediately obvious the temperature knob on Rocinante's propane oven was, at best, an approximation of the actual temperature inside. To remedy this, we ordered a Two-Channel Thermocouple With Alarm, model # TO8060, from Thermoworks, along with two temperature probes. They refer to this as the "TW8060 Kit". It looks like they are obsoleting this model now, replacing it with the ThermaQ. One of probes is perfect for clipping inside the oven for temp measurements while baking, and the other is perfect for stabbing into a piece of meat and measuring it while you roast it, cook it on top of the stove, or grill it on the fire.
As a further remedy, after receiving a pair of small Bialetti pizza stones as a gift, we put them into the oven where they help maintain a more even temperature during baking. They are also fantastic for making pizza on the campfire or in the oven, and we've done both. Those stones are great!
We also needed a couple of 9x13 pans for Rocinante's propane oven. We chose pans that came with covers in case of a pot-luck dinner. One is perfect for cake or lasagne, while the other is great for brownies, scones, and cookies. The propane oven really has room for only one pan at a time, so we decided not to buy more than one of each. We've had good luck with both.
There was a need for drinking glasses, so we got some wine glasses and coffee mugs from Leslie Hand Painted Glass, in Portland, OR, (here are some examples of her work), and a set of 4 plain Tervis Tumblers, which are generally quite tough and insulated. We also got a set of 4 GoVino wine glasses. They are really great - shatterproof, and look just like crystal. We love them when we feel the need for a bit of glamping. Way better than drinking wine out of coffee cups or tumblers, and they hardly weigh anything at all.
We love the Kamenstein magnetic spice holders for Rocinante's kitchen. (Here's a handy set of six tins with free spice refills.) The hood over the propane cooktop is the only piece of ferrous metal in the entire trailer, and the size of that hood is exactly perfect for a line of these canisters along the top and side of the hood. So, we put our favorite spices inside, stick them on the hood, and they are always right there for us when we need them.
We also recently added a set of salt/pepper grinders, and we're very happy with them indeed. They are Oxo Good Grips Lewis Peppermills. They are equally good at grinding salt and pepper. We have two for salt (one for black Hawaiian lava salt, another for red Hawaiian sea salt) and another one for pepper. They would probably make great spice mills in general if you want to grind anything else that is roughly peppercorn-sized. They're small, easy to use and fill, and provide a nice consistent grind.
Lastly, we picked up another of our favorite can openers, the Oxo smooth-edge opener. We like it because there are no sharp edges after opening a can, and you can drop the lid right back on the can if you want - as long as you're not traveling with that opened / half-full can, it will keep its contents fresh in the fridge without further intervention. The only downside on this can opener is that it is a little bulky. There are smaller / lighter openers of course, but we haven't seen one with smooth edge opening capability, so we stayed with the bulkier one.
Rocinante came with bare vinyl (wood-look) floors. It makes the floors easy to sweep and mop, and we don't have to deal with wall-to-wall carpet that would become irretrievably filthy. After all, we're camping. We tried softening the interior a bit with a couple of carpet runners from Costco, but they wore quickly, the colors became muddy, and the rugs soon looked awful. So, out they went. However, we learned it would be nice to have a few tough-as-nails area rugs in the main living space and we looked for other options.
Recently, we deployed 3 Andersen WaterHog floor mats. They look good and have a rubber backing so they don't slip. They scrub shoes nicely and hold the dirt inside the mat area so we can get it out of the trailer, vs. spreading it all about. They are also pleasant on bare feet, and come in lots of colors and sizes.
In the entrance we use a 3' x 4' WaterHog Eco Premier Floor Mat, which fits nicely. The "chestnut brown" color also coordinates well with our cabinets. As an added bonus, this version is made from recycled water bottles and tires. In the galley area we use a 3' x 5' size. Then, just outside the shower we use a 2' x 3' mat to ensure we don't slip when hopping out with wet feet. We're pleased with the result!
Each time we camp with Rocinante, we check for level from side-to-side before we settle in. Some motor homes and trailers have automated jacks that level an RV with little more than the push of a button. Rocinante, on the other hand, has none of that. She's a tripod without automatic levelers. Also, Rocinante's stabilizers cannot be used to level the trailer. They are not jacks, and only reduce the rocking by bracing the trailer once it has been properly leveled. Attempting to use an Airstream trailer's stabilizers as jacks would lead only to disaster.
So, one of our first tasks in a campsite is to measure the level from side to side by dropping a simple bubble level on the floor inside the door. We used to measure level on the tongue of the trailer, but we've found that measuring level inside the trailer gives a better result.
If we're not level enough from side-to-side, we break out the Lynx blocks, position them under the wheels on the low side, and move her up on the blocks. If Rocinante is far enough out of level to need two or more layers of blocks, we remove the weight distribution bars from our Equal-i-zer weight-distributing anti-sway hitch beforehand. We do so because when the truck / trailer aren't mutually aligned, it applies torque to the hitch which makes it more difficult to remove the bars later. Not fun. Don't ask how we know this.
Once Rocinante is level side-to-side, we chock the wheels, un-hitch and use the tongue jack to level her from front to back. To speed the process, we usually put 2-4 Lynx blocks and a Lynx cap under the jack before putting it down so it doesn't have to travel as far to get the job done.
After Rocinante is level, we drop each of the stabilizers onto a Lynx cap, starting in the rear. (Our theory is that the rear should be stabilized first since jack in front is already pretty strong.) If leveling our trailer has left a stablizer particularly high off the ground, sometimes we'll use a Lynx block or two so it doesn't have to be cranked down as far.
As a shortcut to move the stabilizers up/down quickly and easily, we combine a battery-powered drill (set to a low tension so it won't over-stress the stabilizers) and a socket that fits.
There is another shortcut that others use, which we have not yet tried. We include it here for completeness in case you want to try something different:
* Some attach a large bubble level such as this one to the front of their trailer where it can be seen in the rear view mirror or tow vehicle camera. We're not willing to make any new holes in our trailer so we've not tried this yet, though a question answered on Amazon indicates that some have had good luck with various double-sided adhesives.
We've used an Equal-i-zer weight-distributing anti-sway hitch for our trailer since purchasing it on 12/1/2013. We're not exactly hard-core DIY folks, so we bought it from the same dealer who sold our trailer, and had them install it for us. We've been back once for a significant re-adjustment since then, and they've treated us well, though the charged us labor for the adjustment.
We're quite happy with our hitch, especially since we added what they refer to as Sway Bracket Jackets. These babies sit on the brackets where the spring arms slide back and forth as you turn and the trailer follows you. Without these brackets, the hitch tends to squeak and groan something awful. To keep the hitch sounding as good as it works, we use these bracket jackets and grease the swing arm pivot points in the hitch head with Equal-i-zer's high performance lubricant. We use the same lubricant on the hitch ball head.
If you are comfortable with a DIY approach to installing and adjusting your Equal-i-zer hitch, you can buy from someone like Amazon. Otherwise, if you're like us, you will probably want to do the same thing we did - buy your hitch from an authorized dealer and have them install / adjust it for you. If you decide to buy online, you should probably visit the Equal-i-zer hitch site first and use their calculator to figure out which model is best for you.
Separately, we have a handy departure checklist that you can also use, as it may help with the actual process of getting hitched up and leaving camp (or home) for another day's travels.
One last thing - there are plenty of other good weight distributing anti-sway (or sway preventing) hitches out there today. We can only speak here of the one we've been using. We're happy with it and won't be shopping for another any time soon. Happy hitching to you!
Camping in a Faraday Cage
As you may know, Rocinante's skin consists of a double layer of aluminum sheet metal, supported internally with aluminum ribs and insulated with something akin to fiberglass batting This construction, with a little care, provides the potential for significant longevity. The statistic everyone loves to quote is that almost 70% of all Airstreams ever made are still on the road today. Considering the company has been making trailers for over 85 years, that's an amazing survival rate.
That said, a major downside to the aluminum construction is that it severely weakens transmission of radio signals into or out of the trailer. As a result, it can be particularly frustrating when attempting to use cellular data, or even basic phone service, from inside the trailer.
There are several potential solutions, which we'll discuss below. However, some campgrounds are so remote that there's neither wi-fi nor cell signal and no hope of getting one. When signals cannot be found no matter what, we sometimes just go hiking or biking instead of worrying about keeping up.
The term "campground wi-fi" is an oxymoron. Getting connected can be a challenge by itself. Once we're connected, the bandwidth is poor. As a result, we have not invested in any solutions designed to help us achieve easier connections to campground wi-fi (e.g. we neither use nor recommend WiFi Ranger, or other wi-fi-oriented solutions.).
We use our cell phone data plans to get Internet access while camping. We use Verizon because it has the best overall coverage. Verizon is not the least expensive, and may not be the fastest 4G/LTE, but we often get a usable Verizon signal when nothing else works (e.g. AT&T or T-Mobile).
However, we do not have an "unlimited" data plan (they are extremely difficult to find and seem a bit sketchy, via 2nd or 3rd parties, when you do find one). If you decide to hunt one down, the folks at Technomadia seem to be the best resource, with their RV Mobile Internet Resource Center where you can try their ideas to help find such a plan. Rumor has it that, to avoid waking the dragon, even a Verizon UDP (Unlimited Data Plan) should not consume more than 200GB/month. Good hunting!
For our limited data plan (16GB/mo) we are careful with our consumption (e.g. we do not stream movies or update iPhone / iPad apps over the cellular network). We focus on working remotely, making updates to our blog and doing trip planning. We save more data-intensive activities for coffee shops.
Cellular Boosting 101
To enhance our ability to pull in a usable cell phone signal, we started with a Wilson Sleek 4G kit and their home/office accessory kit, which adds a small antenna mount and a stand. (Note: the Sleek has recently been updated and is now called the weBoost Drive 4G-S Cell Phone Signal Booster.) Together, these items reliably add at least one bar to our signal, and have turned many unusable locations into serviceable hot spots. There's no magic, though - we have to have some kind of signal before the Sleek can boost it for us.
Our overall satisfaction with this approach has been mixed. In some locales, we suction-cup the little antenna mount to our window, turn on the booster, and get to work. However, in others, we spend inordinate amounts of time messing about with the antenna, putting it here or there, inside or outside the trailer, hoping to turn a detectable but useless signal into something we can work with. It can be frustrating at times.
Advanced Cell Boosting
After getting frustrated with our cradle booster and tiny antenna, we decided at the end of the summer to "go big." Our new, more advanced solution involves two omnidirectional antennae and one one directional antenna on the roof a more robust cellular booster, an interior panel antenna, an LTE/WiFi router, super-low-loss antenna cable, and a few holes in the roof, as well as mounting the booster and router in the media cabinet.
Design goals for this project included: (1) Acceptable Internet connectivity under far more circumstances than were possible via the cradle booster we already had, (2) Excellent transmission between antennas, booster and LTE receiver (3) Strong preference for fewer and better quality electronic devices (4) Usable wi-fi hotspot signal inside and outside the trailer while camped (5) Secure router so nobody else can hitch a ride on our expensive LTE data bandwidth.
If, after reading this, you are at all unsure of what to buy and how to put it together to achieve your own connectivity goals, we suggest you work with and order your gear from the 3G Store. We are not affiliated with 3G Store in any way, but they are extremely knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and we bought some of our connectivity gear from them. We like them!
We looked at what other people have tried and achieved with their Airstream trailers when faced with this issue. All the folks with whom we connected were incredibly helpful. Most of them also live and work full time as digital nomads in their Airstreams. As a result, their connectivity requirements exceeded even our own. So, what did they do? Here are a few links:
Adventures of Dave and Ann (YouTube)
After reviewing this information we decided to build a similar solution, with a few differences. First, we chose a single LTE / WiFi router device from Cradlepoint instead of combining a JetPack-type hotspot device with a PepWave router. Either approach is fine, but despite the extra expense we liked the idea of combining two devices into one via Cradlepoint. The folks at Cradlepoint are incredibly helpful, and their router is both rugged and speedy. The model we selected can also handle two SIM cards, switching between them as needed, and is ready for LP6 (e.g. LTE Plus, or whatever they call it).
Second, many folks route their antenna cables down the fridge vent because that allows them to avoid drilling holes in the trailer skin. This is straightforward if you mount the booster and router on the wall next to the fridge. However, we wanted them neatly stowed in the media cabinet above our dinette. Thus, drilling holes in the roof, one per cable and above each interior light fixture, was the best way to achieve that.
Note: Rocinante is a 27 FB (Front Bedroom) unit. The media cabinet and the dinette are in the aft of the trailer, as is the batwing TV antenna. This drove decisions such as antenna placement, cable length, and where we drilled holes in the roof. If your floor plan differs or your trailer is a different length, make appropriate adjustments.
Initial Parts List
Based on the research above and changes we wanted to make, we developed an initial parts list and likely sources for each. Here is a go at that list. If we forgot something or the list is confusing, please give us a shout and let us know how we can make it better.
(Replaced by the faster / smaller Cradlepoint COR IBR900LP6-NA)
1x: weBoost 700-2700 MHz Wide Band Directional Antenna with N Female Connector - used only when the omnidirectional antenna(s) cannot pull in a signal.
4x AM Solar L Foot - 5 Hole brackets (2 brackets per SureCall antenna)
1x 3 feet of hollow 3/4" aluminum pole (for directional antenna)
4x #20 stainless steel clamp (1 3/16 in - 1 3/4 in)
Caveat emptor: Rocinante has a crank-up batwing TV antenna. Newer Airstreams often do not. If your Airstream does not have a crank-up antenna, you will have to find another way to mount a directional antenna.
Air802 CA400FLEX White Antenna Cable, as follows:
* N Plug-Male to RP-SMA Plug-Male, 15 Feet (4.57 m) - aft SureCall antenna (Wi-Fi)
* N Plug-Male to SMA Plug-Male, 20 Feet (6.09 m) - weBoost directional antenna (LTE)
* N Plug-Male to SMA Plug-Male, 30 Feet (9.14 m) - fore SureCall antenna (LTE)
* N Plug-Male to SMA Plug-Male, 6 Feet (1.83 m) - internal Wilson panel antenna (LTE)
* N Plug-Male to SMA Plug-Male, 6 Feet (1.83 m) - internal Wilson panel antenna (LTE)
* SMA Plug-Female to RP-SMA Plug-Male, 2 Feet (0.61 m) - Optional adapter that lets you connect the WiFi Omni cable into the 2nd Cradlepoint LTE antenna socket if you want to try that.
Tools of the trade
* Ladder: To get safely on and off the roof, you will need a sturdy, steady, ladder at least 10 feet tall. We chose and bought a Little Giant Revolution Model 26, which extends up to 11 feet. It is a wonderful ladder. If used properly, it is a perfect tool for the job - incredibly strong, stable and light for its size. Getting on and off the roof is the most dangerous thing you'll do. Do that slowly and carefully, and use a ladder at least as good as this one.
* Battery-powered Electric Drill: You'll be drilling lots and lots of holes. Make sure you have a good drill with a healthy battery pack.
* Hole Saws: You will develop an intimate knowledge of and fondness for these. Holes you need to make will be too large for a standard drill bit. Holes in cabinetry, holes in the roof, and so on. Carefully measure everything and buy the right sizes for the job.
* Electrical fish tape: We bought a 50' fish tape to help route cables between the interior and exterior shell, but could easily have done with a shorter one. Also have some strong string (we used nylon twine) which you will need as a leader when fishing cables.
* 12-Volt adapters like this one to power your booster and router.
* Sikaflex 221 (white): You'll need one tube of this to seal around antenna feet, cable glands, and cable anchors.
* Self-adhesive cable tie mounts: We bought this type - pick one you like.
* 3M VHB Tape, type 5952 (sticks the allegedly self-adhesive mounts to the roof - permanently)
* 3M Primer 94 pen: apply this to the roof before sticking VHB tape to it.
* Mineral sprits: clean the roof with this before priming and then sticking VHB tape to it.
* Waterproof cable glands: We needed size PG16 for LMR400 Flex cable. If you choose different cable (say, LMR 240) you may need smaller glands. Also, Airstream skin is thicker than a scrap of sheet metal you can pick up at Home Depot or Lowes, so keep that in mind when you test fit the glands to determine what size hole saw to use. We didn't get quite as good a fit as we had hoped, but made up for it with extra Sikaflex 221 which seems to have done the job.
* 10 gauge wire (black & red), wire nuts, & a wire cutter / stripper / crimper tool - you'll want this to connect the additional 12V sockets you'll need to power your router, booster, etc.
* Fuses to match those in your trailer. If at some point you accidentally (and temporarily) create a dead short somewhere, you'll need new fuses once you fix the problem.
We love and hate camp chairs. It's wonderful to have something light, comfortable and easy to deploy for those evenings around the campfire, or while enjoying the view, or reading a good book. So many of them are feeble, uncomfortable, and just a general pain in the butt.
We've fallen in love with our Kermit chairs. They're genuine wood-frame folding chairs, but don't rush to judgement. They are sturdy, light, reliable, attractive, easy to assemble, and most of all - comfortable. They are also a bit spendy, but we rationalized that by deciding that one of these chairs would outlive several generations of frustrating crappy chairs, and in the end we wouldn't really spend more money.
After an extended season of camping with these, we wouldn't choose anything else. We also love that we could get them custom-embroidered. Fun!
Here's one of our favorite tricks to help keep the chill away as the fall and winter camping season settles in, or early in spring before it warms up. We have a couple of faux fur throws in the trailer that we wear over our shoulders on cool evenings. They look so fabulous that we call them "Liberace Robes". For that reason, we use them inside the trailer while lounging about, reading a book, or watching a movie. As the evening wears on and it's time for bed, each one is perfect to cover half the bed, keeping us extra warm on those crisp, cool camping nights. There's nothing better than snuggling up under a couple of these babies! They come in various sizes, colors and styles. Ours have the "minky" backing and look like sheepskin - though they are totally fake / fun furs. You can also get them as rugs, but we didn't think faux-fur rugs would survive long in our camper.
After camping out in the weather a bit, we decided to make a small change to Rocinante's ventilation. She came with two Fantastic Fans, one in the bedroom (front) and another in the living area (back). These are really great fans. They move a lot of air, they are very quiet, and most of the time they close whenever it rains. However, it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest at certain times of the year. This means the fan vents are often closed due to rainfall when we'd really like to be circulating a bit more fresh air, and sometimes a bit of rain enters Rocinante before the vents can snap shut.
With this in mind, we decided to add vent covers to Rocinante. There are at least a couple of manufacturers of these covers, but since we have the "Fantastic Fan" brand fans, we decided to go with the Fan-Tastic Ultra Breeze Vent Cover. Now that we have these vent covers in place, we can leave our vents open in nearly any weather, and no rain or snow enters the trailer. This is great, since moisture management is a key issue in any RV - if the air inside is too humid, you get lots of condensation on windows and sometimes even walls, and it becomes a breeding ground for mildew. With these vent covers, we've eliminated much of that problem. These days, we only close the main fans if we're towing through a howling rainstorm or if freakish winds from the storm happen to blow directly into the vent covers while we're camping.
To keep things tidy under the vent cover, we also elected to install the optional bug screens. This way, there's no opportunity for bugs and spiders to set up housekeeping under the vents.
We chose the "smoke" color for our vent covers and screens. It reduces the amount of light coming in the fan vents, which lets us sleep in a bit if we want to, but still lets in some light. Seems a "Goldilocks" just right choice, between the white (lots of light) and black (no light) covers.
The two Fantastic Fans that came with Rocinante are nice. They open and close at the flick of a switch, have three speeds, a thermostat, and close automatically if it rains hard enough that some moisture comes in despite the vent covers we've installed.
However, these fans only move air in one direction. They pull air from the trailer and blow it out through the vent. Interestingly, the motors are fully reversible. It was clear that if we had the right electronics, we could add this feature to the fan. Reversibility would enable us to flip the fans as needed to pull in air from the outside and blow it into the trailer. Imagine the possibilities - one fan could bring in fresh air while the other sucks old air out of the trailer. Both fans could pull in fresh air while the vent fan over the stove sucked air out while cooking. Lots of opportunities to move air through the trailer more quickly..if we could just reverse the fans.
We called the Fantastic Fan folks and provided them with the model number of the fans Airstream had installed, a 2013 version of their 3000 series fan. They recommended we upgrade to the next model up in this series, which adds that feature. All we needed was an upgrade kit. In our case, we needed the 803359 upgrade kit, which we found at the best price on eBay vs. Amazon.
The installation process took some time, since this isn't something we normally do. The instructions came with plenty of pictures and were generally clear, but we took our time to be sure we didn't make any unrecoverable errors.
Per the instructions, we had to re-wire the fan to install the upgrade kit. For example we ran the red fan wire to the new 3-way switch, cut the black and white wires that fed the old faceplate and hooked them up to the new one that came with the kit
The main tricks to success were:
1) It helps to be near a good hardware store in case you need any additional tools or parts.
2) Safety First! At our converter we should have removed the DC fuse that powers the fans. We pulled the fuses from the fans themselves before de-wiring and re-wiring, as the instructions recommended, but we realized after the fact that the wires powering those fans were actually hot the whole time. We could have blown a fuse if we had accidentally shorted something while working on it...and the zap probably wouldn't have felt very nice. It was a n00b mistake, glad we got away with it. Don't make this error.
3) We had to remove and then re-install the fan blade to get the job done. Not difficult, just a little tricky.
4) We needed a short, stubby #2 Philips screwdriver to remove the existing moisture sensor while working inside the trailer to save going up on the roof - and then put the new one back up there. Pretty easy to do once we had the fan blade out, because we reached up through the opening to deal with the screw holding the sensor.
5) We had some difficulty with the wire connectors they included in the second kit and had to buy a few more to finish the job. This is probably because we didn't really have the right crimping tool - we used vise-grips to squeeze down on the section we needed to crimp. That worked well on the first fan, but on the second one, everything fell apart. Maybe the hands were tired, we're not sure. After picking up extra connectors, we were able to quickly finish up.
6) For the fan above the galley / living area it helps to have something to stand on, as the arms get pretty tired from working overhead. We used a couple of bags of Lynx blocks side-by-side, figuring that if they'll hold up a trailer they'll certainly hold one of us. Profit!