I just had a good friend (who is considering her own RV adventure) ask me how we decided on our rig. I think it's a question worth answering in this blog.
We recognize that our choice will not be the right choice for everyone, but we did consider all of the options seriously before choosing our rig. And, actually, there is one option we didn't fully consider, which if we had may have modified our decision. But I'll get to that in a minute.
In exploring what we were looking for, we considered the criteria that were most important to us: we wanted to explore off the beaten path (aka boon docking in natural settings, particularly near water), wanted to be self-contained and self-sufficient, didn't need to be (nor necessarily want to be) "on grid". We needed enough room for our "toys": kayaks, paddle boards, bikes, fishing equipment, etc., while having nice accommodations for us (2 women, a young puppy, and young cat).
First, we considered a "Class C" rig. These are the ones that look sort of like a UHaul vehicle. They have the over cab portion in the front over the driver's area. We liked that there were floor plans that we liked (one that we considered had a Murphy bed), they had adequate space, and came in sizes we thought we were interested in (27-33'). (You must consider the size of the vehicle based on what is typically allowed in the places you want to go. Many state and federal parks have 33' limits.) We finally decided, however, that they didn't have quite enough space for us to live in for an extended period of time. (We also later further ruled them out because we didn't think they could go off-roading very easily.)
Then we considered a "Class A" rig. These are the ones that look like a bus. They were significantly more spacious. I liked that the front seats (driver's seat and passenger seat) spun around and faced the interior for extra "hanging out" area. Many people say they are easier to drive because you can see straight down in front of you. We started wondering, though, what we would do if we wanted to drive through towns or cities. Where would we park? How easy would it be to maneuver? What if we wanted to go where the Class A couldn't go, either because of under clearance or sheer size. Would we need to tow a vehicle? We did consider getting a small vehicle and towing it. However, we then moved on to look at "Class Bs."
"Class Bs" are smaller vehicles like the Mercedes Sprint, Vanagon, Leisure Travel Vans, and the like. I liked the idea that they were easier to maneuver and drive through cities, while allowing for flexibility off-road. We ruled them out though for two reasons: 1. The size was just too small for us to survive living together in (tee hee... one of us would have died!) and 2. They didn't have enough underbelly clearance to off-road. So... onto the Truck Campers.
Truck Campers appealed because we could separate our living quarters from the truck, and we could go in 4 wheel access only areas if we got a 4 x 4 truck. Lots of appeal there. This one lost out for only one reason: extremely limited storage for "toys." We considered putting our toys on top and on the back, but it would have been dangerous and/or cumbersome. So at this point we were pretty frustrated!
It was then that we learned that toy haulers are "not just for toys"! We both envisioned them as being big garages with no amenities. Turns out they have lovely quarters for living in, very flexible floor plans, plenty of room for guests, and a private bedroom. Style-wise we also liked the Eclipse Attitude and the Winnebago Spyder because they were both "modern" in design. I liked the Spyder we saw because it had a patio. J liked the Attitude because it had sliding windows (as opposed to the pop open from the bottom style). The windows weren't something we could change on the Spyder, so I set out to see if we could get a patio on the Attitude.
When I called the manufacturer of the patios, they informed me of the challenges of just adding on a patio kit, and suggested I get a custom made toy hauler with the patio option. I thought this would be prohibitively expensive. HOWEVER, when I googled and researched, I found a place in Utah that allowed for custom orders of the Attitude and the price worked out to be $10k less than the one on our local lot that didn't have the features we wanted! So, this was a no brainer. We went with the Eclipse Attitude 27SA(G). It is a bumper-pull. We elected to get a 2015 Ram 2500 4x4 diesel to pull it because, in our research, we ascertained that they were the strongest vehicle for what we wanted to pull.
We picked the bumper-pull style because we wanted to keep all of our regular tent camping gear permanently in the bed of the truck so that we could go off on adventures sans trailer. A fifth wheel takes up space in the truck bed and doesn't allow for you to use it significantly for storage.
HOWEVER, we have since learned that a fifth wheel is supposed to be significantly easier to drive/pull! Gosh, kinda wish we'd known that so we could have at least considered it a little more! Learning to drive the bumper-pull has been interesting, to say the least. I'm not sure if we ultimately would have changed our mind, but I do wish we had had that knowledge to at least consider it.
Regardless of which body-type you consider, we discovered a very valuable unbiased review organization that is membership based (not cheap but worth it). It has unbiased reviews of ALL of the RV types by year, make and model. You can search on the lists in a variety of ways. They rate them according to safety, value, and some other variables. It was invaluable to us in our research. The website for that RV Consumer Group service is: www.rv.org.
One more thing, we outfitted our rig with a composting toilet, big fat solar system with inverter, and some other well-researched (but still working out the kinks) features. We'll write more about those as we use them. The toilet, though, I can already say, is awesome. Not gross at all. Not even when you dump it out.
Hope this helps someone else in their research! Feel free to share your own experiences and analysis!