jgt's blog

Posted Tue 20 October 2020

Hiker Trailer FAQ

Some answers to questions. This is going to be lengthy and rambly. Sorry.

Want to see me babble about our trailer? I did, at the 2nd annual Hiker Trailer owner meetup. It's on Youtube, here.

Q. Why?
A. I’ve been camping since I was in the womb – I mean that literally, my mom and dad were camping a few days before I was born. I’ve slept outside for probably thousands of hours and in every weather – all 4 seasons, desert to forest to mountain to beach. I’ve done it all, more or less. Any camping experience I haven’t had is probably complicated and/or expensive: Mt. Everest, backpacking through Iran, etc.

To be blunt, I’ve earned what you might call “comfort”. I want to be able to spend a week or two in the woods, but, I don’t want to have to deal with all the fun stuff you get spending a week in a tent: leaks, rips, heavy storms, animals, weirdos, cold snaps, hot spells, you name it.

In other words: I want to stay close to the basic “shape” of tent camping but without all the downsides. My lady, an able outdoorswoman herself, likewise had done enough tent camping, and was looking for a slight boost in creature comfort, especially for longer trips. And we did not want things like satellite TV and a bread maker. A travel-trailer-style camper just isn’t us.

Thus, we wanted the basics of tent camping but with the benefit of a travel-trailer. What we got is perfect.

I like to say, "we think of it as a tent that never leaks".

Q. What did you buy?
A. A 5×9 Mid-Range by Hiker Trailer. We customized it some: we have the fancy fan, a tool box, the Lock-n-Roll trailer hitch, and some minor interior customizations.

Q. Cost? How long did it take to build?
A. It was about $12k and took something like 10 months. Hiker East (aka Hiker Indiana) has slower production than Hiker West (Denver) but they're working to improve it.

Q. How big is it inside?
A. floor-space, a queen-size bed. Enough headroom to kneel, so you can get dressed pretty easily. But you can’t stand up. Kneeling (including the mattress), my head nearly touches the ceiling; I’m 6′ tall.

Q. 5×8 or 5×9? Does it matter?
A. We have so much room for storage just by adding the extra foot. I’m sort of concerned we’re going to go from our “tight 2 bins” to the whole “be a goldfish and expand to fill the available space”.

If I had to do it all over again, I might do 5x8.

Q. What's it weigh?
A. Curb weight is, like, 1200 pounds or something fully loaded. Tongue weight is 10% of that, so 120 pounds. I can deadlift the tongue and move it around with effort.

We bought a dolly to make moving it around easier, but it doesn't travel with us; we just muscle it around "in the field".

Q. Don't you live in a townhouse without a garage?
A. Yeah. We store it at a self-store. It's like $1200/year for a 10x15 (or something) unpowered garage.

Q. One door? Two?
A. I like two doors. We have debated back and forth if we'd do 2 again, and I think the current answer is yes; but most of the time it's not important. It's a convenience.

If you're not sure, get the second door. You can't (easily) add it later.

Q. Front window? Door windows?
A. We didn't get the front window, because it seems like a rock magnet; and at least at one point, the supplier Hiker used had a bad production run. In my humble opinion, avoid.

My lady doesn't think we need the door windows. We probably wouldn't do them again, if we had to do it all over. But I do like them.

Q. What about the pass-through?
A. We love it.

We call it "the snack bar" when accessed from the inside; one trip we knew it was going to rain so hard there was no point in even trying to cook, so we kept some cold pasta salad there for dinner. From aft, the middle shelf of the galley is the kitchen.

Some people leave the galley hatch open all the time, and cover the pass-through with bug screen.

Q. How do you do organize your galley?
A. Upper shelf is exterior gear: our big-ass tarp and poles, a smaller tarp and poles to cover the galley in rain, our table, a couple rugs, and miscellaneous kit. Middle shelf is the "kitchen": utensils and food prep space. The bottom is gear storage.

A lot of stuff lives in the truck: cooler(s), extra trip-specific gear, firewood, and the like. We also do not store food in the trailer under any circumstance; everything goes into the truck when the sun goes down.

Q. What interior mods?
A. The upper galley shelf is split between galley and crew cabin, and the bottom galley is not a pass-through.

Q. Why the mid-range and not the Off-Road?
A. That's a good question. Basically, the Off-Road is kind of a beast. While we certainly do go "off grid", we mostly tend to stick to stuff that's accessible without requiring 4WD (as in, "this is not accessible without 4WD and a ground clearance above X"). So it was overkill. We've taken it down some rough road, carefully and in 4WD but to date, we have not encountered any location where I felt we needed the Off-Road.

In the eastern woodlands, most "off-road" areas are inaccessible, and you're limited to fire roads and so on. It is my understanding that the Off-Road is more usable out west, with the greater abundance of public land you can just kinda drive over.

Q. How’s it sleep?
A. We got one of those internet mattresses, the kind you hear advertised on every podcast, a tri-fold number. We had to use an electric knife to trim it by about an inch and put down some weird underlayer to help ensure it doesn’t get moist. Honestly it’s about 98% comfy as our home mattress (also off the internet – no, not that one, the other one you hear on every podcast).

Q. How’s it tow?
A. I guess it depends on what you drive. I have a 2017 Tacoma w/ a v6 and the full-on towing package, purchased specifically to tow a trailer this size.

I don’t want to say “You don’t notice it”, because you do, but it hardly affects performance in a serious way. Going up a mountain uses a little more of the engine, and braking takes a little extra effort, but not so much that you’ll have a serious learning curve. Gas mileage takes a hit. Range is a little over 300 miles (325-ish) vs 375 normally.

Where there is a pretty big learning curve: backing it up. I have managed to advance my backing-up skills from criminally incompetent to comically inept. I have been told by numerous Hiker Trailer owners and owners of giant 5th wheel 40+ foot trailers, quite simply, "the bigger, the better". Learning to back up a small trailer like a Hiker takes time. Find a local high school parking lot and practice on a weekend; I did.

Q. You said light, and fan? It has power?
A. Yes. It is powered by one of those heavy-duty marine batteries (as in boat, not oorah). It has 2 internal lights: one in the galley, and 1 in the cabin. There are no external lights (by default). The fan is an adjustable-speed exhaust-type fan mounted in the center of the cabin; it has a button you can press to have it keep the cabin at 70-something degrees. We got the fancy one; there's a simpler version available.

We mostly use battery-powered lamps. The main light is blazingly brilliant (a very nice LED) and for whatever reason, my wife decided she doesn’t like to use it unless necessary; and the galley light is rarely needed, as we almost always have everything stowed by dark, anyway.

We opted for a portable solar charger; it has a panel the size of a smallish office whiteboard that you can move around to track the sun. It can charge the battery in a few hours on a bright day. The downside is, here in the eastern woodlands, you’re almost always 100% covered by decent tree canopy. But it’s a very nice to have, in case you need it, since it occupies very little space/weight.

We did not get the built-in solar. That seems like a rock magnet and a lot of trouble when things go wrong. Things always go wrong.

There is also a plug for “shore power” if you’re in a developed campground. We used it once, and it was glorious, but we don't go many places where it's available; we want to spend our time in the outdoors, not watching movies on the iPad.

There is no heater. Technically these are not rated for 4 seasons; lots of people use them in winter but they have no special insulation and winter environments bring extra challenges. We've camped in freezing conditions and it's tolerable with plenty of blankets and flannel sheets.

(In cold conditions, be sure to leave the windows open some, and run the fan on the lowest setting, to avoid condensation. It will get wet in there if you don't! We haven't had any warm weather condensation problems.)

Q. Does it have, like a stove and water and stuff?
A. Ours does not. Like I said above, we want “durable tent camping”. ALL of our cooking is on the fire. I use a Whisperlite stove for boiling water. There is no water storage; not having to winterize was a key consideration.

Our “galley” is incredibly sparse compared to some.

Q. What's that toolbox on the front?
A. A toolbox! It holds the battery and part of the power system. I added a "kill switch" to make it easier to disconnect the battery for storage. (We take the battery home in the off-season and hook it up to a trickle-charge/conditioner thing).

Anyway, the toolbox holds maintenance and support gear: the leveling jacks, wheel chocks, tools, tent stakes and cordage, spare dog leash and the 50# kettlebell we anchor him to, and the fire extinguisher.

YES, A FIRE EXTINGUISHER. BUY ONE. REPLACE IT REGULARLY AS RECOMMENDED. YOU SHOULD HAVE ONE IN YOUR KITCHEN TOO, YOU KNOW.

Another cool thing to have is some pieces of 2x4, about a foot long or so, to put under your jack feet to improve support on sqishy terrain. Also, there's times when to level it you need to jack it up such that a wheel comes off the ground. I like to jam one or two up under the wheel and chock it, to improve ground contact.

Q. What's the deal with awnings?
A. OK so there's 2 basic types. Ours, a simple square one, and a "bat-wing" or "270" (as in, degrees). A very popular type is 23Zero.

We didn't want the 270 because the simpler the better (as if you couldn't guess). Since we have the giant tarp, we decided that gives us plenty of flexibility. We wanted to spend at least a season before committing to a whole thing. We're happy with it. Setup is fast and it's plenty of protection from sun and moderate rain.

We aren't interested in turning an awning into a tent-on-the-side, with walls or whatever. But they exist. Since it's just us, we don't need extra space for kids or whatever.

We are planning to add a shower enclosure with a solar shower because washing up in a cold creek gets old sometimes.

We did decide that 270 has some good ideas, though. Mainly, we realized that in rain, having covered galley access is nice. So we got a good tarp, a couple poles, and some bits, and now we have a quick-pitch cover for the galley. It connects directly to the roof rack.

Q. How hot does it get in summer?
A. With the windows open we've slept comfortably. We have never needed the fan (which has a "maintain 78 degrees" mode, varying speed). It can get kinda hot in there during the day on a hot summer day. But you should be outside!

Q. What about cold?
A. Coldest we've been to date is: at or slightly below freezing outside. It was 32 outside and 36 inside. As noted above we ran the fan on the lowest setting to keep the condensation out, and were piled under blankets. Neither of us was cold. (Having the dog under the covers with us helped.)

Q. Locks/Security?
A. Hatches have a simple lock and a deadbolt; the toolbox has a basic lock.

They are not seriously durable. Do not store important things in it if you plan to be away.

Q. What's next?
A. As noted above, the shower enclosure. I'd like to maybe have another side fender table. We're working out better lighting; the fairy lights are fun but they're also sort of a pain in the ass. We're still fiddling with interior lighting; currently we're using stick-on puck lights but we're not 100% on them. I'd like to have a little audio system; when the closest person is miles away, sometimes it's fun to jam out some Allman Brothers. Our gear storage remains haphazard; a couple bins.


The album (click on a pic to see the larger one on Flickr):

Hiker Trailer Reference Album

Category: camping
Tags: camping hikertrailer trailer