Test Your RV Safety IQ

Summer is here, RV season is in full swing, and the campgrounds are full. Depending on where you point your rig, it can seem like half the country has busted out for some R&R.

But for the thousands of RV trips that end well, there are always a few of them that don’t. Each year, some RVers fall victim to accidents and injuries, many of which could be prevented. In the interest of keeping you from becoming a statistic, I’ve prepared a short RV safety quiz. You’ll find the answers at the end.

1. In an RV, “Hot Skin” refers to:
a. Heat induced and potentially dangerous delamination of RV exterior walls.
b. When the outside of an RV becomes electrically charged.
c. A scalding hazard presented by a malfunctioning water heater.
d. Excess heat build-up on the controls (steering wheel, knobs, etc) of an RV.

2. If you experience a blowout in one of your motorhome’s front tires, you should:
a. Brake firmly and quickly to bring the rig to a stop as rapidly as possible.
b. Take your foot off the gas and coast into a stop slowly.
c. Step on the gas to maintain control and stop when safe.
d. Have your co-pilot move to the other side of the coach to keep the flat tire off the ground.

3. Before hooking up a grill to your RV’s propane connection, it’s most important to:
a. Apply Teflon tape to the quick connect.
b. Assemble a combination of elbows, plugs, adapters and fittings that will work.
c. Verify if the pressure of the connection and the pressure of the grill are compatible.
d. Marinate what you plan to grill. (Because hey, nobody likes dry food.)

4. You should never load your vehicle over its GVWR. The GVWR includes (but is not limited to):
a. The weight of any liquids in holding tanks.
b. The weight of a towed vehicle.
c. Passengers and Cargo.
d. All of the above.
e. A and C

5. A carbon monoxide (CO) detector should be installed in your RV:
a. High – because carbon monoxide is lighter than air.
b. Low – because carbon monoxide is heavier than air.
c. Co-located with the propane detector.
d. Not at all, as carbon monoxide risk is extremely low in an RV.

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Answers:
1. In an RV, “Hot Skin” refers to:
b. When the outside of an RV becomes electrically charged.


I actually experienced this condition myself once. In an older RV, I was hooking up the cable connection to the RV parks cable input. When I touched the park pedestal, I got a definite “ZING.” This was an older class B motorhome with a metal body, and I eventually traced the problem to a short in the shore power input. But you don’t have to have a full metal-bodied RV to experience Hot Skin. Metal steps, screen doors, and other parts of your RV can become energized and potentially dangerous.

Basically, if the electrical potential of your rig is greater than ground, you’ve got a problem. Often times, this is caused by a mis-wiring job, which crosses the neutral and hot wires. The best way to test for Hot Skin is with a multimeter, if you travel with one. You can read more about Hot Skin here.

2. If you experience a blowout in one of your motorhome’s front tires, you should:
c. Step on the gas to maintain control and stop when safe.


This one is tough to grasp because your intuition and instinct would be to stop the vehicle as quickly as possible. But it turns out, stabbing at the brake pedal is just about the worst thing you can do. I won’t bore you with the physics. But in the end, it comes down to counteracting the forces that are trying to pull your motorhome to the side. The best way to do that is by exerting an even greater force that’s under your control.

The idea here is not that you start accelerating wildly, but that you accelerate long enough to regain control of the vehicle, after which you can make a slow and controlled stop on your own terms. You can see an excellent, if somewhat dated, video on the topic here.

Fortunately, physics doesn’t change much, and the information is just as valid as ever.

Also interesting is that the procedures for both FRONT and BACK wheel blowouts are exactly the same!

3. Before hooking up a grill to your RV’s propane connection, it’s most important to:
c. Verify if the pressure of the connection and the pressure of the grill are compatible.


If your RV has an exterior propane connection for hooking up a grill, that can be an awesome never-have-to-carry-those-little-green-bottles-of-propane-again accessory. But it can also be a source of potential problems if you don’t get the connections just right.

Besides the mechanical part of the connection (which is important and should be leak-free) there’s the matter of propane pressures. You see, the propane in your RV’s tank is likely held at pressures of 250 psi or greater. Your rig will have a propane regulator to bring the pressure of the vapor down from this high number to the 11 inches of water (about 0.4 psi) required by your appliances. That’s a good thing, and you want that regulator working for you. I can’t say for certain because I don’t know your rig, but I’d bet that most rigs with an external propane connector have that connector on the low pressure side of the regulator.

The trouble is, most portable propane grills ALSO come with a regulator, and you don’t want the output of one regulator feeding the input of another. If you “double regulate” your propane, you could wind up with an insufficient gas supply to your grill, incomplete combustion, or a grill that goes out when you close the cover and fills the grill with propane.

None of those are things you want. So, before you buy a grill, verify what pressure your propane connection is running, and get a grill that will accept that input.

4. You should never load your vehicle over its GVWR. The GVWR includes (but is not limited to):
e. A and C (The weight of any liquids in holding tanks, as well as passengers and cargo).


Overloading a motorhome is not something you want to mess with. To make sure you don’t do that, the manufacturer will put a plate on your vehicle (usually inside the driver’s door) that lists the weight capacities of the vehicle. This one is important, so to make sure I get it right, I’m going to quote the definition from the RV Safety Education Foundation:

“GVWR: The maximum allowable weight of a fully loaded vehicle, including liquids, passengers, cargo, and the tongue weight of any towed vehicle.”

This means that ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING you put in your vehicle – combined with the weight of the vehicle itself, can’t exceed that number. And I do mean everything: The fresh water you’re carrying; the black tank you forgot to dump; the food in your fridge; your pet; the fuel in your tank; and the burrito you just picked up at the gas station. It all counts.

The best and most accurate method to determine how close you are to your GVWR is to weigh your vehicle after you’ve got everything loaded up for a trip. That’s the only method I trust. You’ll typically do this at a truck stop. And while that’s not always terribly convenient, and it adds a few minutes to your trip, staying under that GVWR number could really save your bacon in an emergency.

The other interesting point here is that if you tow, the tongue weight of your towed vehicle counts as cargo!

5. A carbon monoxide (CO) detector should be installed in your RV:
a. High – because carbon monoxide is lighter than air.


Fact: Carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air. This is the opposite of propane, which is heavier than air. So, while we’ve all seen the propane leak detectors lurking near the floors of our rigs, you shouldn’t be looking in that same space for a carbon monoxide detector.

Also unlike propane, carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. You won’t detect it on your own, so you need a detector. Our last RV didn’t have a carbon monoxide detector, so I installed one, and mounted it on the ceiling. Our current Travato came with one.

You need a CO detector in your rig if you have any combustion appliances. Stovetops, heaters, water heaters, absorption refrigerators … basically anything with a flame that can generate carbon monoxide.

And if you’re going to use alternative heaters, such as a catalytic heater, inside your rig then you really need to make sure your CO detector is working properly. Personally, I don’t recommend using fuel-burning (and CO-producing) appliances in an enclosed space while you’re sleeping, but some folks insist they’re safe. If you’re going to use one, then please make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector as a safety measure.


And there you have it. How did you do? If you got a perfect score, why not add a safety question (and answer) of your own down in the comments?

And if you didn’t get a perfect score, don’t worry. The intent here wasn’t to scare anyone, but just to inform. If you missed a question, or were just curious to know more, now you have some late-night Googling to do! RVing, like most anything else in life, comes with a few risks to balance out the rewards. But with a little knowledge, you can mitigate those risks. And when you’ve done that, all that’s left are the rewards. Happy (and safe) RVing, all!

James and I just rolled out of the 2017 Grand National Rally, and as it always goes right as we leave, I’ve got “rally brain.” You’ve caught me still feeling a bit soft and mushy, missing my rally buddies.

It’s a strange feeling whenever we leave this annual rally, which always amuses me. Sort of like when a family reunion comes to an end.  Except maybe without the part where crazy Uncle Bob stands waaayyyyy too close when he talks…

If you’ve never attended the rally, think of it like summer camp for adults. A time where we otherwise very serious and mature grown-ups can cut loose, get silly, make new friends, and do things we don’t normally do…  Like enter parades dressed in costumes:

Photo Credit: Tom Calabrese

If you were at the rally and saw the bright yellow campervan in the middle of the van row, that was us. We camped with a group called the Winnie Bs… named that way since we’re a group of Class B campervans.

Winnebago’s Class B vans actually aren’t manufactured in Forest City, but rather down the road in a town called Lake Mills, so we van people have a warm spot for the Lake Mills factory.  They celebrated their 3000th campervan built in the facility while we were there!

Photo Credit: Tom Calabrese

Probably the most significant rally events for James and me were the fitness activities we led each day.

This year, I had the best turnouts EVER on my morning workout sessions. RVers are paying attention to their fitness, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to see this health-focused shift.

The rally grounds are adjacent to the beautiful Winnebago River.

We joined a group of rally friends and spent a morning canoeing and kayaking our way down it… a definite highlight of the week.

We did have one little hiccup during the rally… a damaging storm rolled through one evening. Straight-line winds going a bazillion miles an hour (they clocked the gusts at 66 MPH at the nearby airport) knocked down our Van Village tent area.

Luckily, the little beast of a storm (which I’ve since named “Hurricane Iowa 2017”) was there and gone in about 15 minutes.

And how fortuitous is this?! That very night another fellow van owner rolled in who happened to have her own 10×20’ tent in tow! One Van Village destroyed, another in its place 30 minutes later. Life has a weird way of working itself out.

Once Van Village was restored, Truma, a German manufacturer of high-tech heaters and water heaters, hosted a German-style customer appreciation party complete with grilled brats, pretzels, and of course… beer. It was just what we needed after the drama of the storm.

Photo Credit: Kate Mullen

And as the sun began to set on the eve of Hurricane Iowa 2017, Mother Nature wasn’t done with us yet. This time, she put on a different kind of show:

Just like that, all was forgiven.

So, there you go… a little taste of our rally experience. Though really, I just skimmed the surface of what it’s like there. Attending GNR completely revolves around the social experience, and all the activities packed into the rally schedule are a testament to that. You can paint with a group, compete in team trivia, attend a music concert, learn some things in an RV class, or even just hang out and have an impromptu social hour:

It’s hard to explain the draw of GNR to those who haven’t attended. Parking for a week in a giant field in Iowa sounds strange, I’m sure. But once you attend, something indescribable happens. You end up bonding with some of those around you, right there in an unremarkable field in Iowa…all because of your common love of the RV lifestyle.  I’d say it’s close to magical.

Learn More about the Winnebago Class B Lineup

One obvious commonality RVers everywhere seem to share is our urge to explore. We all have that “itch” to get out and be adventurous and see the world, which is most likely what drew us toward RVing in the first place. But there’s only so much exploring we can do from inside our rigs. So, it isn’t surprising that hiking is a popular pastime for RVers. James and I are no exception to this, and we try to plan a little hiking whenever we hit the road.

Hiking’s a terrific excuse to get ourselves out of the RV, connect with nature, and (the best part) get exercise that’s actually fun. Unlike our other favorite pastime bicycling, hiking is a cheaper, low-maintenance hobby, and doesn’t require lots of equipment to lug around. You can almost just open up the RV doors and go. Almost.

Hiking, like any outdoor activity, comes with its share of dangers: wild animals, weather, poisonous plants, etc. So being safe on your hikes is a big deal, and not to be taken for granted. But that’s not all. You also want to be comfortable and make any hiking adventure as pleasant as possible. Here are a few tips to make your next hike not only safer, but much more enjoyable.

Hydration:

The most important hiking supply you’ll ever need is water. How much you’ll need gets tricky depending on your distance, the trail’s intensity, the weather, etc. For an 8-12-mile day hike, you’ll want to carry at least two liters of water per person, maybe even more if it’s hot out and the trail’s a tough one.

While drinking water on hikes is important, maintaining a mineral balance in your body is the real key to hydration. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, especially sodium. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphate and magnesium, all help stimulate our nerves and balance fluid levels in our bodies. When there’s an imbalance, it can cause a variety of serious negative symptoms, and can even become potentially deadly.

In an attempt to replace the minerals we lose through sweating and exertion, many people turn to bottled sports drinks like Gatorade. That’s one idea, but the trouble with many commercial sports drinks is that they’re high in sugar and have unhealthy food additives and colorings. A healthier idea is to use a supplement that contains the essential electrolytes without all the sugar and chemicals.

There are several products out there and we use a variety ourselves. Bioplasma Sport, made by Hyland’s Homeopathic, comes in individual packets which makes it convenient for hiking. Another one worth checking out is made by Hi-Lyte, and it’s made up of all-natural sea minerals including sea salt from Utah’s Great Salt Lake … right where we live!

Footwear:

If your feet aren’t happy, you aren’t going to be happy. Never underestimate the importance of good socks and hiking shoes. Hiking footwear comes in a range of styles, from day hiking shoes all the way to bullet-proof mountaineering boots.

James and I like to travel with a hiking shoe as opposed to a boot. (They take up a lot less room in a small RV!) I’ve got two pairs I alternate between, a pair of lighter Keen’s (for easier hikes) and a pair of Vasque’s (for hard-core hikes). I especially love a grippy sole on my hiking shoes, and my Vasque’s make me feel like my feet will stick to anything. They give me a little extra confidence when the terrain gets challenging. I’ve got a little problem with heights, so any extra advantage I can get out there helps.

But while my Keen’s and Vasque’s work great for me, you’ve got to do your own matchmaking. Hit a store like REI, try a bunch on, talk to the helpful sales associates, and find a shoe that matches your hiking ambitions. There’s no underestimating the importance of a good fit, so once you’ve settled on a style of shoe or boot, start trying them on. Allow yourself plenty of time here – don’t rush the process. You’re going to be spending a lot more time in the shoes than you ever will in the store, so make sure you get this right.

Socks are just as important. If you do that stick-hand-in-sock-drawer-and-pull-out-the-top-pair thing, you could be setting yourself up for a miserable hike. Cotton socks aren’t ideal for long hikes, since they retain moisture, aren’t as smooth as other materials, and could lead to blisters. Look for hiking-specific socks. A good pair of hiking socks will regulate temperature, wick moisture, absorb shock, and help prevent blisters. There’s nothing worse than soaking wet feet miles away from the trailhead.

Smart Safety Accessories:

Besides plenty of water, you’ll need a few other things in your daypack. Here’s what we carry, and what we recommend you should consider carrying, too.

Yes, I know, that’s a pretty extensive list. Luckily, all the items are pretty small and pack down nicely.

Here’s James with 3 liters of water on his back, and all the items from our checklist above. Not bad!

While 99% of the time hiking goes off without a hitch, it’s always smart to plan for that 1%. But don’t let the fear of the unknown deter you. Hiking is energizing, simple, cheap, exciting, and challenging. It delivers such immense rewards. And besides, it’s a great way to keep fit on the road!

This is what our RV “Lance” looks like at the moment.

Lance is just outside my office, so as I sit here I can’t help but see James carrying mystery parts in and out of the rig.

To be clear, there was nothing wrong with Lance. You see, James is a project lover. A born tinkerer. So, when we bought Lance and I was dreaming of all the adventures we’d have, James was dreaming about all the mods he could do. The RV became an excuse for James to get to tear things apart on the regular. I’ll probably not see him inside for days.

I’ve come to learn James isn’t unique in this way. There are actually entire websites devoted to RV mods.  Even on our Travato Owners Facebook group, there are other RV owners posting photos of their innovations. But not all the projects are at the extreme levels of the ones James tackles. In fact, I’ve been able to make out several different RV modder styles simply from observing mods people are sharing on our Facebook group. I had a little fun with it and put them in list form below. See if any of these sound like you:

The Timid RV Modder:  If you get nervous at the thought of installing a Command Hook in your RV, then you might just be a Timid Modder.  Typical mods for the Timid Modder might include putting a piece of tape on a door to remind you where to grab; or installing the aforementioned command hook to hold your washcloth by the sink.  Eventually, some Timid RV Modders work themselves all the way up to the ultimate (and stressful)… Paper Towel Holder Install!

The Decorator: Sure, RV Manufacturers have teams of designers who determine floor, wall, and fabric colors to make sure the interior is harmonious.  But if that’s not good enough for you, then you could be a “Decorator”.  The decorator spends their RV remodel time on projects like tile backsplashes, curtains, wall hangings, and adding (or changing) wallpaper.  In their spare time, you can find the decorator binge-watching reruns of “Trading Spaces”.

The Techie: If you refer to the TVs in your RV as “monitors”, you’re probably a Techie Modder.  Typical mods for this crowd would include adding wi-fi routers, cell boosters, and media hubs.  Also, in the time it’s taken you to read this, the Techie modder has reprogrammed their vehicle’s navigation system with a new route optimization algorithm, and added data logging and SAN storage to their OnePlace control panel.

The Overexcited Newbie: The social media calling card of the Overexcited Newbie reads something like this: “I just bought my first RV, and picked it up today.  I also bought 1600 watts of solar panels to add so I can run my air conditioner!”  You’ll find this type of RV modder rushing headlong into projects with more exuberance than planning. They provide great amusement for all the other RV modders; rivaling reality shows like “Flip or Flop” for entertainment value.

The Anti-Modder:  This modder lives by the creed that if Winnebago saw fit to make the RV the way it is, then you had better have a darn good reason for changing it.  By their nature, anti-modders don’t really do any DIY projects, and would rather spend their time on the road instead of at Home Depot.

The Dreamer: Unique among the RV modders, the dreamer doesn’t even need an RV! Dreamers are in the planning phases of RV ownership and follow owners’ groups to get ideas for when the day comes that they have their own rig. If they did have an RV, they already know which mods they would like to do.  Or will do. Next year.  When they have that RV…

The Over-The-Top DIYer:   And then there are poor souls like James.  If you really wanted to build your own RV but bought one instead, you’ll probably turn into an over-the-top modder.  The sky is the limit for this type.  No dinette in your RV?  No problem – they’ll add one!  Don’t like the noise from the generator?  Tear it out and put in something else!  Want to move the entire galley four inches to the left?  Bring it on!  I’d like to say there’s a correlation between the success ratio of the over-the-top modder and the number of screws they have left over when they finish. When they’re not doing RV mods, you can find these characters thinking about doing RV mods.

So there you have it…the 7 styles of RV Modders based on my highly scientific research playing around on Facebook. To be clear, there isn’t one that’s right or wrong and there’s definitely not one style better than the other.

Because if you think about it, RVing is all about joy. We all bought our RVs to bring more joy to our lives…whether the rig is taking us to see the loves of our lives (the grandkids) or to see the jaw-dropping scenery. So it only makes sense that the mods we do bring joy to us as well, no matter what they are. That’s the beauty of this beast, we can tailor the RV to reflect our own personalities and have a little fun with it along the way.

As they say, “enjoy the journey.” Whether that journey is on the road or in the driveway with tools spread out everywhere, it’s up to you.

Happy travels (and modding), all!

-Stef from TheFitRV

(Thanks to my Travato Owners family for inspiring this article…you’re the best!)

Learn More about the Winnebago Travato

Hello from the FitRV headquarters, otherwise known as “home.”

James and I just got back to HQ from a trip to Phoenix, where we attended a Good Sam event…one of those half-rally and half-show things. There really should be a term for them as common as they’ve become. Showly? Ralshow? I got so sick of typing “rally and show” on every social media post I shared during the event, that I’m determined to start a new name movement. Feel free to join my cause…

The Phoenix Showly was fantastic. James and I both led seminars on various topics ranging from healthy RVing (my sessions) to RV education seminars (James’ sessions). Here’s some news worth celebrating. My healthy RVing sessions? They’re NEVER well attended, at any show. So at Phoenix I expected the same low turn-out. But guess what?!? I packed the house in pretty much all my healthy seminars!

I couldn’t believe it. I was so thrilled to see an interest in healthy RV living…it’s what I’ve always worked for! It was a super proud fit-mama-bear moment, and completely reaffirmed this “FitRV” thing we do.

But leading seminars wasn’t ALL we did at the show. We also met up with some of the “family”.

And by that I mean our Travato family.

We camped with a group of other Travato owners…all parked together in a big rectangle on the blacktop jungle that also doubles as the Phoenix International Raceway, with our Travato doors opening to the center courtyard we created. We called it “Travato Town.” And also “Van Village,” we never could seem to get consistent; but since they both sound pretty cool, I’m good with either. Over the course of the show, there were about 15 Travatos who swung by Travato Town, and even one non-Travato, which was quickly re-branded:

As for Travato Town festivities, they were plentiful starting right away on Day 1. Mother Nature put on a phenomenal sunset show:

It felt like she was saying, “Welcome to PIR! It’s going to be a great week. Party on!”  Well, maybe not that “party on” bit, but such a beautiful first night sure did set a wonderful tone for the rest of the show.

James’ birthday happened to fall during the rallshow too, so guess how we celebrated it? With food, of course. RV Gangnam (potluck) Style:

Barring one sneaky bag of tortilla chips, it was one of the healthiest RV potlucks ever, I’m proud to say. I think attendees were a little intimidated with us being there, so they brought out their healthiest potluck dishes. That’s what I call “Productive Peer Pressure.” Hang out with any fitness pros and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

We also had a bouquet of balloons from the party festivities. Since we couldn’t have campfires, the balloon bouquet set in the middle of our nightly chair circle was a pretty close substitute. Well not really. It was kind of silly, actually.

But when you’ve been sitting in a parking lot for days, things like balloon campfires become weirdly amusing.

Though it wasn’t all sitting around, no sirree! Remember that Productive Peer Pressure I mentioned? I tapped into it many times during the week. Like when I got everybody up and Boot Camping.

We had to put one of the newbies’ outdoor sound system to the test. We put some upbeat music on nice and loud, attached a bunch of TRX straps and resistance bands to the Travato door hinges, and we had an awesome Boot Camping workout right there in Travato Town. Who says exercise isn’t fun?!

And what would a FitRV meetup be without a bike ride? Bike rides are my favorite part of any get-together:

We were so lucky to have a local Travato owning couple join us on this meet-up, they brought tables and supplies and were incredibly gracious hosts. Rex Anderson and his wife Valerie even went so far as scouting out biking routes in advance, and it made the riding so much easier. There were 3 rides people could choose from: 5 miles, 15 miles, and 25 miles. My group did the 15 miles. There MAY or MAY NOT have been a Starbucks stop involved at the halfway point of my group’s ride, but what happens in the 15-miler group stays in the 15-miler group.

And just like that, it was over, and we pointed Lance north towards FitRV HQ. I had a long drive home to Salt Lake City after the rallow (I think this one’s my fave!), which left me with a lot of reflection time. I spent some of that time thinking about the uniqueness of the social dynamics within the RV community. It’s actually pretty incredible, if you think about it, how otherwise complete strangers can become so quickly bonded over one commonality…RVing. Even in a setting as lame as a huge unending parking lot, when you plop a bunch of RVers in it together, something close to magical transpires.

You’ll see that at Winnebago’s own Grand National Rally (GNR), too. Let’s face it. We don’t go to Forest City, IA to immerse ourselves in nature. We go to immerse ourselves in the social experience and to hang with fellow RV nerds who get it…our indefinable love of the RVing culture. And as you roll out of GNR you aren’t thinking about the adventures you had or the mountains you just climbed, you’re thinking about the unique souls you met along the way…those who are gentle, others who are brilliant, some who are creative, and my favorites…the silly souls (and their bottle mustaches).

Sure, RV rallies and meet-ups are nothing new. But meet-ups based on a shared RV model, like the one we just had, seem to be a growing trend. We can probably attribute it to the explosion of social media groups geared around specific rigs. At least that’s been the case with our Travato group. I find these rig-specific meet-ups fascinating. It’s like adding another layer on to the RVers bond. RVers in general bond easily because of our shared RV lifestyles, but when it’s an owner of the exact same rig as yours, the bond grows even tighter.

On a whim, I started a Facebook group for Travato Owners (and WannaBes) two summers ago. James and I had just gotten our RV “Lance” home, and wanted to connect with other owners. I envisioned it being sort of like a cyber-campfire, where we all sit around and chat about trivial things as we would at the RV park. We’re almost at 1700 members now, and the group has exploded into so much more than a campfire chat! Each day there are friendships being formed, creative inspiration getting shared, and strong support given from the seasoned owners to the nervous newbies. The Facebook group has taken on a life of its own and well surpassed my original vision.

We aren’t unique, our Travato family. There are other owners’ groups even bigger and older than ours, like the View/Navion group on Yahoo. With a little research, you can quickly find out if your RV already has an owner’s group. And if you don’t see a group for your rig, well then maybe this time YOU can be the one who, on a whim, starts a new family. And who knows. Maybe we’ll be seeing you in your rig’s RV Town at our next showlly…

Learn More about the Winnebago Travato

So, you bought a new RV! Fantastic!  Now what…

At least that’s what we asked ourselves once we made our first big RV purchase. Between reading all the manuals and trying to learn the systems, purchasing a new rig can get overwhelming…we remember the excitement AND the sleepless nights very well. One thing we quickly learned is that the RV itself wasn’t to be our last purchase before hitting the road. There were a few things we needed to make our RVing experience run smoothly and efficiently.  To save you some of the hassle of figuring it out yourselves, we put together this list. Here are 10 things you’ll want to pick up right away!

1:  Disposable Gloves:

OK people, there’s no getting around this.  At some point in your RVing life, you’re going to have to deal with the reality of dumping your black tank.  If you do it correctly, it’s actually not a messy process.  Even so, it just makes good, clean sense to do this while wearing some gloves.  So get yourself a box of these and leave them with your RV sanitation accessories.

2:  Sewer Hose with Secure Connections:

If you’ve ever seen a large rock at an RV dump station and wondered what it was for – here’s your answer.  If your rig came with a basic sewer hose, it probably has connections on one end to secure it to your RV.  The other end may be just… hose.  “The Rock” is there to hold your hose in place when the nasty stuff starts gushing out.  But there’s a better way:  RV sewer hoses are available that lock in at both ends, and they come with adapters and fittings to secure them into any dump station you’re likely to roll across.  Save the rock for your radio, and get yourself something like this.

3:  Water Pressure Regulator:

Basically, you need a water pressure regulator because you never know what pressure the campground water is running.  You don’t want to hook your rig up to that and risk blowing up part of your plumbing system.  We’ve previously done some testing of water pressure regulators here on Winnebagolife.com.  The “Best Value” option from that roundup is cheap – and easily packed – insurance against watery disasters.

4:  Dedicated Fresh Water Hose:

The water that comes into your RV will be used for bathing, washing dishes, drinking, cooking, you name it.  The fresh water hose is the under-appreciated lifeline that brings it in.  It will be outside, in the sun and weather, and under pressure almost all of the time, so it makes sense to get a good one.  You’ll want something that is long enough, drinking safe, and clearly color coded so that you’ll only ever use it in clean and fresh water hookups.  In RV-land, they’re generally colored either white or blue, like this one.

5:  Portable Water Filter:

Not everyone drinks the water from their RV’s plumbing system, but we do!  At home, we installed a water filter, and our home on wheels deserves the same treatment.  Fortunately, there are inexpensive alternatives that will provide basic filtration and won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth… or your wallet.  This is the one we travel with; it’s just installed in line with the fresh water hose.

6:  Dedicated “Dirty” Water Hose:

Just as you’ll want a dedicated hose for your fresh water, you’ll want to dedicate a hose for “less than fresh” water.  You’ll use this hose for rinsing the sewer hose, for example.  For RV use, these are generally colored green, brown, grey… anything EXCEPT white and blue!!  If you’re looking for suggestions, this one fits the bill nicely.

7:  RV Surge Protector:

Your RV’s electrical system is safe when it’s isolated.  But just like a TV, it’s vulnerable to whatever it’s plugged into.  You could be at risk if there’s an electrical storm nearby, or if the power pedestal is mis-wired.  These kinds of things have the potential to damage your RV, so it makes sense to travel with some protection.  Portable surge suppressors may seem expensive initially, but when you consider what they’re protecting, it’s just good insurance.  Something like this will protect most rigs.

8:  Electrical Adapters:

Eventually, you’ll roll up to an RV site that provides power in a different configuration than what your RV was designed for.  Maybe your rig takes 50 amp service, but the campground only offers 30.  Or the situation could be reversed.  For us, it happened for the first time in the middle of the night with no stores open.  Since then, we’ve learned our lesson, and we always travel with an assortment of RV electrical adapters.  Be safe when using them, pay attention to the amp ratings, and these could one day keep you out of the dark.

9:  Jack Pads or Leveling Blocks:

Everybody is different, but most people don’t like to sleep with their feet higher than their heads.  But even if you could deal with that, it’s no fun to have doors swinging open or closed on their own because you’re parked on a slope.  Leveling your RV is about to become part of your life.  Some rigs have built-in leveling jacks.  And whether these are hand cranked, electrical, or hydraulic, putting a jack pad down under them not only keeps the jack from damaging the pavement, but it could help keep it from sinking into soft ground.  So if your RV has leveling jacks, consider getting some jack pads, like these:

Now, if your rig doesn’t have leveling jacks, you’ll want to level your rig by rolling it up onto blocks of various heights.  This is the adult version of giant Lego blocks for your RV.  Most RVers at one time or another get themselves a set of something like these:

10:  Head Lamp:

Pretty much anything you do with your RV, at some point in your RVing career, you’re going to wind up doing in the dark.  That means you’re going to need a portable light source.  And it just makes sense that you’ll want both hands free while you do whatever it is that needs being done.  That’s why we roll with a couple of these – a quality LED headlamp.  (They’re a little expensive, but once you have them, you’ll be surprised how many times you reach for them.)

Travato owner and bike enthusiast James Adinaro (The FitRV) shows you how easy it is to use Winnebago’s exclusively designed bike rack now available for several different models of Winnebago’s B-Vans and C-Class motorhomes.

Hi all, in early December James and I made a trip to Kentucky where we attended the annual RVIA trade show in Louisville.

This is a significant show for the RV industry because it’s where manufacturers like to roll out new models and updates to current ones.

It’s where we get to see what’s hot and what’s not in the RV world. It’s an industry-only show though, so since the public couldn’t attend, I’ll try to give you a feel for some of the significant trends we saw.

The first thing we noticed is that the industry as a whole is paying much more attention to social media and increasing brand awareness. We heard this at the Truma-sponsored industry breakfast where the RVIA itself presented a video highlighting how Facebook and Twitter audiences have grown significantly on GoRVing’s channels.

Even suppliers are getting into the act.  We saw this at the Dometic booth, where their PR Manager Amanda (with me in pic below) explained they were launching a rebranding and a completely new social media presence.

We’ve experienced the power of social media ourselves first-hand. I run a Facebook group for fellow Travato owners, over a thousand members strong. Suggestions that have repeatedly emerged from group members are finding their way into newer model year Travatos. For example, when group member Greg Schultz added an exterior light above the hookups to make night set-up more convenient, others started to follow. Guess what’s now standard on all current Travato models?  You got it, a dump light.

Another exciting trend  is the focus on increased technology in RVs.

Winegard (who we all know for their RV TV products) has picked up on this trend and has started to bring out products for Wi-Fi at the show.  Most intriguing is their ConnecT, which is a wireless access point for your RV that claims to pull in weak wi-fi signals through three external antennae. It bridges your devices to the external Wi-Fi without reconnecting all of them at every stop. This is an exciting shift from where the RV tech world used to be. RV technology now means something more than just 35 different ways to watch satellite TV.

You wouldn’t think I’d be talking about refrigerators as a technology item, but we’re finally starting to see more and more compressor driven (meaning, non-absorption) refrigeration options.

Thetford was showing off a new compact compressor-driven fridge model that caught our eye.  It went beyond refrigerators: we were excited to see other compressor-driven refrigeration options at the show (including lots of 12 volt coolers!).

We think running your RV refrigerator from a renewable (and free!) resource is the wave of the future.  While we’re not calling the time of death for propane refrigerators just yet, it’s good to see some forward-thinking options becoming available and accepted.

As for things that were “bleeding edge” technology a few years ago, we now see them becoming more and more common in RVs.  Multiplex wiring is a great example of this, and Winnebago is working it into their ERA models as it refreshes each of them.  Solar options are everywhere, and even becoming standard.  You wouldn’t have found a single lithium battery at the RVIA show – except in someone’s cell phone- in past years.  These days, they’re everywhere!  They offer what James calls a “greater energy density” than regular RV batteries. Lithium batteries also offer a number of other advantages like greater “depth of discharge”.  But the battery isn’t the exciting part.  What’s exciting is what you can do with all that energy!  Cue the inverters:

Inverters take that battery power and convert it to regular household current so we can run the air conditioner or use the microwave without a generator or being plugged in!  We are seeing more and more inverters in RVs.   We even got the chance to catch up with our friends from Xantrex, who make the Freedom SW inverter that we installed in our own RV, Lance.

Here’s something else we found curious. This year more than ever there seemed to be a lot more Europeans at the show, and I’m not just talking about the team from the German company Truma.  At first we thought it was just an isolated incident, but as the show went on, we couldn’t help but notice.  Perhaps this is the flip-side of companies like Winnebago attending the Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf?  Perhaps there are more European suppliers interested in providing their products to the North American RV market?  We don’t know, but whatever it is, we’re excited to see this kind of cross-ocean pollination of ideas.

Another huge change at this year’s show was the RVIA presence itself….or at least their public side, GoRVing. RVIA is hard at work to make the show more exciting, and to reflect the changing face of RVing.  They had several “experience zones” set up throughout the show.

These zones had lots of things going on to entice show attendees to swing by. There were Power Talks by industry experts, interactive displays showing products of tomorrow, games like RV Trivial Pursuit, campfires to relax around and hear live story-telling, and many other fun draws.  Some of the zones were even (gasp) active zones where participants could tee off with an LPGA champion, throw footballs, etc.

And finally, we can’t talk about the RVIA show without talking about our favorite RV manufacturer Winnebago.  Winnebago seemed to be going in a very different (and very cool) direction from other manufacturers with their display.  Rather than being set up like a typical RV show with row after row of RVs, it was set up as a camp site – complete with trees and landscaping that gave the impression you really were out camping…as long as you can imagine the crowds were invisible, that is.

It was the booth of all booths at the RVIA show, and it took them days to set up. They brought a sampling of all their rigs from towables on up to diesel pushers, and of course our personal favorites…the campervans:

Since I found myself with nothing to do the day before the show, I ended up helping with pre-show setup. There’s an excitement in the air before a big show. It was fun getting to take part behind-the-scenes.

Winnebago had a stage in their display so their CEO and a few VPs could give talks throughout the show. James and I made it to a few of these talks. Winnebago has big goals for themselves to grow, improve, and continue to be industry leaders.

So, those were some of the highlights of our time at the show. We left pretty excited about the direction the RV industry is headed. Wouldn’t it be great if we could look into a crystal ball and see where the industry is in 10 years? I have a feeling we’d like what we see!

Here come the holidays, folks. If you haven’t started your shopping list for the RVers in your life, you’ve come to the right place. James and I put our heads together to save you some time. We’ve come up with some creative and unique gift ideas perfect for RV enthusiasts. And the best part, these won’t bust your budget!  (To save steps we had Santa’s elves provide links to these products.  Simply click on the product name/price.)

Moso Natural Air Purifier $10   

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These pretty little linen bags are stuffed with one ingredient: bamboo charcoal. They are a natural way to purify the air in the RV, trapping odors, allergens, and bacteria inside the porous charcoal. We keep one in Lance, and appreciate how it keeps the air we breathe a little healthier. They make a great gift for RVers who love natural and home-remedy type products.

Shower House Caddy $10 

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Jaunts through the RV park to the shower house are an inevitable part of the RV lifestyle. Here’s a creative idea: buy a portable shower caddy for your RVer and fill it with toiletries you know they’ll enjoy! Just keep in mind this gift can add up. The caddy itself is only $10, but of course whatever you add to it will increase that.

Travel Scrabble Ornament $12  

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Not all RV gifts have to be functional. Sometimes it’s nice to give a little keepsake that’ll make someone smile.

Decorative Pillow $15

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If you’re looking to buy a Made-in-the-USA gift that’ll add a nice touch to your RVer’s rig, this RV-themed throw pillow is a great choice. RVers love to personalize their rigs…throw pillows are an easy way to do so.

Key Finder (or Cat Finder!) $16

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This remote key finder not only keeps track of the RV keys, it also locates any other items prone to getting lost…glasses, cellphones, etc. I plan to attach one to the collar of our cat Mel, who is currently an RV-cat-in-training, once he finally graduates to a full-fledged RV cat!

Packable Beach Blanket $17 

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I keep one of these portable picnic blankets in our RV and get a ton of use out of it. On a recent trip I used it on the beach, on a picnic table with splintered seats, at an outdoor concert, and as a mat for exercise. I love how they fold up very compact and have a convenient strap for carrying.

Portable Wine Glass Holder $18 

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For the RVing wine-lover who has everything, here’s a one-of-a-kind gift. These wine glass holders are essential for anytime you’re outside. They can either stake in the ground, suction cup to surfaces like hot-tubs, or attach to camp chairs. Don’t ask me how they keep a wine glass stable, they just do. They’re awesome. Buy some for your RVer friend and then buy some for yourself!

Kill-A-Watt $20 

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If the RVer on your list is a bit of a tech junkie, consider this gizmo. It monitors the electrical loads of any plugged-in device. Having this information helps RVers extend their time off the grid. James loves to pull out ours and test every new appliance we bring into the RV. When I asked him for a gift idea for RV nerds, this was the first thing he suggested.

Personalized Dish Towel $21

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This RV-themed dish towel is a simple gift, but will get you bonus points because it’s personalized with their own name on it. Anything personalized shows you put a little time and thought into the gift. Plus they’re just cute.

RV Hair Don’t Care Hat $23  

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Alright I confess. I put this one in the list because I want it for myself. Though I’m pretty sure I’m not the only RVer who finds this hat amusing. For the RVer with a sense of humor, a bit of an attitude, and a fondness for hats, get this. They’ll love it.

Headlamp $25 

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I know, not as exciting as an RV Hair Don’t Care hat, but the use we get out of our headlamps on RV trips is phenomenal. Walking to the shower house at night, carried in our hiking day packs just-in-case, doing the hook-ups after dark, I could go on and on. Headlamps are a super-useful RV gadget and we don’t leave home without ours.

Packable hammock $27 

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Portable hammocks can be great fun on RV trips. They pack down into a tiny bag and attach to trees in minutes. They’re super-sturdy and can hold up to 500lbs…so if you’re buying these for a couple, they can use them for snuggle-time. Or comedy-hour, which is usually how it goes when James and I get in the hammock…

RV Bath Towels: $29 

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I tried to get on the microfiber bandwagon, because they’re all the rage in the campervan world for bath towels. For years, I battled getting dry with those things. And then recently a fellow RVer told me about her love of these Packtowels. We ordered some, and I’m hooked. They pack down nicely, feel fantastic, and actually dry you!

Resistance Bands Kit $30

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What can I say? I’m from The Fit RV. Did you think I could complete a gift guide without at least one exercise gift? Seriously, guys, these bands are a great gift for RVers. They come in their own special bag with everything you need, including a book with exercise suggestions. If you’d like to encourage the RVer in your life to lead a healthy RV lifestyle, here’s the perfect gift.

Burnie Grill $32 

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Anything that makes the RV trip easier makes a great gift, ESPECIALLY when they add to the trip fun. That’s exactly what these Burnie grills do. They’re a one-time use campfire that you can even cook on. You simply light it, and it slowly burns down leaving little mess. We’ve enjoyed many Burnie campfires. The great thing about giving Burnie as a gift is that you don’t have to worry if they already have it! You can’t have enough Burnies.

Laser Lansdcape Lights $37 

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Here’s a fun gift idea for RVers who like to sit outside after dark. At the GNR rally this summer, one of our RV friends brought his Laser Light and shined it in a tree near our row. It set such a pleasant and festive atmosphere, it’s been on my radar ever since. They’re very portable, small, and use very little electricity.

Sand Free Mat $38 

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For RVers that like things clean, they’ll love this mat. The mat allows small dirt particles and sand to fall through the weave, so you’re left with a clean surface and you’ll track less inside the RV. This won’t surprise anyone who knows James (and his sandphobic ways)…we have two.

Inflatable Lounge chair $40

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If you get an inflatable lounger for the RVer on your list, make sure you stick around for the amusement that occurs as they flail about trying to fill it. They’ll have a ball, you’ll get a good laugh, and after all the running around catching air they’ll be thankful for somewhere comfy to lounge.

Personalized Cutting Board $49 

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Here’s a fun gift that’s not only cute, it’s practical. You get to design the graphic on this cutting board by choosing the type of rig, the people, and even pets. So you end up with a cutting board representative of the RVers on your gift list.

Scrubba $50 

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The Scrubba is an ingenious bag that substitutes as a washing machine, and would be a convenient gift for any RVer who doesn’t have their own washing machine in their rig. Since it folds up as any bag would, it takes very little space in the RV and is simply a great way to wash clothes on the road. In fact I pack much less for each trip, because I know I’ll be able to re-wear the few things I bring…thanks to the Scrubba.

So there you have it… our twenty gift ideas with the RVer in mind. And whether you’re shopping for a birthday gift, the upcoming holiday season, or just because you want to make someone’s day, hopefully this just made your shopping a little easier!

Hi everyone. It’s James from The Fit RV.

Stef and I actually set out to write this article together, since we both have different roles when it comes to packing the RV before a trip. But it turns out co-writing when your spouse is just as big of an opinionated (but cute) know-it-all as you isn’t fun. It’s sort of like riding a double kayak or a tandem bike together. Since we’re both control freaks, we end up weaving all over the place and getting nowhere. To stay happily married, we learned long ago that kayaking and biking solo works best. Turns out writing solo does, too.

But there are some areas where we divide and conquer like champs. Getting ready for an RV trip is a perfect example. Stef tackles packing up the inside of the RV, and ensures the kitchen, bath, and all the fun things get loaded up. In fact, she’s created some awesome packing checklists that she’s shared over on her article HERE. While she’s packing up the RV, I’m working on getting the rig prepped and road-ready.

I’ve made two lists.  The first is a list of maintenance items you’ll want to pack.  The second is a pre-trip checklist of all your automotive and motorhome systems. And if you’re interested, here’s a link to a printable PDF of the lists.

Using a checklist really does make the prepping part of your trip run much more smoothly!

Packing List for RV Maintenance

  • Batteries (for flashlights, smoke detector, accessories, etc.)
  • Matches or lighter
  • Ropes
  • Hatchet and saw
  • Bungee cords
  • Folding Shovel
  • Rags
  • Duct tape
  • Gloves RV Tool kit
  • Leveling blocks
  • Fresh Water Hose
  • Water Pressure Regulator
  • In-Line Water Filter
  • Jump Starter Kit or jumper cables
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Motor oil and appropriate coolant
  • RV Toilet Paper
  • Holding Tank Chemicals
  • Sewer Hose(s) and Fittings
  • 20, 30 and 50 amp adapters and cords
  • Extra Fuses
  • Broom and dust pan
  • Mat (for outside door)

Pre-trip Checklist

  • Check beneath RV for leaks, loose objects, or anything out of the ordinary
  • Check all fluid levels: oil, coolant, washer fluid, brake fluid, etc.
  • Check Tire Pressure and fill according to vehicle load
  • Check for unusual tire wear
  • Check engine starting battery: clean connections, proper state of charge
  • Make sure all turn signals, running lights, and hazard lights are working
  • Check horn operation
  • Verify that the generator (if equipped) starts, runs, and delivers power
  • Turn on fridge: For absorption refrigerator, operate it on gas and look at burner to see if the flame is blue.
  • Check the air intake filters on your air conditioner and clean as necessary
  • Verify that the fire extinguishers are present and fully charged
  • Test smoke, carbon monoxide, and propane leak detectors
  • Ensure kitchen and roof vents function properly
  • Make available RV manuals, appliance manuals, etc. (download or print)
  • Check operation of waste tank level indicators (start trip on empty)
  • Check operation of water heater
  • Charge batteries on accessories (Tire Pressure Monitor, walkie talkies, etc.)
  • Fill Propane
  • Fill fresh water
  • Add any needed chemicals (or compost medium) to holding tanks

So, there you have it. That’s the procedure I use and the items I bring on every trip we take. It may seem like a lot, but really doesn’t take long at all.  Honestly for me, it’s a completely enjoyable process, and it keeps me from watching the mayhem that is Stef packing. Plus, I’ve got the upcoming trip as the reward for all my efforts. And the best part: if any MISadventures do pop up, I’ll be ready.

You’ve got Stef here, hi all!

I only have to make a mistake once. (Well, okay, twice if you count how many times I’ve bonked my head on the bike rack on our Travato.)

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Though James has hit his head three times. Apparently, I’m a quicker learner.

Take our last big trip. In July, we excitedly hit the road with our bikes locked and loaded from our home state of Utah for 3 weeks of Midwestern adventures. The plan was GNR, the Lake Superior Adventure, and tons & tons of biking all along the way.

A few hours into the drive, James decided THEN to start quizzing me about our packing.

Him: Did you remember the GoSun stove?

Me: Check!

Him: What about the yoga mats?

Me: Check! Check! I brought two!

Him: And you have all your bike stuff?

Me: Check! I brought my bike bag with everything, and you said you’d pack our mountain bike shoes right?

…(silence)…

…(more silence)…

Me: Uh, James?

Him: Well, I’m trying to think of a way to not get in trouble here, but I can’t.

As regimented and organized as James is, he still managed to forget our mountain biking shoes. To non-cyclists it probably doesn’t SOUND like a big deal, a silly pair of shoes. But we can’t ride our mountain bikes without them! They have special clips on the bottoms that go with our special pedals. And the main reason we RV is for biking adventures! We needed those shoes. In the end, after buying new ones at a bike shop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, it turned out to be a $200 mistake.

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But aren’t my new shoes pretty?

Fast forward to present day. James and I are packing up for another big trip! We’re heading up to Vancouver and then down the Pacific Coast and eventually ending up at the Pomona RV Show.  But THIS time no one will be forgetting any mountain biking shoes OR anything else, no sirree. You know why? Because I got smart! I’ve finally, FINALLY made packing lists.

James being James has always suggested the idea of packing lists, but me being me, well I tend to like to fly by the seat of my pants.

Alright fine, I’ll call it what it really is. I’m a bit lazy.

So, perhaps the bike shoes mistake was one of those blessings in disguise. Or maybe it was all part of some master scheme of James’ to get me to create some lists. Whatever it was, there are now lists. And I have to admit, they’ve actually been a huge help in prepping for this trip. SO much so, I wanted to share them with y’all. How have I been packing without them all these years?

To keep it manageable, I’ve created 3 different lists: 1) the galley, 2) the bed/bath things, and then 3) the BEST list of all: RV Living. I had to turn to James to create the “Prepping the RV” and “RV Maintenance” lists, and you can find those over on his article HERE. I don’t really have much to do with that stuff. The INSIDE is my domain.

SO! The lists are below and if you want to print out PDF copy click here. Give them a try when you’re heading out on your next RV trip. They’ve definitely saved me a ton of time and brainpower. Lazy Stef likes the sound of that!

Packing List for RV Galley

  • Drink ware: cups, mugs, wine glasses, beverage koozies
  • Plates and bowls
  • Eating utensils
  • Knives: food prep and steak
  • Cooking utensils: spatula, large spoons, tongs, whisk, etc
  • Mixing bowls
  • Cooking pots/pans
  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • Bottle, can, and wine openers
  • Cutting board
  • Tea kettle
  • Grill
  • Blender
  • Food processor
  • Toaster
  • Scissors
  • Egg cooker
  • Colander
  • Food storage: Tupperware, baggies, aluminum foil., etc.
  • Napkins and paper towels
  • Dish soap & cleaning products
  • Sponges, rags, towels, potholder
  • Trash bags
  • Ice cube trays
  • Bag clips
  • Lighter/matches
  • Campfire fork

Packing List for RV Bed and Bath Necessities

  • Bedding and pillows
  • Soap: hand, shower
  • Washcloths and/or shower puffs
  • Towels: bath, hand, and beach
  • Shampoo, conditioner, and hair styling products
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
  • Shower-house bag
  • Shower-house flip-flops
  • Toilet paper
  • Facial tissue
  • Toiletry kit: lip balm, deodorant, nail clippers, files, tweezers, razor, etc.
  • Skin care: lotion, powder, night cream, etc.
  • Hair Necessities: brush, comb, hair ties, etc.
  • Pharmacy: anti-inflammatories, antacids, prescriptions, allergy, etc.
  • Sleep aids: Earplugs, eye-mask, mini-fan, lavender essential oil, etc.
  • Laundry: detergent, wash bag, roll of quarters
  • Blow dryer

Packing List for RV Living and Recreation Supplies

  • Portable Lights: Flashlight, Headlamps, Lantern
  • Paper maps and/or road atlas
  • Fitness equipment: resistance bands, yoga mat, etc.
  • Headphones
  • Sunscreen
  • Walkie Talkies
  • Water bottles and/or backpack hydration system
  • Sport Specific shoes: water, running, hiking, cycling
  • Rain gear: jackets, umbrella, etc.
  • Water gear: swimsuits, wetsuits, dry bag, etc.
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats and visors
  • First Aid Kits (one large for RV and one portable for day hikes)
  • Insect repellant
  • Backpack(s)
  • Cameras & camera gear: (tripod, backup batteries, etc)
  • Binoculars
  • Camp chairs & portable table
  • Picnic/beach blanket
  • Outdoor rug
  • Office supplies: pens, paper, clips, permanent marker, tape, scissors, etc.
  • Device chargers & devices (computer, tablets, phones, etc.)
  • Media: books, audiobooks, magazines, movies
  • Inside fun: Cards, games, crosswords, puzzles
  • Outside fun: lawn games, Frisbee, etc.
  • Bike stuff: bikes, locks, helmets, kits, bike computers, HR monitors, toolkit, etc.

It’s almost time for GNR, and so far it’s been a great summer of riding and RVing!  I’ve previously done a video about how to use the Fiamma bike racks, like the ones Winnebago is including on some of their RVs.  But I didn’t cover another important aspect of RVing with bikes, and that’s locking them.  So let’s fix that today.

Some Ground Rules

First off, I want to say that this advice is geared towards RVers.  We like to camp and get out in nature.  If we’re in campgrounds, there are usually some other folks around.  And we’re using the bikes primarily for recreation, and not as transportation.  So, if you’re leaving your bike locked on a New York City street unattended for hours at a time – maybe this isn’t the article for you.SONY DSC

The next point I want to make is that locking your bike is done to protect against theft of the bike.  You can’t lock your bike to prevent vandalism – that’s impossible.  And for the most part, locking won’t even necessarily prevent theft of bicycle accessories.  What you’re trying to prevent with a bike lock is coming back to find the whole bike just gone, so let’s keep that in mind as we think about locking bikes.

Finally, it’s also helpful to remember that bike thieves are lazy, and bike theft is usually a crime of opportunity.  We’re trying to remove or limit the opportunities a bike thief will look for.  The big opportunity you’ll remove with a lock is the ability to get away with the bike easily.  If you can render your bike un-rideable, or even un-rollable with a lock, your typical opportunistic bike thief is going to look for an easier target.

Match the security to the situation

The next thing to think about is matching the level of protection to the bike.  It should be obvious, but I’d apply different locking strategies to my very expensive time trial bike than I would apply to a beater bike from the 1980s.  The same should apply to you.  If you’re OK with your bikes living outside all the time, that calls for one level of protection.  But if you insist on indoor climate controlled storage for your bikes – well that requires something else.  (Yes.  That’s me.)

Picture 2 - Different Bikes“These two bikes have very different needs… including locking.”

The other thing you should consider is where you’re going!  If you’re talking about hanging out in a big field in Iowa with a bunch of other RVers (Hello GNR!), again, that requires a different level of security than street parking in downtown Baltimore.  Plan accordingly.

Some of the most secure and bomb-proof bike locks are also the heaviest and most awkward.  So once you realize there are different levels of theft protection you might want, you can purchase and use a locking system that meets your needs without becoming a burden itself.  With that in mind, what are some of the products out there?

Bike Lock Types

Picture 3 - U LockProbably the first thing that comes to mind is the typical U-Lock.  Pictured above is the U-lock that we travel with, it’s an older and smaller version of the OnGuard Bulldog U-Lock.  I think of a good U-lock as sort of the entry point into bicycle locking.  If you get a good one, it can’t be defeated with bolt cutters (the preferred weapon of bike thieves).  And you’d have to spend a long time with a hacksaw to get through it.

A battery powered angle grinder might defeat it, but someone using an angle grinder at the campground is probably going to attract some attention.  U-locks are susceptible to prying attacks (which is where you get a bottle jack or a crowbar into the empty space and use the leverage to pop the lock).  If you’re buying a U-Lock, try to get the smallest one you can get away with to reduce the opportunities for prying attacks.

Picture 4 - Chain LocksNext up is a chain lock.  We travel with two of these, the OnGuard Mastiff.  This chain weighs about 10 pounds (seriously).  They’re reinforced steel – there’s no way to cut them with bolt cutters.  And even a hacksaw or angle grinder is going to need a good bit of time to get through them.  These are the locks we use on the outside of our RV when we lock bikes up to the back.  It’s the highest level of bike security we RV with.

There are other styles of chain locks too, some with integrated locks and some without.  They’re not quite as tough as the beast here, but they might have their place somewhere along the sliding scale of security.

Picture 5 - Cable LocksAnd finally, there are cables, cable locks, and other hybrid locks.  These are the easiest to defeat – most of them can be defeated with just cable cutters or bolt cutters.  Personally, I don’t rely on these for primary security, but we do travel with one cable.  We also have a Pacsafe Retractasafe that I carry sometimes.  It’s terrible primary security for a bike, but it can be useful for things like locking your bike when you’re dining at an outdoor café and can see it. (In that case, I just need to slow the thief down so I can catch them.)

Cable locks aren’t great, but they’re better than absolutely nothing.  They are useful as a way to augment your primary lock.  They require a different attack than a U-lock, for example.  And so by using two kinds of locks, you force a potential thief to carry two types of tools, which makes theft less likely.

OK.  Got a lock.  Now what?

Now, about HOW to lock your bike.  If you do any research online, you’ll come across the name Sheldon Brown.  The late great Sheldon Brown left a great repository of cycling knowledge.  He proposed that basic bike locking can be done very simply.

According to Sheldon, all you need to do is to secure just your rear wheel to an immovable object through the rear triangle of the bike, like this:

Picture 6 - Sheldon Lock 1If you secure the bike that way, it can’t be rolled away or ridden, and the rear wheel can’t be removed from the frame.  Granted, it doesn’t seem, from looking at it, that this would be enough, but it really is.  I suppose someone could hacksaw through the rear wheel and remove the lock.  But then they have an un-rideable bike, and they’ve destroyed the second most valuable part of it!  So that rear-wheel hacksawing just doesn’t happen.  (Remember – that whole lazy/opportunity thing?)

And that is, in a nutshell the most basic way to lock your bike.  Here are some other tips you can use to make this more effective.

First, you’ll want to keep the lock as far as possible from the ground.  That makes it difficult for thieves.  They won’t be able to use a hammer to smash bits against the concrete.  They won’t be able to use the ground to lever their bolt cutters.  And they’ll eventually get tired of trying to grind or saw something up at shoulder height.  So keep those locks and chains off the ground.

Another thing you should try to do is keep the extra cable or chain to a minimum.  Extra material just gives a potential thief something to work with, or a way to get it down to the ground, or away from the bike.  Do yourself a favor, and take up all the slack you can in your locking system.

Picture 7 - Lock off Ground No SlackYou can augment the basic locking strategy by also securing the lock to the seat tube (frame) instead of just the rear wheel.   This has the benefit of making it “look” more locked, so thieves might be more likely to move on to another bike.  The disadvantage is that it usually requires a bigger U-lock.  And bigger U-locks are more susceptible to prying and leverage attacks.  The bigger the lock, the bigger the pry bar you can wedge into it.  We don’t carry a large U-lock, so I don’t use this method myself.

Another way to augment the basic locking method is by also securing the front wheel.  You can either remove the front wheel and lock it up alongside the back one, or you can run a secondary lock, cable, or chain through the front wheel as well.  Some front wheels can be pretty valuable, but many aren’t.   So think about that when deciding on how you want to secure your bike.

 Picture 8 - Both Wheels Secured

But I’m In My RV.  What do I do?

OK.  So now let’s go through some of the situations RVers are likely to encounter, and I’ll go over how I would lock up my bike in those situations.  The first of those, is on your own bike rack.

Picture 9 - Bikes Locked on RackMany RVers travel with bikes on racks.  In my opinion, this is the place where I need the highest security.  This is the location where I’m likely to leave my bikes on a city street while I’m inside a restaurant for two hours and can’t see it.   This is where the bikes will be while I’m out hiking in the middle of nowhere for four hours.  Accordingly, I pull out the highest level of security here.

First off – higher is better, as we’ve established.  I use my OnGuard Mastiff chain, which is the strongest deterrent I have.  I secure the bike through the rear triangle, as per Sheldon.

I wrap the chain around the bike rack (which is secured to the RV).  I also try to take up any slack in the chain, which makes an attack on the chain more difficult.  Additionally, when I secure the lock, I secure it around part of the bike rack, which makes it almost impossible to get any kind of prying implement inside it.

Picture 10 - Locks Secured on Bike RackNow – VERY IMPORTANT.  If you have rear doors on your RV like our Winnebago Travato here, DO NOT secure your bike or chain to both doors.  This will make it impossible to open the doors!  And that could be a real hazard in an emergency.

If I have only one bike to lock in this situation, I’ll just use one lock.  If I have two bikes to secure I’ll set them nose to tail, and use two locks as you see above.  This has the benefit of securing the front wheels on each bike as well.  With 20 pounds of deterrent, I’m pretty confident about leaving the bikes outside on the rack in most circumstances.

Picture 11 - Lance at Mallibu “Four bikes in this shot – all of them locked.”

At a campsite, I can get away with a little less security.  We’re usually nearby.  Other people are usually around.  And someone running an angle grinder at the Grand Canyon is certainly going to get noticed.  Even so, security is still important, so I follow these guidelines.

First – look for a non-removeable object to lock your bikes to.  You don’t want something that can be pulled out of the ground, chopped off like a sapling, or stolen and tossed into a pickup bed along with your bike.  Fence posts work well here.  But not the links of a chain link fence, for example.  Sign posts also work well, if they’re near your campsite and you’re legally permitted to lock to them.  Picnic tables may or may not work, depending on their construction, and I usually avoid them.

If you can’t find a suitable pole, you can always leave your bike locked on the rack, assuming you have one.  If that doesn’t work for some reason, the trailer hitch is one of my favorites.

Picture 12 - Trailer HitchThe trailer hitch is always there.  Just about every RV has one.  They’re typically rated for some pretty serious loads, which is good.  And at night, if someone tries to cut through some part of it, it’s likely going to wake you up.

The main caveat with using the trailer hitch to lock your bikes is DON’T FORGET ABOUT IT AND DRIVE OFF!  ☺

Picture 13 - Immobilized BikeLet’s say you’re in a “last resort” type situation.  You need to lock your bike, but there’s no bike rack, no pole, no tree.  Nothing.  What do I do in these situations?

Well, the first thing to remember is that, if you follow the Sheldon Brown method and lock your rear wheel through the rear triangle, the bike is STILL UN-RIDEABLE even if it’s not locked to anything.  It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.  Secure your U-lock, Chain, or cable lock to your bike as if you had a pole to lock it to.  At the very least, nobody is rolling your bike away.  They’re going to have to carry it or throw it in a truck.

If you have two bikes in this situation, you’re in even better luck.  In this situation, I secure the bikes to each other, using the same rear-triangle locking method.  Again, nobody’s rolling them away.  And even if they wanted to toss them into a pickup truck, it’s going to be an awful mess to try to pick up.

So, hopefully, now you know a little bit more about how to keep your bikes secure.  That’s the second most important thing you can do with your bike, besides ride it.  And speaking of riding, it’s a great day outside, so I am outta here!  See you on the road.

James