Dispatches from life on the road

Modern Nomad

Testing the New Airstream Basecamp

This sleek little unit is great weekender, but it’s no match for our 23-foot-long Artemis when it comes to permanent road life

The Basecamp is a handsome little trailer. (JJAG Media)
Airstream

This sleek little unit is great weekender, but it’s no match for our 23-foot-long Artemis when it comes to permanent road life

My wife, Jen, and I cheated on Artemis, our Airstream, last weekend. The folks at Airstream offered to let us test their weekender unit, the Basecamp, so we locked up our own trailer for a few days and borrowed a demo at a dealership in Colorado's Front Range. 

From almost the moment we got the new little trailer till the moment we returned it, the weather ranged from misty and cool to pouring and downright cold, and snow dusted the peaks one brisk morning. I’m not superstitious, but in Denver, which boasts 300 days a year of sunshine, five straight days of rain started to feel like a voodoo curse by a disgruntled family member frustrated by our infidelity. And yet despite the soggy weather, the getaway made us pretty fond of the little Basecamp. 

On the surface, there’s nothing to dislike about the baby trailer, which Airstream revamped and relaunched about a year ago. Measuring 16'3" from tongue to tail and 2,585 pounds empty, this is Airstream’s smallest unit. The company says that many mid-size SUVs are big enough to pull it, even some Subarus. Despite the unit’s diminutive size, it packs in pretty much all the essentials: kitchen, including a 3-cubic-foot electric-propane refrigerator; wet bath with shower from the 22-gallon fresh tank and sewage stored in a 29-gallon combined black and gray tank; and a spacious bench seating area with removable tables that folds into a bed for two. And though the unit doesn’t get Airstream’s standard tube-shaped construction, it keeps the company’s inimitable mod styling, both inside and out, including huge wrap-around windows covering over two-thirds of the wall space.

With temperatures forecast in the 40s on the Front Range, we scrapped our plans to go to the high mountains around Steamboat Springs, where we figured it would surely be cold and snowy. Instead we headed to Buffalo Creek, an old favorite riding and climbing spot an hour or so southwest of Denver where we haven’t camped since we lived in the area a decade ago. Under iron skies belching heavy rain, we looked at all the tent campers huddling in the cold as we passed in search of a site and felt grateful that we had such a trick little home for the weekend. Once we found a site, we whipped the Basecamp into position, got soaked levelling and stabilizing it, then scurried inside where we cranked the heat and settled in to some work and a good book. This would be the cozy weekend writing retreat.

Airstream
(JJAG Media)

A few initial observations about the Basecamp. First, it is very easy to tow and incredibly maneuverable compared to 23-foot-long Artemis. We barely even noticed the weight behind the Colorado, though we did appreciate the lift we'd put on our trailer, as the clearance on the Basecamp is low enough that we were close to scraping on a few washed-out ribs in the road. Second, the Basecamp is far more spacious than we imagined it would be. Even on a weekend when we barely went outside, the seating area felt ample and, thanks to the layout, the kitchen was almost more spacious than ours in Artemis.

Third, and most important, even though Artemis is only three years old, the upgrade in technologies on the Basecamp is impressive. Though we never got to test it (because the sun never came out), the built-in, 160-watt solar system that trickles straight to the battery is an awesome upgrade. And the new fridge and heating/cooling system, a ducted system that the dealership referred to as “radiant,” are so quiet and efficient that, if it weren't for the toasty interior, we'd wonder if the system was even on. That might not sound like a big deal, but the appliances on Artemis are so loud that we sometimes forgo heat and cooling and generally turn off the fridge at night in order to enjoy the birdsong and crickets. 

One morning of our stay, we woke to an even deeper silence than we’d become accustomed to: the rain had finally ceased. The sandy, decomposed granite soils at Buffalo Creek are incredible at draining, and, despite the days of rain, there was virtually no mud. Gathering our gear, Jen and I dashed out to explore the Little Scraggy Trail, a 12.6-mile loop built since we’ve last visited the area. I don’t know if it’s just because I’d been cooped up for days, but the riding—a rollercoaster of sweeping turns and purpose-built berms through house-size granite boulders—was some of the most fun I’ve had on a mountain bike in a long time. Best of all, the weather had driven most of the tent campers home and I had the trails to myself, which I understand is a rare treat these days in the Front Range. The final three-mile descent through banks and loops of silky single track were so fast and entertaining that not even the return of the rain could spoil the ride.

Airstream
(JJAG Media)

By the time I got back to the Basecamp, the storm had fully clamped back down, and I was again relieved for the warm, dry refuge. We spent the rest of the trip hunkered down against the elements with hot shower, hot food, and music cranked over the built-in stereo. But the benefits of trailer life were clear all over again. Thanks to that Airstream, we stuck it out through one of the rainiest stretches I’ve ever seen in Colorado and got some killer trails all to ourselves. 

There are things I would change about the Basecamp. The front plastic storage area feels cheap and makes accessing the propane tanks difficult. While the full-wrap windows do a great job letting in light, I wish the rear door was bigger (as on the original Basecamp), for easier gear hauling and better access to the outdoors. We’d definitely have to put a lift kit on the Basecamp as the ground clearance is just too tight for the places we want to go. And our biggest niggle was with the fold-down bed, which was spacious side-to-side but felt too short, even for me at 5’10”. Besides that, as our Airstream is our primary home, it would never work for us to fold our bed up and down every day.

That’s the thing about this trailer: it’s an excellent weekender that would work great for the occasional longer trip. Whether or not it’s worth the $34,900 base price, which rises to just under $40,000 with all the options, depends on how much you value design. There are far less expensive small trailers out there that will get the job done. But nothing I’ve ever seen so well blends space, style, and functionality. The Basecamp is a handsome little trailer, and if we weren’t on the road full time, I could see us trading down. Though we imagined it would feel like a demotion from our 23-footer, the truth is we liked many things about it just as much as Artemis (and a few things, like the heating system and the black-out shades, even better).

Yet we settled back into Artemis immediately after we dropped off the Basecamp. Our home is spacious, the bed plush, the work space is better for 24/7 road life, and there’s far more storage for gear and clothing. We might take the occasional moonlight in another trailer, but we’d never cast her aside.

With order thus restored to our universe, it even finally stopped raining.

Filed To: Car Camping / Gear / Travel

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