Driving with Donna: Toy Hauler Upgrades for Easygoing RV Living
Posted: July 14, 2023
Categories: Travel & Lifestyle
Driving with Donna: Toy Hauler Upgrades for Easygoing RV Living
When we first hatched the idea of living the full-time RV lifestyle, we had no idea how to bring our motorcycle with us. We imagined towing a motorcycle trailer or loading the bike into the bed of a pickup truck, but not once did we consider leaving it behind. It was my mother, a 9-year workcamping veteran, who suggested a toy hauler. It didn’t take us long to find videos and floorplans online, and we quickly narrowed our search and placed the order. In the nearly three years since, we’ve not had any regrets and are still extremely happy with our purchase, although we’ve opted for a few toy hauler upgrades that other campers might benefit from knowing.
Some Things Change, Some Things Stay the Same
Honestly, there aren’t many things we’ve changed. I’ve seen some folks adding upgraded suspension or replacing the ramp with one more weatherproof (now included on our model) but any upgrades we’ve done are not necessarily toy hauler specific. Except the mattress, had it not been for that ramp door and straight shot from the back to the front, we never would have gotten that 11" thick, residential queen mattress in the bedroom! Probably the best toy hauler upgrade ever!
When we placed our build order for the Forest River XLR Nitro, we opted for double-pane windows and a second RV air conditioner. Ours is an open floor plan toy hauler, so the A/C in the living room, a 15K BTU unit, is sufficient for that space. But we wanted a second one in the bedroom since it can be closed off and cooled separately. Both units are ducted, but you can open a dump vent to cool just one space. The 13.5K BTU unit installed in the bedroom can quickly turn it into a walk-in freezer and is a nice supplement to the main A/C on days when we need both. There are aftermarket RV upgrades you can apply to make the units quieter, but at the expense of the “dump” feature. We just turn on the A/C in the other room when we need it quieter in one space. We added an aftermarket soft start gadget so that when we are on a generator or a 30-amp site, we can still use both.
What we declined from the factory were the installed generator and solar systems. A generator directly below our pillow just didn’t appeal and fixed solar panels seemed illogical. We have since purchased a portable suitcase solar panel setup and have two portable generators — all of which can be placed strategically depending on our site setup.
We also opted out of patio railings and three-season doors. The patio railings just seemed like more to haul around. We don’t have kids or pets, and while our patio is able to hold the weight of a couple of adults, we just didn’t see ourselves needing the railings if we chose to sit out there. Same for the three-season doors — it was an expense that we just didn’t see ourselves getting a good return on. Not to mention the added cargo weight. They take up storage space inside when not in use, and hindsight supports our theory that they are just more things with moving parts that can malfunction. An awning for the ramp might be nice, but we do not regret any of the things we didn’t get!
Must-Have Aftermarket Toy Hauler Upgrade Ideas
1. Power Systems/Batteries
After about a year, and at least one refrigerator full of wasted food, we upgraded our batteries from the supplied two 50Ah deep cycle batteries to two 100Ah batteries, and we added a battery monitor inside for peace of mind. Between the new batteries, solar power and generators, we’ve not had any trouble staying comfortable off-grid or on multi-stop drives where we overnight in parking lots and waysides.
2. Lightweight Tables & Chairs
Other changes we made within the first year were less mechanical. Besides hauling toys, a real perk of a toy hauler is you can set up the inside in any configuration you’d like.
After our first shake-down trip, we left the included dinette tables behind. They were removable, attached to the floor with a flange and removable leg posts. But they just weren’t comfortable, and we didn’t want to add more holes to the floor to use them in other places. They were also heavy and cumbersome to break down and store anywhere during travel, being made up of at least four parts that didn’t nest or stack together and poles that wanted to roll all over the place.
Initially, we used a square folding card table but have since upgraded to Lippert’s folding 3-position bamboo camping table. A couple of padded folding chairs complete our dinette set and they all fold and nest together nicely!
3. Interior Seating
I’m generally the one setting up and breaking down inside the RV when we travel. In an open garage toy hauler, this chore is more physical than a standard RV, given that nothing you need for living and camping comfort are affixed in place. For the first year, in addition to removing and stowing the chock, unstrapping and setting up the table and chairs, and shifting the recliners around, I had to raise the HappiJac convertible sofas and lock them into place. Because the idea that a simple pin was the only thing keeping it horizontal, we always opted to fold them down flat against the walls for travel but wanted that space open for set up.
I can’t tell you how many times I cursed those heavy, awkward contraptions. We didn’t use them as seats, would never subject a guest to sleeping on them, and generally had no use for them. But there I was, campsite after campsite deadlifting the sofas for no good reason. After our second big trip out, barely on home turf for a day, I wasted no time pulling them out. At the same time, I removed the trolley stops so the upper bunk will come down lower. We can still sleep five adults comfortably even without those convertible couches and for me, set up is much faster and less profanity-inducing.
The next thing to go were the European recliners. I had an injury that kept me off my feet for a while and it didn’t take long for me to get tired of those things. We replaced them with Lippert’s swivel pushback recliners. These chairs, and the added decorative blackout curtains that hide the ramp door when closed and manage shade when open, make for a cozy living space!
Who needs camp chairs and a hammock when you essentially have a huge screened-in room with all your creature comforts? We laugh that we often find ourselves sitting at the table by the big picture window looking at the outside while our outdoor setup pales in comparison to everyone else’s around the campground.
Drawbacks to Owning a Toy Hauler
There aren’t many drawbacks, in our opinion. They are designed to haul heavy things, so you need a bigger truck and gas mileage isn’t as efficient as smaller, lighter trailers. Ours is a tandem axle and our truck is a dually, so tires can be expensive. However, the payoff is that you get to bring all your toys, big and small.
- Our Kawasaki Vulcan 900
- Two electric bikes
- An inflatable Sup-Yak
- A 22" Blackstone® griddle with all the accessories
- Two outdoor folding tables
- A patio bistro set
- Golf clubs
- A crock pot pressure cooker
- An ice maker
- A three-season wardrobe including dance shoes
- And enough maintenance supplies to keep us in tip-top shape!
Because our rig is a toy hauler and designed with off-grid, back country sports in mind, the holding tanks are larger. We can comfortably boondock for 10-14 days without hesitation, longer with a little extra preparation.
Ideal Add-Ons & Toy Hauler Upgrades
If I had any influence on the designers, my toy hauler upgrade wish list would include smarter placement of the tie-downs and more of them (you really can’t have too many!), a discreet but sturdy wall system for attaching smaller straps and bungee cords, reinforced holding tanks and an access panel on the corrugated plastic underside, so we can easily access some of the plumbing connections. We would also want custom covers for the tie-downs so dirt doesn’t collect in them (I’ve designed a prototype, but so far, no takers on production!)
We’ve often said that even if we didn’t have the motorcycle, we would absolutely get a toy hauler again. We have the flexibility to set up the inside to suit our needs, sit inside what is essentially a screened-in room and still have all the daylight and breeze we want without the bugs. A bonus is that our truck bed also stays clear of supplies and gear. Even when fully loaded during travel, we have a functional kitchen, but we’ve about maxed out weight and capacity, so maybe we’d get a bigger toy hauler next time
Lippert Scouts Donna Weathers and Vic Mulieri are retired veterans who have been traveling the U.S. full-time for the past two years. They alternate their time between months-long volunteer gigs at state and national parks and road tripping in between those opportunities. Unencumbered by deadlines, pets or kids, they often have no idea what day it is and have forgotten how to set alarms. Their home on wheels is a 5th wheel toy hauler and they love exploring the outdoors, historic places and great restaurants wherever they visit. To follow Donna and Vic’s RV adventures, be sure to subscribe to Donna’s blog at wheretonowus.travel.blog.