Ross Recommends – Must-Have Gear List for the RVer

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Dear Reader,

From time to time, I may recommend certain products on this blog. These are typically products I’ve used and loved, or products I’ve heavily researched and believe in. Many times, I’ve spoken directly with representatives of the company.

AskTheRVEngineer.com is an authority blog, not a digital storefront. So I only recommend stuff I really like. As I wrote in my open letter, trust is so important. And as a professional in the RV industry, I have pretty strong opinions about a lot of the cheap cr*p being pitched by shady, sleazy, get-rick-quick shysters! 

So rather than posting sales pitches masquerading as “review articles” or something like that, I’ve come up with this list instead: Ross Recommends!

If you’re interested in why I advocate a particular product, you can read my honest opinion here. And if you disagree, email me. I’m always learning!

-Ross, “The RV Engineer”

Table of Contents

What's the Criteria for Inclusion?

  1. My advice has to be helpful. I’m not going to recommend stuff like tire chocks, sewer hoses and mattress toppers. You already know you need that stuff!
  2. Personal experience or in-depth research. I’ve used, owned or subscribed to most products on this list. If I haven’t, you can bet I’ve dissected the product data sheets, read all the reviews, and contacted the company directly.
  3. A good balance of quality and price. You will rarely see anything super-cheap or super-expensive on this list. You get what you pay for! – but you also don’t have unlimited funds. So I often look for lowest cost of ownership.
  4. I don’t do knockoffs. Sorry, but brand matters! I generally recommend products made by trustworthy companies in charge of their own design or manufacturing, not private-labels or overseas knock-offs. You get a better part and MUCH better customer service from the original company!

Inverter Generator

I bought my first Champion generator, oh, about 8 years ago. And I fell in love.

An inverter generator isn’t the smelly, noisy, cantankerous generator you see at construction sites. They run quietly (more hum than roar), consume less fuel, and can be picked up with one hand!

If you are looking for topnotch quality without expense, then I would recommend a Honda or a Yamaha. These generators are from the two premier small engine manufacturers in the world!

But for best overall value, you just can’t beat a Champion inverter generator.

Why I Love The Champion Inverter Generator

I was amazed when I first turned it on! It turned over on the first pull. It started humming inside my garage, and I could still have a normal conversation with my brother standing beside me!

For me, the Champion 2000W generator ticked all the boxes:

  • Fuel-efficient! Up to 11.5 hour run-time.
  • Under 40 lbs so I could (somewhat) easily carry it.
  • Started easily in freezing weather.
  • 120V, 12V, and USB outlets! No adapters needed, thank God.
  • Less than 3% THD so I could power my laptop computer without worrying about damage to circuit boards.

2000W starting/1700W running is the Goldilocks size. It’s big enough to power a window A/C or some high-efficiency rooftop A/Cs, but small enough I could justify turning it on to run the microwave or recharge the computers. 

You can bigger versions, dual-fuel (gas or propane), and push-button start models, but for me, the basic 2000W inverter generator was perfect.

Now, it’s not quite as refined as a Honda or Yamaha. Those are little marvels of engineering! And I would NEVER dissuade anyone from purchasing one of them! 

But I knew I wasn’t going to run the generator every day, and I didn’t want to spend $1,000. Nor did I want to throw my money away on a knock-off generator designed to last MAYBE a 100 hours of run-time (looking at you, Harbor Freight!). So for me, Champion was the best choice.

Surge Protector EMS

A surge protector is not optional.

Unfortunately, most RV manufacturers don’t include surge protectors standard. (Sorry about that!) No one wants to increase the price of their units by $100 to $250 over a component that can be purchased aftermarket.

But if you think you can’t afford a surge protector, you really can’t afford a fried converter, burnt-out air conditioner, or RV fire!

When I say “surge protector,” I really mean an EMS. Basic surge protectors just guard against lightning strikes and that sort of thing. EMS surge protectors offer both diagnostic information and advanced protection against brownouts, blackouts, spikes and surges, reversed polarity, bad grounds, and a host of other electrical issues.

And the original inventor of the RV EMS is Progressive Industries.

Why I Love The Progressive Industries Surge Protector

So, let me be honest – while I love Progressive Industries, I have nothing bad to say about their two big competitors, Southwire Surge Guard and Hughes Autoformers.

All three of these companies build excellent models. In my mind, what sets Progressive Industries apart is A) its single-minded dedication to the industry and B) its customer service. 

I prefer the portable surge protectors over the hard-wired units. I also like the all-in-one units, like the EMS -PT30X. I want something I can plug in and read immediately.

I won’t rehash all the reasons why an EMS is a bajillion times better than a simple surge protector. I wrote an whole article about it here!

Truth be told, I think you’re crazy if you go RVing without a surge protector. The power distribution systems in most campgrounds are WAY overtaxed and decades old. They’re not reliable. Voltage brownouts are practically scheduled. I mean, why wouldn’t you spend $250 to protect a $30,000 RV? That’s a 0.08 percent hedge against destruction!

Zero Breeze Portable Air Conditioner

I’m so jealous. If I had the time and brains, I would have invented the Zero Breeze air conditioner!

Why in Pete’s name the RV industry still uses super inefficient, loud, draft rooftop air conditioners, I have no idea. But that’s the standard.

It’s impossible to run an air conditioner while dry camping or boondocking unless:

  • A) you have a generator rated at least 2000+ watts and a high-efficiency A/C with soft-start or
  • B) you invested a ton of money into building up a giant battery bank, a 3000W hardwired inverter, an A/C soft start, etc.

So if it’s 108 degrees in Arizona and you’re exploring BLM land, you’re SOL.

… Unless you have the Zero Breeze Mark 2!

The Zero Breeze is the real. deal.

It’s not a thermoelectric cooler masquerading as an air conditioner. Thermoelectric coolers are only good for trucker’s lunchboxes, not room A/Cs!

It’s not a swamp/evaporative cooler masquerading as an air conditioner. These humidifying coolers only work in dry, arid environments! 

It’s a real compressor air conditioner somehow compacted into a little box weighing less than 20 lbs!

And it’s battery powered. Totally cordless. You can get up to 5 hours of run-time out of one charge!

My mind is blown. I can barely get 5 hours out of my smartphone battery, and this thing has a bajillion times more power.

It works in RVs, tents, cars – pretty much anywhere. And you can recharge it using a “cigarette lighter” outlet, solar panels, or regular wall plug. Or BYOB (bring your own battery).

Full disclosure: I don’t own one. Not yet. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity. Black Friday, anyone?

Andersen No-Sway Weight-Distribution Hitch

I’ll begin with some deflation.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all weight-distribution hitch.

And the perfect WDH has yet to be invented. Every single product has its limitations.

The “perfect” load-leveling hitch for you actually determines on what type of towable RV you have, the size of your tow vehicle, and your driving style!

So I’m not here to preach Andersen to all the world. It does have some limitations.

  • It doesn’t return as much weight to the front axle as a traditional spring bar WDH.
  • The shank is a bit short, so trailers with short tongues might be at risk of power jack or tailgate interference.
  • Some newer truck models (2011 and after) have built-in anti-sway control that may interfere with the Andersen WDH. You may have to disable this feature.
  • It exerts A LOT of force against the coupler, so if you’re using an Atwood 88XXX series coupler, you might see some issues. Andersen has an FAQ about that here.
  • You need some beef in the tongue rails. If you have a lightweight trailer with thin U-channel tongue bars, they could crumple or dent. The Andersen hitch is compatible with frame rails 3 to 8 inches in height.

The Andersen hitch used to have a few other issues with certain components wearing out, but most of those kinks have been worked out since the No-Sway hitch was launched over 10 years ago.

The Andersen No-Sway, No-Bounce WDH has a reputation that it doesn’t like being pushed to its limits. So if you’re thinking of towing a 10,000-lb travel trailer with a half-ton truck, you might want to consider a spring bar WDH like the EAZ Lift bent bar hitch or Weigh Safe True Tow.

But if you’re not trying to flog your tow vehicle to death, then I think your best choice for towing a travel trailer is the Andersen weight-distribution hitch.

The Andersen WDH isn’t your typical spring bar hitch. These other hitches are true workhorses, but rough around the edges.

Other Hitches:

  • They’re loud and squeaky.
  • You gotta disconnect and stow away the spring bars if you want to back up or drive off-road.
  • You gotta get buy different spring bars for different weight ratings.
  • They’re heavy and dirty.

Andersen Weight Distribution Hitch:

  • Super lightweight at only 60 lbs! Easier to install and allows you to carry more weight!
  • Chains can be tensioned for ANY trailer weight up to the maximum rating! No need for different spring bars.
  • Super quiet! No need to lubricate metal-on-metal contact points. Never use any grease on the ball or coupler, either!
  • No sway or bounce. Traditional spring bar hitches are known for bouncing or “porpoising” under sudden acceleration or deceleration. The Andersen WDH doesn’t have that problem, because the chains can’t absorb energy like spring bars.
  • Easy to back up. You don’t have to disconnect anything! 
  • Adjusting is almost idiot-proof. All you need is a rachet with a 1/2″ drive and a 1-1/4″ socket. No pry bars needed. Or you can even just lower your tongue jack, adjust the nuts by hand, and crank it back up!
  • Self-adjusting sway control. The Andersen Hitch uses a built-in friction cone system, where more tongue weight = higher friction. 
  • Can configure the hitch as a load-leveling hitch or a simple weight-carrying (ball mount alone) hitch.
  • Andersen also offers special parts so you can connect to a 2.5″ or 3″ receiver.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan. It’s just good, simple, reliable engineering.

One “mod” I would call to your attention is to securely hold the frame brackets to your tongue using one of two methods (shown in their installation instructions):

  • Drilling a hole for the set screw
  • Properly welding the brackets to the tongue

Curious to learn more?

Ross

RV engineer by day, intrepid blogger by night (and occasionally weekends). This website is all about how RVs work, and sometimes why they don't. Bookmark pages that you find helpful, and join my email list for exclusive monthly awesomeness.