This travel trailer accommodates a crowd while offering utility and style.
By Lazelle Jones
Folks in the market for a new towable RV have more possibilities than ever before. The list includes a slew of new lightweight, affordable travel trailers, including models from Heartland RV.
Earlier this year, while attending a dealer show in Southern California, I took a close look at the North Trail Ultra Lite travel trailer, one of Heartland’s most popular towable brands. This brand is engineered to accommodate the growing, active family that also must keep an eye on the family budget. Depending on the family size, it may even be possible to invite guests to come along for a weekend of fun.
Fully appointed, the unit I reviewed, the North Trail 31BHDD, carries a manufacturer suggested retail price of $42,000 and some change.
The dry weight of the 31BHDD is 7,012 pounds. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is listed at 8,600 pounds, which means it can carry 1,588 pounds of cargo. This travel trailer can be towed by many half-ton pickup trucks and some larger SUVs.
The North Trail’s design and construction merit explanation, starting where the rubber literally meets the road and continuing up to the vacuum-bonded, laminated roof wrapped with seamless thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) material.
First, dual axles host 15-inch wheels with radial tires. The axles are set 20 inches apart from each other in a fore-and-aft position. This configuration assists the standard leaf springs as they intercept and modulate road trauma while evenly loading and distributing the weight of the trailer across a broader footprint. The 20-inch spread also helps to mitigate trailer sway. The twin axles are attached to the Lippert chassis with shackles.
The chassis is a welded-steel, powder-coated structure. Its underbelly is dressed with one solid sheet of flexible material that acts as a vapor barrier and intercepts debris kicked up from the road. At each end of the chassis, electric stabilizing jacks extend and retract with the touch of a toggle switch (one switch for each jack). The control switches are housed inside the full-width storage bay at the forward end of the unit. This convenient location helps when setting up camp or preparing the RV for travel, and they are protected from the elements.
The storage capacity inside this unit-wide bay is 58 cubic feet. The bay doors are huge (36 inches by 20 inches), and because of this they carry a sticker that reads “King Kong Sized Storage.” Doors on either side of the RV provide easy access to this area and feature metal slam latches with magnetic devices that hold them open. The two bay doors are extra thick and insulated with nearly twice the foam core of some competitors’ models. With the deck of the king-size bed sitting directly above this compartment, Heartland technicians insulate and finish off the interior walls of this storage bay for a better appearance. This also helps to keep the area warm during the cold months and cool in the summer.
Heartland reinforces the corners of each baggage door with gussets, which provide the anchor point to which the doors are attached.
Among the North Trail’s most noteworthy features are its 2-inch-thick walls and a 4-inch-thick laminated roof. This compares with 1.25-inch and 1.5-inch thicknesses found in many other RVs. The walls begin with an aluminum frame, where 1.5-inch-thick pieces of cut-to-fit foam block insulation are packed in between the structural members. If you look at the frame that surrounds the sides of the 31BHDD’s two patio-side entry doors, you will see evidence of this 2-inch thickness.
The decorative wallboard on the interior and the fiberglass sheets on the exterior are sprayed with an adhesive and then permanently glued together into unitized wall structures. The walls are mechanically fastened through the interior floor to the steel chassis. The interior floor consists of 5/8-inch sheets of tongue-and-groove plywood that is mechanically fastened to the subfloor structure. The subfloor features laid-in, residential-style insulation. The interior surface is covered with an upgraded RV flooring said to be resistant to tears, slipping, mold, mildew, and cold cracks.
Friction hinges are used on the North Trail’s two full-size entry doors, in place of pneumatic struts. When the doors are subjected to wind and other forces, these hinges permit the doors to move only modest distances and then stop, preventing them from swinging wildly. Nor is a latch required to hold the door to the exterior wall when it is open, for the friction hinges satisfy this requirement as well.
The crowned-roof assembly facilitates moisture runoff. The exterior surface is fiberglass. The interior of the ceiling is curved upward for greater overall height (6 feet 10 inches down the center). The roof is a one-piece laminated structure, which provides added strength.
As noted earlier, the 31BHDD has two entry doors. The front entry likely will host more foot traffic, as it leads into the kitchen and living areas, so it is equipped with a rugged aluminum set of stairs. Rather than folding up into an outside cutout below the door, these stairs have deep, wide steps that fold down from inside the entry when the door is opened. A substantial grab handle rests against the exterior wall and swings out for assistance if required. This may be especially helpful to those who have limited mobility. The difference in these stairs will be noticed the first time you enter or exit the unit. The legs of the steps are adjustable.
The rear door in the 31BHDD floor plan provides entry through the unit’s full-size residential bathroom. A conventional fold-out step is used at this entry.
The large residential bathroom comes with a shower/bathtub, a shower skylight, a hardwood medicine cabinet, and a power vent with wall switch. Heat from the RV’s 30,000-Btu propane furnace is ducted to a register in the bathroom and to adjustable registers in the front and middle of the unit.
A double-over-double bunk bed system is how Heartland characterizes the sleeping accommodations in the North Trail 31BHDD, which are adjacent to the bathroom in the rear of this bunk-bed floor plan. Double-queen bunks accommodate four individuals for sleeping. Both bed levels have a window with a draw curtain for privacy.
Two additional sleepers can use the convertible sofa in the living area slideout room, which is powered by a Norco cable-driven electric mechanism. In the 31BHDD, this is adjacent to a U-shaped dinette, which also converts to a bed. Sliding windows in the slideout provide abundant ventilation.
In the front of the RV, the master bedroom comes standard with a 72-inch-wide king-size bed with overhead storage, reading lights, and wardrobes on both sides.
The fresh-water system holds 51 gallons (45-gallon holding tank plus a 6-gallon water heater); the gray-water and black-water tanks hold 40 gallons each.
The fully appointed galley includes a microwave oven, a three-burner propane cooktop, a power range hood with light, a two-way 8-cubic-foot refrigerator/freezer with a “doodle station” (chalkboard panels), and a country-style galley sink with a pull-out faucet. Drawers and cabinets yield volumes of easily accessible storage; drawers are equipped with steel ball-bearing full-extension guides.
The 31BHDD has an exterior kitchen with a slide-out cooktop as standard equipment. Customers may opt for a grill, regardless of floor plan. A quick disconnect enables its use with the RV’s propane system — twin 20-pound tanks that are secured on the tongue of the trailer up front.
All 15 North Trail models can be enjoyed with Heartland’s optional Caliber Edition, a collection of accessories that provide mega amounts of utility. Several of these features are worthy of note. The first is a platform in the rear that can accommodate 200 pounds of gear, such as a load of firewood, storage containers, etc.; it folds down by pulling two pins. A second rear accessory secures two bicycles for travel. Other exterior items in the Caliber Edition package include a power tongue jack and power stabilizer jacks.
Inside are more Caliber Edition features. For example, the galley comes appointed with a true solid-surface countertop, the stainless-steel under-mount sink, and residential hidden/adjustable hinges on all cabinet doors. Other items in the package include a porcelain toilet with foot flush, a 32-inch smart HD television, and a central vacuum system.
RVers may opt for other North Trail options as well, such as a 15,000-Btu roof air conditioner in place of the standard 13,500-Btu unit, and/or a second 13,500-Btu roof air conditioner and 50-amp service.
Today, more so than ever, manufacturers are offering cutting-edge towable units that enable RVers to travel in fashion, style, and comfort. Add to this a concentration on utility and functionality, and Heartland focuses on filling all these needs.
Specs | Heartland North Trail 31BHDD
Heartland RV, 2831 Dexter Drive, Elkhart, IN 46514; (574) 262-5992; www.heartlandrvs.com
TIRES AND WHEELS
15 inches, aluminum wheels
(1) dealer provided
Magnum 2,800-watt inverter/charger
30 amps, standard; 50 amps, optional
35 feet 11 inches
11 feet 4 inches
6 feet 10 inches
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY
block foam, walls (R-7) and roof (R-11); residential fiberglass, floor (R-11)
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray water — 40 gallons;
black water — 40 gallons
6 gallons propane/electric
30,000-Btu propane furnace, ducted
13,500-Btu with dual ducts; 15,000-Btu, optional
8 cubic feet, two-way (propane and electric)
1 year limited; 3 years limited structural
SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE