Sure, there are plenty of ways to explore the world and get out there in this day and age: AirBnBs, tents, hotels, motels, Holiday Inns, and so forth. But —presumably, like you — I often find myself sucked in by the gravitational pull of camper life. Whether it's a camper van, a camping trailer, an RV or even a tent trailer, there's something undeniably romantic and just plain cool about the idea of carrying the niceties of home behind you as you ramble on wherever your heart desires.
So when I had a chance this summer to spend a week adventuring across the American West while living out of one of the best new off-road camping trailers on the market, the Black Series HQ19...well, what was I gonna say other than yes?
My first impression, seeing the Black Series awaiting me in a Boulder cul-de-sac: it’s bigger than I expected. The Ford F-250 Tremor I used as a tow vehicle looks proportionate to the HQ19's mass...and the pickup stands six-foot-eight inches tall. (I know exactly, because of a very delicate incident with a six-foot-nine Denver parking garage.)
Part of that stems from the fact that the “19” in its name isn’t, as you might expect, its length. Tip to tail, the HQ19 is 26 feet long — roughly smack-dab in the middle of the Airstream lineup, for example. Add up the length of your tow vehicle — which, in my case, stretched about 20 feet from stem to stern — and you’re looking at an articulating combo vehicle nearly 50 feet long, bigger than any U-Haul or RV you’re ever likely to wheel about.
Gas stations require very careful, very deliberate maneuvers; measure twice, cut once is the name of the game when plotting how to approach and depart the pumps. Parking in box store or shopping mall lots requires finding a spot as far away from the door as possible, and being prepared to awkwardly block part of the lanes. And for the love of God, if you want fast food, do not attempt to go through the drive-thru.
Given all that brutal efficiency outside, stepping into the HQ19 is like entering a whole different world. In both look and feel, the interior materials seem well worthy of home installation; I was briefly tempted to rip out the bathroom sink and bring it back with me. (“A bear broke in and stole it, I swear!”)
The queen-sized mattress is somewhat of the centerpiece of the interior, what with its dominance of the front end of the trailer. Sleeping is made easy thanks to the retractible bug-proof screens that pull down across the windows; with two big windows on either side of the bed and the crossbreed that comes with them, you can sleep with a peace you’ve never known before…at least, so long as it’s not unpleasantly warm and still outside, as it was a couple of nights during my trip. (That’s when the air conditioner comes in handy.)
Any chefs who normally feel constrained by the weaknesses of a camp kitchen will find a happy home-away-from-home here, as the HQ19 comes ready to cook. For starters, there’s no induction stove B.S. to deal with here; this Black Series packs three gas stovetop burners and a gas-powered oven, with a microwave to boot. The fridge and freezer are well-sized to hold food and drink for two people for several days, and more than capable of holding a nice cold temperature — at least, when connected to shore power. Left to run off the solar panels and batteries, the fridge warmed up a little — but with a full load of already-cool items inside to help maintain temperature, everything stayed quite chill even over the course of a 12-hour drive. (Still, if I were planning on spending a few days off-grid, I might invest in a big Yeti for added cold storage.)
Much like a boat, storage areas are scattered far and wide across the interior, with places to stow gear tucked away in all sorts of places. The “bedroom,” shall we say, boasts closets on either side of the mattress that even offer room to hang shirts and pants, while a deep cabinet above the headboard has space for a couple to bring well over a week’s worth of delicates, unmentionables and other garments that are happy being folded. There’s storage above the kitchen, storage above the dining area, and plenty of space in the bathroom. There’s even a secret hidey-hole under the mattress, in case you need a place to stash anything somewhat out of the way.
Oh, and this can’t be overstated: having a separate bathroom, with separate, standalone features, is a dream come true. Sure, the shower isn’t big — think upright coffin, but less claustrophobic — but the six-gallon water heater and 50-gallon fresh water tank means you can take honest-to-God warm showers like you always dreamed of while camping. And having a full-size toilet that doesn’t share space with sink or shower? Delightful.
While the interior is aesthetically wonderful, there’s no way to get around the fact that it’s certainly tight, like any travel trailer of similar size. Moving about the cabin requires coordination and forethought; there’s only enough room for one at a time in the hallway that runs up the spine, so you’ll need to be ready to duck onto the bed or into the dinette if someone has to pass. Any chefs hard at work in the the well-organized kitchen may want to ask folks hanging around the table to keep their limbs pulled in, and even with the sliding privacy door, anyone seeking to use the bathroom without being heard will likely need to ask any cohabitants to pop outside.
Anyone standing over six feet tall should be wary of the stalactite blister of the air-conditioning system, which hangs down a couple inches below the roughly six-foot-two ceiling height and lies smack dab on the course you’ll have to take to reach the bathroom in the dark of night. And anyone over six-foot-two, well, get used to walking with your neck at an angle. (I found momentary respite by standing in the skylight.)
Still, if life inside grows a little wearisome, you can always pop outside. A motorized canopy slides out at the touch of a remote control button, shading a span around five feet deep and 10 feet wide along the starboard side by the door. (That said, be careful when opening the door with the awning out; it’ll scrape along the canopy unless you prop the awning’s legs up extra-high.) An extendable outdoor kitchen — like a low-tech version of Rivian’s camp kitchen — slides out from beside the door, packing a sink that connects to the on-board fresh water, a stove connected to the propane tanks and more counter space than most New York apartments. And there’s a remarkable amount of storage space hidden in the front, including a pass-through one that packs as many cubic feet as a Suburban with the third row down — more than enough room for all the folding camp furniture you’d want to bring.
And besides, the whole point of a camping trailer isn’t to spend all your time in it; it’s to eat, sleep and avoid the rain there, while spending the rest of your time exploring the world around you. If you want to spend your life inside, buy a house instead.
Originally, I’d been supposed to tow the Black Series across the West using an F-150 Platinum Powerboost, but a last-minute scheduling change meant I wound up with the larger, burlier F-250 Tremor. Suffice it to say, the off-road-oriented truck’s added capability lined up nicely with the trailer’s design and purpose.
The HQ19’s off-road preparations start at the hitch, where — unlike the simple ball hitches favored by most campers — the Black Series attaches to its tow vehicle by way of a Hitchmaster articulating coupling, which allows the HQ19 to move at harsh angles that would detach a traditional trailer from its hitch. But the chassis and suspension are what really deliver the overlanding goods. The galvanized steel chassis is formed from a single piece of metal for added strength, while the wheels are connected to the body by a quad-shock independently articulating suspension, meeting the ground via 16-inch mud-terrain tires.
Full disclosure: as novice trailer folks, my partner and I largely stuck to campgrounds, both for the purposes of having a guaranteed supply of fresh water and electrons and out of the perhaps irrational concerns that might come with camping out alone in the wilderness beyond cell phone service. Still, a brief dash off-road was enough to prove the Black Series very much capable of handling the sorts of terrain that would scare off most SUV drivers.
This section is less a commentary on the Black Series per se as it is living with any sort of decent-sized camping trailer, but they’re all lessons learned from spending a week hauling what amounted to a wheeled tiny house across a thousand miles of America.
For one thing, hauling a trailer means you should be prepared to see some terrifying new figures from your trip computer’s fuel economy reading. Adding more than three tons of mass to a truck engine’s workload is bound to make it work harder, but modern pickup motors are potent enough that acceleration is still brisk enough to
The bigger pain, in the long run, comes from the added drag that the trailer brings to the table. Even with the angled front end, the HQ19 presents a big, blocky surface to the wind, forcing the tow vehicle to fight hard to keep up (and also occasionally inducing some nerve-racking oscillations in the trailer). Drag increases faster the quicker you go; jumping from 50 to 60 mph induces more drag than going from 40 to 50, and so forth, so the faster you drive, the faster your fuel economy goes down.
Every F-250 Tremor comes outfitted with the gnarly new Godzilla V8, a 7.3-liter naturally aspirated gasoline-fueled beast that cranks out 430 horses and 475 lb-ft. While normally two of my favorite phrases in the motoring world, though, naturally aspirated and gasoline-fueled are not exactly the ideal for hauling a trailer long distances at more than a mile above sea level.
Thing is, Wyoming interstate’s speed limit is 80 miles per hour, and plenty of cars (and even some semis) like to cruise 5-10 mph over the limit, much like anywhere else. Keep it at 65 for better fuel economy, and you’ll have every other vehicle on the road blasting by like you’re standing still — a scary proposition when about half of those vehicles are eighteen-wheelers.
As a result, the truck/trailer combo’s highway range wound up coming in at just a little over 200 miles. Add in the sporadic nature of gas stations in Wyoming — you can easily go 50 miles or more without seeing one — and the drive left me with a newfound appreciation for what EV drivers have to deal with on long sojourns.
Detaching and re-attaching the trailer — specifically the latter — is its own set of stressors. More than one person half-jokingly told my partner and me some variation of “hooking up trailers can lead to breakups,” and while our relationship made it through fine, it’s certainly easy to see why it could push an unstable marriage straight into divorce court.
Attaching the trailer is by far the trickier of the two, as it requires backing up your tow vehicle to align very precisely with the hitch — a task that requires a spotter (who, of course, is usually a significant other) to direct the driver in. Luckily, modern technology makes this far easier; the indicator line on the F-250’s rearview camera that tells you where the trailer hitch will be made lining it up easy. The hitch that makes the Black Series so capable off-road doesn’t make things easier; while most trailers simply need their hitch to be higher than the ball, the direct attachment of the HQ19 means the trailer and truck need to have their heights exactly matched. Still, the hydraulic jack of the trailer means it’s easy for the spotter to raise or lower it to match the truck on the fly.
The black water tank of a camper presents its own set of problems. In case you’re unfamiliar, “black water” has nothing to do with the Doobie Brothers song; rather, it’s the septic tank that receives, well, whatever goes in the toilet. (There’s also a separate “gray water” tank that receives the outflow from the sinks and shower.) Expunging it requires attaching a thick hose (which you need to own) from your trailer’s outflow to a dump station — a permanent underground sewage tank at a campsite, opening a valve to let the black water tank drain out via gravity (hence why the dump station tank is underground), then rinsing out the tank using a dedicated water hookup on the outside of the trailer before detaching the thick hose from the trailer and rinsing it out with fresh water. Rubber gloves and a dedicated storage bag for the hose are highly recommended.
On the HQ19, both gray and black water tanks vent through a shared hole at the lower rear of the trailer, creating an ironic similarity to the human body’s own site of black water exodus. Normally, purging them should be a snap; do the black water tank first, shut its valve, then do the gray water tank to clean out the pipes. Our HQ19, however, had, for lack of a better term, been through some shit. As a result of the vibration brought on by many, many cross-country miles and the number of journalists and other testers who’d been through the trailer (in more ways than one), the connection to the black water tank had started to rust and corrode — leading to an unfortunate situation when a clog (which, for the record, was much the fault of previous users) prevented the tank from purging properly, causing a steady, smelly drip of effluent from the stern.
I won’t go into the details of how we solved the problem, due to both the advice of my therapist and legal council. Still, it’s worth noting: if you buy any camping trailer, take good care of the black water tank.
As may seem clear by now, my week spent with the Black Series HQ19 certainly had its share of hardships — but don’t let that lead you to believe it was a bad experience. It’s something I wouldn’t trade away for anything. Camping out of the trailer gave me and my partner a chance to see parts of America we’d never seen before, with a freedom unlike any other form of vacationing. The world is your oyster; you never need worry about where you’ll need to spend the night, because your hotel is always behind you.
Still, if you buy an off-road camping trailer, be sure to make the most of it and take it off-road often — otherwise, something like an Airstream is probably a better bet. But if you really want to dive into overlanding and see new parts of the world while bringing along the comforts of home — well, you’d be hard-pressed to do it better than with an HQ19 hanging from your hitch.
Base Price: $84,995
Weight: 6,122 pounds
Length: 26.24 feet
Washing Machine: standard
Whether you want a little extra storage or an apartment on wheels, these off-road-ready trailers have you covered.