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Airstream Basecamp and Ford F-150 Power Stroke Review | Ready for the weekend wars

An indulgent combination for convenience-oriented campers

  • Image Credit: Alex Kierstein

DOSEWALLIPS STATE PARK, Wash. — Western Washington is the kind of place where all summer, folks dash out of their offices on a Friday and don't come back until Sunday night, or Monday if they can get away with it. The freeways are jammed with trucks towing a brace of quads, kayaks strapped to roofs, RVs, and, for a weekend, me. Towing a newish Airstream Basecamp to the Olympic Peninsula, where there's a campsite alongside a mountain-fed river that dumps into a massive fjord system known as Puget Sound.

The Basecamp isn't exactly the Airstream you imagine when you think of an Airstream. It looks more like a horse trailer dressed up as a Cylon than the classic aluminum sausages we're familiar with. But the somewhat homely shape enables the Airstream to provide a large, relatively practical space inside, with standing room in all the areas you'd need it. Forward, along the sweeping front windows, there's a small galley and a remarkable amount of overhead and under-counter storage. Further back, there's a toilet-shower combination about the size of an old-time phone booth, and aft of that there's a leaf-shaped area that converts from a settee to a bed.

Let's cut to the chase: It's a great space for two people, and that's exactly what it's intended for. There's just enough storage and space to not require rearranging everything to get things ready for bed, and the atmosphere inside is suitably upscale. The interior walls are shiny metal, and the surfaces are all finished well. Think about a trendy new-construction condo's entry lounge. That's about the aesthetic.

And despite the fact that the big sweep of windows carried a serious privacy tint, it is still bright and airy inside when all the interior curtains are rolled up. The only interior lights you need during the day are in the bathroom. Airflow, particularly with the roll-up, full-size screen door in place, is exceptional. We were able to fine-tune the windows and vents throughout the trip to stay cool during the day and warm enough at night without the camper getting stuffy. Compared to a tent or a typical trailer, this was a treat.

What's not seen is an array of subsystems that set the Airstream Basecamp apart from pretty much every other camper in this size range and contribute to its substantial retail price. For one, there's a combination water heater-furnace with a very European thermostat interface. After a quick orientation, it was intuitive enough to use, but I'd be remiss to leave out the fact that many other reviewers have reported issues using this system. After taking a peek under the access panels, it seems prudent to make sure there's an Airstream dealer near you in case things need fiddling to work properly.

The first night, my family boondocked camper lingo for not hooking up to "shore" power or city water. Not the Basecamp's strong suit. There's plenty of water but not enough battery to do more than a night or two without severe energy conservation. Our partially-shaded spot didn't let the solar panels charge the batteries one whit. With an infant to chase around, the careful conservation dance required to make it three whole days was a bit much. We managed to snag a new spot with power and water hookups, which let us experience the full Basecamp experience.

Well-insulated and quiet inside, the almost silent heater didn't have to do much to keep us warm once we had a reliable source of power. Our baby, well, slept like a baby inside. We, crowded by a bassinet, had to sleep across the bed laterally, and it was wide enough to accommodate this. With nearby USB charge ports and a little cubby to store phones, it was a more convenient bedroom than those of many chain hotels. Likewise, the kitchen area is surprisingly functional, with an abundance of counter space to actually prep and cook a real meal. The little shower is less of a hassle to use than it looked at first. With a little pre-planning and rearranging, everything we needed to do inside was easy enough to accomplish.

One other thing: Rolling into this campsite, filled to the brim with older Airstreams and newer but less fancy Jaycos, the Basecamp attracted an astounding amount of attention. It seemed like everyone in the campsite wanted to come by and check it out. "Is that an Airstream? How do you like it? I was thinking of getting one ..." is how the conversation always seemed to go. Few seemed to blink when I dropped the price on them.

The Basecamp starts at $35,000. It is, by a long shot, more expensive than typical campers in this size from Jayco, Keystone, and the like, offering a bit less room inside but a substantially more upscale interior experience. To put a finer point on it, the Basecamp is a glamping experience, plain and simple. Its amenities put it in another category. The experience of camping in one made all the difference in the world for my partner. She has camped all her life, mostly in tents at similar campgrounds, and loves it but was appreciably more comfortable, better rested, and felt more energized in the Basecamp.

And more to the point, the increasing luxury content of all vehicles makes a fancy camper like the Basecamp a savvy play. After all, most campers are towed by trucks and SUVs, ones fairly utilitarian like the campers they pulled. Now consider our tow vehicle, a 2018 Ford F-150 Platinum with the Power Stroke V6 turbodiesel representing a broad swath of increasingly popular upscale trucks and SUVs. It sports leather all over, with massaging heated and cooled front seats. This stuff doesn't raise eyebrows these days, but if the Airstream Basecamp is a glamper, the F-150 Platinum Power Stroke (which starts at a hair under $60,000 with no options) is a gluck. Or something. You get the idea. More important, my passengers were comfortable enough to instantly fall asleep for the entire ride out to the campsite.

The powertrain choice was inspired, whatever the interior amenities. The Lion turbodiesel V6 is a smooth operator born out of a Ford partnership with European auto conglomerate PSA, and found its way into a bunch of Jaguar Land Rover products. I don't have any hard evidence, but I'd like to think the JLR involvement helped refine the engine. Whoever's responsible for making the F-150's cabin quiet should be commended. Except for a light clatter at idle and a low redline, it's tough to know you're driving a Power Stroke-branded engine rather than just a direct-injection V6. In my mind, this is the best of both worlds: diesel torque and economy without its main drawbacks of noise, vibration, and harshness.

Right, so it's quiet. More important, it moved the 2,585-pound (unladen) Basecamp around with authority. The Power Stroke F-150 is a bit sedate unless prodded, and not much changed between pulling and not pulling the trailer except a bit more throttle input on long freeway grades. There's MORE than enough power in reserve to haul what's a very light load for a 1500-class pickup these days. After all, the Power Stroke-equipped F-150 can haul up to 11,400 pounds. The telltale sign it's back there is the light back and forth tug from the trailer pushing and pulling on the hitch not much, and par for the course when towing.

One regret is that, due to a screaming child, I didn't have time to set up the trailer assist system before I left. I've used this exact system during the Ford Expedition first drive and it worked great and incidentally, the trailer I was backing up then was an Airstream Basecamp. Even without the system activated, the Airstream is easy to back up, and the F-150's rearview camera is well-suited to the task. I found it easy to straighten and place the trailer on both a paved and an unpaved, irregular pad (we moved spots at the campground to get a better sense of how the trailer set up on both surfaces). I'm a trailering novice, having done so maybe a dozen times and never on a regular basis with my own trailer, and I found neither the truck nor the camper to be particularly tricky in any regard.

The trickiest aspect of the whole thing was deciding whether to recommend the Basecamp at all. Judging by the reaction it got, it has massive appeal among camper owners. Since few batted an eye at the price, the small but extremely premium segment seems to have legs. We found it to be a quiet, comfortable refuge in between day hikes and exploring the beach, which is exactly the intent. It's the perfect lifestyle accessory for a near-luxury outdoor lifestyle and the coddling F-150 Power Stroke is the perfect complement to this upscale camper.

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