If I know anything about my fellow Americans, it’s that we don’t like being told no. We’re also incredibly resourceful. With most international borders closed to us because of uncontrolled COVID-19 spread, Americans have increasingly been looking toward campers and RVs to scratch that travel itch. Airstream, makers of the iconic silver-sided travel trailers, has been one of the many companies to see increased sales as the pandemic has raged on. It also released a new version of its entry-level Basecamp trailer this year, the Basecamp 20. To get a taste of what life is like with a camper trailer, we grabbed a new 2021 GMC Yukon, hitched up a 2021 Airstream Basecamp 20X, and headed for campground in the Santa Monica Mountains. Here are the pros and cons of the new Basecamp 20.
But first, what is the Airstream Basecamp 20X?
Simply put, the 2021 Airstream Basecamp 20 is slightly longer version of the brand’s entry-level Basecamp trailer, which has been retroactively renamed the Basecamp 16. Geared toward those new to travel trailers and designed to be towed with midsize pickups or crossovers, the Basecamp models are relatively small and lightweight. Standard Basecamp 16s are 16 feet, 3 inches long, weigh in around 2,650 pounds, and can sleep two. The new Basecamp 20 is 20 feet long and ever so slightly wider, weighs about 3,400 pounds, and thanks to a slightly different interior configuration, can sleep up to four. There are a handful of other minor differences between the two Basecamp trailer lengths, too.
The Basecamp X off-road package, available on both the Basecamp 16 and Basecamp 20, adds 16-inch all-terrain tires on unique wheels, a 3-inch suspension lift, and some additional protection in the form of a stainless steel stone guard up front and some skidplates underneath.
Airstream Basecamp 20X Pros
It looks great: Although it isn’t as sleek as Airstream’s more traditional offerings, the Basecamp 20X still turns heads wherever it goes. Its satin aluminum finish, art deco-like wraparound windows, and meaty tires meant it was more of a conversation starter with strangers than the brand-new GMC Yukon AT4 that was hooked up to it.
It has a great interior layout: Not only nice to look at outside, but the interior of the Basecamp 20 also makes a great first impression, with stylish Ikea-like finishes and great natural light thanks (again) to those wraparound windows. Having camped in the Basecamp 16 before, I found the Basecamp 20 to have a much-improved interior layout. The extra 4 feet of space allows Airstream to reposition the kitchenette (including a sink and two-burner stove) from the front of the trailer in the 16 to the right side (facing toward the front of the trailer), just aft of the door and forward of the convertible bench/bed in the 20. Up front of the Basecamp 20 is a lovely wraparound breakfast nook that can convert into a bed that sleeps up to two. (This bed is small, so it’s likely best for a smaller adult or a couple of small children.)
With just two adults and a 25-pound beagle-dachshund mix on our camping trip, I found the extra length of the Basecamp 20 allowed an adult to get up in the middle of the night and use the restroom—located on the left side of the Basecamp, just behind the refrigerator and forward of the bed—without tripping over odds and ends (or a dog), a nice improvement over the Basecamp 16.
Great kitchenette: For those who love to cook, the small but efficient kitchenette was a great place to make a meal. The fridge—powered in this case by an optional solar panel on the roof—was big enough for a weekend’s worth of food, allowing us to leave our cooler at home. The burners were on the small side but effective, and the Basecamp 20’s 27-gallon freshwater tank was more than enough for cooking, cleaning, and handwashing for a weekend away.
It’s easy to tow: There’s no denying that towing for the first time can be intimidating for many, but the Basecamp line is a pretty good place to start. The trailers themselves are relatively lightweight, stable at speed, maneuverable in Los Angeles traffic, and easy to reverse into a surprisingly tight camping spot.
Airstream Basecamp 20X Cons
Skip the Off-Road X package: If you really want to go off-road with a camper, the Basecamp X is the wrong choice. Despite the addition of some light armor, a suspension lift, and off-road tires, there’s quite a bit of sensitive hardware hanging low and exposed underneath the Basecamp, impeding clearance. The Basecamp, despite being fairly small and lightweight, is still probably a bit too big and heavy for most serious off-road trails. We’d recommend saving the $2,700-$3,000 upcharge (16X and 20X, respectively) and sticking with a standard Basecamp. If you really want an off-road-ready camper, you’ll no doubt be better served by a small teardrop trailer, rooftop tent, or a slide-in camper designed for a pickup bed—or even a pickup bed turned into a camping trailer, like Toyota recently showed off as a concept.
Build quality is lacking: As we found on the far more expensive Airstream Flying Cloud, interior fit and finish left much to be desired. We were actually the first to ever use our Basecamp 20, and if it were my money, I likely wouldn’t have accepted delivery at the dealership. Among the broken or breaking items: window screens separating from their seals and leaving gaps for bugs to come in, knobs for the various storage cabinets that regularly fell off, and a ripped fabric sheath housing the bed extension pieces. The cushions for the bench and breakfast nook were also secured by just a single strip of Velcro and button each and were more likely than not to wind up on an inevitably dirty floor after transit.
It’s expensive: Which brings us to our last point: The Basecamp 20X is expensive, with our Basecamp 20X starting at $48,900 before options like solar or air conditioning. Expect to spend around $55,000 or so for a unit like ours, which is not a small investment for most Americans. Less the X package, Basecamp 20 prices start at $45,900, while the Basecamp 16 starts at $39,100 and Basecamp 16X at $41,800. Although most rival campers lack the style of the Airstream—save for Happier Campers—many can beat the Basecamp on price and maybe build quality.