The Complete Guide to Airstream Trailers

Jan 20, 2022

Category: Living

Founded roughly a century ago, Airstream has slowly grown from a small, one-man operation run out of a backyard to an American institution that’s as iconic as its wares are instantly recognizable. While most people are familiar with the Ohio-based outfit and can easily identify one of its luxury trailers, far fewer are privy to the history of the brand and why it holds such a dominant position in the market. With a fascinating history dating back approximately 100 years, we thought we’d take a deep dive into the heralded company, exploring its history and significance, as well as delving into its entire lineup of mobile off-grid dwellings in this complete guide to Airstream trailers.

A Century-Old Tradition

A Condensed History Of Airstream Trailers

Airstream was founded by one Wally Byam in Los Angeles toward the tail-end of the 1920s. Born on July 4th, 1896, Byam grew up on his uncle’s sheep farm where he lived in a donkey-towed wagon that was equipped with a stove, food storage, water, and a host of other creature comforts. Wally would eventually leave the farm and head for Stanford to study, graduating in 1921 before going on to work in advertising, journalism, and publishing. On the weekends, Byam and his wife would routinely go camping, and while he loved being in nature, he was never fond of sleeping in a situation where he was so exposed to the elements.

This disdain for sleeping on the cold, hard ground would ultimately prompt Byam to design an early, primitive pop-up trailer of sorts — an overengineered, collapsible tented structure built atop the frame of a Ford Model T. Between the fact that erecting the tent required an enormous amount of effort and the material not faring well in the snow or rain, Byam would later be prompted to design a new mobile dwelling from the ground up, this time thinking back to his childhood home and bestowing the rolling chassis with a teardrop shape — creating what was essentially a proto-trailer for what would later become Airstream — before installing a stove, an ice chest, and several other appliances and amenities.

This one-off trailer would catch the attention of legions of other campers and travelers who would inquire about the mobile home. This immense interest that was shown by other campers then convinced Byam — who, by the late 1920s, had relocated to Los Angeles — to start a Depression-era operation out of his backyard. Wally would spend the next few years crafting Masonite trailers behind his house, as well as producing a magazine on how to craft DIY trailers using his own design. After getting the business off the ground, Byam purchased the rights to the 1935 Bowlus Road Chief — an all-aluminum travel trailer that was designed by Hawley Bowlus, the same person that famously designed Charles “Lucky” Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis plane.

In 1936, Wally would then introduce what he dubbed the “Airstream Clipper,” which was a rebadged Road Chief with tweaked bodywork that offered a better drag coefficient, helping to improve fuel economy. Borrowing its name from the first-ever seaplane to successfully complete a trans-Atlantic flight, the Clipper boasted a sleeping capacity of four, an electrical lighting system, and an onboard water supply — all in a $1,200 package (or roughly $24,000 today when adjusted for inflation).

The Airstream Clipper experienced early success, though competition at the time was fierce, with over 400 other travel trailer outfits in operation when Airstream debuted its inaugural model. However, with its quality craftsmanship and unique and fetching appearance, Airstream managed to weather the storm over the years and remains in business to this day. Over the subsequent 80-90 years, Airstream has only grown as a company, steadily adding new models from a variety of classes and of a range of vehicle types from travel trailers to touring coaches to adventure vans to Class A and B motorhomes.

In 1984, Airstream was also purchased by the then-newly launched THOR Industries, which still owns the company today. Now headquartered out of Jackson Center, Ohio, Airstream currently employs more than 800 staffers who, on average, produce around 50 trailers each week — or roughly 2,600 per year. The Airstream of today produces a baker’s dozen models, with eight travel trailers and five touring coaches.

It’s unclear what’s in store for Aistream over the next century or so, however, a recently-released concept from its parent company THOR has given us a glimpse at the future of luxury travel trailering in the EV age. Dubbed the Airstream eStream, this trailer concept features its own onboard electric powertrain and battery packs that allow it to partially propel itself while being towed, hugely improving the tow vehicle’s fuel economy (or range). On top of the regenerative capture of braking energy, the onboard dual independent motors and pair of battery packs also afford the eStream the ability to park and move itself short distances while disconnected from the tow vehicle — a function that can be controlled remotely via a smartphone app. So, while the company remains deeply rooted in tradition, it’s abundantly clear that the Airstream brand is nonetheless wholly embracing modern and emerging technologies.

Aluminum-Clad Icons

The Significance Of The Airstream Brand

Interestingly, Airstream is so popular for much of the same reason that its travel trailers are so expensive. The aesthetic designs — at least of its classically/traditionally-styled models — are furthered by the use of unique, polished, aircraft-grade aluminum alloy constructions that are riveted together over steel frames. This gives the trailers a unique and thoroughly iconic appearance that has resonated with every generation since the company’s inception in the 1920s.

These trailers are also manufactured using top-notch craftsmanship and with an excellent eye for detail. And while all these factors afford Airstream travel trailers with immense longevity and the ability to survive decades on the road before needing any refurbishment, it also means they come at a steep price — an area furthered by the cult status the iconic company has garnered over its many years in operation, with full-size vintage models still boasting substantial price tags and commanding exorbitant amounts at auction.

Airstream’s tradition of quality craftsmanship very much lives on today and is another reason the Ohio firm’s wares carry such steep MSRPs. The company routinely turns to brands at the top of their industry when outfitting their trailers with appliances, systems, hardware, and even trim and fixtures. This is all ultimately done in an effort to maximize comfort from anywhere the road takes you, however, it unsurprisingly comes at a cost. But based on the brand’s continued success over the last century, it’s clear this formula is appreciated by a great many adventurers and travelers.

Travel Trailers, Tastes, & Preferences

How To Find The Airstream Model That’s Right For You

With eight different model ranges to choose from, Airstream’s current lineup offers accommodations for anywhere from a single traveler — or single couple — up to two families of four. The best way to figure out which model is best for you is to first consider how many travelers you’ll typically be bringing with you as this will determine the sleeping capacity needed, while also clueing you into factors like the minimum size refrigerator, stove, water tanks, or oven you’ll need.

Whether living out of them full-time or simply having a proclivity for a more spacious trailer, some individuals prefer opting for larger, roomier models, even if they don’t need the accommodations for so many people. Another crucial area to consider when buying any trailer is weight, as you’ll obviously need an engined vehicle to tow the thing. The specs to focus on here are hitch weight, and unit base weight (i.e. the trailer’s total curb weight) — preferably with LP and battery weight factored in.

Regardless of what size model you’ll need, you’ll also want to explore additional amenities such as how many skylights and/or windows a given model has, what type of generator/electrical system it has, whether or not it’s equipped with LED lighting, and what other type of supplementary features it may have, such as a rearview monitoring system, an electric awning, heated shower floors, or an HD TV/satellite TV hookup, just to name a few of the many available options and features.

Well aware of how helpful it is to have all of this vital information readily available at your fingertips, Airstream’s website offers full specs pages on each configuration of each one of its model ranges, and even offers a side-by-side(-by-side-by-side) comparison tool that allows you to easily contrast each models’ specs at a glance. To make the shopping experience even easier, Airstream’s site also allows interested parties to build out their own trailer using an online configurator, or take virtual 3D tours.

The Late Eight

A Look At Airstream’s Current Complete Travel Trailer Lineup

Now that you’re caught up on the history of the company, why it’s held in such high regard, and how to find the model that’s right for you, let’s take a look at each of the eight models that currently comprise Airstream’s long-running travel trailer lineup.

Photo: Airstream

Basecamp Range

First introduced in 2007 before receiving a complete — and critically-acclaimed — redesign in 2016, the Airstream Basecamp is a modern, compact travel trailer that breaks away from the Ohio outfit’s signature teardrop shape in favor of a more contemporary look that retains the iconic riveted aluminum cladding. Measuring 7’ in width and spanning either 16’ or 20’, the Basecamp sleeps up to four, is produced in multiple floorplans, and is also available in a more rugged, off-road-ready X-spec.

Exterior Length: 16’ to 20’
Exterior Width: 7’
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 4
Base Weight: 2,650LBS

Purchase: $43,900+

Photo: Airstream

Bambi Range

Though similar in dimensions to the Basecamp, the Bambi is a compact travel trailer that sports Airstream’s traditional design language and profile — albeit in a truncated form. Beneath the Bambi’s polished aluminum surface, the trailer’s interior is plush and modern through and through, with a full galley kitchen, bathroom with shower, HVAC, a bedroom with blackout curtains, an LED HD TV, and a pillow top memory foam mattress with a quilted bedspread and decorative throw pillows are all standard.

Exterior Length: 16’ to 22’
Exterior Width: 8’
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 4
Base Weight: 3,000LBS

Purchase: $56,500+

Photo: Airstream

Caravel Range

Produced in four different floorplan options, the Caravel is another compact Airstream travel trailer model of the classically-styled variety. Again, the Caravel boasts similar dimensions to the previous two models, however, with an MSRP costing roughly $15,000 more than the prior entry on this list, you may have already figured out that the Caravel offers an even better and more thoroughly-optioned off-grid living experience, with an enormous laundry list of amenities and features that all come as standard.

Exterior Length: 16’ to 22’
Exterior Width: 8’
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 4
Base Weight: 3,500LBS

Purchase: $70,500+

Photo: Airstream

Flying Cloud Range

With sleeping for anywhere from four to eight individuals, the Flying Cloud has long been Airstream’s most popular towable travel trailer model, praised for its all-around versatility and overall family-friendly nature — areas furthered by the fact this model range is offered in more than a dozen different floorplans. Just like the Bambi, the exterior of the Flying Cloud maintains Airstream’s long-held signature appearance with its riveted and polished aluminum cladding while underneath lies a thoroughly luxurious and modern interior that looks more like a boutique hotel than it does your average travel trailer or camper.

Exterior Length: 23’ to 30’
Exterior Width: 8’
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 4
Base Weight: 5,000LBS

Purchase: $89,900+

Photo: Airstream

International Range

A dual-axle travel trailer with room for up to six, the International is a luxury, full-size camper produced in 11 floorplans, with the model ranging in length from 23’ to 30’. On top of a gorgeous interior space, the International also features an opening rear hatch, a dozen skylights and windows, a ducted furnace, an enormous slew of aluminum parts, a rearview monitoring system, and dimmable LED patio lighting, all as standard, though Airstream also offers a host of optional features such as a 90-watt rooftop solar package.

Exterior Length: 23’ to 30’
Exterior Width: 8’
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 4
Base Weight: 5,000LBS

Purchase: $103,900+

Photo: Airstream

Globetrotter Range

Spanning anywhere from 23’ to 30’, the Globetrotter is almost certainly Airstream’s most design-conscious model, with a refined take on the company’s classic exterior design language and an even more modern and well-appointed interior. This includes absolutely stunning handcrafted dark wood trim and cabinetry, woven seating, Airstream’s proprietary Quietstream climate control system, USB and 110V outlets, stainless steel appliances, European Franke bathroom and kitchen faucets, an LG LED HDTV, and a Fusion Touchscreen stereo with Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay, and Bluetooth connectivity — all standard.

Exterior Length: 23’ to 30’
Exterior Width: 8’
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 4
Base Weight: 5,297LBS

Purchase: $108,900+

Photo: Airstream

Pottery Barn Special Edition

In July of 2021, Airstream announced that it had joined forces with home goods, fixtures, and accessories giant Pottery Barn to deliver an ultra-luxe limited-edition trailer. A modified version of Airstream’s 28’ International model, the Pottery Barn trailer is decorated with a host of custom Pottery Barn furniture and accessories such as a special outdoor hanging table, an heirloom-quality solid oak wood table inspired by Pottery Barn’s Benchwright Dining Collection, a collection of canvas storage solution bins, a smart control technology setup, premium Emery Linen curtains, a unique Pottery Barn-designed shower and bathroom, and an exclusive Pottery Barn outdoor accessory kit that’s comprised of a folding table, an armchair set, a doormat, and a 16-piece dinnerware set.

Exterior Length: 28’
Exterior Width: 8’ 5.5”
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 5
Base Weight: 6,600LBS

Purchase: $157,700+

Photo: Airstream

Classic Range

Airstream’s flagship offering, the Classic travel trailer is a luxury home on wheels that’s so sprawling and spacious that it comes with a doorbell. Produced in four floorplans ranging from 30’ to 33’, this dual-axle model is jam-packed with top-shelf features such as a QuietStream Climate Control system, power-controlled blinds, lights, and bed, a full residential-style kitchen with Corian countertops, a stainless steel sink, and a Kohler faucet, Ultraleather seating, handcrafted luxury cabinets, a state-of-the-art smart control system, a bathroom with a heated towel bar and shower floor, and a raising and lowering 65” projection TV. What’s more, the Classic also offers more storage and living space than any other Airstream model.

Exterior Length: 30’ to 33’
Exterior Width: 8’ 1”
Sleeping Capacity: Up To 5
Base Weight: 7,900LBS

Purchase: $179,000+

Photo: Airstream

Engine Equipped Homes-On-Wheels

Airstream’s Lineup Of Touring Coaches

For those interested in more nimble rolling accommodations that can drive themselves rather than having to be towed, Airstream also produces a range of equally high-end, well-crafted, and well-appointed touring coaches. In total, the company makes five different touring coach model ranges, all of which are based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 chassis, with the exception of the Airstream Interstate 24X, which is built around the EXT 4X4-spec of the Sprinter 3500 platform, and the Interstate 19, which is constructed on the Sprinter 2500 frame. Alongside all boasting sleeping accommodations for two, the entire lineup is also powered by one of MB’s 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel engines.

Ranging in length from 19’ 5” to 24’ 9”, Airstream’s touring coach models start from as low as $191,125 for the Interstate 19, and go up to $276,106 for the starting MSRP of the company’s most high-end model, the Interstate24 GT.

Purchase: $191,125+

The 8 Best Trucks For Towing of 2021

Ready to purchase a trailer but don’t yet own a rig to haul it? Then be sure to cruise over to our guide to the best trucks for towing for a look at more than half a dozen of the most capable tow-ready workhorses currently available on showroom floors.

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