It’s easy to be inspired by Instagram posts of Airstreamers enjoying cocktail parties, oversized camping chairs, and campsite games. But before you break the bank buying glamour, invest in the fundamental equipment and gear that will keep you safe and issue-free on the road. Without the right essentials, you can easily find yourself stuck on the side of the road with a costly problem, or facing a trip-killing repair.
Here are 36 things we recommend Airstreamers travel with, in three categories:
- Absolutely Essential – Don’t leave the driveway without it
- Highly Recommended – Makes travel safer, less stressful, and more comfortable, and we always carry it in our rig
- Nice to Have – We use and recommend it, but you can live without it
Obviously you need a tow vehicle with a hitch to take your Airstream off the dealer lot. In addition to that, you won’t be able to take your first trip without these essentials.
1. Brake controller
This little device activates the trailer brakes automatically whenever you use the brakes in your tow vehicle. Most also have an emergency feature that allows you to push a button or flick a lever to immediately activate the brakes, which is essential if the trailer goes out of control.
If your tow vehicle doesn’t have a built-in brake controller (most don’t), make this one of the first pieces of equipment you buy as a new Airstreamer. Not only can a brake controller quite literally save your life, it’s illegal to tow a trailer as heavy as an Airstream without one.
Most RV dealers sell and install brake controllers, as do places that install hitches or automotive electronics. If you’re looking to save a bit of money you can purchase one on Amazon or eTrailer and install it yourself, but if you aren’t experienced at installing automotive electronics you should have it professionally installed.
2. Drinking water hose(s)–50 feet total
You can’t hook up to campground drinking water without one. We recommend investing in a good quality hose – not a cheap ($25-$30) “white” hose from an RV store or Wal-Mart. Why? Because cheap, white hoses are heavy, bulky in an Airstream compartment, and prone to kinks and leaks. You’ll end up replacing them every few years–which doesn’t really make them “cheap” in the long run. Plus, most of them aren’t rated for hot drinking water, so they leach chemicals into the water if you leave them lying in the sun.
Our Ultimate RV Water Hose is guaranteed not to kink, leak, or leach toxic chemicals. It’s lightweight, self-coiling, easy to store, and it gets great reviews from Airstreamers.
3. One or two sewer hoses, 20 feet total
You need a sewer hose to connect your Airstream to the sewer hookup in a campground, or to the dump station. Sewer hoses are inexpensive and available at RV stores, Wal-Mart and Target.
Money-saving tip: What about those little “roller coaster” looking supports you see RVers use under their sewer hose? Save your money; you don’t need them if you follow proper holding tank maintenance and dumping procedures.
4. Set of leveling blocks
These stackable plastic squares or curves are placed under your wheels, allowing you to level your trailer wherever you park it. They are essential gear for every trip we take. The photo below shows why: The orange leveling blocks under our tires were used to level us in our friends' side yard, when we courtesy parked at their home in Michigan.
The square-type blocks come in a pack of 10 and you’ll find them for less than $50 at Wal-Mart, Camping World, RV stores, etc.
Leveling blocks are lifesavers when you’re parked on an uneven surface.
5. Full freshwater tank
Want to use your own bathroom at a rest area, or wash dishes after making yourself lunch at nice stopping spot? Both require water. What if you unexpectedly end up somewhere without hookups for the night? You need water.
All of these are reasons why we never leave without a full freshwater tank. And after we found this handy dandy little tank filler with a shut off valve, the fill-up process got a lot easier.
Tip: We also carry a gallon or two of purified drinking water.
6. Full (or nearly full) propane tanks
We don't leave the driveway without propane in the tanks. It's smart preparation for the unexpected. An elevation change could drop the temperature and you'll need to run the furnace. Or, you might end up in a town or campground where restaurants are few and far between, so you'll need to use the stove. Propane is a must-have for both.
7. Tire changing kit
Airstream trailers do not come with all the tools you need to change a tire. Roadside Assistance is nice to have but it won’t help you if you get a flat outside of cell service–which happens a lot more than you’d think.
Carry all the tools and instructions to change a trailer tire so you can either DIY or have someone help you. Our tire changing kit includes all the tools that Airstreamers with dual and triple axle trailers need, plus step-by-step instructions. It’s cheap insurance against the unexpected. Here’s what you should travel with in order to change a tire:
Note: If you have a single axle trailer, you’ll need to also purchase a bottle jack. (Dual and triple axle trailers do not require a jack to change the tire if you have leveling blocks.)
8. Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS)
This system monitors the pressure in the Airstream’s tires and alerts you when they are running low. It’s critical safety equipment for towing because when a tire is going flat you can’t feel it from the driver’s seat.
We recommend (and use) the TST brand TPMS for its reliability and quality. And, we recommend installing the repeater that comes with the TST system. It will ensure the connectivity between the monitor and the tire sensors. With so many people using devices that have radio frequency (RF) transmitters in their vehicles these days, the repeater is essential for highest reliability.
If you aren’t sure how a TPMS works or why it’s important, this video explains it.
9. Electrical management system (EMS)
Better than a surge protector, an EMS will save your air conditioner and electric wiring and devices from getting fried during power surges, low power brownouts, and faulty writing (quite common in campgrounds). An EMS device is plugged into the campground power outlet, and your Airstream power cord is then plugged into the EMS.
We recommend the Progressive EMS Power Protection – a high quality brand that we use ourselves. It’s got a lifetime warranty and the company will replace the unit if it gets zapped. Choose from 30 amp or 50 amp, depending on your Airstream’s plug. (If you have two air conditioners, you need a 50-amp version.)
10. Spare set of entry door keys
Your Airstream comes with two sets of keys but you really need a spare set that you can hide in case of an accidental lockout. The vast majority of local locksmiths don’t carry Airstream key blanks so purchase a set before you travel, and stash them in a magnetic key box in a hidden location, or inside your tow vehicle.
We are the only retailer that keeps 200+ Airstream trailer entry door keys in stock. And, if you have a trailer made prior to mid-2012, or a Basecamp, Nest, or older motorhome, we’ve got the key blanks you need.
11. LockOut Blocker
This is a fairly new product that solves the problem of Airstream doors slamming and locking themselves. Designed by an Airstreamer, the LockOut Blocker is an ingenious plastic piece that simply sticks onto the door lock and impedes the lock pin from tripping when it shouldn’t. For less than $30 it’s great insurance against accidental lockouts.
12. Backup camera
Most Airstream trailers come equipped with one, but Basecamps and some other models don’t. A back up camera is a good investment and incredibly helpful for backing up into campsites, storage facilities, and other places. Check online for options and steer clear of cheaper brands–you’ll get what you pay for.
13. ELEMENT fire extinguisher
This new-tech, super lightweight fire extinguisher will be the last one you ever buy because it never expires. Strike it like a match and ELEMENT discharges a non-toxic, no-mess potassium gas for at least 4X longer than the fire extinguisher that came with your Airstream. Comes in 50-second and 120- second run times. (For comparison, the fire extinguisher that comes in most Airstreams runs for 11 seconds.)
We recommend at least one ELEMENT for the Airstream and one in the truck. We also have one in our home kitchen.
With apps like GoogleMaps and Waze so widely available, you might think a GPS is a quaint piece of equipment for travelers of yesteryear. But you will be surprised just how many national parks, state parks, and stretches of open road you travel don’t have enough cell coverage to use an app.
A GPS is invaluable when you need navigation and you’re outside of cell range.
15. GasStop emergency shut off
GasStop is the only product that automatically shuts off the flow of gas when there’s a major leak, such as in an accident. If you leave the propane on while towing so that your refrigerator stays cold like we do, this product is an excellent safety investment. You’ll need one GasStop for each tank.
16. Drinking water filter
Easy to find at hardware, RV, and other stores and lots of brands to choose from. We always travel with an inexpensive charcoal filter to remove impurities from campground drinking water.
17. Electrical extension cord, 25-50 feet
Easy to find at Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and other big box stores, and you never know when you are going to need one. Especially important if you plan to do a lot of courtesy parking.
18. Adapters: 15-to-30 amp or 15-to-50 amp, and 30-to-50 amp
These adapters allow you to plug into household outlets when necessary, as well as adapt a 30 amp power cord to 50 amp or vice versa. Available at most RV stores and online.
We travel with a variety of power adapters to accommodate varying outlet situations.
19. Solar power
Charging your Airstream batteries with solar is the way to go if you want to spend more time off-grid in beautiful places and state and national parks that don’t offer hook-ups. We recommend portable solar power because of its lower cost as well as the ability to keep your Airstream in the shade, and put the panels in the sun.
Our Portable Solar Kit is super lightweight (18 lbs), fits in the wardrobe and is incredibly cost effective. It can be used in conjunction with rooftop solar to give you even more battery charge. This video explains the advantages of rooftop vs. portable solar panels.
20. Rivet tool and rivets
This tool allows you to replace pop rivets in your Airstream, which occasionally break as a result of towing. You can find a cheap rivet tool on Amazon, but we recommend investing in a quality tool that will last. Marson makes the best quality rivet tools and they are the only ones we use and sell. Marson’s SP-2 with a swivel head is the most popular with Airstreamers.
Our inexpensive rivet repair kit includes the right rivets for these jobs – along with appropriately sized drill bits in case you need to remove remaining rivet bits before installing a new one.
21. Wheel chocks
These are either placed on the ground at the base of the tires or in between the tires to keep you from rolling on uneven ground. Most campsites are level so you will rarely need to use wheel chocks, but they’re still important to have on board for those occasions where you are parking on a slope.
Good quality, metal wheel chocks are the best choice for Airstreamers.
Tip: Don’t buy plastic chocks that nestle against your tires. Plastic is slippery and plastic chocks tend to slide on pavement.
22. Holding tank chemicals
To keep your sewer system working properly and keep smells at a minimum, use a dose of holding tank chemicals each time you dump the tank. Inexpensive and easy to find at RV stores or Wal-Mart.
23. Flashlight and headlamp
You will find a ton of uses for both. Flashlights, of course, are essential for walking the dog at night. A headlamp is much easier to use when you’re troubleshooting something, because it sheds light and lets you be hands-free for fixes and repair. We always travel with both.
24. Patio chairs
Campground sites often have a picnic table, but sitting on a bench isn’t very comfortable for relaxing or reading a book. We recommend the classic folding chairs made by Zip Dee–the same company that probably made your Airstream’s awning. They are incredibly comfortable and built to last. If your Airstream didn’t come with a set of Zip Dee chairs, you can custom order them to match your awning.
25. Patio mat
You will find yourself spending a lot of time enjoying the patio underneath the awning. A patio mat creates a comfortable space for people, pets, and bare feet.
We recommend CGEAR Sand-Free RV Mats. They are lightweight for their size, come in cool colors and styles, and have a patented weave that lets sand and dirt fall through, so your Airstream stays cleaner.
26. Patio solar shade
Especially in summer and when your patio faces south or west, a solar shade is invaluable for cutting the sun’s heat and UV rays. It also creates a nice private space, which is useful in crowded campgrounds. Zip Dee makes a high quality solar shade that you snap onto your awning bar when you need it, and snap it off when you don’t. It requires a one-time, easy installation of snaps.
See how easy it is in this video:
27. First aid kit
You never know when you need a band aid and peroxide or triple antibiotic cream. Minor cuts from a sharp exterior compartment door or kitchen chopping incident happen. A first aid kit is important to have along. Inexpensive and easy to find at Walgreens, Target, Wal-Mart.
Nice to Have
28. Electric drill
We can’t imagine setting up camp without one!
A 18 volt or better cordless drill with a socket adapter comes in handy for setting manual stabilizer jacks, and also if you need to make small repairs on the road. If you don’t already have an electric drill, they are easy to find at most hardware stores.
29. Work gloves
We have his and hers pairs and keep them in an exterior compartment so they are easy to grab. Work gloves are useful for so many things! From dealing with a tricky water spigot to avoiding pinched fingers when pulling down the steps, our gloves get good use. Inexpensive and lots of options on Amazon or at Home Depot.
30. Organizational bags and bins
Everyone organizes their tools and essentials differently, but the key here is to keep your exterior compartments and interior cabinets organized.
For exterior compartments in particular, we recommend small plastic storage bins for various tools and parts, a toolbag, and a tackle box or similar divided plastic storage container for small pieces and parts. To keep your power cord tidy, check out these power cord storage bags, and to keep our Ultimate RV Water Hose clean and neat, try this inexpensive water hose bag.
31. Air compressor
We always travel with one because you never know when you need to top up a tire. You’ll find mini and compact air compressors at hardware and auto parts stores or Wal-Mart.
32. Various tapes
We travel with various types of tape for small fixes and minor repairs. In particular, Teflon, silicone, and butyl tape can help you out of a jam when you’re traveling. This blog post explains the use of each one of these tapes– as well as three others we always have in our toolbag.
33. Hitch grease
Take the type recommended by the hitch manufacturer on every trip. When you need it, you need it, and you always want to have it on hand.
34. Set of Allen wrenches
You’ll find these come in handy if the bathroom towel bar comes loose (use the 2.5mm wrench) or the bathroom door knob falls off (use the 2mm wrench). We recommend a set with both SAE (American) and metric measurements.
35. Basic tool set
Regular and Phillips head screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, and pliers–all of these are great for throwing into the tool bag. If you’re interested in all the tools we take on the road, watch this video.
36. Old beach towel and rags
Great for laying down on dirt or gravel when you need to get underneath the trailer, wiping off dirty hands, cleaning tools, etc. Grab an old crappy towel and some rags and keep them in an exterior compartment.
An old beach towel will bring you great comfort when you need to repair or lube something underneath the Airstream.