In early May of 2018, we purchased a brand new … checks receipt … 2019 Rockwood Geo Pro 16BH travel trailer. I’ve decided this is the recreational vehicle industry saying “hold my beer” to the automotive industry and its quirky tradition of introducing new models in the autumn of the previous year.
This was an unprecedented purchase for us, having restricted our travel trailer purchases to the used market on Kijiji since our first foray into camping back in 2011. At that time, we weren’t certain that we, or more importantly our young children, would even enjoy camping, so we didn’t want to spend a great deal of money right out of the gate. Instead, we would buy used and see how everyone reacted to camping for summer or two and recalibrate our trailer needs from there.
Our first trailer was a 1998 Trail Lite 7212 by R-Vision, which cost us $8100, not including the traffic ticket I received on while towing our newly purchased RV back to Calgary from St. Albert, thanks to an over-zealous highway patrol “sheriff” who looked barely old enough to drive himself. I wasn’t speeding but, apparently, he expected me to swing my rig into a neighbouring lane while passing him giving someone else a ticket or suddenly reduce my speed to 60km/h. I felt it was far safer for everyone if I just stayed put and remained steady at the wheel. Needless to say, he won the argument and I enjoyed an unscheduled twenty-minute break as vehicle after vehicle whizzed past us at highway speeds in the same lane I was originally occupying while he wrote up my ticket. But I digress.
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We immediately fell in love with this trailer, as well as camping, and proceeded to use it regularly each summer for the next four years. Our outings culminated in 2015, when we trekked from Calgary to Kitchener-Waterloo camping the entire way and throughout our multi-week adventure “back home.” This was stage one in an elaborate cross-Canada camping journey that required us to leave our first trailer at my parents’ acreage for a few years before we would return to complete the East Coast leg of the trip in 2018.
Returning to Calgary via airplane meant we needed another trailer if we were to continue our camping exploits. Having become our favourite family pastime, quitting was out of the question but at the same time, owning two trailers felt somewhat entitled, so once again we delved into the used Kijiji market. This time we purchased another beauty of a trailer for $8000, a 2002 Westwind WT239. It was a few feet longer than our Trail Lite and a fair bit heavier. It even had a separate master bedroom area with fulltime queen bed which, though secretly nice to have, inched awfully close to luxury for our tastes.
Our experience with this trailer was mixed. Though we enjoyed the layout and the larger fridge was a blessing, we agreed we would never want to go bigger than this, a seemingly blasphemous concept in modern RV circles. But the blown tires we endured that first summer and the eventual water damage that blossomed into a nightmare somewhat soured our experience. We still camped plenty and pulled that trailer to many interesting parts of the country, but by the time summer 2018 came around, we were ready to get rid of it and find something smaller.
We were also ready to complete the second leg of our cross-country adventure which had us spending the entire month of July in the Maritimes with our first trailer. It had admirably survived the three years of storage, though it needed a thorough cleaning inside and out. It also performed flawlessly during our trip, a welcome though unexpected turn of good fortune after sitting for so long in the hot, humid Ontario weather. Even the tires lasted the entire trip despite being stationary for three years. This rekindled our love for our first trailer after its successor’s proclivity for bursting rubber.
All this meandering backstory hopefully highlights how unexpected was our sudden purchase of a brand new travel trailer last spring. Certainly, the timing of the purchase was suspect. We knew our first trailer would not be returning to Alberta after the East Coast trip. The water-damaged second trailer was not repairable, nor did we desire to continue using it in its current condition. And we certainly didn’t want to haul a new trailer across Canada and back, especially after the acrobatics we endured making our first trailer available to us in Ontario. Still, we would need a new, third trailer for the remainder of the summer upon our return and rushing around trying to buy a new unit at the start of August didn’t seem appealing, or wise. So, in one of the rarest of moments of our lives, we scurried out and purchased a brand new, off the lot travel trailer, a shockingly rash and alien undertaking by our typically hesitant and cost-conscious standards, and parked it in our yard for three months.
We had long talked about going smaller again; certainly smaller than our current 23 foot trailer and even, ideally, smaller than our original 21 foot trailer. The reasoning for this was two-fold. One, we felt camping should be at least somewhat feral. To be honest, we had initially intended to go back to tenting once the kids were older. Now that they were older, the realities of middle age had lessened the appeal of tenting enough that we now desired to retain solid walls while camping. Still, we saw no need for the luxurious behemoths with entertainment centres, gourmet kitchens, and sometimes even laundering appliances. Camping was at the very least meant to be a modest return to nature and the bigger the trailer the less that seemed true.
Secondly, we also hoped to reduce our fuel consumption whilst towing. Trailer/RV camping will never be wholly green. There’s only so much forgiveness when it comes to the physics of pulling a brick through the atmosphere. But weight is key, and the smaller and lighter the trailer the less fuel we would burn. Go small enough and could, presumably, reduce our tow vehicle from the beastly V8 Ford Expedition that was also showing its age to a more mileage friendly V6 SUV (we eventually settled on a Nissan Pathfinder).
Immediately our attention focused on three potential models; the Forest River R-Pod, the Jayco Hummingbird, and the Winnebago Minnie Drop. The R-Pod had reinvigorated the mainstream small camper over the last few years and the Hummingbird and Minnie Drop were the competition’s clones of these delightful little trailers.
We really like having bunk beds in our trailer and we were happy to find that each brand has at least one bunkhouse layout in their lineup. There are lots of things we do not want in our trailer that are apparently quite popular with the rest of the RV buying public so ultimately there was only one trailer per brand for us to view. I was fine with that as too many options inevitably fries my brain.
Though gaining in popularity, RV dealerships aren’t overflowing with little gems as large trailers still reign supreme in post-boom Alberta, but we eventually were able to have a peak at each. While all three were nice enough and affirmed our desire to go small, they also left us a little wanting. It was obvious that going small would challenge our packing habits, something that needed addressing regardless. But furthermore, none of the trailers was bang-on perfect. Each was missing a little something or had an additional something we found pointless. Had we been able to Frankenstein all three into one perfect bunkhouse mini-trailer, we would have.
The R-Pod 172 was the front runner and we were close to pulling the trigger on one, but an unexpected newcomer entered the fray and stole our attention quicker than a flasher at a sporting event. We stumbled into the Geo Pro line while we were exploring the Minnie Drop at a dealer south of town and come across it again at the R-Pod dealer a week later. The Geo Pro had a broad range of smaller trailers including a quaint 12 foot model and a few 16 foot models. Though similarly short, the Geo Pro line maintained the wider stance of a traditional travel trailer rather than the characteristic exposed wheel well design of the R-Pod and clones. This gave the Geo Pro a bit more space, including an all-important full bathroom.
I, for one, can’t understand the point of putting a bathtub and shower in all but the very largest of trailers. Honestly, who uses them? I’m doubtful our 12 year old daughter could even stand inside one let alone shower comfortably. Only the shortest and slimmest of adults could. Conversely, the compact wet baths in the R-Pod are equally baffling with their tiny, corner sinks interrupted by the shower wand and having to sit on the toilet while bathing. I’d prefer the larger bathroom like in the Geo Pro but with storage in lieu of the full tub/shower. As you’ll soon see, that’s exactly what I eventually got.
It wasn’t long before our leering turned to lusting and finally to love and a couple weeks later we were exchanging a cheque for our new Geo Pro 16BH. Had we not been so uncharacteristically impulse buying, we would have taken the time to order the exact options we wanted. Unfortunately, with us all googly-eyed at the initiation of summer camping season, time was not our friend and we ended up buying a unit right off the lot. We sacrificed most, if not all, of our negotiating room on price this way since units of this model were few and far between in Alberta and demand in the USA meant the likelihood of more arriving over the summer was slim to nil. Luckily, one unit wasn’t too divergent from what we would have chosen ourselves; we would have dropped the air conditioning unit. One of the advantages of camping on the Prairies or in the mountains is that night temperatures always drop for a comfortable sleep.
We did order one additional add-on; a bike rack. This still irritates me as this option was available for $100 less through Amazon but I decided to play nice with the dealership and ordered this option through them directly. The bicycle rack, though made by an outside company, is advertised as a factory option by Rockwood. Except, it doesn’t properly fit the Geo Pro trailers. The bulging front of the Geo Pros interferes with the rear-angling of the rack as per the installation guide. This causes pedals of any bike on the back portion of the rack to rub against the trailer wall. Larger bikes won’t even fit in this space.
The solution is to install the bike rack “backwards” to the manufacturer’s installation guide. This customization works, though the bikes now stick out much closer to the tow vehicle. This can cause issues when turning, depending on your tow vehicle. Our new SUV works, albeit just barely, but I’m not convinced our old Expedition would have. This is not a well-thought-out factory option.
Aside from this small, initial hiccup, our Geo Pro 16BH has been great and we are very much looking forward to giving it a full summer workout once spring arrives. I am entirely happy with our purchase, which is quite the statement coming from me. I question everything I’ve ever done, but especially major purchases. This is all the more true the odd time I buy something new. But our little Geo Pro is fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The Pros of the Rockwood Geo Pro 16BH
I’ll just get this out of the way first. The name rocks. With my wife and I both being geologists, Geo Pro immediately had a leg up on the competition. A colour scheme including orange didn’t hurt either.
There were two surprises that soothed any lingering regret in having chosen the Geo Pro over the R-Pod. The first surprise came the very first time I attempted to sleep in our Geo Pro. I had lain in the R-Pod and the Hummingbird and the Minnie Drop wanting to make sure my modest six foot frame fit in the convertible table/bed. It did in all three, though just. But I wasn’t using a pillow when testing those beds out. In the Geo Pro, actually camping with a sleeping bag and pillow, it was quickly evident that I would not have been able to sleep with my legs fully extended in those narrower trailers. The pillow forces you down a few inches from the sidewall. In an R-Pod, that would have been enough to compel my knees to bend and that would have resulted in an uncomfortable and restless sleep. And I need my sleep!
The second surprise was the unexpected amount of storage space in this little trailer. As with the R-Pod, the entire time we looked through the Geo Pro, we worried about storage space. It was obvious that the Geo Pro had more space than the R-pod, but not exceptionally more. And compared to our previous two trailers, space was decidedly less. Still, when we started packing it up for our inaugural trip, we found ourselves able to put more junk in the Geo Pro than expected.
Another of our bigger concerns was fridge space. We loved the full fridge and freezer in our second trailer. We were spoiled with that thing and made full use of it. Dramatically reducing this appliance and moving the freezer into the fridge was worrisome. Thankfully, Rockwood knows the modern glamper well, and installed a second “beer” fridge, accessible from outside. I thought this was uncouth at first but I’ll admit it has been a godsend. Even though it is ridiculously small, storing our recreational beverages (pop, sparkling water, and yes, beer) in this outdoor fridge has enabled us to fit all our critical fresh foods in the interior fridge. It’s like having a powered cooler along each trip. Sure, we now keep some fruit like apples on the shelf rather than in a fridge, but we haven’t suffered having two tiny fridges instead of the larger one we’d grown accustomed to.
The beds have all proven very comfortable. The kids really like their bunk beds and commend the comfort of the mattresses. Our bed, the converted table, is quite comfortable and surprisingly roomy and the disassembling and reassembling of our eating space gives us the much-needed illusion of “real camping” that was missing from our former trailer. It also encourages us to eat outside on the picnic table more often, something we had increasingly refrained from doing.
Our Geo Pro has no oven which is just fine with me. Like showers, I’ve never understood the need for an oven in a camping trailer. We’ve never used one. The Geo Pro has a built-in microwave instead which makes more sense and is far more convenient than traveling with an aftermarket microwave that needs to be secured when driving.
One of the nicer perks of this little trailer, compared to others we’ve owned, is the kitchen slide-out. It’s not much, giving only an extra foot or two, but what a difference this makes. The trailer feels roomier, sure, but we are especially fond of the added counter space the slide-out offers behind the stovetop and sink. Again, this is additional storage space one doesn’t immediately appreciate until actually camping. Obviously, this space isn’t great for storage while in motion, but when set up at your campsite, it offers welcome counter space.
We’ve discovered many beneficial mechanical advantages to our Geo Pro that our much older campers didn’t offer like dual mode water heating, black tank washer, LED lighting, and the delightfully named exterior “scare lighting”. Trailer tech has really advanced in twenty years and we’re happy to have these new perks. Lighting that doesn’t burn your fingers or the fixture cover is boon all on its own.
And though the black tank washer is convenient, should there come a time we actually use it, I’m less confident I like the dual waste drains. In particular, the fact they are separated so much worries me. I am convinced I will eventually run into a predicament where I have to move the trailer between draining of the black and the grey tank. It’s a bit presumptuous of Rockwood to assume I’m that good at lining up the drains at the dump station that I could do both from one spot.
Speaking of mechanical gadgets, the bathroom houses a Maxxair ventilation fan that has an exterior cover enabling this fan to be used rain or shine. It can even be left open when driving. We haven’t made much use of this fan since we A) don’t take bowel movements in our trailer and B) have the air conditioner to cool things off when needed. The location in the bathroom is also curious since it requires the bathroom door to be open to have any effectiveness in the main living quarters. Still, I imagine this is a welcome feature for many campers.
The grey interior finish is nice. I think I like it. I mean I do like it, but it doesn’t exactly look natural nor warm. It’s definitely different than the authentic and faux-wood browns I’m used to finding in recreational vehicles.
The Cons of the Rockwood Geo Pro 16BH
Now, I know I’ve said a lot of nice things about our Geo Pro and we do love it dearly, but it is far from perfect. There are some unavoidable and some very stupid design decisions made in these trailers. So here are my pet peeves and blinking, red question marks with the Geo Pro 16BH.
The automatic awning is pretty sweet. It is so much nicer than having to manually extend the awning every time we set up or manually retracting it every time a storm rolls in during the night. It’s a great feature and yes, I am spoiled in having it. But the awning arm extensions prevent the door from opening fully and that is frustrating. I understand that there isn’t much choice in a sixteen foot long trailer, so the issue is likely unavoidable, but it’s still annoying.
Ah, but not as annoying as the stairwell. The days of the rusted, jammed metal stair being pulled out from beneath the trailer undercarriage are long gone. In its place is a full, two-step, adjustable stairwell that … folds up into the doorway when travelling. This stairwell is nice and sturdy when used, but a major inconvenience when in travel mode and you need to quickly hop into the trailer to grab something you forgot. You have to pull out the entire stairwell to get inside. And if you don’t have both trailer doors fully open, you will not get that stairwell in or out without damaging them. I fully expect to damage the screen door this summer. I’m not fully sold on the superiority of this design.
Perhaps more of a disappointment than a con, the most notable cost cutting feature in these campers is found in cupboards that include or neighbour mechanical areas. Rather than a proper wall separating the two areas, a flimsy piece of panelling is installed to block the view of the mechanical guts. This is not an accurately measured and cut piece of wall. It’s just a chunk of panelling screwed into place with gaps around the sides and offering zero protection from shifting items. The panels bend with the slightest pressure and are easily broken. The trailer is otherwise well-built and solid for its price range, but these little barriers are a joke and offer little functionality or pride of finish.
I guess this is similarly a disappointment more than a con. There is a propane hookup for portable grills located behind the entry-side wheel. On that same wall of the trailer is a mount for a metal shelf that comes with the unit presumably for setting such a portable grill on. This is all very handy except when you want the picnic table in that location. The frustration comes from the apparent incompatibility of most portable grills to this type of setup. The propane feed comes from the main propane tanks which are regulated. Most portable grills also have a regulator installed in the temperature control. Therefore, you are doubly regulating the propane flow which limits the BTUs your portable grill can create. This, in turn, limits the cooking power of the grill. Or that’s how I interpreted what I read. Point being, we have not used this intuitively helpful device.
The skylight over the shower is kind of an odd addition. Really, what’s the point of a skylight in the bathroom. This is presumably the least used part of the trailer and that’s where skylighting is located? I think this irritates me because the lack of windows is noticeable. The Geo Pro is small and packs a lot inside so there was bound to be limited space for windows. Combine this with the tinted windows that only open a few inches (they swing out from a hinge at the top) and the Geo Pro feels darker than our previous trailers. But hey, we have a skylight above a shower we will never use.
The Geo Pro comes with a towel bar that needs to be installed by the owner. The salesman told me this was done to enable owners to place the bar where ever they choose. Sounds reasonable enough until you attempt to install it yourself on the inside of the bathroom door. I have no idea what the interior of that bathroom door is constructed of but it’s obviously not wood. Whatever it is, it’s deadly to screws. It just swallows them up and stops them from turning until the drill shears off the top of the screw. Seriously, it’s some supervillain level material inside those doors. I had to move the bar three times and I still didn’t manage to get all screws inserted fully.
Ironically enough, a hand towel ring is pre-installed in a place I certainly wouldn’t have installed it. So, I’m not sure what I gained by the dealer or manufacturer not installing the towel rack.
I also installed some coat hooks at the top of the door with much more success than the towel bar. These didn’t come with the unit, but we felt they were needed for hanging additional towels and smoky jackets. Similarly, I installed a broom holder in the bathroom to hold our, umm, broom. Little things like this are obviously cost cutting measures on the part of the manufacturer but I feel should have been included. Such is life in the 21st century. The Jetsons would be so disappointed.
The bathroom fixture location is annoying too. As a right-handed person, which most of us are, putting the faucet control on the righthand side of the sink makes for a Cirque du Soleil level contortion to turn on or off the water while brushing teeth. This is the kind of deep, detailed grievance I bring to the camper review table folks!
The kitchen table, when used as such, is disturbingly unstable. That single pillar really doesn’t offer enough support and you’ll quickly learn that leaning on this table is a terrible idea. A double post or a folding leg system, like those found in other trailer brands, would have been better. I understand that the single pole is more convenient for feet but that alone doesn’t justify its use in the Geo Pro. You really need to be careful using this surface as it will quickly tip or twist and will eventually break, I’m sure. Cutting food on it, for example, can be tricky. And as any parent knows, kids don’t remember rules like “don’t lean on the table” for long.
I do wish there were wall mounted lights by the convertible table/bed. We enjoy reading before bed and when lying down, the overhead lights are ill-suited for reading. We’ve purchased battery-operated LED lights from Ikea that clip to the window dressing to compensate. But lighting on the wall, like the ones in the rear bunks, would have been nice.
Some of the included tech also baffles me. Yes, I’m looking at you WIFI amplifier. I’ve been unable to get this gadget to work in any meaningful way. I’m not sure it does, to be honest. I think it’s nothing more than a gimmick. Or perhaps its simply an item better suited for more urban campground settings. I’d certainly have traded it for … say … an indoor/outdoor speaker switch.
The most egregious fault in the Rockwood Geo Pro 16BH is undoubtedly the audio system. Now, I’m not expecting a top of the line audio experience when I’m camping. I fully realize that most people have phones and other mobile devices offering a full range of audio entertainment. We haven’t even installed a TV in the pre-purposed entertainment area preferring to use this as storage space. I am demanding much. That all being said, the speaker system in these trailers is ridiculously stupid.
There are two speakers. One inside the trailer. One outside the trailer. Both are always engaged. If you wish to listen to music inside, then the outside speaker is on regardless of whether anyone is out there to hear it. Oh, your neighbours will hear it and they may not be too thrilled with the noise your Geo Pro is making despite you being nowhere in sight.
Conversely, if you are outside and wish to listen to music you must turn the volume up to such an extent that anyone inside will be rendered deafer than had they enjoyed front row seats at seven straight Metallica concerts. The entire setup is idiotic. There should be a way to switch between speakers. I’m disappointed with this. And frankly, I can’t believe something so simple is an issue in 2019. The cassette deck stereo system in our 1998 Trail Lite had A and B speakers for heaven sake. I feel like switching between speakers is a technical problem that was solved somewhere about 1924.
Customizing our Geo Pro 16BH
Well I guess I had more than a couple criticisms. Most are relatively minor and don’t impact the usefulness and enjoyment of this trailer. Rather than suffer in silent indignation, I took it upon myself to channel my Grandpa Schmidt and, with some trepidation, made some modifications to our Geo Pro.
The three modifications I’ve made thus far all increase the amount of storage we have. I may tackle the ridiculous speaker issue this summer, but for now these storage mods have proven very successful and Rockwood would do well to steal them from me. Seriously, I give you permission Rockwood. Pilfer away.
The first, and biggest, was to install shelving into the bathtub. We are NEVER going to shower or bathe in that little cubical of space. Our trips are either short enough that we have no need for such cleansing or we stay at campgrounds that have showers. You can, however, be damned sure we could use that space for clothing. With the shelving I installed, our clean clothes and towels are stowed on the shelves, the shower curtain making for a decent restraint to keep items from falling out during travel and the tub itself becomes a handy hamper for dirty clothes. You’re welcome, Rockwood.
A second retrofit was installing shelves inside the upper cupboards around the kitchen area. These upper cupboards are of a decent size for such a small unit, but with no shelves inside you either leave a lot of space unused or you stack lots of stuff on top of each other. I figured a single shelf in each cupboard would maximize the utility of the space while also limiting the need to stack our dishes into a pile. This has proven to be a handy modification though, admittedly, some stacking is still required.
Finally, I affixed an edge around the ledge on top of the fridge. I’m not sure what the purpose of this ledge was in the original design. It struck me as a forgotten or purely decorative ledge that could be better utilized if it had a barrier around it to prevent items from falling off. So that’s what I did. I’m not Bob Villa, so my handywork is not quite as perfect as I’d have liked, but it does the job. This otherwise unused ledge now stores spice bottles and other smaller items that otherwise would have been stuffed into corners or stored in boxes.
Final Verdict on the Geo Pro 16BH
We love our Geo Pro 16BH and are pleased we opted to go this route over the R-Pod, Hummingbird, or Minnie Drop. I will always question the wisdom of buying quickly depreciating assets like RVs brand new, but the pleasure of a small, modern trailer like the Geo Pro can’t be discounted. Waiting for less-expensive, used versions would have taken us beyond our children’s camping years and that’s assuming any came available in our vicinity. Small trailers remain the exception and its possible we never would have found one on the used market. When all is said and done, we made the right decision for our family and our camping needs. Despite its imperfections, the Rockwood Geo Pro 16BH is a great unit and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others.
My only regret is that we didn’t buy a black vehicle to pull it. Or better yet, Nissan offering orange as a colour!
FOR AN UPDATE ON MY ASSESSMENT AFTER ONE YEAR OF CAMPING – CLICK HERE