High in Fiber

Airstream Nest Review: A Modern, Luxurious Molded Fiberglass Trailer


October 30, 2018 Cars By Photo by Hayden Coplen
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The Airstream Nest is the company’s first molded fiberglass offering in its storied history. The 16-foot trailer, which slots between the company’s pint-sized Basecamp and more classic Sport, is simple to tow, low-maintenance and appealing on the eyes. Its genesis is in Nest Caravans, an Oregon-based company started by designer Robert Johans, which Airstream purchased and brought in-house in March 2016. The result of the collaboration is a clever, modern trailer with the classic Airstream design identity.

The Good: The Nest embodies the sublime Airstream panache, turning heads everywhere from the Whole Foods parking lot to the campground. It’s almost disarmingly simple to tow, and it seemed to “tuck in” behind my Land Rover Discovery as I snaked my way up Highway 1. The interior is minimal but smart, and generous windows flood the trailer with light.

Who It’s For: An active, all-weather outdoors enthusiast who prefers to travel light.

Watch Out For: Airstream has long enjoyed a reputation for interior quality and craftsmanship, so I was a bit surprised to find a couple of red flags inside the Nest. The fridge door was latched into place before my drive but fell completely off its hinges at some point during my four-hour highway commute, leaving hardware and a few groceries splayed out on the floor. Additionally, I found that the galley’s upper cabinets had slid their way open during the drive, dropping some items from the pantry.

A necessary caveat though — the loaner trailers for media are used by a variety of folks in a variety of settings, and shouldn’t be understood as “brand new.” (Was my fridge boobytrapped by another writer? Will we ever know?)

Alternatives: There are a handful of cheaper, less glamorous fiberglass trailers available on the market that don’t carry the mystique of the Airstream name, like the Escape or the Lil Snoozy. There are also a few models, like the Happier Camper HC1, that may appeal to the #vanlife crowd in the same way as the Nest. The Oliver Legacy Elite likely slots closest to the Nest in terms of build quality and layout.

Other compact travel trailers include:

Oliver Legacy Elite 18’ ($47,950 base)

Escape 17’ ($19,200 base)

Winnebago Minnie Drop ($21,153 base)

Happier Camper HC1 ($18,950 base)

Review: Airstream founder Wally Byam was clever. A man of deep ambition, eccentric habits and a timeless eye for design, he formed Airstream in 1931 and jettisoned the idea of a marketing department. Instead, as Karen Flett explains in her 2017 book about the company, Byam created a “Way of Life Department.” Nearly 90 years later, in an era of tiny homes and mobile living, the 16-foot fiberglass Nest is a relevant step forward and proves the trailer maker hasn’t lost its ideals.

The origin story of the Nest traces back to Robert Johans, an Oregon-based designer whose company, Nest Caravans, spent a decade restoring and redesigning fiberglass trailers. Johans, acting on what he saw as a gap in the travel trailer market, posted online some concept drawings of a modern fiberglass trailer. They caught the eye of Airstream designer Bryan Thompson (who is responsible for another forward-thinking design: the Airstream Basecamp trailer), and Airstream eventually purchased Nest Caravans in 2016.

Airstream had toyed with fiberglass before. In 1952, Byam even developed, and shelved, a prototype fiberglass trailer before continuing forward with the company’s iconic aluminum design. The affinity to the material makes sense — it’s durable and insulates better than aluminum. It’s also relatively low-maintenance and dent-resistant. And, in the case of the Nest, the material offers the flexibility for a compelling, attractive design.

“To be perfectly blunt, the aesthetic and quality levels of most product available within the travel trailer segment of the RV industry is horrible and hasn’t changed significantly in 50 years,” Robert Johans said in an interview with Bend Design in 2016. “I find that bewildering. Other than Airstream, no other manufacturer targets a high-end, design-savvy consumer.”

In a campground full of boxy trailers scrawled with maximalist, multicolored graphics, as it was where I stayed on the California coast 40 miles south of Big Sur, the Airstream Nest sticks out just like its aluminum forebears. It has a mid-century modern flair, mashing up retro-futurism with Danish minimalism to produce something that John Lautner might have loved, were he called to the outdoors. The two-tone color scheme on the exterior is sharp and simple. Light floods the interior, thanks to the ski-goggle shaped front and multiple skylights. The kitchen and bathroom are both perfectly functional and adequate, though we cooked outside mostly and our campsite had a pit toilet across the way. Still, simply having those options was a welcomed luxury and one less thing to consider while making a mad dash out of town and into the wilderness on Friday morning.

The automatic awning is another nice touch, and the attached strip of LEDs is perhaps the most underrated convenience feature, eliminating the need for any lanterns around the campsite (you can flip off the lights with your phone too once you’re settled by the fire). We did not use hookups, and the battery and propane kept the fridge running and USB plugs working all weekend. We could have also used climate control if we wanted (we did not). The water tank proved to be adequate for a couple showers and liberal toilet use. One gripe — at $46k, it would seem fair to include some type of automatic or hydraulic leveling system.

Now that I’ve brought money into it — I’d argue the best thing about the outdoors is that it’s available at any price point. Nature is a great equalizer, where a hand-me-down tent and a pair of hiking boots give you the same fresh air as a fifth-wheel with a wet bath. Taken with that view, it’s can be hard to justify the cost of the Nest. But alas, there is no shame in paying good money for well-made things, and Airstream can point to decades of quality as a way to justify the price tag.

The Nest is seemingly made for convenient, instant and Instagrammable adventure. Had I not been following Airstream closely, it’s conceivable that my first time seeing this trailer would be on a travel blog or an Instagram hashtag like #wanderlust or #vanlife. Maybe it’s cliched, but those Instagrammers could also be on to something. It’s restorative to be outdoors, and it can feel more instantly accessible when you have the right bits of modern convenience built into your rig. I like to engage with nature, and I might even like it more when I can sleep on a queen bed with a comfortable mattress (Tuft & Needle, in this case, by the way).

I hitched up the Airstream Nest in the middle of Los Angeles on Friday at 11 am. By 4 pm, I had powered up Highway 1, and I was overlooking a coastal bluff, surrounded by live oak trees, readying a campfire. It was a weekend where I was hungry, maybe even desperate, for some time in nature and the Nest provided with almost no effort on my part.

Verdict: The Airstream Nest somehow wedges a queen bed, kitchenette, shower, toilet, and ample storage into its 16-foot shell, giving the trailer camper everything they need and nothing they don’t. It’s well-designed, beautifully appointed and, perhaps most importantly, very convenient for living and towing. That being said, the trailer is decidedly a luxury — its $45,900 base price might be tough to justify for some when sleeping under the stars can be free.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Like opting for a luxury car over a mainstream model, the Nest has an unquantifiable appeal that simply makes it feel special.” – Greg Fink, Car and Driver

• “The departure from aluminum is a risk for Airsteam, because it could dilute its iconic image. But it needs to build cheaper options for a new breed of travelers.” – Jack Stewart, Wired

2018 Airstream Nest Key Specs

Length: 16’ 7”
Unit base weight (with LP and batteries): 3,400 lbs
Fresh water tank: 24 gallons
Sleeping capacity: 2
Interior windows and skylights: 8

Airstream provided this product for review.

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