May 12, 2021

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Poppin Fresh Travel

Airstream Flying Cloud 23FB Review: Glamping for Gobblers in Colorado

Turkey hunting in Colorado means unpredictable weather and off-grid camping. So it seemed like a great opportunity to put one of Airstream’s most popular travel trailers, the Flying Cloud 23FB, to the test.

Colorado turkey hunting is a peculiar activity. First, there are the birds, a subspecies called the Merriam turkey, which doesn’t really behave like any turkey known to most American hunters. Next, there are the mountains, which, are vastly different than most turkey habitats across the continent.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, there’s the weather. Turkey opener in Colorado can mean warm, balmy days or snowstorms. Flip a coin, and those are your odds of either.

Having weathered some really nasty early spring storms in turkey hunts past, for 2021 I decided to take Airstream up on its offer to check out one of its trailers. A flurry of emails and a few months later, I found myself towing a 2021 Flying Cloud behind my F-150 toward our hunting destination.

In short: The 2021 Flying Cloud 23FB performed admirably for 3 days of boondocking. It kept us warm at night, cool under the hot noontime sun, and provided a cozy cocoon for nighttime socializing and pre-dawn hunt prep. But the turkeys seemed unimpressed.

Flying Cloud 23FB: On the Road

I’ll start this review at an important beginning — towing the trailer. Towing is crucial, as the marriage between your tow vehicle and your trailer is hugely important to both your happiness and safety.

In testing the Flying Cloud 23FB, I stretched my 2010 Ford F-150 FX4 to its limits in terms of tow capacity and payload. (Note: The weight the trailer exerts on your camper — its tongue weight — plus the weight of your occupants and gear should not exceed your maximum payload.)

Loaded up with one buddy and part of our gear for the weekend (another friend drove down separately), my truck was pegged at just below its maximum payload of 1,404 pounds. That was in part because I have both a topper and a DECKED drawer system in my truck bed, adding about 350 pounds to the truck.

Given the 600-pound tongue weight of the trailer, some outdoor gear, and 350 pounds of dudes, we didn’t have much wiggle room left. Concerning tow capacity, the 6,000-pound trailer was about 1,500 pounds below the maximum tow rating of my truck.

Long story short, my 2010 F-150 with a 5.4L Triton V8 did just fine towing the 23-foot Flying Cloud. It was able to accelerate (slowly) even up steep hills, and it rolled along comfortably at 65 mph on the highway.

But was my truck ideal? Definitely not. If I owned that trailer and planned long tows, I would opt for a larger tow vehicle with more capacity. However, the older F-150 did a fine job in our 3-hour tow.

A Camper for Hunting

I started hunting more than 25 years ago. In that time, I’ve spent hundreds of nights in backcountry camps or a tent next to my vehicle. But it wasn’t until last year that I spent a night in a camper while hunting, and it was an eye-opening experience.

Men in camo inside the Airstream Flying Cloud 23FB

For those who don’t hunt, let me paint a picture of hunting from a tent. Your alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. It’s pitch black, and you turn on a headlamp. As much as you don’t want to get out of the cozy sleeping bag, the clock is ticking before shooting light, usually half an hour before sunrise. You need to get moving.

So you stagger outside and put on your frozen boots. You quickly light a camp stove to get the coffee going, then organize your kit for the day in the light of your headlamp. Within about 15-30 minutes, you pull it all together, finish up your coffee, and begin hiking toward a trailhead or logging road to get to your hunting spot.

It’s a hurried scene that becomes vastly more civilized inside a camper. There, you can fire up a heater, turn on lights, stand up in your underwear without freezing, and, well, you get the picture. It’s much faster and more comfortable, and the same is true when you return to camp after sunset.

Because in hunting, most of your choring hours happen to be in the dark. After years of doing all this outside in the wind, rain, cold, and dark, having a warm, enclosed place to do those chores feels downright luxurious. And in the case of this turkey hunt in Colorado, the Airstream took this luxury to another level for our crew of three hunters.

Flying Cloud 23FB as a Hunting Base Camp

Airstream has a reputation for high-quality camper trailers. And after using the Flying Cloud for a long weekend, I have to say the reputation is valid. Compared to cheaper RVs I’ve spent time in, the Airstream just feels solid.

Unlike many trailers and popups, which have the cheapest possible components like door latches and light switches, everything on the Airstream felt built to last. The door closed with a heavy thunk and locked firmly with a key. The light switches flipped soundly up and down. The digital thermostat responded immediately to input, firing up a furnace in seconds. And the stereo was bumping!

However, the Airstream had its faults. First, the windows in the Flying Cloud were remarkably hard to open. At one point, they were so hard to open we just gave up and ran the extremely effective electric vents. Those kept the camper nice and cool inside, even on a 75-degree day with it parked in the bright, hot sun.

Airstream Flying Cloud 23FB

That lead to us draining the battery a little faster than we expected. While the system did suffice to get us through 3 days of boondocking, we were surprised when the battery died on the morning of the third day. In the future, I’d be more cautious about battery management and expect we could stretch it several more days with a little less liberal use of lights, stereo, heating, and fans.

3 Men in a Smallish Camper

My final criticism is more of a personal preference, but it’s worth considering if you’re in the market. While the Flying Cloud 23FB is a pretty large trailer when it comes to towing, the interior space isn’t enormous. Compared with my buddy’s cheap pop-up, the Flying Cloud was somewhat cramped with three adult men while hanging out at the end of the day for dinner and beers.

We had a little trouble fitting around the table, but we made it work by sliding the table around to increase space as much as possible. While cooking, two of us would remain seated while one cooked, leaving plenty of space in the galley. Ultimately, it was entirely fine. We could have squeezed in a fourth person with a bit of effort.

But we all agreed that we’d rather have more space inside the camper than the Flying Cloud’s included bathroom and indoor shower.

Airstream Flying Cloud 23FB

Of course, that’s probably not what most Flying Cloud consumers want. But for a few folks used to camping in tents, both a bathroom and indoor shower felt like wasted space for a long weekend of camping. None of us used the bathroom, as there was a pit toilet at the campground, and showering just wasn’t needed — yet.

But I expect many consumers want a bathroom onboard, and the space was very nicely appointed in the Flying Cloud.

Flying Cloud: Who’s It For?

It was educational to spend a few days in the Airstream Flying Cloud 23FB. While I don’t think I’m the ideal customer for this model (I’d probably be better served with one of these off-road-style trailers), it’s a very nice camper for the right people.

Who is that? I see it as ideal for two people who want to spend a lot of time on the road. Whether that’s a couple of romantic partners or close friends, two people could spend months in a trailer like the Flying Cloud and be entirely comfortable.

Similarly, it would be very good for a family of three, with plenty of space for two people in the comfy queen-size bed in the main sleeping quarters. The kitchen table converted to a bed, which we found comfortable for an adult, would be just fine for a child.

Airstream Flying Cloud 23FB

And ultimately, for those who want to spend many months on the road and have a product that will last for decades to come, this Airstream is probably worth the hefty $87,000 price tag. For that, you get a home that runs self-sufficiently off the grid and can be towed behind an F-150 (although a larger truck would be better).

It’ll keep you warm or cool and gives you a pleasant space to deal with your life’s needs — no matter what it’s like outside.