A few weeks ago I stopped at Camping World to compare the 2016 Heartland Big Country against the Keystone Montana. The dealership had several floor plans of each. I went to their website the night before and came up with a list of what trailers they had on the lot to tour. This included several used models. I had hoped the popular Heartland Big Horn would be on the lot. Really would have liked to compare the Big Country against the Big Horn.
Karen and I are still coming up with a short list of floor plans. As she was not with me I spent more time checking construction this time. However, I find it easier to later go online and look up the specifications and available options rather than during the tour. What works well for me when rating a trailer is to base the ratings off all the available options. For example, if a trailers options include heavier tires, refrigerator choices, MCD shades and similar then I rate the trailer as if those available options were included in what we might purchase.
For now, I don’t worry much about the specifics such as does a trailer have a more efficient air conditioner or larger furnace. When Karen and I figure out what floor plan we want and narrow the search to a few manufacturers then I’ll get more serious about ratings. For now, I scored the Heartland Big Country at 194 points compared to the Montana (not the Legacy Addition) at 202. The rating scale I’m using has a possible 275 points. The heavier, and more expensive trailers tend to come in higher on the scale, but not always. My usual disclaimer is these ratings are based on what Karen and I feel are important to us. Your expectations may be different. We have not completely ruled out a trailer in a lighter weight class, for example a Grand Design Reflection, and plan to look at a few others in the 35’ and under range.
I’ve been using a decision matrix to rate trailers. What’s becoming interesting is many of the trailers we are looking at are separating by very narrow scores. You may not find that odd because in any given price point there are several trailers available, built with mostly the same parts. In the 16,000 trailer range my scores are averaging 192 points out of 275. The heavier, and more expensive trailers average score is 221. I’m thinking it’s going to be a hard choice between a few trailers. Of the trailers I have looked at in the weight class of the Heartland Big Country, several are separated only by a few points.
The first thing I noticed about the Big Country when I walked up to the front door was the sticker “Warrantied for Full Time RVing.” Okay, now I know the spelling of full time. Was never sure if it’s two words or not. Jokes aside, I thought it important Heartland, and others, are willing to advertise this.
From prior photos of both the Big Country and Big Horn I had noticed a vent in the ceiling directly below the air conditioner and was concerned both may not have “whisper quiet” systems. There was no power to the trailer I toured in order to check the AC. However, I saw no vent below the ac unit in the 2016 model. Heartland advertises the Big Country as having dual whisper air ac systems.
Here are a few bullet points of what I found as important to me during the tour of the Big Country:
- As usual much of what I saw was fairly typical of trailers in this weight class and price point.
- The stock 16” tires are made by Sailun which is a brand I’d read about in the past as being among the preferred brands. This trailer came stock with G rated tires. Better than E rated but not the H rated I’m heavily considering to be a must have at this weight. Take a look at this blog post by Mark and Patty RV Adventures regarding their tire problems.
- This trailer did not have aluminum outside steps. The concept that aluminum will hold up better than the typical steal stairs is one I can believe.
- The fully finished basement storage was exciting to see. No plumbing, wires and parts sticking out to get in the way of storage or to be damaged.
- This trailer had no fully finished back cap and I was surprised not to see it listed as an option, although that’s not important to Karen and me. Their website shows the Big Country as having a full rear cap. Got me wondering if the dealer can order one without. In a PDF document, Heartland claims the guys who move rigs are reporting 2-3 miles a gallon better mileage (or 15%-20%) when pulling a unit with a full back cap. Claiming the aerodynamics help. Others on the forums say this is not true.
- Sewer hose storage in the back bumper is nice.
- The entry door did not have a friction hinge which would have allowed it to stay open without having to use the hook on the side of the trailer. Seems like the friction hinge would be a nice feature to have.
- The MCD shades were on every window. Others may skip them in the bedroom or hallway.
- I thought the interior woodwork was a notch above others in the same price point.
- There was a jack control button on the front of the trailer which would be nice for hitching.
- A few of the optional construction items were attractive which are the power cord reel, heat pumps and Morryde pin box. But there is no option for 8,000 axles nor disc brakes. There are 10 advertised floor plans which is nice, as is having 400 dealerships. Heartland also advertises as having 40 employees at the dedicated factory service center.
- The Heartland owner’s forum is very active and I’ve not found anything that concerns me about warranty work or Heartland not standing behind their product. I’d heard the Big Country is built by the same employees as the Big Horn, in the same plant. This was according to a forum moderator.
- The appliances were typical. They must have done away with the bowl sink in 2016. Karen and I are not interested in a bowl sink (that sits on top of the counter). You can option-in a residential refrigerator or flat electric induction stove top. We are planning to go with a gas/electric refrigerator and propane stove.
- I neglected to get the brand of furniture they are using. I found the living room chairs and couch slightly more comfortable than the Montana’s. I’m quickly learning what furniture brands to watch for such as Franklin, La-Z-Boy, Waveland and certainly Lambright being what we prefer for couches and chairs. Wonder if you can get Heartland to install their Waveland furniture from the Landmark in the Big Country? In this price point I’m leaning more towards something like what Cedar Creek offers which is La-Z-Boy.
- Regarding my observations of the electrical service; there is no mention of dimmable light switches, I did not see any USB outlets which is a minor point because you can buy adaptors, they claim to be prepped for solar which I know to have several meanings, the fans were nice as was the television sizes. I also prefer the front mounted DVR and radio controls in the Big Country compared to others were you have to open a cabinet door (or swivel the TV) for access.
- There is no mention of the insulation coming with a vapor barrier or heat reflection other than the R14 flex foil under the flooring. I watched a video that shows the Big Country as having an air vent for heating the underbelly but no mention of heat pads on tanks or a return air vent in the basement. The brochure at the dealership did not state it’s a four season trailer but certainly it is. For now, I’m rating the insulation package as average until I learn more about it. I’m working on a blog post regarding wall construction that better describes vapor barriers. By the way, Heartland uses laminated walls with block foam for the 2” exterior walls with double welded aluminum.
- The frame is a 12” I beam which is heavier in this weight class than a 10” I beam. This trailer had Dexter 7,000 pound axles, 6 point (not 4 point) hydraulic levelers, the correct track alignment system, Nev-R-Adjust brakes (meaning drum brakes). I trust Dexter and find other than the 12” I beam, the trailer was fairly typical in this price point. A video shows the trailer with having shocks but does not mention if the shackles and bearings have lubrication points. I’ve read and have been told by those that know, you want lubrication points rather than the never lube stuff.
- The fresh water tank was 75 gallons, 90 grey and 45 black. The grey tank size is awesome. We have stayed at camp sites with no sewer connection and found the grey tank to be the limiting factor for how long till we needed to dump the tanks. I can live with these tank sizes.
- I had to go on-line to find the gross vehicle weight rating for the trailer. A picture of a sticker showed the trailer I toured to be rated at 16,000 pounds total, with a 12,500 pound dry weight leaving 3,500 pounds for cargo. The cargo capacity meets the minimum we are looking for.
- I’m still trying to find out if the Big Country has a two year bumper to bumper warranty with a five year frame warranty like the Heartland Landmark. Not sure, but the warranty period may vary by component and the remainder is a one year.
- I liked that Heartland was the first to use ball bearing wheel guides on drawers for all their units, invented the universal docking station others are using and an affordable drop frame. Among other inventions I believe this shows the company is creative.
- The exterior appearance was average. The floor plan I toured did have an extra cargo door for a smaller storage area. It would be nice to have this separate place to store wet items.
I want to thank you for the comments in the past when I’ve posted about a trailer we toured. More recently, the comments about the Augusta RV – Ambition have taught me a lot.
Karen and I are off to the local state park. My sister has a campsite and says there are a bunch of larger fifth wheels camped nearby. It will be nice to sit around the campfire again with family. We used to do that annually. And we will again!