Well, we finally have it! We picked up our Northstar Laredo SC truck camper from the factory in Waterloo, Iowa on September 11 and spent the next eight days in it, driving from Illinois to our home in Mesa, AZ. We took old Route 66 home, a distance of over 1,700 miles. Seven nights were spent off-the-grid in rest areas, truck stops, and in the Sitgreaves National Forest while one night was spent in an RV park with full hookups. The trip home gave us a perfect opportunity to test out all of the systems, drive with it at highway speeds, and have it weighed at a CAT scale. Here are our first impressions of the camper:
The overall appearance of the Northstar Laredo SC exterior is impressive. Northstar’s graphics are very attractive and not as obnoxious and “loud” as those you’ll find on the new Lance and Wolf Creek truck campers. The Dometic thermal pane windows provide a sleek and stylish appearance to an already attractive camper. Indeed, the Ram 3500 and Northstar Laredo combo is such a head turner that we got numerous stares on our trip home. A few even asked us about the camper and where we bought it.
Mounted on our truck, the height of the Laredo’s front roof is only 9 feet, 4 inches, the rear 9 feet, 8 inches. This is a good 8 inches shorter than my old Wolf Creek 850! The camper fits snugly to the truck with very small gaps between the two. This along with the smaller profile means much less wind resistance than our old camper. So much so, that on level highways we were getting a whopping 15.5 MPGs while on the hilly terrain in New Mexico and Arizona we were averaging 14.3 MPGs. These impressive figures are a good 2 to 3 MPGs better than our old camper.
Due to the Laredo’s narrow girth (7 feet), loading the camper took longer than usual. This was no surprise and was completely expected. Initially, this narrower width only gave us about 1 inch of play on either side of the truck to back in. Because of this, Rex recommended that side brackets for the front jacks be installed that would provide an extra 2 inches on either side. I wholeheartedly agreed and the brackets were installed before we left the factory. Having this extra clearance will make the process of loading the camper easier in the future.
What did the CAT scale tell us? Combined, the truck and camper weighed 11,180 pounds. Subtracting the truck’s curbweight of 8,200 pounds from that figure means that the fully loaded Laredo weighs 2,980 pounds. With a factory wet weight of 2,300 pounds that was no surprise. Oh, and for those who are curious, the weight of the front axle came in at 5,060 pounds (6,000 pound GAWR) while the rear axle weighed 6,120 pounds (7,000 GAWR). What’s the bottom line? The truck and camper are well under my truck’s GVWR of 11,700 pounds. Nice!
The Torklift rear bumper with the single, pull-down step is very functional, attractive, and makes getting in and out of the camper a real joy. Despite having just a single step, we were able to get in and out of the camper with no problems (having no basement means less height to the camper). Overall, getting in and out of the Laredo is much easier and is a big improvement from the scissor steps we had to use on the taller Wolf Creek 850.
The Northstar Laredo interior is attractive and features rugged, well-made oak cabinets. We love the look of the vinyl wood grain floors and like how this wood grain flooring was also placed on the step to the cabover. The Laredo floorplan is simple yet highly functional and provides more than enough room for two adults. We really like how large the wardrobe is. It fits all of my shirts and my wife’s blouses and even our winter jackets with room to spare. The Northstar digital clock and thermometer adds an elegant touch to the camper’s interior.
We love the dinette. The dinette is large and roomy and provides more than enough space for four adults to sit around the table. We ordered the new sage green fabric for the cushions and really like how warm it makes the interior feel. The Lagun swing away table system is terrific and really saves on space with its various configurations. Unfortunately, the dinette doesn’t have any 12 volt USB ports to charge our cell phones. That’s one of the first electrical mods I’ll make to the camper.
The kitchen offers lots of storage and features an attractive Atwood stainless steel, three burner cook top. The kitchen drawers are deep and wide, are well-constructed, and are easy to pull-out. The high-quality, push-button airline latches keep the drawers locked in place during travel even on bumpy roads. The cut-ins underneath the kitchen cabinets creates more foot room and makes the interior feel a little larger. The wife really likes the single-handle kitchen faucet with pull-out sprayer. It saves on water and is much easier to activate as opposed to faucets with old-fashioned knobs.
We love the Dometic thermal pane windows and Heki skylight. Ordering the extra-large Dometic windows really brightens the interior and opening and closing them is quick and easy. We also like how simple it is to pull down the screen or pull up the privacy shade. The Heki provides additional fresh air to the cabover and provides terrific views of the stars at night. On our last night on the Mogollon Rim we both saw a shooting star while gazing through it. Very cool!
The bathroom is spacious for a single adult and there’s plenty of elbow room to take a shower comfortably. At first, we missed having a sink in the bathroom, but after a couple of days we were totally fine with it. We like that the floor board in the bathroom can be removed. This provides more head room when removed for showering and provides another void where we can store sandals and other small items. The toilet seat in the bathroom is comfortable to sit on though we found it to be a little high. There is no place in the bathroom to store a roll of toilet paper, so we bought a plastic toilet paper dispenser that mounts to the wall. We also bought some plastic hooks where we can hang wash cloths and other toiletry items to allow them to dry.
We really like the Dometic CR1110 12 volt compressor refrigerator. It kept our food icy cold even on a medium-high setting of “4.5” in 90 degree temperatures. Amp drain wasn’t bad at all and measured just 2.6 amps per cycle. Nice! When one considers the lower amp draw and the ability to operate on uneven ground, boondocking will be a real joy with this refrigerator.
The Zamp charge controller and 240 watt solar power system did a great job keeping our two Group 31 AGM batteries charged. As one would expect, I noticed a big difference in how well the system charged our batteries in Iowa compared to Arizona where the sun sits higher in the sky.
We really like the Thetford 5 gallon cassette toilet. Having the ability to dump at rest area bathrooms and pit toilets was a real convenience. We dumped it twice during our eight-day trip and went five days without having to dump. Dumping the cassette is quick and easy. The cassette has wheels on one end and a pull-out handle on the other that makes transporting it a breeze.
Having the extra-large fresh water tank (39 gallons compared to 30 gallons in the older Laredo models) is great. The extra 9 gallons means two to three extra days boondocking and that’s always a good thing. Having a smaller 14 gallon gray tank, however, took some getting use to and we had to dump it quite frequently to keep it empty. Having just a gray tank to dump also means we need just an old garden hose to dump now, no need to buy a RhinoFlex or a stinky slinky.
The Laredo cabover is narrower and less tall, but the larger Dometic windows and Heki skylight make it seem bigger and less claustrophobic. The coffin storage lockers that flank the queen size bed help keep things tidy and organized. Because of the camper’s lower profile, we noticed that getting in and out of the cabover bed is easier, a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, the OEM spring mattress is lumpy and not very comfortable–an aftermarket 6 inch memory foam mattress is already on order.
We’ve never seen a camper as well-lit as the Laredo. All of the exterior and interior lights are LED (except for the one in the range hood). There are four lights in the cabover, four in the dinette, and three in the kitchen. Even the wardrobe and battery compartment have lights! The exterior has lots of lighting, too. A light is mounted on each side of the camper and even under each wing. Our only complaint is the brightness of the reading lights in the cabover–they’re blinding. We’ll need to purchase some lower wattage LEDs so we can read comfortably in bed.
Our overall impression of the Northstar Laredo SC is very favorable. The wife and I love it. It’s everything that we hoped for when we ordered it and more. Our only complaint with the camper lies not in its construction but in Northstar’s choice in a mattress. We were able to purchase a queen size, high-quality Sleep Master 6 inch memory foam mattress for only $161 through Amazon.com prime. More and more RV owners are going with memory foam and I think Northstar campers should do the same. In the overall scheme of things, however, this is a very minor quibble. The Northstar Laredo is a great camper and one we have absolutely no regrets in buying. We can’t wait to take it out again.
Stay tuned for a more complete and comprehensive review in spring.