Wilderness 281 BHS review -


I'm posting this just for reference for other people who may be researching RV's and Heartland specifically. I'd also like to thank everyone else on the forum for posting, I used the forum in the researching RV's and Heartland quite bit while shopping around. In April of this year (2015) I bought a very very lightly used 2013 Wilderness 281 BHS for a family camping trip from Florida to the major National Parks out west (Yellowstone, Arches.....). Here are my thoughts after completing our 6 week, 7000 mile trip with my wife and two daughters.

The good:
We selected the Wilderness 281 BHS after shopping extensively for 2-3 months. I initially wanted something smaller/lighter but decided that the large bunk space, high ceiling and larger bathroom in the 281 was worth the extra 1000 lbs vs. some of the smaller 26' ones. Overall the living space, kitchen and bathroom are quite nice for a family of four. The large roomy bunks offered enough space for our kids to read, play in or goof off in. A number of the other trailers we looked at had very small bunks spaces, maybe a place to sleep but nothing more.

Overall the fit and finish of the inside is nice enough, better than the average trailer we looked at. That said if you look closely it's mostly particle board with staples shot through the veneer. The mechanical systems and appliances seemed well thought out and typical RV quality. (Curious what people consider higher quality, as most of the trailers all seem to use the same construction materials and systems?)

I'm pulling the trailer with a Crew Cab RAM 1500 5.7 Hemi (3.92 rear) 4x4, Husky weight distribution hitch with sway bar. Added Air Lift 1000 bags to the coil springs (worked great!). The trailer weighs 5700 dry, so fully loaded I'd say I was 7000K lbs. Overall, the trailer pulled quite nice even at high speeds (70 mph+). Only a few times when we were driving through high winds that I felt too much sway and had to slow down. Although, I would say that this is the heaviest trailer I'd want to pull over 10,000 ft mountains with this truck - definitely all the Hemi could do to maintain speeds (even down to 45 mph) over the mountain peaks. Averaged 9 MPG on the 7K trip. I feel that the extra 1K lbs of this trailer vs. some of the other ultra-lights in the 4700 lbs range really pushed the truck outside it's comfort zone in the mountains. If I lived out west I would want a 2500 diesel truck or would trade this for a lighter trailer.

Quality issues:
1) wood cabinet divider between couch and table. On our test run at Rainbow River before leaving, my wife leaned back on the seat at the table and the wood support deflected 3 to 4 inches. I initially thought this was something damaged by my kids playing, but on inspection (took seat cushions down - looked in storage bin); it was clear the wood partition was stapled during manufacturing out of alignment. The staples were through the first pieced of wood, but actually pushing the other support wood out of place. Had to cut staples flush with dremel and re-screw and glue. In fact the base wood panel for the seat never fit correctly before my fix. This is a something Heartland quality control should of flagged and fixed.

2) Loose plumbing fittings.
At our camp site in the Ozarks my wife noticed water leaking under cabinet panel/wall at floor between bunks and bathroom. I could see from access panel under tub water dripping from connection on the water heater. Had to take out bedding on lower bunk and unscrew panel to access back corner of trailer near water heater. The plastic fitting was simply loose. Tightened by hand until the water stopped dripping. I suspect that the vibration from driving from FL to the Ozarks was the cause here as there was no evidence that there had been a long term leak. For good measure I hand tightened all of the other water fittings - many were quite loose and I suspect would have leaked over time as well. One piece of particleboard was damaged from the water and will need to be replaced.

Leak 2# Arches National Park - water under sink. Yep missed the connection on facet to the spray hose - also loose. Hand tightened - fixed.

3) Roof Ballooning - EPDM roof glue not holding.
On our final leg back home I stopped to get gas in Georgia. Went into pay, walking back to the truck I noticed a huge bulge in the front of the trailer roof. I was shocked. I waited about 15 minutes and it slowly deflated. Wrapped a tie-down strap around the hole front of trailer to keep if from re-inflating and drove the last 300 miles at 60 MPH. I could see it still partially inflate around my strap. After inspection the next day at home the rubber (EPDM) roof mostly contracted back to it's original shape and the good news is there does not seem to be any tears or leaks. You can feel the glue underneath as being tacky, but clearly the hold is not strong enough to hold the roof down on long highway speed drives. From other posts and research this does not seem to be a item covered under the rubber roofing material warranty. So I will need to pay to have the gutters and front assembly removed and have the rubber roof re-glued. There is no evidence that the roof on my trailer had any water or air leaks prior to this. I had inspected it before buying the trailer and leaving for our trip. Suspect it was slowly getting worse throughout our trip. We did 3 600 mile days getting back to Florida. Based on numerous other people who have had similar issues, I believe this is a quality control issues as well - either in the chemistry of the batch of glue used on my trailer or simply the amount used during assembly.

Overall my family had a great trip, 6 national parks in 6 weeks. We also enjoyed RV'ing/camping. We are planning to keep the RV for another few years and explore more of the East Coast.

From researching and reading other peoples posts, I sense our issues are typical, which is unfortunate. I'm not convinced another brand would have guaranteed better results. (open to opions here as well.) Just seems like the quality and construction of most RV's is stuck 20-30 years ago.

Thanks for reading; hope others find this useful in some way.



Hi Brad,

Welcome to the Heartland Owners Forum and to the family. We have a great bunch of folks here with lots of information and all willing to share their knowledge when needed.

Thanks for your review of your Wilderness. Sounds like you got a nice used unit with very little problems.

Be sure and check out our Heartland Owners Club. Join us at a rally when you can and meet lots of the great folks here and make friends for a lifetime.

Enjoy the forum and your new to you unit.

Jim M


Founders of SoCal Chapter
I don't know if this is your 1st trailer/RV. Fittings, "P" traps, and other things DO shake loose. These RV's are not your S/B home. Consider your trailer a rolling earthquake. Just like your S/B home, they do require constant inspection and maintaining.

As to the roof, if you have a front cap, how was the caulking? You need to inspect and re-caulk about every 6 months as needed. If the caulking was bad/cracked....then wind could have gotten under the roof material and pulled it loose. Your new..to you....trailer could be as old as 3 years now. What do you know about any wheel bearing repacks and such. What brand of tires does it have. Just some things to ponder.
You have made a very great point. I see it like this....Like a car, EVERY trailer brand has the same issues. I have been researching my campers choices this last 6 months or so and have become quite knowledgeable and sometimes a little obsessed with reading reviews. It's been my relaxer after a work some evenings you may say. I have had 4 favorite trailers in the past 6 months and convinced at times each one has been "the one". I've read reviews good and bad and indifferent. People with the same trailers and one is constantly in the shop, one came with electrical and one or two are perfect so far.

I ask myself how can this be in the beginning,and I now it's just what I am finding to be sad and the normal. You are right about the quality control. We are not as worried about customer service and quality of workmanship as in the past, and when you roll out 15 or more RVs in a week or two you are gonna miss stuff. In the world we live in... it's about the quantity, not quality because quantity means more money.

There are some nice rigs out there... and one for everyone one of us and sadly we have to take some responsibility for what we are purchasing because times have changed as we all are now seeing in things we purchase. I think then it comes down to the consumer to be diligent when doing the PDI. Know what to look for, do your research on prior issues with in the rig, and what the warranty will cover. Get a lengthy copy of the PDI with all the parts and go thru it 2 times if necessary. Don't let that salesman or walk thru person rush you. It should take a few hours to look at a trailer. Bring your own mechanic or handy man. I think we all know someone who know's someone who can help us. If you are still in the wheeling and dealing stage and don't get what you want.... walk away till you find the one who will wheel and deal and don't sign anything...... till you are satisfied. If it's not right... leave it there and come back when it's fixed. BE PATIENT. IT'S YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY. Customer service is not what it used to be no matter what you buy.... but the more information you have at time of purchase the better.

I love the Wilderness I am looking at on here and I feel this is the one .....again. I am hoping come May it still is. Glad you enjoyed your trip it sounded awesome. Happy Camping the east coast. :>)