There are a lot of things to love about this 26’ off-road travel trailer that lets you shower, cook, and sleep with the comforts of home when you’re deep in the backcountry.
For an overlander that rarely wants to plug in, doesn’t want to stay in an RV park, and doesn’t want to be hampered by her rig, finding the perfect camper can be a challenge.
I’ve tested tow-behinds, truck campers, vans, and RVs. I’ll say this: the search continues. Most recently, I spent a month on the road in the Black Series HQ19, which brought some awesome features to the travel trailer experience. And really, it boasts a bit of a split personality.
Here’s more, from an overview of features to my experience with it on the road.
Black Series’ HQ19 Overview
The HQ19 is the only tow-behind I’ve tested that can handle off-road driving. More on that to come.
The camper was decadently comfortable, with a dry bath, queen-size bed, and loads of storage. Additionally, extras like an oven, washing machine, and a fridge and freezer are bigger than what you’ll find in some apartments.
The outside storage was immense. And the camper had a stainless-steel outdoor kitchen. Hot water on demand in a full-size stall shower made bathing a delight.
A roomy dinette can comfortably seat four, and oversized windows make the inside space feel light and airy. A robust solar system and battery bank powers lights, the microwave, and plugs. And all are managed by a high-quality inverter.
If the devil is in the details, that’s where this camper scored fewer points. Edges on the outdoor kitchen were sharp enough to cut fingers. There’s not a USB plug inside. And systems that should run off solar/batteries — like the fridge — are propane or plug-in only.
Black Series HQ19 Review
What impressed me most about the HQ19 is how well it towed, and how well it handled off-road conditions. In other campers — doing the cross-country drive to get to the mountains and deserts of Colorado and Utah from Vermont — I’ve had to fight not to be blown all over the highway in crosswinds.
The Black Series didn’t wiggle around like other tow-behinds. Despite its 10-foot height and 26-foot length, it cruised with stability and tracked straight.
When I towed it along the edge of a canyon on a single-lane road used primarily by ORVs, and then skirted through junipers to nest it into a secluded camp spot in Colorado, it was as nimble as I could hope for any 26-foot trailer to be.
Backing up, I could pivot the trailer as needed to worm my way through obstacles. And parking was less of a project than I anticipated.
There are two keys to the camper’s superb handling. The first is its independent suspension. Black Series custom-designed and engineered trailing arms that allow each wheel to move independently. This made towing this rig on the highway, on dirt roads, and off-road a joy.
The suspension spreads the load across four shocks instead of two. This is safer for everyone involved, and Black Series says it results in longer shock life.
The second is the polyblock hitch. The 360-degree articulation hitch allows for more angulation of the trailer behind the truck, as well as 70 degrees of up and down rotation. This makes it easier to back up the trailer. And it prevents the trailer from feeling like it’s fighting the truck for traction on bumpy terrain.
The Black Series has a special-ops aesthetic. People stopped me nearly every time I refueled to ask if it was a military or search-and-rescue vehicle and if they might peek inside.
The rugged exterior has a diamond plate lower with corner bash bars done in black, white, and red. It’s an eye-catching rig that’s different-looking from every other travel trailer I’ve seen on the road.
Two full-size spare tires mounted on the tail were eye-catching. Thankfully, I didn’t need them.
Inside, light gray laminate cabinets and big windows made it a very welcoming place to hide out during a storm, eat, hang with friends, and hunker down for the night.
Space is tight, as in any camper without pop-outs, but manageable. There’s great ventilation, thanks to oversized windows on either side of the bed, a skylight, a big window behind the sink, a small bathroom window, and another oversized window behind the seating area.
I loved the pull-up screens. They paired well with the pull-down privacy shades on all the windows and skylight.
The metal screen security door has a solid panel that closes over it when needed, as well as a permanent vent. There was always fresh air coming in, which was only a problem in winter. When I had the heat on to keep the temperature comfortable inside, I blocked that vent with a duffel of clothing.
The HQ19 has loads of storage. Skis fit laterally in the camper’s full-width front storage pod. At one point I had five pairs of skis, an equal number of boots, a battery generator, a compressor, tools, packs, helmets, the camper fuse box, and ski gear for two in there with room to spare. The pod can be accessed from either side, and it locks closed.
Two storage compartments in the front of the trailer held two propane tanks and an outdoor carpet on one side. It held multiple jerry cans, camp chairs, GoTreads, AutoSocks, a bike pump, and other emergency gear on the other.
The HQ19 has a hitch receptacle on the rear. But I was wary to add a hitch rack to this trailer, as it was already long. So, I stored mountain bikes inside my truck instead of on a hitch rack.
Black Series nailed it on storage inside, too. A lot of campers I’ve used feel cramped, like I always have too much to fit inside.
In the Black Series, even with two humans and three dogs, I had plenty of storage. The bathroom had three big drawers, a vertical cabinet under the sink, and spacious overhead cabinets.
The kitchen has three large storage compartments over the eating area, under-sink space, multiple drawers, another big cabinet over the sink, and two big open storage spaces that were awkward to get into. But they’re great for overflow supplies.
There was a lot of bedroom storage, too. However, it’s not as thoughtfully designed as storage in the rest of the camper. Closets on either side of the incredibly comfortable queen-sized bed had rods for hanging shirts, but I prefer shelving.
The hanging cabinet was tall. But the gear in the bottom of the closet was accessible only by blind rummaging. Above the bed, storage is super functional.
While almost every cabinet and drawer in the HQ19 had off-road-resistant hardware, the bedroom side cabinets didn’t latch. Drawers on either side of the bed were semi-useful for a headlamp and other small items. But I had to get out of the bed to open them.
A shoe compartment under the bed was a great place to store footwear and keep it out of the way. But there’s no place to hang wet, dirty clothes and gear in the entrance to the camper. I installed hooks on the entry wall, which I also used to hang car keys.
I’ve never had a camper with an oven. I love to cook, and I used the oven more than I thought I would. I made pizza, muffins, biscuits, cookies, and more.
The spacious stainless-steel sink had both drinking water and general water faucets. Though in the time I had the camper, the water from both faucets was not potable. This happened despite swapping out filters in the double- and triple-filtration systems and bombing the tanks with bleach.
The stove had double covers that blocked the kitchen window when open. If I owned this camper, one of the first things I’d do is make a cutting board to replace the countertop cover, one that could be moved to cover the sink and provide additional prep space for cooking. Counter space in the camper was limited.
I removed the television, which blocked the counter space to the right of the sink, so I could have more space to work. The plug-in microwave ran off the inverter.
Because I used this camper in subfreezing temperatures, a Black Series dealer-installed tank heaters in the unit I tested. They worked seamlessly. And in temperatures down to 0 degrees F, with tank heaters on and the heat in the camper on, the tanks didn’t freeze.
Hot water on demand meant no waiting to do dishes or take a shower. This was great.
Black Series went overboard with their lighting. Low and soft reading lights next to the bed and in the dinette were awesome. Two sets of startlingly bright ceiling lighting in addition to softer ceiling lighting were overkill, and additional lights rimming the fans and ceiling hatch were too much — I never used them.
The super-bright LED exterior lights were great for getting work done after the sun went down, but I would have liked some more gentle lighting for hanging out outside in the evening.
Easy-to-use switches near the camper’s main entrance controlled all the camper lighting. A master switch let me turn off all the electricity with the push of a button.
The bathroom in the HQ19 is over the top, with a spacious shower, a ceramic sink that’s as big as the one you’d have at home, a pedal flush toilet, and a washing machine inside a cabinet. But the washing machine works using shore power only. So, I couldn’t use it when I was off-grid.
The stall shower is spacious with a handheld showerhead, and a flexible sliding door that wrapped around the body of the shower to open and close. But the bathroom fans were cheap, without weather protection, and without adjustability.
According to Black Series, no one likes to cook inside. So, they installed a gorgeous stainless-steel kitchen outside in another pass-through storage compartment.
It has a sink, a two-burner stove, a stainless countertop that unfolds, and a silverware drawer, and another storage drawer. It’s sharp-looking but were I to own this camper, I’d replace the entire unit with a stainless-steel table, and I’d bring a grill or Traeger Ranger.
Because of the water issues with this camper, I didn’t hook up the outdoor sink. I used the counter a lot for serving food for friends, but it was too high to sit at and eat from with camp chairs. And the metal edges of this unit aren’t finished, resulting in some serious finger slices when I was packing up the kitchen for storage.
I’d love the outdoor kitchen compartment to be additional storage. It could also give me a work surface and hold a bike stand.
Difficulties, Systemic Problems Off-Grid
I don’t expect every system to work for off-grid living, though it would be nice if Black Series’ systems did.
The air conditioner is AC, so not off-grid compatible. And it’s the most basic unit Dometic makes — loud and with limited settings. The refrigerator is AC or gas, so I had to keep propane on all the time, including when I was driving.
The solar system served me well for camper lights. But I’d like to see it power more things, like the refrigerator. Lithium-ion batteries would be a worthy upgrade, though the inverter worked great.
The bathroom fans felt like if I left them open on a windy day the covers would snap off. Plus, they only have one speed, so they weren’t as useful for ventilation as Max Fans, which not only won’t let the weather in but have adjustability. Similarly, the range hood fan didn’t seem to vent anywhere and was noisy without being useful.
The outdoor shower had so little pressure I could barely rinse my legs off after a muddy bike ride. More water pressure would make the outdoor shower a useful gear wash as well as a second place to bathe.
For a modern camper, the HQ19 had a notable lack of plugs. Two outlets ran off the inverter. There were no USB ports and, in general, I found myself constantly juggling electronics to get everything charged from two outlets.
I was never able to drink the camper water. Black Series claims triple-filtered drinking water from a drinking water-specific tank, and double-filtered water in the general water tank. Both tasted toxic.
I bombed the tanks with bleach and replaced the filters. The water stopped smelling so bad, but I couldn’t use it even to do dishes. And it was certainly not potable. Unfortunately, I was not able to troubleshoot this with Black Series from the road.
The black water, gray water, and general and drinking water tank gauges are not accurate, which made it hard to know how much water I had left and how soon I needed to get back to civilization to refill. Gauges jumped between 50% and 76%. I would have appreciated more incremental readings.
The awning was flimsy, so I didn’t use it. In a breeze, it seemed in danger of getting torn off the camper.
Wooden covers under the dinette cushions that cover the battery compartment and other systems fell off on every drive. And the fan in the battery compartment ran constantly, even in cold temps. Connecting the fan to a thermometer would solve the problem.
A more powerful outdoor shower would double as a bike or gear wash. As delivered, the outdoor shower barely had enough force to rinse with. A fold-up plastic table and 12V plugs on the camper’s exterior seemed like extras that could be eliminated.
The windows don’t lock in their open positions, so anyone could enter the camper via an open window. And open windows or open roof hatch plus the bathroom fans are the only ventilation for an off-grid parked camper.
In a rainstorm, it was hard to vent the camper. Wind and rain were able to enter through all open windows, the roof hatch, and the fans.
Wear and Tear
In a month of use, the fridge handle snapped off — Black Series kindly sent me a replacement door, which I was able to pull the handle off of to fix the original.
Some of the cabinet latches stopped working. And weather stripping on the front of the camper sagged, drooped, and stretched and had to be cut and Gorilla taped back on. Several of the kitchen cabinet latches stopped working smoothly, and I had to repeatedly slam cabinets to get the latches to engage.
There are so many things I loved about the Black Series HQ19. And most of my complaints are certainly nitpicks and upgrades I could make myself over time.
The bones of the HQ19 are good, and Black Series could own the market for off-roaders who want all the comforts of home if they made some tweaks. As Black Series is positioning the brand as off-road capable, I expected that all systems would be durable and functional for outdoor living.
They still have some work to do to get there. And while most people who buy a camper or a trailer do some customization over time, there are things Black Series could and should do in their 2022 trailers to make buying one a no-brainer for those with cash in hand looking for a travel trailer that’s as comfortable as a hotel suite.