You know I think camping in a camper is the best way to travel, but camping in general offers most of the same great benefits. We highly recommend traveling and camping to everyone who is able to get away. We are thrilled with our little travel trailer camper, but we can see there are pros and cons to every form of camping. What is the best way to camp? People have different needs, different goals, and different budgets.
Which one is right is for you?
TENT: $15 – $2000
Let’s start with basics. For the diehard outdoorsy types, this is the only way to camp and going any further in this article would be cheating. Most of us like options though! When you hear “camping” you probably picture laying on the ground in a sleeping bag in a tent, cooking hot dogs and beans over a fire, and walking to the bathhouse (or stream) to clean yourself up. Get out your scouting book for refreshers on how to keep bears away and tie a handkerchief. Tents and tent camping have come a long way since my scouting days, though, and there are many accessories (like air mattresses) to make “roughing it” less rough.
Benefits of a tent:
Because it doesn’t cost much to get started, it is less of a commitment. You could try camping in a tent and see if you enjoy it or not. If tent camping is not for you, pitch it in the backyard and tell the kids it’s their new fort.
You won’t have the benefits of having your bathroom or kitchen with you, but you also won’t have to pack as much. You can throw everything you need in your trunk and hit the road.
Tents can be pitched anywhere. You won’t require hookups, so you don’t need a special parking site. Sleeping next to a river, on the beach, deep in the woods, or on the top of a mountain is no problem when you are camping in a tent.
Real camping experience
Tents are not mansions; they’re not even shacks. You will hear (and maybe feel) the rain and wind. You will feel the heat and cold. But you will smell the fresh air and hear the birds chirping. You will experience the peace of nature in all its glory.
TENT TRAILER / POP-UP CAMPER: $2,000 – $21,000
A pop-up camper, or tent trailer, is part tent, part camper. These hybrids have never appealed to me personally, mostly because they seem like a lot of work to set up and take down, partly because everything has to stay low and inaccessible while on the road, and also because it just seems like a lot can go wrong with all the moving parts. But they do have benefits and are the right choice for many people. If you own a pop-up camper, let me know what you love about it!
Benefits of a pop-up camper:
Off the ground
The pop-up camper has all the benefits of a tent, but you’re up off the ground. This makes it more comfortable, and there will be fewer critters around.
The roof of the pop-up is solid so that adds more protection from the elements than a tent does.
An indoor kitchen and bathroom
Some models offer small spaces to store and cook food, as well as tiny shower and toilet facilities.
Heat and air conditioning available
I don’t have experience with a pop-up camper, but since the sides are tent material I’m sure it can’t get too temperature-controlled in there due to lack of insulation. But pop-up campers often come with these options so there must be a way to make it work!
Most vehicles can tow one
Pop-up campers are the lightest campers to tow so almost any vehicle could tow one. You don’t need a big SUV or pickup truck. You would need to check your vehicle’s tow rating and take into consideration how much the camper, plus everything you put inside it, weighs.
Easy to store
Since these are short when closed up and typically much smaller than other campers, they are easier to store when not in use.
PICKUP TRUCK CAMPER / SLIDE-IN CAMPER: $3,000 – $15,000
If you have a pickup truck, a pickup truck camper might be an option for you. These remind me of my childhood and I’m thinking they were more popular back then, because we rarely see them at campgrounds. But maybe that’s because they are sleeping off road somewhere deep in the woods, not at our amenity-filled campgrounds. This website has everything you want to know about pickup truck campers. There are pop-up versions and hard-side versions of the pickup truck camper.
Advantages of a pickup truck camper:
It can go everywhere, man
It can go everywhere your truck can go, so if you have four-wheel drive, your camper can go off road with you. In this way, it’s almost as versatile as a tent. It’s easier to drive and maneuver with a truck camper than towing a camper behind you.
Tow something else
Speaking of towing, since you aren’t, you can! Have a boat, four wheelers, horses, motorcycles? Or maybe extended family with a travel trailer? If your truck can handle the weight, you can tow whatever you want while your camper is attached to your truck. This is a benefit of an RV/motorhome, but at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, once you get where you’re going, the camper comes off and you’re free to use the truck separately.
Easy to store
These are relatively small and easier to store than larger campers.
Because truck campers are considered cargo, you don’t have to pay to register them in 40 states. When traveling in areas with tolls, you don’t have to pay for extra axles. (This could have saved us big bucks on a trip up through the mid-Atlantic and New England!)
Hard-sided pickup truck campers offer these additional benefits:
Outside stays outside
Hard sides mean nothing gets wet when it rains, animals can’t get in, and you can have heating and air conditioning if need be.
These are one of the least expensive hard-sided campers.
Permanent usable kitchen and bathroom facilities
Need to use the bathroom or grab a drink on the road? Just pull over and help yourself. It’s already set up.
Pickup truck campers are not spacious. However, they can come with slide-outs. Once you reach your destination, you slide out the side (or sides) of the camper creating a much larger space. Typically you see these on large campers and fifth wheels, so this is a nice feature for these little guys.
TRAVEL TRAILER / CAMPER: $11,000 – $110,000
Ok, you already know I’m biased here but the travel trailer has been good to us. We take (silly) pride in the fact that at 19 feet long and with one axle, our camper is usually the smallest at the campgrounds where we stay. But we also like to seek out any campers that might be smaller than ours and give their owners mental high fives. We are strange, I know. I mention this because my bias is more toward small campers rather than travel trailers in general. (Now that I have read up on the pickup truck camper, I’m seriously envying their portability and towing ability!)
As with a hard-side truck camper, these have permanent usable kitchen and bathroom facilities and the outside stays out. Starting at $11,000 they can cost less than some truck campers, and they also can have slide-outs making them much larger.
Travel trailer benefits:
Easy set up
Besides an RV/motorhome, they are probably the easiest camp to set up when you get to your destination.
Easy to get in and out
Travel trailers are low to the ground, unlike truck campers and fifth wheel trailers. This makes it easier for people with disabilities or children to get in and out.
Many vehicles can tow one
Depending on the size/weight, you have choices on your tow vehicle. Cars can tow small campers, or you can use a pickup truck, SUV, or van to tow.
You get better fuel economy with the lower profile of the travel trailer versus the fifth wheel or the hard-side truck camper.
Toy hauler available
Some travel trailers offer a toy hauler section, which is a cargo area with a ramp designed for carrying things that you can’t tow like motorcycles, golf carts, etc. It’s like having a little garage attached to your camper. Fifth wheels can also be toy haulers.
FIFTH WHEEL / GOOSENECK TRAILER: $15,000 – $95,000
These things can be pretty impressive. The fifth wheel trailer is a travel trailer that has an extended area over the bed of a pick up truck, where the hitch attaches for towing. These have to be towed with heavy duty pickup trucks, and you can’t use your truck bed while towing one.
Advantages of a fifth wheel trailer:
The main benefit of the fifth wheel is the stability and maneuverability when towing.
Spacious living area
Because it’s higher than a travel trailer, the ceiling height is taller in a fifth wheel. If the overall towing length of a travel trailer and a fifth wheel is the same, you get 6 to 8 additional feet of living space in the fifth wheel due to the extended area over the truck bed.
RV/MOTORHOME: $40,000 – $1,000,000+
Last, but definitely most, is the RV or motorhome. This is a camper with an engine. Because it’s a vehicle with a house these are the most expensive campers. Unlike all the previous options, you can’t unhook once you get to your campsite and drive somewhere without your camper. It’s one piece, so every time you leave you take your whole setup with you, unless you tow a small vehicle behind your motorhome.
There are 3 types of motorhomes:
Class A – These are houses on wheels. They are large and boxy, and look like a rock star’s tour bus because they are built like a bus or truck. Class A motorhomes are all about luxury, and the price reflects that.
Class B – These are the smallest and least expensive of the motorhomes. They look like conversion vans.
Class C – These are between a Class A and Class B. They have a truck cab in the front with a camper on the back and usually an extension over the cab.
Benefits of a motorhome:
In the camper on the road
Passengers can be in the motorhome while you’re driving down the road. That means no need to stop to make a sandwich, go to the bathroom, or get a game out of the camper. If you aren’t driving, you can be sleeping in your bed while going down a highway.
Easy to set up
There’s no unhooking so set up at the campground is much easier than with other campers.
Tow other stuff
Because it’s self-contained, you can tow a car, a boat, or pretty much whatever you want.
If you are sleeping in a sketchy area and need to get away quickly, you don’t have to go outside to jump in the driver’s seat and get away!
Especially in the Class A and Class C, they offer all the amenities of home. They are made for full-time living and often include washers and dryers!
These are the basics for each type of camper. I hope they help you determine the best way for you to camp.
My recommendations before you buy:
• Do your research
This article is a start, but look into the options that interest you to decide what would be best for you and your camping crew before you go out and get mesmerized by all the bells and whistles available!
• Rent or borrow
Before you buy, rent or borrow the camper you think you want so you can get a feel for it for at least a weekend.
• Buy used
If you can find what you want in good shape for a fraction of the cost, buy a barely used camper. There are many available because people didn’t do their research first or their camping situation has changed.
• Stay close to home
Stay nearby the first time you camp. If you have any problems you’ll be familiar with the area and know where to get help. Worst case, if it’s a disaster, you can come home!
No matter what you choose, you will be making a great choice for a fantastic way to travel!
How do you camp? Let me know if you have any questions so you can get on the road!