Many people dream of spending idyllic weekends in the great outdoors with their families. Unfortunately, after they spend a few cold and damp weekends trapped inside a leaky tent, the camping dream can look a little less likely. Luckily, once the novelties of tent camping wear off, you can camp in a variety of trailers, while still feeling close to nature and your family.
Starting camping with a trailer can be an intimidating experience. Knowing what kind of trailer to purchase not only affects comfort and convenience, but can be expensive as well. Three different starter trailers are tent trailers, travel trailers, and hybrid trailers. They each have their pros and cons, but all three are great options when starting trailer camping.
Tent Trailer Pros
On average, tent trailers will be the smallest, cheapest option to try trailer camping with. Their lightweight makes them easily towable by minivans and SUVs, and with all the soft sides, the camping experience is most similar to being in a tent, surrounded by air and light.
Tent Trailer Cons
The number of cons with a tent trailer can often outweigh the pros. The small size can make them feel cramped, and a lack of personal space can be hard for some people. Without bunks, the sleeping situation can be easy to outgrow for some families. The soft walls make it hard to regulate temperature, both hot and cold, and can let moisture in, making the trailer feel damp. Putting the beds in and out of the trailer can lead to ripping the walls or skirting, and having to set up the trailer each camping trip can be tedious and difficult, if the weather is bad. Once the trailer is all packed up, it’s very hard to access supplies.
Small Travel Trailer Pros
A small travel trailer can feel like a mini home away from home, and make camping feel more luxurious. With the hard walls there is more protection from the elements, and the trailer can easily be heated or cooled. Outside noises are also less than in a trailer with soft sides. In a travel trailer, there is often more privacy, with a queen or double bed separated from single or double bunks. Since the trailers are longer than tent trailers, they are normally more spacious inside, with built in appliances and much more storage. Having a private bathroom area with a door is a huge plus as well, not to mention how easy it is to use the running water. Constant interior access means it’s easy to grab items stored inside while travelling with the trailer, and there are never any worries about setting up or taking down the trailer in the rain.
Small Travel Trailer Cons
These heavier trailers are the most expensive of the three options, and may need a different vehicle to tow them, depending on their size. The camping experience isn’t as close to nature, since it’s more like a small home on wheels. Maintenance and winterization is also more complicated than with tent trailers.
Hybrid Trailer Pros
Hybrid trailers are just what they sound like, a cross between a tent trailer and hard-sided travel trailer. With their hard sides and pull-out, soft-walled beds, they offer the convenience and luxuries of a travel trailer, while remaining lighter in weight and cheaper than hard-sided trailers. Having bunks and tip-outs as well as pull out beds means they can comfortably sleep more people than tent trailers without being too cramped. Indoor temperatures are easier to control than tent trailers, and built-in appliances and storage make camping easy. There is still some set-up involved, but with only the beds tipping out, it’s easy to access interior storage while on the road.
Hybrid Trailer Cons
While having much of the ease of a hard-sided trailer, hybrid trailers have the drawbacks of both types of trailers. They can still have the damp tent feeling and smell, and even though they can have heat and A/C, it can be harder to control the interior temperature. Outside noises will be less than in a tent trailer, but more than in a travel trailer. A moderate amount of setup is still necessary, and the tent sides can still rip if not set up properly.
Why not a fifth wheel trailer?
There is a fourth type of trailer out there, but it has been deliberately left off this list. Fifth wheel campers are great campers, but not entirely appropriate as a starter trailer for a few reasons. They take a little more trailer driving experience as well as a special fifth wheel hitch. Since they need the hitch, they also need a half-ton or bigger pickup truck to pull them. This extra equipment takes them out of the beginner category.
Due to the layout of these trailers, they’re also larger and therefore more expensive than the other types compared here. The bedroom is most often found over the hitch, which means it rides over the truck bed when being towed. On the interior of the trailer there are stairs leading up to the main bedroom, with the remainder of the living space down below. With the living spaces divided up like this, fifth wheel campers have nice floor plans, but the smallest of these trailers is larger than all tent trailers and most hybrid trailers.
Which is best?
So which trailer type is the best to start with? Like all things, it depends on personal preference for comfort, experience, convenience and pricing. All three types can contribute to fantastic camping experiences. If comfort and convenience are most important, then a hard sided trailer is the best option. If price and ease of towing is critical, then a tent trailer is the way to go. For a happy medium, the hybrid trailer has more convenience for less money and is still lighter in weight for towing. All three trailer types are a great way to start camping and enjoying the outdoors, and will all offer a more convenient and comfortable experience than tent camping.