Camper trailers are one of the most comfortable and versatile recreational vehicles available. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and all of them allow you to have the comforts of your own home even when you’re out on the road, camping in the woods, or tailgating at a sporting event. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from camper trailers, see what your options are if you’re thinking of buying one, and see what the different varieties of camper trailers are.
What Exactly Is A Camper Trailer?
A camper trailer is simply any camper that is pulled or towed behind another vehicle, most commonly a truck or van. The campers can be any number of sizes, from small enough to be pulled by a car, to large enough that they require a very powerful truck to tow them. The trailer to the right is an example of a smaller, rear entry camper trailer. It probably has a small kitchen, a sitting area and a bed inside, with perhaps a small restroom as well. As you can see, the space is very economically used.
Another sort of RV, called a motorhome, is very similar to campers, but motorhomes are different from camper trailers in that they do not need to be towed by another vehicle. Motorhomes have their own engine and can be driven around on their own power. As you can see from the picture, motorhomes essentially take the camper trailer and truck and roll them into one vehicle. They are often built on the same frame as charter buses, and are usually about the same size.
Choosing Between a Camper Trailer And a Motorhome
If you are considering buying a new or used camper trailer, chances are that you’ll also at some point consider buying a motorhome. The advantages to a motorhome, as I said above, are that they don’t need another vehicle to tow them, and they are also generally larger than most camper trailers. The main disadvantage is that motorhomes cost a good bit more than camper trailers – you can get a good, small camper trailer for $5,000 while most motorhomes start around $50,000. You might also want something smaller, easier to manage and more efficient than a large motorhome.
The terminology about camper trailers, motorhomes, and RVs can sometimes be confusing. The term RV or recreational vehicle can applied to either a camper trailer or a motorhome, but is most commonly used to refer to a motorhome. Folding campers, folding trailers, travel trailers, popup campers, and fifth wheels all refer to camper trailers. Class A and Class C refer to motorhomes (and to make things easier, they’re often called Class A motorhomes and/or Class C motorhomes), and the term “toy hauler” can refer to either a camper trailer or a motorhome. We’ll talk more about all of these types just below.
Types of Camper Trailers
There are quite a few types of camper trailers, and the differences between them all are not always set in stone. The same trailer can sometimes be called by two or more names, but we’ll take a look at all of the options and see what sets them apart from one another. We’ll also go from least expensive to most expensive, so you’ll have an idea of the price.
Teardrop Trailers – I’m not sure if the teardrop name is a marketing term or if it’s actually used more widely, but teardrop trailers refer to small, lightweight camper trailers like the one in the picture. These trailers can come small enough to just hold equipment (great for towing behind a motorcycle) but can also be large enough to fit a king sized bed and sleep 6 or more inside. Some even have a platform on the back to tow 4-wheelers or dirt bikes.
They can also come with custom graphics for the outside, and you can get air conditioning and heating installed for them as well. Teardrop trailers like these go for $3,000 to $8,000 plus options. Popular brands here are Littleguy camper trailer and Coleman camper trailers. You can also find camper trailer covers to go over your trailer in case of bad weather. In addition, there some small trailers like these that are made for off-road settings and these are called 4×4 camper trailers.
Pop Up Trailers – Pop up trailers, or pop up campers, are collapsible campers that are lighter and easier to tow than a lot of other campers are, but they expand to give you a lot of room when you’re ready to camp. The picture shows a pop up trailer that has been expanded, but it would shrink down to just a fraction of that size when traveling. Both of the wings on the sides would fold in, and the top collapses until it’s just a foot or two above the base.
Besides being lighter than some other camper trailers, pop up campers are easier for a novice to tow as they are not as large as many other camper trailers are when you’re traveling. You wouldn’t have any trouble seeing over or around a pop up camper and you could probably pull one with most cars.
Folding Trailers – Folding trailers, or folding campers, are very similar to pop up campers. They are collapsible for travel and can expand when you get to your destination. The main difference between folding and pop up campers is that some folding campers expand and collapse horizontally instead of vertically. That is to say, instead of the top of the camper rising and falling, the back of the camper would collapse into the front for travel. Then you would expand the trailer lengthwise when you were ready to use it.
Pop up campers and folding campers usually go for around the same price range. You can find bargain basement models for around $10,000 and they can go as high as $25,000 to $30,000 if you want the high end models.
Travel Trailers – With travel trailers we’re starting to get into the more expensive and better furnished varieties of camper trailers. Travel trailers are different from folding and pop up trailers in that they do not collapse or expand for travel. Instead they are one uniform shape which allows for better craftsmanship and durability. Having more room also allows for more amenities such as a permanent bedding area.
Since travel trailers are much larger than the other campers we’ve seen so far, they generally weigh more and are more difficult to tow. If you’re new to the whole experience, you may want to start off with something smaller and more manageable first. Travel trailers can go for anywhere from $15,000 for the low models to up to $100,000 for all of the bells and whistles.
5th Wheel – 5th wheel trailers are so named because they do not attach to the standard rear-bumper-located trailer hitch. Instead they attach to a special trailer hitch that is located in the bed of a pickup truck, called the 5th wheel hitch or a gooseneck hitch.
5th wheel trailers generally have the most available living space due to the fact that a lot of the trailer is allowed to hang over the bed of the pickup truck. These trailers are also fixed in terms of size and do not expand or collapse for travel.
Toy Haulers – Amusingly termed, toy hauler campers are so named because they have a large space in the very back that is used to haul around “toys” such as ATVs, dirt bikes, motorcycles or golf carts. The front half of the trailer is very much like a travel trailer in terms of space, but the back half or quarter is given over completely to the toy hauling section.
Toy haulers are nearly always require gooseneck hitches due to their size and weight. These types of trailers are definitely not for newbies to try and learn on; only use them if you have a good bit of experience in towing and hauling trailers.
Towing a Camper Trailer
Towing a camper trailer can be an exciting experience for someone without a lot of towing knowledge. Hopefully, if you don’t know quite what you’re doing, you’ll have someone else around who can show you the ropes. The first thing to do if you’re going to tow a camper trailer is make sure that your towing vehicle (your car, truck or van) is rated high enough to tow your camper trailer safely. Most decent-sized cars are rated to about 2,000 pounds, but to tow anything over that you’re going to need a truck or van. You can check the owner’s manual for your towing vehicle and camper trailer to find the towing rating and curb weight, respectively. (Curb weight refers to the weight of your trailer with all of its standard equipment included. Basically the curb weight is the weight that you’ll be towing before you start adding anything to it.)
Once you’re sure that your vehicle can handle the trailer, hook everything up as directed by the owners manual. Make sure that you attach the safety chains and lines, and that you attach the wiring properly. You’ll want to test the lights on your trailer before you take off to make sure they work properly.
When you’re rolling, you’ll probably find out very quickly that driving works very differently when you’re towing a camper trailer. Three things to look out for specifically when you’re driving are: 1) accelerating and braking, 2) turning, and 3) backing up. Since you’re pulling a much larger amount of weight than normal, the length of time you’ll need to both accelerate up to speed and brake safely have increased as well. Make sure to give yourself enough time and distance for both. Things to think about when accelerating are merging into traffic – don’t forget to consider the longer length of your vehicle now – as well as being able to go a safe speed up hills. Also be sure to give yourself plenty of room when you start slowing down for red lights, stop signs, and other cars.
Turning when you’re towing your camper trailer is another difficult activity to master. The trailer will take a shorter path than your car or truck does, so you’ll need to keep that in mind when you turn. If you’re turning right, anything directly to the right of your vehicle could get hit or run over by the trailer if you cut the turn too tightly. Give yourself plenty of room and pull out farther than normal before you begin to turn to make sure that your trailer has room to turn itself.
Lastly, backing up with a trailer has caused many a nightmare for the unexperienced, not to mention spawned quite a few scenes in comedy movies. There’s no substitute for practice when you’re backing up with a trailer, but basically the trailer does the opposite of what your car does in a turn. If you’re backing up and turn the wheel to the right (which would make your car go to the right), the trailer is going to go to the left. If you turn the wheel left, the trailer will go to the right. Just take things slowly until you have a better handle on how to get the trailer where you want it. But don’t worry, before long you’ll be whipping that thing around like nobody’s business.
Using and Camping with a Camper Trailer
Camper trailers can have lots of amenities that can make camping more comfortable and fun. Most campers have the basics: electrical and propane gas supplies, stoves and cooking facilities, and living and storage areas. High end campers can have entertainment systems (such as TVs, DVD players, and video game systems), refrigerators, hot water heaters, heating and air conditioning, power generators, and even ceiling fans.
When you pull all of those things together, it’s almost like you’re not even camping. This can be great for couples and families that like to spend time in the outdoors, but don’t want the full-blown “roughing it” experience. When you plan on taking your RV camping, there are a few things that you’ll need to check out before you show up at the campground. First off, you need to call ahead and make sure that the campground has an area for RVs and camper trailers. I’ve been in plenty of campgrounds that only offered smaller campsites for cars, and even some that don’t offer any vehicle camping facilities at all.
You’ll also want to make sure that the RV area has the proper hookups for your camper trailer. This generally means electricity, gas, water and a waste line if you have a restroom in your camper. If you see or hear the term “full hookups” then you know the place has you covered.