I just recently purchased a conventional travel trailer (hard side) and I faced the agonizing choice of whether to pick a tent trailer or a regular travel trailer. I also considered some hard side travel trailers that had canvas pop-outs, which are sometimes referred to as hybrid trailers.
In general, I recommend a travel trailer if you won’t have problems towing and storing the trailer and have a larger budget. If you need something easier to tow, store, and don’t mind losing storage space and a bathroom, then a tent trailer is a great option as well.
Anyway, in the end I decided to go with a conventional travel trailer, so I thought I’d share some of the things that I considered and benefits/drawbacks of both options.
Conventional Trailers are Much More Waterproof
When you’re in a conventional travel trailer, it’s basically like being inside your home. It can rain cats and dogs outside (where does that expression come from? It’s weird) and you’ll stay perfectly dry.
But a good tent trailer will also keep you dry, just that sometimes the walls “persperate” which can bring some condensation indoors. This is especially true near the beds where some of the bedding can get wet when it touches the sides. It’s not a big deal, but it does mean you may have to air things out after a night of camping in the rain if you’re in a tent trailer.
Tent Trailers Feel More Like Camping
One negative to a traditional hardside travel trailer is that they can tend to feel like you’ve spent all weekend in a tiny apartment, instead of feeling like you had a relaxing and peaceful camp out in the woods.
We wondered about this, but in the end we decided it wouldn’t be a problem because we spend most of our time sitting out by the campfire anyway, and really only go inside during the hot part of the day to cool off and and at night to sleep.
My brother suggested that those who feel this way about traditional trailers should consider a hybrid traditional trailer that has canvas popouts.
Tent Trailers Weigh Much Less
A tent trailer can weigh 2,500 pounds when a comparable traditional trailer would weigh 4,500 pounds. For those who don’t have a big heavy truck to tow a heavy camper, a tent trailer is an excellent option.
Tent trailers not only weigh less because they have canvas sides, but also because they usually don’t have nearly the amount of wood cupboards or other amenities.
Traditional Trailers Are More Convenient to Load/Unload
For our family, one of the biggest benefits of a camper trailer is that we can take all of our gear, food, bedding and other supplies and leave them in the trailer. When we want to go camping, each of us grab a change of clothes, we get a jug of milk, and put it in the trailer and we’re ready to go.
On a Friday after the kids get out of school, we can be totally ready to camp in less than 30 minutes.
Before we got our trailer, it would take us several hours to pack the car to get ready for camping, and we hated coming home from camping because we had an hour of work to do to clean out the car.
Traditional trailers often have four times more storage than tent trailers inside, and even more outside. Also, it’s much easier to get in and out of a traditional trailer to load/unload because you don’t have to pop it up.
For our family, this was the #1 draw to a traditional trailer.
Tent Trailers are Much Easier to Store
Our neighborhood, like many other neighborhoods, doesn’t allow trailers behind the side fence of the yard, so we have to pay for trailer storage. If we had a tent trailer, it would fit low under the fence and the HOA wouldn’t ever even know it was there 🙂
Most tent trailers even fit in a garage, which is nice to keep it from the elements.
Tent Trailers are Significantly Cheaper
A tent trailer will often cost $10,000 less than a traditional trailer when purchased new. That’s a huge amount of money, so be sure you have a good reason to pick a travel trailer when you could save a lot of money.
Not only are tent trailers less expensive to buy, they are also significantly less money to insure because they have fewer things inside to break, and they will save you a lot of money on fuel in towing them.
Travel Trailers Are Much More Spacious (Generally)
I wouldn’t say this one is always true. There are some tent trailers that have a nice large space; however, I’d say generally travel trailers have much more room.
I read several forum threads of people who own tent trailers before making my decision, and the number one complaint I heard from many tent trailer owners was that they were too cramped–especially for a family.
Travel Trailers Offer More Privacy
One nice thing about travel trailers is there are hard walls in the interior that offer much more privacy. The tent trailers that do actually have a bathroom (and not all do), are often just giving you a toilet with a curtain around it. Not exactly fun to poop in front of the whole family.
Tent Trailers are Easier to Back Up
Because you can see over a tent trailer when collapsed, it is much easier to back up, tow, and move around. The tough thing about backing up a trailer is that you can’t really see behind you, so a tent trailer claims this as a nice benefit.
Then again, you can always get a backup camera on your traditional trailer, which obviates this benefit.
Longer Set Up Time On A Pop-Up
One benefit of a traditional trailer is that when you arrive at the camp ground, you’re done. Maybe set up the stabilizers if you don’t want the trailer rocking around, and that’s really it. A pop up takes a bit more time to pull out the bed pop outs and support them, crank up the top, set up the kitchen, etc.
Popups Usually Don’t Have a Bathroom
Pop-ups sometimes have bathrooms that put you behind a curtain, but more often than not, you’re pooping behind a curtain. But the more common scenario is that you’re left squatting in the woods if you have a tent trailer. My family didn’t really care about the bathroom so much, but for some people, this is a major consideration.
Not having a bathroom, however, means that you don’t have a black tank to empty. That’s nice!
Travel Trailers Give the Feeling of Security
If you’re camping with a spouse or others who don’t really enjoy camping, they’ll probably enjoy a travel trailer much more. Since it feels like you’re inside, you feel protected from storms, bears (beets, battlestar gallactica… ha ha), and the cold.
Pets are Best in a Travel Trailer
Many camping grounds do not allow unattended pets to be left in pop up trailers for fear that they could easily get out or they could stay in there and bark all day long and drive people crazy. So if you plan to stay at a lot of paid camping areas, at least check the restrictions if you have pets.