There are so many different campers, trailers, and RVs to pick from, and with so many options it can be hard to choose! When you know an upgraded option is available, it might make you wonder about the cheaper trailers.
So, let’s get specific: are tent trailers worth it?
If you have a small vehicle with low tow weights or you want to buy a travel trailer that isn’t too expensive, tent trailers are absolutely worth it. Also, if you are going to go camping often and want more amenities than tent camping or you just want something that will remain cooler in hot temperatures, then a tent trailer is definately worth it. Some tent trailers even have showers and bathrooms, so if that is something important to you, owning a pop-up trailer will be right for.
The question also inherently has a comparison within it. In order to decide if a tent trailer is worth it, you kind of have to put a tent trailer up against different kinds of trailers and weigh the pros and cons. So, that is what we will do.
First of all, what is a tent trailer? You might have also seen the term “pop up trailer” if you searched for tent trailers, and that is because the two are basically synonymous. A tent trailer, or a pop-up trailer, is a separate camping compartment that can be towed behind your car. It should offer the basic comforts so your camping trip can be more convenient.
A tent trailer will usually have a hard base, and then the walls and roof will be made of canvas, but generally a more durable material than your basic tent. As the term “pop-up trailer” suggests, the tent folds into the base so you are pulling what looks like a large box.
The inside will be more spacious than you expect, and should include a dinette, two beds, and even a small kitchen area. You can usually expect the kitchen to be equipped with a stovetop and fridge. You should also have some form of power to work the kitchen and lights.
Most tent trailers can actually sleep quite a few people–up to five or six adults. And since your tent will have screens, it should not be too stuffy.
So, now that you know the basics of the tent trailer, we should get more specific. What do you need to know before taking the plunge?
Things to Know About Tent Trailers–Good and Bad
Tent trailers are small.
Even though they are probably more spacious than you would expect, that does not mean they are expansive, luxurious campers. Since the beds pop out to the side, the only real space you will be able to stand in is in the kitchen and dinette area.
When you are in the sleeping areas, you are basically there to sit or sleep. Moving around is not as easy as it will be in the kitchen area–there is not as much headroom.
Storage may also be an issue, as there just simply is not a lot of it, however, this may help you have a more authentic camping trip, since that might be what you are looking for anyway if you are considering a tent trailer.
The small space kind of forces you to get outdoors, in a way. It is functional, but put simply, there just is not much to do inside besides sleep and cook! So, in a way, a tent trailer is actually one of the best options if you prefer a more authentic experience.
But again, the small size means you are not carrying as much, which means you will save on gas, and the car won’t experience as much wear and tear. If you are in the market for reduced weight trailers, this is the way to go.
Tent trailers are lighter.
As mentioned above, this is probably the best trailer option weight-wise. Since the trailer is halfway made of fabric, it is a lot lighter than a trailer with all hard walls.
For weight range, I have seen tent trailers weigh anywhere from 500 pounds to 2,000 pounds. In comparison with bigger or heavier trailers usually coming in around 8,000 pounds, you are doing really good. And your weight will also depend on how much you are storing in the trailer as well, so you have some control over that.
Since the tent trailer is so much lighter, you can possibly get away with an SUV or midsize truck, meaning if you do not have a large truck to pull your trailer, you do not have to spend even more money to get one.
Tent trailers might not have A/C.
This is not always an issue, but basically for the least amount of money, you are looking at no A/C for your tent trailer. You can always zip open the canvas to let the air through the screens, but other than that there will not be as much air flow as you might want.
But again, this is something you can take control over. You do not have to use the tent trailer on a weekend where the weather looks like it is not coming down from 100 degrees. And if you are not bothered by extreme heat or cold, you should be just fine with a tent trailer.
You can also bring a space heater or portable A/C unit if you desire. That way, you are not completely at the mercy of the weather, and you can keep yourself just a little more comfortable.
It is also smart to consider what would happen if you have to bring a generator. Your tent walls are thin–you will hear that thing going anytime it is on. There are ways to quiet generators. However, you can find that information here.
- Consider the weather.
Even if you are a person who does not care about extreme heat or cold, you should still play it safe. Other RV styles will probably protect you better than a tent trailer will, so keep when and where you plan on camping in mind when purchasing or renting a trailer.
The tent trailer can protect you from the rain just fine but remember that the rain can still cause condensation inside the tent, meaning you will need to air it out quite often to prevent any possible mold.
Tent trailers may not have bathrooms or showers.
Some tent trailers do have bathrooms, but it is pretty rare.
The short version of tent trailer bathrooms is that there are a couple of types of tent trailer bathrooms: wet bathroom, meaning the toilet is in the shower to save space, and dry bathroom, where the toilet is separate from the shower. Then there are some that might only have a toilet, which can usually be covered with extra counter space when not in use.
If you want more information on bathroom types and models that do have them, you should check out this article.
The lack of bathroom might not be an issue for some people, especially if you are one that is looking for that authentic camping feeling. Most campgrounds that you stay at should have comfort stations, so you do not always have to go in the woods.
So, for these reasons, not having a bathroom in a tent trailer is actually not that big of a deal! If you want to splurge a little, however, just know there are some tent trailers that do have bathrooms.
And remember, there are alternatives for toilets and showers! There are portable options for each, and again, campgrounds may offer both if you find the right place.
We have an article where you can find out a lot more about pop-ups and bathrooms that you should definitely read.
Tent trailers can be affordable.
Tent trailers can either be relatively cheap or just a little pricey in comparison to other RV models. If you buy a new tent trailer, you could easily spend up to about $20,000.
If you do not care about buying new, you could consider cheaper, used options, which can cost as little as $1,000! If you buy a used tent trailer, however, make sure the seller is really specific about why it is so cheap, because that could mean it is in need of repairs or renovations.
Another option is renting, which is great for a lot of reasons. First of all, renting before you buy can help you decide if you really want to buy in the first place! You can try out the lifestyle, consider what you want and need from your trailer.
Renting is also cheaper, though cost and worth come into play. It is similar to buying a house vs. renting an apartment. Sure, it might be cheaper to rent short term, but buying gets you a lot more opportunity and the option to sell later.
If you rent, you don’t have to worry about upkeep as much, and you don’t have to worry about storage (though most pop-ups are small enough to fit in your garage). You can just take the trailer for the weekend and return it before you return to your normal life.
All in all, money aside, renting is a great idea to at least tryout tent trailers. See if it works with your SUV, if you like the style, and if it works for the campgrounds and weather patterns near you. It is always better to have experience before you purchase, even if you like the trailer from just the initial tour.
Tent trailers actually have some really interesting alternatives.
And I am not just talking about RVs. You can also buy rooftop tents or truck bed tents.
Rooftop tents are actually just as they sound: tents that attach to the roof of your car (assuming you have a car big enough–generally an SUV). These tents can sleep up to six people just like tent trailers, but they are a little cheaper.
Of course, a rooftop tent comes with its own challenges: it can feel a little unsettling on top of a vehicle, and they do not have kitchens or storage as a tent trailer would. But, if all you really want is a tent that works for longer, road-trip style trips, a rooftop tent is an option.
A truck bed tent is also what it sounds like: the tent fits in the bed of your truck. This obviously has more limited space, so you can’t sleep as many people. However, it is always nice to sleep off the ground to avoid pests or rocks or whatever else could intrude on your space.
• So, here is where it is up to you. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Does a tent trailer seem worth any hassle you might foresee?
Next, I am going to compare tent trailers to other types of trailers, and then you can really have all the information to decide what works best for you.
Tent Trailers Compared to Other Trailer Options
- Travel trailers.
This is basically a tent trailer, but it is all hard walls and, thus, heavier than a tent trailer. But this option is about one step up from tent trailers because they are usually small and lighter than other models.
You will have to have higher towing power, a larger budget (up to $10,000 more), and options for more storage, but you might enjoy the pros over those cons when it comes to travel trailers.
First of all, you will have greater protection from the weather, and you will not have to worry about airing out the trailer as much as you would with a tent trailer. If you are worried about losing that authentic camping feel, there are hybrid options you can choose as well; they will just be more expensive than the classic tent trailer.
Travel trailers are easier to get going. You don’t have to pop out the trailer as you would with a tent trailer so that you can leave a lot faster. You can also pack less since you do not have to worry about removing gear, bedding, and supplies since the travel trailer is more secure.
Often, a travel trailer is more spacious, though that depends largely on the model. If you are camping with a family, you will likely enjoy the headroom a travel trailer can offer.
While a travel trailer usually offers more privacy than a tent trailer, the bathroom (if there is one) can feel a little weird. A lot of the times, bathrooms are covered with just a curtain, so your fellow campers might hear quite a bit of what is going on.
The other aspects of privacy, the hard walls specifically, are great when camping. It is nice to be able to feel like you are in your second home even if you are amidst other campers, and that is a feeling that a tent trailer might not be able to supply.
If you have a pet, it might be a good idea to do a travel trailer over a tent trailer, because the noise the pet might make can be concealed.
So, this is all good, but remember that a tent trailer offers less weight, less money spent, more control when backing into campsites, more storage options for the actual trailer, and they feel a lot more like actual camping.
- Fifth Wheel.
Both the fifth wheel and a tent trailer give you the option of detaching, so you can drive anywhere you want without having to continuously tow.
Fifth wheels actually vary quite a bit in size, so they probably compare best to tent trailers if we are talking about the smaller fifth wheels. They can be anywhere from 25-45 feet, though, which would affect what type of vehicle you are using for towing. If you only have an SUV, you might have to upgrade to a truck.
When it comes to driving with a fifth wheel, it is actually a bit more maneuverable than a tent trailer because the hitch point is higher on the truck. If you are worried about driving with such a large attachment, this is definitely something to keep in mind.
But, if you are still hooked on the tent trailer for all its convenience, there are accessories you can buy that help your trailer and towing vehicle a bit more stable.
Because fifth wheels have a little more room, you can expect to see elements such as fireplaces, washers and dryers, and dishwashers. These appliances can be game-changers for some people, so it is definitely something to consider before buying.
With fifth wheels, you also have to keep size in mind a bit more because some campgrounds don’t allow for long rigs. The rig length will also affect where you park in other places–restaurants, gas, etc. If you have a shorter rig, you will find yourself taking up two parking spots instead of five, which is obviously a huge difference!
Making sure you know the campground’s and other parking lot’s rules before going will obviously help, but with a tent trailer, you don’t have to worry about this quite as much.
And the last consideration is the price. Considering you might have to buy a truck along with the fifth wheel if you don’t have a truck already, you are looking at a big difference price-wise.
Tent trailers can be pulled by SUV’s or trucks, and they are one of the cheapest camping trailer options out there. Price-wise, tent trailers are huge winners.
So, overall, tent trailers compared to fifth wheels: tent trailers are smaller and still detachable, cheaper, a little less maneuverable, and don’t have as many appliance options. You get to decide: is all of that worth it?
- Truck camper.
A truck camper sits in the bed of your truck and usually has an extension over the cab of the truck, which is typically used as a sleeping space. If you already own a truck, this option is a great thing to consider alongside a tent trailer.
Truck campers are easy to drive with, because they don’t add any length to your vehicle! It adds a lot of height, however, so the balance might feel a little off when you are turning for the first couple of times. Just make sure you know your exact height for when you are passing under bridges!
Truck campers can often include more features because of their unique layout. Depending on the model, the truck camper might have pull outs on the side for extra sleeping or dining space.
The truck campers are also more likely to have bathrooms, full kitchens, and air conditioning. While a truck camper does have a lot of cool features, it actually might not be big enough for a whole family like a tent trailer will be.
And again, the price will always be a consideration. A tent trailer is still cheaper than a truck trailer. Even though the truck camper is appealing for its travel capabilities, a tent trailer is just as travelable but in different ways, and at a fraction of the cost.
This comparison is a little harder, I think, especially if you already have a truck. Really, it depends on your situation. If you have a family, a tent trailer is probably the better option. If there are fewer people, a truck camper is a great and easy choice.
- Toy Hauler.
Toy haulers are a little sturdier, which means they probably weigh a bit more than a tent trailer. They have a good amount of room, though, and can often have fold away couches and other extra-functional storage items.
Toy haulers often have something called garage space, which is an extra kind of patio platform attached to the back. This is usually used for bikes or motorcycles or four-wheelers–maybe jet skis if you are into that sort of thing! So, the toy hauler definitely has details for specific camping trips you might go on.
The garage could also function as a screened-in porch, dining area, family space, or even sleeping area. While it is nice to have the extra space, the garage area adds quite a bit to the length!
Along with the garage storage, toy haulers often have a lot of closet space and other innovative storage ideas. They sometimes have slide-outs, which add more sleeping, dining, or family space as well.
Most toy haulers will have a bathroom. They will also have an outdoor kitchen so you can have a more authentic camping experience. The inside doesn’t have as much room as you would think, so having options for an outdoor kitchen really extends your interior to your exterior.
Since toy haulers are sturdier, they end up being able to off road a bit more than other trailer types. They have stronger axels and suspension, so you don’t have to worry as much about wear and tear, but still, don’t go too crazy out there. It all depends on the towing ability of your truck, too.
Ah, yes, a truck. Like all the other trailer options, you will need a truck to tow a toy hauler. Again, if you already have a truck, then this could be a good option for you! But if you have an SUV and don’t want to buy a whole other vehicle, the tent trailer is your best bet.
Even without buying a truck, a toy hauler can be anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000. So, a cheap toy hauler is about the same price as a newer tent trailer! Something to think about if you can spend that much.
Sometimes toy haulers come with built-in generators, but usually there is not one attached, which might add an extra cost to you.
So, Are Tent Trailers Worth it for You?
So, now that you have seen tent trailers compared to other, more affordable trailer options, it is up to you to decide if a tent trailer is worth it.
Since camping is so individual, a lot of this decision depends on where you are right now. Do you have a truck? If not, a tent trailer is probably your best option, unless you want to spend a lot more money.
Do you have a family? If so, a tent trailer has a lot of room for a lot of people. Do you have pets? If so, a tent trailer doesn’t mask the noise the pet is likely to make.
Do you want more of an authentic camping experience? You are sure to get that with a tent trailer. It feels more like an actual tent. You can hear the beautiful sounds of nature (if the generator is off, of course), you get to hear the iconic sound of camping zippers, and you can take more advantage of your campsite’s cooking options.
Or do you want more of a cushy experience? If you need a bathroom, a full kitchen, even a fireplace in some cases, perhaps you should opt for a fancier trailer option.
But for the basics, I would say that tent trailers are absolutely worth it. They are light, easy to store, cheap, and easy to maintain.
If you are still on the fence, though, take your time! Rent every option listed above and see what fits your camping style. You never know until you try, and you might as well try everything.