Few things in life bring as much sense of excitement and adventure as traveling the open road. You can sleep in a different town every night and take in the beauty around you on your drive there.
That adventure gets even better when you don’t have to unpack and repack at a hotel every night. An RV or a camper could change your family vacations as you know them!
There’s just one thing—how do you know what to choose?
There are so many options on the market and so many differences, big and small, between them it can seem overwhelming.
Take a deep breath and read on, because we’ve got a ton of information and some questions to ask yourself to determine which is best for you in the RV vs camper debate!
What’s the Difference Between an RV and a Camper?
“RV” stands for “recreational vehicle.” RVs are self-contained homes on wheels that are self-propelled. That means you sit and drive in the same space you live in.
There are three distinct classes of RVs on the market.
Class A RVs are some of the biggest and best RVs on the market.
Typically built on the same chassis in a commercial bus or 18-wheeler, Class A RVs range anywhere from 29-45 feet in length.
Class A motorhomes have at least two slide-outs—sections that come out from the body of the RV to create more interior space. Some have up to four slide-outs!
This type of RV is not very gas efficient. Because of their size and weight, they only get between 8-10 MPG.
Class B RVs have soared in popularity over the last several years. While Class B is their official name, they’re more commonly known as camper vans.
Van chassis support their weight. They’re smaller, between 16-24 feet, making them ideal for 1-2 people.
Because of their size, their gas mileage is the best of the RV classes. Most newer models get 17-20 MPG.
Class C RVs are a mix of the other RV types. They’ve got a front similar to Class B, but the back resembles a smaller Class A.
These RVs range in length from 20-28 feet. They are easier to drive than a Class A, but the gas mileage is similar at 8-15 MPG.
Class Cs also offer more living space than Class Bs. Many even come with one slide-out, creating even more indoor space!
Campers are homes-on-wheels that are towed by a truck or SUV.
“Travel trailer” is a term used for a wide variety of pull-behind campers. They come in many shapes and sizes.
They range in size from 12-35 feet and can fit anywhere from 2-10 people. Travel trailers attach to a car’s hitch for easy towing.
A classic Airstream is an example of a travel trailer.
Fifth-wheels are campers that use a specific sort of hitch to attach to the bed of a heavy-duty truck.
They get their names from the days of horse-drawn carriages. In the mid-1800s, carriage makers added a fifth wheel horizontally to allow the front two wheels and their axel to pivot.
These campers adopted the name due to the round hitch and the fact the towing vehicle moves freely.
The size of fifth wheels varies, but they usually offer a great amount of space, especially for families.
A toy hauler is a camper that can literally haul your big toys around. They come with a garage in the back section that can house things like four-wheelers and motorbikes.
The entire back of the camper comes down to use as a ramp for loading and unloading the fun cargo.
Some toy haulers have their back garage converted to act as an additional bedroom or an indoor/outdoor living space.
Teardrop trailers get their name from their unique shape. They appear like like the drawing of a tear—round and large at one end and tapered to a point at the other.
Most are very small, offering one multipurpose room. Some makers sell them with a small, single “wet room.” That’s where there’s a camping toilet in a plastic room with a sliding door that also doubles as a shower.
A few even offer an outdoor “kitchen” that pops out of the tapered end.
Pop-ups provide a hybrid of tent and camper camping.
They are collapsible, with the tops and sides folding into the base for easy and convenient towing. Because of their low weight, almost any vehicle can tow them.
Most pop-ups have canvas walls with mesh windows, like a tent. While you’re still somewhat exposed to the elements, you’re elevated off the ground and have a few comforts from home, like a real mattress and a few kitchen amenities.
Comparing an RV vs Camper
Now that you know what we’re talking about, let’s look at them side to side, RV vs camper, and see which one is the best fit for you.
No matter what you choose, RV vs camper, it requires a financial commitment. It’s up to you to decide how big of a commitment you want to make.
For these comparisons, we’re sticking with base-level numbers. Almost any upgrade you could think of is available at an additional price, but there must be consistency in the comparisons for a complete and accurate analysis.
Here are the prices for base-level models of each option so you can decide who wins in the RV vs camper conversation for your family.
Class A RV— $115,000
Class B RV— $ 60,000
Class C RV— $50,000
Travel Trailer— $35,000
Fifth Wheel— $85,000
Toy Hauler— $30,000
Teardrop Trailer— $10,000
Pop-Up Camper— $5,000
In the decision of RV vs camper, you must consider insurance prices.
Basic auto insurance won’t cover your RV. You’ll have to get RV-specific insurance coverage. The Zebra has an entire chart that lists the minimum coverage based on your home state.
There will also be a difference in insurance price determined by your use of the RV—full-time or recreationally.
As far as campers are concerned, it’s not necessary to carry an insurance policy on them because they aren’t motorized. However, if you are financing your camper, your lender may require you to have basic insurance to cover any potential physical damage while you’re still paying for it.
There’s no way around it, traveling in an RV or a camper is more expensive than a sedan.
RVs carry a heavier financial burden than campers when it comes to fuel.
Not only are their tanks much larger, averaging 80 gallons, but their gas mileage is typically much worse. Even if your truck only gets 15MPG towing a fifth wheel, it’s better than the 8-10MPG of most RVs.
A smaller camper may save you money in the long run at campsites.
While some campsites have a flat nightly rate, others charge more for pull-through spots necessary for larger RVs. The price difference won’t break the bank, typically between $10-$20/night, but that’s certainly a consideration in the RV vs camper debate.
As we did with the cost comparisons, we’re going to talk in generalities when it comes to RV vs camper sizes.
The average interior square footage of a Class A RV is 300 sqft. That may not sound like a lot, but the average permanent tiny home is only 161 sqft!
It gets a little harder to decide on RV vs camper when you get down to comparing Class C RVs with other camper options because they’re similar. A 30-foot trailer will give you 250 square feet on average, whether it’s an RV or a camper.
Teardrop campers, pop-ups, and Class B RVs are all much smaller, usually less than 100 sqft.
The size of your vehicle will determine the number of parking spots you’ll be able to park in.
It’s going to be easier to find places to park for smaller vehicles, and you’ll have a wider choice of campgrounds and campsites to choose from.
We’re sticking to the basics again. There are luxury RVs and campers available that have additional half baths, extra air conditioning units, or even an entire porch, but those aren’t your average amenities.
If you’re looking for the most spacious home on wheels when choosing an RV vs camper, look no further than a fifth-wheel camper.
Even if the actual square footage is the same as a Class A RV, the ceilings are usually higher, making everything feel more open and spacious. Many fifth-wheels have multiple bedrooms, and some even have a kitchen island!
On the other hand, Class B RVs and Teardrop trailers offer a much more condensed living environment. Many times, spaces will have a double duty. A dining area also serves as a bed with a few adjuments, or the toilet room has a drain and showerhead coming out of the wall, doubling as a shower stall.
Comforts of Home
If you want to feel like you’re living in a small home, stick to something larger like Class A or C RVs, toy haulers, or fifth wheels.
They typically have private bedrooms, electricity, water, and climate control.
Pop-up campers and teardrop trailers are simpler. Many times, they’re a few steps up from a nice tent. However, if that’s all you need, they’re fantastic! It’s much easier to park a camper than carry and set up a tent and everything that goes inside.
Towing vs. Driving
The most noticeable difference between an RV vs a camper is the way they move. Do you want to drive an entire RV or tow your camper behind your truck?
The largest learning curves will come with Class A RVs and longer campers, like a big fifth-wheel or toy hauler. 40 feet of vehicle is a challenge either way!
Besides those, it’s your personal preference. Do you want to learn to tow something or are you more comfortable driving a small bus/large van? Each will be a different experience, but only you can decide which is best for you.
Ease of Transportation
If you’re planning to stick around the campground and don’t need a car, it’s not a big deal to only have an RV as your mode of transportation.
However, if you’re visiting cities regularly or driving to your destination and wanting to sightsee nearby areas, it may be a good idea to have a camper. That way, you can unhitch your camper, set it up, and leave it while you explore in your truck.
How Do I Choose Which to Use?
Here are some practical questions to consider when choosing an RV vs camper.
Type of Trip
What type of trips are you taking?
Are you planning remote camping trips where there may or may not be a place to plug in?
Or are you planning to drive around the country, visiting cities and states you’ve never seen?
None of the vehicles we’ve discussed are bad in and of themselves, but some aren’t as well suited for certain kinds of trips as others.
Length of Trip
How long are you planning to be on your trip?
When choosing between an RV vs camper, you’ve got to consider trip duration because different vehicles will offer different levels of comfort. Comfort is paramount if you’re planning an extended trip!
A pop-up camper would be great for a weekend of camping but may leave something to be desired during a month-long trip across the country.
On the other hand, a massive Class A RV may be overkill for shorter camping trips.
It may sound elementary, but it’s critical to know your bottom-line budget when thinking about an RV vs camper. How much are you willing to spend when you add up the vehicle, fuel, insurance, and campsites?
If you’re on a tighter budget, there are campers that will provide wonderful memories for years to come.
If you’ve got more money to play with, larger RVs and bigger campers can be thrown in the hat for consideration, too.
This may be the most important thing to weigh when choosing an RV vs camper.
What are you planning on doing at your destination?
If you want an RV and want to sightsee, are you planning to tow a car or unhook and drive your RV to places you want to see?
Or should you more heavily consider a camper so you can get around easier at your destination?
What if you want a camper but don’t have a truck? Are you going to buy one, rent one, or borrow one for trips?
It could be easy to overlook, but thinking logistically could make or break a vacation!
RV vs Camper: What Will House Your Next Adventure?
Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a new full-time home on wheels, there is a recreational vehicle out there you’re going to love! Nobody can truly decide RV vs camper for you, except… you!
Make your decision and get exploring!
Check out some awesome RV campgrounds and more on our RV Camping page!
- About the Author
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Stephanie Lamberth is a writer who enjoys exploring new places and helping others feel prepared to make incredible memories.
While not a seasoned wilderness expert, Stephanie has enjoyed and learned a ton on the camping trips she’s taken and has a unique perspective as the child of full-time RVers. With firsthand exposure to the RV lifestyle, Stephanie has insight into the comforts and challenges it can bring.
Stephanie can help bridge the gap between rookie samper and seasoned outdoorsman to help you make the most of your own camping adventures!
She currently lives in Tennessee with her husband and three children.
Stephanie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org