RV, Campervan, or Pop-Up Camper? Which One is Right for You.
Looking to camp more this year? Maybe get in a few more road trip hours or even go full time travel? RVs, campervans, and pop up campers are all great ways to to extend your camping year, but it's tough to decide which one is right for you. We tested all three and here's what we found.
What Kind of Camper are You?
We travel around 26 weeks each year, and the majority of that is camping. Camping allows us to travel frugally and travel often. And while we love tent camping, it requires a lot of set up and we've had enough scary weather situations to start looking into something different. So we set out to test the 3 most popular alternatives to camping, RVs, campervans, and pop up campers and we learned a lot of things we didn't know about each style. So which style is right for you? Here's what you should know.
This biggest and must luxurious form of "camping". In fact we wouldn't call it camping at all. Most RVs are complete homes on wheels, and many live in them full time. You can have the freedom to travel with all of the comforts at home. There are two main types of RVs; motorhomes, where you drive the RV itself, and towable, where you'll pull the RV with a truck. Motorhomes have 3 classes: Class A, the bus size RVs with multiple rooms and all the comforts of home (if not more), Class B (pictured below), the smaller RVs that are similar to a very large truck and typically have the basics of a home in a smaller space, and lastly, Class C, campervans, which we'll talk about below.
We rented our RV through RVShare.
Has everything you need; full kitchen, bathroom, shower, dining area, tv, and more. We loved being able to cook and go to the bathroom whenever we needed.
No worries about bad weather. Equipped with heating and air conditioning, we were cozy in rain and snow.
Great for long term travel. A comfortable place to hang out for long periods of time and still have our own space.
Ability to 'boondock", camping in wilderness areas while using a generator to still have use of your bathroom and kitchen.
Great for large families.
Large and inconvenient to drive. We missed out on many places because we couldn't use traditional parking. Would be great for a place that has shuttles services like many of the National Parks.
High maintenance. With the perks of having your own kitchen and bathroom comes the additional time to maintain these things. This includes dumping your toilet tank!
Requires electric and water hookups for longer stays, which typically means more expensive campsites.
RV campsites tend to be uglier and closer together. Many RV parks resemble a parking lot.
Need to have a larger area to store when not in use or pay for storage.
Expensive to purchase. Many cost as much as a house, as that's what it is.
High gas costs.
Considered a small Class C RV, campervans have become a favorite way to travel for both full time and part time travelers. While most have the most basic amenities of an RV, they can range from a high end Airstream, to something as simple as a DIY bed built into the back of a van. Typically campervans will have a bed, small storage area, and a small cooking set up.
We rented our campervan through Escape Campervans .
Small, easy to drive. Can fit in normal parking spots and trailheads.
Weather proof and insulated, unlike a tent.
Has your basics covered, you can wake up at the trailhead or cook dinner after your hike.
Most campervans do not need electric or water hook ups.
Great option for off grid camping as most have lesser power needs and can use solar power or a generator for longer time periods.
Gas mileage is much better than a typical RV.
Easy to store when not in use.
You can add a roof tent for more room, or for warmer temps.
4WD options for more backcountry camping.
The interior is typically very small. Not a great place to hang out for long periods of time or room for too much stuff. Some campervans you cannot stand up inside.
Most do not have bathrooms or showers. You will need to camp near facilities or follow Leave No Trace guidelines on backcountry bathroom etiquette.
Limited cooking options. Most set ups are a simple camping cookstove.
Not ideal for large families. Finding campervan options that will seat AND sleep more than 4 is rare. You will need a custom built option.
Water is limited to the size of the holding tank, which is typically small.
Higher end options can be expensive to purchase, $200,000+, whereas building your own campervan can take a lot of time.
Pop Up Camper or Travel Trailer.
A popular option for many part time campers, the pop up camper has all the perks of camping with quite a few upgrades. These towable trailers simply "pop up" when in use, making them a smaller, easier option than a large RV when stored. There are many different kinds of pop ups, but most open up into a tent like structure with 2 beds, a small dining area, a small sink, and a cookstove. Some come with a bathroom and shower. The walls are typically canvas with mesh windows, giving you that camping feel but in a sturdier structure.
After lots of research, we purchased the 2023 Forest River Rockwood Freedom 1940LTD. Compared to an RV or campervan it was the most economical option and was the easiest to store. We'll continue to rent RVs and campervans when we travel.
Easy to transport. I am able to tow the pop up with my minivan and I learned how to maneuver the trailer easily.
Better than a tent in inclement weather. While the pop up does have canvas walls, it is less likely to leak then a tent, and is off the ground to prevent water coming in the bottom.
The ability to park the pop up and explore the surrounding area. No need to worry about parking like you do with a large RV.
All the basics you need, comfy beds, sink, counters, and a cookstove.
Less set up than a tent. While there is set up involved, it's much easier than worrying about a tent and all the gear that goes with it.
Less packing to worry about. Unlike a tent, all of our camping gear is now stored in the pop up. That means less chances of us forgetting something.
The option to use electric and water hook ups at campgrounds or go off grid with a solar panel and water tank.
More power! There are electric outlets throughout the pop up, which comes in handy when working and doing school on the road.
Can be used in colder temperatures. Our pop up has heat and heated mattresses. We used in below freezing temps with great success.
Very inexpensive compared to other options.
Small space, not a lot of places to spread out.
Our pop up has a lot of bounce to it, especially with 3 kids and a dog. This may be fixable with additional stabilizers.
You will need a car with a tow hitch and need to pay attention to your cars towable weight. We were able to easily get a hitch installed on our minivan and chose one of the smallest pop ups to ensure our van could handle the weight.
Limited parking options when the trailer is attached. You have to be careful about which gas stations or other pit stops you make.
Pop ups have a tendency to mold due to the moisture trapped inside. You'll have to make sure to air them out after it rains or if packed up with morning dew.
Not part of the RV "cool club". RVs and campervans have a growing community with lots of perks, like free Walmart parking lot stays, farm stays through Harvest Hosts, and much more. Pop ups are not included in many of these special perks, as they are not considered a "self contained camper".
Try Before You Buy.
We tested out an RV and campervan while we researched our options and I'm so glad we did. We learned so much about what we loved about each and what works best for our family. Check out the links below for more info on each.