Buying Guide To Small Campers, Motorhomes, and Travel Trailers

Rockwood Geo Pro Camper

Small campers cost less, are easier to drive or tow, and allow you to visit places the big rigs just can’t go. If your goal is maximum fun and adventure, then going small is the way to go. In this article I’ll discuss more advantages to going small, along with a few possible downsides. Next, I’ll help you decide just how small you should go and what type of small RV is best for you.

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Why Go Small?

There are several reasons why going small is the smart choice:

  • Great for backcountry camping, as a small camper can get to those remote campsites down narrow national forest and BLM roads.
  • Easier to drive, park, backup, and maneuver – not to mention much less stressful to drive in traffic.
  • Many national forest campgrounds have length restrictions and a small RV is the only RV that can visit these areas.
  • You won’t be restricted to major roads like the big rigs. This enables you to explore and camp in many more places.
  • Less costly to purchase, insure, drive, maintain, heat, and cool.
  • There’s less housekeeping to do.
  • Low clearances, sharp curves, and steep grades aren’t a big issue like they are for larger RVs.
  • Typically takes less time to setup and break camp.
  • A small and lightweight trailer means less wear on your tow vehicle’s engine and drivetrain.

Camping in hills with a small truck camper
Pop-up truck camper by Outfitter Manufacturing

Of course, a small RV isn’t for everyone. Here are some things to consider:

  • Bathrooms tend to be small. Sitting on the toilet and standing in the shower (to see if you’ll fit!) is a good idea before purchasing.
  • Storage space may be very limited. Open all cabinets and outside compartments to see if there’s enough room to carry all of your gear. If you wish to go RV boondocking for long periods, will you have enough room for food and supplies?
  • Many small RVs will include a microwave/convection oven in replace of a standard propane oven. This can be a problem for RV boondocking as you will need 120-volt AC power for the oven. You could run a generator to supply this power – or use a high wattage inverter with a large battery bank, though you would only be able to run the oven for a few minutes off the batteries.
  • Counter space can vary dramatically. Some small campers have just enough counter space for a couple coffee mugs. While others may have enough room to prepare a meal for a family of 8. A sink cover and a flat stovetop will help to increase counter space when the sink and stove aren’t being used.
  • Small freshwater and wastewater holding tanks mean RV boondocking can be limited to a week or less. It all depends on the size of the tanks and the number of campers. Truck campers, travel trailers, and Class C motorhomes can often be equipped with larger tanks. However, you probably won’t find many with 50 to 100 gallon tanks like you would on larger RVs.

How Small & What Type?

Element Travel Travel


A-Frame Camper by Aliner

So you’ve decided a small camper is the way to go. Now you must decide exactly how small. For example, if you were going with a towable model, it could be a 15 foot A-frame pop-up camper, or a 25 foot travel trailer. Answering a few of these questions will help narrow down your choices…

Where do you plan to camp?

Will you be camping at luxury resorts, with all the amenities, where spaces are large enough for a 45 foot palace on wheels? Any size or type of RV will work here – it will just depend on what you feel comfortable driving. Or, do you plan on RV boondocking as far from civilization as possible? In that case you’ll need a small camper that’s maneuverable and built tough. A truck camper, well built travel trailer, or rugged mini-motorhome is your ticket to wilderness adventure.

What will you be doing once you get there?

Are you going to spend all your time with outdoor activities and only use the small camper as a place to sleep and eat? A teardrop trailer, pop-up camper, camper van, or truck camper may work for you. Why purchase more RV if you won’t be using it? On the other hand, if you’ll be spending a good amount of time indoors, a small travel trailer or small motorhome will be more comfortable.

How long will you be staying in one place?

You’ve found the prettiest campsite in the country and plan to stay a month. It won’t be easy with a small camper, but it’s possible. Your best bet will be with a small travel trailer or small motorhome that has a healthy amount of storage space, and large holding tanks.

Of course, if you’ll be ticking off the miles every single day, and resupplying often, a smaller RV such as a camper van or teardrop trailer may work just fine.

What types of roads will you be travelling on?

Major highways only? Or forest service roads that haven’t been maintained in decades? If you’ll be cruising (I mean crawling) on the latter, a truck camper, off-road camper trailer, or off-road pop-up camper are for you.

Will you be visiting big cities or congested tourist Areas?

You’ll want a small camper that is maneuverable and easy to park in tight spaces. Class B motorhomes (camper vans) are ideal for this.

Slide-Out Rooms

A slide-out room can really open up an otherwise closed in and cramped small camper. In addition, having a window on each end of the slide-out can further create a more open feeling inside. A disadvantage is that a slide-out can increase the overall weight by several hundred pounds. This can reduce your cargo carrying capacity (the amount of gear and supplies you can safely load in the RV).

Camping in a forest with a Truck Camper
Truck camper with slide-out

Other things to consider with slide-out rooms:

  • Make sure the slide-out can be operated manually. Not being able to retract the slide-out when you need to hit the road (due to a dead battery or motor failure) is a big problem!
  • A slide-out may block access to certain areas of the RV when in the closed position. This may be inconvenient at times when you don’t want to extend the slide-out; for instance, while traveling.
  • Some campsites may have obstacles such as trees or bushes that don’t leave enough room to extend a slide-out.

Up the Fun Factor

Boondocking on the Black Rock Desert Playa in Nevada with my Jeep Cherokee
Boondocking with my Jeep Cherokee in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada

I have fond memories of the days I went exploring and boondock camping with my first small camper, a 1989 Jeep Cherokee! While it’s not exactly an RV, it was my “recreational vehicle” at the time. I had fun loading it up with 7 gallon jugs of water and plenty of food for a week of boondocking.

It was a great feeling, to be free and able to travel down almost any road seeking out wonderful campsites in the forests and deserts of California and Nevada.

Looking back, I realize how much more adventurous the camping experience can be with a smaller vehicle. That goes for RVs too. Some think they need to bring along every gadget they have at home when they go camping. This is a good way to forget what camping is all about.

A small camper lets you focus on camping and outdoor recreation, and frees you to see and do much more than you possibly could with a big RV.

So, to sum things up: Lower price tag, better fuel economy, better for the environment, and much, much more fun! That’s the small camper.

The Small RV Buyer’s Guide

For more tips on finding the perfect downsized RV, see my additional articles below.

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