Purchasing the RV best suited to your needs requires an honest evaluation of your travel habits, living preferences, and, of course, finances. What type of RV should you buy? Here, our expert helps break down camper options.
As a prospective buyer, your first crossroads involves the decision to drive or tow your new roving home or home office. Whether you’re driving a motorhome, towing a pull-behind, or hauling a slide-in, each type of RV presents unique advantages and drawbacks.
RV Types: How to Choose
Generalities don’t always ring true, but trailers and slide-ins often require a smaller investment per square foot. If you already own a suitable tow vehicle, that also reduces the sting of the initial buy-in.
For travelers prone to stay put for a few days, a trailer creates a convenient base camp, leaving the tow vehicle available for explorations and errands.
Motorhomes greatly simplify travel with an all-in-one driving and living solution. It’s quite easy to roll out of bed, slide behind the wheel, and hit the highway. The cost reflects the mechanical complexity, particularly when assessing the price per square foot.
Mobility is the obvious advantage of a motorized RV. Even small trailers can be tricky to drive and park whereas a campervan wiggles into the tightest spots with little fuss. A long travel trailer with tow vehicle often exceeds 50 feet in total length. Just pulling through a fuel station requires confidence and skill.
Drive a Motorhome
The largest category of motorhomes often represents the pinnacle of self-propelled living, at least in terms of creature comforts. Built on an RV-specific chassis, top-end models sometimes exceed the value of a brick-and-mortar home.
Typical models have master bedrooms, spacious bathrooms, large kitchens, and cavernous storage cabinets. Additional amenities include laundry machines, electric fireplaces, and multiview camera systems to improve the driving experience.
Even for buyers with the scratch to afford a Class A motorhome, the large size can break the deal. With virtually no ground clearance, they can’t navigate even mild forest roads. Pavement is the natural habitat of a Class A RV.
We can thank the van life craze for the recent uptick in Class B sales. Built on a standard van chassis with a factory body, manufacturers continue to design space-efficient interiors. Vans like the Winnebago Revel sport an added storage area for bikes, skis, and other adventure toys.
Maneuverability is the main perk of a Class B camper. For anyone keen to travel often or far, vans burn minimum fuel and fit into the tightest camping spots.
Four-wheel-drive variants, like those made by Sportsmobile, rival the off-road chops of a Jeep. Anyone intimidated by the thought of operating a larger RV, or towing a trailer, will find Class B campers drive as well as the family wagon.
If you want to live and work full-time in a van, you will sacrifice elbow room. Bathrooms and kitchens redefine the word “small.” It’s of little concern to most Class B dwellers. Van travel is all about minimalist living and exploring the great outdoors.
Like their smaller siblings, Class C motorhomes sit atop a van or truck frame, but with an expanded camper shell aft of the cab. The increased volume allows for larger cooking, living, and bathroom areas, with sleeping quarters often perched over the cab. High-capacity freshwater and waste-water tanks improve self-sufficiency for longer off-grid stays.
With their enlarged shells, some Class C campers swell to over 35 feet in length with multiple slide-out extensions. Following the recurring theme, the bigger the size, the bigger the challenge to drive. While some Class C campers are more agile, most won’t conquer more than a gravel road but offer a good balance of living space and maneuverability.
Tow a Camper Trailer
Fifth-Wheel Travel Trailers
A fifth-wheel travel trailer is like a small rolling apartment. Fitted with multiple slide-out extensions, the modular layout accommodates spacious sitting areas, full-featured kitchens, and home-like bathrooms.
The distinctive forward hump splits the floorplan with an upper level, often with a large bedroom and connected bathroom. Claustrophobes will appreciate the high ceilings and ample floor space.
On the road, the overlap of the trailer and tow vehicle reduces overall length, distributes the weight between the truck wheels, and increases towing stability at speed. The placement of the hitch pivot improves turning control, a much-appreciated attribute when backing into narrow parking spaces.
The investment in a fifth-wheel includes the cost of the tow vehicle. Standard pickups lack the tow rating needed to haul a large trailer, typically forcing the purchase of a diesel-powered truck.
The iconic Airstream represents the most recognizable example of a travel trailer. In the RV lexicon, some people refer to travel trailers as “bumper-pull coaches,” as they attach to the tow vehicle via a bumper-mounted ball-hitch. It’s a diverse category including everything from wee vintage trailers to 40-foot long mansions on wheels.
Most travel trailers fit within the towing capacities of SUVs and light trucks. Unlike a fifth-wheel trailer, the bumper-mounted hitch doesn’t invade the cargo area of the tow vehicle.
Stability at speed is the primary downside of a travel trailer, particularly as they get longer and heavier. Compared to a fifth-wheel, travel trailers require a bit more mastery when reversing into confined parking spots.
Teardrop, Pop-Up, and Expandable Camper Trailers
Within the travel trailer category, subsets encompass teardrop, pop-up, and expandable trailers. With little more than an enclosed bed and an outdoor cooking deck under the rear trunk lid, teardrop trailers make for ideal weekend escape pods.
Most are compatible with small SUVs and wagons. Newer and larger models retain the classic shape but with complete kitchens and bathrooms.
Not everyone wants or needs a large hard-sided camper. A folding or pop-up trailer pairs well with virtually any vehicle with a modest tow rating. Most standard SUVs will easily pull a 1,500-pound pop-up. (Despite the name, they don’t truly pop up. At least not without a little fiddling around.)
While it’s not a big deal to some, the soft-sided walls of a folding trailer may not appeal to all campers, as they feel decidedly tent-like.
Haul a Truck Camper
The slide-in truck camper continues to hold its own in the RV industry, with options available for nearly any size of pickup. High-volume models with solid walls mate best to three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks.
Pop-up habitats lower the profile for better fuel efficiency with a lower center of gravity.
One significant advantage of a truck camper is the ability to mount it to a highly capable off-road pickup. For anyone prone to travel rugged roads, a truck-based camper offers unlimited possibilities for off-road modifications.
If your truck is your daily driver, the ability to disconnect the camper when not in use adds trailer-like convenience. The obvious sacrifice? You don’t get much in terms of floor space. Two people living in a truck camper had better be friends.
Most experts agree that first-time RV buyers may not nail it on the first try. Travel habits evolve and often require a change of platform. That’s all part of the RV adventure.
This article is sponsored by Go RVing. Check out RV travel ideas, news, and dealer information at gorving.com.