Small RV Choices, From Motorhomes to Travel Trailers and Beyond
Why a small RV? There's never been a better time to go small.
With unstable fuel prices, a smaller and more fuel efficient RV makes more sense.
When it comes to the environment, it's also the responsible
choice. A smaller RV will have a smaller carbon footprint. It uses less fuel, less resources to
manufacture, and less energy to heat and cool.
But most importantly, a small camper is just more fun! It frees you to go and
see places you'd never reach with a giant RV. You can camp away from the crowds
and even do some boondocking in our beautiful national forests. And navigating
traffic is so much easier.
This article will give you the rundown on small camper types. We'll cover
small motorhomes, travel trailers, pop-up campers, A-frame campers, pop-up travel
trailers, truck campers, and teardrop trailers and discuss the good and bad
points of each type. So go grab some s'mores and join me for the small RV tour.
The Navion, a Small Motorhome by Winnebago Industries, Inc.
Unauthorized use not permitted
Small Travel Trailers
The travel trailer offers the largest variety of floorplans. Its rectangular
shape makes it easy to situate the kitchen, living room,
bathroom, or bedroom anywhere within the small RV the manufacturer desires.
Travel Trailer by Starcraft
The field is wide open when it comes to styles and options as
well. You'll find small travel trailers made for families, for couples, or for outdoor
adventurers headed deep into the backcountry. Some
have a cargo area for carrying your ATV or motorcycle.
There are also hybrid travel trailers which are like a
conventional travel trailer and a pop-up camper all rolled up into one. Instead
of a slideout, they feature a soft-walled "pop-out", which typically houses the sleeping
areas. This leaves more room for the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.
- Travel trailers are more affordable than motorhomes, even when the tow vehicle is
- Retains its value better than motorhomes. There's no engine or
drivetrain to wear out and bring the value down.
- The trailer can be unhitched, leaving the tow vehicle free to use
for exploring. Those with a motorhome will have to break camp each time they
wish to go somewhere (unless they tow another vehicle).
- More difficult to back up than a motorhome. But it does get easier with
- Trailer sway can be a problem with conventional travel trailers.
Having the right hitch, trailer balance, and tow vehicle will result in the
best handling. Fifth wheel trailers do not have this problem.
- Usually requires a more heavy duty tow vehicle than a pop-up
camper or pop-up travel trailer.
Here's one small RV that's specifically designed for
Its made for getting deep into the wild lands. These campers are built tough and made for
hunters, anglers, hikers, and other adventurous souls.
Pop-Up Truck Camper (also featuring a Pop-Out) by Outfitter
Most truck campers don't offer much interior space. However, models
with slideouts or pop-outs can be surprisingly roomy inside.
These small RVs are often wired for
RV solar panels. They usually have large battery banks
and are equipped with good sized freshwater/wastewater holding tanks. An indoor
shower and toilet are
also common. Truck campers can be found for any size pickup truck.
- Can go virtually anywhere your truck can, enabling you to camp
far off the beaten path.
- The camper can be removed from the truck and supported with the built-in
hydraulic jacks. This allows you to use the truck without having to break camp.
- You can tow a boat or trailer while the camper is on the truck.
- Typically very little living space.
- Not much storage space.
- Can be unstable if overloaded or if matched to the wrong truck.
Want to travel in style? You're in luck. The teardrop trailer is back! These trailers are aerodynamic, have a
low profile, and are just plain cool!
Teardrop Trailer by Camp-Inn
Some teardrop trailers can even be pulled
by a very small car, like a Mini Cooper. They typically weigh anywhere from
These trailers may lack certain features that
come standard with other small RVs. The interior is typically no more than a bed -
though some have cabinets, a TV/DVD player, stereo, and air conditioning.
The kitchen is accessed by opening the rear hatch. All cooking
is done outside, with the opened hatch providing some protection from the
kitchen may feature a sink (with a small freshwater and wastewater tank), propane
stove, refrigerator or cooler, and sometimes a microwave.
The outdoor kitchen can have 4
to 5 feet of counter top, which is excellent for such a small RV.
- Extra gear can be hauled in the cabin while traveling,
- The low profile, light weight, and aerodynamic design
results in better fuel economy than other recreational vehicles - and it can be towed by a
smaller, more fuel efficient car.
- Easy to tow, store, and maintain.
- Once you've setup camp, you can use your car for
sightseeing. Those with a motorhome (or a big truck for a tow vehicle)
aren't so lucky.
- There's not much that can go wrong on these small
- The trailer does not obstruct your view when towing.
Large side view mirrors are not required.
- Can easily be moved into position when hitching and
requires only one person to hitch-up.
- It's difficult to call the teardrop trailer a true RV as it lacks
a bathroom and is not self-contained.
- Bringing along enough supplies for more than a few days
of camping will be difficult due to the lack of storage space.
- If you're claustrophobic, you may want to look at a
pop-up camper. However, if you've camped in tents you'll probably survive
the tight quarters.
- Lack of interior living space means your real living
space will be outdoors. Which is a good thing right? After all, you're camping aren't you?
Of course you may have second thoughts when the weather turns sour.
Pop-Up Campers (Tent Trailer)
Pop-Up Camper by Palomino
The pop-up camper offers a generous amount living space in a very small
package. Pop-ups are very popular with families as they can typically sleep
more people than RVs twice their size (usually 4-8 people). These "transformers"
of the RV world have soft upper walls that fold down into a small box. Once
collapsed, this small RV is very easy to tow and does not block your rear view when
There are many models to choose from today. Some even have slideouts and
interior showers. There are also pop-up toy haulers and these have a place for
your ATV or motorcycles. You'll also find models that are built tough and able
to handle some serious 4 wheeling. The pop-up camper market is certainly growing
and there will no doubt be more configurations to come.
For more information on pop-ups, see my article
Pop-Up Camper, the
Small RV That's Big on Fun!
- It's easier to
tow and requires less fuel to tow than other towable RVs.
- The small size makes it easier to store at home.
- A soft-side camper lets you enjoy the sounds of nature.
Awaken to birdsong and fall asleep to a babbling brook - sounds you wouldn't
hear in a hard-side RV.
- Without the flat screen TV and other distracting features found on typical
RVs, you'll be spending more time outdoors, which is what "camping" is all
- Has more sleeping areas than many hard-sided RVs.
- Can often be towed by the family car, van, or SUV and
does not require a heavy duty tow vehicle.
- Once you've set up camp, you can use your car for
- The trailer does not obstruct your view when towing. Large side view mirrors are not required.
- Large vinyl windows create an open ambience inside the trailer and
provide excellent views.
- Large screen windows let in plenty of air for cooling and
- Less expensive that other RV types.
- Not so pleasant in nasty weather. Soft walls don't offer as much
protection from the elements and can be noisy in strong winds.
- Soft-walls won't block unwanted noise from your next door neighbors.
- Small freshwater and wastewater holding tanks make
RV boondocking challenging.
- Typically less storage space than other RVs.
- Some models may not have a shower or toilet.
- Requires more setup time than a hard sided RV. 15-30 minutes is typical.
- If the pop-up camper is taken down while wet it will need
to be opened back up later to dry.
- Usually lacking in features found on other RVs.
- Less privacy inside the camper as there are no hard walls
and it's typically just one large room.
A-frame campers, also called a hard-side
campers, have many of the advantages of a traditional pop-up
camper, with the added protection of hard walls.
A-Frame Camper by Aliner
There are more features available on these small RVs,
including many of the same components found on travel trailers. Another
advantage is the easy setup, which Aliner and Chalet RV claim can be done in 30
Very easy to setup.
Good protection from the elements.
Due to its light weight and low profile,
it's easier to tow and requires less fuel to tow than most other towable
Does not require a heavy duty tow vehicle.
Once you've setup camp, you can use your car
The trailer does not obstruct your view when
Better in bear country than soft-sided
campers as hard walls are more difficult to break into.
Less interior space, fewer sleeping areas,
and more expensive than traditional pop-up campers.
Small freshwater and wastewater holding tanks
RV boondocking challenging.
Less storage space than other RVs.
Pop-Up Travel Trailers
Pop-up travel trailers feature hard walls that can be
raised for camping, and lowered for travel. The low profile minimizes air impact
resulting in better fuel economy than conventional travel trailers.
Pop-Up Travel Trailer by TrailManor
TrailManor states that their expandable travel trailers are as easy to
open as a car trunk. Most can be stored in a garage due to their low profile.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Bill Husley, president of
TrailManor. “You get the easy towing of a tent camper, plus the comfort of a
hardwall travel trailer."
Better insulated than a soft wall pop-up camper and
better protection from the elements.
Can be stored in a garage.
Easy to tow and can be towed by many SUVs and
Better fuel economy and better stability on
the road than conventional travel trailers.
Better in bear country than soft-sided
- Not as convenient to use while traveling as a conventional travel
trailer. You'll have to raise the walls each time you want to access the
- Requires more towing power than a pop-up camper.
Class C Motorhomes (Mini-Motorhomes)
Class C motorhomes are smaller and easier to drive than their full-size
Class A counterparts. This small RV is built on a van or truck chassis that already has the cab
Class C Motorhome courtesy of Winnebago Industries, Inc.
Unauthorized use not permitted.
Many Class C motorhomes have a bed over the cab area. In some models this space is
dedicated to storage, or to an entertainment center. Some are very streamlined and have no
substantial cab over area. These low profile models typically achieve the
best fuel economy.
Mini-motorhomes often include a built-in generator, making them
RV boondocking. The generator can be used to run an air conditioner, microwave, or
- Once stopped, you don't have to step outside to use the bathroom, kitchen, or
living area. The second you turn around, you're at home. Those with a truck and
trailer have to go outdoors to get to their home - and this isn't fun when the weather is
- More storage space and larger freshwater/wastewater holding tanks
make the Class C better than camper vans when it comes to RV boondocking.
- Often comes with a built-in generator.
- The Class C motorhome is the most expensive small RV.
- A motorhome will depreciate faster
than travel trailers.
- The cost of maintenance and repairs will often be higher
than for a truck and trailer.
- If you don't want to break camp each time you go somewhere, you'll have to tow another vehicle.
- A cab over bed requires climbing up a ladder to access. Those who
aren't up to this exercise will want a model with a bed on the ground floor.
Class B Motorhomes (Camper Vans)
This small RV starts with a full size van that is then
modified for recreational use. Some manufacturers will cut away a portion of the
side wall and extend it by a few inches. This is called a widebody Class B
Class B Motorhome courtesy of Winnebago Industries, Inc.
Unauthorized use not permitted.
The camper van makes a great touring RV. It's perfect for
going from place to place - all while enjoying some of the comforts of home
along the way. However, due to its small size and often limited features, it
isn't well suited for extended camping.
- Makes a good second car.
- Could make a good tow vehicle.
- Easy to drive and can go anywhere a full size van can.
- Great if you want to do a lot of traveling in between camping.
- Expensive and will depreciate faster than trailers.
- May not include a shower or toilet.
- Typically has small freshwater/wastewater holding tanks which make RV
boondocking for more than a few days challenging.
- Limited storage space and less interior living space than Class C
The Small RV Buyer's Guide
That wraps up this section on small RV types. As you've seen there are plenty of options. For more tips on finding the perfect downsized RV see
my additional articles below.
For Small Campers, Motorhomes and Travel Trailers
Small RV Manufacturers, The Adventure Makers
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