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.

Small Motorhome
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.

Small RV - Travel Trailer by Starcraft
Small 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.

The Good

  • Travel trailers are more affordable than motorhomes, even when the tow vehicle is factored in.
  • 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).

The Bad

  • More difficult to back up than a motorhome. But it does get easier with practice.
  • 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.

Truck Campers

Here's one small RV that's specifically designed for RV boondocking. Its made for getting deep into the wild lands. These campers are built tough and made for hunters, anglers, hikers, and other adventurous souls.

Small RV - Pop-Up Truck Camper by Oufitter Manufacturing
Pop-Up Truck Camper (also featuring a Pop-Out) by Outfitter Manufacturing

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.

The Good

  • 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.

The Bad

  • Typically very little living space.
  • Not much storage space.
  • Can be unstable if overloaded or if matched to the wrong truck.

Teardrop Trailers

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!

Small RV - Camp-Inn Teardrop Trailer
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 800-1400 lbs.

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 weather. The kitchen may feature a sink (with a small freshwater and wastewater tank), propane stove, refrigerator or cooler, and sometimes a microwave.

The Good

  • Small RV - Teardrop Trailer by Adventure TeardropsTeardrop Trailer
    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, unlike a pop-up camper.
  • 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 RVs.
  • 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.

The Bad

  • 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)

Small RV - Pop-Up Camper by Palomino
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 driving.

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 Explore the Pop-Up Camper, the
Small RV That's Big on Fun!

The Good

  • 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 about anyway!
  • 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 sightseeing.
  • 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 ventilation.
  • Less expensive that other RV types.

The Bad

  • 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 extended 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

A-frame campers, also called a hard-side pop-up campers, have many of the advantages of a traditional pop-up camper, with the added protection of hard walls.

Small RV - A-Frame Camper by Aliner
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 seconds.

The Good

  • 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 RVs.
  • Does not require a heavy duty tow vehicle.
  • Once you've setup camp, you can use your car for sightseeing.
  • The trailer does not obstruct your view when towing.
  • Better in bear country than soft-sided pop-up campers as hard walls are more difficult to break into.

The Bad

  • Less interior space, fewer sleeping areas, and more expensive than traditional pop-up campers.
  • Small freshwater and wastewater holding tanks make extended 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.

Small RV - Telescoping Travel Trailer by TrailManor
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."

The Good

  • 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 small trucks.
  • Better fuel economy and better stability on the road than conventional travel trailers.
  • Better in bear country than soft-sided pop-up campers.

The Bad

  • 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 inside.
  • 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 section installed.

Small RV - Class C Motorhome courtesy of Winnebago
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 great for RV boondocking. The generator can be used to run an air conditioner, microwave, or to charge the batteries.

The Good

  • 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 nasty.
  • 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 Bad

  • 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 motorhome.

Small RV - Class B Motorhome courtesy of Winnebago
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.

The Good

  • 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.

The Bad

  • 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 motorhomes.

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.

Buying Tips For Small Campers, Motorhomes and Travel Trailers

Small RV Manufacturers, The Adventure Makers

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