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Before heading out and exploring the wild blue yonder, you need to have the right rig for camping trips. Typically, campers prefer to either ride out in an RV or a camper. But, what’s the difference between these two options, and which one works best for your situation?
Fortunately, we’re here to help you figure that out. This is the ultimate guide to discovering the difference between a motorhome and a camper. Here’s what you need to know.
Table of Contents
What is an RV?
RV stands for recreational vehicle, and it refers to motorized vehicles with a living space built in. Another term for RV is motorhome, although some people confuse motorhomes with campers.
RVs come in three unique sizes, called classes. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect from each class.
Class A Motorhome
This model is the largest and most comprehensive of the three classes. Typically, Class A RVs are designed to provide as many amenities as possible while still being street legal. You can expect a rig that’s between 27 and 32 feet long and around nine to 12 feet high.
One way that Class A motorhomes add amenities is to use slide-outs. As the term suggests, slide-outs are sections that slide out of the main section so you have more freedom to move around. Some models may have one or two slide-outs, while other rigs have three or four.
If you’re choosing a Class A RV, you need to consider which fuel type you’ll want. Some models use a diesel engine, meaning you’ll save on fuel costs and go more miles between fillups.
Class B Motorhome
The next model is actually the smallest of the three options. Another term for a Class B rig is campervan since most units are built into a van chassis. Sprinter and Ram ProMaster vans are the most popular, but you can find converted minivans and cargo vans as well.
Overall, Class B motorhomes are designed to be nimble and explorer-friendly. Since these are smaller motorhomes, they allow you to travel virtually anywhere and park under the stars. The downside, of course, is that the van is often only big enough or one or two people. That said, some vehicles are pop-up campers, meaning they have a bunk above the roof to make it more accommodating.
Class C Motorhome
As you might expect, a Class C RV is in-between the other two classes. They’re not quite as massive as a Class A, but they’re definitely not as small as a Class B. Typically, Class C motorhomes have a bed over a truck cab, giving them a distinct look and silhouette.
Class C RVs are usually the best option for couples and families because they’re relatively affordable and easy to drive. Since Class A rigs can be so massive, you’re limited to where you can travel and park overnight. Class C models don’t have as many restrictions, making them much more adaptable.
What is a Camper Trailer?
As with motorhomes, camper trailers come in several different varieties. However, all of these trailers have one thing in common – a tow vehicle. While you can park your trailer for extended periods without a car or truck attached, you need a vehicle to move it from one place to the next.
One primary advantage of a trailer compared to an RV is that you can keep your mobile home stationed somewhere while traveling for the day in your tow vehicle. This adaptability allows you to stay for days or weeks at a time at a single spot since you can venture out more easily. For example, you can stop at a trailer park and explore the city at your leisure.
Here’s a breakdown of the types of campers you can find:
Typically, a teardrop camper is the smallest model available. In some cases, you can tow the trailer with a standard car, provided you have a tow hitch attached. As with Class B motorhomes, a teardrop trailer is designed for one or two people. Also, if you buy an off-road model, you can camp practically anywhere from the desert to the forest.
Travel trailers are the most common type of camper because they cover such a wide array of sizes and styles. You can find small travel trailers that come with few amenities, or you can buy a massive trailer with everything you could want. Since this type runs the gamut, it’s hard to pick a single trailer that works best for all your needs. Instead, you’ll have to figure out which amenities are the most important and compare models from there.
If you’re planning on camping or exploring the wilderness, you may want to bring some “toys” along. Examples of toys can include ATVs, dirt bikes, canoes, kayaks, and more. With a standard travel trailer, you need to mount these items to the roof or tow a secondary trailer behind. However, since these options are unsafe (or illegal), you need to find an alternative transportation option.
Toy haulers are perfect for camping excursions because they have a dedicated garage to fit your equipment. Even better, once you pull your gear out, you can convert the garage to a living space or sleeping quarters. You can also use the ramp as a built-in patio, making the trailer even more exotic and inviting.
If a Class A motorhome is the “fully-loaded” model of RVs, fifth wheels are the same for camper trailers. If you need the most amenities and luxurious options, you have to buy a fifth-wheel trailer.
One disadvantage of a fifth wheel is that it requires a tow vehicle with a flatbed. Since the front of the trailer sticks out, it won’t work with a car or SUV. So, if you don’t have a pickup truck already, you’ll have to buy or rent one to take your fifth wheel anywhere.
As with Class A RVs, fifth wheels usually have slide-out sections to make the interior space more accommodating. Similarly, driving with a fifth wheel is challenging, particularly when making tight turns or backing up.
Comparing RVs and Camper Trailers
Knowing the difference between classes and trailer types is one thing. Next, you must figure out how these two options stack up against each other. Here are some comparison notes to peruse before making your final decision.
As we’ve seen, both trailers and RVs have multiple sizes available, ranging from compact to massive. Both a motorhome and a trailer can accommodate anywhere from one to eight people, depending on the model you choose.
When looking at size comparisons, you want to consider the dimensions of the exterior and interior. Exterior specs matter because you have to worry about things like low bridges and other clearance obstacles. Interior space dimensions matter because you need to know if you can move around freely.
That being said, trailers will almost always be longer than RVs because of the tow vehicle involved. Also, parking and backing into a spot will always be harder with a trailer because of how it’s attached. So, if you’re looking for something a bit more nimble and convenient, an RV is usually the better option.
When it comes to amenities, size also matters. The smaller your rig, the fewer options that come with it. For example, with a Class B motorhome and a teardrop trailer, you might not have a toilet or shower. So, if those are crucial for your camping needs, you’ll have to buy something a bit bigger.
One advantage that trailers have over RVs is that none of the living space is taken up by the driver’s cab. No matter what kind of RV you buy, the front section will be full of seating and driving amenities. With travel trailers or fifth wheels, you can utilize every inch of interior space as you see fit.
As a general rule, a motorhome will cost more than a trailer because it’s a combination of a vehicle and a living section. Since trailers are self-contained units, they don’t require as much engineering or preparation, so they cost less.
That said, the cost comparison only works if you’re looking at similarly-sized rigs. For example, a fifth wheel will obviously cost more than a Class B RV because it’s bigger and has more amenities. However, a teardrop trailer will likely cost less than Class B.
Another factor to consider is transportation costs and maintenance. Regardless of the type you choose, you’ll need to worry about fuel. However, with a motorhome, you have more moving parts involved, and it’s harder to find a mechanic that specializes in RV engines.
You may also be able to save money by parking a trailer on-site and using your tow vehicle or other rides (i.e., a scooter) to get around.
Tow vehicles can be a benefit or a downside depending on your perspective. If you like the idea of camping in one spot and exploring the area with a secondary vehicle, a camper sounds more appealing. After all, it’s not conducive to moving your motorhome every time you need to make a run to the grocery store.
Alternatively, you can get around this issue by towing a car or truck behind your RV. Or, you can get a toy hauler and store your secondary transportation method inside it during your travels.
How to Choose an RV or a Camper
As we’ve seen, there are quite a few types of recreational vehicles and travel trailers. So, if you’re torn between the two, how can you make a final decision? Here are some factors to consider during your search.
Also, think about the type of traveling you’ll be doing. Are you planning on hitting the road every weekend, or just once or twice per month? Or, are you going to be a full-time RVer? Full-timers have many different needs than weekend warriors, so you need to know what to expect before pulling the trigger.
Type of Travel
Are you planning on venturing into the great wilderness and surviving while unplugged from the rest of the world? Or, are you going to go from one RV park to the next and explore the countryside while your RV is parked?
The type of traveling you plan on doing will make the biggest impact on whether you should buy an RV or a camper. If you’re looking at campsites and boondocking, a self-contained RV is often the best bet. This way, you can fit into more spaces and don’t have to worry about attaching and detaching your trailer every time you park overnight.
Conversely, moving from one trailer park to another makes it much easier to bring a camper along. As long as you have the right kind of tow vehicle for your rig, you can make your stay as accommodating as possible.
There’s a big difference between camping for a couple of nights at a campsite and traveling full-time. Even if you’re looking at camping for several weeks or months at a time, you need something that can feel comfortable for long periods.
As a general rule, camper trailers are better for long camping trips because they have more interior room and more flexibility. However, with the right motorhome, you can also feel comfortable for extended periods, as long as you have a plan for moving around town to run errands or visit various tourist sites.
When comparing RVs and campers, size does matter. However, when considering the size of your model, don’t assume that bigger is always better. For example, if you’re traveling solo for most of your trips, you can get away with a pretty small RV or trailer.
Conversely, if you have a large family you’ll be bringing along, you need an RV that can accommodate everyone as comfortably as possible. Consider options like bunk beds and convertible sofas too.
Pop-up campers and RVs are other options that provide extra sleeping areas without increasing the size of the rig too much. Typically, motorhomes have the most pop-up options, but you can find some trailers with the same technology.
Finally, if you’re not used to traveling in an RV, there’s a pretty significant difference between a motorhome and a trailer. While it’s relatively easy to get used to both methods, you have to adapt to different challenges, such as:
- Driving and Maneuvering – With a motorhome, it’s often easier to drive down streets and park in various lots or spaces. If you’re not used to driving with a trailer, it can take a while to learn how to do so without putting yourself in complex or dangerous situations.
- Clearance Obstacles – Both trailers and RVs can be tall enough to make you worry about low bridges and other obstacles. However, trailers are often a bit shorter, so you may not need to think about clearance much, if at all.
- Problems on the Road – One danger that comes from towing a trailer is that it can start fishtailing if you’re not careful. For example, if you put too much weight on the back of the rig, it will spin out of control pretty quickly. Similarly, if a tire blows out on your trailer, you might not notice until it starts veering into the lane next to you. Overall, driving with a trailer means you must stay extra vigilant, especially when on the road.