Tuesday, December 17, 2019

4 Things to Consider Before Buying a Camper

Tiny Trailer Camping, Teardrop Trailers
These two teardrop owners chose to buy used, home-built rigs for camping

Whether you're standing in the middle of an RV dealership sales lot, searching on the internet for campers for sale, or leafing through an RV Trader flyer, what quickly becomes apparent is that RV possibilities come in all sizes, shapes, and prices. Sorting through the possibilities and successfully arriving at an awareness of what you really will be happy owning begins with an analysis of not the market but rather your desires and dreams. You don't have to figure this out all on your own, though. Many campers before you have bought their rigs, and experience can be the basis of providing useful advice.

An experienced camper and tiny trailer owner recently posted the following: "Buying a camper is a huge decision. Most of us start shopping and have no idea what we need, and we don't even know what questions to ask. What advice would you give to prospective buyers?"

Tiny trailer owners provided that advice, and analyzing the responses resulted in four categories of consideration when shopping for a camper.

Your Camping Lifestyle

Imagine yourself camping for a two-night weekend. Where do you imagine you'd be? There are many possibilities, all the way from an established, full-service campground to out in the middle of nowhere, "boondocking" or roughing it. What are your comfort levels for toilets, showers, cooking facilities, and sleeping arrangements? By considering your physical wants and needs, you'll arrive at some sense of what kind of recreational unit that will be best for you.

Van Life Camping
A refurbished, classic camper van seen when I unknowingly camp-crashed a music festival

The smallest trailers are essentially "beds on wheels." You open the door, crawl onto the bed, and that's your trailer. The next stage is a "standy," which is a tiny trailer tall enough to stand in. These range from having no facilities, like the tiniest, to those that have micro wet bath/toilets and inside cooking options. After this point, the size and options only expand until the units become essentially small apartments on wheels.

Tiny Trailer Camping, Classic Trailers
A single mom found a used classic trailer that met her family's needs

My camper is a Rustic Trails Teardrop Camper "standy" model called the Polar Bear. It has a raised bed (of which the lower, doorward part converts to a small table), minimal storage, 12v lights, and a small area for standing. My wife and I have camped two seasons with the trailer and have had wonderful times. The "Green Goddess" is easy to pull, simple to maintain (no winterizing), and was inexpensive. It has provided an easy, enjoyable entrance into the world of trailer camping. It meets our needs, but my wife and I have on order a slightly larger and considerably more expensive trailer that will be ready for us in a little less than a year. We have ordered an Alto R-1723, by Safari Condo, for two reasons: my wife needs a bit more space to have a convenient mobile office for her business. We can both be in the Polar Bear while she works, but the quarters are very close. The second reason is that we'd like to have space to camp with the grandkids, and the Polar Bear is, again, tight quarters. If money were tighter, we could manage with our current trailer; however, looking forward to our future camping, we decided that we were willing to pay the price tag for exactly what we want.

One article I wrote for this blog when I first began is a research article titled "Why Such a Tiny Trailer? Teardrop Owners Speak Out." Researching and interviewing tiny trailer owner, the information in the article provides quite a few owner responses about why people buy tiny travel trailers and the special rewards of tiny trailer camping.

Storage

Your camping lifestyle and needs are probably the most significant drivers for what camper you choose to purchase. However, another consideration is where your camper will be stored. The most secure storage option is in your garage, but many campers won't fit. I store my current camper in my driveway, which works well for my rural town residence; however, for some owners, such an arrangement would not meet housing codes or security needs. More and more cities are passing ordinances that don't allow for RVs to be parked on city streets, and even if parking is allowed, depending on an RV's size, neighbors' desires have to be considered. Storage in a private facility is a possibility if you are willing to pay the fees.

Tiny Trailer Camping
The Green Goddess tucked away for the winter

Most campers are not on the road full time, so where the rig will be parked when not camping is something that has to be considered. I'm happy to have my trailer next to my house so I can easily load and maintain the unit. I'm lucky my neighbors think the Green Goddess is "cute," so I have no neighbors complaining about how the trailer is an eyesore. Although storage doesn't have to be a major concern, it is a specific category of consideration--unless you are planning on living in your camper full time on the road.

Tow Vehicle

Matching the trailer you buy with the appropriate towing vehicle is an important consideration, both for safety and the maintenance of the tow vehicle. The best match between tow vehicle and trailer will result in a safe, efficient, and economical combination. Auto repair shops and dealerships can provide information on towing capacities, as can online research and owner manuals.

Tiny Trailer Camping, Airstream Basecamp
Full-time traveler with a perfect match of Toyota 4-Runner and Airstream Basecamp. (Cass Beach photo)

Beyond safety and efficiency is this basic question: Does your family want to own one vehicle or two? Another way of expressing this is whether or not your family wants to buy a special tow vehicle for your trailer. This can be a big deal because if you want to buy a 35-foot trailer for your camping, then you might just have to buy a truck to pull that vehicle, which can expand your costs and storage needs significantly.

My wife and I chose to own a trailer that can be pulled with our family car, an SUV that has a factory-equipped a tow package. We also didn't want to tow a large trailer, feeling that the towing experience would be more enjoyable with a smaller trailer. I had never towed anything before, but now I'm becoming more experienced with safely and effectively pulling and backing our tiny trailer. I have no desire to move into a larger towing experience, though. Our new trailer will be about three feet longer than our current set-up--sixteen feet instead of thirteen. Our SUV, a Nissan Pathfinder, has a towing capacity well able to tow either trailer.

Price

Campers easily range from around $5,000 to over $100,000. Trailers can also be purchased that are new or used, vintage or cutting-edge. Many low-end tiny trailer builders exist. Two examples of inexpensive (and tiny) trailers are RTTC's E-Koala and Hiker Trailer's Highway Basic. There are many more good builders around, though, probably one in your area.

Tiny Trailer Camping, Hiker Trailer
Becky Schade and her Hiker Trailer 5x8 

My wife and I bought our Polar Bear used (only used once!), and we feel it has been an excellent introduction to the tiny trailer market. We bought a standy because we knew my wife would be using it for a work space when we were camping, a mobile office. It has met our needs well, and our purchase price of $7,000 was one we felt comfortable with as we entered into a new lifestyle.

Tiny Trailer Camping, Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers
The Green Goddess on a recent road trip, dominating the competition

For more expensive yet still small trailers, I wrote about "Five Bellringer Tiny (or at Least Small) Trailers" in an earlier article. These were trailers that I would be willing to tow and which were large enough to have amenities that included bath and cooking. Beyond the size of these trailers, I didn't research or consider other user needs, once I had determined the weight, size, and price of larger model trailers.

Compromise

Eventually, buying an RV is a matter of finding a compromise when considering diverse needs. Where will you camp, what is your home environment, how will you tow, and how much are you willing to pay are all important considerations. Hopefully, you'll be able to find a unit somewhere that fits your needs--or at least most of your needs.

I will leave you with one last resource to consider if you are looking for a tiny or small camper trailer. This blog's Owner Profiles lists a variety of tiny campers, from homemade to used classic to teardrops and standies. Check them out and consider the camping lifestyles of the owners. Maybe you'll see something that is a match for you. Happy hunting!

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2 comments:

  1. I love your Green Goddess, and I'm excited to see your new rig. I'm slowly whittling down the options and deciding what I truly want...I think small, but with heat and maybe insulation, so I could camp longer into the fall and earlier in the spring. I have to say tent camping is limiting, at least for me, that way. I've spent a lot of very cold nights wearing all my clothes and shivering...would like not to do that so much. I know, I know, as my husband says, just buy a warmer sleeping bag, or an electric blanket (for those times I have electricity!) But being inside something more substantial than a tent on those cold nights would be nice.

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  2. You're right, Dawn. Owning our tiny "standy" trailer has really extended our camping season. Even if the weather isn't too cold, our trailer makes rain or wind much easier to deal with. Our trailer has no built-in heating system, but since we camp where there is electric power, we just plug in our portable electric oil heater that we bought at Walmart. It has 3 wattage settings--600, 900, and 1,500. I usually run the heater on the two lower settings. I also have to remember to turn off the heater when I'm running another appliance, such as our Cuisinart water pot. That's not hard to do, though. You're in Florida, right? Having an air conditioner makes a difference, too! I wish you luck and success in your search.

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