What Is A Travel Trailer? All You Need To Know About Camping Trailers

PublishedApril 28, 2020

A wise man once asked 'what is a pull-behind travel trailer'? 

Heh. Just kidding. As long as you weren't born yesterday, you probably already have a pretty good idea. 

What Is A Pull-Behind Travel Trailer?

The towable camper is by far the most popular type of RV, outselling all other types by miles. 

Travel trailers are also known as pull behind campers, bumper pull campers, towable campers, and many other names to indicate how they travel down the road.

As the name implies, these are camping trailers that require a separate vehicle to tow them. The tow attachment point is at the extreme rear of the tow vehicle - at or under the rear bumper, thus the term 'bumper pull travel trailers'.

Pretty simple stuff so far. 

Travel trailer

Travel Trailer

Towing a Travel Trailer

Back in the day (don't you love that ambiguous phrase?), the attachment point was the pickup truck bumper. That was when towable RVs were lightweight.

Nowadays, only the lightest of camper trailers can be attached directly to the bumper. Otherwise, the hitch is connected to the frame underneath.

Due to the weight of most RV trailers, a weight-distribution hitch is required to safely tow your camper down the road.

Of all RV types, tow behind campers are made by the most number of manufacturers. The variety of  floor plans, lengths, options, and price points are quite extensive (it can even be overwhelming). There's a model to meet most every need and lifestyle.

While many camping trailers are long enough and heavy enough to require a pickup truck (and maybe a heavy-duty truck) to handle the weight, some travel camper models that are small and light enough to be towed by an SUV.

Many RVers choose the camping trailer over other types of RVs.

Why? Because once you arrive at your campsite, you unhitch from your tow vehicle. The tow vehicle becomes a great way to explore the local area.

Motorhomes require a second vehicle (and a second engine to maintain) as you cannot easily explore if you take your house with you.

Read on to learn all you need to know about pull behind travel trailers.

Who Makes Travel Trailers? Which Travel Trailer Is The Best?

Pull Behind Travel Trailer Quick Stats:
  • Length: 13 to 39 feet
  • Sleeping Capacity: Up to 6 people
  • Slide-Outs: 0 to 3
  • Gross Vehicle Weight: 2,000 to 11,000 pounds
  • Retail Price: $15,000 to $150,000

*Above stats are approximate ranges just to give you a general idea

Pull Behind Camping Trailer Pros and Cons:
  • Wide variety of sizes and price ranges
  • An affordable alternative to motorhomes
  • Smaller trailers can be towed by many SUVs
  • Self-contained home away from home
  • Long trailers are harder to maneuver and control
  • May require a heavy duty pickup truck to tow longer trailers

Different Types Of Camping Trailers

'Camping trailers' is a pretty generic recreational vehicle term and can potentially mean any of the various types of RV trailers. On this page, we are concentrating on the traditional travel trailer, which is the most popular type of camper trailer.

We have other pages dedicated to other tow behind camper types including teardrop campers, popup campers, hybrid travel trailers, fifth wheel trailers, and toy hauler trailers.

Travel Trailer Construction

A travel trailer is essentially a box (the living quarters) built on top of a frame.

The frame has either a single or dual axle setup (therefore either two or four tires).

The front of the frame is what attaches to the tow vehicle, often with a weight-distribution hitch.

The 'box' of a bumper pull camper is hard-sided and constructed using aluminum or wood studs (like a house).

Lance travel trailer construction cut away

Travel Trailer Construction Cut Away

The siding material is either single piece fiberglass panels (smooth wall), corrugated sheet metal, or aluminum (for example, Airstream trailers).

Manufacturers either use foam sheets or fiberglass as insulation.

Pull behind camper roofs are typically a rubber membrane (unless the 'box' is all-metal construction like an Airstream). You can walk on the roof if the right underlying materials are used.

There are a few (very few) travel trailer manufacturers that use a solid fiberglass outer shell to construct their tow campers.

These fiberglass shells have the advantage of being very durable and can be less prone to leaking. Though using this design means increased overall cost.

Manufacturers of fiberglass travel trailers include Oliver, Casita, Bigfoot, Scamp, and Escape.

Camper Trailer Interior

Inside the 'box' (living area) of a camp trailer are the appointments typical of most RVs.

Layouts will vary but there's some similarity between the floorplans offered by different brands as you can only do so much in a small space.

The quality of materials used will vary depending on the price point, but you will find a set of standard features regardless of what model you are looking at.

One or more seating areas, typically a fully functioning kitchen, a bathroom that usually has some sort of shower and toilet, and one or more sleeping areas are found in most traditional travel trailers.

All but the smallest bumper pull campers will have a fixed bed, with many being queen sized. Keep in mind that the mattress that comes in most RV trailers are junk and you may want to get a new RV mattress if you are going to be spending more than the occasional weekend in your rig.

Longer RVs may have a layout that features more of a master bedroom layout, with a separated sleeping area normally at the front of the RV.

If you need the have a larger number of people sleeping in the unit, you can find floor plans with bunk beds.

Travel Trailer Interior

Travel Trailer Interior

Kitchen amenities will include a refrigerator, a stovetop (maybe with an oven), sink, and food prep area. A microwave may be optional.

Counter space can vary greatly by the floor plan, so if it's important to have more than just a small area to make meals. Pay attention to how much space is available.

For seating, you will often find a dinette with space for 4-6 people, and this will often double as an additional bed. Though it will be more suitable to sleep kids rather than adults.

When you go up in length you find additional seating options, such as a couch (that could also double as a bed) or recliners.

Windows are something you should consider when shopping for any recreational vehicle. You want to be able to open a window on either side of the rig so that you get a nice breeze through the inside on a hot day.

The inside decor style is normally, well, how do we put this? Colors are often very beige and bland. Materials used often look like they would fit right in at grandma's house. Cabinets are often of a design that is less than inspiring.

Luxury is not normally something that corresponds with a tow behind camper, but they have basic features and comforts that make them a home you can take with you to your favorite campsite.

Technology features are not necessarily cutting edge. You will normally find a stereo that most likely won't make your ears bleed and a TV (probably optional) that is overpriced for what you get,, but will do the job.

All but the shortest travel trailer will be self-contained with holding tanks for fresh water, as well as gray and black tanks for wastewater (RV septic tanks).

Heat is provided by a propane furnace and air conditioning via a rooftop (noisy) air conditioner that requires you to be plugged into a 120-volt power source.

Stand-Out Features Of Pull Behind Campers

Exterior storage options vary wildly on camping trailers, but one fairly universal thing is a forward storage compartment that is accessible from either side and is typically partially under the bed.

However, not every trailer has this, and exterior storage options on some models/floor plans can be downright pathetic.

A good design will make full use of all interior storage possibilities. Overhead cabinets should be plentiful as well as closets and storage under beds and seating.

Slide-outs are fairly common in travel trailers and can expand the living space without having a long trailer. Slides are a double-edged sword - they are a great way to expand the interior room, but they are a potentially expensive failure point.

Travel Trailer interior with slide

Travel Trailer Interior Opened Up By Slide

Smaller camper trailers may feature a wet bathroom to save space. Larger RV trailers have full bathrooms with a separate shower, toilet, and sink (dry bathroom).

If a vehicle can tow, there is probably a travel trailer 'sized right' for it.

Lightweight, small trailers can be towed by almost any SUV, though a car might not suffice as a tow vehicle unless the RV is incredibly small and light.

With a larger trailer, you are going to need a vehicle that is capable of safely towing it. A heavy duty truck may be required. They tow great but make a pretty harsh daily driver, so keep this in mind if you have your eyes set on a long travel trailer.

With longer trailers you will have a pretty long combination of tow vehicle and RV going down the road. This can make some people uncomfortable, and rightly so.

The advantage of trucks towing bumper pull campers is that the truck bed is left open for additional storage space. If you use an SUV as the tow vehicle, storage is inside the vehicle, which will subject you to the 'wonderful' smells that may accompany what you bring along.

An onboard generator is rarely available.

If you want to run your air conditioner, use the microwave, or take advantage of anything else requiring 120-volts of power, you will need to be plugged into shore power or a portable generator.

How Much Does a Travel Trailer Cost?

Travel trailer retail prices for new rigs are all over the map, with cheap units available for around $15,000 to ultra-luxury camping trailers with an MSRP in the mid-$100,000's.

The quality of these interior furnishings will vary wildly, as will construction quality.

If you purchase a low-end $15,000 travel trailer, expect to get what you pay for. Equipment levels will be minimal and cheap, as will be the overall design.

Purchase a $150,000 Airstream and expect to get high-end furnishings. (Why are Airstreams so expensive?)

Ultimate Guide To RV Types

Confused about the different types of RVs? Click here to read our guide that explains the differences between the various RV styles.

RV Types

Conclusion

Pull behind camper

Pull Behind Camper (aka Travel Trailer)

Pull behind campers are the most diverse class of RVs with lengths, floor plans, models, styles, and (you get the idea) to please just about anyone's RVing needs.

As the most popular type of RV, camper trailers are a great way for people to enter the world of RVing.

If you are looking for a rig to take your family out on a weekend adventure, or you want something that you can live in full-time, consider a travel trailer. These pull-behind travel trailers offer such a wide variety of options that you will find a rig for you.

Both Camp Addict co-founders Kelly and Marshall live full-time in travel trailers. They have since they started their nomadic lifestyle in 2015 and 2014 respectively.

While all RVs are a compromise in one way or another, camping trailers are a great choice for the solo person, couple, or family to experience nature at your favorite campground.

Marshall Headshot

Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing since April 2014, Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle.

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  • Hi Marshall,

    I can’t find my original comment I left about brands of travel trailer, but anyway, thanks for your reply! My husband and I purchased our first RV, a 2017 Grand Design Imagine 2600RB. We’re very excited to get on the road and travel around North America over the next year.

    Now, we’re trying to figure which truck to purchase so we are safe on the road and can go places like the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, etc. Do you have suggestions for towing a 5,700lbs travel trailer, where will be driving to a new location every 2-3 weeks? We’ve been looking into the Ford F-250 and the Ram 2500, but not sure if it would be better to get a deisel, a V6 or V8, etc. Any and all suggestions would be much appreciated.

    Thanks!
    Christa

    • Congrats on your first RV purchase, Christa!

      I’m happy to see you went with one of the better brands!

      Definitely don’t go with a V-6. Though I don’t think those are even offered with a three quarter ton truck (F-250/2500).

      5,700lbs is the empty weight. What you need to look at is the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), or the maximum weight of the trailer. In this case it appears to be around 7800lbs (or at least is for the 2021 year).

      You are going to want to have some ‘headroom’ above that in the trucks capability. In other words, you don’t want to be towing a trailer that is right near the weight capability of your tow vehicle. It will just be struggling all the time.

      So with this trailer, I think it’s VERY wise to be looking at a three quarter ton truck (heavy duty, as opposed to the light trucks that are a lot more popular – the 1/2 ton F-150, Ram 1500, etc).

      I don’t think it’s going to really matter if you go with a gas or diesel. Diesel is going to be considerably more expensive, both to purchase and to maintain. Though it will be an awesome towing machine.

      A gas heavy duty pickup should be able to tow that trailer just fine. Though you may be wishing you had a diesel when you are going up/down the awesome mountain passes that Colorado is known for. But otherwise, you should be fine.

      If money is no object, go with diesel. If the budget is tight, go with the gas 3/4 ton truck.

      • This is great and exactly what we are thinking based on our research. Very happy to gut check with someone very experienced in what we’re about to do. We really appreciate your advice and quick replies! Happy travels 🙂

  • Hi, my husbamd and have been looking at different types of bumper pull trailers. One that we would live in full time traveling. Do you have any recommendations. We have been searching a long time over a year now. We have a 16fb that we have out grown for camping sonwe are wanting like 27 to 30ft

    • Hi Teri,

      Sure- we recommend these two articles for you:

      Best RV For Full Time Living

      Best RV Brands

      Nobody can tell you which RV is the best for you. There are too many variables. Soooo many choices. Those two articles pretty much nail down what you need to consider in order to find the right travel trailer for you.

      Camp on, and good luck!

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