Travel Trailers: Everything You Need To Know About Camping Trailers
A wise man once asked 'what is a travel trailer'?
Heh. Just kidding. As long as you weren't born yesterday, you probably have a pretty good idea.
Still, we're covering all you need to know plus a bag o' chips when it comes to travel trailers.
What Is A Pull-Behind Travel Trailer?
The towable camper is by far the most popular of the various types of RVs and campers, outselling all other types by miles.
Travel trailers are also known as pull behind campers, camper trailers, bumper pull campers, towable campers, and many other names. These indicate how they travel down the road.
As the name implies, these camping trailers 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.
Towing a Camper Trailer
'Back in the day', the attachment point was the pickup truck bumper. That was when towable RVs were lightweight.
Nowadays, only the lightest of camper trailers should 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 distributing hitch is required to safely tow your camper down the road.
Now, of all RV types, tow-behind campers are made by the most different 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 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 transforms into an easy way to explore the local area.
Unlike trailers, 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 camper trailers.
Who Makes Travel Trailers? Which Brand Is The Best?
Pull Behind Travel Trailer Quick Stats:
- Length: 13 to 39 feet
- Sleeping Capacity: Up to 6 people
- Slides: 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:
Different Types Of Camping Trailers
'Camping trailers' is a pretty generic recreational vehicle term. On this page, we are concentrating on the traditional travel trailer.
We have other pages dedicated to other tow behind camper types including:
Camper Trailer Construction
A travel trailer is essentially a box built on top of a frame.
The frame has either a single axle (two tires), or a dual axle setup (four tires).
The front of the frame is what attaches to the tow vehicle, with some sort of trailer hitch.
The walls of a bumper pull camper are hard-sided and constructed using aluminum or wood studs.
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. You can walk on the roof if the right underlying materials are used.
There are only a 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 are less prone to leaking. Though using this design means increased overall cost.
Manufacturers of fiberglass RV trailers include Oliver campers, Casita, Bigfoot, Scamp, and Escape. Not surprisingly, if you are looking for the best made RV you can buy, you should look closely at these.
Camper Trailer Interior
Inside the living area of a camp trailer are the comforts of home typical of most RVs.
Layouts will vary but there's some similarity between the floorplans offered by different brands. This is because 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.
Seating and Beds
One or more seating areas, a fully functioning kitchen, a bathroom that usually has some sort of shower and toilet, and one or more sleeping areas are included in most traditional travel trailers.
All but the smallest bumper pull campers will have a fixed bed, with many being queen sized. However, keep in mind that the original mattress that comes in most RV trailers are junk.
Therefore, you may want to get a new travel trailer mattress if you are going to be spending more than the occasional weekend in your rig or if you have a temperamental back.
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.
So, if you have a larger number of people sleeping in the unit, look for floor plans with camper bunk mattresses.
Kitchen amenities will include a refrigerator, a stovetop (maybe with an oven), sink, and food prep area. A microwave may be optional.
Counter space varies greatly by the floor plan. Pay attention to how much counter space is available.
Seating and Decor
For seating, you will often find a dinette with space for 4-6 people, and this will often double as an additional bed. This type is more suitable for kids.
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.
Technology and Other Comforts
Luxury is not normally something that corresponds with a tow behind camper. Even so, they have basic features and comforts that make them a home you can take 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, and an RV dump tank for both gray and black wastewater.
Heat is provided by a propane furnace and air conditioning via a rooftop 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. These are accessible from one side or both sides.
However, not every trailer has this storage. Exterior storage options on some floor plans are 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.
Having at least one trailer slide out is fairly common in travel trailers. They expand the living space without having a long trailer.
However, slides are a double-edged sword - they are a great way to expand the interior room, but they are a potentially expensive failure point/pain in the you-know-what.
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 campers should 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 need a vehicle capable of safely towing it. A heavy-duty truck may be required. They tow great, but make a pretty harsh daily driver. Keep this in mind if you have your eyes set on a long travel trailer.
With longer trailers you have a pretty long combination of tow vehicle and RV going down the road. This makes 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. When using an SUV as the tow vehicle, storage is inside the vehicle. This subjects you to the 'wonderful' smells that accompany what you bring along (Trash storage, gasoline inside your generator).
An onboard generator is rarely available with travel trailers.
If you want to run your air conditioner, use the microwave, or take advantage of anything else requiring 120-volts of power, you must be plugged into shore power or a portable generator for travel trailer use.
So, keep in mind what space you have available for a generator if you choose to carry one.
How Much Does a Travel Trailer Cost?
Travel trailer retail prices for new rigs are all over the map. Cheap units are 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 varies wildly, as does 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 the overall design.
Purchase a $150,000 Airstream and expect to get higher-end furnishings. (Why are Airstreams so expensive?)
Pull-behind campers are the most diverse class of RVs with multiple lengths, floor plans, models, and styles available to please just about anyone's RVing needs.
As the most popular (and diverse) 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. (Edit: they started part-time RV life in December of 2020).
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 their favorite campground.
Author: Marshall Wendler
Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing from April 2014 - December 2020 (now RVing about 50% of the time), Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle. Marshall spends the majority of his RVing life boondocking. He is the part of Camp Addict that knows 'all the things'. He's good at sharing his technical knowledge so you can benefit.