The debate of RV vs Camper is a common one amongst camping enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and digital nomads alike. But figuring out which one is right for you can be a challenge. They both have their unique features, amenities, and comfort levels, making it essential to understand the key differences before making a decision.
As someone who has spent many nights in all types of RVs, from campers to motorhomes, I have lots of experience with them all. But don’t just take my word for it. This article is the culmination of my own experience and opinions as well as input from other camping enthusiasts and digital nomads who frequently stay (if not live!) in their RVs or camper.
My goal here is to teach you everything you need to know about RVs and campers so you can decide on the best fit for you.
What is the difference between an RV and a Camper?
Understanding the Term RV
RV stands for recreational vehicle, a broad term that covers everything from pop-up campers for a quick weekend trip to full-size motorhomes you can live in full-time. This is where it can get confusing, as many people think that an RV and a motorhome are the same thing, but RV is pretty much an all-encapsulating term.
A motorhome is one type of RV and it’s basically any recreational vehicle that’s both motorized and provides a place to stay and sleep. This simply means that it has a motor and you can drive it straight into the campsite or across the country and then also use it as your living and sleeping quarters.
Understanding the Term Camper
On the other side of things, a camper refers to any towable or non-motorized RV that attaches to your tow vehicle for your recreational outings. This basically just means any sort of pop-up camper, travel trailer, fifth-wheel camper, or anything else that you tow behind a truck or other vehicle with the intent of staying or camping in it.
With all of this in mind between RVs and campers, you might be getting a little confused as to what’s actually being compared. Heck, you might even be reading this article trying to decide between a motorhome and a camper rather than an RV and a camper.
After all, a camper is an RV.
But for the sake of comparison and to answer the question you’re likely looking for, we’re going to really be looking at the difference between a motorhome and camper rather than RV vs camper since that comparison doesn’t really make sense!
RV vs Camper: Key Differences
Hopefully, by now, you have a bit of a better understanding of what an RV, a motorhome, and a camper all are. A lot of other sites skip the part about explaining what these terms actually mean and try to explain the differences between a motorhome and a camper without explaining that both are recreational vehicles.
So now it’s time to get into the good stuff. Let’s take a quick look at some of the main differences between a motorhome RV and a camper:
Size and Comfort
Motorhomes are generally larger and more spacious than campers. They offer more comfort and amenities such as a full-size kitchen, bathroom, and separate sleeping quarters which makes them suitable for long road trips or full-time living.
Campers, although smaller, are designed to be compact and efficient, utilizing all available space within the structure.
Design and Structure
A motorhome is a self-powered vehicle designed as a mobile living space, typically including a cab integrated with the living quarters. On the other hand, a camper is a travel trailer that could be attached or detached from a tow vehicle such as a pickup truck or SUV.
Driving and Maneuverability
As motorhomes are larger in size, they could be more difficult to drive and maneuver, especially in tight spaces. Campers, given their smaller dimensions and the ability to be detached from the towing vehicle, are often easier to maneuver and park.
Motorhomes are generally more expensive than campers due to their size and the number of amenities they offer. The prices will vary wildly depending on how many creature comforts you want, how old it is, what condition it’s in, and more.
The cost of a motorhome can easily run into six figures, while campers are a more affordable option. Some small travel trailers can be had for $1,000 or less, while some of the best fifth-wheel campers can cost as much as a motorhome.
Motorhomes have an engine and other vehicle parts that need to be serviced regularly. This can make them more expensive and difficult to maintain than campers, which have fewer mechanical parts.
That said, if your tow vehicle has any maintenance problems and it’s running, you won’t get very far with just a camper that can’t be towed!
Use and Versatility
A camper can be (and typically is) unhooked from the towing vehicle, allowing the vehicle to be used separately. In contrast, a motorhome is a single unit, which limits its versatility as you can’t leave the living quarter at the campground and take the vehicle into town without dealing with the maneuverability issues we talked about above.
Due to their smaller size and weight, campers tend to be more fuel-efficient than motorhomes. Since you’ll be towing a camper with another vehicle, your fuel efficiency is almost entirely decided by how fuel-efficient your truck or SUV is, although hauling a camper behind it isn’t going to help!
What kinds of RVs and Campers can you choose from?
Now that we’ve looked at a few of the key differences between RVs and campers, let’s go over the most common types that you’ll find. I cover all of these in much more detail in my complete guide to RV camping, so make sure you check that out for more info!
Classes of Motorhomes
Motorhomes come in variations of classes that denote their size, structure, and the amenities that they offer. These categories notably include the Class A, Class B, and Class C motorhomes, each with distinctive characteristics.
What is a Class A Motorhome?
Class A motorhomes are the largest and the most luxurious of all. Resembling a bus in its structure, its length typically ranges between 26 and 45 feet. Offering abundant living space, these motorhomes typically include a fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom, and often even a separate bedroom area
Many times, Class A RVs are decked out with upscale amenities and technology, providing a high level of comfort and convenience that rivals upscale home living. It can be like living in a luxury apartment on wheels.
What is a Class B Motorhome?
On the smaller end of the spectrum, we find the Class B motorhomes. They are essentially converted vans (hence the term camper van), often ranging in length from 18 to 24 feet, which makes them the smallest among motorhomes.
Despite their smaller size, they efficiently pack in basic amenities such as a compact kitchen and a bathroom and are perfect for individuals or couples seeking to hit the road without the requirement of a large living space.
What is a Class C Motorhome?
Last but not least, Class C motorhomes fall in between Class A and Class B motorhomes, size-wise. Their length usually lies between 20 and 40 feet and they feature a distinctive over-cab sleeping area.
These types of motorhomes provide a balance between luxury and compactness, often equipped with a decently sized kitchen and a bathroom, and can accommodate more people compared to class B motorhomes, making them a popular choice for small families.
Travel Trailers and Pop-up Campers
Travel trailers and pop-up campers, both classified as towable RVs, are highly popular among avid travelers and camping fans due to their convenience and versatility. Towing a travel trailer (like a teardrop trailer) requires a vehicle with substantial horsepower since travel trailers are typically more massive and more rigid than some other types of recreational vehicles.
Nevertheless, the advantage of travel trailers is they provide ample space for a comfortable stay and often come equipped with all essential amenities similar to a home, including a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping quarters, and living areas. The larger the travel trailer, the more luxurious the amenities are likely to be.
On the other hand, pop-up campers offer a unique travel experience.
Lighter in weight compared to travel trailers, pop-up campers can be towed even by smaller vehicles. When collapsed for travel, they are compact and easy to handle; however, once they “pop up,” they transform into surprisingly spacious shelters.
They’re sort of like pop-up tents in terms of their ease of use and portability, making them a great option for beginners and veteran enthusiasts alike.
Unlike travel trailers, pop-up campers may not provide all the luxuries, but they do offer a more intimate connection with the outdoors due to their collapsible walls and screened windows.
Fifth Wheel Trailers
Lastly, let’s touch on fifth-wheel trailers, which are sort of like the best of both worlds between an RV and a camper. Fifth-wheels are a type of towable RV, but unlike smaller campers that are attached to the back of a vehicle, they’re hitched to the bed of a pickup truck using a special attachment.
The unique hitching gives the fifth-wheel trailer more stability on the road and makes it easier to maneuver compared to a traditional trailer. Plus, the design also allows more room for living spaces, with many featuring slide-out sections to further expand the living area.
Fifth-wheel trailers range from simply functional to downright luxurious, and many are large enough to include amenities like full bathrooms, spacious kitchens, king-sized beds, washers and dryers, and even fireplaces.
These massive travel trailers offer the flexibility and portability of a camper, the comfort and amenities of an RV, and the added benefit of having your towing vehicle free to use for errands or day trips once you’ve set up camp.
How to Choose the Perfect RV: Motorhome or Camper?
Choosing Based on Your Lifestyle
Your lifestyle plays a crucial role when investing in a recreational vehicle. For anyone that wants to live or work full-time on the road, investing in a fully-featured motorhome RV might be worthwhile. This will give you plenty of space to work, cook, sleep, and live basically the same as if you were in a small apartment.
A motorhome is great for this since your home is literally on wheels, giving you the freedom to move around while having everything you need within arm’s reach.
Conversely, for someone just going on a trip here and there, a camper might be the better choice. A small travel trailer or even a pop-up camper gives you a quick and easy place to set up and get some sleep without having to haul anything big around. It’s like staying in a really big tent with a heck of a lot less work required to get it set up.
The small size of a camper relative to a bigger RV makes it easy to drive, store, and clean. Not to mention maintenance is typically less, you have a bit more freedom to get around, and they’re usually more affordable.
The middle ground here is to of course go with something like a fifth-wheel camper that can provide many of the same luxuries as a Class A motorhome while also giving you the freedom to unhook, park your trailer, and drive your tow vehicle around.
If you plan on getting around towns or cities, or you’re working on the road but still need to visit job sites or anything like that, being able to drive without bringing an entire motorhome can be a blessing!
Knowing Your Tow Vehicle’s Limitations
A major consideration when choosing a camper or an RV is understanding the limitations of your tow vehicle. Remember, not all vehicles have the capacity to tow large campers or trailers. A motorhome completely bypasses this since you’ll be driving the RV itself with everything included.
But if you’re opting for a camper, you need to make sure you have a vehicle capable of towing it.
For a smaller camper trailer, anything from a small SUV to a full-size pickup will get the job done. If you go for something bigger like a fifth-wheel, you’ll need to have a pickup truck that’s designed with the fifth-wheel trailer hitch in its bed or you’ll never even be able to hook up.
Factoring in Your Planned Activities
Lastly, your recreational activities and what you actually plan on doing play a significant role in your choice between RV and camper. Your itinerary influences the choice; a teardrop trailer might serve a weekend beach trip, while a Class A RV or a decked-out fifth-wheel camper could serve a cross-country travel better.
When I decided to venture out past just staying in tents or going on primitive camping trips, I started with a small pop-up trailer that I could stay in for a couple of nights here and there and never had any issues. Pulling a travel trailer like this is easy with a decent truck, and it worked well enough for me to fall in love with RV camping much more than I thought I would.
That said, attaching and detaching your trailer every time you park isn’t always the most fun way to spend a camping trip!
RV vs Camper: The Right RV For You is Out There
Finding the right recreational vehicle (RV) or camper for you is contingent upon a range of factors from your budget and your specific travel needs, to what you’re looking to get out of it and how many creature comforts you need.
Whether you’re a seasoned camping enthusiast or a beginner looking to venture into the wilderness, there’s an RV or camper out there that is just right for you. There is some nuance involved in making the perfect choice. Both options have dedicated enthusiasts who swear by their choice.
Therefore, it’s about exploring and understanding your own preferences to find the perfect vehicle for your adventures. I’ve often thought about buying an RV or camper and going on the road for a year or two to take advantage of the RV lifestyle, so if you’re itching to buy one or the other I know the feeling.
Either way, I’m sure you’ll be happy with your decision and I hope to see you at the campgrounds and on the road!