I’ve done rustic tent camping with my husband, we even camped in the BWCA Wilderness before we had kids. In my opinion, it’s not great — especially when it’s cold or rainy — or worse — both! When we broke out the old tent and camped in Granby, Colorado with some friends in 2018, it literally got down to 39 degrees at night. Yuck. While Joel still likes tent camping. I’m too old for this crap. So we started looking for a camper. At the time, we weren’t sure if it would be a teardrop or travel trailer. But here’s how we made our decisions for our first camper.
What kind of camper will meet your camping lifestyle?
When we started looking seriously in early 2019, Joel wanted a teardrop-style and we started looking. Eventually, I said no way. You see, I wake up at the crack of dawn, but he likes to sleep in on the weekends. I didn’t want to have to be banished to the outside if I was wide awake.
Conclusion: we needed something bigger with two rooms. We expanded our search to something that had a bedroom separate from the rest of the camper. We ended up purchasing a 2019 Grand Design Imagine 2500RL. And we loved it! It was the perfect size for us and allowed us to get our feet wet with camping pretty easily.
If you want fewer mechanics, a small teardrop may be for you. If you don’t want to deal with towing anything perhaps a sprinter van or Class C is your style. If you’re handy, then a larger travel trailer, fifth wheel or Class A might be up your alley. Keep in mind many RV repair shops are booked out for months, so this is definitely a big point to consider. Being handy and able to solve problems when they occur (and they will), will be a big help.
For us, it wasn’t until we decided to travel full time that we upgraded our camper to a fifth wheel. We put it on order in January of 2021 and took it home in April. When we chose our Grand Design Solitude 390RK-R, the two primary considerations for us: space for both of us to work full time and storage.
Consider how and where you want to use your camper
Are you going to boondock, stay at RV parks or someplace in between? If you plan to boondock, having a camper that’s easier to maneuver down rustic roads might be worth considering (fun fact: the primary image used on this blog is of our new fifth wheel during an amazing boondocking experience in Medicine Bow National Forest just outside of Laramie, Wyoming) but boondocking with a fifth wheel takes a bit of recon in advance (more to come on that).
But if your plan is to stay only at RV parks with full hookups, then the sky’s the limit.
Look at a lot of camper models and reviews
Maybe you don’t want to deal with towing a trailer, maybe you want room for the kids and grandkids. We recommend attending a good ol’ fashioned RV show for one-stop shopping. This is where you can compare all kinds of different brands and models. Plus you can ask a ton of questions. That’s what we did.
Facebook has a ton of RV camping pages you can join and start asking questions. I suspect you’ll get some pretty honest answers.
What vehicle will you tow with?
If you’re looking into a camper that you tow (from a teardrop to a travel trailer to a fifth wheel) it is incredibly important that you have a substantial vehicle with which to tow it. We had a Ford F-150 with our first trailer (we probably should have had an F-250) because climbing up the Eisenhower Tunnel in CO could be a little slow at times. As we were gearing up to upgrade to our fifth wheel we purchased a Ford F-350 SRW (single rear wheel). We towed our travel trailer with it for one big trip last fall and it was a night and day difference. Knowing you’ve got a strong vehicle really eases your mind when it comes to safety on the road.
But as Joel was doing the math on the pin weight for the new fifth wheel he learned it was going to be too much for our new SRW. So we traded up for a Ford F-350 DRW (dual rear wheel or “dually”). We love Big Teresa (our name for her) and we are really glad we made that decision.
One final tip: We also took our time with our camper purchases. In both cases, we bought our tow vehicle in advance of our new camper and we had a good idea what we wanted months in advance before we pulled the trigger.
And particularly now, it may be a bit more challenging to get the make and model of trailer you want. For example, Thor Industries, the maker of Airstream, Heartland RV and Jayco is incredibly backlogged at the moment. Patience may be key at this moment in time.
Either way, good luck on your next purchase!