RV vs Camper Van vs Tent Camping: Which option is best for you?
By Carly Eisley
So, you’ve decided to take a camping trip. Fantastic! Camping vacations are an amazing way to explore new places and experience nature. Not being tied to finding hotels means you can stay in more remote areas, often in a much more budget-friendly fashion. Now, the big question is, what type of vehicle and equipment is best for your destination and camping style? Here is a breakdown of RV vs camper van vs tent camping to help you plan and get on the road to adventure.
RV & Motorhome Camping
RV camping is best for:
Those who don’t want to give up the luxuries of home… and who don’t mind driving a house around.
An RV is a reasonable way to see the sights on your next trip. They are self-contained, so you have access to a kitchen, bed, and usually a bathroom/shower. You will be sleeping indoors and off the ground, essentially in your own tiny(ish) home on wheels. This will accommodate a large group (5-7 maximum for most rentals), allowing everyone to inhabit the same driving, living, and sleeping space.
That perk comes at a price though: RVs are LARGE and can get quite expensive. If you aren’t used to operating a large vehicle on a regular basis, driving a 20-30 foot-long vehicle in an unfamiliar area can be a daunting task. Thinking about making your way up to some winding mountain passes or down some bumpy dirt roads? You may want to think twice if you are driving an oversized RV. Heading into civilization and need a place to park? Your options will be limited if you aren’t in an area with abundant parking lots. Time to fill up on gas? Hold onto your wallet, each fill up is going to be a doozy with a 50+ gallon fuel tank! Read through a breakdown of some of the cost differences between renting an Escape Campervan vs a traditional RV.
- Full kitchen, bathroom, shower private and contained in your own vehicle.
- Can fit more people than a standard car/van (up to 7 for the largest unit in one popular RV rental company).
- Sleeping in a contained space off the ground.
- Food can generally be kept inside the vehicle, secured in the kitchen area rather than transferred to bear boxes, etc.
- Can have access to power/water in place with hookups.
- Need access to water/dumping station to fill and empty the tanks. Need to empty your sewage tank.
- Large vehicles, difficult to maneuver and park. Not suitable for (most) off-road travel.
- Requires RV site at campgrounds, generally more expensive.
- Gas costs are much more expensive.
- Requires RV site at campgrounds—usually less secluded/private and more expensive, especially with power/water hookups.
Tent camping is best for:
Local explorers, large families on a budget, backpackers heading way off the beaten path.
Tent camping is what most of us immediately think of as a traditional “camping trip.” If you already own the necessary gear (at a minimum for comfort: tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bags), tent camping is an extremely cheap way to travel, especially if you are driving your own vehicle. If you are planning to travel somewhere outside of driving range (hey, not everyone has enough vacation time to drive themselves cross country), the costs of transporting or renting camping equipment plus a car rental can add up quickly. For example, the base cost of an average rental car will cost $30-50/day. The cost of a car camping rental package for two people at a major outdoor retailer is ~$60/day. The average cost of renting an Escape Maverick model campervan (which includes a bed, refrigerator, stove) is around ~$85/day (although it can be as low as $37/day in the low season).
One of the bigger cons of tent camping for many people is sleeping on the ground. Even with a decent sleeping pad or air mattress, chilly/damp ground can be uncomfortable. Setting up and breaking down camp definitely takes a bit more time, especially in inclement weather. If anyone has ever had to break down and pack up their tent in the rain, you know what I’m talking about – not the most fun ever.
Though there are definitely some negatives, there are a few distinct advantages to tent camping as well. An obvious advantage is the ability to go anywhere. With a smaller backpacking tent, you can hike into areas inaccessible by car and take advantage of solitude and views. Campground camping is incredibly easy – any site in the place can be set up for a tent! No need to worry about the size of the parking area or whether it is level – there is usually a level tent pad at each site. Large families with small children may find that a minivan rental and large tent is the optimal way to make their camping trip a success, as everyone can fit in the same vehicle and sleeping space.
- Portable and able to go anywhere (depending on the size of the tent, of course).
- With size ranges from one person to 12+ people, tents can fit the entire family in one space.
- Tent campsites in campgrounds are usually cheaper and more secluded/private.
- Very inexpensive way to travel if you are using your own car and equipment.
- Has more of a traditional camping feel.
- Sleeping on the ground can be chilly, damp and uncomfortable.
- Setup and breakdown of the tent and equipment can be time-consuming, especially with larger tents or in the rain.
- Equipment needed (purchasing or renting) can get expensive.
- Not as secure in windy conditions, doesn’t offer protection from thunderstorms, critters on the ground or from falling tree limbs, etc. from above.
- In cold/hot weather can be uncomfortable sleeping.
Camper Van Camping
Camper van camping is best for:
Adventurous road-tripping, smaller groups (2-5), easy camping in comfort.
Renting a campervan is a convenient, economical way to get out on a road trip camping adventure. Escape’s largest model (the Big Sur) is 19 feet long, so all of the vans maneuver very easily (particularly if you are used to driving a van or large SUV) and can fit in any normal parking space. If you are spending some time in urban areas along your trip, this is especially useful! The vans come equipped with a pump sink, refrigerator, and 2-burner camp stove, making cooking your own meals fast and easy. The interior folds down to a comfortable bed which keeps you clean, dry, and protected from critters and the elements at night – no need to go running for the car in an unexpected thunderstorm. For the neat freaks out there – it is much easier to avoid tracking dirt into your sleeping space in the van, just take off your shoes before you hop in!
The vans can fit in tent sites at most campgrounds which makes it easy (and inexpensive) to find a spot to stay. They can also handle travel on dirt roads, making some more remote, dispersed camping options available (note: they aren’t high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles so they can’t go anywhere… stick to dirt roads passable by your average passenger car and you should be good). Renting optional equipment such as the rooftop sleeper expands the sleeping capacity of the van, while still allowing everyone to travel together in one vehicle. The gas mileage of the vans is much better than a larger RV, saving a substantial amount of money over an extended trip. Arriving into camp late or in the rain? Setup is a breeze! Simply fold down the rear seats and hop into bed. Getting back on the road is just as easy, making the campervans ideal for a camping trip with multiple destinations.
Planning a car camping destination trip with a little backpacking mixed in? Consider renting the campervan as your vehicle rather than a standard rental car, especially if you already own your backpacking gear; having a place to sleep off the ground and an easy kitchen setup is a nice change after a few nights of roughing it.
- Smaller vehicles, easy to drive and park.
- The bed is inside the vehicle, up off the ground and protected from the elements.
- Kitchen setup is included but cooking is outside the vehicle, eliminating lingering food smells inside the van.
- Refrigerator powered by solar eliminates the need to find/replenish ice in a cooler.
- Fits in most tent sites in campgrounds. Able to travel on dirt roads to more secluded areas.
- Gas costs are much less than larger RVs.
- Fun paint jobs make them unique!
- One rental takes care of your car AND camping needs—no need to rent from multiple sources, eliminating the possibility of mistakes and mishaps.
- Can fit a maximum of 5 people, not suitable for larger groups.
- No electricity or bathroom/shower, if you’re into that.
- Requires a level parking spot (careful with some campground tent sites – not all parking pads are level).
I hope this little camping guide has been a helpful primer on the major differences between RV, tent, and van camping. In my humble opinion, van camping is a clear winner! Take advantage of some of the great sales and deals Escape Campervans has to offer when booking your campervan rental, and there’s just no comparison. Whatever you choose, get out there and enjoy nature. Happy adventuring!