We were tent campers. We took pride in that. Other people came with campers, but we looked around and thought to ourselves that we were “real” campers. We referred to the people that had campers as “glampers” (glamorous + campers). Now, we are a part of that group of people, and very happy and grateful for it. If you are thinking of making the leap and trading your tent in for a camper, read on as I share our experience with you and why, though we are grateful for the tent experiences, we will never go back.
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Do You Want an Authentic Nature Experience, or Do You Want to Be More Comfortable?
First of all, if you have never gone camping, tent camping is an excellent way to get started. The investments are minimal (at least compared to a camper) and it gives you a good taste of whether or not you like camping. We had some really great memories that we made while tent camping, and I’m not trying to knock it. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. If you are satisfied with your tent, then keep your tent. However, there were some things that happened to us that made my husband and I start reconsidering our stance on campers.
Too Close to Nature
The first one came 2 years before we bought the camper. We were taking down camp, which is a lot of work when you have a tent. It was hot summer time in the South and both my husband and me were drenched with sweat and dead tired. We had just folded up the tent and were taking up the tarps that we had placed under the tent for extra protection. Out wiggled a SNAKE! Granted, it was a very small worm snake (about the size of a large earthworm), but it was still a snake! Additionally, where it slithered out from was where my BED had been!!
That was a little too close to nature for me! We did let him wiggle off unharmed, but I could not help but think, what if it had been a different kind of snake that had sought cool shelter under the tent?
Rain, Rain, Go Away!
The 2nd and final straw came the year before we bought the camper. We had a 5-day camping trip planned. It rained for 4 of those days. The first day was very hot with heat indexes above 100 F (That’s the high 30s for you Celsius folks). We swam a lot, and it was ok, but after the 3rd day of rain, everything was soaked. Mud was everywhere, and everything including inside the tent was soggy. We had an overhang that went over the main exit to the tent, which sounds great in theory. What actually happened was it became a giant water collecting pool and if you stood up straight after exiting the tent, you go the equivalent of a bucket of cold water poured down your back.
The kids’ room of tent started to have water seep in by that third day. That night as I tried to sleep on my air mattress and damp bedding that was either too hot or too cold, I could feel the water gathering under the floor of the tent. I thought to myself “I don’t care if we have another night paid for or not, I am NOT sleeping here another night like this.”
Since the campground was less than an hour from home, I debated waking everyone in the middle of the night to go home right then, but I drifted into fitful sleep instead. We did go home the next night and returned the final day to tear down camp after church.
Of course, it rained on us. Everything was a muddy mess. There was not a dry or clean spot on anything that we had brought. That was the final straw. We started talking about buying a camper in earnest after that trip.
The Decision to Buy a Camper
We talked long and hard about getting a camper. It was a big purchase for us. They range in price anywhere from a used car to a house! We first looked at used campers, and we learned a few things.
- You can get a bigger used camper for less than a smaller camper
- The bigger camper is more stressful to tow and park
- The bigger camper also requires a vehicle with a larger towing capacity
- Smaller used campers are harder to find – that’s the size that most people (Including us) seemed to be looking for
- Be sure to ask about LEAKS. Older campers commonly develop leaks in the roof
- Slides will give you more room, but they are also prone to breaking
- Birds nests in slides cause problems if not removed
- Sometimes the slides can develop leaks
Other Things to consider when buying a camper
- 5th wheels require a special hitch in the back of a truck but are easier to maneuver because of where they turn.
- Be sure to check financing options at places other than the dealership. Know what the going interest rate is, and take into account not just the payment price, but how long you will have to make payments and the total price of the camper vs what you will actually pay.
- The interest on campers that have restrooms can be written off on US Taxes because it qualifies as a “second home” (*not a tax expert, by any means. Take that like advice from a friend!*)
- No 2 dealerships that we visited had the same brands of campers.
- Take into account the towing capacity of your vehicle. Also, remember that water weighs about 8 lbs per gallon. Take that into your weight calculations.
- Be sure to check that the floor plan is functional for your family. For us, that meant that the air conditioner blew to the bed (instead of into a wall in front of the bed) and that if we did get a slide, we would prefer it to be the table that slides out. Much easier to clean your table off in the event of a leak that it is your bed!
We ended up actually getting a new camper that’s about 22ft long. It is not so large that it causes my husband to stress out when he pulls it, and it is small, but it has everything that we need, including bunk beds for the boys. Regardless of what you get, it will make camping much more comfortable.
Why We Are Glad We Decided to Buy a Camper
The camper makes things much more comfortable in many ways. We tend to camp in the summer when the kids are out of school. Since we live in the South, the summers are hot and humid. It is incredibly nice to have a place to escape the heat. We do still spend a lot of time outside, but having a place to go to that’s air-conditioned (other than the car) makes camping with a camper a MUCH more comfortable experience.
A fan in a tent helps some, but there were still many nights that I was too hot to comfortably sleep, or that it suddenly turned off chilly and I woke up freezing! Yes, you can get a window unit and put in a tent, but it’s not going to cool as well as an air conditioner in an enclosed camper.
One of my main complaints about the tent was I never seemed to get a good night’s sleep. We had air mattresses that we made up with real bedding, and that helped some, but the bottom line is that an air mattress does not feel like a real mattress. Every time my husband turned over, he would bounce me. I have heard that cots in a tent also help, though we never tried it. We got to the “buy a camper” point before we got to the “try a cot” point.
Getting a good nights sleep helps put me in a much better mood in the morning. I will say that the mattress that came with the camper was horribly hard. However, we happened to have a thick memory foam pad that we had bought to go on our mattress at home that did not work out there, but feels perfect on the bed in the camper. For some reason at home, it felt like I was sleeping in a marshmallow and I sank in too much. In the camper, though, it’s the perfect mix of firm and soft. ( Amazon has one that is the same thickness, but is ventilated and infused with gel to stay cooler. )
You do have to be careful depending on what power source you are plugged up to in the camper as to how many things you run at once, however, there are actual plugins that you can plug your phone into to charge, your laptop, your Keurig, etc. That is much nicer than having to fool with an extension cord and a surge protector in a tent. It makes the camping experience much more home-like. (I do still reccomend bringing one or more extension cords. You will need them for your lights or whatever else you plug up outside.)
This is one of my favorite things about the camper. It has a microwave, sink, 2 burner stove, and refrigerator/freezer. Before when we camped with a tent we either had to bring an ice chest that we were constantly refilling with ice and hoping that our food stayed cold enough or we brought a tiny fridge from the house that I used in my college dorm room. The heat made it labor very hard though, and that camping trip that it rained the tent that it was in flooded to the point that there were puddles on the floor and the electrical cord was laying in a puddle of water. Not good.
With the fridge/freezer in the camper, I do not worry about my food not being at the right temperature, and even though it is not large by any means, it is still bigger than the very tiny fridge that I was using before. The microwave…. Oh, the microwave! You do not realize how much you miss being able to give food a quick zap until it is not an option. It lets me prepare convenience food if I need something quick because we are trying to head out for a day trip.
This one is mostly something that my husband was very excited about. My first opinion was that movie night had no place camping. However, I did have to admit when we were all eating microwave popcorn and watching a rented Redbox movie that it was good family time. He also recently bought a retro Sega system that has a bunch of sega genesis games on it from when we were kids. Again, I was opposed to the idea at first, but he and the kids have had such a good time with it, I have had to reconsider my stance on it. What matters most to me is that we have good family time. If that means that he and the kids play games together and interact while I relax and read a book, I guess that’s not so bad. Also, there are some places that have cable hook-ups, which is a nice perk.
I will confess, I almost put this one first on the list. I love having a restroom close, especially in the middle of the night. The boys, it did not bother as much to go outside in the middle of the night. It bothered me and by the time that I drove all the way up to the restrooms in the dark campground in the middle of the night and back, I was awake and it took me quite awhile to go back to sleep. Plus, the campground was VERY dark in the middle of the night and at some points, it was difficult to make out whether I was on the correct winding road or not. With the camper, it’s as easy as it is at home.
No matter how hard you try to keep the tent clean, dirt will always get in. Dirt also gets in the camper, but it is MUCH easier to keep clean than the tent. You things also stay cleaner because they are not on the ground. There is storage, shelves, and running water. Cleaning things up is much easier with a camper. Not as many bugs get in the camper, and if they do, a flyswat usually takes care of it nicely. The tent always had bugs that crept in, usually attracted by the light. We have a mat that we put outside the door of the camper that also helps keep dirt out. I found my mat at Dollar General for $20. This one on Amazon, I like better though because it’s bigger and about the same price.
Campers have a door that actually locks. I feel like our things are much more secure because you have to have a key to get in the door. With a tent, anyone (or anything if you forget and leave it unzipped) can get in. Raccoons that live in campgrounds are distressingly used to people. This camping trip, my husband nearly stepped on one because it was determined to get into the trash that he had not yet put up. With a camper, your food is locked up safe from animals, instead of a tent that they can still smell the food.
Easier Setup/Take Down
When we had the tent, it was an incredible amount of work to set it up and take it down. Setting up and breaking down camp was a major ordeal that left me and my husband very tired and usually cranky by the end of it. With the camper, it takes maybe 30 minutes, and most of that is setting up the tarp that he likes to put up over the outdoor picnic table. (One of those little canopy things is starting to look pretty good).
We park the camper, level it, put the jacks down, plug it in, and it’s pretty well ready to go. We also put a tablecloth on the table, set out the watercooler and string lights and a clothesline, along with putting out our chairs and the totes of camping items that we store in the camper.
Less Prep Time – It’s Always Ready to Go!
We keep the camper pretty well stocked and our week-long camping trips are much more enjoyable with it. When we were camping in the tent, there was a LOT of prep work. With the camper,you can pretty much hitch up and leave. It allows us to be more spontaneous (to a certain extent. We do still prefer to have a site reserved), and it’s made a world of difference in how much we enjoy camping.
We still do a lot of things outside, just like we did before, but now we have the option of inside if we need it. If it’s raining, we just sit at the table in the camper and watch it rain. It also has an awning, so we have a dry spot outside the door and a dry place to sit.
People have different priorities when they are camping, and I hope that however you camp you enjoy the experience, whether it be a tent or in a camper, or however you choose to do it. For us, getting a camper was one of the best things that we have ever done for our family. My Dad told me when we were thinking about it “It’s not a financial investment to make money off of. If that’s how you’re thinking about it, it will never make sense. What you’re investing in is time with your family.” Bottom line is that campers make camping much more comfortable, but they are just “toys.” Some people do live in them full time, but for most people, they are for recreational use.
We think of camping as good family time and we do not regret our decision to trade our tent for a camper. If you are thinking about doing the same thing, carefully consider what works best for your family, and do not take on too much of a financial burden. Some other things that we considered were how long we would use it, vs how long it would take to pay off. Part of that depends on how fast our boys grow because they will not fit in bunk beds forever. We are confident that we will get several good years of use out of it, and we have already made some very good memories.
We enjoy camping more with the camper because it makes it much more comfortable for us. Every family is different, so choose what works best for you. I would love to hear your thoughts and advice in the comments below. Happy Questing, and enjoy the time with your family, whatever it is that you do!