Travel Trailer vs. Camping Trailer: What’s the Difference?


Whether you are planning your next cross-country road trip, or are just looking to go for a nice weekend getaway with the family, you have probably considered looking into some form of mobile lodging. If so, you are likely to come across two very common options for a towable place to spend the night: travel trailers and camping trailers. Both are an excellent option for would-be adventurers, but there are a number of differences between the two that need to be considered before purchasing.

What is the difference between a travel trailer and a camping trailer? A camping trailer is a smaller, more off-road-oriented trailer that makes more use of outdoor living compared to travel trailers, which are larger and offer more indoor space. The main differences between the two are found in:

  • Purpose
  • Size
  • Features

Within each of the above-listed categories, there are several different ways that camping trailers differ from travel trailers, all of which are important considerations to anyone who is thinking of investing some money in one. So, in order to make sure that you are happy with your next trailer purchase, let’s look at the ways that travel trailers and camping trailers can differ.

The Purpose of the Trailer

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two trailers can be gleaned just by the reading the name: camping trailers are optimized for camping, while travel trailers are optimized for traveling (i.e., long-distance highway mile-eating).

While this sounds relatively straightforward, there are a lot of things that trailer manufacturers do to, or equip the trailers with, in order to make each type ideal for the situations that they are designed to encounter.

We will begin by looking at the ways in which camping trailers are optimized for camping.

About Camping Trailers

Camping trailers are specifically designed to be ideal for camping trips, meaning extended periods of time away from easy access to electricity, traveling on rougher roads, and being exposed to harsh weather conditions. Trailer manufacturers design and build camping trailers with these things in mind by equipping them with a number of different features that are mostly absent on travel trailers.

Off-Road Considerations

Camping trailers are built with the ability to traverse rough terrain in mind. Camping trailers are designed to drive owners further into nature, which can require the trailer to withstand some less-than-ideal road conditions in doing so.

In order to stand up to this off-road abuse and perform well in these situations, manufacturers design camping trailers with a few suspension and trail-holding features that are left out on travel trailers, which are better suited for use on pavement.

More Durable Suspension

The suspension components used on camping trailers are often more heavy-duty than the ones used on other types of trailers. Because camping trailers are often subject to uneven and undulating terrain, they require a suspension system that can not only be comfortable on this terrain but also able to travel enough to ensure that the suspension does not bottom out. This can be both jarring and potentially harmful to the trailer.

Additionally, the suspension on camping trailers needs to be much more durable than the suspension found on other types, making it able to withstand the constant abuse of traveling on uneven terrain. Among other things, camping trailers are often equipped with heavy-duty springs and shocks, as well as other connecting hardware within the suspension.

Suspension Geometry Considerations

In addition to having more robust suspension components, camping trailers are often equipped with elements that will give the suspension a more extensive range of motion, allowing it to travel safely over uneven terrain.

For example, if the left side of your path has a significant dip in it, the left wheel of the trailer will be able to fall into that dip without bringing the right side down with it as much as it would with a less adaptable suspension. This is an important feature that helps camping trailers more effectively travel on rough terrain.

How the Trailer Gets Electricity

Another important differentiator between travel trailers and camping trailers is the way that the trailer gets electricity. While travel trailers often require a hookup to a separate power source, camping trailers are typically equipped with a generator onboard, which allows the trailer to become effectively standalone.

Having a built-in generator can be massively convenient for anyone looking to really get away, as a standalone power source allows for further exploration into places where a travel trailer would be left without power. Most camping trailer’s generators will be gas-powered, so all one needs to be completely unhooked is a few tanks of fuel.

I recently wrote an article on this subject, have a look at it: How to Use a Generator with a Travel Trailer: Complete Guide

Resistance to Harsh Weather

While both travel trailers and camping trailers will have their indoor areas be impervious to rain, the external construction of camping trailers is often sturdier and better suited to sustain harsher weather conditions that may be more problematic for travel trailers.

This generally takes the form of more robust body paneling, with camping trailers using materials that are heavier and more durable, compared to the lighter-weight and “flimsier” ones that are used to build travel trailers (i.e., aluminum).

Just to be clear, no trailer is a great place to be during severe weather, but a camping trailer will be better suited to withstand things like falling branches than a travel trailer will. For example, MOAB manufactures many of their camping trailers with various forms of all-steel construction, a feature that you are unlikely to find on most travel trailers.

About Travel Trailers

Now that we have gone over some of the features that are unique to camping trailers, we can do the same for travel trailers. Unlike camping trailers, travel trailers are designed for long-distance highway cruising, giving far less consideration to the trailer’s ability to be durable and capable off-road.

Travel trailer manufacturers do a number of things to make their trailers suitable for road-tripping applications, so let’s take a look at what those things are.

Comfort is Prioritized

Where camping trailers focus on durability and sturdiness, travel trailers concentrate on comfort and smoothness. As opposed to the more robust suspension components found on camping trailers, travel trailers have suspension systems that are designed to be more comfortable on-road, and much less capable off-road.

This typically comes in the form of a softer suspension that will ride more smoothly over highways. This makes travel trailers the ideal companion for long highway road trips, as they are able to glide smoothly on the slightly uneven pavement where camping trailers may begin to bounce around.

More Indoor Space

One of the defining features of a travel trailer compared to a camping trailer is the fact that travel trailers generally have far more indoor space. While camping trailers can sometimes offer no indoor living space, instead making use of tents and collapsible structures, travel trailers will always provide a fairly significant amount of entirely sheltered and indoor living space, depending on the size of the trailer.

This can be an important factor for people that are less concerned with the nature aspect of their adventure and are more interested in comfort and the ability to have a more hotel-like lodging experience while on the road. Additionally, a travel trailer’s ability to offer significant indoor living space can be even more important, depending on the climate of the area that you are traveling to. If it will be especially cold or warm, a camping trailer may not be ideal, as it will not offer you much if any relief from undesirable temperatures.

Related reading: Why Have 2 Doors on A Travel Trailer? [What To Consider]

Not Designed for Standalone Use

Travel trailers are typically designed with the expectation that owners will settle at a site that has an external power hookup available. In contrast, camping trailers are designed with the expectation that owners will use the onboard generator to power the trailer’s electrical components and attachable accessories.

This difference in expected use means that travel trailers most often do not come with generators, meaning that in order to use all of their electrically powered amenities, you need to hook up to an external power source.

This can be somewhat limiting on where the trailer can be parked. However, most people who use their travel trailers regularly have routes planned out that accommodate their trailer’s need to be connected to an external power source, rendering this a non-issue in the vast majority of cases. But, if you do value the ability to “set up shop” and have full power wherever you would like, a travel trailer will typically not be able to fit this need.

Not as Rugged as Camping Trailers

As we have mentioned, travel trailers are not nearly as rugged as camping trailers. As an example, GoodLife RV cites about 50% of travel trailers as using aluminum siding, a far less durable material than the steel that is often used for camping trailers.

However, the 50% of travel trailers that are not manufactured with aluminum siding are typically made with fiberglass. While this is generally a preferable material to aluminum, fiberglass trailers are more expensive. In addition, when they do get damaged, the entire panel or side of the trailer is liable to need replacement, which can be quite the headache.

The Size of the Trailer

Now that we have gone over some of the ways that camping trailers and travel trailers are different in the purposes for which they are designed to be used, we can move onto discussing another significant difference between the two types of trailers: the size.

Generally speaking, camping trailers are much smaller than travel trailers. CampingWorld cites travel trailers as ranging in size from 12 to 35 feet, whereas the MOAB trailers mentioned above typically max out around 13 feet.

However, just because camping trailers are significantly smaller than travel trailers does not mean that they are considerably less practical. While travel trailers are the better option for people looking for an authentic hotel or home-like experience while on the road, many small camping trailers can still comfortably sleep up to five people with the use of fold-away or collapsible tents that attach to the trailer, giving you a true camping experience for the family, without having to tow a significantly larger travel trailer.

Related reading: How to Choose the Right Size Travel Trailer: An In-Depth Guide

In addition to just the raw size or length of the trailer, though, manufacturers have to effectively allocate the space within the trailer by doing a number of different things.

Uses of Space in Travel Trailers

Travel trailers obviously have a lot more space to work with compared to camping trailers, and there are, therefore, a lot of different ways that manufacturers can get creative with maximizing the area of the trailers. Some of the most common ways we see this done are:

  • Slide outs: Some travel trailers will come equipped with slide-outs, which effectively increase the square footage of the trailer when in use. Slide-outs are effectively movable walls on the exterior of the trailer that can be extended or retracted to increase the amount of space within it. When closed, the slide-out will be mostly unnoticeable from within the trailer, but once extended, it will effectively create an entirely new room or space within it. They are an extremely effective way to maximize the amount of space within a trailer.
  • Second stories: While this is a less common feature than slide-outs, it is possible to find travel trailers that have more than one floor. Sometimes the second “floor” will just be a loft space for a bed. Whatever it is used for, a second level can be a great feature to look for if you want a travel trailer with a little bit of extra space. Additionally, if your travel trailer hooks up to your truck via a fifth wheel hitch, the area above the hitch can be used as extra living space, often in the form of an additional bedroom.
  • Awnings: While having a retractable awning on the exterior of your travel trailer is a bit less luxurious than having a slide-out or loft, it is still a great feature to look for if you do not mind your extra space being outdoors. Having an exterior awning can be a great way to set up a dining/living area while dedicating the interior trailer space to other things.

Uses of Space in Camping Trailers

As a result of their more diminutive size compared to travel trailers, camping trailers are far more inventive in their use of space, often having uniquely folding and collapsible structures that allow a small trailer to effectively transform into a much larger one, albeit with many, if not all, things being outdoors.

Here are some ways that camping trailers maximize their utility and sufficient livable space:

  • Tents/collapsible structures: Camping trailers typically make arrangements for sleeping by using tents, whereas travel trailers have fully enclosed indoor bedrooms. However, many camping trailers have tents that very effectively emulate an indoor environment, with fully enclosed collapsible structures that, when combined, can sleep upwards of five or more people, depending on the size and layout of the trailer. Additionally, camping trailers make use of tents to generate most of their other indoor space as well, with kitchens and living areas often being enclosed by non-permanent structures. While this may sound like a less comfortable experience compared to what you can get with a fully indoors travel trailer, camping trailers do a great job of making a lot out of a little, so do not write one off just because you prefer the indoor arrangement of a travel trailer.
  • Slide-outs: That’s right, slide-outs are not just exclusive to the larger travel trailers; camping trailers can have them too, albeit much smaller ones. Whereas the slide outs in travel trailers have the potential to create an entirely new room, the slide outs in camping trailers typically contain more modest amenities, like the kitchen area, for instance. In a camping trailer, one side of the trailer will slide out to reveal a sink and stovetop, which can then be slid back in when not in use.
  • Gate tables: Another creative way that camping trailers make use of their space is by using gate tables. Gate tables are just what they sound like: tables that double as gates. When closed, the gate is used to secure cargo in place while on the road, but when opened, it serves as a table to be used for whatever you would like, be it dining or playing cards under the stars.
  • Storage boxes: While storage boxes, of course, do not expand the living space available in a camping trailer, they are a great way to maximize the number of things that you will be able to carry with you on your trip. Storage boxes can be mounted anywhere on the camping trailer; however, the most common place is on the front or tongue of the trailer. This is fantastic as it can increase tongue weight to balance the trailer, but it is also out of the way, so it does not take away from the living areas at all.

These are just a few of the ways that camping trailers maximize the amount of space that is useable to the occupants. It goes to show that while small from a square footage perspective, camping trailers are in no short supply of living space, with tons of options available to absolutely max out your camping trailer’s ability to accommodate a group of people.

The Features & Amenities of Camping Trailers vs. Travel Trailers

Now that the more general differences between camping and travel trailers have been discussed, we can move into a more specific discussion of the features and amenities available in travel and camping trailers.

You will notice that we did not mention the discussion of the differences in features between the two, though, and here’s why: a camping trailer can do almost anything that a travel trailer can do, albeit in a slightly different way.

While smaller and less sheltered, camping trailers are very inventive in the ways that they can go about providing the same services that a travel trailer can (though there are limitations). In light of this, let’s go over the features that you can expect to find in both types of trailers, and how each type of trailer offers each element.

Kitchen Areas

A trailer would not be of much use as a living space if it did not offer a way to prepare meals. Luckily though, both travel and camping trailers offer kitchen spaces that allow occupants to prepare meals.

  • Cooking in a travel trailer: Cooking in a travel trailer should feel quite similar to cooking in a standard kitchen, most likely because travel trailers have fairly standard kitchen equipment. Almost all travel trailers will come with a sink and two-burner (or more) stovetop, as well as some cabinets and drawers to store cooking supplies. Additionally, larger, more luxurious trailers may also come equipped with a dishwasher or even an oven.
  • Cooking in a camping trailer: Cooking in a camping trailer is a bit less refined than the equivalent experience in a travel trailer, as camping trailers have to be much more efficient with the way that they utilize their limited space. Kitchen areas are typically concealable or fold-away, but still generally include a sink and stovetop with at least one burner. However, because of their compact design, kitchen spaces in camping trailers will be limited on the counter and cabinet space, and you may or may not find one with a dishwasher or oven equipped.

Related reading: 15 Effective Ways to Stop Condensation in Travel Trailers or RV

Bathrooms and Showers

The story with bathrooms and showers for camping and travel trailers is quite similar to the kitchen areas, with both types almost always having them available, but going about providing them in different ways.

Bathrooms in Travel Trailers

Bathrooms in travel trailers will always come equipped with the basics of at least a traditional half-bath: a toilet and sink. Travel trailers also have a built-in tank mounted underneath it to deal with wastewater. The bathrooms in travel trailers can vary greatly in spaciousness depending on the size of the trailer, ranging from very compact to as open as a small home bathroom.

Additionally, the shower is typically contained within the bathroom, often in a creative way to maximize the amount of useable space. Finally, travel trailers have onboard tanks that are used to store clean water, and these have to be refilled every so often. For more info on trailer and RV plumbing, Axle Addict offers this very comprehensive guide.

Bathrooms in Camping Trailers

Bathroom arrangements in camping trailers will be a bit more compact and innovative in the way that they utilize space, especially compared to travel trailers. While travel trailers have the luxury of relatively abundant indoor space, camping trailers are less fortunate.

However, that is not to say that bathroom amenities are not perfectly acceptable in most camping trailers. The majority of the time, the plumbing system will be similar to that of a travel trailer, though much smaller and more compact. Camping trailers will also always come with a sink and toilet, though they may be outdoors, or only moderately concealed within a collapsible structure.

Showers in camping trailers are relatively minimalist and are typically relegated to a simple hand-held shower head and no real enclosed “shower” structure. However, they are perfectly suitable and acceptable to use when camping.

Heating and Cooling

Another essential feature to consider when looking into a trailer is its climate control system. Having the ability to heat and cool your trailer can be a fantastic luxury to have, and it is an area wherein the travel trailer does have a slight advantage over the camping trailer.

You may have already guessed it, but the reason for this is obvious: it is impossible to climate control the outdoors, which is where camping trailers provide most of their space.

So, rather than go over the differences in the ways that each type of trailer goes about climate control as we did with kitchens and bathrooms, we will simply say this: travel trailers generally have fairly comprehensive climate control systems, with the ability to heat and cool it to your liking.

Camping trailers have no such luxury, and while a space heater can be plugged in as an accessory, camping trailers offer very little in the way of climate control.

Related reading: How to Prevent Travel Trailer or RV Pipes from Freezing?

Final Thoughts

Now that we have thoroughly discussed the differences between camping and travel trailers, you should know all that you will need to in order to make an informed decision for your travel lodging solution.

In summary, if you do not mind outdoor living, and are looking for a more compact and rugged way to get away for a while, a camping trailer is a fantastic option for you. However, if you want something more spacious that offers substantial indoor living space, and do not plan on traveling off the beaten path, a travel trailer is more well-suited to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few common questions people often have about travel trailer:

Is it hard to pull a travel trailer?

It is not hard to pull a travel trailer, but there are some precautions you need to take to avoid critical situations. With your trailer you would easily drive uphill or brake if necessary, in fact you can do anything you would normally do while driving.

How fast should you drive pulling a travel trailer?

The speed limit for a vehicle without a trailer is 65 mph. You may drive 70 mph where posted and when towing a trailer, the speed limit on the freeways is 55 mph. (state of California)

Which travel trailer has the best resale value?

Usually Jayos RVs and Travel trailers have the best resale value.

How long does a travel trailer last?

On average, motorhomes or travel trailers last up to 25 years. However, the life expectancy of motorhomes or travel trailers depends on how you care for and maintain them.

Mike Gilmour

Hi, I'm Mike, co-founder, and editor of RV and Playa. My passion is traveling (with my RV) and enjoying the day at the beach (Playa)! Well, I originally created this blog as a way to share what I've learned by experimenting with the RV lifestyle, and I want to help others develop in life through new skills and opportunities.

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