What a great question – What is a camper?
When I was recently asked the question “What is a camper?”, I immediately looked to my website () to send this person one of my articles.
But guess what?
Until THIS ARTICLE the answer to “what is a camper?” didn’t exist on my website.
Now it does and here is my official RV52.com answer.
There are two answers!
What is a camper – the big generic answer – not an RV52.com favorite!
The first answer is this. A camper, generically speaking, is any vehicle, whether motorized or towable, in which you have the ability to camp-out with. Even more generically speaking, a camper is a portable bedroom.
Using this definition, then anything on the RV52.com Type of RV page would classify as a camper. I’ll go even further and say that MOST PEOPLE would limit the definition to a towable RV. RV52.com’s page of towables is found here.
What is a camper – the more specific answer – an RV52.com opinion
When people ask the question – what is a camper, I believe that the root word CAMP in the question truly matters.
When people use the word “camp” they are thinking about a tent. They are thinking about a fire. They are thinking about the great outdoors.
So when they ask “what is a camper”, their mental frame of mind is – what is a thing that is something one step up from a tent. Something we can camp in, but admit that we’re too spoiled and too darned old to want to sleep on the ground or next to it.
I believe that the RV industry answer to the question “what is a camper” is the class of RVs normally called camping trailers or pop-up trailers.
So while I’ve answered the question by saying it is a camping trailer or pop-up trailer, you still might wonder… what exactly makes a camping trailer a camping trailer?
Below, I’ll answer the “what makes a camping trailer – a camping trailer” by identifying characteristic features.
But IN GENERAL, a camping trailer or pop-up is roughly defined as:
- A trailer light enough to be towed by a small to medium size car
- A trailer that is very much akin to a “hard sided tent”
You’ll see that from this, that as a camping trailer is made slightly larger with a few more features, then the difference between a camping trailer and a regular travel trailer can get very, very fuzzy.
What is a Camper or Camping Trailer RV – Differentiating Feature(s) List :
- Bumper Hitch Tow – this is a key identifier for smaller trailers and it answers the question “What is a Trailer?”. The very word means “bumper tow”. Make sure you see my types of RV page so you can see the difference.
- Light Weight – by light weight, I believe this means lightweight enough to be towed safely by a car. Once it is too heavy for a car, then I would make a strong argument that this is “just a travel trailer”.
- Single Axle – It is only going to have a single axle. Ever. Otherwise that would be silly.
Basic Features List for a Camper or Camping Trailer
- Battery – All camping trailers have a battery. If only for the break-away switch and brake.
- Storage – Most RV’s have a little storage. Expect a small amount accessible from the outside, sometimes inside-outside simultaneously accessible and then a small closet in the bathroom and in the bedroom. Of course in the kitchen area there will be some cabinet space. This would be VERY limited on a camping trailer, but most people want to put a cooler somewhere.
- Electric Braking system – Expect all RV’s to be able to apply braking, not awesome brakes, but some braking which is to be used in conjunction with the tow vehicle. The electronic brakes are activated via the cable used when hitching the trailer to the tow vehicle and the battery on the trailer is used to apply the braking energy. This is so that if the trailer comes loose from the tow vehicle the RV will apply the brakes until the battery is ran down.
- Front Jack – All camping trailers have a front jack to lift the unit off of the bumper AND to level the unit front to back.
- Sleeping Arrangements for at least one – usually a queen bed. However, in some of the smaller RV’s used for hunting trips, the bed folds up to create space so it isn’t a permanent fixture like MOST RV’s of a decent size.
- LP Gas Sensor – LP gas is odorless so a sensor is a good idea. The odorant should help you, but I do not have a sense of smell so this is a critical device. Obviously if you don’t have LP gas in your camper this doesn’t matter, but I’ll say it is non-optional.
- Carbon Monoxide Detector – because of burning LP gas it is good to make sure you have one of these too.
- Smoke Detector – Good idea. Maybe if you have ANY LP gas or electric this is a good idea. It is lightweight an inexpensive.
Optional Camping Trailer Features List:
Oddly, most features on Travel Trailers would be optional on a Camping Trailer. Once you get past a bed, wheels and a hitch, then the differences can be plentiful.
How do you decide? The only real answer is “what is important to YOU!?”
- Bike Rack on Rear Bumper – Storing bikes is tough. This is a good idea. But this would be easy to do and fits well with the camping trailer lifestyle.
- Fantastic Fan or Super Fan – These are stellar ventilation fans that can keep the indoor temperature within 2-4 degrees of the outside air and it can do it very quickly. I wrote an article about the super fan recently. A small powered fan for a camping trailer is very practical. Must more so than an air conditioner.
- Blank Tank Rinse – Anything to help make the black tank easier to manage is a good thing. This beats sticking something down the toilet to perform the rinse. IF IF IF you do have a black tank (no guarantee with a camping trailer) a rinse is nice.
- Outdoor Porch Light – Usually there is an outside light – ours has a bunch.
- Safety escape windows – Most RV’s have windows where you can escape just in case there is a fire. In some regards, RV’s are safer than wood frame houses because most houses don’t have these types of windows.
- Stabilizer Jacks – These are jacks in the corners of the RV which you tighten to reduce bouncing when you move inside the RV. RV makers make a bigger fuss over them as features than they should be, but they are needed.
- Awning – Most RV’s have an awning. These effectively increase the square footage of the RV, provide a neat outdoor area and are really nice to have. Some are manually extendable – tricky the first time – and some are electrically extendable.
- Audio/Visual System – I could see how it would be nice to have a boom boom system built in. But this has to be optional.
- Toilet – All camping trailers – unless they are SUPER small – have a small toilet which drains directly into a holding tank, which is called the black water tank. But since we are talking about camping trailers, I’ll list as optional. You might just have a little porta-potty.
- Black Water Tank – If a camping trailer has a toilet, it has a black water tank.
- Gray Water Tank – If a camping trailer has a sink or shower, it has a gray water tank.
- Fresh Water Tank – Most camping trailers have the ability to store some fresh water so you can camp without being connected to city water.
- Tank Level Sensors – You’ll typically have a set of sensors that tell you how full the black, grey, and fresh water tanks are. It will also have the battery level too generally. The sensors almost never work well.
- LCD TV – Most RV manufacturers have an LCD TV included with the RV. Ours had two included and mounts for 2 more (total 4). Typically they will be from a Chinese manufacturer that you have never ever heard of.
- TV Antenna – controllable from inside the RV. Folds down for travel, unfolds to get TV. You can control its direction in 360 degrees.
- AC to DC converter electrical system – RV’s do take in 120V AC and use the 120 V AC but they also convert much to DC since electronic igniters for hot water, stoves, refrigerator, slide-outs, and lighting all run off of DC power. So there is a system which converts the AC to DC and stores it in one or more batteries. The strength and longevity of your DC system is based on the battery not on the strength of the AC power. Want to last longer on DC only, get more batteries.
- LP Gas System – Typically on camping trailers, you’ll have two 7 gallon LP gas tanks. They are bigger than the normal 5 gallon LP gas tanks you’ll see on your normal gas grill. But the LP gas runs the hot water heater, refrigerator (sometimes), the gas range, the gas oven, and the furnace. Sometimes you can run a generator, but people say gasoline is far more convenient for the generator.
- Air Conditioner – come in many sizes. Usually the AC is a rooftop unit. There is usually some modest ductwork that will distribute the air throughout the RV if the unit has any appreciable length. Only the very smallest RV’s ( like popups – see this small RV video gallery ) won’t have an air conditioner.
- Furnace – Most RV’s have a furnace operated with LP gas. LP gas is a very economic form of energy and very portable so it is used widely on RV’s. However, that is why you need LP gas detectors to help maintain safety. I have anosmis which means that I cannot smell a gas leak – the detector is life safety critical for me!
- Hot Water Heater – For hot water for cooking and showering. Usually very small – as small as 6 gallons. These can run off of LP gas, and electric (AC) as a backup to the gas. These typically do not have pilot lights, but an electronically created spark which lights the LP gas.
- Refrigerator – All but the smallest RV’s have a refrigerator. These refrigerators can be very fancy, running off of AC and then LP gas backup. They are small usually, starting as small as 4 or 6 cubic feet.
- Microwave – Most are AC operated, but have not checked widely to see if you can use DC with any RV. A microwave is very nice to have and you should expect it on most RV’s.
- Cooking Range – A cooking range, usually a smaller 2 or 3 burner unit. The range is operated off of LP gas. It typically won’t have a pilot light but instead a spark ignition.
- Oven – Usually attached to the range. Very small. You won’t be doing a turkey in one anytime soon. About 2x the size of a toaster oven. We have to light ours with a candle lighter every time we want to use it. Honestly, we use the toaster oven more often than we use the gas range.
- Kitchen Sink – More often than not, you will have a kitchen sink in your RV. The sink drains into the grey water tank. It will have cold and hot running water.
- Bathroom Sink – Most have a small bathroom sink. This drains into the gray water tank. This sink will have cold and hot running water.
- Shower – Usually equipped with a shower some even have a small bathtub. If possible, make sure your shower is a one piece design or you’ll battle water leaks often. Most have a flexible shower head attached to a hose. It is a convenient arrangement. I actually wrote a short article on showering in an RV. You could also think of the article as a concept for showering for the environment too as using very little water is the key theme.
- Bathroom Exhaust Fan – Usually a vent in which you have to manually open it and a small electric switch on a tiny fan. I’m 99% sure it is operated off of the 12 volt system.
Absolutely NOT Camping Trailer Features List :
I would think that these features simply would not make sense on a car-towable camper. So I’m gonna be tough and draw a line with these and say “NO”.
- Electric Front Jack – A nice feature, one you may or may not use often depending upon how often you stop and unhitch or get up and move. I’m putting it in absolutely not because it seems silly to have this weight.
- Toy Hauler Garage – I’m listing this here because if you use part of the RV as a garage, it becomes a toy hauler. Toy haulers have a fantastic carrying capacity – so there is much more done to beef up their capacity. Since those are the only two big differences, I’m only going to list the garage as an option. A bit disingenuous, I know, but maybe someday I’ll make a toy hauler features article.
- Fireplace – We like ours a great deal and wrote an article about RV fireplaces or inserts.
- Up to 4 slide-outs – These are MAJOR design features and key ways to differentiate RV’s. Slide-outs add major room and and weight. So knowing the number of slides will tell you a great deal about the weight, square footage, and roominess of the RV.
- Satellite Antenna – Put the Dish into the roof for automatic satellite management.
- Central Vacuum System – A system where you only have a hose and connect it to outlets on the RV. Ours has one. I think it is cool, but Sheri doesn’t. We ended up buying a small vacuum.
- Outdoor Kitchen – Another major differentiator for RV’s. This allows you to cook and grill outside where you keep the RV itself cooler and also when cooking you get to be outside where it is nice.
- Bunkhouse – Another key differentiator in RV’s. This allows you to have more people with you. Bunkhouses can be made like bunks in the navy where they are just sleeping areas and really would be hard to live in them. Some RV’s have bunkhouses that are big enough for small bedrooms for children. Ours is like that.
- Double Pane Windows – RV’s can get darned hot in the summer. These double pane windows can help a little bit.
- Tinted Windows – Another thing you can add to cut down on the heat in the RV. These also make the unit much, much darker so if camping and brightly lit RV is your thing, I might counsel against tinted windows.
- Second Air Conditioner – For really large RV’s a second air conditioner is really needed. You’ll have to have 50 amp service if you have the second AC.
- Second door in/out of the RV – I don’t have much to say about this. Both of our RV’s have second doors and we never used it much. I don’t have a strong opinion on this.
- Second bathroom – probably not worth the trouble. See my article on the value of the 2nd bathroom in an RV.
Amazon listings for camping trailer basics:
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