Camper Trailer versus Tent

Is it necessary to upgrade from a tent to a camper trailer?

It is not an east question to answer.  A lot depends on the individual’s needs and wants.  After years of camping in tents, I purchased a camper trailer a few years ago.  I bought it second hand with the intention of using it as a test model to help decide whether I the outlay on a decent camper trailer was worth it.  Well, after 3 years I still have the same camper trailer.  It is a very basic off road model, not particularly well made, but I have used it on at least 2 dozen occasions.  I have towed it long distances, over gravel and dirt roads as well as bitumen, through creek beds and over some horrible rocky ground, and it’s still going strong.  It has suited my needs quite well.

Up until I bought the camper trailer though, I was quite happy using a tent.  Tents can be purchased in any desirable size, from single man tents, right up to three or even four room monsters that will accommodate the largest family and have room for all their gear.  They are also extremely portable and take up very little space when stored.  The main reason I opted for the camper trailer was due to the nylon tents instability in windy weather.  They would rarely fall down (although this did happen on occasions), but even a moderate breeze would have them flapping and bending all over the place. 

I could have purchased a decent canvas tent, but I was after a little storage space and an area in which to sit if it rained.  A decent size canvas tent that provided all this was quite expensive, up around AU$2000.  The smaller traveller types which are a two man or, at a squeeze, a 3 man canvas tent were good, but they generally consisted of just sleeping space with no shelter over the door.  Even so, they were around AU$1000.

In the end, I went with the second hand camper trailer, paying about AU$3000 for it.

Now, some of the advantages and disadvantages of both which might help you decide.



Portability is the major advantage of a tent.  Even the large ones fold down to a reasonable size and are easily enough transported in a normal family sedan.  Because of their small size, when folded, they are easily stored.

Tent(52729)Credit: Steven Pike

Unless you opt for a very large canvas tent, they are relatively inexpensive and have become even more so in recent years.  The nylon tents made by reputable manufacturers are very hard wearing and will last a long time.  They are not susceptible to rot like a canvas tent either and they dry out in next to no time.

Tents are usually very easy to erect.  The long, thin bendy fibreglass poles that most use these days are strong and simple to insert. 

Because they are so easy to erect, it is simple enough to move camp sites if the need arises.  Same applies if your site is suddenly in danger of becoming flooded; it is a simple to move the tent.

Little room is required for the placement of your tent, especially of there is only one or two of you.  All that is required is a small area of relatively flat ground free from large sticks and rocks.


The nylon tents, whilst secure enough in light winds, move around and flap a lot if the wind increases.  They are designed to move, hence the long, skinny, flexible poles, but if you are being continually buffeted by squally winds, this can become very annoying.  A canvas tent with the rigid poles could be a solution to this however.

Try putting your tent back in the bag it came in after you have used it the first time.  Quite often impossible.  I have usually ended up using the bag for something else and tying the tent with a strap of kind.

You don’t have to tow a tent so there are no registration and insurance costs.  You save a little on fuel as well, not towing a camper trailer behind your vehicle.

The nylon tents, although strong, can tear if you stretch them too tightly whilst pegging them in.  The canvas tents can rot if they are not dried completely before storing them.

There is no ‘bed’ in a tent, so you will have to drag whatever you sleep on, an air mattress or camp stretcher for example, along with you.



Storage is the big one.  Most have plenty of room in the trailer underneath the canvas tent.  You can pile the rest of your camping gear, fishing gear, chairs, sleeping bags and anything else you like In this space, which of course saves room in your vehicle.  There are usually brackets on the sides of the trailer where water or fuel containers can be stored.  Some trailers have a tool box secured to the top of the A-frame, along with another bracket for you gas cylinder.

Camper TrailerCredit: Steven Pike

The tent supplied with even the most basic camper trailer (like mine) has an annex type set-up which is useful for shelter.  My trailer came with a tarpaulin floor for this section and zip up sides, so if the weather is horrible, I can enclose this section too, effectively adding another room.

The tent is canvas and the frame rigid so even in strong winds, it is unlikely to collapse.  If pegged tight, is does not flap around in the wind.

The bed provided with these types of trailers is usually only a board that sits on top of the trailer with a mattress thrown on top of the board.  However, the bed is very comfortable and there is no need to remove the mattress; it stays in the tent when it is folded.


The cost would be the main disadvantage.  Ranging in price from around AU$2000 second hand, right up to AU$40,000 or more for a top of the range, off road camper trailer.

Because you are towing a trailer then there are registration and insurance costs to consider.

You will need somewhere to store it, preferably out of the rain.  The camper trailer I bought had only been used once, but because the owners had left it in their yard exposed to the elements for over a year, the cover was faded and dirty; the trailer actually looked like it was ten years old.

Off-road camper trailers are considerably more expensive than their on road camper counterparts.

Small, hard to get to spots may be out of reach of your vehicle whilst towing a trailer.  I enjoy camping on the Southern Ocean Beach, but towing a trailer through the coastal sand dunes is not easy and fraught with danger.  I take a tent.

If on an extended trip, your fuel costs may increase significantly due to the trailer.

If camping alone, then camper trailers are more difficult to erect than tents. 

Your camp site will generally need to be larger than a site for tent. 

Although I use the camper trailer more often now, I still have three tents.  I prefer to have both and still have a need for both.  I recently purchased a ‘pop-up’ tent, which basically springs into shape once you remove it from its flat, round bag.  Four pegs and a couple of ropes are all that hold it down, and it only just sleeps my son and me.  However, we intend to travel the Oodnadatta Track, which is 600 kilometres of dirt road along an historic railway line, and the route which Aboriginal People used to take to reach Central Australia from South Australia.  The road is rough and the camp sites basic.  We will only be staying at each site for one night.  The ‘pop-up’ tent will suit our needs perfectly. 

The camper trailer would probably fall apart (It’s not a very good one) and the fuel costs will be kept down if we leave it at home.

Comfort wise, the camper trailer wins easily.  From a portability aspect though the tent rules.  If you are an occasional camper, a tent would be ideal.  If you camp often and desire a little more security and comfort, a camper trailer may be the way to go.