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RV Vs. Camper: What are the Differences?

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Recreational vehicles (RVs) and campers are both popular options for outdoor vacations and road trips. But what exactly is the difference between an RV and a camper?

At a basic level, An RV is fully enclosed vehicles that contain amenity for sleeping, cooking, and often bathroom, an RV has a built-in engine. Unlike an RV, A Camper is a towable unit that typically provide sleeping space and sometimes basic amenity like a kitchenette, but rely on external facilities for bathroom need and it requires another vehicle to tow it.

In this guide, we’ll do a deep dive into RVs and campers, covering:

  • Defining key differences between RVs and campers
  • Types of campers and their features
  • Types of RVs and their features
  • Pros and cons of both RVs and campers
  • How to choose between an RV or camper for your needs
  • Answering common questions about RVs and campers

By the end, you'll understand these two popular mobile living spaces and be able to decide whether an RV or camper is better for your vacationing needs. Let's get started!

Definitions: RV vs Camper

  • An RV (recreational vehicle) is defined as a motor vehicle or trailer that includes living quarters designed for accommodation. RVs are self-propelled and contain kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and dining facilities. They are intended as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, travel or seasonal use.

  • A camper is a type of RV that lacks an engine and must be towed by another vehicle to move it. Campers are not self-propelled. The two main types of campers are travel trailers and truck campers. Travel trailers connect to a hitch and truck campers slide into the bed of a pickup truck.

  • The main characteristics that differentiate RVs and campers are:

    • RVs have an engine and can drive themselves; campers must be towed

    • RVs are completely self-contained with all amenities; campers rely partially on external hookups

    • RVs can be used instantly upon arriving to a destination; campers need time to be set up at a campsite

    • RVs offer more independence and ability to cover distance; campers offer more affordability and flexibility in towing vehicle

  • While RVs can include travel trailers and other camper types, the term "RV" implies a self-propelled unit. The term "camper" refers specifically to non-motorized, towable units.

Types of Campers

Campers come in a variety of forms, designed for different purposes and preferences. Here are some of the most common types:

Pop-up Campers

Pop-up campers, also known as fold-down trailers or tent trailers, offer a compact and lightweight option. These campers have canvas sides that lift up and collapse for easy towing and storage. Sleeping space is typically limited to bunk beds. Pop-up campers provide basic amenities like a dinette, refrigerator, and stove at an affordable price point. Storage tends to be minimal.

Truck Campers

Truck campers are essentially a living unit that slides into the bed of a pickup truck, converting the truck into a self-contained RV. Truck campers combine the mobility of a truck with the functionality of a camper. They sleep 2-4 people and offer amenities like a kitchen, bathroom, and dinette in a compact package. Truck campers are maneuverable and can reach more remote campsites. However, they provide limited living space.

Travel Trailers

Travel trailers, also called bumper pull trailers, are towed behind a vehicle. They come in a huge range of sizes, from small 10' trailers to over 30' luxury models. Travel trailers offer ample living space, including bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, slide-outs, and more. Large holding tanks allow for dry camping. Travel trailers offer flexibility at a moderate price point compared to motorhomes. Towing and parking can be challenging with a long trailer.

Travel Trailers

Fifth Wheel Trailers

Fifth wheel trailers attach to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck, towing more stably than a travel trailer. With a front living area and rear bedroom, fifth wheels maximize living space while being maneuverable enough for camping. Larger models can have multiple slide-outs, lavish interiors, and high-end features. Fifth wheel trailers provide home-like accommodations at campgrounds but are bulky for storage and parking.

Fifth Wheel Trailers

Types of RVs

RVs come in many styles and configurations. The main types of RVs are:

Class A Motorhomes

Class A motorhomes are the largest and most luxurious type of RV. They are built on heavy duty truck or bus chassis and have a distinctive flat front profile. Class A motorhomes typically range from 20-45 feet long. The driving cab is integrated into the living space, so the interior feels very spacious. They offer full amenities like a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room. Many have slide outs, generators, and high-end finishes more like a home.

Class B Motorhomes

Class B motorhomes, also called camper vans, are the smallest type of RV. They are built using a van chassis like the Dodge Ram ProMaster or Mercedes Sprinter. Class B's range from around 16-22 feet long. The cab seats convert to a bed or sofa, and some have pop-up sleeping areas. They have basic amenities like a kitchenette and wet bath within a compact floorplan. Class B's are very maneuverable for easy driving.

Class C Motorhomes

Class C motorhomes fall in the middle between class A and B. They are built on a truck or van chassis with an attached camper living area. Class C's range from 20-34 feet long. The driving cab is separate from the living space. They have a unique overhang above the cab that often contains a sleeping space. Class C's offer full amenities with a flexible floorplan.

Advantages of Campers

Campers offer several key advantages compared to RVs:

  • More affordable to purchase and operate. Campers range from small pop-up trailers to truck campers, and generally cost much less than RVs both to buy and maintain over time. Fuel costs will also be lower thanks to better gas mileage. This makes campers accessible to a wider range of budgets.

  • Easier to drive and park. Campers are typically much smaller and lighter than RVs, with more maneuverability. Pop-up campers can be towed by many medium-sized sedans and SUVs, not just trucks. Parking and navigating tight spaces is easier without the bulk of a large RV.

  • Better gas mileage. The smaller size and weight of campers compared to RVs means better fuel efficiency. Gas costs will be lower over the lifetime of owning a camper versus RV.

  • More rugged/outdoorsy. Campers embrace rougher terrain and off-grid camping better than most RVs, which are designed more for comfort. The compact size lets you take a camper places you couldn't navigate in an RV. Their simpler systems also tend to be more reliable for boondocking or dry camping.

Advantages of RVs

RVs offer several key advantages over traditional campers:

More spacious and amenities - RVs provide much more interior space and room to move around compared to campers. They allow for separate living spaces like a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining area. RVs are equipped with amenities like hot water, air conditioning, generators, and entertainment systems. This makes them comfortable for extended trips and full-time living.

Self-contained - Most RVs have their own kitchen, bathroom, water tanks, and waste systems. This means you have access to running water, toilets, showers, and don't have to rely on external facilities. RVs can go truly off-grid and enable dry camping in remote areas.

Comfortable for full-time living - With their extra space and amenities, RVs can be used as a permanent residence. Retirees often use RVs to travel full-time. The beds, furniture, temperature control, and storage make full-timing feasible.

Bathroom and kitchen facilities - Bathrooms with flush toilets and hot showers are standard in most RVs. Kitchens feature sinks, stoves, refrigerators, ovens, and plenty of storage. These full facilities allow you to live just like you would at home.

Disadvantages of Campers

Campers generally offer less amenities and living space compared to RVs, which can make extended trips feel cramped. Here are some of the main downsides of campers:

  • Less amenities and living space - Campers are typically much smaller than RVs, with less amenities like kitchens, bathrooms, and sleeping areas. The limited space means campers can't comfortably support long trips or large groups.

  • Need to be hooked up to vehicle - Unlike self-contained RVs, campers rely on being connected to a vehicle to function. The camper doesn't have its own engine or generator, so you need a pickup truck or tow vehicle attached in order to power appliances, lights, HVAC, etc. Of course, you can use a Growatt solar generator as a power source. Currently, many camping enthusiasts and RV owners use solar generators as a free power supply.

  • Not self-contained - Without their own power and water supply, campers lack the self-contained convenience of RVs. You'll need to either connect to utilities at an RV park, or manually transport water and connect a generator. 

  • Less comfort/luxury - The more cramped quarters and lack of amenities in campers also lead to less comfort compared to the larger, better equipped interiors found in most RVs. Things like stand-up showers, full kitchens, and separate living spaces are rare in campers.

Disadvantages of RVs

Recreational vehicles come with some downsides to consider before purchasing. Here are some of the main disadvantages of RVs:

More Expensive to Buy and Operate - RVs are significantly more expensive to purchase than campers. Even small motorhomes can cost over $60,000, while large Class A models run well into the six-figures. In addition to the higher sticker price, RVs cost more for insurance, registration, maintenance and fuel over the lifetime of ownership. Expect to budget extra for expenses like engine repairs, new tires, cleaning supplies and propane.

Harder to Drive and Find Parking - Driving an RV is more difficult than a regular vehicle or even a truck camper. Their large size makes them harder to maneuver, especially on tight roads or in city environments. You'll need to account for the RV's turning radius, weight and clearance. Finding a suitable parking spot can also prove challenging with an RV's size. State and national parks often have length restrictions for sites or roads within the park. You may not be able to visit as many areas in an RV.

Lower Gas Mileage - Given their weight and size, most RVs suffer from poor gas mileage. Expect an average of just 6-12 MPG, which means frequent expensive fill ups. Gas costs add up quickly, making RVs less economical for long trips. The vehicle's aerodynamics and engine power greatly impact efficiency. You can try to use a Growatt solar generator as your power source.

Growatt solar generator

Not as Rugged - While some RV models have good ground clearance and 4WD capabilities, most are designed more for recreation than rugged off-road travel. Features like slide-outs or spacious interiors are prone to damage on uneven terrain or bumpy dirt roads. RVs generally do not have the ruggedness and durability of truck campers built for boondocking and dry camping. Careful route planning is required.

RV Vs. Camper Compare Chart

Aspect RVs Campers
Definition Fully enclosed vehicles with amenities for sleeping, cooking, and bathrooms. Towable units that provide sleeping space and basic amenities, requiring external facilities for bathrooms.
Propulsion Self-propelled; have an engine and can drive themselves. Not self-propelled; must be towed by another vehicle.
Amenities Complete with kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and dining facilities. Typically smaller with limited amenities like a kitchenette and sleeping space.
Instant Use Can be used instantly upon arriving at a destination. Require time to be set up at a campsite before use.
Independence Offer more independence and ability to cover distance. Offer more affordability and flexibility in towing vehicle.
Types Class A, Class B, Class C, Travel Trailers, Fifth Wheels. Pop-up Campers, Truck Campers, Travel Trailers, Fifth Wheels.
Size Range Ranges from 20-45+ feet in length. Ranges from under 10 feet to 40+ feet in length.
Price Range Starts around $75,000 and can exceed $500,000 for luxury models. Starts around $5,000 and goes up to $50,000 or more for higher-end models.
Driving Difficulty May be harder to drive and park due to larger size. Generally easier to drive and maneuver, especially with smaller sizes.
Fuel Efficiency Generally lower due to larger size and weight. Generally higher due to smaller size and lighter weight.
Maintenance Costs Typically higher due to more complex systems and components. Typically lower due to simpler construction and fewer components.
Setup Time Ready to use instantly upon arrival. Require setup time, usually around 10-30 minutes.
Living Space Offers more spacious interiors with separate living areas. Offers smaller, more compact interiors with limited living space.
Suitability for Full-time Living Suited for full-time living with amenities comparable to a home. Less suited for full-time living due to limited amenities and space.
Towing Not applicable; RVs are self-propelled. Requires a towing vehicle for transportation.
Usage Ideal for extended trips and full-time living. Ideal for short trips and occasional recreational camping.
Cost of Ownership Generally higher due to initial cost, maintenance, and fuel expenses. Generally lower due to lower initial cost, maintenance, and fuel expenses.

How to Choose Between RV and Camper

When deciding between purchasing an RV or camper, there are several key factors to consider:

Intended Use Case

  • What will you primarily use the vehicle for - weekend getaways, extended road trips, full-time living? Match the advantages of RVs and campers to your intended use.

  • RVs allow more freedom for full-time living and extended travel across the country. Campers are ideal for shorter trips and weekend getaways.

Group Size

  • How many people do you need to accommodate? RVs generally offer more space and can sleep 4+ people. Campers max out at 2-4 people.


  • RVs have higher upfront costs starting around $75,000+, while campers can be purchased for $15,000+. Calculate costs over time - financing, maintenance, gas mileage.


  • Do you prefer more amenities and comforts of home? Or a compact, outdoorsy experience? RVs lean towards home-like amenities while campers offer a more rugged experience.

Trip Duration

  • For short weekend trips, a camper may be easier to maneuver into campsites. RVs work better for longer vacations.


  • If towing with an existing vehicle, ensure it can safely handle the RV or camper's weight capacity and braking.

By weighing your priorities in these areas, you can determine if an RV or camper best matches your needs and budget. Test drive both to see which you feel most comfortable operating and living in.


What's the difference between a camper and a RV?

The main difference is that campers are typically smaller, lighter weight, and designed for occasional recreational camping. RVs are larger, heavier, fully featured living spaces intended for extended travel and full-time living. Campers attach to vehicles while RVs have their own engine and driving capabilities.

What are the different types of campers?

Common camper types include pop-up campers, truck campers, travel trailers, and fifth wheel campers. Pop-up campers fold down for travel then pop-up when parked. Truck campers sit in the bed of pickup trucks. Travel trailers are towed behind vehicles. Fifth wheel campers attach over the bed of pickup trucks.

What are the different types of RVs?

Major RV types are Class A, Class B, and Class C. Class A RVs are the largest, usually over 30 feet long. Class B RVs are van conversions optimized for maneuverability. Class C RVs are like Class A but built on truck frames making them more drivable.

How much can campers and RVs tow or carry?

It depends on the specific model, but small campers may carry 1,500 lbs while larger RVs can tow over 10,000 lbs. Always check manufacturer ratings for towing capacity. RVs generally offer more cargo room than campers.

What are the costs differences between campers and RVs?

Campers start around $5,000 for pop-ups and go up to $50,000 for fifth wheels. RVs start around $60,000 for Class C and can exceed $500,000 for luxury Class A models. Operating costs like gas and insurance are also higher for RVs.

How easy are they to drive and setup?

Campers attach to vehicles you already own making driving familiar. RVs handle differently than cars and initial driving takes adjustment. Campers take 10-30 mins to setup while RVs are ready instantly. But RVs require hookups while campers just need a flat spot.

Can I live in a camper or RV full-time?

While possible, full-time living is easier in RVs designed with year-round habitation in mind. Campers work best for short trips. Extended stays may require things like supplementary power sources. Some RVs have features for off-grid living.

What about maintenance costs?

Expect higher maintenance costs for RVs due to more parts and complex systems. But campers require maintenance on both the trailer and tow vehicle. RVs can cost thousands annually for repairs. Both benefit from DIY skills.

How easy is it to find spots to park them?

Finding parking is a common frustration. Campers fit in more sites, but space is still limited. RVs have fewer options and may not fit older campgrounds. Planning ahead and having flexible dates helps. Consider RV membership parks with guaranteed spots.

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