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Tent vs RV camping

Updated: Jul 9

Most seasoned campers have their preferences set in stone. However, if you are considering a change, or you are a newbie, you'll need some basic facts. An informed decision is always better than winging it. Below are the basics, and some

pros and cons, of both sides.

Easiest to set up: This depends on how elaborate you want your set up to be, as well as how much money you want to spend. For instance, most pop up tents can be set up in less than 10 minutes, by yourself. On the flip side, there's the large moveable RV's, where no set up is necessary. However, there's always more to the story on both sides.

While the vast majority of all tents can be pitched anywhere an RV is, these can be simple or complex as well. Small pop ups need to be expanded, and set up for the sleeping or living room areas. Larger tents need more work to stake down, set up awnings, etc.

For RV's, there's the motorhomes on wheels that can drive your vaca home with everything already in place. But then there are the large, fancy RV's with expandable awnings, ATV storage, or unhooking a spare car you were towing (and much more work to be done). 

In general, the bigger the tent or RV, the longer it takes to set up. 

Basic Comforts: There are two different comforts to consider here: daytime and night time. 

Daytime - are you a hiker, biker, fisher, horseback rider? Don't plan on spending much time at camp? Then this section may not be a major factor for you.

However, if you foresee yourself relaxing in your makeshift hammock, or reading in a lounge chair under a tree, or perhaps visiting with family and friends, then you'll want to consider what you need to make that happen. Obviously, outside would be best. For example, do you have, or need, shade? Tents don't provide this. Most RV's do.

Plus, always factor in the weather. Where will everyone go if the wind starts up, or an unexpected rain storm comes? Having some place ready in advance helps to prevent misery. This is where even a small, older trailer is better than a tent.

Night time - usually the most common complaint is the bed. Can you sleep anywhere on the ground? Or, is a Serta mattress mandatory? Most tents can be fitted with an air or foam mattress on the ground, or even just a sleeping bag. Trailers and RV's can accommodate any type of mattress you want, even a pillow top Serta. 

Bathroom Facilities

Is finding a tree to crouch next to not a problem for you? Or do you need the privacy of walls and a seat to relax on? Is pouring a bottle of water over your hands and face to wash up in the morning sufficient, or do you need warm running water to keep you civilized? Can you slip on a hat or bandana for days on end without washing, or is a day without your curling iron too much to fathom? Only you know your limits.

Most camping sites do provide port-a-potties nowadays, so roughing it out in the woods doesn't have to be the only option, if you are using a tent. Just don't plan on them being as clean as you're used to back home. Plus, for tenters, you can make your own portable potty behind a tarp.

If the thought of all this grosses you out, even older camper trailers have a toilet, at the least, and some even have sinks and outlets.

Camping Costs

There are three types of costs to be aware of: 1. the cost to accessorize your tent or motorhome; 2. the cost to reserve a space at a campground; 3. the initial cost to buy the tent or RV.

1 - Accessorizing tents and RV's vary wildly, but for the most part, tents are by far the cheapest. For a tent, it can be as simple as a tarp and a sleeping bag. Or you can go all out with tables, chairs, washing stations, portable potties, portable showers, lighting, cooking station, pop up tarps for shade, etc. For a trailer, most people buy items to stay in their motorhome permanently to cut down on packing. So, you'll need bed sheets/pillows/blankets, then plates/cups/utensils for the kitchen, pots and pans to cook on, bathroom towels, outdoor chairs to relax get the picture. Fortunately, you just have to buy them once.

2 - Campground costs aren't outrageous, unless you plan on camping year round. Short stints are definitely cheaper than hotels. Tent camping is the winner here, as it can range from free (out in the wild) to an average of $20/night in Nat'l parks. Can't beat that. For an RV, the average cost at a Nat'l park is $60/night with deals for booking in advance or for extended stays, or for just the bare necessities.

3 - Initial costs here can be shockingly different. It's probably no surprise that tents are by far less expensive. A good quality brand new 2-person tent will run $50-$250. However, a brand new pop-up trailer, the cheapest of the 4 types of trailers (pop-up trailers, trailer campers, RV 5th wheels, and a driving RV/motorhome) costs around $12K on sale, while the luxurious motorhomes can be upwards of $150K! It's all about the budget.

What's For Supper?

Where to cook? Do you know how to cook over a campfire, using tinfoil or Dutch ovens? Can you live off canned or boxed food from a cooler for your whole trip? There are portable stoves that run off propane, too, if you need hot food. 

Would you prefer the stove that's pre-equipped in an RV, along with running water and a fridge? Some have ovens and microwaves, too.

Social Niceties

This is a section mostly about wants, not needs. All of these can be done without, depending on your tolerance for being out in the wild like Grizzly Adams. We all have our limits. Here are a few:

1. Shade - most people forget this. If you are tenting and you aren't near trees, you'll need to bring your own shade canopy, or a tarp to string up. For RV'ers, many have attached awnings that roll out from the side, or can even be installed.

2. Electricity - If you have a tent, you can hook up to your car, or buy a portable generator, or a very large battery. For motorhomes, they already have batteries, or you can attach small solar units. 

3. A/C or Heat - for a tent, you can use the campfire, or hook up a small portable heater to your car. Don't drain your car battery, though. For motorhomes, fortunately they are equipped, usually with both. 

4. Weather Protection - Sudden strong winds, hard rain or even snow can make staying in a tent quite miserable. This is where RV's shine. Just close the door and start reading that book or playing cards...

5. Noise - Love the sound of rain? Tenting may be your thing? Hopefully, the sound of crickets and birds and strangers walking nearby are also soothing to you. Need silence to get to sleep? RV's can significantly dim the sound of the noisy group nearby laughing till the wee hours.

6. Storage - both tents and camping trailers can have this, just in different ways. Large plastic totes are great for both, but mostly for tents, as you have to make all your own storage. RV's have some built in storage, sometimes in very ingenious places. However, extra storage bins are never a bad thing.

Well there you have it. I've given you some brief info on the basics of tent versus RV camping. I hope this will help guide you in your decision making process. Perhaps it will even steer you towards us in Show Low, so you can experience our gorgeous scenery and small town life. Whatever you choose, get outside and enjoy our country and the fresh air.

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