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In hindsight, my wife and I should have done more research and read more articles before we bought our first camper. If we had spent the proper time looking into it and debating the pros and cons, I’m sure we would have bought something a bit bigger right away. Our decision was based primarily on two things. The first was the look of the camper (it was a good-looking camper), the second was my hesitation to tow anything larger than a Jon Boat. Up to that point in my life the largest thing I had towed was a vehicle dolly, without the vehicle on it. I had it in my mind that whatever we bought had to be short and light, no matter what my tow vehicle could handle.
Twelve months after that purchase we were in the dealer lot trying to figure out the largest trailer that the dealer would allow me to hook on the back of my vehicle. I had become an expert (in my own mind) in towing and had handled many difficult conditions (mostly of my own making) and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle anymore. It’s just amazing what a little confidence can do when faced with so many options.
So, to avoid the same mistake that saddled us, I’ve come up with my own personal list of things to consider when determining the size of your first trailer purchase.
- What can your tow-vehicle handle?
Obviously, this is the first thing on this list. Nothing below matters unless this is considered. Do your research. Look up the towing capacity, tongue weight capacity, read forums by owners that own the same vehicle as you. Believe me, if you want to try it, someone has done it. And even better, they are willing to tell you how good or bad it went. And just because your tow vehicle is rated at 5,500 lbs that doesn’t mean you go out and purchase a 5,500 lb trailer, hook it up to your store-bought hitch and roll on out. The trailers weight is based on dry weight. Meaning empty of water, waste and anything you want to put in it such as kitchenware or clothes or food. If you ever want to boondock you will probably be bringing freshwater and possibly a generator, neither of which are lightweight. All these add-ons should be taken into account as extra weight on top of the trailer weight. Additionally, once that trailer weight gets to be about 50% or more of your vehicle weight, you’ll want to get a weight distribution hitch, which isn’t a huge cost, but it is a cost nonetheless.
- Who and what will be in it?
Listen, we all love our family (at times) but there is a difference between love and tolerance when in confined spaces. In a camper you “love” your family when you can go outside and get away from them any time. You “tolerate” them when you have been stuck inside for six hours during a rainstorm, so consider this when thinking of size. You can easily look at a camper and say: “It’s a bit snug for the 5 of us but we will only be sleeping in it so who cares”. You know who cares? You do when you have been on the road for a week and its rained four of the seven days.
If you have to fold up a bed to get to the kitchen or bathroom, or if your daughter is sleeping where you plan on eating breakfast and she is the last one to wake, this isn’t the end of the world, but you may act like it is after a week. And just because little Timmy fits perfectly in that shelf in the cupboard at bedtime doesn’t mean that Timmy will always fit in that shelf.
- Will you be having guests?
If you go camping to get away from the hustle and bustle of your daily life and want to leave home at home, then there is no need to consider this question. We enjoy camping alone as a family, but we also enjoy having friends along at times. Some of our friends have their own trailer, some of them sleep in tents, and some of them would rather sleep in the trailer. For those that don’t have their own accommodations, then they will be bunking with you! We considered this when we purchased our trailer. We have three kids plus my wife and I. The trailer we purchased can accommodate ten people. It’s tight, or “snug” as I put it earlier, but in a short time window adding five more people is doable.
- Where will you be cooking and dining?
In three years I believe I have personally cooked in our trailer one time. This does not include microwaving popcorn. I do however use our outdoor kitchen all the time. Even when it is below thirty degrees I prefer to cook outside. It’s roomier and no one is in my way, it doesn’t smell up the camper, and cleanup is much easier. Whether you have a built-in outdoor kitchen or a portable stove, or if you just enjoy cooking on the fire. Outside is best in my opinion. That being said, if you would prefer to cook inside make sure it is a kitchen that will work for you. None of them will be perfect but look for counter space and cabinet space.
- Where will you be bathing?
That’s assuming you will be bathing. I’m not judging you if not. I go many days without bathing when camping. But on occasion I feel the need to (or the wife begs me to) and this is something that you need to consider. Really there are the three options.
- shower outside of the camper (outdoor shower attached to camper)
- shower in the comfort station (campground bathhouse)
- shower in the camper
- If you answered “1”, that’s great. Showering outdoors is awesome on a warm summer or spring day or if you want to use it to hose down your kids before letting them back in the camper after a mud-soaked trip to the creek. But at times in might not be a beautiful spring day or your site might be a bit too close to your neighbors site. And you may not be convinced that shower curtain will hold up to a slight breeze much less a stiff wind. So, there is a possibility you will be much more “closer” with your neighbor at the end of your shower than you care to be. You will probably want another option.
- If you chose “2”, that’s great as well. Most of the state park comfort stations are fairly clean and either cooled or heated depending on the time of year. With the private campgrounds I have found it to be a bit more of a gamble. So, make sure you bring flip flops along and if you are at all a germaphobe then you will probably need to shower with your eyes closed.
- If you chose “3”, then you’re in luck because almost all campers come with an indoor “shower” of some kind these days. I did use quotes above so here comes the qualifier. Shower is a broad term with some of these models. The first camper we bought had a toilet/shower combo. Sounds great huh? This means you shower with your toilet. Meaning you could effectively shower while on the toilet of you were in to that kind of thing. In the year that we owned it we never once used the shower in that trailer. Many of the other models larger than 16 ft have a separate shower but even then, I encourage you to step into the actual shower, close the curtain, raise your head and pretend you are doing your business. If you can reach all the areas of your body that need to be reached, then you have a shower that will work. If you cannot bend over to reach the dropped soap without your rear end going outside of the shower, you may want to reconsider.
- Where will you be in a few years?
Will your kids be off to college and not going on trips with the family quite as much? Will your kids be having their own kids and want to pawn their brood off on you for a weekend while you camp? Will you be retiring and using the camper more and therefore want some more space? All of these could be valid reasons to stay small or go big. It’s not to say you can’t upgrade or downgrade any time. Campers don’t hold their value very well but not much does these days.
6 ½ Site Size
This is only worthy of half a number, but most campgrounds offer multiple size sites. Sometimes those range from 20’ to 50” foot sites. The longer the trailer the more limited the options so finding last minutes sites can be more difficult than a 20” trailer that can fit into any site.
What were the things you considered you made your first purchase? Comment below