Skip to main content

Is Camping a Demotion from RVing?

For somebody who has experienced both sides of it, the short answer to the title question is 'yes'. But it's in the interest of some RVers to trick it into a 'no'. That is my current project.

By 'camping' I mean short-term sleeping/hauling/sitting in a sub-RV, as opposed to 365 days per year of living/walking in a big RV. I might want to camp for as long as one month, a few hours drive from where I live permanently in an RV park in my no-longer-roadworthy travel trailer.

In part, this is motivated by cost. Time will tell if the RV racket adjusts to smaller RVs (or sub-RVs) over the next decade because of gasoline inflation. Since gasoline will take many hard-to-predict ups and downs, it might seem foolish to worry about it now, especially if you're a 65-year-old retiree. Many of them have plenty of money, although not so much time, so gasoline can only get so bad for them.

The early retiree's tradeoffs are just the opposite. Guarding his nest egg requires him to be a "commodity speculator," or the world and Chance will do it for him. It seems like a no-lose choice to opt for the small RV or the sub-RV.

I am heartily sick of feeding and maintaining a V8 engine that gets single digit fuel economy in stop-and-go traffic in town, or on mountainous or washboarded roads in the back country, where most of the gasoline gets consumed. (I don't care about highway fuel economy.) The short answer is that this requires a single vehicle with no towing; I need a mini-van or small pickup truck with a shell/cap. (Not a slide-in pickup camper.)

But let's not get too bogged down on costs without first asking, Why would sub-RV camping be a better experience than big RV "camping"? The latter is certainly comfortable, but there is little sense of adventure in camping in RV parks or established campgrounds. Of course you could be happy with non-adventurous camping and get your excitement-fix from what you do during the day, as Wandrin does with his hiking. 

I had over a decade of camping with a 40 foot long RV, and enjoyed almost all of it. One of my co-conspirators, Box Canyon Blog, thinks I got tired of it, but acknowledging the Point of Diminishing Returns is different from "getting tired" of it. So is refusing to buy a second full RV setup. I want a new style, a different kind of challenge, and easier camping on public lands. (I don't care for city streets and parking lots.)

What is it about a rawer and less-comfortable camping experience that is worth aiming at? What would make it a more memorable and intense experience? That's the real issue. Next time.


I think van camping would beat pickup topper camping most of the time. Van's would have more head room, for one... so you can sit at a table and read or blog etc.. But they are more costly... in general, and less efficient. If you put a calculator to how much you will actually travel, you might find that a few miles per gallon difference in gas milage is not going to have a huge impact on your budget. Unless you will be heading off to canada or some far place, it's more psychological than real. We traveled coast to coast, border to border in a single digit, comfortable rig for a year and a half and it only cost a few thousand extra dollars... like three or four.
get out the calculator.
I must be pretty far gone if an artsie type has to remind me to be rational and quantitative.(grin.) You're, right: driving 6000 miles per year in some kind of camping machine would not hurt that much in the wallet, regardless of its fuel economy. Quality of camping matters more.

You're right again: pickup trucks have such high cargo bed floors that the headroom (with a standard shell)is unlivable. A shell that is higher than the roof of the cab would be required.

Sigh. If only the Ford Transit Connect van didn't have tires the size of a child's bicycle; the ground clearance is no better than a passenger car.
Anonymous said…
Don't have any answers, but I'm all ears. As a potential early retiree on a limited budget, I'm trying to figure this out. I like the idea of comfort and convenience in an rv (van, small class c, or travel trailer set up). But, I hate debt and kind of get epileptic just thinking about dipping into funds for something like that. It’s possible to pick up a used rig, but potentially ambiguous mechanical troubles are the worst. I remember having cars with strange problems, holding my breath when turning the key, and exhaling when it finally started up -- especially out in the middle of nowhere. My thoughts now are to begin with tent camping in my econo car, check out the lifestyle, and see how it all works out. I like the Ford Transit idea too. bethers
bethers, If you're a newbie it's a good idea to err on the side of frugality. You can always get something bigger and better in a year or two IF the lifestyle is enjoyable.

But if you're not enjoying yourself you must ask yourself if your rig is causing the problem, or is it the lifestyle itself.

My guess is that mere discomfort and lack of space in a rig won't detract from your enjoyment of the lifestyle until you've been doing it for a year or two.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the info. Yeah, I’m pretty much a newb. I’ve camped before, but nothing long term. Have you ever seen Phil Garlington’s site, the “Rancho Costa Nada” guy? He’s big into frugal living and tent camping, really funny too.
Anonymous said…
You're probably familiar with this site, but if not, this may be something to consider; a smaller pickup with a light pop-up camper. Low profile, better gas milage, easy to pop-up for headroom and quite manageable everywhere.
No, Carl, I didn't know of the website you recommended, Their XP Camper was pretty interesting, especially the height band where the fabric expansion was.

I think I'm interested in a light-duty, 4 cylinder pickup truck that couldn't even support the XP Camper. I'll probably go with just a shell/cap, rather than a slide-in (heavier) camper.
Anonymous said…
Personally I like the XP platform but you're correct, it is very expensive fully outfitted and it's recommended by the builder to use a 1 ton truck. It's a purpose built, long stay, pop-up boondocking camper. The smaller 4 Wheel Camper is best suited for the 4 banger and is more affordable and considerably lighter. The small truck and cap is certainly a viable alternative but if you want a few more creature comforts at a reasonable price I wouldn't rule out the 4WC. Also Marc at XP is looking at a small truck version of the big brother but I imagine it will be a while before it's on the market. Just throwing out a couple of ideas on what's out there.