Are Tents or RVs the Best Camping Option?

Tent beside Lake Audy: Photojourneys.ca

Last Updated on February 23, 2022

Tent camping at Lake Audy, Manitoba >> Photojourneys.ca
Room with a view. Camping beside Audy Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba.

While much of the travel industry has been devastated by the pandemic, camping has seen tremendous growth. Campgrounds are filled with everything from tents to truck campers, trailers, vans, and motorhomes that can dwarf a city bus. Each option has its pros and cons.

Tents provide the greatest flexibility

Tents remain the classic option. They allow us to stay in places not otherwise accessible, such as idyllic lakeside sites on a canoe trip or mountain-top locations on backpacking outings. Wilderness campers worry less when campgrounds are booked up or crowded. Tenting also has advantages on road trips, with some campgrounds offering walk-in tent sites in prime spots. One we like fairly close to home for us is Namekus Lake in Prince Albert National Park, where a few walk-in sites are situated right on the beach.

Camping on the south shore of Lake Athabasca, Saskatchewan: Photojourneys.ca
Camping on the beach on Lake Athabasca in northern Saskatchewan. Having a tent makes it possible to go places like this.

Tents are the most affordable way to camp. They range from cheap models best suited to fair-weather summer trips to pricier models built to withstand storms on Mount Everest. Even if you buy a better model, plus all the equipment that goes with it, the cost is still less than other options. No special vehicle is needed and many campgrounds charge less for tenting sites than for RV sites.

In our experience, don’t skimp on the quality of your mattress because it can make or break your tenting enjoyment. Air mattresses have improved significantly in recent years, so research the choices carefully.

Car camping with a tent near the Red Deer River in Empress, Alberta: Photojourneys.ca
Car camping with a tent near the Red Deer River in Empress, Alberta.

Tenting has its cons, such as finding a lump-free level spot, fewer amenities and coping with bad weather. While a decent tent can withstand rain, setting up or taking down a tent in wet weather isn’t a lot of fun.

Truck campers

We divide our camping trips between tenting and using our truck camper, depending on where we’re going and the time of year. When you already have a truck for other uses, a camper becomes a practical choice. It offers conveniences such as a stove, fridge, heater and electrical connections, but with less expense than a motorhome, van, or large trailer.

Pop-up truck camper in Rocky Mountains: Photojourneys.ca
We especially like using a truck camper in the fall when we might get an early snowfall or cold weather.

We’re especially sold on pop-up campers, which are similar to normal truck campers except the roof folds down to just above the truck cab. It doesn’t catch the wind as much, resulting in better stability and fuel economy.
It takes only a couple of minutes to crank up the top and have the same headroom as a full-size camper.

Another bonus is that we can still travel anywhere we could go in our unloaded truck, making it ideal for exploring off the beaten path. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find pop-up campers. Despite their advantages, they aren’t plentiful. Used ones in good shape are quickly snapped up.

Pop-up truck camper: Photojourneys.ca
A pop-up truck camper is handy for road trips since the lower profile doesn’t catch the wind as much as a full-size camper.

Roof-top tents for trucks or SUVs provide another option. These have been very popular in southern Africa for many years, especially for trips to wildlife parks, but are only beginning to catch on in Canada. They are quick to set up and fold to a compact size. No need to worry about finding a level, rock-free spot for your tent. However, it can be a nuisance to climb a ladder to go in and out, and they are pricier than a regular tent.

Roof-top camper, Marakele National Park, South Africa: Photojourneys.ca
A roof-top tent at the campground in Marakele National Park, South Africa. Being high off the ground has its advantages when big critters are around. But the way, we were in our regular tent in this campground, which proved quite exciting. Read about that experience here.

Trailers, vans, and motorhomes

Trailers are especially suited for longer stays in one spot where you can unhook your tow vehicle and travel around to see the sights. A recent trend has been the development of more compact, lightweight trailers that are well-equipped but can be towed by smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles. With soaring gas prices, this trend will likely continue.

Campground in Montana: Photojourneys.ca
Campground in Montana with camping units from big to small and everything in between.

A travel van or motorhome provides the ultimate in convenience ¬ something used only for travel. The main drawback is cost, with another vehicle to license, insure and maintain, plus the big units won’t bypass many gas stations. A large RV is less practical for exploring minor backroads and some parks restrict large RVs or trailers from certain roads.

Glamping

A growing trend is “glamping,” a term derived from glamorous camping. It usually refers to something already set up in a campground with more amenities than a regular tent. Most familiar in Canada are the oTENTiks in national parks. A cross between a frame tent and a small cabin, they can sleep up to six and come with mattresses, table and chairs, electricity and sometimes a heater and gas barbecue.

Otentik, Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario: Photojourneys.ca
Camping in an oTENTik in Pukaskwa National Park on the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario. The oTENTiks in national parks across Canada have the same basic design.

Many provincial parks and private campgrounds have added similar choices. These provide an attractive alternative for those who like more comfort, want to camp only occasionally, or don’t have their own gear.

Yurt at Mount Logan Lodge, Yukon: Photojourneys.ca
A yurt at Mount Logan Lodge, Yukon. Plain on the outside but luxurious on the inside.

The best camping choice depends on your circumstances, budget, and how and where you like to travel. A single person or couple will likely have different needs than a large family. Fortunately, we have more camping options today than ever before.

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