What’s the Difference Between Camper Trailers and Caravans?

Caravan being towed down freeway

Are you ready to leave your old-school tent behind and take your camping game to the next level?

You might be wondering which camping setup is right for you between a caravan and a camper trailer. 

Luckily, this handy article is here to explain the difference between camper trailers and caravans and help you decide which option is right for you.

We'll dig into the pros and cons, as well as the different questions you should ask yourself when weighing up your options.

Let's get started with a few definitions. 

What Exactly Is A Caravan?

Caravan being towed down freeway

Caravans and Camper Trailers are both living spaces that you hook up to another vehicle and tow to your campsite.

The main distinguishing feature of a caravan is that it has hard sides and a hard top and it requires little to no set-up. Simply park, unhook your caravan from your tow vehicle, and you're ready to go!

Many caravans are fully self-contained, with generous kitchens, showers, toilets, and living spaces inside, allowing you to camp in relative luxury. Some caravans feature self-sufficient solar or battery setups, and others can be connected to power at a powered caravan park/camping site.

Caravans can be as small as 3 metres or as long as 10 metres. 

What Exactly Is A Camper Trailer?

X1 Camper Trailer being towed off-road

Camper trailers are generally smaller, lighter, and more compact than caravans. A basic camper trailer will also be much cheaper than a fully self-contained caravan. All camper trailers will require some level of set-up, with many features that slide out, pop out, pop up or fold out.

Your starter camper trailer is what's known as a "soft floor camper".

When you're towing a soft floor camper, it looks like a trailer, and when you set it up at the campsite, it folds out into a large tent with a bed. A queen/double bed is located on the trailer part of the structure, meaning it's elevated off the ground. Any extra people sleep in the main tent area on the soft floor with a blow-up mattress or sleeping bag - just like in a standard tent.

Soft floor camper trailers typically include an extendable awning for added undercover space as well as extra storage. They may include outdoor kitchens that slide out or swing out from the design and feature powered cooking facilities.

The next step up is a "hard floor camper".

These camper trailers are much like the soft floor variety, with a bed on the trailer and the main tent providing space for air mattresses and sleeping bags. The only difference is that the rest of the tent is also on a hard floor, which is slightly elevated off the ground. This ensures no one sleeps directly on the ground. Hard floor campers also include features like awnings and swing-out kitchens.

For a great example of a hard floor camper, check out the X3 from Patriot Campers. You can also explore their excellent collection of Patriot soft floor campers!

Beyond this, you're looking at some sort of a "hybrid camper trailer".

Hybrid campers bring you closer to the caravan experience while still maintaining the lighter and more compact design of a camper trailer. Hybrid campers often look more like mini caravans when you're towing them rather than trailers. That's because they are built with more indoor living in mind. They tend to have a solid base as well as hard walls, just like a caravan.

Hybrid camper trailers often have a dining and lounge area, with an outdoor kitchen design. The most premium hybrid campers will feature tea and coffee-making facilities, showers and toilets, fridges and freezers, plenty of storage, and more. They are typically powered by batteries, solar panels, and similar advanced setups, just like caravans. Just like the other camper trailers, hybrids include an extendable awning for more indoor-outdoor living spaces.

You can explore a range of hybrid campers for sale here, and check out the Lifestyle Campers range to see the pinnacle of all hybrid camper trailers!

The Blurred Lines Between Caravans and Camper Trailers

As camper trailers become more and more advanced, they get closer to caravans in design. 

Slimline trailers that fold out to provide a tent, a bed, and a few creature comforts are definitely camper trailers. And larger, fully contained living spaces that you tow to a campsite and require virtually no set-up are definitely conventional caravans.

But some products advertise themselves as hybrid caravans, pop-top caravans, or expandable caravans and are very similar to modern hybrid campers. They offer a smaller footprint with features that pop up, pop out, or otherwise expand from the main design!

At the end of the day, it's less important to understand what's a camper and what's a caravan, and more important to make sure you're getting exactly what you want.

With that in mind, let's look at a few of the core differences that usually set these products apart.

First, Let's Talk about Towing

The most important thing to consider when buying a caravan or camper trailer is towing. You need to ensure you can tow your trailer or caravan legally and safely. You also need to ensure your tow vehicle (the car you're driving) is up to the task of towing your cargo. The last thing you want is to buy a new caravan only to realise you also need to buy a new car!

Generally speaking, caravans will be harder to tow than camper trailers because they are larger, longer, wider, and heavier vehicles. A standard 5-door sedan might not be enough to tow a caravan, but it will have a much easier time with most camper trailers.

Of course, bigger hybrid campers will have more demanding towing requirements.

It's also worth noting that if you're towing a load of 750kg or more, you will legally require an electric brake controller in your car. This device automatically activates the brakes in your trailer or caravan when you hit the brakes in your car, providing additional safety while towing.

If you don't want to think too much about towing requirements, a camper trailer like one from the Patriot Campers range might be perfect for you!

In any case, make sure you do some towing research before you buy. Look at your car and the specifics of the product you're looking to buy to figure out what you can safely and legally tow.

Next, Let's Look at Your Budget

When it comes to upfront costs, neither caravans nor camper trailers are what you would call cheap compared to a basic tent, but the camping experience you get is highly elevated in comparison!

A camper trailer can be cheaper than or close to the price of a caravan depending on the features you’re looking for and the model you choose. Every camper and caravan will come with its own price range, and a high-end hybrid camper trailer can cost more than a low-end caravan. Additionally, a camper trailer is more likely to need upgrades to meet your requirements, such as add-on solar and battery setups so you can power all the appliances that come camping with you!

Where you’re really going to be making most of your price comparisons is between Australian-made camper trailers and overseas models. Overseas models can be significantly cheaper - but buyer beware! When it comes to included features, longevity, reliability, and workmanship, Australian-made camper trailers stand head and shoulders above cheap imports!

As well as upfront costs, you need to think about any ongoing costs associated with your purchase.

Petrol is one of the biggest ongoing costs, and camper trailers are generally far more fuel-efficient because they're a lighter load to tow.

You'll probably also want to buy insurance for your new camper or caravan. You'll also need to think about maintenance costs and any costs to store it when not in use if you don't have the space at home.

For each of these considerations, a heavier, more complicated vehicle (i.e., a caravan) is likely to be more expensive. 

It's About WHERE You Want to Travel and HOW You Want to Camp

When you think about the "Where’s" and "How’s" of your ideal camping trip, it will quickly become clear whether a camper trailer or a caravan is right for you.

For example:

WHERE do you want to go camping?

Do you enjoy camping at caravan parks and powered camping sites, or would you prefer to go as far off the grid as possible?


The further out you go, the more you need to account for things like fresh water supply, solar power, and battery backups. On the other hand, if you're headed to a powered site, all you need to do is plug in your caravan to 240-volt power to enjoy all the benefits.

Both caravans and camper trailers can be equipped for off-grid camping, but you'll need to make sure your camper or caravan is set up to meet your exact needs.

HOW much do you want to go off-road?

While caravans and camper trailers can both go off-grid, there's only so far that a caravan can go off-road. Most caravans are not set up for off-roading due to their size, weight, suspension, and a range of other factors.

On the other hand, it's much easier to take a small, slimline, lightweight camper trailer off the beaten track.

If you're going to buy a larger hybrid camper trailer, it may have a few more limitations. If you're an off-roading enthusiast, make sure you find out the exact off-road capabilities of your target camper or caravan.

WHERE do you draw the line on luxuries?

For some people, anything more than a few lights and a portable stove top isn't really camping. Other people want as many creature comforts as they can get, including toilets, showers, full kitchens, barista coffee-making facilities, and more!

If you want a back-to-basics camping experience with a few extra conveniences, most camper trailers with a roll-out kitchen will suit your needs.

If you want as many luxuries as possible, you need to buy a hybrid camper trailer or a caravan.

HOW many people are coming with you?

Sleeping space often comes at a premium when you are going camping. Many camper trailers are designed to sleep just a few people, with one in-built bed and a bit of room for extra inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags.

To sleep more people, you're better off going for a larger hybrid camper trailer or possibly a caravan, which can often sleep 6 or more people comfortably. 

HOW much camping gear do you want to pack and HOW does that compare to your payload?

When you're towing a trailer or a caravan, you need to think about the 'payload'. Basically, this is the amount of weight you can safely carry while you're towing. 

To figure out your trailer or caravan's payload, you need to look at the tare weight (the weight of the trailer) and the Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM). The ATM is the tare weight combined with the maximum trailer load. To get the payload simply minus the tare weight from the ATM.

You might think that as the larger vehicle, a caravan would have a higher payload, but this often isn't the case. Despite having plenty of storage space, caravans often have a payload of around 300 kg. This might sound like a lot, but with a few jerry cans and water tanks on board, you will quickly run out of weight.

Camper trailers tend to have higher payloads, meaning there's more room for clothes, pots and pans, food, and even larger items!

HOW important is weather protection to you?

We can't control the weather, but we can control how much weather protection is available to us when we go camping. 

In the majority of camper trailers, you will be sleeping under canvas, just like in a tent. Even hybrid campers tend to have pop-out areas that are made of fabric materials. When it's hot, your camper will get hot, and when it's cold, your camper will get cold. While a quality camper should keep out the rain, it will still be less water-tight than the solid walls of a caravan.

Top-of-the-line hybrid camper trailers come with in-built heating and cooling, but you may need some portable fans to circulate this warm or cool air into the pop-out sections of your camper.

Top-end hybrid camper trailers or caravans are undoubtedly a nicer environment when the weather turns wild, but for some people, camping is all about embracing everything that nature has to offer - good and bad.

Other Considerations - Setup, Storage, and Security

  • Setup: With caravans, there is little to no setup required. Simply pull up, unhitch, and enjoy! With camper trailers, some setup will be required, from winding up the pop-top roof to sliding out the kitchen. With entry-level models, the setup can be quite laborious and time-consuming while more advanced campers are designed to be set up in seconds thanks to advanced electrical and hydraulic components.

  • Storing Your Trailer: Where will you keep your camper trailer or caravan when it's not in use, and will you have to pay for specialty storage? Caravans are larger and bulkier, making storage more of an issue. If you don't have as much space to spare for storing your trailer, definitely go with a camper over a caravan!

  • Security: Caravans are lockable and have hard walls, making them much more secure. On the other hand, a canvas soft-floor camper trailer will have the basic security of a tent (not much!) A top-of-the-range hybrid camper trailer will have security features closer to a caravan, including lockable sections and solid surfaces.

Why Choose a Caravan? (With Pros and Cons)

If you want the most convenient, comfortable, and self-contained camping trip and your budget isn't a barrier, then a caravan may be right for you. Modern caravans boast everything from air conditioning and TVs to showers and kitchens, all located indoors.

Pros of Caravans

  • Self-contained
  • More comfortable in all climates (especially for kids)
  • Most of the creature comforts of home
  • Little to no setup
  • Room for everyone!

Cons of Caravans

  • Can be significantly more expensive than camper trailers
  • Towing can be tricky
  • Off-road adventures are extremely limited
  • Payload is usually lower than camper trailers
  • You need a lot of room to store your caravan when not in use

Why Choose a Camper Trailer? (With Pros and Cons)

Camper trailers let you take your camping setup to the next level without needing a caravan budget. There are camper trailers for every outdoor enthusiast and every budget, and many camper trailers are great for tackling off-road trails. Whether you want the creature comforts of a caravan for less or you want just a few extra conveniences for your next camping trip, a camper trailer can deliver.

Pros of Camper Trailers

  • Enjoy the outdoors with many indoor comforts
  • Usually has a higher payload and plenty of storage
  • Tent camping with built-in off-ground tents
  • Go off-road and access more camping locations!
  • Hybrid camper trailers combine the benefits of a tent, camper trailer, and caravan, with fewer drawbacks!

Cons of Camper Trailers

  • Setting up can take time and effort compared to a caravan
  • Less comfort in inclement weather 
  • Reduced privacy and security compared to a caravan
  • Usually less indoor space than in a caravan

Final Thoughts

Ready for your next road trip? Are you still tossing up between camper trailers and caravans?

Camping Adventures is an Authorised Dealer for Patriot Campers and Lifestyle Campers in Victoria and Tasmania. We're also experts in all things outdoors and can recommend if a camper trailer or a caravan is truly right for you based on your needs! 

We believe that camper trailers are the best of both worlds, but we also want you to have the best camping adventure possible – whatever that means to you. When you chat with our team, you can trust us to give you honest advice based on what you're looking for, not just the products in our range!

Come and visit our showroom to get up close and personal with our range of camper trailers or give us a call today for more information.

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