Tent vs. RV Camping


Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Grant

After roughly seven years of tent camping (four major road trips and several other shorter ones), we finally upgraded to a camper. We always figured we would get a travel trailer (which you pull) or a motor home (which you drive) eventually, but for a variety of reasons we ended up making the purchase a bit sooner than we expected.

Our major motivators for making the upgrade were 1) the older we get the harder it gets to not just sleep on an air mattress, but get up from one in the morning and 2) we didn’t like leaving the cat alone for three to five weeks… With a camper, we can take her with us. There were a few other factors, such as finding the right model (a Passport Elite 23RB) for the right price, and the time came to take the plunge into the RV world!

(Disclaimer: When we link to places where you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes that earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

Tent Camping

There are MANY kinds of tents and many kinds of tent campers. We chose to tent camp when traveling because we both enjoy being outside and the rustic nature of camping. We also enjoy taking rather long road trips and camping is cheaper than getting a hotel every night.

Our Small Tent

We actually had two tents, one “big” and one small. The small tent, which we still have, is the REI Half Dome 2 Plus. This tent is very quick and easy to put up and take down (five to 10 minutes). It is barely big enough for a full-size air mattress (not big enough for a queen) but has a door on each side so that neither person has to crawl over the other to get in or out. It is almost all mesh, so the ventilation is great, and the rain fly works well. We used this tent mainly if we were only staying one night or there were high winds (the low profile helps to keep it from waving in the wind).

Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park
Our campsite at Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park with our Half Dome 2 Plus.

We did learn the hard way with this tent that high winds and sand don’t mix. When staying in Dinosaur National Monument, we set up the tent, including the rain fly, then fixed dinner, sat out and read and went to a ranger program. When we crawled into bed, there was a mound of sand all over the sleeping bag. Take our advice: If there is sand, make sure the rain fly is buckled down very tight and low to the ground!

Our “Big” Tent

Our bigger tent was still pretty small, in the fact that it wasn’t a multi-room or anything like that. It was the REI Hobitat 4 tent. They have since discontinued that line, but it is similar to the Grand Hut 4.

We liked this tent because it did allow us to have extra room on three sides of a queen size mattress and we could pretty much stand up inside (much easier in the middle of the tent, but not if there is an air mattress there). It also had a vestibule “attachment” that allowed a covered entryway and a place to put our camp chairs if it was raining.

Camping in Branson, MO in our REI Hobitat 4.
Camping in Branson, MO in our REI Hobitat 4.

We enjoyed both tents and usually traveled with both. An outdoor extension cord to charge phones, tablets, lanterns, etc. if we were at a campsite with electricity made it easy to stay connected.

We had bins of clothes, food, cooking supplies and lots of other camping gear in the truck. The system we had worked really well. We would stay in hotels maybe once or twice a week, especially on days we were driving long distances, which was a nice break from the air mattress and public showers.

Pros and Cons of Tents

Our biggest complaint about tent camping was the difficulty we had in finding a place to wash dishes. You can’t use “normal” dish soap if you are washing dishes using the spigot at the campsite and camp soap really is mostly worthless for getting grease off a pan. Most campgrounds don’t allow washing dishes in the bathrooms, and very few of them had a dishwashing sink/station. We ended up eating out at times when we wanted to cook simply because we didn’t have a good way of cleaning up.

It took quite a while, but we found a shaded campsite in Lovewell State Park in northern Kansas.
It took quite a while, but we found a shaded campsite in Lovewell State Park in northern Kansas.

Another major con of tent camping, especially out West, is it can be hard to find shaded campsites. This can be a major issue in the summer in places like Wall, SD and the whole state of Kansas, both of which we struggled to find shade to keep us somewhat cool.

That being said, tent camping is a great way to start out. If you don’t want hook-ups (water, electricity), you can generally get a campsite fairly cheap (no more than $20-$30). You can easily alternate camping with staying in a hotel to break things up.

With tent camping, you can easily stop somewhere during the day, then head to your campsite and get set-up. Those are some things that you just can’t do when pulling a trailer.

RV Camping

As much as we loved tent camping, we quickly embraced the RV life with the camper!


The first thing about RVs: They are not cheap! There are all kinds of different sizes and prices when buying a camper. I’m sure it is possible to get something for just a few hundred or a thousand dollars if all you want is a place to sleep. Or if you truly want a house on wheels you could spend several hundred thousand or more than a million if you want!

Bonnie relaxing at our campground in Big South Fork NRR.
Bonnie relaxing at our campground in Big South Fork NRR.

While we did choose to get a full-fledged camper, rather than a pop-up or camper van, etc., we still stayed fairly small and cheap in the grand scheme of things. Regardless of what size camper/RV you get, one thing to know is that you have to buy MUCH more than just the camper itself to actually be able to use it (see our articles on Outfitting Your RV). These expenses will add up, so be ready.

Campsites will also be more expensive, especially if you want sewer and cable hookups. Personally, we can generally do without cable, but if we are staying anywhere for more than two nights, we want a sewer connection. Your gas expenses will be higher as well. These are all things that you have to factor in, in addition to the cost of the camper, before making sure you are ready to take the plunge.

Be sure to check out our cost comparison between road trip styles here.

Driving with a Camper

Driving is also more stressful and you generally can’t drive as fast. Stopping for lunch or gas is more difficult because there isn’t always a place to park your vehicle. We have learned to love the truck stops such as Pilot, Love’s and TA, but even those can be difficult if you aren’t getting diesel. You definitely will not be pulling through the nearest Chick-Fil-A or McDonald’s pulling a camper or driving an RV!

Taking our new RV home.
Taking our new RV home.

With the camper, we also had to rethink our itinerary. Sites,  that with a tent would have been a one to two-hour “layover” on the way suddenly became a one or two night stays. Again, you can’t just park the camper anywhere. And with the cat with us, we certainly couldn’t leave her in the truck or camper without AC.

Advantages of a Camper

That being said, there are many advantages of a camper that hooked us immediately! First, you have your own shade. If you are in a big, open campground with very few trees you can extend the awning or even sit inside in the air conditioning (assuming you have an electric hookup).

Grant and Alee hanging out at the campground in Montrose, CO.
Grant and Alee hanging out at the campground in Montrose, CO.

You also have a bathroom, which means if the showers are yucky or you just gotta go in the middle of the night, you’re in a much better position. Granted, you also have to clean the bathroom, but you’d have to do that at home anyway and it’s probably a much smaller bathroom, which means less to clean!

Not having to pack and unpack boxes and bins every time you stop just to get clothes or a plate is great! We definitely took a wider range of clothes with us than we ever did when tent camping.

We also loved having a refrigerator and cabinets, which allowed us a lot more freedom at the grocery store and removed the need to buy ice every day. I’m not sure we actually saved money at the grocery store, but we did get to enjoy leftovers a few times, which we rarely did when traveling with a cooler.

Grant grilling pork chops at the Charbonneau Campground!
Grant loves to grill!

Lastly, if it is raining, not only can we sit under the awning or inside to stay dry, but we can cook! In the camper, we do have a stove, oven and microwave. Granted, we haven’t actually used anything other than the microwave, because we prefer to cook on the grill, but eventually, we will need them and will be very glad that we have them!

Setup and Take Down

The setup and takedown of the camper is certainly longer than with a tent. We figured that over time we would get better and faster at the routine, and we did get better at setting up. Packing up camp is still a process and took us about an hour every time. Dumping the sewer tanks and making sure the slide is free of pine needles, acorns, etc. can be time-consuming. With the tent we could generally be out within about 20-30 minutes.

This site required a lot to make sure everything was supported.
This site required a lot to make sure everything was supported.

What About a Camper Van?

In September 2019, we actually rented a camper van for a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. It was a great experience.

Read more about our experiences in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup.

First and foremost, if we had never camped in an RV and switched to a camper van, we would have been blown away by how easy it was. Packing up the campsite was a breeze. If we had gotten any chairs out, we packed them up. We made the bed and started driving. Easy.

Grant relaxing at the campground, reading a book on his iPad.
Grant relaxing at the campground, reading a book on his iPad.

That said, the RV has a LOT more room and is a lot more comfortable. Having a full-size queen bed is a lot comfier than the bed in the camper van. There was not a ton of room in the van, so that made things like getting dressed in the morning and cooking a bit difficult with two people.

Still, the agility and ease made the camper van a great experience and something I would certainly consider if I were upgrading from a tent. The biggest downside is maintaining the van and its engine. I am not a fan of having a second engine to maintain.

Our Outdoorsy RV Rental - we had plenty of storage below the bed.
Our bed with luggage stored below.

Read more about renting a camper van from Outdoorsy here.

Final Thoughts on Tent vs. RV Camping

There are definite advantages and disadvantages to both tent and RV camping. If you are considering an upgrade to a camper, do your research on the financial aspects. Make sure you can afford it. There certainly isn’t any point in buying a camper and then not having the money to enjoy it! If you are new to camping and looking for a place to start, tent camping is a good introduction. Some folks will adapt to it better than others… It certainly helps if you can handle the idea of maybe not being able to take a shower one day!

Whatever your travel style, our hope is that you will get out and explore the world. Get out and discover all the amazing things out there that you never knew you would enjoy.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

Having done long road trips camping in a tent versus camping in a RV, we look at the benefits of both ways to stay in a campground.
Enjoy this story? Be sure to pin it on Pinterest and share it to Facebook and Twitter!

4 thoughts on “Tent vs. RV Camping”

  1. Ӏ am not suure where you are geting your information,
    but gooⅾ topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.

    Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this informаtion for my misѕion.


Leave a Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy