How to Know If Tenting or RVing Is Best for You

Updated on June 22, 2018
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to make the most of their RV vacations.

If you are trying to decide between buying a tent or RV you really need to consider issues such as

  • cost,
  • comfort,
  • use of your time,
  • space limitations,
  • physical labor,
  • number of travelers and
  • safety.

Taking the time to look into these factors is important because doing so will help you to avoid spending money, time and effort on an option that won't work well for you.

For example,

  • you may want a tent because it will likely cost less, but you may not be a person who enjoys roughing it, but
  • on the other hand, you may think an RV would be great because it offers great comforts, but you may not like driving or towing a large, bulky vehicle.

Buying any type of travel unit is more complicated than most people realize, which is why examining the basic differences between tents and RVs is a good thing to do before making a final decision.

A comparison of tent and RV camping
A comparison of tent and RV camping | Source

Cost

The first thing most people think about is cost. Obviously, there are big differences between what individuals must pay to own tents and RVs. This overview will give you an idea about general costs.

RVs

Owing a recreational vehicle will always cost more than owning a tent, especially if the RV is motorized.

Prices can run anywhere from a few thousand dollars up into the millions, depending on what you buy.

However, there are many hidden costs that are involved with this type of vehicle

How Much Does It Really Cost to Own an RV? goes into great detail about this issue.

Tents

Tents cost much less to purchase than campers, travel trailers or motor homes.

A small one can cost as little as $100, but larger ones can run upwards of $1700.

However outfitting them with the amenities you will want to have can add significantly to what you pay to own one.

Furthermore, how you choose to use one can make a big difference in what you pay.

For example, if you want to travel in harsh weather or with a large group of people, you will need a larger tent, which can be much more costly than a basic, small one.

Amenities

No matter the type of travel unit you choose, you will want to be comfortable when using it. Therefore, you'll have to spend a fair amount of money to outfit it according to your own tastes and needs.

Tents

Tenters will need to purchase items such as cots, air mattresses, sleeping bags, pillows, heaters, fans, folding tables and chairs, thermal coolers, outdoor grills and many other items that add to comfort.

Examples of costs include but are not limited to

  • sleeping bags $20 to $129
  • air mattresses $23 to $120 each
  • cooler $45 to $519
  • camping pillows $7 to $29

RVs

RVers also need to purchase items for their coaches, but since they already come with furniture and may also be motorized, many of the things owners will need to buy differ from those required by tenters.

Prices for just about anything they purchase will be high because most are considered to be specialty or luxury items.

Basics such as linens, bedding and cookware will cost the same as what people buy for their homes, but RVers find that there are many items they will want to have or will need that can be very expensive.

For example:

  • a spare tire $250 to $900
  • rear camera monitor $169 to $259
  • sewer tank deodorizer $10
  • sewer cleaning wand $13

The list of items RVers need to keep on hand is almost endless and can significantly add to their ongoing expenses.

Living Space

Livability is another thing you need to consider.

  • Some people love dealing with Mother Nature and handling the challenges that go along with outdoor living.
  • Others would rather be off the ground and surrounded by solid walls in a unit whose temperature they can easily control.

Here are some other issues that also come into making the right decision about which type of vacationing will work best:

RV Living Space

The average RV owner has less than 500 square feet of internal living area unless his unit comes with slide rooms. A slide room can significantly increase the amount of room RVers have, but they add to ownership costs and present numerous problems for owners.

Tent Living Space

Tents are much more flexible than RVs when it comes to the amount of living area they offer because some are quite large or are expandable.

The days of a family being crammed into a small area on a rainy day are pretty much gone due to fantastic improvements in the types of tents that are available.

The attached video shows you some of the latest tent innovations.

Cooking

RV Cooking

Cooking is easy in recreational vehicles because they have all cooking amenities built in. It's not much different than preparing meals at home.

Furthermore it mostly is done inside, which eliminates problems with bugs, setting up equipment and transporting food from the travel unit to the eating area.

How Hard Is It to Cook in an RV? provides more information about this topic.

Tent Cooking

This is not the same for tent campers, who must carry all appliances and cookware and prepare meals outside. When the weather is bad, cooking can become a real problem.

Furthermore, not all campgrounds offer electricity or running water at tent sites. This can make cooking and eating difficult and uncomfortable.

Use Issues

The majority of RV owners only use their coaches about one month per year. Thus, their units simply “sit”most of the time while they make payments on them.

With tenting, this is not an issue because when you’re not using your tent, you simply store it in your garage or basement at no charge until you're ready to travel again.

RVs deteriorate if they just sit, but tents do not as long as you store them properly.

Physical Labor

Both forms of camping can be a huge amount of work.

Tent campers need to

  • clean and prep their travel equipment before leaving home,
  • pack their items in their cars,
  • erect and take down their tents each travel day and
  • load, unload and reload their gear at their sites each travel day.

RVers must

  • clean, wash and wax their RVs before loading them,
  • check all electronic equipment to make sure it is working,
  • pack everything they need for their vacations into their travel unit,
  • hook up and unhook to utilities each travel day,
  • clean the interiors of their coaches regularly during vacations,
  • unload everything back into their homes at the end of their trips and
  • clean their coaches again, and empty and sanitize their tanks prior to storing them.

The biggest benefit for RVers is that they only have to load and unload one time, whereas tent campers have to do so every travel day.

RV travel offers many amenities and comforts to people who choose this mode of transportation.
RV travel offers many amenities and comforts to people who choose this mode of transportation. | Source

Issues Re Number of Travelers

Number of RV Travelers

Some people like to use recreational vehicles to travel with their children or other family members, but the truth is that vacationing in one of them with more than two people can become claustrophobic very quickly.

This is because each person must take his own clothes, cosmetics, medications and other items with him, and there just is not enough room even in the largest coach for these things.

Number of Tent Travelers

Because you can purchase tents that are sized and designed to suit the number of travelers, this is not a big problem, as long as you plan carefully and organize well.

Of course the more people who are involved, the more dishes, linens, food and other items you need to take with you.

RV and Tent Safety Issues

Last but not least is the issue of safety.

People assume that all campgrounds are safe, but this is not necessarily true. You can never know who is parked beside you or what their intentions might be.

A tent is easy to breach, whereas an RV is not.

Therefore, traveling in a hard sided vehicle that has locking doors and windows is best.

Furthermore,

  • if you drive a vehicle that is towing an RV, you are keeping all travelers safer during transit.
  • if you drive a vehicle that is towing a car, the same is not true.

This is because keeping kids belted in during motor home is difficult.

As a result, in the event of an accident, kids can become flying missiles that can kill them as well as other travelers.

This cannot happen in a situation where travelers are forced to stay seated and belted.

For this reason, be it an RV or a tent, it is best to drive a car rather than a motorized RV.

Recreational Vehicle Pros and Cons

Many people choose to travel in RVs because they are more comfortable than tents.

Their biggest benefits are that

  • travelers can control their internal temperatures,
  • do not have to sleep unprotected and
  • can be more secure because they are hard sided vehicles.

Their biggest caveats are that they are

  • expensive to own,
  • awkward to drive and
  • have very limited internal living areas.

Tent Pros and Cons

Tents also have many benefits because they are

  • they cost less to own and travel in,
  • store easily,
  • offer more camping choices,
  • don't require towing equipment,
  • come in huge variety of sizes and
  • can provide more living space.

Their biggest caveats include the facts that they are

  • labor intensive during travel,
  • provide zero security to campers,
  • awkward to use for travel and
  • provide almost no temperature controls.

Choose Carefully

Obviously there is much to consider when deciding which form of vacationing you want to do.

Both RVing and Tenting have good and bad points, so it is up to you to decide which one will best suit your needs.

Happy Trails!

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Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Sondra Rochelle

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sondra Rochelle 

      3 months ago from USA

      Janda Raker: There definitely are benefits to both types of travel, but I do think that as we get older, having those "extras" becomes increasingly important. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

    • Janda Raker profile image

      Janda Raker 

      3 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      I really enjoyed this article. It sounds like the "discussions" that my husband and I had when considering transitioning from many years of tenting to buying an RV (a pickup camper, in our case). Yes, there are many pros and cons. I still love tenting, but our camper has lengthened our camping season, with air conditioning and heating! And we really enjoy rainy times, snowy times, windy times, and evenings inside with a dinette and lighting, to enable us to play games, read, or visit with nearby campers who come to visit before bedtime. And if we're traveling a long distance, it's so convenient to have almost everything packed into the camper, so we can be on the road in minutes, on to the next destination. We've traveled that way throughout much of North America, even staying in our camper when we're visiting the "kids" from coast to coast. It is a great way to travel!

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