Guide to trailer tents, folding campers and lightweight caravans
It’s not always easy to define what’s a trailer tent and what is a folding camper. Packed away in their trailers, they look almost identical, and even owners of folding campers will often describe them as trailer tents. Labels don’t matter too much, but as far as we are concerned if it looks like a tent when it is pitched then it is a trailer tent and if it looks more like a caravan with a canvas top, then it’s a folding camper. Lightweight caravans are more easy to define - they are basically smaller than usual versions of the traditional caravan.
They have a lot more in common than you might think. Basically they both contain a fabric accommodation unit that you tow behind your car in a self-contained trailer and fold out when you reach your destination. They have proper beds that allow you to sleep off the ground. Some need pegging out, others can be unfolded and used without any pegging at all, meaning they can be used on hard-standing pitches.
A trailer tent tends to be a unit where all of the walls are made out of canvas or another type of heavy duty fabric. The fabric is folded out from the trailer and pegged out in much the same way as an old-style frame tent. In fact a frame tent is exactly what a trailer tents looks like when it is fully erected. Some models have flip-tops, where the canvas unfolds to like a giant pram-hood. These can take just a few minutes to pitch.
Inside, trailer tents have off-the-ground beds with mattresses that usually fold out from the trailer and can be used as a seating area during the day. In larger units you'll find further inner tents in the awning for more sleeping space and some trailer tents allow you to increase the sleeping accommodation by fitting under-bed compartments.
The living area is usually in an integral awning, which offers plenty of space for tables and chairs and other camping furniture. Some models have their own built-in groundsheets, while others are open to the ground. Higher-spec trailer tents have their own kitchen units while with more basic models you’ll have to bring your own camping stove and other gear. Storage compartments can often be found in the main trailer.
Folding campers are a bridge between traditional tents and caravans and provide comfortable accommodation for campers who want a bit more luxury but aren’t quite ready to go the whole hog and buy a ‘van. They are also lighter and easier to tow than caravans, which means you don’t have to invest in a new car to pull your mobile home.
They are built on a trailer unit that looks like the bottom half of a caravan. In storage and when it’s being towed, a heavy duty tarpaulin covers the inner workings of the camper and on site the bedroom units fold out at each end and overhang the front and rear of the base. Many modern folding campers have hydraulic struts that make opening it out much easier.
Inside you’ll find what looks like a compact caravan, with a cooker, sink, fridge and sometimes even a toilet. Most campers have bench seats with a table at one end that can be converted to a double bed. Some folding campers are as luxurious as a caravan, the only difference being that they have fabric walls and roof. With the addition of an optional awning the living area can be vastly increased.
The next level up is the folding caravan, which has the advantage that it can be folded down for easier storage and towing but has rigid walls and roof.
These are becoming increasingly popular, especially for couples. They range from cute little ‘teardrop style’ pod trailers that basically give you enough room for two people to sleep, through larger micro-caravans to larger, but still relatively light, ‘vans with all the facilities you’d expect in a full size caravan.