camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

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camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby tallgirl1204 » Mon May 07, 2012 12:26 am

We have lately been browsing the internet as well as local campgrounds and neighbors' driveways, thinking about getting some kind of smallish camping vehicle or slide-in or pickup topper. We are old enough to not want to sleep on the ground any more. I am crabby enough to not want to have to pack up a whole kitchen every morning (and unpack it at night).

Any things we should consider, stay away from, or run toward? If you've bought a used camper (of any sort), what were the key things you looked for in terms of condition? What are features that you particularly value, or (on the other hand) have found to be not so useful? We have been surfing websites, talking to friends, visiting craigslist, etc. Is there a better time of year, or "best location" to look? It just occurred to me that the wisdom of the Bogle-verse might be useful here.

Here are our parameters/situation:
-- we need to be able to sleep at least three. Right now our kid is smallish, but that will not always be true. We also need a back seat that has "real" seatbelts with shoulder harness that can hook into a booster seat.
-- we do not need t.v., microwave, bathroom, etc. We would like a stove, fridge or cooler capacity, water supply, and maybe a heater.
-- we want a vehicle with airbags (this tells you what our standards are; we're willing to look at an older vehicle, but not that old!)
-- we have some money to spend, but not a lot. We'd rather stay under $20K for the total package, whether a van or a camper/truck combo. We could do all new, but that is not in our nature.
-- we want to be able to drive down forest roads-- not serious four-wheeling, but we want to stay away from anything too big, low or unwieldy. We don't want to tow anything for the same reasons.
-- gas mileage, of course, is always a factor. Hence, we are obsessed with pop-tops.

We have been looking at pop-up camper vans (some friends have a nice Roadtrek, another has an old Vanagon), pop-up slide-ins (which would require the purchase of an adequate pickup to carry us and it), and even a flip-pac topper (no kitchen, but we'd be way off the ground for sure).

Thanks in advance for your input.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby jej » Mon May 07, 2012 1:00 pm

Slide in campers depreciate a bunch. They ought to, too. Most are badly built and do not hold up well.

I have been fairly impressed with Four Wheel brand. http://www.fourwheelcampers.com/

They have aluminum frames and canvas sides for the part that get exposed when the top is up. I read on the Turtle Expedition web site that they were not happy with theirs under conditions of Arctic cold, but otherwise liked it. A buddy of mine cracked the frame doing 4wd stuff in the Mojave desert, so they do have limits. It was not a big problem to repair it. OTOH, they are light and well thought out. I had an Alaskan slide in - its a hardwall slide in. Weighed a ton. I prefer the 4WD Popups. Both Alaskan and 4WD Popup tend to hold their value more than others. Way pricey to start with.

BTW, the guy that broke his in the Mojave replaced it with an all steel cab high shell. Nothing else stood up to the abuse.

Give your usage, I'd want it on a full size pickup truck, preferably 4wd. Since you are starting from scratch, finding a camper/truck combo will save you some $.

Have you seen a Quigley 4WD van conversion? I've seen them around, but never been in one. Maybe not enough space for you, but a neat idea.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby Random Poster » Mon May 07, 2012 2:00 pm

tallgirl1204 wrote:-- we want to be able to drive down forest roads-- not serious four-wheeling, but we want to stay away from anything too big, low or unwieldy. We don't want to tow anything for the same reasons.


There have been a few RV-type questions posted here in the past. A search for them might be useful.

In regards to the quoted portion above, it seems to me that some trailers could be taken down forest roads, namely the fiberglass 'eggshell' type ones (see, for example, a Casita, an Escape, or a Bigfoot). They are light, have reasonable ground clearance, and from what I can tell, offer the best/most cost-effective method to RV (perhaps alongside slide-ins) when you look at the long-term viability of the whole package. Being able to separate the "moving" part of the RV experience from the "sleeping/living" part into two separate and distinct spheres certainly has its benefits, particularly if one part goes bad or needs updating/repairing/replacing.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby thomase » Mon May 07, 2012 2:37 pm

Hard sided truck campers are in general very heavy. At minimum you will need a full size 1/2 ton truck, and even then there aren't a lot of light weight options that will work. Many truck campers are 3000lbs+. A high quality lightweight version would be the already mentioned Four Wheel Camper or the similar All Terrain Camper. I've looked at Four Wheel Campers and they are pretty nice, compact, and light weight.

I went through a similar search as you a few years back and wound up buying a fiberglass trailer. I know you said you don't want a trailer, but keep in mind you can pull a whole lot more than you can carry. Another thing to keep in mind, once you're set up for camping with a trailer, you can drive around and sight-see, or buy supplies, etc... with just the tow vehicle. With a class B/C or truck camper, you'll have to break camp, stow things away, any time you need to drive the vehicle.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby imagardener » Mon May 07, 2012 3:45 pm

The fact that you don't have a bathroom on your list of "needs" will keep your costs much lower.
Here is one I ran across http://www.campervannorthamerica.com/campervans-edelweiss.shtml
That rental company sells their rental vans to keep their fleet new.

Camper vans are much more popular and manufactured in greater quantity in Europe, also known as caravanettes. I think there's a real market for them in the US but it's currently not being filled on the lower cost end. Roadtrek is the sales leader and charges a high dollar for their van conversions of both Ford (gas) and Sprinter (diesel) chassis.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby MathWizard » Mon May 07, 2012 4:43 pm

One cheap option is a minivan with stowaway seats, and a blow-up mattress, or just
and air mattress on the ground in a tent.

When I camp, I use a tent/air mattress. My brother used a Grand Caravan with a custom
fold-down 2nd seat which converted to a queen bed, he used that quite a bit when their one
child was small. I have a newer Grand Caravan, but can't find the custom seat. I don't have
stowaway seats, so I tried an air mattress on top of the folded seats, but we were too close
to the ceiling. With stowaway seats that would not be a problem.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby tallgirl1204 » Mon May 07, 2012 6:07 pm

Thanks for the feedback on the pop-up slide ins. We like the idea of them for the reasons stated-- that at home, at least, we'd have a nice truck to drive around for every day (small town, so mileage isn't crucial for daily commutes), and the camper only goes on top when we're going out of town. The input on brands (and durability) is helpful. We've looked at the 4 wheel brand at a friend's house and really liked it.

On the other hand, the van offers ease of entry, access to food and other items from within the seating area (not that we would ever consider crawling back to make lunch while someone else drove, no, not us, uh-uh, no sirree).

I appreciate the insight into towing. I'm not opposed to it, but my partner is paranoid about towing a vehicle. He's blind in one eye and depth perception is an issue-- we don't even want a ginormous truck or van if we can help it-- standard length at most. I appreciate the thought that it can be dropped at a campsite while we go have fun elsewhere.

That one van site is helpful-- we may watch it to see if something a little larger comes up for sale! The Edelweiss looks like a perfect empty nest vehicle. And the idea about just getting a regular van and rigging it for sleep has occurred to us. We're actually hoping to take a look at a "weekender" (i.e. no kitchen) pop-up conversion that just showed up on Craigs list-- we could probably put together a kitchen kit that would work in it for less than the fancy conversion.

And as I said, we're done sleeping on the ground unless we're backpacking or boating. We've been tent campers/picnic table chefs for years, we have all those merit badges, and we're just ready to move into a little more comfort. At the very least, we're going to get some cots!

Thanks for any further thoughts on vans vs. slide-ins.

Any other thoughts, opinions or input are welcome.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby Padlin » Tue May 08, 2012 7:32 pm

Suggest you go to rv.net and check out the truck camper forum, ask there and you'll get some good ideas that folks are using. There was a recent thread on converting a truck cap into a camper, had plans and all. Ask about high quality Popups on 1/2 Ton or smaller pickups. If you live in the west used should be fairly easy to come by, not so in the east. I like the http://phoenixpopup.com/ Phoenix brand of popups but used may be hard to come by.
Regards | Bob
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby glock19 » Tue May 08, 2012 9:08 pm

Definitely visit rv.net forums. At $20K it's going to limit you. The reason is any slide in camper that will accommodate 3 people is going to need at least a 3/4 ton truck. You might find one that will work on a half ton but it's going to be small. A lot depends on how far from home you are going and what kind of country you are going to travel in.

Unless you go "real used" even the truck will run you $20K. But with that said, decide which route you want to go and start looking for bargains.

A 1/2 ton truck will do fine with a small travel trailer. You might be able to put together this combo for that price much easier.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby texasdiver » Tue May 08, 2012 9:27 pm

I bought a 2008 Fleetwood pop-up camper trailer off of Craig's List last summer for about $6 grand. I pull it easily with my 2004 Toyota Sienna minivan. Pop-up campers are a huge step up from tent camping which I did all over North America and Alaska. Ours has all the comforts and room of a regular trailer, stove, oven, sink, shower, fridge, air conditioning, lots of storage. Here in Texas the air conditioning is crucial. We've had it out to various state parks around here as well as Carlsbad NM, and South Padre Island last summer. I figure in one more year it will have paid for itself in terms of all the money we aren't spending on condo rentals at the beach and cabin rentals in the mountains.

Getting a small trailer that you can pull with your existing vehicle is going to be BY FAR your most economical option. Especially if you buy used off Craig's List. If you don't like pop-ups then there are also small light trailers that you can pull with an ordinary truck or small SUV. I get the fear of towing....sort of. But seriously, there really isn't much to towing a small trailer. About the only time you ever back it is hooking it up at home and parking it in a camp site. And frankly, so many camp sites these days are drive through for the big rigs that you often don't even have to back it to park when camping.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby tibbitts » Tue May 08, 2012 10:35 pm

tallgirl1204 wrote:Thanks for the feedback on the pop-up slide ins. We like the idea of them for the reasons stated-- that at home, at least, we'd have a nice truck to drive around for every day (small town, so mileage isn't crucial for daily commutes), and the camper only goes on top when we're going out of town. The input on brands (and durability) is helpful. We've looked at the 4 wheel brand at a friend's house and really liked it.

On the other hand, the van offers ease of entry, access to food and other items from within the seating area (not that we would ever consider crawling back to make lunch while someone else drove, no, not us, uh-uh, no sirree).

I appreciate the insight into towing. I'm not opposed to it, but my partner is paranoid about towing a vehicle. He's blind in one eye and depth perception is an issue-- we don't even want a ginormous truck or van if we can help it-- standard length at most. I appreciate the thought that it can be dropped at a campsite while we go have fun elsewhere.

That one van site is helpful-- we may watch it to see if something a little larger comes up for sale! The Edelweiss looks like a perfect empty nest vehicle. And the idea about just getting a regular van and rigging it for sleep has occurred to us. We're actually hoping to take a look at a "weekender" (i.e. no kitchen) pop-up conversion that just showed up on Craigs list-- we could probably put together a kitchen kit that would work in it for less than the fancy conversion.

And as I said, we're done sleeping on the ground unless we're backpacking or boating. We've been tent campers/picnic table chefs for years, we have all those merit badges, and we're just ready to move into a little more comfort. At the very least, we're going to get some cots!

Thanks for any further thoughts on vans vs. slide-ins.

Any other thoughts, opinions or input are welcome.

A few thoughts:

1. B popups are pretty rare - more so than popup truck campers. B hardsides aren't unreasonably tall overall, but many lack the interior height of a truck camper popup. A typical van hardside might be 6', while a typical truck camper popup (or hardside) would be 4-6" taller. That can mean the difference between standing up and not for a lot of people.

2. I'd reconsider the bathroom - it's a huge advantage to have a bathroom.

3. There are about equal pros and cons between small trailers and truck campers/vans. You'll probably save about a third on gas with the trailer, and that's when towing - more if you unhitch the trailer at your destination. You could take some popups off the truck, although it's more hassle than unhitching, and not all are designed to be occupied without the floor being supported.

4. I don't see the depth perception issue as significant, since the person doing the driving will (unless I missed something) have two fully functional eyes.

Paul
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby epilnk » Wed May 09, 2012 12:04 am

tibbitts wrote:I don't see the depth perception issue as significant, since the person doing the driving will (unless I missed something) have two fully functional eyes.

Paul

As a person without depth perception myself, I can't agree - it's significant. My husband does most of the driving, especially on winding mountain roads where my ability to judge distance goes haywire. (My understanding is that we compensate with parallax, so context matters.) But there is no way I'm leaving all the driving to him on vacation.

We too have passed our sleeping on the ground days - my aging bones have minimum requirements. I have a persistent fantasy about getting a popup tent trailer - I wouldn't be nervous about towing one of those. The happiest moments of the two happiest years of my childhood were spent in a simple Coleman soft-top - sleeping space for all 6 of us, a dinette during the day, a tiny sink with non-potable water, a two burner propane stove, and a small fridge. There must have been a reason my parents upgraded to a trailer, but in my mind it was idyllic and the trailer just was never the same.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby maroon » Wed May 09, 2012 1:07 am

I'm not a fan of pop-up tent trailers, but I did own a 19' lightweight travel trailer; it met all my basic needs, slept three, and was easy to tow, even on primitive roads. I bought the trailer new/used from Craigslist, then sold it a few years later via Craigslist.

(I say "new/used" because the person who bought it brand new let it bake in the sun for several years but never once used it. When I bought the trailer, the tags were still on the fridge, the mattress was still in plastic wrap, etc.)
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby Curlyq » Wed May 09, 2012 3:20 pm

I was born without depth perception and have learned to tow various types of trailers. Backing up a trailer is and likely will always be a challenge for me, although I get better with practice. I do have to stop and get out to go look behind the trailer frequently to see where I am and so backing is a time-consuming process, but I can get it done.

I find that I'm not that happy towing larger trailers, but do tow my horse around in a Euro-design lighter-weight two-horse trailer. Towing smaller trailers is much less of an issue.

I have a small 4WD Tiger Astrovan-based motorhome by Provan. It's 16 feet long and has a pop-top so a 6'4" person could stand up inside. It sleeps four and has a kitchen and bathroom. I have really enjoyed this rig. It gets 15-18 mpg, depending on how you drive. It has held good value over the years, mostly due to the increase in gas prices. If you are looking for a small motorhome, I would look for one of these.

When I downsize to a smaller home, I am looking for a replacement for my small motorhome (most of the places where I am looking to move prohibit motorhomes, mine does not fit in a garage and I'm not going to pay storage fees), so I have started to focus on a hard-sided tent trailer. "Chalet" and "Aliner" made some very nice, easy-to-tow, camping trailers. Depending on their size, you can get any and all regular features, such as multiple bed arrangements, showers/toilets, kitchens, etc. I like the quick set-up and insulation for cold weather. I've seen used ones in my neck-of-the-woods for well under $5,000.

Personally, I like the idea of leaving the trailer at the campsite and being able to drive the tow vehicle to another location for an outing. With a Chalet or Aliner, you don't even have to have a very big tow vehicle as most 6-cylinder vehicles can easily tow one of these and a 4-cylinder can tow the small units.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby tallgirl1204 » Thu May 10, 2012 10:27 am

Thank you for all the input! you are nudging me towards re-thinking a trailer--

In the meantime, a used flip-pac truck topper has presented itself to us at a reasonable price. We can put it on our existing light truck, and just try it out for this summer. It lacks any kind of kitchen, of course, but it has a super comfortable sleeping arrangement and we can carry all our gear easily. We'll treat it as a first step.

Our old small truck is a single cab and lacks airbags, so in any case we're in the market for a replacement, (I know, $20K was a pipe dream) while we try out the flip-pac, and we can continue to shop around.

As I said, you all are selling me somewhat on the idea of a small pop-up trailer. I guess I can learn to do all of the tricky backing-up with my two good eyes... in the meantime, we'll continue to keep our eyes out for the fancy-ish things we dream about, at a dreamy price. Thank you all.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby texasdiver » Thu May 10, 2012 6:46 pm

There are two extremely active forums on pop-up campers if you decide to go that route or want more info. They can advise you on what to buy, what to pay, and how to buy it. And can just get lost reading old posts about this stuff. I found a lot of help on these forums:

http://www.popupportal.com/
http://www.popupexplorer.com/

I'm sure there are equally active forums about every other type of camper out there, I just don't know them.
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Re: camper van vs. slide-in v. ???

Postby Mtn Hiker » Thu May 10, 2012 9:11 pm

I suggest a Coleman Popup folding tent trailer also. The fuel cost for a 3/4 or 1 ton pickup would quickly negate any savings on the slide-in. Popups have lots of sleeping room with two queen or king size beds. We used one for 11 years before moving “up” to a small fifth wheel trailer, and then a B-Van. I wish we’d stayed with the old faithful Coleman folding tent trailer. For one thing it’s still “real” camping.
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