Camping with Kids 101 – Tent vs. RV

Welcome to the second installment in my Camping with Kids 101 series. I have this particular discussion with some of my friends at least a couple of times a year: which is better, RV camping or tent camping? Some people could never be convinced to sleep in a tent, while others are adamant that tenting is the only “true” way to camp. Now, I’ve done both: 11 years in Scouting gave me a decent perspective as a tent camper, and currently that’s where we are at as a family. At the same time, growing up our summer holidays consisted of hooking the truck up to the holiday trailer  and hauling it through Alberta & BC. So I’ve seen both sides of the coin.

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Also, like a lot of “this vs. that” questions, it really comes down to specific situations and personal preferences. So, let’s go through a few specific areas of and evaluate each option.

Cost

This is the obvious main point of difference between tent camping and RV camping. You could buy a brand new, family sized tent plus all of the equipment you would need (stove, sleeping bags, etc.) for less than $1,000 pretty easily. You would also have a hard time finding a good quality used RV (of any sort) for less than $5,000, and new RVs start in the neighborhood of $10,000 and skyrocket up in price from there. Add in the fact that you need a vehicle capable of towing your RV (so maybe you need to replace your Corolla with something bigger & less efficient), and while towing you’ll be getting worse gas mileage than normal. Finally, RV camping sites usually are more expensive, as they include things like water, electricity, and sometimes sewer hookups as well. Tenting-designated sites often exclude these amenities and are cheaper on a per-night basis.

Now, cost by itself isn’t a determiner of “good” or “bad”. Cost is what it is. It is definitely a big consideration for a lot of people, though, as it is in our house. We drive smaller, more economical vehicles, and don’t have $20,000 to throw into a decent RV, so tenting allows us to remain somewhat frugal while still enjoying a good camping experience.

Comfort

This is maybe the second most obvious difference between tenting and camping. Tents don’t have built-in furnaces and big fold-out beds. Some tents don’t even have room for an adult to stand up straight in them. RVs, on the other hand, give you all of the creature comforts of home. Regular bedding, fresh sheets, shelter from the wind and the sunshine, to say nothing of shelter from the rain as well. A nice clean flush toilet right next to your bed, while those tenters in the next campsite over have to schlep themselves over to the outhouse every time nature calls. This is I think the #1 draw of RVs is the “I’m at home” feeling you get inside the RV, while still having nature, a campfire, and any other kind of outdoor adventure you could think of close at hand.

Hinterland-Princes-First-Camp-of-2014-Elk-Island-Retreat-Tenting-Edmonton-Alberta-Camping

Convenience

If you’re travelling from place to place, an RV is uber convenient too. You don’t need to pack all of your clothes and shoes into a bag when you want to move on to the next campground. Set-up mostly involves parking the trailer where you want it, putting down the levelling jacks, and you’re good to go. Tenting isn’t as friendly to setting-up and tearing-down repeatedly, particularly when you’re talking about family camping, which might involve both a regular tent and a screen tent over the table. From a parenting perspective, it’s also convenient to have something similar to home to help maintain your family routine: bedrooms (or at least a door to close) for bedtime, naptime, or time-outs. Kitchen tables to keep little people in their seats at meal times. Couches for sitting and reading, or napping. Maybe even TV’s to catch a couple episodes of whatever is on during breakfast, or to watch a movie during afternoon quiet time. The normalcy of the RV experience can really be a plus for kids who crave consistency and routine.

The Experience

And this is where I get to wax romantic about how much I enjoy tenting as a camping experience, because as much as I understand the appeal of RVing, I still consciously choose to go and take my family tenting. Sleeping beneath a thin nylon roof, feeling the ground beneath my back, wrapped in a sleeping bag…. that is camping to me. Cooking and eating on a picnic table, fighting off bugs at mealtimes, washing dishes in a Rubbermaid container, getting drinking water from a huge blue drum, these are the experiences that I crave. Heck, the whole process of setting up the campsite, picking where to lay the tent, erecting it, getting the bedding and bags organized, setting up the camp kitchen, these things excite me, specifically because they are not experiences I get at home. These differences from being at home is why tent camping appeals to me.

Now, not everyone feels like I do. (Obviously.) Some people don’t want the “camping” stuff that I love, and enjoy the change of pace that comes with being in a campground, the easy access to nature, and having a campfire every night. The important part of this article is to hopefully start you thinking about what parts of camping appeal to you, and to then go and make those parts happen. The nice thing is, there are a lot of ways to dip your toes into tenting or RVing before committing fully to adding camping to your lifestyle. You can rent RV’s, you can borrow tents, you can bring most of what you already have at home…. And you can figure out the best way for yourself.

So, what kind of camping do YOU do?

3 Replies to “Camping with Kids 101 – Tent vs. RV”

    1. The nice thing about a person’s “camping experience” is that it exists on a continuum. Going RVing with my Dad & Step Mom is actually relatively far from glamping, as we still do a ton of cooking over an open fire and the RV is mostly just used for sleeping and storage. Then you see people who have RV’s that are larger than most apartment suites, with huge satellite dishes hanging off the back and everyone looking fully put together at all times. At least everyone is out there having fun.

      What I’m trying to say is, there’s nothing wrong with a little glamping, if that’s your thing. 🙂

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