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Rvs Make Camping Easy, but Which Vehicle Is Right for You?

As a teen and then young adult, my girlfriend and I would "car camp" several times per year, using the commodious cargo area of my Nissan hatchback as our sleeping quarters.

As our relationship matured into husband and wife, the novelty of effectively sleeping in the trunk of a car faded, and we graduated to a tent.

With the addition of a daughter, and then a medium-sized dog, that tent became excessively cosy - as did our family vehicle, which now had to accommodate all of us, our food/coolers, our clothing, the tent, the sleeping bags and air mattresses.

Although we enjoyed the outdoors and the time spent with the friends who'd often camp with us, we found ourselves going less and less often.

Our epiphany was the purchase of a small tent trailer by my best friend for his family of four. Now, most of their gear could be stowed in the trailer itself, and nobody had to sleep on uneven ground. Setup and teardown was quick and painless. It made so much sense.

After a couple more sparse seasons of tenting, we bought a folding trailer of our own. We're once again enjoying camping.

The broader term "recreational vehicle" (RV) applies to virtually any self-contained camper, whether small enough to be towed by a motorbike, or a coach-sized luxury cottage on wheels. Chances are that there's an RV to suit your needs and budget.

If you're thinking of going the trailer route, the capacity of the tow vehicle needs to be a major determining factor - bear in mind that rated capacity is normally with the tow vehicle empty. All but the smallest trailers will require some form of brake controller too.

With any RV, storage, both at-home and off-season, requires thought. Bylaws in many areas prohibit driveway parking of RV's. For some, this alone may make renting a better option.

Buying used can save you a great deal of money (our trailer was a Kijiji find), however be forewarned - the outdoor use/seasonal storage and essentially hand-built nature of RVs creates the potential for plenty of pitfalls for uneducated or unsuspecting buyers. We checked out numerous sketchy trailers (some with serious rot) before lucking out on ours. Buying new, or at least from a recognized RV dealer, could go a long way toward making your camping and travels the positive experiences they ought to be.

Travel Trailers A category which also includes pickup truck bed slide-in campers, travel trailers run the gamut from small folding sleeping quarters with wheels, to the popular pop-up tent trailer, hard-sided travel trailers and hybrids.

Small tent trailers - typically "8 foot", like ours - are light enough that some cars and many crossovers can tow them; bigger models (10-12 foot) would necessitate a minivan or pickup, though they often offer features (toilets/showers, queen-sized bunks, slide-outs) the smaller ones don't. When stowed, pop-ups have a compact footprint, and their shorter height makes them easier to tow. Downsides include potentially damage-prone canvas walls and bunk enclosures, reduced storage capacity, and the need to be setup and stowed upon arrival and departure.

Travel trailers also range greatly in size, from teardrop shaped car-towables, right up to massive fifth-wheel units that require a heavy-duty pickup to move them. Available in a dizzying number of configurations - including "toy haulers", which are designed to transport bikes, ATV's or even cars, as well as provide accommodations - many include slide-outs, which are sections that expand outwards (once parked) to increase interior space. Travel trailers require minimal setup time, and they provide greater storage space. Their larger size can pose a problem for at-home and seasonal storage, and it tends to make them harder to tow and manoeuvre.

Hybrids effectively combine the two types, being conventional travel trailers with fold-out, fabric-covered bunks like those on tent trailers, which provides more interior space relative to an equivalent-sized standard travel trailer.

Motorhomes Like trailers, motorhomes come in an array of shapes and sizes. Most can tow a boat, trailer or car behind them. None, with the exception of the few equipped with air brakes, require a special license to drive. There are three primary categories:

Class B RV's are basically converted vans, often with a raised or expandable roof section. In their simplest form, they could function as a second family vehicle year-round, and they're relatively easy to park and drive, as they're the same size or only slightly larger than the original vehicle.

Class C motorhomes are the traditional van-front RV, where the engine and front-seat portion is clearly recognizable (similar to a cube-van), while a custom-made body comprises the rest of the vehicle. Having a conventional cab makes these a more familiar driving experience, and like Class B models, it can also simplify maintenance and repairs. While a few are built on a medium-duty truck chassis ("Super C"), the van foundation of most C's limits their ultimate size. Most C's have a bunk above the cab.

Mention the name "Winnebago", and most people will picture a Class A motorhome, but the category also includes bus-style motorhomes as well. Most Class A's use a medium or heavy-duty rolling chassis provided by a mainstream manufacturer, which is then clothed in a completely custom body (normally with a near-vertical nose), often leaving little to no indication as to its mechanical origins. They can have a front or rear-mounted engine, the latter known as "pushers," which are usually diesel-powered. A's are normally among the largest and most luxurious motorhomes, and it is not unusual for them to have several sizable slide-outs.

Freelance writer Brian Early, a licensed mechanic, is a frequent contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. For more Toronto Star Wheels stories, go to thestar.com/autos . To reach Wheels Editor Norris McDonald:

Rvs Make Camping Easy, but Which Vehicle Is Right for You? 1

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