by Dale Coyner
There’s a lot of truth in the cliche “less is more,” especially when it comes to small pop up campers. I’ve spoken with a number of folks over the last few years who are selling off their full-size travel trailer and going to a class of small, lightweight camper that are marketed primarily for motorcycles.
A motorcycle camper doesn’t offer quite as many conveniences as a larger camper does. There’s no kitchen or stand up shower. No cedar lined closets or flat panel TV. But small pull behind campers have advantages that make up for some of those missing conveniences. Here are ten reasons that a lightweight motorcycle tent trailer might just be the solution you’re looking for, whether you’re getting your first camper or thinking about downsizing.
Low up front cost. Of course a mini camper is less expensive, often by a lot. Pop up camper prices for a comfortable, US made, 2 person camper begins at around $3,000. How is that an advantage? For starters, that’s low enough that many folks can buy one outright, avoiding costly interest payments. If you decide to finance, check with your bank or credit union. A mini camper is a vehicle with a VIN, so many financial institutions would consider a secured loan. That means a much better interest rate. And, if you go a couple of months without using your camper, you won’t feel the nagging guilt you would every month you stroke a payment check for that big travel trailer that sits unused in your driveway.
Tow with any vehicle. While mini campers are most often marketed as motorcycle campers, they can be towed by any vehicle, a tiny Smart Car, a three-wheel Spyder, or even a mid-size motorcycle. There’s no need to buy an expensive diesel-sucking dually pick-up to pull a mini camper. Two-seater sports cars like the Miata can handle one easily. That means any compact or full size car or truck can tow a small pop up camper. When towing with a four-wheel vehicle, a motorcycle pop up camper will have nearly zero impact on your gas mileage. Any model can be wired with a flat-four plug which fits most vehicles equipped with a hitch. Here’s what it looks like to tow a camper with a motorcycle. I’m towing at a responsible speed, but it ain’t slowing me down.
Easy maintenance. When you have a big camper, there are a lot of things to take care of, whether you use it or not. It’s like taking care of a boat. Mini campers require a lot less. At the beginning of the year, I set mine up and spray it with Scotchguard to improve the fabric’s rain repellency. I’ll hit the hinges with a little silicon lube. During the year, I just make sure it’s clean and dry when I pack it up. Once every couple of years I’ll check the bearings to make sure the grease is still fresh. That’s it.
Easier and less costly to store. There’s no need to rent an expensive parking spot or build a hangar-sized addition to your garage to house a mini camper. In the winter, take off the tongue and your camper would consume up a manageable 65” x 43” space in the garage.
More outdoor experience. At what point does camping with all the conveniences of home cross the line and simply become “living in a different place?” That’s what travel trailers signify to me. When I go camping, I want to be closer to the outdoors, not insulated from it. To me, that’s one of the big advantages of pop up camping. I don’t want to bring along the 24 hour news channels or the microwave popcorn. I want the four C’s of camping: a campfire, a comfy chair, good conversation, and a cigar. And a beer.
Comfortable where it counts. While you do give up a lot of built-in amenities, a pop up camper offers the most important conveniences. You get a roomy bed area comfortable for two. Some campers feature sitting areas that give two people plenty of room to relax inside a fully screened living space.. If needed, some models feature add-on rooms that allow you to create a much larger space. Air conditioning is an option. Some folks tote along a porta potty, which is a matter of personal preference. For more covered space outside, some models like the Time Out camper offer an L-shaped awning that creates a lot of covered space.
Access to more camping spots. Lightweight mini campers are narrower than any car or truck and much lower, which means you can park them in more remote spots than larger campers. I frequently camp at friends’ homes in the Appalachian mountains. I can park my camper on their lawn and not worry that I’ll leave ruts behind. Mini campers much easier to maneuver which means anyone can easily park one with confidence. And if you can’t get it in just the right spot, you can unhook it from the vehicle and move it by hand. Try that with a fifth wheel! You can tow them pretty much anywhere, even Alaska, as this Mini Mate customer will tell you.
Ready to go, so you camp more. When I come home from a camping trip, I take about ten minutes to vacuum out the inside with a battery-operated hand vac, wipe down the roof, and organize my gear. When I close up the camper, it’s immediately ready to go. Now I know you can do this with a travel trailer as well, but the task is a lot larger. It’s like cleaning a house. The fact is that having the mini camper ready to go, with less fuss, means you’ll do more camping. Just pull it out, hook it up, and drive away. Camping really doesn’t get any easier than that.
Fast, easy set up. In the videos I create that show how to set up a pop-up camper, it generally takes me, alone, less than ten minutes to set up camp. The Mini Mate camper sets up in two minutes. That’s less time than it takes to set up most travel trailers and way faster than setting up a tent. Likewise, striking camp is equally fast. In the morning, I can be packed and ready to go in twenty minutes. When you’re traveling point to point, that’s a big plus. You can either get an early start, or sleep in a little longer. Plus, you don’t need to go through an arm’s-length checklist to make sure you’ve stowed and strapped everything. If you’re traveling on a motorcycle, you know what that’s like. It’s a pain.
Very low depreciation. Finally, if there does come a time that you decide to sell your mini camper, you’ll be surprised at its resale value. Used tent trailers that are small enough to be pulled by a motorcycle are in high demand. It is not an exaggeration to say that a well-kept motorcycle camper can hold up to 90% of its value over the first three years, and more than 75% over five years.
I know the folks at “GoRVing” would have an issue with this, but as you think about your next camper, consider what you really want from a camping experience. If you’re looking to create a home away from home, a big fifth wheel trailer or Class A motorhome might be the right fit. But if you’re looking to enjoy more of the great outdoors, the way it was meant to be enjoyed, then a lightweight motorcycle camper might just be what you’re looking for.