Airstream Basecamp
Airstream

24 Affordable Camper Alternatives for Escaping the Crowds

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Airstream Basecamp
Airstream

RV or Aren't V?

If you own a recreational vehicle, your summer RV season might have started months ago when you began plotting your route and reserving sites. If you don't own one, there are plenty of reasons not to. They're big; they're expensive; they eat up lots of gas; they require yet another vehicle if you want to get around town wherever you're going; and they require lots of storage space. If you love car camping, but are tired of tents and aren't ready for an RV, here are a few cost-effective alternatives.


Prices and availability are subject to change.


Related: 50 Budget-Friendly RV Campgrounds to Check Out

Habitents
Habitents

Habitents

$100 from Habitents
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You're giving yourself a moderate amount of space for sleeping and no amenities such as a kitchen or toilet, but you have access to your vehicle's lights, radio, power outlets, and other features. Also, it folds up and stows in the glove compartment of a Toyota Prius, Honda Fit, Subaru Outback and Legacy, or other hatchbacks.


Savings Tip: For quick and easy shipping, also check out Amazon's selection of truck tents.

Rightline Gear Truck Tent
Amazon

Rightline Gear Truck Tent

$190 from Amazon 
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Pickups are great camping vehicles, but aren't so great for sleeping out under the stars when the bugs are biting. This floorless tent buckles right onto a pickup truck's bed, sleeps two and provides a mesh-screen view of the night sky. Throw in the brand's truck air mattress, and you've got yourself some comfortable, portable sleeping quarters. Not a truck owner? Rightline Gear also makes an SUV tent for $290. 


Related: 33 Greatest American Trucks of All Time

Napier Sportz Dome To Go
Napier Outdoors

Napier Sportz Dome-to-Go

$380 from Napier Outdoors 
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A simple dome tent that attaches to a hatchback or SUV with a sleeve, this tent is as ideal for tailgating as it is for a weekend of car camping. Complete with rain awning and 17 square feet of space, this gives you a little bit of room without requiring a lot of labor to set up or break down. 


Related: The Best State Park in Every State

Kodiak Canvas Truck Tent
Kodiak Canvas

Kodiak Canvas Truck Tent

$370 from Kodiak Canvas 
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Not all truck tents are meant to withstand the elements. This tent comes in multiple sizes to fit just about any pickup truck and is made of watertight canvas that can extend over the tailgate, if necessary. With a 5-foot ceiling, five windows, and rails that connect right to the truck bed, this all-purpose tent can save a vacation when the weather is less than ideal.


Related: Top-Rated Hammocks From Walmart and Other Online Stores

Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2Tent
Tepui Tents

Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2Tent

$1,300 from Tepui Tents 
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Rooftop tents got their start in Australia, where it pays to put some space between yourself and the various pests and predators on the ground. You simply attach it to a vehicle's roof rack, undo some straps, attach poles and the included ladder and you're done. 

Davis Tent Company Wall Tent
Davis Tent

Davis Tent Company Wall Tent

$1,899 to $2,139 from Davis Tent & Awning 
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If you're a hunter — or even a "hunter" who just likes to spend the occasional wintry weekend out with friends kicking back and cooking out — chances are you're already familiar with these canvas tents. Equipped with wood stoves, vinyl flooring and space for up to four people, these tents are equipped to withstand the elements while providing a little extra comfort in the high country or during the shoulder seasons. 


Related: 20 Cheap Campfire-Friendly Meals

Coachmen Clipper Camping Trailer
RV Trader

Coachmen Clipper Camping Trailer

$4,000 to more than $20,000


The "Express" version sells for just $4,350, but is basically a two-person tent with a bed in it. The hard-sided model can be had for about twice the price of the Express, but isn't quite as roomy as the Classic. That comes with a stove, toilet, shower, dinette, storage and lots of sleeping room. 

Maggiolina Carbon Fiber
Autohome USA

Maggiolina Carbon Fiber

$5,799 to $6,599 from Maggiolina
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If you value a lighter tent and more space over money, this is your roof tent. Weighing just 101 pounds and sleeping two adults and a child easily, this carbon-fiber tent is made to withstand winds of up to 50 mph. It also puts 4 inches of insulation between campers and their vehicle while putting them on 3.5 inches of plush foam mattress.


Related: DIY RVs and Vans You Have to See to Believe

Jayco Jay Sport
Jayco, Inc.

Jayco Jay Sport

Around $10,000 to more than $15,000


When most people think of a tent trailer or pop-up trailer, this is what comes to mind. Not quite a travel trailer and not quite a tent, this is a reasonable means of upgrading a camping experience with amenities such as actual beds, a kitchen, dining area, a roof fan, water-resistant flooring, and storage for all of your stuff. The price can rise substantially when you start adding items such as sofas, showers, or extra dining space, but it's easy to tote around at just 1,570 to 1,875 pounds when emptied. Jayco is out of the pop-up business, but its products may still be found in dealers' stock and on sites such as RV Trader, and there are competitors with similar products, such as Forest River and Aliner.

Forest River Flagstaff Tent Camper
Forest River, Inc.

Forest River Flagstaff Tent Camper

$9,000 to $17,000

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It's a tent trailer, but it's a lot bigger than some of the others on this list. Starting at 1,465 pounds for the 12-foot base model and more than 2,400 pounds for the decked-out 17-footer, you'll need at least a small SUV to pull it. That said, even the base floor plans have a storage trunk, spring mattress, a slide-out dinette, and power lift system. Paying more gets you ventilation fans, taller accommodations, an electric water pump, an awning, air conditioning, USB ports, and more.


Related: From Covered Wagon to Winnebago: The Evolution of the RV

Big Woody Ultimate Teardrop Camper
Big Woody Campers
Fleet Truck Camper
Four Wheel Campers

Fleet Truck Camper

Starting at $19,395 


Four-Wheel Campers knows its way around slide-in pickup campers, but this model that fits into the bed of the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, and other small trucks is exceptional. The fleet is just 1,045 pounds empty and sleeps two to three adults or a bed and couch. There's a sink, stove, countertops, 6 feet, 4 inches of headroom, and options from a fridge to a water purification system. 


Related: 32 RV Accessories to Make Road Life More Luxurious

Meerkat Camper
Little Guy Trailers

Meerkat Camper

$22,970

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This trailer from San Diego-based Little Guy Trailers weighs just 900 pounds, which means just about any four-cylinder car with a hitch can pull it. The full kitchen has a seating area that converts into a bed, storage under the seats, a refrigerator, a sink, a 120-volt electrical system with outlets, wood cabinets and a full closet. For those who are a bit tall for this tiny trailer, there's a pop-up top that provides some extra space.

Cricket Trailer
eBay

Cricket Trailer

Roughly $30,000

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Taxa Outdoors' 15-foot tent-trailer hybrid has one axle, weighs all of 1,500 pounds and can be towed by even a four-cylinder car or SUV. With room for two adults and two kids, multiple windows, a pop-up vent, solar panels, battery or outlet electrical system, LED lighting, and a kitchen sink with plumbing hookups, it has a whole lot of RV amenities. It does, however, get awfully close to RV pricing. 


Related: 30 Most Iconic SUVs of All Time

Volkswagen Vanagon Westphalia
Volkswagen Vanagon Westphalia by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

Volkswagen Vanagon

$12,500 to $55,000


These haven't been sold new here since the early '90s, but these Volkswagen vans were built for conversion. Some factory models were flat-out campers with a refrigerator, two-burner stove, stainless steel sink, cabinets, and heaters. You can still find multiple versions on used-car sites such as Autotrader, and replacement parts, including the Westfalia pop-up mesh top, are available on sites such as GoWesty


Related: The Coolest VW Vans Through the Decades

Camp-Inn 560 Ultra Raindrop Trailer
eBay

Camp-Inn 560 Ultra Raindrop Trailer

Around $20,000

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If you want to go a bit more luxurious with a teardrop trailer, the Raindrop is the way to go. Ranging between 1,040 and 1,430 pounds, depending on the options you've added to it, this 13-foot trailer fits a queen-sized bed, a front couch that converts into bunk beds, two doors, multiple cabinets, vintage hardware, a roof fan, a full kitchen out back, stainless steel counters and tables, water and propane hookups, and multiple power outlets. It's pricey, but it's pretty.


Related: The Most Beautiful RV Drives in America

Northstar Laredo Truck Camper
Northstar Campers

Northstar Laredo Truck Camper

$28,240

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You're going to need a heavy-duty, 3/4-ton truck such as the Chevrolet Silverado 2500, Ford F-250 Super Duty, or Ram 2500HD to hold it, but those with the payload capacity for this 2,100-pound camper get a bargain. A full dinette, kitchen (with three-burner stove and refrigerator), full closet, bathroom (with shower and toilet), swing-away table, and four windows. You don't need a full RV if your truck already is one.


Savings Tip: If you don't want to commit to buying, RVshare has towable campers and pop-ups available to rent


Related: The Coolest Off-Road RVs for Battling Rough Weather

Safari Condo Alto-R Trailer
Safari Condo

Safari Condo Alto-R Trailer

Around $30,000 

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Tall campers and trailers don't always coexist peacefully. But the Alto R takes this into account with a retractable aluminum roof that increases the height to nearly 7 feet. The aluminum body keeps the trailer's weight to less than 1,900 pounds, while still housing amenities including two dining areas, a flush toilet, shower, space and water heater, refrigerator, stove, sink, electrical outlets, and LED lighting. It's small enough to fit in most garages but light enough to be pulled by most cars and SUVs. 


Related: Over-the-Top Celebrity RVs

Airstream Basecamp
Airstream, Inc.

Airstream Basecamp

Starts at $39,100

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Airstream trailers retain their vintage Atomic Era look, but these rolling aluminum hot dogs have updated with Wi-Fi, LED lighting, USB ports, device docking, and other features. They tend to be a bit dear for trailers, but this two-person base model comes with a rear hatch, charging stations, fold-down sink and stove, heating, air conditioning, toilet, and shower with hot and cold water. It's Airstream's entry-level offering, but it's packed with more features than most entry-level RVs several times its size. 


Related: 13 Airstreams That Made the Silver Bullet So Iconic

School bus converted into mobile living quarters
School bus converted into mobile living quarters by Rick Obst (CC BY)

Converted School Buses

Whether you're a snowboarder chasing storms, a band on the run, or just a free spirit in search of adventure, the converted school bus may be for you. With the seats torn out, both full-sized and short school buses have plenty of room for bunk beds, full kitchens, showers, and other amenities. Skoolies are their own subculture, but a quick check-in to Bus Life Adventure can help you find your own Furthur.


Related: 10 Countries Where They Love RVs as Much as Americans Do

​Rolling Huts
©TripAdvisor

​Rolling Huts

$145 a night 


Oh, we didn't say you could buy this particular RV alternative. Located just outside of the Old West-themed town of Winthrop, Washington, the Rolling Huts are a rolling herd of small cabins with room for two, a fridge, a microwave, a coffee pot, and Wi-Fi. Your grill, toilet, and faucet are all outside, while your shower is in a nearby barn. These mini cabins may be on wheels, but they're roughing it more effectively than some of the tent trailers we've featured. 


Related: 10 DIY Kit Homes We're Daydreaming About

Lancaster Park Model Cabins
Lancaster Log Cabins

Lancaster Park Model Cabins

$30,900 to $33,900

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Now if you want a cabin you can actually take with you, Lancaster Log Cabins has several different floor plans to choose from. If you're looking for a cost-effective model that can be towed with a pickup or large SUV, the one-room model is the way to go. With a double bed, bunk bed, full bathroom with shower, kitchen with sink and fridge, air conditioning, and a television built in, this cabin and its quaint little front porch make a lovely portable home for four. 


Related: Tiny Houses Across the Country for Every Budget

Pontiac Aztek
Pontiac Aztek by Mike (CC BY-SA)

Pontiac Aztek Camping Package

It's a shame Walter White's car from "Breaking Bad" was so painfully ugly: It was more innovative than most people realized. During its original run in the early 2000s, the Aztek came with a swing-open tailgate, a removable cargo tray, a center console cooler, 93.5 cubic feet of cargo space, a 10-speaker stereo with rear controls, and a camping package that included a tent attachment, an air mattress, and a compressor for inflating said air mattress. These cars now sell for $1,400 to $11,000, while the mattress-tent combos can still be found online and occasionally on eBay. 


Related: 25 Ugly Cars That Never Should Have Left the Assembly Line

Honda Element with Tent/Cabana
Amazon

Honda Element With Tent/Cabana

The Honda Element was yet another great camping car that got less than a decade on U.S. roads, but at least the brand is still alive and the vehicle is still beloved. While used versions sell for as little as $2,000, the final 2011 models can fetch nearly $14,000 simply because people liked the surf wagon's washable rubber floors, stain-repellent fabric, tall ceiling, and general surfer- and pet-friendliness. Honda offered a factory-made cabana that was basically a changing station that attached to the back of the vehicle. It also offered an attachable tent that sleeps six, and both items are still easily bought today.


Related: 15 Tiny RVs for Big Fun on the Road