Definitive Folding Camper & Trailer Tent Guide
Up until now, there has never been a central point of reference for all folding campers and trailer tents available in the UK. Most manufacturers will have details of their current models on their web site, and some of the more proactive owners clubs, such as those of Conway and Dandy will have manufacturer specific information on their sites as well, however, to the best of our knowledge, there are no definitive guides out there, at present, covering all folding campers and trailer tents, regardless of manufacturer, age and product type.
In October 2014, we started work on the Folding Camper & Trailer Tent Definitive Guide. The aim of this guide is to document every model of folding camper and trailer tent ever sold in the UK, with, wherever possible, dimensions, specifications, photos, videos, and reviews with any applicable instructions, brochures or other documentation, available for free download. This is a project that will, more than likely, take many months to complete, and any input from readers of the guide to help us fill in the gaps will be greatly appreciated. Throughout the course of this feature, we will be referring to the guide, as and when appropriate, however, please bear in mind that the pages we are linking to are purely to help with this feature, and some of the ongoing links on those pages, may not, yet, be valid.
What Are The Options?
When looking to buy a trailer tent or folding camper, there are a number of options and choices to make. The first is; trailer tent or folding camper? Many people are unaware of the difference between the two, and it’s something that we covered in one of our very first articles on this blog; Folding Campers. What’s It All About? For now, however, the basics are that a trailer tent is, as the name suggests, a tent in a trailer. Once opened out, the unit is pitched in much the same way as a standard tent, and requires a considerable amount of pegging out. The traditional trailer tent is comprised of the main trailer area and the awning area. Because the former will, normally, only contain two double beds, a little storage and, possibly, a couple of bench style seats, the awning area will naturally form an integral part of the living space, containing most storage, kitchen and eating / lounging functions. In contrast, a folding camper is the equivalent of a caravan base, with a canvas upper. Like a trailer tent, the beds fold / slide out from the main trailer, however, unlike a trailer tent, a folding camper will also include all necessary equipment required for a break away, including ‘proper’ seating, kitchen, full storage, and in some cases, a toilet / washroom compartment. This means that you do not need the optional awning, in order to utilise the folding camper to its full potential. The awning is only, normally, required if you wish to extend the living space, to either accommodate more occupants, or for longer periods away. The other key distinction with a folding camper is that it does not need to be pegged out at all, which, coupled with the fact that it does not need an awning, means that it can be set up, on average, in around 15 minutes, as opposed to over an hour for a traditional trailer tent (though certain types of trailer tent can be set up much faster, as we will see below). As no pegging is required, this means that a folding camper will, normally, only make contact with the ground at the wheels and corner steadies, in much the same way as a caravan. This is why they can be classified as either a folding caravan or a trailer tent on most sites, giving greater flexibility of venue, as they are accepted almost anywhere.
When choosing our first / next unit, there are five main options:
- Traditional trailer tent
- Pram hood style trailer tent
- Solid floor, ‘Combi-Camp’ style trailer tent
- Four berth, rear entry folding camper
- Six berth, side entry folding camper
To get an idea of what option is best for us, we need to look at the pros, cons and features of each option.
Traditional Trailer Tent
The traditional trailer tent, as the name suggests, is, by far, the most common form of trailer tent available. Manufacturers of these include; Cabanon, Conway, Jamet, Raclet, Sunncamp and Trigano. The traditional trailer tent has been around for over 50 years, and is still the most common type in production today, so the design and appearance can vary significantly, however, they all operate under the same principle.
The trailer opens out to form two beds and a central floor space, which may, or may not, include basic bench seating, and some limited storage. The canvas is then pegged out, and awning is added, to form the main living area. The kitchen unit is, usually, free standing. To see this in operation, take a look at the Raclet Safari Setup Video.
Sometimes it will be a standard camping kitchen, as would be used in any normal tent, and, sometimes, it will be an integral unit that is attached to the trailer in transit, and then either lifts off or swings out, in use, when on site. The main advantage of this type of unit is that it offers more overall living space than the vast majority of the alternatives. On the down side, it takes far longer than the other options, at, usually, considerably over an hour, all in, to set up.
Due to the limited facilities within the trailer area, itself, it won’t, ordinarily, be practical to use it without the awning attached, other, than, maybe, for a quick one night stopover, and, hence, the extended setup time.
Whilst most traditional trailer tents are four berth, as standard, the majority will also have the under bed storage / sleeping compartments, to, potentially, increase their capacity to eight berths.
Pram Hood Style Trailer Tents.
The pram hood style trailer tent is a trailer tent in every sense of the word, however, it is much quicker to set up than a traditional trailer tent, although that will, often, come at a compromise, in respect of living space available.
The most prolific manufacturers of this type of trailer tent are Camp-let, along with former competitors Comanche, who are now sold, in the UK, by Camp-let, and, also, Trigano, who, like Comanche, produce a wide variety of different model types.
This type of trailer tent is very different from the traditional models. The trailer opens out to form two beds, in a similar way, however, there is, usually, no central space between them, as the beds are right adjacent to each other. Having opened out the beds, the canvas then pulls over the entire living area (not just the beds), much like the hood of a pram (and, hence, the name). To see this in operation, take a look at the Camp-let Promotional Video.
These models fall somewhere between the traditional style and the Combi-Camps, they are much faster to set up than the traditional models, but without the same degree of space. In contrast, they are larger than the Combi-Camps, in the main, but not as quick to set up.
The pram hood style of trailer tent is popular with couples and families alike.
Although, not, generally, as large as traditional models, one notable exception is the Trigano Olympe, which, as well as being the largest model of the genre, also has under bed sleeping / storage pods, unlike the smaller Camp-lets, giving it a total berth capacity of up to twelve people.
Combi-Camp Style Trailer Tents
So named, because of their original and, subsequently, prolific manufacture by Combi-Camp. Similar styled models have, also, been manufactured by a variety of other manufacturers, including, to a lesser extent, Comanche, Conway and Raclet.
The main distinction with this genre is that, unlike all others, the roof of the trailer opens out, not to form a second bed, but to form a solid floor to the main living area.
This makes them extremely quick to set up (Combi-Camp, themselves, quote a setup time of 45 seconds, plus awning). To see how this process works, take a look at the Caravan Channel Combi-Camp Video Review.
Even the awning is quick to set up, as the awning poles slide out from the main unit, however, as we have seen from the previous types of trailer tent, there is, usually, a trade off between speed and space, and these are no exception. The Combi-Camps are by far the fastest type of trailer tents, but, also, therefore, the smallest, Indeed, because the top of the trailer becomes the floor, rather than a second bed, many are, in their standard form, two berth only, with additional berths being created by the use of optional awning annexes. That said; there are a large number of four berth options available, as well, with the beds being turned through 90 degrees, and protruding out into the living area. This does allow the extra berths, but at the cost of available floor space.
Four Berth, Rear Entry Folding Camper
Folding camper models are less common than trailer tents, particularly current models. The choice of manufacturers (outside of the USA) is limited to Conway, Dandy, Opus, Pennine, Raclet (Tamaris, only) and Trigano. Of those, only Pennine and Opus are still producing folding campers, and they are down to just four models and one model, respectively.
The four berth options are all rear entry, and, usually, comprise a double bed either side, with kitchen at the front, directly opposite the door.
Most will have a least one settee, but many have two. Some are independent and fixed, whilst others may be made up from one or both of the double beds.
Where these gain over the trailer tents is that they are totally self contained, with sleeping, lounging and cooking all happening in one area.
Whilst many people consider this an advantage, others don’t like the thought of cooking right next to a sleeping area, and some will prefer to cook in the awning, choosing not to use the in built kitchen at all.
Examples of this type of folding camper include the Pennine Aztec and Pennine Fiesta, the Conway Countryman, and Trigano Randger 415DL To take a tour around a typical four berth camper, take a look at the Aztec Tour Video, Including Awning.
These campers are a similar size and weight to the average trailer tent, so exceptionally easy to manoeuvre, both when towing and on site, but include more equipment and facilities, thereby allowing them to be used in stand alone format, without the optional awning. If extra accommodation is needed, it is usually available in the form of under bed tents, although, to be fair, these are, usually, best suited to children, rather than adults. Most have a gross laden weight of between 500kg and 750kg, meaning they can be towed by all but the very smallest of vehicles.
Six Berth, Side Entry Folding Camper
These models best typify the definition of folding campers as canvas topped caravans, as they are a similar layout to many caravans, and incorporate the familiar side door entry.
Most models will have a fold over or slide out bed at either end.
Working from the rear of the unit, you will normally have a double or king size bed, dinette seating, converting to an additional double, A kitchen, with door and cupboards / wardrobe opposite, and, finally, a second fold / slide out bed at the front. Certain models, such as the Pennine Pathfinder will also have a toilet / washroom facility, as well, in between the kitchen and front double bed.
Although having a similar footprint to the average two berth caravan, these folding campers are even easier to tow, as they are lower and lighter, and, yet, they offer full six berth accommodation, in three double beds, two of which can be left permanently made up.
These units offer the maximum internal space in any folding camper, and the accommodation can be further doubled by using the optional awning.
The six berth folding campers are heavier than other genres listed here, with the larger models going up to around 1,000kg, however, they are still, comfortably within the towing capabilities of most average family saloons.
Examples of this type of folding camper include the Pennine Sterling, Pennine Pullman, Conway Crusader, Trigano Randger 575LX / Randger 575TC and the Opus Camper. Of these, the Opus Camper is slightly different, as it is a traditional six berth layout, but with only four berths as standard. Unlike most other models, the settees do not convert to a double bed, however, a single bed option is available for them, if required.
For a general overview of a typical model, take a look at the Pennine Sterling / Pullman Review.
It is also worth mentioning, at this stage, a small section of six berth folding campers, featuring the wind up hard top design. This is, by far, the most common model type in the USA, and, in the early eighties, UK manufacturer Conway, worked in conjunction with American company, Jayco, to produce a small range of hard top models for the UK marketplace. These models included the Tardis and Laser models, as well as the later Cardinal and Clubman.
The bodies were imported from the USA, and then fixed onto the UK legal Al-Ko Chassis by Conway. Production of all hard top models ceased in 2002, when the company was acquired by major competitors; Pennine.
Whilst on the subject of hard top campers, there are a significant number of these produced in the USA, by the likes of Coleman, Fleetwood, Jayco and Starcraft. Although these model ranges are extensive, and diverse (some even including showers, as well as toilets) very few make it into the UK, partly due to prohibitive import costs, and partly due to the fact that US legislation is different from that of the UK and Europe, and most American imports require modifications to be made to brakes, trailer lights and electrics before they can be used here. In spite of this, where possible, each model is still covered, in full detail, in the guide, should you wish to find out more about them.
One other small section of the market place worth mentioning is the motorcycle / small car trailer tent.
This is a small, but popular niche market for ultra small / lightweight trailer tents that can be pulled by a motorcycle or very small car.
Manufacturers Campmaster specialise in this field, with their current models including the Campmaster 2 & 4, the Campmaster Tipi and the Campmaster Air. The only other major manufacturer who deals in this type of trailer tent is Comanche, with their offerings; the MC Camp and the Petit.
We have listed just a few of the available models in this feature, to give an idea of the type and range of models available. For a comprehensive list of all models, feel free to check out the Folding Camper & Trailer Tent Definitive Guide. This project remains in the early stages, at present, however, it is being updated daily, with a view to, ultimately, providing the most comprehensive reference point of folding campers and trailer tents available anywhere. In the meantime, we hope the above content will go some way towards helping those who are new to the whole concept of trailer tents and folding campers to get some sort of idea of what is available out there, and what type of models might best serve their requirements. Whatever make and model you are thinking of buying, if it is second hand, and, particularly, a private sale, you might like to take a look at our Used Folding Camper Buyers Guide which will also apply to anyone looking at buying a second hand trailer tent.