Important things to know before buying a compact travel trailer

Learn the pros and cons of these cozy RV units

teardrop trailer
Safari Condo makes innovative teardrop trailers. — Photo courtesy Safari Condo

So, you want to buy a trailer?

Before buying something as big as a travel trailer—even if it’s a small-sized model—it’s important to educate yourself on what’s out there, and determine which model will fit your lifestyle. Don’t worry about the size too much. These tiny-sized trailers still offer a lot of the same features as larger rigs, with a few extra pros.

We asked Pat Bremer, compact travel trailer owner, advocate and voice of The Small Trailer Enthusiast blog, to help us narrow down the pros and cons of compact camping. He shared some insider info for our readers looking to downsize or joining the RV life for the first time.

The Bremers currently own two trailers: a 2016 Shasta Oasis 18BH and a 2017 Riverside Retro teardrop. 

“When we had grandson number two come on board a couple years ago, we realized that camping in our 2010 Serro Scotty reproduction would be tight with me, my wife, and the two boys,” he said. They sold the Scotty for the Shasta, which has two bunks plus an RV queen-sized bed.

teardrop trailer kitchen
teardrop trailer kitchen — Photo courtesy Safari Condo

While Pat describes his Shasta as “like any other trailer you see on the road these days,” his Riverside Retro turns heads. He and his wife, Jennifer, choose the teardrop whenever it’s the two of them camping.

Pros of compact travel trailers

Say goodbye to glamping, and hello to the outdoors

First things first, compact trailers feel more like camping, and less like RVing. While it can still be considered glamping if you have a shower and television inside your trailer, the smaller indoor space forces owners to spend more time outside. That’s why you fell in love with RVing in the first place, right? To spend more time outdoors? Right.

Towing is a breeze if you choose the right truck

The Bremers tow both of their travel trailers with a GMC Yukon XL. “It’s more than enough for either trailer, but also gives us good towing capacity if we move up to something a little bigger someday,” Pat said.

However, small trailer owners can get away with a slightly smaller truck if they need to. Just keep in mind the size of your vehicle when choosing a trailer to tow. “Often times I get emails from readers who are looking for a trailer with feature that would weigh in at 2500 pounds or higher, but their tow vehicle is only rated for 2000 pounds,” Bremer said. He advises first timers to pay attention to the features they want, and the capacity of their vehicle. Weigh the importance of specific features to your satisfaction versus the cost of buying a new truck.

Increased manoeuverability

“I love the simplicity of small trailers,” Pat said. Four of the five trailers we’ve owned have been 21 feet or less in length.”

Obviously, small trailers are easier to tow, but they are also easier to manoeuver onto campsites, and set up once you’ve parked for the night.

Pat draws attention to the perks of a compact trailer that most of us don’t immediately think of. 

“The trickiest places where small trailers have an advantage over a large trailer are gas stations and parking lots,” he said.

As a previous owner of a 29-foot trailer, he’s been stuck before. Imagine the nightmare of being low on fuel, without adequate space to drive your big rig through. “With a small trailer, it’s a non-issue in most instances.”

Why buy a compact trailer versus a compact motorhome?

Same idea, but increased livability. Buy removing the engine, driver, and passenger seats, towables offer a little more space for your dollars. Plus, if your engine breaks down, your home on the road isn’t out of commission.

Cons of compact travel trailers

Limited storage space

It’s hard to say anything bad about our favourite pint-sized towables, but if we have to name a downside, the first would be storage. For obvious reasons, smaller trailers offer less storage space than their larger counterparts. However, some newer models are getting creative with maximized storage space.

Pat Bremer says that staying organized helps him and Jennifer combat minimal storage options. Bins, bags—anything that will help you keep track of what goes where, and keep items packed in tight.

The small size might not fit your lifestyle

Realistically consider your lifestyle when deciding what type of rig to buy. How many people will be with you? How many toys do you have or hope to buy? Will a small trailer do the trick, or should you shop bigger? Ultimately, what is best for one person doesn’t work for the next.

So, you want to buy a tiny travel trailer?

Regardless of which make and model you choose, all travel trailers require regular maintenance. 

“An RV goes through the equivalent of a 4.0 earthquake every time the wheels start rolling on the pavement,” Pat said. “Regardless of how solid it leaves the factory, it’s going to eventually need service. Whether it’s a $120 000 Airstream Classic, or a $8000 Riverside Retro teardrop—it’s just part of being an RV owner.”

Want to know which companies are making these compact units? Check out this article on top Canadian compact RV manufacturers.


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