A comparison in features, tradeoffs, comfort and convenience
Small trailers have a lot in common, but there are pros and cons to selecting an enclosed trailer like a teardrop or choosing an adventure trailer with a roof top tent.
An enclosed trailer will offer you more protection from the elements and is generally better than a tent in colder weather. In hot weather, it may retain more heat than a tent. The number of doors/screens and vents has a big impact on that. The access is closer to the ground than a tent with a ladder, and you have the option of more amenities inside. It is usually ready to sleep in without setup. Some teardrops have minimal furniture like a collapsible table or small cabinets. If so equipped, the mattress is often folded and some reconfiguration needs to happen to get the bed laid out for sleeping. Some have air conditioning, TVs, and a built in solar management power system. Most have a galley on the back, ranging from simple shelving and storage to nicely finished cooking areas with a sink, refrigerator, lighting, and food prep area. If you have a finished galley, there is little effort required in opening it up and getting cooking.
Most teardrop trailers have fixed sides and roof, with a hinged lid over a galley on the back. The trailer’s interior space can be limited, sometimes to just the bed. Storage space is also limited and you have to be creative on how you carry your gear. Some trailers have storage boxes mounted in the front, some have below floor storage or storage below the galley. The larger and deeper the galley, the more it intrudes into the sleeping area. You will often have most of your gear in your tow vehicle. If you haul your gear inside the trailer, you’ll have to take it out for a place to sleep. These trailers are generally more expensive than a tent trailer.
A tent trailer is one specifically designed with roof rails to accommodate a Roof Top Tent (RTT). These photos illustrate the trailer and RTT (without rain fly attached) that we have.
We have this same Yakima Easy Rider Trailer https://amzn.to/3MItKhp with a Yakima Skyrise 3 Roof Top Tent (out of stock). At 175 lbs., this aluminum tubing trailer is extremely light. Add 100 pounds for the tent and about 25 for the rack, and what you see (without kayak) is about 300 pounds total. Light enough to be safely towed behind just about anything with a trailer hitch. The trailer is designed for boats on the bottom, but I built a floor for gear. I can carry 4 waterproof cargo boxes and tandem kayak, or leave the kayak home and put three more boxes on it. The trailer total load limit is 500 pounds. Shown here I have two Roam Adventure waterproof boxes mounted. The lower box is attached to the 4′ x 8′ plywood floor and hinges at the back, while the Roam box on top is attached to the Yakima Skinny Warrior Cargo Basket, and opens from the side. The other boxes and bags are bungied down and removable. Even with our tandem kayak loaded, I am able to load all of our camping gear in the storage boxes, except our refrigerator/freezer. More on that later.
When open, the tent stays attached to the roof rails on the trailer, and the tent pops open much like a kid’s popup book. It takes about 5 min. to open and 10 min. to close. The ladder supports the weight of the open side. You can see in the photo with the tent open that the ladder is only partially extended. This ladder would be fully extended if the tent was mounted on the roof of a car. Mounting it on the trailer keeps the sleeping area about 4 feet off the ground, vs. about 8 feet when mounted on a car roof. Most soft RTTs like this fold in half, usually a 4’ x 4’ square, and opens to 4’ x 8’ when open. This essentially gives the same square footage as a 4’ wide teardrop. Shown in the company’s photos and on my trailer with the optional Yakima Skinny Warrior Cargo Basket mounted on the cross rails next to the RTT. When the tent is open, the window provides access to this basket from inside the tent. Also shown above is the optional Yakima Tent Kit, which consists of stabilizing feet and wheel chocks.
When the tent is open, there is room to sit up but not stand. It has an integrated memory foam mattress that covers the full floor of the tent. There are side pockets for storage of small items. The mattress is very comfortable without additional sleeping pads.
A nice feature of a tent trailer is that any RTT that fits standard rails can be mounted on the trailer. Our RTT and trailer are both Yakima, but this isn’t necessary.
There are also hard cover roof top tents that pop straight up or open to the side. These are more aerodynamic, waterproof when closed, and easier to open and close. However, they are more expensive, and many are smaller when open because they don’t expand the sleeping area.
Some tent trailers have enclosed storage while some, like ours, are open. I built a plywood floor for ours to mount storage boxes in addition to our kayak.
Tent trailers are popular with off-roading campers who boondock in remote areas and travel with overloading groups. Many have rugged off road suspension and larger wheels. These can be much more expensive than a “road trailer.” Some of these are made with roof rails that can accommodate an RTT. Some are exclusively gear storage on the bottom, RTT for sleeping on the top, while some have sleeping room inside, and the RTT on top for more campers.
The biggest difference between a tent trailer and a teardrop is the galley. With a nicely finished galley, the trailer has a functional kitchen that is always ready to use. With both teardrops and tent trailers, you are cooking outside, but the teardrop has a convenient workspace area much more like a kitchen. There are some tradeoffs however. If you have added a sink, you have added the weight of fresh water storage and gray water waste that has to be dumped. At 8.33 pounds a gallon, a small 3 gallon fresh water tank and 3 gallon gray waste tank add 50 pounds in liquid alone. The method of dumping your waste water will vary from trailer to trailer, but the hassle factor is worthy of consideration. If you store this trailer outside, there is some degree of winterization to take into account. Also, if you have a refrigerator installed, you need to factor the weight of the refrigerator, food, the slide out, and power management system (solar panel, battery, solar controller, inverter). The galleys shown above are the heaviest part of these trailers. This is important to take into account in weight distribution, where you want your trailer weight to be evenly balanced over both sides of the axle.
As the owner of a tent trailer that is open to the elements, I chose to mount my refrigerator on a slide out in my tow vehicle. This Dometic CFX3 75DZ is a fairly large refrigerator/freezer, but very convenient and accessible this way. This takes up about 25% of my car space with seats folded, but it is secure, protected from the elements, and the power system remains inside the car as well.
With the fridge on one side, our other slide out can be used as a table or food prep area. Long shallow drawers provide good storage for silverware and small kitchen items. Usually our cooking is done on an external table. The JetBoil Genesis Basecamp stove is an exceptional quality two burner unit comparable to burners permanently mounted in a galley or RV kitchen. It is, however, something that has to be setup and taken down and stored.
Both teardrops and tent trailers are compact and comparable in size. The Yakima Easy Rider comes standard with a folding tongue and is small enough to be stored in our garage.
Both trailers also are designed to be minimal, focused on providing a comfortable place to sleep. Camping with either gives the camper an outdoor camping experience a large part of the time. Even though I have a tent trailer, I’ve tried to stay objective. Both have great pros and cons. I’ve talked more about tent trailers based on years of personal experience. My comments on teardrops, which I have never owned, are based on research, specs, and other owner’s comments. I hope this was educational, and if it helps someone make an informed purchase decision either way, I’ve accomplished my goal. Good camping!