Unless you’re really into roughing it, you probably prefer to stay in something other than a tent when camping for extended periods of time. Don’t get us wrong, tents are great, but if you’re a serious camper who goes often and likes to take some of the comforts of home along with you, then you’ve likely considered purchasing some sort of camper. And that search may have led to you trying to decide between two of the most popular options: teardrop trailers vs Sprinter vans. So which is better for camping? That’s what this guide aims to help you sort out.
Teardrop trailers are tow-behind campers that are shaped like, you guessed it, teardrops. They’re popular not only for their whimsical design language but also because they are easily towable by a number of vehicles and offer a decent amount of space and amenities for their size. Sprinter vans, by contrast, are a legendary van model produced by Mercedes-Benz, and they’ve long been popular as a base vehicle for van conversions that transform these utilitarian vehicles into miniature RVs. Both teardrop trailers and Sprinter vans offer their own pros and cons, so let’s get into which is the better choice for camping.
Things To Know About Teardrop Trailers
Tears Of Joy
Price: If you’re working with a limited budget, teardrop trailers are almost certainly going to be the better option for you. While they aren’t cheap, the cost of buying a teardrop trailer is almost always going to be less expensive than going the Sprinter van route. However, you will need a vehicle that’s capable of towing a teardrop trailer, and while many are small enough to be towed by a variety of cars, this is still something you’ll need to double-check before pulling the trigger on any teardrop. Expect teardrop trailers to start below $10,000 and max out around $40,000 for large, high-end models, with most coming in around the $20,000 mark.
Size: By and large, teardrop trailers do not offer as much space as Sprinter vans. They’re usually meant for a maximum of two people, and with generally no standing room, things can get rather cramped. The tradeoff for this lack of living space is that teardrop trailers are fairly easy to store when not in use, with a smaller footprint than Sprinter vans, which are the size of, well, vans.
Driveability: One aspect of teardrop trailers that turns some people off is the idea of towing them. Any time you’re towing something behind your car, you have to be more cautious than usual to make sure you don’t do any damage to your trailer or other vehicles — especially when backing up. Parking can also be an issue with teardrop trailers, as the length they add to your vehicle may relegate you to RV-only parking spots in certain areas.
Maintenance: Most teardrop campers are not overly complicated mechanically, as there is no drivetrain. As a result, maintenance is easier and less costly than on many other types of camping vehicles, including Sprinter vans. But that doesn’t mean you can forget about it completely. There are still tires, axles, and electrical systems to worry about — and sometimes suspension systems and brakes — so always make sure everything is working as it should and follow your manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.
Amenities: Given their small size, teardrop campers generally offer only the most basic amenities. A small bed, some storage cabinets, lighting, and an outdoor galley kitchen are considered pretty standard. More elaborate setups can include their own generators, more-complete kitchens, and rarely, even bathrooms.
The latest model from Timberleaf is a great budget option for anyone who’s looking to dip their toe in the teardrop trailer waters. The Kestrel is designed to be pretty barebones, giving you shelter and not much else — hence the small price tag. But what it does, it does well, offering a six-inch mattress, two windows, a roof vent, and three interior lamps housed within a lightweight 860 lb package that can be towed by nearly any vehicle.
A tough steel frame and corrosion-resistant aluminum exterior make up the foundation of the Topo, which is built for extreme adventures with 20” of ground clearance, a 3500 lb. torsion axle suspension, and 31” all-terrain tires all standard. Also standard is a stainless steel exterior galley kitchen with dual propane burners, a 5” foam mattress, LED lighting, and birch cabinetry. There’s even a plethora of standard accessories from brands like Thule, ROAM Adventure Co., and YETI, making this an extremely feature-packed off-roader.
Bean Classic Bean
The aptly-named Classic Bean has been on the road for more than two decades, and it’s pretty much your prototypical teardrop trailer. Its one-piece fiberglass shell is extremely durable, while retro fender flares add a fun touch of style. But as attractive as the Bean’s exterior is, it’s the interior that really shines with a queen-sized bed, 5 feet of vertical clearance, touch-control RGB lighting, a Maxx air fan, and a serious amount of storage. There’s also an exterior galley kitchen with a stainless steel sink, two-burner stove, and a shocking amount of counter space.
It seems cliché to point out that this is the teardrop trailer that a Tesla Cybertruck would pull, but… this is the teardrop trailer that a Tesla Cybertruck would pull. The Polydrop’s angular styling with anodized aluminum finish looks like nothing else on the road, but that’s not all that’s futuristic about it. This self-sustaining trailer boasts 260-watt solar panels and an MPPT solar charge controller to power up its 2.4kWh Lithium Batteries and run its full HVAC system. There’s also a stylish interior with a full-size bed, micro-closet, LED lighting, and optional Bluetooth speakers. Oh, and you get in and out of the trailer via gullwing doors, of course.
Safari Condo Alto
If the typical teardrop trailer seems a little too small for your taste but you still dig the look, then the Alto from Safari Condo may be for you. This is about as big and luxurious as teardrop trailers get. Weighing in at over 1,800 pounds and measuring 83.5” tall, the Alto’s unique telescoping aluminum roof increases the total height to 101” when open, offering a more comfortable living space. Speaking of comfort, this trailer includes a flush toilet, interior dining area and kitchenette, and either a king or queen-sized bed. If you opt for the version with the queen, you also get an interior shower in the deal — basically unheard of among teardrop trailers.
Things To Know About Sprinter Vans
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Price: There’s no way around it, Sprinter vans are expensive. If you already have a compatible Sprinter van to use as a donor vehicle — they start around $40,000 new, FYI — you’re still going to need to pony up at least $30,000 for a basic conversion. For a completed Sprinter van conversion that includes the van, you’re likely looking at a starting price around 90 grand, with many coming in around $150,000. So, yeah, they ain’t cheap.
Size: All that money definitely gets you some space in return, as Sprinter vans offer a lot of room. There’s often space enough to stand and walk around inside them, something that can’t be said for teardrop trailers. You can actually hang out inside a Sprinter van, while a teardrop is going to mainly be used for sleeping. And while a Sprinter van will definitely take up more space than a teardrop trailer when not in use, they’re still a reasonable size for many people and are certainly easier to make room for than a full-size RV.
Driveability: Driving Sprinter vans should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s driven a car since that’s what they are. There’s nothing to tow, so as long as you’re comfortable with driving a vehicle that’s on the larger side, you’ll be fine. Parking also is not an issue with Sprinter vans. Since they’re just regular vans that have been converted, they’ll fit into any parking spot that’s meant for cars. They often lack off-road capability, though, so if you’re looking to go bombing around in your camper, then a teardrop with a 4×4 to tow it will probably make for a better option.
Maintenance: Maintenance is definitely more extensive on a Sprinter van than on a teardrop trailer. Everything that can go wrong on a car can also go wrong on a Sprinter van, plus about a million other things if you’re running electrical, gas, and water to the van’s living space. But when we’re talking about a six-figure vehicle, you didn’t really expect maintenance to be cheap, did you?
Amenities: Here’s one area where Sprinter vans really shine. Because of their size, Sprinter vans can fit in a lot of goodies behind their sliding doors. Interior kitchens, dining areas, couches with convertible beds, and bathrooms — sometimes even with a shower — can often be found in Sprinter vans, and they are much more akin to a hotel room on wheels than teardrop trailers are.
If the idea of dropping six-figures has you resigned to living that #tentlife forever, don’t give up hope yet. You still have the option of renting a converted Sprinter van, giving you an affordable way to #vanlife your way through your next camping trip on the cheap. Southern California’s VanCraft offers Sprinter van rentals starting at just $189 per day for vans that are outfitted with stoves, fridges, full-sized beds, over six feet of headroom, off-grid solar power, outdoor hot showers, and more — all standard.
RB Components Adventure Vans
If you’ve already got a Sprinter van and are simply looking for someone to convert it, then RB Components Adventure Vans Sport Packages are a great and (relatively) affordable option for you. Their most-inexpensive interior conversion packages start at $31,000 for the 144 RB Sport model ($89,000 if they supply the van, too) and go up to $90,000 for their top-level 170/170ex RB Touring conversion. They also offer many individual conversion components for DIYers, if you’re looking to go that route.
Pleasure-Way is one of the leaders in the camper van conversion space, and as such, they have a lot to choose from. The company offers 8 different van builds, three of which are based on the Sprinter. Their entry-level Sprinter model is the Ascent TS, which you can easily customize via the company’s superior online van builder. Pick out your color, cabinets, countertops, upholstery, and add-ons, then download a PDF of your build and get in touch with a dealer. Easy peasy.
El Kapitan has been handcrafting their Sprinter van conversions for more than 30 years, and they’re darn good at it. With an inventory of hundreds of models either for sale or in production at any given time, you’ll always have plenty of completed vans to choose from, and all will be stunning and of the highest quality. Their Story Maker model boasts plywood floors, mahogany wall panels, reclining lounge seats, and room to comfortably sleep four, while their Dream Weaver model includes an interior shower and garage space. Both have 4×4 and ultra-luxe package upgrades available.
Boulder Camper Vans
If you have a very specific dream of what your Sprinter van should look like, then you should talk to the folks at Boulder Camper Vans. You’ll find nothing off the shelf here, and no standard layouts from which to choose. Everything they do is custom-made, giving you complete control over your Sprinter van conversion. All of their bespoke builds are engineered to be four season-ready and off-grid capable, but other than that, it’s up to you (they’ll of course guide you as much as needed). Expect your build to take two to three months, with regular photo and video updates from the team at Boulder throughout the process.
The 10 Best Camping Tents
If you’ve made it through this list only to realize that, for you, the winner between teardrop trailers and sprinter vans is neither, you’re still going to need something in which to sleep. And for that, we would suggest one of our picks for the best camping tents — unless you’d rather literally sleep under the stars.
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