Caravans vs Hybrid Campers; what’s better?

Caravans vs Hybrid Campers; what’s better?

Article from 4WDing Australia.

There used to be a fairly clear line drawn between the different styles of camping, but that has long since disappeared. You can get all sorts of different campers and caravans today that suit a huge variety of needs, all with their own unique little touches. The hybrid market has exploded in recent years, particularly with the huge number of Chinese imports that have flooded the market.

Instead of spending 35k on a hard floor, soft floor or forward fold camper trailer, you can spend that, or a little more (or a lot more!) and get yourself a Hybrid Camper. So, should you get a Hybrid, or a Caravan?

In this post, we look at all of the pro’s and con’s of each, and then you can make the best decision for your individual circumstances. This is the first important consideration; what you want will not be the same as what others want.

The second thing that I always point out is that no matter what you buy, it will not be perfect for every situation. There will be times where it annoys you, and its all about working out what you are willing to live with, and what you aren’t. I keep saying that there’s no such thing as a perfect setup, and this applies to 4WD’s, camper trailers, caravans, hybrid campers and everything in between.

Before we get started, I will mention that we have already written a hugely comprehensive guide for what to consider when buying a hybrid camper. You can read it here – Hybrid Camper.

Caravan or Hybrid

Two Caravans and a Hybrid; what’s better?

What is a hybrid?

Hybrid campers are generally considered to be a cross between a camper trailer and a caravan. The size is the most obvious give away, with most under the 6 – 7 metre length in total, including the drawbar.

Outdoor kitchens are the most popular, as are outdoor toilets and showers, but this is not always the case. There are a number of hybrid vans that come with internal cooking facilities, along with an internal ensuite. Generally these are for the 2 or 3 berth options, as trying to fit all of that in along with 4 beds is almost impossible to do (without pop out sections).

Most hybrids pop up, or out in one way or another. A lot are basically pop top caravans, but some have beds that slide or pop out, along with other areas of the trailer. This allows them to be compact when travelling, but have more room when setup.

Our Hybrid Camper

Our Lifestyle Reconn R2 Hybrid Camper trailer

What are the benefits of a hybrid?

If you are considering getting a hybrid camper trailer, then here’s the benefits, or pro’s of getting one.

Weight

The heavier your trailer, the more fuel you will use, and the harder it is to take it off road when the going gets tough. Hybrids are typically much lighter than their caravan counterparts, and this makes it easier to tow.

A lot of hybrids start off around the 1300 – 1500kg, and then work their way up to 1800kg for the imported versions, and beyond depending on how they are upgraded from factory. This is their dry weight, and their ATM can be anywhere from 2100kg to 2800kg.

The heavier your trailer, the harder time you will have towing it on road, and off road. This is especially prevalent on soft sand, or where traction is a problem. It also presents a much larger problem; many hybrids are simply too heavy to be towed with a normal dual cab Ute, or 4WD with a family and gear inside. You are simply over weight, and in essence illegal, and without insurance. 

The only way around this is to drop weight, or to consider a GVM or GCM upgrade (which are hugely popular at the moment). If you aren’t sure about the weights, there are 7 items that you need to comply with, and many people only understand a couple. Have a read of this for more information; Towing Capacity.

Light hybrid camper

The lighter the hybrid, the easier it is to tow wherever you want to

External Size

One of the major benefits of a hybrid is that they are significantly smaller in width, height and length compared to a caravan. This has a number of benefits. For one, your parking spot at home can be significantly smaller than if you had a van.

Beyond this, if they aren’t too wide you get away without the need to purchase towing mirrors, and then there’s the fuel economy differences. Even though some of the hybrids can be heavy, if it fits behind your vehicle well (as in doesn’t stick out like a brick) then your fuel economy is going to be significantly better than towing a full size van.

Hybrid camper size

Size is hugely important when it comes to your van or hybrid

Off-road ability

The smaller, and lighter your trailer is, the easier you are going to have it when it comes to towing down a soft beach, or up a slippery track. The smaller the trailer means the easier they are to manoeuvre off road too. However, know that towing anything heavy (as in more than 1.5 tonnes) off road is going to seriously hurt your capability regardless of what it is.

Simplicity

There’s something nice about the simplicity of a hybrid van. There’s generally less gear, and less to go wrong. Cleaning for example, is far easier in a hybrid than a full size van, and because there’s less cabinetry and gear, less tends to go wrong. That said, you have other things to go wrong, like pop tops and expanda’s, so they might cancel each other out.Hybrid camper trailers

Our simple kitchen in the Reconn R2

What are the downsides of a hybrid?

Of course, there’s no free lunch, and there are a number of things that are a downside of a hybrid:

Limited space inside

When you squish a caravan down into a small hybrid, there’s a guaranteed lack of space inside. Most hybrids are tight inside, and if you like big spaces they may not be for you. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, but there is a LOT less room in a hybrid than inside a caravan.

If you spend most of your time outside then this might not bother you, but if you expect to spend days inside then it could be a problem. In our Reconn R2, you’d have a hard time for two people to get changed standing up at the same time. It’s literally that small, but this is the compromise you live with when buying a trailer with a small external footprint.

Hybrid Camper bunks

Inside our tiny hybrid; two bunks, a queen size bed and not much else

Lack of luxuries

A basic hybrid will cost you about the same as a nice caravan, and in general you get less luxuries in the hybrids than you would in an equivalent caravan. This isn’t necessarily a problem (and for some its a good thing), but it is something worth considering before you lay your money down.

If you are expecting an air conditioner, TV, microwave, internal shower and everything else you get in a nice, full size van, you may have to learn to compromise. That’s not to say you can’t get these things, but it adds to the weight considerably and is often an option rather than the standard.

Insulation reduction

The insulation properties of a hybrid camper trailer (especially one that pops up) are hugely reduced compared to a caravan. This applies in every way; they will be hotter when you don’t want them to be, and colder when you don’t want to be.

Our diesel heater gets run most cold nights all night, but in a van with good insulation you can warm the van early at night and not have it on for the rest of it. Of course, many hybrids have the ability to make air flow very well, which is great when the weather is warm, but when its cold they are a pain in the backside.

Diesel heater

We run a portable diesel heater to keep the hybrid warm, but the insulation is average

You won’t always want to cook outside

Cooking outside can be amazing, and an enjoyable experience. It can also be the exact opposite, when its raining, blowing a gale, dusty, or there are so many bugs you can’t open your mouth. Obviously there is something amazing about being able to roll out of bed, drop the kettle on the stove and laze around in comfort on your bed while it boils. 

If you have a hybrid, more than likely the main kitchen (or only kitchen in many cases) will be outside, so that means you need to get changed, and make the transition out the door, where it can be less than ideal for getting a drink, or making some food.

If your kitchen is outside, you really don’t have much choice. Walls and annexes can go up, and you can put bug repellent on, or change the light colour, but you have to live with it.

windy at Nambung Station

When the wind is pumping cooking outside isn’t much fun

You can pay a lot of money for one

Hybrids are probably the newest fad on the block, with every single manufacturer in the camper trailer and caravan industry now very well aware of them, and trying to get their slice of the pie. They start off at around 40k, and work their way up to 200 odd thousand dollars, and in some cases it seems like you are paying a huge amount of money for a hybrid that isn’t going to be nearly as comfortable as a full size van.

Of course, the justification is their build quality, weight and ability to follow your 4WD far more places than you’d take a van, but its still a hard pill to swallow.

Caravan vs hybrid

You get a lot of Caravan for the same sort of money

So, Caravan or Hybrid?

The million dollar question! At the end of the day, this is a personal decision based on what you want, and need. Start with what your vehicle is suitable to tow, where you plan on taking it, how long you are going to keep it for, and what you are willing to compromise on.

Do you go for less space, luxury and convenience as a trade for the ability to drag your hybrid more places, or do you go for a van and travel more comfortably, but stay in places that more people can get to with their vans, and day trip out? The choice is yours, and its not an easy one.

For us, we are sticking with the hybrid, but if it becomes a problem long term we will have to look at a larger van and probably a new tow vehicle!

Kokoda Digger Caravan

Both choices are a compromise; what suits you best?

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Comments 5

  1. Well written Aiden and so bloody true. The key word here being “compromise” and phrase “where do I want to take it”. Great read.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks Shane, but I can’t take the credit here – this was from our mates at 4WDing Australia. Good bunch!

      Aiden

  2. An older point of view.
    I spent years with tents and made the jump to a popup van briefly, before graduating permanently to a fullsize van. You are correct in the assumption that it has to be suited to your purpose, but commonsense comes into the decision as well. The women in the family will have a huge impact on the choice or should have if you want to maintain some semblance of family harmony. Asking the ladies in the family to go behind a tree or put up with very basic showering facilities, wears very thin very quickly. I am watching from afar at the moment , as old mates struggle with the decision this article outlines, and it has become obvious that some are still trying to relive ‘old times ‘ , and are ignoring the needs of the ‘whole’ family. Are you seriously looking at buying into an offroad lifestyle, you perhaps are no longer realistically able to achieve ? It also follows that those you were traveling with for years, may have moved on. Just because you have the latest whizbang self sufficient hybrid, and can camp out on the Simpson , does not mean the rest of the family or old traveling mates either want to or are even capable of doing so. This even applies with fullsize vans. Having the latest heavyduty off road van doesn’t guarantee you can go everywhere. The physical size of the van largely determines that, and if your traveling mates haven’t upgraded to your level, are you going to leave them behind ?

  3. Excellent….a good article The excitement of camping out doors can wear very thin with the women when the facilities are very basic for their day to day needs. A bush is fine for most blokes but many women are not real happy with that arrangement. Though some are fine roughing it for a bit, but that is often age driven too.

    We have a camper trailer which we prefer at the moment as it gives us plenty of room to store stuff under cover at camp, being we don’t really travel light, as well as good space under the main bed to store when traveling.
    Plus we generally only travel to a location and stay several nights. We carry a “duo ensuite” arrangement with a portable shower for which I heat water, and a chemical Porta Potty type chemical toilet.
    Being we do a lot of beach camping and travel sandy tracks towing weight was the more important factor to me.

    I think when considering buying, write all needs down and move the important ones up as you go through the list with less important going down. Go to some camping shows if you can and look at options.

    If the burn is to move each day or second day, packing up a camper trailer many times is not fun, plus the weather factor is a big consideration….ie packing up a wet tent!

    If the desire is to travel distances, pull up and stay a night at a whim then a Hybrid is definitely the go, albeit at the expense of storage.
    The camper trailer is more for the longer stays mainly due to set up time imo. Great for families as the space cannot be matched by a hybrid.

    There is no doubt that there has to be some sort of compromise to meet what your needs are, and to be realistic with what you really do need to enjoy the outdoors…

  4. After more than 40,000km of travel with our T-Van on some pretty tough tracks (Canning Stock Route, Old Eyre Highway, Gibb River Road, Savannah Way, etc.) we decided to move to a hybrid at the end of 2019 based on our next trips .

    This was prompted by the desire to be able to cook inside as well as out after coming home across the bottom of WA (85km/hr winds at West Cape Howe made cooking difficult!) along with many sites now wanting you to be fully self contained (toilet and grey water).

    We now have a 2011 Kimberley Karavan (internal & external kitchen, toilet, shower, diesel hotplate, etc.) and have just finished four weeks in Tasmania on and off the bitumen (down the West Coast via Norfolk Road, etc,). It was certainly more suited to the trip than our much beloved T-Van would have been……..

    Cooking inside, and no flapping wet canvas in Tasmania’s weather combined with good heating made it very pleasant – even in at Lake Pedder when it was -4C outside.

    It will suit our next few big trips (when we’re allowed back out of Victoria) – I won’t take it some of the places we took the T-van but we were meant to be going back into the High Country a fortnight ago – then lockdown.

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