An expandable hybrid travel trailer (or HTT) is a great alternative to a tent, pop-up, or standard travel trailer. Hybrid trailers are easier to tow and store, have ample sleeping space, and are inexpensive. However, these travel trailers lack temperature control, are harder to setup/takedown, have limited storage space, can be difficult to maintain, and are less secure.
If you’re looking for an upgrade from your tent or pop-up, want to sleep a lot of people with a lower weight trailer, but aren’t ready to commit to a standard trailer or motorized RV, then an expandable hybrid travel trailer might be a good choice for you! Check out this guide to expandable hybrid travel trailers before making your decision.
What is an expandable hybrid travel trailer?
A hybrid travel trailer is essentially part hard-sided trailer and part tent/pop-up. This type of RV is towed behind another vehicle (the trailer itself is not motorized). Most hybrid trailers have communal or family areas, including a bathroom and kitchen, with one or more pop-up sleeping spaces. Some more luxurious brands also have pop-out sides and/or additional living spaces.
The hard-sides of the trailer are made of aluminum and fiberglass, while the pop-up portions are usually made of tent-like fabric material and poles. The size and amenities vary greatly by model- some expandables even have entertainment systems, wifi, and other luxury items.
Why get a hybrid trailer?
Expandable travel trailers offer variety and versatility! There are so many models, upgrades, and features to choose from, which allows you to really choose and customize what works best for you. Part of the reason for all these options is that hybrids are really popular right now, and manufacturers are catching on. Hybrids are also a great choice for practicality and affordability- you don’t need a special vehicle to transport them, and they fit more people than most other RV types in the market.
Tip: A lighter weight travel trailer also means better maneuverability and less money spent on gas!
Who would buy a hybrid trailer?
A hybrid expandable travel trailer is an excellent choice for those looking to house several people in their RV, such as larger families, groups of friends, etc. Hybrids are also great for people who like the feel of camping (tents, sounds of the outdoors, early morning sunshine) but want private communal spaces. This is a good option for the “average” camper, someone who will use their RV during more comfortable seasons and not for extended lengths of time. Expandables aren’t really the best choice for those who want to live full time in an RV.
Because hybrid trailers are lighter, those who do not have a special heavy duty towing vehicle may also opt for this lighter type of RV. This is also helpful for campers who want to be able to unhitch their trailer at their destination and use their towing vehicle for quick trips.
Expandables offer the best of multiple worlds- a camping feel, RV comforts, and convenience. They are an investment and require maintenance, but are not as expensive or time consuming as other types of trailers.
What are the benefits of an expandable hybrid trailer?
Light and Compact, Yet Roomy
Expandable travel trailers are lighter and easier to tow, due to the fact that they compact when not in use. In addition, the pop-up bed sections do not weigh a lot. Hybrid trailers average around 2,000-5,000 lbs and many are available for under 20 feet. Despite their compact size, these trailers actually provide more space than many traditional travel trailers once they’re completely expanded or “popped-up”. For example, Rockwood Roos (Forest River) weigh under 6,000 lbs (many models closer to 4,000 lbs) but can sleep up to 8 people!
Because the pop-up areas are usually for sleeping, expandable trailers provide more sleeping and living space (usually with Queen-sized beds). Although living spaces can also convert to sleep spaces, you may not need to utilize them, depending on how many campers you have. In that case, you can just use the expandable sleep sections and leave the family spaces undisturbed-saving time and making for a more comfortable arrangement. Many hybrids also include bathrooms and kitchens, features which most pop-ups typically lack.
Because of their smaller compact size, it’s also easier to store your hybrid trailer, whether at home or in storage. For example, a Coleman Light LX Hybrid Trailer is only 18’ 10” long (but sleeps up to 6 people and only weighs around 3,000 lbs!). This is a major benefit for people who have limited indoor RV storage space, or who don’t want their trailer taking up their whole driveway!
Reasonably Priced and Great Variety
Hybrid expandable travel trailers are generally less expensive than traditional models, with some new models costing as little at $10,000. On average, most cost closer to $20,000-$25,000. For example, a new Kodiak Cub 172E (which sleeps 4-6 people and weighs around 3,000 lbs) costs approximately $24,800. Considering how many people a hybrid can sleep, this is a good deal. There’s also a great variety of sizes and prices available, so you can really pick the option that fits your needs and budget.
Tip: It’s important to note that some hybrid travel trailer models will actually be more expensive than traditional trailers, if you’re going for top of the line luxury (i.e. entertainment systems).
Another benefit to hybrid trailers is that they provide a tent-like sleeping experience. This creates a more authentic environment for the camping enthusiast. You will be able to hear the outdoors, see the sunlight, and feel changes in temperature. There are also usually options to zip down parts of the fabric and only keep screens up- ideal if you’re in a private and comfortable climate. This is also a wonderful way to get air flow throughout the trailer. Keep in mind though, there is also less privacy with hybrid trailers- something to consider in more crowded campsites!
Tip: If you want to try the benefits for yourself, without commitment, you can rent a hybrid travel trailer for a few days and take it for a test run!
What are the drawbacks of an expandable hybrid trailer?
Lack of Temperature & Climate Control
One of the most significant drawbacks of an expandable hybrid travel trailer is problems with temperature control and condensation. These issues are largely due to the canvas pop-up portions which offer no insulation to the outside or inside temperatures. This continues to be a problem, even though most models have heating and air conditioning. Even with a thermostat, it will be hard to regulate the temperature inside your trailer.
Because you can’t control the temperature within the trailer, condensation occurs, especially overnight (when you’re spending more time inside). Condensation is not only annoying but it also causes dampness (especially to mattresses) and can lead to mold or mildew. It is extremely important for owners of hybrid travel trailers to properly air out canvas siding and mattresses. Some campers even resort to buying special lining or tarps to put under mattresses.
If you prefer the feel of the great outdoors, like to camp during milder months, and are responsible with repairs and maintenance, than temperature issues and condensation will not be major deterrents. In addition, many hybrids now come with heated mattresses, or you can easily find tips on how to keep your beds warm and cozy. However, you do not want to take an expandable into consistently wet or frigid weather! Not only will this be unpleasant but it will also significantly reduce the life of your RV.
Set Up/Break Down and Movement
The good news is that expandable hybrid travel trailers are still easier to set up and break down than a tent or pop-up trailer. It really shouldn’t take you more than 10 or 15 minutes to expand or contract the pop-up portions of your trailer. However, this process is still more time and energy consuming than a traditional travel trailer or mobile RV. This is especially something to consider if you prefer quick trips. Set up and break down can also be more troublesome during a storm or in the dark!
Similarly to pop-ups, you will also get more movement in a hybrid travel trailer. Because the trailer is lighter, and the shape of the pop-up portions (essentially hanging or leaning off the sides of the trailer), you may get some bouncing or shaking, This is especially true when there is more weight in the beds, and less weight in the enclosed portion of the camper (like. at night when everyone goes to bed).
Expandable travel trailers have many of the same maintenance problems of popups. The canvas pop-up portions are not as sturdy, and do not hold up as well as the hard sides to wear and tear. You have to be extra careful to avoid mold/mildew, as well as rips. Luckily, replacing the canvas is not overly expensive. Check out our handy guide on cleaning and waterproofing canvas.
Leaks may occur between the expandable portions and the rest of the trailer, so you must check seals and get any leak fixed as soon as it’s noticed. It’s also smart to air out the mattresses and bunks because water or condensations may make them damp. In addition, you have to maintain the mechanics that allow for the expandable portions to expand.
Minimal Space & Security
Although expandables are very roomy, they lack space in two important areas- storage and tanks. This is a drawback that results from the compact size of hybrid trailers, and which helps to keep them lightweight. When traveling, the trailer is smaller, so therefore there is less room to store and tow items. Luckily, some models have exterior storage. This is an important specification to find out when purchasing. In addition, with some models, you can customize shelves, or do some research on space saving hacks. On the plus side, hybrid trailers still offer more storage space than pop-ups or tents!
Less tank space means more trips to fill and empty your tanks, which is not great for longer trips. For example, the Jayco Jay Feather X17Z has a freshwater tank capacity of 22.5 gal., gray water of 20 gal., and black water of 22.5 gal. On average, standard travel trailers have capacities closer to the 30-60 gal. range (per tank). Despite the small tank, having freshwater and a bathroom is still a major benefit over a pop-up trailer.
Because hybrid trailers include canvas pop-ups, they are not as safe and secure as their traditional counterparts. The doors typically have locks, but you run the risk of theft or other safety issues. Another potential safety concern is animals. If you’re camping in an area with large animals (such as bears) you may have to store food elsewhere, and avoid cooking food with strong smells. Because hybrids have soft sides, it is easier for animals to get into this type of trailer. If safety is a priority for you, an expandable hybrid travel trailer may not be the best option.
Expanding Your Horizons
Hybrid travel trailers offer the more flexibility than any other type of RV. They’re part tent, part trailer, and vary significantly based on model type. Prices and features are wide ranging, as are how many people they can accommodate. Expandables are a great option for those who don’t have dedicated towing vehicles or a lot of storage room.
Despite the many benefits, hybrids are not for everyone, particularly those who are looking to camp for longer periods of time, and want the comforts of an enclosed vehicle. Expandables are also not good options for certain extreme climates. When deciding if you’re going to purchase an expandable hybrid travel trailer, consider your personal living and sleeping preferences, budget, camping locations, towing vehicle, and other logistics.
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