What to Look for in a Travel Trailer (2020 Buyers Guide)


It took us over a year to find the perfect travel trailer that fit our needs. We looked at all different brands and price points. What was most difficult is that many brands have almost identical trailers, but with one small difference. We learned there is not the perfect trailer, we found ourselves stating time over time, “if only this was a little different:, or “if only this feature was a little to the left like the other brand”. If you can find a trailer that gives you 90% or more of what you want, it is the perfect one for you. Below is the Travel Trailer Buying Guide we have created with the steps and questions we asked when we were travel trailer shopping which helped us find our perfect trailer. Learn about our favorite trailers under 3,000 pounds and under 5,000 pounds.

How heavy of travel trailer can you tow?

The first question you need to ask, is if you are using a current vehicle, or will be buying a new vehicle for your towing needs.

If you are utilizing your current vehicle, research your tow rating to know what you can safely tow. Trailer Life has tow guides they publish every year to help you determine your capacity.

After you determine you are able to tow a certain amount, lets say a maximum of 7,000 pounds. You will want to multiply that number by 80% to give you some leeway. The 7,000 towing capacity will turn into a 5,600-pound trailer completely loaded. By only utilizing 80% of your towing capacity, you are giving yourself some extra capacity to not strain your tow vehicle too much. With our current setup, we are about 50% of our tow capacity.

Typically the dry weight listed on a travel trailer is before accessories and add ons, so I would add on another 400 pounds.  Your awning, batteries, propane tanks, etc. typically are not listed in the dry weight. Remember all that food, clothing, ice, water, beer, games, BBQ, extra propane that you packed? Well that weighs more than you think. The easy way to determine this added weight is to unload your trailer, grab a scale, weigh yourself with no items, then as you reload the trailer, weigh yourself every trip and mark it down. Chances are that this may be another 500+ pounds of items you add.

In our case, our travel trailer’s dry weight is 3,700 pounds, optional accessories of about 400 pounds, tank water capacity of 680 pounds, and food and gear is 500 pounds, our total weight may be 5,280 pounds. We have added 1,580 pounds to our starting weight that needs to be within our towing capacity. Given our capacity to tow is 9,400 pounds, a loaded 5,280 pound trailer is right around 56% of our rated towing capacity. I wanted to stick to around 50-60% capacity as we go over lots of mountain passes and steep grades where we camp as not to overwork the truck. To get the best idea of your weight, tow to a weigh station and weigh once with the vehicle, then once with the trailer and subtract the vehicle weight to get your exact towing weight. This will come in handy while tuning your weight distribution hitch. Learn about the average weight of travel trailers.

What length of travel trailer is right for us?

Once we have determined the weight of what travel trailer we can tow, next determine if there are any size limitations to where you will be parking it for storage. Don’t buy a 27’ trailer if you can only fit 22’ in your driveway unless you want to pay for offsite storage. Along with fitting your trailer where you will be storing, consider the locations you will be camping, and if there any size limitations in these sites.

We typically camp in national parks and one specific spot we have to book 6 months in advance and you get what you get come January 1st when booking opens. If you get an 18’ pull through spot don’t think a 25 foot trailer will fit in there. We purchased a Winnebago 2106DS which is 21 foot from the bumper to the tongue. We previously rented a 1700BH which actually measured 25’ from bumper to tongue. The listed sizes on the model numbers don’t don’t necessarily relate to the true size of the vehicle. If you plan on going to national parks, check out Recreation.gov to find stats on your favorite campgrounds and make sure to find a trailer you can fit in these parks. An example of campground stats is to the right.

What is the best travel trailer floorplan?

Once you have a good idea of size and weight, now is the time to consider your needs. Do you have 3 kids and need a bunkhouse, is it just you as a single person looking to get away. Are you staying for just weekends or for months at a time? I cannot help you decide on what floorplan to get, but I can tell you that we started looking for a 24’ bunkhouse, almost stepping up to a 26’ as they also had a couch. I had been researching trailers for some time and read to always buy smaller than you think. We rented a 1700BH and realized that for our needs we needed a place to sleep as we have a newborn and a place to hang out in while it rains.

I was trying to get my wife to purchase an 18 footer, but we ended up with a 21’ and am glad we went a little bigger. For the size we gained a larger bathroom, and a straight murphy bed which allows us to both get out of the bed on our own side in the middle of the night to use the restroom. VERY IMPORTANT! You do not want to have to crawl over your significant other unless you have to, especially if you have a baby trying to sleep 5 feet away. Make sure you try the bed out with your significant other before you buy, some couches that fold down for the “master bed” are not long enough to fit an adult. I am glad we did not find this the hard way. Awning size is also important if you plan to spend time out in the sun, or the rain. We looked at similar units and some had 10’ awnings and some had 16’ on about the same size trailer.

How much storage do travel trailers have?

Make sure to consider storage options while trailer shopping, you need to have room for all of your hiking gear, bbq, wood, food, clothes, rugs, chairs, etc. Everything needs to fit somewhere. The space under the front of the trailer understood as pass through storage is also called the “basement”. The door size is critical, make sure it will fit the size of your bbq or generator or larger item you want to store in there. Rubbermaids are available in many sizes, on my unit, my basement is limited to 11” in the middle and I was able to find Rubbermaid’s that were 10.5” to fit in there. YES, something finally actually worked out.

Should we get a slide out?

Slide outs are great, they expand your living space at the press of a button, but they do come with their downsides, they will add weight, up to 1000+ pounds depending on the size, and they can leak and may not be insulated as well as the total hard shell trailer. We opted for a slide out to expand our living area with the needed room to put our babies pack and play. One important item to look out for is make sure you can walk around to make lunch or use the bathroom with the slide closed. It comes in handy to be able to use the trailer when on the road or stopped for a break without having to move out the slide.

Food Storage in your Travel Trailer

Making sure you have a 6 cubic foot refrigerator and freezer in your travel trailer is important but not necessary. As you can see from our messy fridge photos 6 cubic foot fridge holds A LOT of food. We recently went camping for 7 nights and fit all of our food, beer, drink mixers, bag of ice, and a full-size Costco lasagna with room to spare. For shorter trips, a smaller fridge would work great as well, or you could opt to use a cooler in conjunction with your fridge. Pantry’s for dry storage are helpful so you can see what food you have and make food prep easier. Our Winnebago has a pantry about 1’ deep and about 2.5′ wide with three shelves and fits a lot of food. We saw many trailers with minimal food storage places so be careful when looking.

4 Season Trailers?

Weather comes in all shapes and sizes, from hot to cold. You cannot go wrong with finding a unit with better insulation which will help you in the heat as well as the cold. An enclosed underbelly that is heated is a great plus, however, this may not solve your problem if you do want to camp in 0 degree weather. You may need additional 12v tank heaters. The problem is that it is only heated when the heat is on, if you go on a winter hike and turn the heat off for the day, the area underneath isn’t heated and still could freeze. If you had 12v tank heaters it would be.

The meaning of four season can vary from trailer to trailer so make sure you understand what you are getting. A trailer with exposed dump valves is truly not a four season trailer. Our unit is a “4 season” travel trailer, and I am surprised by all the cold areas in certain spots. The windows let a lot of cold air in as well as the metal window frame gets very cold. If you can find one, get one with the thermal windows if you will be doing extended winter stays. If you are just staying the occasional weekend in the winter, don’t bother on the extra money, the little bit more comfort will not be too noticeable. Ducted heating along with the 4 season package will help out with comfort, our unit has two ducts, one in the restroom and one in the main room. The only disadvantage is that the main duct blows right on the thermostat causing the trailer not to get fully warm towards the front. I plan to either move the thermostat and/or add a duct to blow at the bedroom area in the near future.

Do Travel Trailers have Warranties?

From what we have seen, travel trailers typically have a one year warranty. We have seen a few brands with a two year warranty with Jayco being one of them. Some dealers offer a “lifetime” warranty but you need to spend money every year for the dealer to “check it out” which may or may not be worth it.

Fun Features on Travel Trailers

Don’t get blinded by the remote control everything, integrated wifi extender or built in Fantastic fan, yes these are nice additions that you may eventually get, but make sure you get a good base trailer to start with. If they are adding fancy features on a cheap trailer, what are they skimping out on to make that price point? We have found many new trailers come with awesome features, learn more about our favorites they come with.

How many windows do you need in a Travel Trailer?

We enjoy our windows and they are necessary for us to be happy as we are going camping to enjoy nature not sit in a dark box. If you are cooped up in the trailer due to a thunderstorm, wouldn’t it be nice to watch? Good ventilation is also important when camping in the summer months. Having two windows on either side of the bed are perfect for crosswind to help you cool down at nights.

Make Trailer Shopping Fun

It is a lot to work through all of these items to see what trailers fit in your wheelhouse and then narrow it down from there. Above all of these items, make sure you have FUN while travel trailer shopping, this can be a very stressful time as there are so many different brands that seem so similar, but could be drastically different. Do your research before you buy on the dealer just as much as on the trailer itself, make sure to check out different forum websites to see how other owners like their units as well as ask as many questions as you can think of.

There may be important things for you to look at in your particular situation but these are the items that fit our needs and what were important to us in our travel trailer buying decision process.

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Eric

I have been camping most of my adult life and am passionate about having the best camping equipment as well as writing. Combine these two items and you have our site.

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