Hybrid/Expandable Camper – Pros and Cons

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A hybrid camper in its natural environment
A hybrid camper in its natural environment

Lots of people end up looking at hybrid campers for a variety of reasons. Often times it is an individual coming from a pop-up who continues to want the canvas/tenting experience but wants the extra luxuries of a hard-sided trailer (bathroom, fridge that is at a natural height, etc.). Other times, it’s the prudent buyer who doesn’t want to exceed their towing vehicle, but still needs to sleep parents, kids and guests. The former group know what they’re in for with canvas; the latter group, not so much. The folks who are buying based on weight reasons many times find that they should have upgraded their tow vehicle instead of buying a camper that turns into a hassle.

Equally at home at campgrounds and RV parks
Equally at home at campgrounds and RV parks

First and foremost, for most people- to own and enjoy your hybrid, you have to look forward to the idea of sleeping under canvas. It exposes you to nature and lets you hear things that you wouldn’t necessarily have heard in a hard-sided trailer. This is good and bad, of course- you could be hearing your neighbors generator or the folks who stayed up a little late and were a little louder than they thought. Many hybrid owners will sleep with their windows open to further enhance the “camping” feeling.

Pros

Hybrid Camper Interior
Hybrid Camper Interior
  1. You get a lot of living space in a relatively small package. Often times, you gain 6′-8′ of living space by the bunk ends folding down. Your sitting area, kitchen and bathroom can all be larger than a similarly sized travel trailer.
  2. Related to the small size is that you’re towing a smaller, lighter camper than an equivalent travel trailer. This lets you get by with a smaller tow vehicle. Possibly even re-purposing one that you already own.
  3. In relation to the smaller size, you often times get more dedicated sleeping space than a similarly sized travel trailer. Many hybrids offer 2 to 3 queen size beds without having to use the dinette or couch as a bed.
  4. Canvas. The canvas lets in light, air and lends itself to that “camping” feeling. It can be great to wake up or go to sleep to the sweet sweet sounds of wildlife in the woods.

Cons

  1. The bunks present an extra outside step when you’re setting up and tearing down. If you’re traveling on your way to a destination and are just stopping for a night- you could come to loath this step.
  2. You need to do extra “stuff” to prepare for cold or hot weather camping (like buying Popup Gizmos, using reflectix, etc.). The bunk ends will always be a little warmer in hot weather and a little colder in cold weather than the rest of the camper.
  3. With our pop-up, the high humidity left everything damp feeling after a few days of camping in hot weather. In cold weather, you need to ensure that you’re leaving vents open or condensation can make you think you’ve sprung a leak.
  4. Canvas. If the canvas is put away wet, you have to open it when you get home to let it dry out. If it’s noisy out from annoying neighbors or simply a sardine-like park, you’re going to hear a whole lot more.

Hybrids are great and there are those that love them. I’m not against them, but they aren’t for me and my family. I am an RVer, not a camper.

39 COMMENTS

  1. If needed, an expandable can do what's known as "Turtleing" That's when you leave the bunkends up and sleep on the sofa sleeper or the dinette, now your fully inclosed with no extra setup. As I go through campgrounds, I see a lot of Expandable's with one end up (not in use), this helps reduce noise, setup time, and breakdown time.

  2. Upgrading the tow vehicle is not so easy either. For example I have to commute in my Explorer and drive family around when I am off. As much as I would like a F250 or 2500 series pickup, the gas would kill me and I need the room. Besides the price of those things is big time money even on used ones. So despite issues with the hybrid, it saving me big time. The trade off is worth it.

  3. I agree with OCWashman, A TV upgrade is expensive, and the camper manufacturers know this and are making units lighter. I drive the path finder to work and my wife drives the Kia Soul as her commute is twice as long. We just dropped the hammer on 2015 ROO 233s as it fits our size needs, well below our TV pull parameters. Sacrifices will be needed to be made with a hybrid. Less storage mainly. That big spot under the main bed with regular TT's would be great for allot of our chairs and things but there are workarounds.
    Cheers,Patrick

    • Yes. I camped in 20 degree nights with a small electric heater on and never got below 60 with both bunks open.

  4. Hybrid camping is awesome! all the benefits of Trailer camping with the feel of pop-up camping…and don't get me started on the breeze factor when beach camping!! I cannot express how much I LOVE my hybrid, but after a highway tire blowout *gasp*! I am now sadly gun-shy about towing and want a hybrid RV. Is there such an animal??

  5. Sure- there's no reason not to. At 20 degrees, you'll need to worry about your water lines and keeping them thawed, but the bunk ends are just fine- especially if you have the optional mattress heater that is offered in many brands!

  6. I don't know of any driveable that has tent ends. But the much cheaper side of it is dealing with the blow out. Often times campers are sold with subpar tires and we don't do anything to help it.

    First, buy a name brand that you know and trust- Maxxis m8008, Goodyear Marathons, and others are good.

    Second, inspect them regularly. I think I blogged about it- but in one tire, I picked up a nail. In another, it had a bubble the size of a tennis ball. They actually happened back to back and would have been a guaranteed catastrophic failure. But, I found the nail by checking tire pressures (that one lost 10 lbs. of air vs. 3-4 for all other tires). And I found the bubble by simply looking at the tires on the outside and backside (yes, leaning under the camper to take a good look).

    I've since decided that a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) is required gear for me. By watching temperature and pressure, I was able to identify an anomaly and should have been able to prevent a roadside flat (stubborn won first, then lost when I got a flat on the IL/IN border).

    Finally, know your weights. Many campers are delivered with tires that barely sustain the weight of the camper. Adding your stuff pushes it closer and closer and eventually- failure. Many people increases the load range when they upgrade tires for extra weight carrying capacity.

    Deal with the tire problem and roll on knowing you're being as safe as you can be!

  7. I love our hybrid Roo but appreciate GolfKing's comment about "turtleing." I wouldn't have thought of it but that sure would be nice ween we're doing just one over night stop on our way somewhere. Although, having come from a popup, just having to put beds down really isn't that big of a time consumer.

  8. I have have a TrailLite Hybrid, that is 23′ long for 11yrs and I love the trailer. It has all the amenities of a larger 31-33′ foot and has slept 8 adults comfortably on many occassions. We are from OK and 100+ degree temps are not uncommon in the summer and early falls. Our camper stays cool and comfortable for all of us and warm in the Mtns that we spend 4wks in the summers. Problem, is I am 73 and unless an adult is with me on a trip, I cannot stuff the canvas alone to put the “Popout” beds back up. I would like to know if there is a way, that I am unaware of, to fold them back up alone…… Is there a video on you tube or suggestions? I really don’t want to buy a longer heavier trailer to eliminate such a small issue.

    • I’m not sure what kind of tricks there are. When I had my pop-up camper, I would use a broom to push stuff in and lay it neatly inside. But I’m honestly not sure what could be done for a hybrid.

      Maybe post on http://www.rv.net/forum and see if anyone can help more?

      • My Roo as a couple of high flow vent fans. If you close all of the windows and doors in the camper, and turn the fan on high, the vacuum created by the fan acts to pull the canvas into the camper, making it very easy to close and tuck the bunk ends.

    • I fold mine alone easily. I tuck the end up before I lift the bed, then I do the right side while it is lifted and I slide over to the left while holding up the bed and tuck in the left side. I do it by myself in 60 seconds.

    • One trick that helps is to close windows and outside doors but leave your vent fans on. This makes a negative pressure in the camper and sucks the tent beds in. It should help a lot.

    • Yes there is a trick or two First one You are going to need a little step up ladder like 3 or 4 steps depending on how tall you are and the ground slope . Second Close all the windows turn on the vent/exaust fans this will suck the canvases inward and even pull in the sides asyou fold them up. Three Install a pull hook ring (use the ones that recess and fold down flat) on the inside bed floor.. When closing fasten a rope to it and pull the hatch closed most of the way from the inside. The go out side and finsh-eesh tucking everything in. We close up all three of our tent beds in 10 to 15 minutes. You get faster with practice.
      See you out there Smiles Ken and Crystal

  9. I have severe back problems so I bought a 4 inch memory foam. I feel thats not enough because I can barely walk in the morning. Any ideas on a good mattress for my hybrid?

    • Ken, I’d suggest some of the high quality foam from Foam Factory (see my review) cut to size for your space. We used their 4″ Lux Foam for beds that my in-laws slept on. My mother-in-law has back issues and was always comfortable.

  10. My boyfriend owned a new Hybrid Jayco Featherlite and sold it due to the poor gas mileage he was getting pulling with an 8 cyl. SUV Ford. Expedition.
    2 yrs ago bought a Forest River Pup 2514g. I can’t stand the set up and down.
    I would like to go back to a Hybrid but need one that won’t suck the gas. Any recommendations on Hybrid RV that’s design would help with better gas mileage? ALSO GAS DIFFERENCE pulling a Pup and /or Hybrid

    • Honestly, the issue with fuel mileage is one of frontal area and not being aerodynamic. My guess is that you’ll see the same bad MPGs for anything you pull unless you were to look at pop-ups (which you’ve tried and don’t like) or maybe jump up to an Airstream with their sleek front ends.

  11. Kids don’t camp to much any more so I turned my u-shape table into a full bed with a true full mattress. This makes my Kiwi completely inclosed. We use TV trays to eat off of if needed and they fold flat. When the kids do decide to camp it’s easy to just pop open the outside beds. Really what have you got to do all day?

  12. Love our hybrid. Enjoy being close to the out doors. The weight saved on pulling is also a bonus.
    Have 4 tires for easier maneuvering and had the filled with some sort of leak stopper.
    The cost of the leak stopper is worth the no flat tire hassle when we are out to enjoy often the little time we might have.
    Folding the beds back up was a bit of a deal. I put a pull ring on the inside floor near what will be the top when closed. I pull it 3/4 way closed from the inside. Tie it off then go out side and using my step stool stuff in the canvas. Then back inside pull it up tight. Back outside latch it up and voila

  13. Oh yea. Also did some no freeze work on the pipes and tanks either heat pads and heat Tape.
    This is a bit involved due to the electrical requirements
    KenZ

  14. We’re completing our first year in a Keystone 171 EXP, well built and roomy for us. We’ve been tent campers for 25 years and wow, is it nice just pulling up, leveling off and dropping the tent ends. We’ve done the one ended turtling and use a small space heater to cut down on propane and it was warm, warm in the rv. Our new process is I built a little 3 legged bench that folds up and it goes in between the table folded down and the sofa folded down. Put one of the tent mattresses on top and we have an enclosed couples camper….you can’t beat the versatility of

  15. Turn on your inside fans in ceiling and bathroom with Windows and doors closed take canvas rod down and it will help suck in canvas like a vacuum effect there’s a video on YouTube you can watch for further information

  16. we have a seasonal camp site for our expandable camper is it ok to let the ends expanded all the time in spring summer and fall ?

    • It really should be fine. I think I’d pay attention to the fabric manufacturers recommendation for care. I’d also definitely invest in a set of PopupGizmos to protect it AND help manage the temperature inside of the hybrid (especially if you’re paying for electricity).

  17. The Pop up Gizmos are really cool or warm depending on the season Cost savers on propane in the winter to heat and although they add a little bit to the set up and take down. When you are boon docking in the winter the are warm-der-full ; }

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