There’s a huge range of caravan styles to choose from. You could pick a titchy teardrop, a titanic twin-axle, or any size and style in between. John Sootheran explains the pros and cons of each.
Matching a caravan to the touring lifestyle you’re pursuing is easy, as there are so many brilliant choices out there. I’ve split this guide into six sections:
• Teardrop trailers
• Folding and pop-top tourers
• Trailer tents
• Small caravans
• Family vans
• Luxury and lifestyle tourers
Read on to discover which option might be best for you.
Tiny teardrop caravans score highly for cuteness and ease of towing, but they don’t offer the same level of practicality as regular caravans.
In some respects, teardrops are a step up from camping, as you’re sleeping off the ground in a comfortable environment. But they’re really only for sleeping and relaxing in, as you can’t stand up inside. You’ll also have to head outside to cook, and use the campsite facilities, as there’s no loo or shower.
For the more adventurous caravanner, teardrops are a great option, especially when touring in warmer climes, as you can live outside most of the time.
- Compact and lightweight, making them easy to tow and manoeuvre.
- Sleek designs deliver aerodynamic advantages and excellent fuel efficiency.
- Simplicity of construction means lower maintenance and servicing costs. Storage is also easier and cheaper.
- Cosy interiors typically include sleeping accommodation and basic amenities.
- Affordability makes them an attractive option for first-time buyers or those on a tight budget.
- Limited interior space restricts the number of occupants and storage capacity.
- Lack of integrated bathroom and kitchen facilities may require the use of external amenities.
- Minimal headroom can be inconvenient for taller individuals.
- Smaller size may limit comfort during extended trips or unfavourable weather conditions.
These compact tourers feature clever mechanisms, allowing you to quickly and easily expand the living space inside. The result is a small and easy-to-tow caravan while on the road, and a more-roomy living space once on pitch.
Folding caravans look like medium-sized trailers before the sides and roof are folded-up into place. Once ‘erected’ they look rather boxy, but they do their job well and have windows and a full-height door like a regular caravan. The benefits include a low weight, easy towing and they’re simple to store.
Pop-top caravans, like the Eriba, take a different approach, with a pop-up roof section that’s folded flat while on-tow, but can quickly be unclipped and elevated to add 12-18inches of extra headroom inside. Normally, the roof panel is solid, while the side sections are made from a durable fabric.
Once you’ve had a cutesy Eriba you may not want to go back to a standard caravan. As they say: “Once you’ve popped, you can’t stop”!
- Compact when folded, offering low MTPLM weights, plus easy storage and manoeuvrability.
- Quick and easy set-up process, allowing for faster deployment and convenience.
- Expanding living space when unfolded, providing more room for occupants.
- Integrated amenities, including lounges, kitchens, and bathrooms, delivering increased comfort.
Once ‘popped’, caravans with elevating roof sections can accommodate caravanners over six-foot tall.
The Eriba is considered a design classic, which holds its value very well.
- Limited insulation in some models may result in them only being two-season tourers (except for the hardiest caravanners).
- Relatively smaller interior space compared to conventional caravans.
- Folding mechanisms and pop-top roofs may require occasional maintenance.
- Folding caravans have a greater number of joints where moisture could get in.
- Even when expanded, both types of caravan tend to be on the compact side.
Trailer tents make a comfortable half-way house between camping and caravanning. They’ve been popular for decades, as they deliver most of the amenities you’d see in a caravan. However, the roof and most of the sides are entirely fabric.
One trailer-tent stands out in particular, and that’s the Opus Air folding camper. This clever camping vehicle starts off as a full-on, Action-Man-spec trailer, but converts in about five minutes into a vast living space, containing a lounge, kitchen and two double beds (and that’s before you add the vast optional awning).
Opus Air features air-beam technology and inflates quickly to create an impressively rigid structure. In trailer format, Opus can be loaded with outdoor gear like mountain bikes, surfboards or canoes, to increase its already substantial ‘cool-quotient’!
- Versatile and lightweight design allows for easy towing and setup.
- Expandable living space, with the option to add annexes for additional rooms.
- Quick and straightforward assembly process, making them ideal for shorter stays.
- Considerably cheaper than caravans offering equivalent space and spec.
- Easier storage and parking due to their compact nature.
- Some trailer tents can take longer to set-up than a traditional caravan, though the Opus Air doesn’t.
- Limited insulation and weather resistance may pose challenges during extreme conditions, and limit year-round usage.
- Integrated facilities are sometimes minimal, necessitating trips to the campsite loos and showers.
- Less durable construction compared to solid-sided caravans.
The small-caravan sector has a huge range of style options within it, and they can offer a cool and trendy alternative to ‘white box’ caravanning, the image of which puts some people off.
The previously-mentioned Eriba is a great option in this sector, but there are also some brilliant adventure caravans like Knaus’ Sport & Fun and Swift’s excellent Basecamp. These two offer all the benefits of comfortable and cosy caravanning, but in compact and sporty packages.
They’re ideal for the outdoor enthusiast who likes the idea of a campervan, but doesn’t appreciate their lack of practicality and versatility, or the huge prices.
A well-spec’d small caravan can be bought for less than half the price of a campervan, and, once you’re at your destination, you have your tow car to travel in, not a van!
Other great brands worth a gander are Wingamm with its Rookie, the GoPod Going, or the Jetstream from the excellent Polish brand, Freedom.
Barefoot is another superb small caravan, but I’ll cover that in Lifestyle Caravans.
- Small footprint and lightweight construction offer excellent manoeuvrability.
- Reduced weight allows for towing with smaller vehicles, saving on fuel costs.
- Efficient use of space ensures comfortable living areas within a compact design.
- Integrated amenities, including kitchens and bathrooms, provide convenience.
- Ideal for solo travellers or couples seeking a minimalist lifestyle.
- Clever design touches offer excellent sports-equipment storage in some small vans.
- Limited interior space may feel cramped during extended trips or when inclement weather forces you inside.
- Restricted storage capacity requires careful planning and organisation.
- Limited headroom in some small vans may be an issue for taller caravanners.
- Lower overall weight may make them more susceptible to wind turbulence when towing.
- Washroom facilities may be compact, and the smallest vans may only offer a portaloo option.Check out…
These are the traditional (usually white) caravans that account for most touring caravan sales in the UK. The design of these caravans has evolved and been perfected over the decades, to the point where they offer the very best combination of size, weight, facilities, practicality, and comfort.
They tend to come in a weight range from 1100kg to 1700kg (MTPLM).
Typically, they’re available in two to six berth layouts, so ideal for couples or larger families. British-built models feature extensive lounging, cooking, sleeping and washing facilities, with even budget models delivering excellent comfort and versatility.
There’s a wide choice of bed options available.
For starters, you should decide if you want fixed or make-up beds. Fixed beds remove the hassle of ‘building’ your bed every night, but they do take up more space. From there, you can select double beds, single beds or bunks.
Almost every van offers extensive kitchen, dining, washroom, and loo amenities, but these come in a vast range of lay-outs, with different elements prioritised. You’ll find more information in our Ultimate Caravan-Layout Guide.
- • Spacious interiors with dedicated sleeping and dining areas for the whole family.
- • Ample storage options to accommodate personal belongings and equipment.
- • Enhanced insulation and weatherproofing ensure comfort in various climates and seasons.
- • Integrated facilities, including larger kitchens and bathrooms, cater to family needs.
- • Wide range of layouts and configurations available to suit different family sizes.
- The larger sizes require a suitable tow vehicle with adequate towing capacity.
- Increased weight may affect fuel efficiency and require more robust towing equipment.
- Manoeuvrability can be challenging, especially in tight or crowded spaces.
- Higher initial cost compared to smaller caravans or teardrop trailers.
- Almost always some compromise to be made in selecting the best layout.
Each major British caravan manufacturer offers several luxury tourer options in its ranges.
The Buccaneer range from the Elddis Group is one of the best known, and typifies the luxurious interiors that you can expect to find in this sector.
Since the 2019 model year, every manufacturer has offered eight-foot-wide caravans. These are just six inches broader than previous models, but that makes a huge difference inside, giving the feel of a luxury apartment rather than a tourer.
Check out the Buccaneer collection; Bailey and Swift’s Grande ranges, Coachman’s Laser Xcels, Elddis’ 800-series vans and Adria’s Adora and Alpina eight-footers.
The extra three inches of width at each side makes a negligible difference when towing.
Luxury vans feature high-quality fixtures and fittings inside, along with superior panel and fabric finishes. They also tend to offer more appliances and equipment, from motormovers and solar panels to auto-levelling and air-conditioning.
If cost and weight aren’t an issue for you, check out the extensive specifications on offer before you buy. Of course, cramming all that extra spec and equipment in, inevitably results in a bigger and heavier caravan, so check that your tow car can pulling your preferred option.
For the heaviest vans, you’re looking at a large SUV, such as a Range Rover or VW Touareg, or a hefty pick-up, like the Nissan Navara or VW Amarok. Most luxury vans run on twin-axles, which makes towing safer and more stable.
Many modern luxury caravans are now nudging the £50,000 price point, so it’s important that you make the right choice.
Lifestyle caravans are increasingly popular. That might be an iconic polished-aluminium Airstream or the uber-cute Barefoot two-berth, which is perfectly designed for festival living!
You pay a premium for this type of caravan, but, if image is as important to you as versatility and build quality, then these vans are well worth considering. And remember, thanks to their rarity, they’re likely to hold their value well.
- Premium features and high-quality materials offer a luxurious and comfortable caravanning experience.
- Spacious and well-designed interiors provide ample living space and storage.
- Advanced amenities, including fully-equipped kitchens, luxurious bathrooms, and entertainment systems.
- Enhanced insulation and climate-control systems ensure year-round comfort.
- Superior craftsmanship and attention to detail create a stylish and sophisticated ambiance.
- Labour-saving devices enhance the caravanning experience and can extend older participants ‘caravanning years’.
- Higher price points may be prohibitive for budget-conscious buyers.
- Increased weight may call for a larger, more powerful tow vehicle.
- Larger dimensions may limit storage options.
- Complex systems and high-end features may require additional maintenance and expertise.
- Less manoeuvrable compared to smaller caravans, requiring more planning when selecting sites.
In the realm of UK-made touring caravans, each category offers its own set of advantages and drawbacks.
Teardrop trailers appeal to those seeking simplicity, affordability, and ease of towing.
Folding and pop-top tourers combine compactness with expandable living space and integrated amenities.
Trailer tents offer versatility and affordability, but require more time for set-up. Compact caravans cater to solo travellers or couples seeking efficient use of space.
Family vans provide spacious interiors and dedicated family-oriented amenities. Luxury and lifestyle tourers offer the pinnacle of comfort and sophistication, albeit at a higher price point.
By considering the pros and cons outlined in this article, prospective buyers can align their preferences and requirements with the diverse offerings of UK-made touring caravans.
Whether you’re embarking on a solo adventure, exploring with the family, or indulging in a luxurious getaway. There’s a touring caravan perfectly-suited for your travels throughout beautiful Britain and beyond.
John Sootheran is a seasoned caravan and motorhome journalist who previously edited Caravan magazine, and now writes for Britain’s best-selling caravan magazine, Practical Caravan, along with Practical Motorhome and the Camping & Caravanning Club magazines. He also works with a number of major caravanning brands.