There are those who are attracted to the camping lifestyle and those who belong in hotels or VRBO type arrangements. It will usually take just one camping trip to figure out your preference. If you enjoy the smell of a wet camp fire and the sound of crickets (and other bugs and animals) at night and you have an persisting desire to be in the great outdoors despite the possible heat, cold or dampness, then camping might be for you. Camping is a time to put away the screens as much as possible, to cook outside, to take bike rides, to wet a line and, if only for a day or two, to let time slow down a bit while we hangout with those we love. I grew up tent camping and still cherish the memories of fishing, campfire hotdogs and family play and laughter. Since starting my own little family, we purchased a camper when our son was 2 and we have not had a single regret for taking on the adventure. I use the camping experience as teachable moments for my son. He's able to adjust the BlueOx Hitch, scotch the camper, drill down the stabilizers and help unload the truck. I am frequently consulted by co-workers thinking about getting a camper. Most have been mothers or fathers with young kids and want my thoughts on whether or not they should take the plunge. My message is always the same: If your family really enjoys the outdoors and each other then get your camper. Kids are only little for a little while and we never get those moments back.
If you come to terms with the fact that you have the camping bug, there are several important things to consider before you make the investment. In my experience, it seems most of the camper people we know started out with small pop-up style campers. Most of our camping friends bought super entry level campers (read cheap and half canvas) ten years ago or so as first campers but since RV camping has become so popular I've notice a shift to buying hard shells for a lot of entry level families. Consider this:
It's worth mentioning that I live with and love a chef so we have crazy amounts of outdoor cooking gear and usually feed a whole camping crew. Our list of favorite gear may seem heavy in the cooking equipment compared to your needs. When camper shopping my preference is tandem axle for better stability and security while travelling. It's also important to note that I'm an engineer by trade so some of my comments may seem technical in nature and some of my recommended tools for camping may seem over the top. Take what you think you need and then whittle it down based on what you actually use.
Our First Camper
We decided on a hard shell camper because I found a great deal and because I was finished sleeping on the ground in tents. I bought the Puma Palomino from a co-worker for $4000. We kept the Puma for 7 years and enjoyed every minute of it. I had no grand expectations from the Puma, if something broke I wasn't that worried… I had only paid $4000 for it. From the beginning it had a leaky awning and the roof became soft over time. There were broken hinges here and there and sometimes the heat worked. The water heater never did work for us on it. The bathroom of the Puma was tiny and we mostly used the tub for extra storage. It had 2 bunks tucked in the back (top was always used for storage) and it had no slides. I pulled the Puma with a Chevy Suburban and did not have a stabilizer hitch for it. The Puma was only 23' feet in length with a total hitch length of 25'. Our last trip in the Puma was at Fall Creek Falls State Park with a group of our camping friends. One couple had just upgraded to a Forrest River Cherokee with a slide and bunks and invited us in to check it out. We waited all weekend to go see it and when we did we were ruined. Suddenly our Puma felt so claustrophobic and tiny and OLD that we easily convinced ourselves that we NEEDED a new camper. With slides.