Utility Trailer Camping: Everything You Need to Know

With the increase in people looking to buy trailers and campers over the past couple of years, there has also been a lot of talk around the use of utility trailers for the same trips and uses. There’s plenty to like about them — lightweight, simple, and cost-effective. But what actually defines this category of trailers, what are they traditionally used for, and what should you look for if you want to get one for camping?

What is a utility trailer?

Let’s start with the basics. A utility trailer, or cargo trailer, is an unpowered vehicle that usually features a flat, open cargo area (the “utility” part) and is towed behind your car or truck (the “trailer” part). Utility trailers typically weigh less than 1,500 lbs, but are often closer to 800 lbs unloaded.

What are they used for?

Because of their weight and simplicity, utility trailers are common solutions for hauling relatively lightweight equipment like lawnmowers, power equipment, furniture, and more. They’re incredibly common in industries like landscaping to tow everything workers might need.

However, this doesn’t mean they’re limited to work applications. Many people have started using them to haul camping gear and use them as a simpler and cheaper alternative to more traditional camping trailers and RVs.

Pros & cons of camping with a utility trailer

So when it comes to potentially using a utility trailer for camping or off-roading, what are the key considerations that can make or break your decision? Some of their major benefits are:

  • Simple – utility trailers primarily consist of a flat platform, axle and wheels, and tongue with a hitch. This simplicity makes them easy to maintain and has minimal moving pieces that can break or malfunction.
  • Lightweight – this simplicity also allows them to weigh far less than larger, covered trailers. Usually weighing between 600 – 1,000 lbs, utility trailers can be towed by more vehicles and will result in better gas mileage while towing.
  • Inexpensive – another factor of their simplicity is that they also cost significantly less than RVs or more sophisticated trailers, which means that they’re more accessible to more budgets.
  • Easy to pack gear like kayaks, ATVs, etc. – their flatbed design allows wheeled and flat equipment to be easily loaded and unloaded via a small ramp. Depending on how you pack the trailer, there might be no obstructions between the ramp and this equipment.

Unfortunately, things aren’t all positive for the utility trailer when it comes to camping. In fact, there are some big disadvantages depending on where you’re going or what you expect from the excursion:

  • Uncovered – when in poor weather conditions, having an uncovered trailer can be a nightmare. Beyond the items in the trailer being exposed, not having the ability to warm or protect the trailer itself can lead to environmental damage like rust or freezing.
  • No space to live out of – because of the small space and uncovered setup, you won’t be able to live out of a utility trailer and will have to bring some sort of tent or other living space in addition. There are some enclosed utility trailers, but these don’t have ventilation, windows, or power.
  • Can’t provide power – on that note, many modern camping trailers have power sources from propane, solar, or other means. This gives you some electricity for your devices, gear, etc., but utility trailers don’t offer this.
  • Road legality varies from state to state – the legality and requirements to tow a utility trailer can be complicated and change depending on where you are. This can make it difficult to travel over state lines and extend the process from purchase to expedition.
  • Usually made for roads – they’re also typically made with fairly small wheels and low ground clearance for transporting over paved roads. Camping often involves some amount of off-roading (let alone if you want to go overlanding), which most utility trailers are not suitable for.

Features to look for in a good utility trailer

If you’re thinking about beginning the search for a solid utility trailer, there are some important features to keep in mind that will help narrow your search:

  • Weight (able to be towed by your car) – it’s important to check your vehicle’s tow capacity before looking at utility trailers so you know what is immediately disqualified. In addition, the weight of the trailers is also an indicator of how much they can carry.
  • Enough storage space – beyond weight, the actual volume of storage space will be a crucial factor in what you can and can’t take with you on a camping trip. Make sure you compile a list of everything you’ll need so you don’t forget the space that a tent, skis, or bike might take up.
  • External racks – to alleviate some of this, having external racks for bikes, kayaks, and other similar equipment can be a great help to expand your storage options and organize bigger items for easy access.
  • Road legality – as mentioned above, states can have different laws for utility trailers, but this can also apply to different types and sizes of trailers. Make sure you know the laws around the size and category of utility trailers you’re considering when making a decision.
  • Large off-road wheels – if you’re going camping, you will absolutely need wheels that are larger than the average utility trailer has. Independent suspension (like our overlanding trailers have) is another great feature for your wheels to survive off-roading or driving over trails and uneven surfaces.
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