Are you new to the world of trailer camping? If so, welcome! We’re glad to see that you’ve discovered this fabulous pastime.
Whether you’re still in the process of searching for the perfect recreational vehicle, or you’ve been camping for a number of years, you’ll find that there is a lot of specific (and somewhat confusing) terminology linked to the hobby. And if you don’t understand the basic – though sometimes subtle – difference between these technical terms, you may get a little lost while researching the best tips and products for your situation.
Even amongst our expert staff, many of whom have been towing and camping in trailers for decades, we find that these terms can get mixed up and misused. So don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense to you just yet! We’re here to help.
Hitch vs Coupler
Perhaps the most common and confusing mix-up is the use of the term “hitch” vs “coupler.” You’re probably most familiar with the word “hitch” because it tends to get thrown around a lot when talking about trailers.
The hitch refers to the connection point on your vehicle used to hook up a trailer for towing. In most cases, the hitch is a bar or frame piece that is mounted under the car/truck and has a hitch ball on a protruding arm for the trailer to connect to. (Although other hitch types may be mounted in the bed of a truck, for example: fifth wheels.)
What makes the word “hitch” so truly confusing is that many people tend to use it as a blanket term for any part of a trailer-to-tow vehicle connection, including the part on the trailer; this piece is actually known as the “coupler.”
Couplers are often welded on or connected to the trailer frame. The most common type of couplers are those that connect to a hitch ball, and all of these feature some kind of locking mechanism to keep the ball securely attached during towing.
So, to keep them straight, just remember: hitches go on your tow vehicle, and couplers come on trailers.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. In some cases, trailer owners may opt to use one of a variety of specialty hitches meant to prevent sway, balance trailer weight, and provide a smoother ride. Many of these hitches are designed to stay attached to the trailer coupler, requiring only a few simple steps to connect them to the hitch bar on the back of the tow vehicle.
RV vs Trailer vs Motorhome
Another set of commonly exchanged terms are “RV” and “trailer.” These terms do have some overlap, but their meanings are distinct.
RV (short for “recreational vehicle”) is actually a broad term that refers to any trailer, camper van, or motorhome that offers a place to live, cook, and rest while traveling.
A trailer, on the other hand, is an unpowered vehicle that must be hooked up to another vehicle in order to be towed. There are many kinds of trailers for transporting and storing goods, vehicles, and animals, as well as for camping.
Camping trailers can be anything from a small pop-up tent trailer or a teardrop to a massive fifth wheel trailer. Thus, all camping trailers are recreational vehicles (RVs), but not all RVs are trailers.
Recreational vehicles that are motorized and do not require a tow vehicle might also be called “motorhomes” to distinguish them from trailers. They are simply another category of recreational vehicle.
Depending on the type of trailer you have, you may hear about “hookups” a lot (and we don’t mean the romantic kind).
Hookups are connections to campsite services such as electricity, water, and sewer. Many trailer parks and campgrounds with trailer spots offer one or more of these services, allowing you to experience all the comforts and conveniences of your mobile home.
Always be sure to have the proper equipment for the available hookups, and know what you need to do in case there aren’t any.
Camping without any hookups is called “boondocking,” “dry camping,” or “wild camping.”
Boondocking means no electricity, no water hookup, and no sewage disposal. You may be able to add some comfort and convenience to your stay by pre-filling your water tank, installing an alternative energy source (for example, solar panels), and limiting your sewage usage until you can dump it properly. However, boondocking is not the kind of luxury camping experience that you’d generally find in a trailer park.
Often, this kind of camping is done on public lands where dispersed camping is allowed – as long as you do your best not to leave behind too much evidence of your stay.
Other camping areas offer designated dry camping spots, and some private landowners will even offer an official boondocking spot on their properties. You can find lots of boondocking sites for booking through companies like Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts.
The best part about boondocking? It’s usually free!
BONUS term: If a friend or family member offers to let you stay on their property with this kind of setup, it is sometimes referred to as “moochdocking.”
Looking for more space without adding length to your trailer? Search for recreational vehicles with slide-outs.
Slide-outs are expandable sections of your living space that can be pushed out while parked so that your family has more room to sleep, eat, or watch TV on a rainy day. These can then be retracted for more convenient travel.
Most are controlled with electronic or hydraulic systems, so they add very little extra effort to your setup, but provide a whole lot more room to breathe (and move around). After all, when you’re sharing a small living space, you need as much room as you can get.
And there you have it! A beginner’s guide to common (and frequently misused) trailer terminology.
Have more questions? Learn more about towing and trailer camping by checking out the rest of our blogs.