What Is a “Hard-Side” Camper and Is It Worth It?

As more people get interested in the various styles of camper vehicles for the first time, like anything other new interest, there are a lot of new terminologies that we have to learn. Whether full-time live-in camper or part-time recreational camper, there are a lot of ways to waste money and get yourself in trouble. The best way to avoid serious trouble and enjoy the experience is knowing what is what and what gear is most appropriate to meet your camper goals. 

Tent-side Vs Hard-side

Many people have started outfitting their 4×4 vehicles to fit a roof-top tent, as you may have seen. This overlanding and minimalist camper building style is very popular and by far the most pocketbook-friendly way to build an overland or camper rig.

The tent-side rigs do have their downsides, though. They are obviously not going to keep out the elements nearly as well as the hard-side joints. Water-tight and windproof is not really possible in this style rig. 

Tent-side camper rig

There is also the matter of safety and security. While the more wild places of the world are beautiful and peaceful that is also where the wildest creatures live. Yes, you have the height of the vehicle to make camp less accessible, but critters can easily penetrate tent-side rigs. Animals aren’t the only worry.

Inclamite poses a bigger threat to tent-side campers, too. Falling limbs, high winds, and other debris can become a serious threat in a tent. All that being said, tent-side campers are far cheaper to build and maintain and an all-around simpler rig that drives and handles like a normal vehicle.

Hard-side camper rig

As you may have gleaned, a hard-side camper is the bigger, badder way to build an overlanding or camper rig. Hard-side campers are usually built on a truck or SUV platform. The builders will add a hull around some portion of the vehicle (usually the truck bed or back half of an SUV) that gives the camper more of an RV type of feel.

The Ultimate Adventure camper Truck
Hard-side camper | Getty Images

Because the hull is made of harder material like molded fiberglass, metal, or polymer, these campers can have climate control, kitchens, and even toilets. Makers like Earthroamer have built their businesses on this model of rugged off-roading capabilities, with some level of comfort and security.

Hard-side campers offer more than tent-side but cost exponentially more

As you may well imagine, this style of camper comes at a far higher cost. Folks like Earthroamer are some of the most famous versions of this style. Although some may consider Earthroamer to be a few steps past a simple hard-side camper.

Money isn’t the only way to get into the hard-side world. Some people take on the task of building them on their own. But, normally things that cost a lot do so because they take either a lot of time or very expensive materials; building a hard-side is not exempt. 

The folks at Expedition Portal layout a great way to consider your camper needs. The short-term recreational campers can usually get tons of enjoyment from the cheaper and simpler tent-side stuff. Still, for the more long-term campers who are trying to, as the kids say, “be about that life” and stay in the wilderness for a while, the hard-side can be worth the investment. In the scenario they discuss in the article, the addition of new family members can be a strong reason to upgrade. 

Don’t stress though there is no right answer

The best part of campers and overlanding is that they both are built on the principle of making your rig for the specific needs you have. Customization and fabrication are not only common in these scenes; they are integral to them. So, whether you pony up for the big boys or keep it simple with roof tents, do it your way and have a great time.