Camping setup times; how long does it take you?

When you get to camp, setting up takes time. At one end of the scale you have Caravans, which need very little setup, and at the other end is the big, soft floor campers with multiple rooms, or taj mahal tents that have a huge pile of poles to put in place.

Setup times can range from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours, depending on where and how you are camping. This is one of the factors to consider when looking at Caravans vs Camper Trailers.

Not every location you go to will require the same setup; if you are just going for a weekend, sometimes its not worth setting everything up, but knowing how long its going to take you is important. 

Camping setup times
How long does it take you to setup camp?

Does setup time really matter?

If you only camp a few times a year, and you don’t move around much in each trip perhaps you’ve never been fazed by how long it takes you to set your camp up.

Some people don’t seem to mind, but when you are regularly moving and camping many times a year it can get frustrating spending longer setting up and packing away than you could.

If it takes you 1.5 hours to set up and 1.5 hours to pack away, that’s 3 hours every couple of days if you are moving regularly. Do this for more than a week or two, and you will be sick of it by the end of your trip. I guarantee it.

If you don’t mind setting up and packing away for more than an 45 minutes either way then you are more patient than me. I like things to be as efficient and easy as possible, and I reckon most of you are like that too!

Camping with an Oztent
Spending hours packing and unpacking isn’t fun

Is there such thing as a fast tent?

Many of you will know we have an Oztent (and you can read our Oztent RV5 Review), that has had a lot of use over the years. It’s one of the fastest tents on the market; once you get it out of the bag and put the ground sheet down you can set it up in about 30 seconds.

What I’ve discovered though, is its not the tent that adds to your setup time. Once the tent is up, you need to get the bags of clothes out, mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags, table, gas burner and bottle and water tanks out too.

You then need to unpack your mattresses and sleeping bags and set them up, connect the gas burner to the bottle, pull your solar panels out and set them up and the list often goes on.

In the scheme of things then, even with the quickest tent, camping with a tent isn’t a fast solution. On our 5 weeks through the Kimberley, we got our setup time down to about 30 minutes. In my mind, that’s perfectly reasonable for however you camp. If you can get it down below 30 minutes, you are winning.

Oztent RV5 tents
Oztent RV5’s and a Jetbunker

Moving from tent to camper trailer

A couple of months ago, we picked up a second hand soft floor camper trailer. You can read more about it here – Our new Camper Trailer. Despite reading over and over online that soft floors are slow to setup, we did our research, shopped around and picked up an Outback Deluxe.

While its most certainly not the fastest setup camper trailer on the market, its definitely not the slowest either.

This is certainly one of the things that form part of the ultimate guide to buying a camper trailer.

It probably takes us about 25 – 35 minutes to set the camper trailer up now, and that will get faster as we become more familiar with it. The difference though, is that we get a tent that’s probably 3 times the size, a proper stainless steel kitchen, water on tap, substantially more shade and wind protection and easily double the storage space.

Our payload has gone from 865kg in the Land Cruiser to nearly 1600kg between the trailer and the vehicle (not that we will need all of that!).

Setup is quite simple; disconnect the 4WD, Unlatch the boat loader and flip it over, undo the tent cover and remove it along with the extra annex, fold the tent out, peg it out and put 6 poles inside the trailer tent. The kitchen unlatches from the rear and folds out, and all we need to do is connect the gas line up.

I suppose what I’m getting at then, is if you are moving from a tent to a camper trailer, you probably won’t take any longer setting it up but your camp base station is much nicer.

However, bear in mind that every camper trailer varies; I’ve seen some soft floors that take 40 minutes just to get the basics up, and another hour to get other rooms and annexes up. Camping gear can make or break your experience in the bush!

Softfloor camper trailer setup times
Our new softfloor camper trailer

Soft floor vs hard floor camper trailer setup times

So, onto the age old argument; hard floor camper trailers are faster to set up. In general, this is often true; I won’t argue with it. However, the lines between hardfloor and softfloor camper trailers are continually being blurred, and you should set the trailer up before purchasing it, so you know what’s involved.

Something like the Kimberley Kamper is very quick to set up; undo 4 latches, flip the lid over, pull the kitchen out the side and its pretty much done. There are some very quick hard floor camper trailers, and there are some that are not so quick at all.

With any camper trailer the time consuming part is setting up additional rooms, or annexes. Set these up before you buy one so you know what’s involved. It may take 5 minutes to set your camper trailer up, and another 35 minutes putting the kids room and annex in place.

Camper trailer hard floor
A hard floor camper trailer

Hybrids; the quickest camper trailer to set up

There are a lot of very slow camper trailers to setup, which is one of the reasons hybrids have become so popular. If you are looking at getting one, we’ve written a huge guide here; The ultimate guide to buying a hybrid camper trailer.

We upgraded some time ago to a Reconn R2 Hybrid, and can have it set up and ready to sleep in about 60 seconds. Even the easiest camper trailer to set up doesn’t come close to this!

How can you set your camp up quicker?

The way to get better at setting up and packing away is to do it often. If you go on a 3 week trip where you are moving regularly, I guarantee you will shave at least 10 minutes off your setup and pack away times by the end of the trip.

Do it for more than that, and you will get quicker and quicker. It’s all about routine, knowing what you are doing and finding the easiest way to do it.

Tvan camper trailer
Some ways to camp are much faster than others, like the Tvan

There should be a place for everything, and the more people helping out the better. You’ll learn what works well and what doesn’t; we tend to learn quickly when it involves hard work! Our setup and pack away times got progressively quicker over 5 weeks spent in the Kimberley, and everything became easier as a routine was developed.

Fast setup camping

If you are sick of spending time setting up and packing away, there are a couple of quick options


Even though swags have changed a lot in the last two decades, they are still a very quick way to camp. Your mattress, ‘tent’, sleeping bag, pillow and sometimes even clothes are all contained in one bit of gear that can be rolled out easily.

These are a fantastic option for fast paced camping. They are bulky, you have much less room to move around and change and less protection from the weather. However, a very popular way of camping as they are economical, comfortable to sleep in and easy to set up.

Sleep in your canopy

If you have a ute, you may have the option of sleeping in your canopy. If you can keep your bed made up inside then its a fast way to camp.

Dual cab Utes are pushing the sleeping limits unless you are below the average height, but they will work. Bear in mind the need to keep the bugs away, and allow some way for the air to escape or you will wake up with rain drops on your head.

Caravans and some camper trailers

A lot of Caravans are ready to go when you pull up. Some require the lid to be popped up, and you will likely have an awning to setup, but they are very fast. As mentioned above too, some camper trailers are very fast. Make sure you set one up before committing to it though!

Roof top tents

Another favourite amongst those moving regularly is roof top tents. They are comfortable, off the ground and quite economical. Some of these can be setup in under a minute, with many taking just a few minutes in total.

Your mattress and bedding are contained so you save on having to set them up. However, if you ever want to move your vehicle, you need to drop the tent down, and this can be a pain. They are also fairly heavy and increase your centre of gravity, affect your fuel economy and aren’t the easiest (or safest) with little children.

RV and Bus Travel

If you’ve got an RV or Bus, your setup times are pretty much nil – pull up and you are good to go. Maybe you have an awning, but there’s no canvas or poles to deal with! These are a great option, but will limit where you can travel (and they aren’t cheap!).

What to think about when choosing a way to camp

If you are considering changing the way you camp, have a think of the following facets

  • Setup time
  • Ease of setup; do you need two strong people to do it?
  • Strength and reliability
  • Shade
  • Room inside (width and height)
  • Protection from the elements – wind, rain and snow.
  • Weight and size of your chosen camping method
  • Kitchen and cooking
  • Water storage and access
  • Whether you need level ground
  • Tow ball mass (as required)
  • Fuel economy

Life is a compromise

There is no perfect 4WD and camping setup. No matter what you buy it will be a compromise one way or another. Like 4WD’s, you’ll never have the perfect camping setup. Finding something that is light, nimble, cheap, robust, quick to setup with a huge amount of room and shade, plenty of storage space in weight and space just doesn’t exist.

You have to make a compromise somewhere along the line, and that’s up to you. The more research you do, the better informed you will be and the more likely you are to get something that works for you.

Caravan vs camper trailer
Nothing you buy is perfect, so get what is closest to your needs!

What do you use, and how long does it take to setup?

Let me know below; what camping arrangement do you use, and how long does it take to set up and pack away? Do you regret your decision to buy what you camp with? What would you change?

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  1. Hey Roger,

    Yep, you aren’t wrong there, and a pretty good way of thinking. I’ve seen people play with those pop up tents for hours, trying to put them back in their bags!

    We had a pop up shower tent that was always a lot of entertainment getting people to fold it back down

    All the best

  2. I often wonder not at how long does it take to set up, but how long to pack up. Getting canvas out of a bag is a whole lot easer than fitting it back in. Folding up campers and zipping it all up takes way more time. Try putting your sleeping bag in the storage bag quicker than you got it out! That is how I judge a set up.

  3. Hi Simon,

    A lot of the canvas awnings are slow to put up. The solution is a caravan awning, although these tend to be quite expensive, heavy and not always as strong.

    We ended up with a Lifestyle Reconn R2, and it too has a slow canvas awning (although you can option the normal van style). It is substantially stronger in heavy wind and rain though.

    We rarely set the awning up these days. We try and fit the camper so the drawbar faces west, and then the height of the van (around 3 metres) provides enough shade throughout the day for us to sit without getting fried. The setup time for the camper without the tent is under a minute, excluding putting legs down and detaching.

    Here’s the camper we ended up with, in a full review – Reconn R2

    All the best mate

  4. I’m looking at a camping trailer to buy. BTW, we hired a Kimberley and found the tent bit went up quick but the awning was pretty slow (it was the 2.4m awning not their quick awning) and took as long as a standard soft floor for us. Keen to learn what you looked at and what made you decide on the camper you bought as it sound like speed of set up was a key factor (is for us too). Also what else did you look at and what was the quickest you saw?

  5. Rhianna Hawk says:

    My husband and I want to start camping more and so we’re hoping to get a camper trailer next spring, and while we do like speed in camp set-up, we definitely would rather get a soft-floor camper than go for a hard-floor trailer. We appreciate your tips on how to set up faster, especially as we’re first-timers, and we’ll definitely try out those quick to roll out swags. A rooftop tent sounds like something worth looking into, as well, though if they aren’t the safest around children then we might not opt for it.