Caravan sizes - what’s important?
blog / advice / new caravans / pre-owned caravans / awnings
When buying a new caravan there are many things to think about - your budget, which manufacturer to go for, what your must-have features are - but it’s important to also consider the size of caravan you’ll need as there are many variables on offer.
Not only will you need to decide how much space you’ll need for your family, but also how that space is distributed and laid out. Caravan layout can make all the difference; if it’s not the right set up for you and your party, it can make caravan life very difficult indeed!
Caravans come in different widths and lengths, different weights, single and double axle, and with a range of berth options. Some caravans have larger living spaces than others, some have roomy washrooms whilst others are compact, and storage space differs from one manufacturer to the next.
Standard UK caravan lengths largely fall within 7.3m and 8m long, unless the range has a compact model, which is likely to measure between 5.6m and 6.6m.
The majority of the Swift ranges are 7.54m in length, with the exception of a few more compact models and of course, the Basecamp, Swift’s crossover camping vehicle, which is 5.59m long. The Swift Elegance is the most spacious of the lot measuring in at 7.98m.
Bailey’s 8ft wide ranges - the Pegasus Grande SE and the Alicanto Grande - measure 7.86m long, whilst the Phoenix + and Unicorn come in at around 50cm shorter at 7.37m and 7.34m respectively. The Discovery - Bailey’s compact range - is 5.59m.
The standard caravan width in the UK is between 7’ 4” and 7’ 6” depending on the manufacturer. Many manufacturers also offer extra-wide models which are 8ft wide. These wider caravans are great as that extra six to eight inches makes all the difference to the internal living spaces and is great for larger berth caravans that need to sleep a family or group comfortably.
Whilst this extra width offers many benefits, it’s important to remember that it will also mean that the caravan will be twin axle, which is heavier than a single axle and may be more challenging to tow and manoeuvre. Keep this in mind if this is your first caravan purchase as a single axle may be easier to manage as a beginner.
Single v twin axle
Single axle caravans have one axle and are typically lighter and easier to tow than twin axle caravans, which have two axles. Single axle caravans are usually more compact which can make them more manoeuvrable on the road too. Twin axle caravans tend to have more weight capacity and may be more stable while in motion. Because of the extra stability and capacity, twin axle caravans are often preferred for longer trips.
Whether you decide on a single or double axle caravan, if you’d like to build your skills and confidence before you get on the road, the Caravan and Motorhome Club offer caravan towing courses that will teach you the basics. Choose from Practical Caravanning for first-time caravanners and Caravan Manoeuvring for the more experienced caravanner looking for a refresh. These courses are offered in 15 locations in England and one in Wales, with more locations coming soon. The nearest one to us is held at Sparsholt College, Winchester.
If you want to be able to tow your new caravan with your current car, you’ll need to consider the weights of different types of caravan. Within the pre-owned manufacturers we stock, Bailey and Lunar models tend to be lighter. This makes them more accessible, as they can be towed by a much wider range of cars. Elddis and Coachman caravans are typically heavier and will need a larger car to tow them, so this is something to keep in mind during your search.
Check the maximum weight your car can tow by looking online, in the handbook or by contacting your local dealer. Before you purchase a caravan, you will need to check that your car is able to tow a caravan and if so, what your towing weight limit is. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) will tell you the weight of your car, and as a novice tower it is recommended that the weight of your caravan does not exceed 85% of the weight of your car.
If you passed your driving test on or after 1 January 1997, you cannot exceed a combined weight of 3,500kg, so note down your maximum combined weight and keep this in mind when browsing possible models. For example, the weight of a Ford S-Max starts at 1,784kg, so that combined with a caravan weighing 85% of that weight would make it a legal post 1997 towing combination. Those who passed their driving test prior to 1 January 1997 are able to tow up to 8,250kg.
Number of berths
As a general rule, the higher the number of berths a caravan has, the larger it is. This is because it will need to accommodate more beds, but it’s good to keep in mind that you don’t have to match the number of berths to your party size if you’d like more space to play with.
For example if you’re travelling as a couple you could opt to go for a 4 berth van as this will allow you to have a fixed bed, usually towards the rear, as well as a front lounge that you can use as a permanent living area, with the option to convert this to a bed for occasional guests should you need to.
If however, you’re looking for the smallest option to make towing and manoeuvring as easy as possible and to keep fuel consumption to a minimum, go for the minimum berth option for your party.
While the living space is the heart of any caravan, having the right sleeping areas and sufficient space for the essential facilities is crucial too! All manufacturers’ interior layouts differ, giving varying amounts of space to the washroom, kitchen and living area to one another.
Swift caravans tend to have larger washrooms, whereas Bailey opt for more compact washrooms to allow for larger living areas. The kitchens in all caravans are very similar in size, though Bailey boasts a nifty hob cover which provides more worktop space.
While the layout of your caravan can make all the difference to the space inside, it’s important to consider how the different layout options will affect your living experience. For example, a washroom at the back of your caravan might free up more space, but a central washroom could be more convenient for families sleeping at each end of the van. Food for thought!
One of the great things about caravan holidays is the storage space that a caravan provides. You can keep your ‘caravanning gear’ on board all year round (or at least in between trips) so there’s no need to pack up loads of stuff every time you want to go away. Then you’ll simply need to throw a few clothes in a bag and off you go!
Check out the individual storage provisions of different caravans as these can vary quite a bit so you’ll need to make sure the storage is sufficient for your party. This may be especially important for families who will be taking extra items for kids - you don’t want to be constantly tripping over stuff that you have nowhere to store!
If you need more space than your caravan (or any caravan!) can provide, you can easily add an awning to give you some extra living or sleeping space. Awningscome in different sizes so consider what you’re hoping to achieve by purchasing one.
Do you want somewhere to store boots, coats and other bits? If so, a porch awning would be ideal. If you’re looking for a secondary living or dining area or space for a couple of extra guests to camp, a full awning would be great - some can double the footprint of your caravan giving you endless options! Discover your awning options with our informative blog…
Get in touch with our sales team to find out more about caravan sizes in general or the new 2023 Bailey and Swift ranges in particular! We also stock a range of quality, pre-owned caravans - pop into our showroom for a closer look…
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