Explore the Pop-Up Camper, the
Small RV That's Big on Fun!
The pop-up camper can be likened to the tent in your backpack,
which also unfolds into a much larger
living/sleeping space. One of the pop-up's greatest
advantages is that the walls can be folded down to a low profile "box" for travel, making it a
fraction of the size of other RVs - and much easier to tow and store. The lower price tag
also makes these camping trailers attractive.
Pop-up campers have come a long way since your great grandpappy's Prairie
Schooner! There are now models with all the bells & whistles, lightweight
versions that can be towed behind a motorcycle or ATV, even off-road campers you can
pull with a 4x4.
With all the types and options available you'll want to do
your research before deciding on a pop-up camper. Reading this article is a
great place to start.
Pop-up article topics:
- The Good & Bad
- Available Features
- Setting Up the Pop-Up Trailer
- Trailer Towing
The Whatchamacallit RV
No other RV has so many different names. We all know what it
is, and we all seem to call it by a different name. Even the manufacturers can't
seem to agree on exactly what to call this small RV. Pop-up trailer, pop-up travel
trailer, pop-up tent camper, folding camper trailer, pop-top camper, tent
camper, fold down camper, tent
trailer.....and the list goes on and on. In this article I'll use "pop-up camper"
and "pop-up trailer" interchangeably as these are the most common terms.
Why a Pop-Up Camper?
Pop-Up Camper by Palomino
There are several reasons why you might choose a pop-up camper
over other RV types. And it's not always about money...
- Due to its light weight and low profile, it's easier to
tow and requires less fuel to tow than other towable RVs.
- Its small size makes it easier to store at home.
- A soft-side camper lets you enjoy the sounds of nature.
You can awaken to birdsong and fall asleep to a babbling brook - an
experience you just wouldn't have in a hard-side RV.
- Enjoy "real camping" the way it should be.
Without the flat screen TV and other distracting features
you'll be spending more time outdoors, which is what camping is all about
High Wall Pop-Up Camper with Slideout by Jayco
- More sleeping areas than many hard-side RVs.
- Can often be towed by the family car, van, or SUV and does not
require a heavy duty tow vehicle.
- Once you've setup camp, you can use your car for
sightseeing - those with a motorhome (or a big truck for a tow vehicle)
don't have it so easy.
- The trailer does not obstruct your view when towing. Large side
view mirrors are not required.
- Great for getting into those tight campsites and
places you wouldn't dare take a large RV.
- Large vinyl windows create an open ambience inside the
trailer and provide excellent views of the scenery.
- Large screen windows let in plenty of air for cooling and
- And of course, it's easy on the wallet compared to other RV types.
Before deciding on an RV, it's good to be aware of any drawbacks along
with the good points. Here are some things to consider with a pop-up trailer...
- Strong winds and soft walls do not mix well. If you've
camped in a tent during bad weather, you already know that there's a lot of
flapping and noise with soft walls. And because you're in a trailer, there
may be a whole lotta shakin' going on, even if you're not dancing to Jerry
- Soft-walls won't block unwanted noise. If you've got
noisy neighbors in the next campsite, you'll just have to put up with it.
- Small freshwater and wastewater holding tanks make
boondocking (camping without hookups) challenging.
- Typically less storage space than other RVs.
- Some models may not have a shower or toilet.
- Requires more setup time than a hard-sided RV. It can take
15-30 minutes to setup a pop-up camper and get everything
- If the pop-up camper is taken down while wet, it will need
to be opened back up later to dry - otherwise mildew can form on the walls.
- Usually lacking in features found on other RVs.
- Less privacy inside the camper as there are no hard walls
and typically it's just one large room.
- A pop-up camper doesn't do so well in winter as it's more
difficult to keep heated.
Here's where the "tent" is transformed into a real RV.
are several options to choose from, and some of the features listed here will come
standard. It all depends on the pop-up camper you choose.
Typically you won't find as
many features on pop-up trailers as with hard-sided RVs - and many of
the features will be scaled down to fit into a smaller space. However, compared
to tent camping you will certainly be living high on the hog!
3-Way Refrigerator runs off Propane, 12 Volt DC, or 120 Volt AC
- stovetop - 2-3 burner stove, runs on propane
- oven - runs on propane
- microwave - requires campground electrical hookup
- small refrigerator - 3-way gas/electric
refrigerator - can run on 110V AC, 12V DC from battery, or propane
- sink - single, or double basin
- hot water heater - runs on propane
- water filter system - recommended for consistent
tasting water from the tap
- shower - some models have an indoor shower, others may have
an outdoor shower
- cassette toilet
- uses a waste holding tank that can be removed for emptying
- flush toilet w/black water tank - has a larger
holding tank than a cassette toilet and is recommended for
- furnace - runs on propane
on the Starcraft Centennial
- air conditioner - requires campground electrical
hookup to run
- converter w/battery charger - provides DC power
when plugged into shore power and also charges the battery
- slideout - will add more living space, at the cost of
added towing weight
- heated mattress
- adjustable speed vent fan - excellent for cooling
off the camper when you don't want to run the air conditioner
- clothes hanger bar
- tinted vinyl windows - keeps the camper cooler
- sky light or roof vent
- stereo system
- LCD TV
- cable TV hookup
- privacy curtains for end-bunks - closes off the
two sleeping areas at each end of the pop-up trailer
- electric brakes - always a good idea, especially
if traveling in the mountains (as I've discovered from personal experience!)
- exterior LP hook-up - handy for outside cooking
with a portable gas grill
- awning - usually comes standard - keeps the camper cooler in
sunny weather and provides shelter from the rain.
- screen room - adds more "indoor" living space,
typically under the awning
- freshwater tank - capacities range from 10-30 gal.
- if you plan on
RV boondocking go with the largest tank available.
- grey water holding tank - if you plan on boondocking go with the largest tank available.
- black water holding tank - if you plan on boondocking go with the largest tank available.
- additional propane cylinder - recommended for RV
- outside speakers - for listening to your tunes
- power lift system - adds weight but makes setup
- powered front jack - adds weight but makes
- outdoor gas grill or stove - take your cooking
often the stove is portable and can be attached to the outside of the RV
Portable Outdoor Camp Stove
- outside storage compartment - typically spans the
width of the camper at the front end
- exterior 110V outlet
- oversized tires and high ground clearance - great for off-road
camper trailers, pop-up toy haulers, and backcountry
- bike rack/boat rack
- E-Z Lube axles - eliminates the need to repack
RV solar panels - best way to charge the batteries when
- generator - can be used to charge the batteries or run high
powered devices, such as the air conditioner
Pitching the Pop-Up Tent
Setting up a traditional pop-up camper does take more time
than setting up travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes. Typical setup time is
between 15-30 minutes.
Pop-Up Trailer with Dinette Slide-Out by Starcraft
Once you arrive at the campsite, there are several steps required:
- Level the trailer from side to side using leveling boards
- Chock the trailer wheels
- Lower the front jack and unhitch the trailer from the tow
- Level the trailer from front to back using the front jack
- Raise the trailer roof (with hand crank, or power lift
- Lower the stabilizer jacks at each corner
- Pull out the bunks from each end of the trailer
- Straighten and secure the tent material over each bunk
- Attach the support poles for each bunk end
- Once inside the trailer, raise the galley and setup the
- Hookup to the campground utilities (if available)
These are the typical setup steps for a pop-up camper. They
may vary slightly depending on the model. At first glance, it look like a lot of
work - however, with practice it becomes second nature.
Pop-Up Trailer Towing
Towing a pop-up camper can be a trouble free experience, as
long as you do your homework first.
Before you begin your search for the perfect pop-up,
you'll need to know just what your car, SUV, or van is capable of. What is the
maximum weight it can tow? Some cars are not designed to tow anything, so
always check your owner's manual.
Adequate wheelbase is also needed to tow safely. If
you've got a car with a short wheelbase, this can make for an unstable towing
situation. You don't want the "tail wagging the dog" while cruising
down the highway. Before towing, go over your owner's manual first.
More Popup Camper Articles
There's much more to the world of pop-up RVs. Click a link below to continue the pop-up tour...
Popup Campers: Choose Your Type, Choose Your Adventure
Popup Camper Manufacturers From A to Z
RV Boondocking Pop-Up Style
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