Pop Up Campers: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know (& Then Some)

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pop up tent camper in the shadow of a mountain

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Looking for the skinny (or in this case, heavy) on pop up campers? I’ve got you. 

In this article I answer every question I could find about pop up campers. This guide has everything you ever wanted to know, and then some! 

From types, price, weight, size, and how they work, you’ll find it all here. This is a long one, so click through the table of contents below if you’re short on time!

What Is a Pop Up Camper?

A pop up camper is a lightweight towable camper that can be towed by many different kinds of trucks, SUVs, and cars. Pop up campers come in many types and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: they pop up.

Pop up campers fold down into half their height for travel. This makes for an easier towing experience, a more lightweight camper, and an awesome entry into the world of RVing. Let’s learn more!

Types of Pop Up Campers

There are a handful of different types of pop up campers. For the most part, when you hear “pop up camper”, people are referring to pop up tent trailers. But there are other campers that have the “pop up” designation, so I’ll include them here, too. 

Pop Up Camping Tents or Pop Up Tent Trailers

This is the what’s most commonly referred to as a ‘pop up camper’. You’ll also hear the term tent trailer, pop up camping tent, or pop up tent trailer. 

Pop up tent trailers are square or rectangular shaped trailers that pop up when parked. These campers have canvas walls from the waist up and generally have two extendable sides, often where a bed or dinette area are located.

Popular brands include the Rockwood pop up camper. Some Rockwood floorplans even have a bathroom.

A Frame Pop Up Campers or Hard Sided Pop Ups

A-frame campers like the Aliner pop up camper are another type of pop up camper. These campers are sometimes referred to as hard sided pop ups, because instead of canvas tent walls, they have hard sides.

A-frame campers are an awesome pop up camper option for those who want hard walls for insulation and protection. Hard sided pop up campers come in a variety of sizes and lengths.

Pop Up Truck Campers

Truck campers are campers that slide into the bed of a pickup truck. Sometimes truck campers are referred to as slide in campers or backpack campers. Some truck campers are pop-ups, too! 

Are you confused yet? 

Some truck campers come in a pop-up model. This helps reduce the camper weight, it cuts down on the overall height of the RV, and these campers are better for off-roading than other truck campers because they’re not as top-heavy.

Related: These DIY truck campers are insane!

Hi-Lo Campers or Trailmanors

Hi-Lo campers and Trailmanor are specific brands of pop up campers with a particular pop up style. These campers are also hard-sided, but they don’t have an a-frame shape. They work with a hydraulic lift system or a crank and the top nests over the bottom half for travel.

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How Does a Pop Up Camper Work?

All pop up campers have one thing in common: they pop up. 

Pop up tent trailers unfold and pop up, usually using a hand crank. The methods for opening a pop up camper is different depending on what model and brand you have. 

A-frame pop up campers fold up. Typically, you raise the driver and passenger sides of the camper, and then the eaves of the roof slide up and lock into place. 

Hi-Lo campers pop up with a hydraulic lift system or a hand crank on older models. Pop up truck campers pop up with a crank, too. 

When you’re done camping, a pop up camper folds up in a specific way for transport. 

What Is In A Pop Up Camper?

Depending on the make and model of your pop up camper, you have a variety of features and amenities. 

Most pop up campers will have a minimum of a dinette and sleeping area. 

But, with newer and bigger pop up campers, you can expect the works! By this I mean a kitchen sink, stovetop, furnace, refrigerator, air conditioner, water heater, and even a bathroom. 

Although they’re made to fold down really small and many have canvas walls, a pop up camper can feel like a true RV. 

What Do You Need For a Pop Up Camper?

Just like any RV, you need certain gear and accessories to go with your pop up camper. There’s gear for towing, campsite setup, electricity, and more. Check out this list of 70+ Must Have Pop Up Camper Accessories for everything you could ever need!

How Much Do Pop Up Campers Weigh? 

Pop up campers can weigh anywhere from 900 pounds to upwards of 3,000 pounds, depending on the type. 

Pop up tent trailers like the Sylvan Sport Go (which is literally just a tent) weigh just under 900 pounds. 

But if you want a pop up camper with a bathroom and the works, you can expect it to weigh around 3,500 pounds, give or take. The largest Aliner camper sleeps 4 and has a bathroom and kitchen; it weighs 3,500 pounds fully loaded.

How Much Do Pop Up Campers Cost?

Pop up campers are some of the most affordable RVs on the market. If you want a brand new pop up camper, you can find models starting around the $10,000 mark. The price for a brand new pop up tent trailer can range all the way up to $50,000 or more if you’re looking at a Trailmanor or off-grid hybrid camper. 

If you have a smaller budget, you’re still in luck. Used pop up campers can be purchased as low as $2,000 in good condition! If you are prepared to do repairs like seal leaks, repair water damage, or replace canvas, you might even be able to find one for free. Check your local Craigslist for pop up camper deals in your area. 

Do Pop Up Campers Have Bathrooms? 

Yes, some do have bathrooms! Larger models and newer pop ups have cassette toilets or entire wet baths. A wet bath is a shower and toilet in the same room – it’s called a wet bath because everything can get wet. 

Pop up campers that come with bathrooms have a curtain or other type of thin material separating your bathroom from the rest of your camper. So, if you’re camping with multiple people, that could be a concern! It’s private, but doesn’t feel as secure or private as a bathroom with solid walls and doors. 

Do Pop Up Campers Have Air Conditioners? 

Yes, some pop up campers come with air conditioners. Contrary to popular belief, pop up tent trailers can actually hold temperature for a bit. 

Having an AC unit in your pop up camper is a lifesaver for camping in the summer, which is prime camping season. If your pop up camper doesn’t have an air conditioner, you can always bring along a portable AC for cool air while camping. 

Where Can You Park a Pop Up Camper? 

You can park a pop up anywhere you can park an RV and more! Unlike RVs, pop up campers will typically fit in your garage when not in use. This helps eliminate pesky HOA complaints or having to pay for a storage lot. 

When you’re camping, you can park a pop up camper anywhere that you can park an RV, and you can also sometimes park it anywhere you’d park a car, depending on campground rules. 

You can camp in state parks, national parks, national forests, and more. 

Be aware of your surroundings and the rules of the campground. Some campgrounds require hard-sided campers only, like certain places around Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks due to heightened grizzly bear activity.

Can You Tow a Pop Up Camper With a Car?

You can tow a pop up tent camper with many different types of vehicles, including cars. 

To determine whether or not you can tow a pop up camper with your car, look up your car’s specific towing capacity. 

The GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of a pop up camper should be less than your car’s total towing capacity by about 20%. 

For example, if your car’s maximum towing capacity is 1,500 pounds, you can safely pull a pop up camper with a GVWR of 1,200 pounds or less. 

Understanding Pop Up Camper Weight Designations

I wanted to include a quick side note about weight designations because it used to really confuse me. 

When looking at pop up campers, you’ll see a couple different weights and abbreviations. Here’s what they mean. 

  • GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is how much a vehicle (or camper) weighs when it is fully loaded with cargo. 
  • GAWR: Gross Axle Weight Rating. This is how much a camper or trailer can carry safely on it’s axle. 
  • UVW: Unloaded Vehicle Weight AKA Dry Weight. This is how much a pop up camper weighs with no cargo or water in it. 
  • CCC: Cargo Carrying Capacity. How much weight of cargo your camper can handle.
  • Tongue Weight: How much weight your car can carry on the tongue, matched with the tongue weight of the camper.
  • Towing Capacity: how much weight your car can safely tow. 

Most campers list a dry weight or UVW when you look up how much they weigh. If you don’t see a GAWR or GVWR, you need to find the camper’s dry weight and cargo carrying capacity. Add these two numbers together to get your GAWR and accurate weight!

For example: if a camper has a UVW or dry weight of 840 pounds and a cargo carrying capacity of 500 pounds, it will weigh a total of 1,340 pounds. You would need a car that can tow at least 1,500 pounds to be on the safe side. 

Do Pop Up Campers Leak When it Rains? 

All campers have the potential to leak when it rains, literally all of them. Water damage is the biggest issue with used RVs! Pop up campers are not supposed to leak when it rains, but if they have damage like small tears in the canvas, a broken zipper, or a crack in the fiberglass, they can leak. 

Just like other campers, pop ups should be regularly inspected for leaks, cracks, broken seals, and tears or other defects in the canvas material. 

Keeping your canvas clean and making sure it’s totally dry before you put it away will help it last longer and prevent leaks in the future. 

Do You Have to Winterize a Pop Up Camper?

Yes, you do have to winterize a pop up camper. If your pop up camper has any kind of water system in it like fresh water, gray tank, or a toilet, it will need winterized. 

If your pop up camper doesn’t have plumbing, it likely still has a house battery. You will need to follow proper winterizing procedures for your battery – even if that just means bringing it in the house. 

Do You Have to Level a Pop Up Camper?

Yes, you do have to level your pop up camper. Luckily it’s not that hard! I wrote a guide about how to level a pop up camper properly here

Pop up campers have to be level for a few reasons. First, 2 and 3-way RV refrigerators must be level in order to operate safely and properly. 

Second, a level camper is a comfortable camper. Nobody wants to feel like they’re walking on the international space station. 

Third, leveling your pop up camper is important so that everything works and raises or folds down properly. If your camper isn’t level, you might experience issues with the doors, side flaps, and more. 

Pop Up Camper Interior Photos

Wondering what the interior of a pop up tent trailer looks like? Here are some shots of a few popular models, with links to the manufacturer’s page. 

Forest River Rockwood Tent 1940F

Wet Bath, Dinette, and Bed in a Coachmen Clipper 1285SST

The Interior of a Rockwood Freedom – Isn’t It Dreamy?!

How Long Do They Last?

You might be surprised to hear it, but pop up campers can last decades if they’re taken care of properly. And its not hard to take good care of a camper that’s small enough to fit in your garage! 

If you take good care of your camper, regularly inspect it and perform maintenance – either repair shop or DIY style, you can have your camper for several years and even pass it down to your kids. Just take a look on RV Trader and you’ll see that there are 30+ year old pop up campers in great condition!

Is It Worth Buying a Pop Up Camper?

Yes, yes, yes – for many reasons! A pop up camper is a worthy investment if you’re someone who loves to camp, and/or wants to try RV life without the huge commitment. 

You can get a used pop up in good condition for under $2,000 – which is close to what you would pay if you were getting a rooftop truck tent or similar. 

I personally think pop-ups are a wonderful introduction to the world of RVing, several steps up from tent camping, and they don’t even require an expensive tow vehicle.

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Carrie Fay

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