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Is a Pop-Up Camper a Good RV Choice for You?

I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.

Fold-out trailers have been around forever. Many people buy them as a relatively inexpensive and easy way to travel, and in certain situations they serve these purposes.

However, as with all types of recreational vehicles, these units have their caveats. So, before you shop for one, learn what you can about them, and then decide whether this is the type of travel unit for you.

Pop-up campers are great for short family vacations.

Pop-up campers are great for short family vacations.

Fold-Out Trailers Are Not for Everybody

If you are considering the purchase of a pop-up camper, there are a few things you need to know.

First and foremost is the fact that although they do have a floor, walls, a roof and some amenities, they are still a primitive way to camp. They are just one step up from a tent and therefore are not the best choice for people who are older, less than healthy, want or need more security and/or plan to travel great distances or for longer periods of time.

They are made for short term travel, are labor intensive to use and offer only the minimum level of comfort.

So, before you buy, make sure they will suit your needs. The information in this article will help you to do this.

Floor plan of a typical fold-out camper

Floor plan of a typical fold-out camper

Basic Pop-Up Camper Stats

Fold-outs come in a variety of lengths and have either one or two slide out beds. Even the smallest units are spacious when opened, and most offer an eating booth that converts into another bed.

Each has a small stove, sink and refrigerator (or icebox), and some have swing out cooking areas that allow people to prepare their meals outdoors as well as inside.

All amenities are located below window level so that the walls, roof and beds have room to be folded over them during travel.

The roof and lower body are solid, but the side and slide out walls are made of canvas that has built in clear plastic windows that can be unzipped to reveal screens, or kept closed to protect against weather. Bedside canvas curtains can be closed for privacy.

All models come with easy care vinyl flooring, and water and electric connections.

The larger, more costly models also have porta potties, screen rooms, primitive showers, air conditioners, furnaces and slide rooms.

Preparing the Trailer for Living and Travel

It can easily take an hour or more for two people to prepare this RV for living. They must:

  • place chocks around each wheel,
  • unhook the camper from the tow vehicle,
  • raise up and lock the roof supports,
  • slide the beds out on each side of the unit,
  • secure the canvas walls to the roof and the sides of the beds,
  • lift and lock the kitchen cabinets back into place above the sink and stovetop,
  • attach the hose and electrical cord to the campground facilities,
  • fold the door back into place and lock it and
  • move their belongings back into place.

When it is time to move on, this entire process must be reversed in order to prepare the unit for travel. If it has rained prior to leaving, travelers must wait for the canvas to dry out before closing the unit again.

Doing all of this is a great deal of work and clearly is an inconvenience, but it is the price one pays for owning this type of RV.

The Pros

Despite the hard work involved in opening and closing, there are several benefits to owning a pop-up.

  • When the trailer is closed, it is totally secure.
  • They travel low to the ground, are easy to tow and therefore save on gasoline costs.
  • They are easy to clean.
  • Their compact size makes them easy to store. In fact, many people keep them in their garages and thus avoid having to pay storage fees.
  • The front door is separated into two sections, so during travel vacationers can open the bottom part of the door and be able to reach coolers if they wish to picnic during the day.
Fold-out campers are very spacious inside.

Fold-out campers are very spacious inside.

The Cons

In addition to the hard work of prepping the unit for storage and/or travel, there are some other problems.

  • Using a porta potty is awkward, can smell and offers no privacy.
  • When rain wets the canvas walls in older units it makes the unit feel damp and uncomfortable, especially in cooler weather.
  • The damp walls can also make the camper smell of mildew.
  • Cleaning the canvas is time consuming and labor intensive.


Although you may think that the extra labor and limited facilities of these RVs translate to lower cost of ownership, you would be mistaken. Campers that are really decked out can cost just as much as a regular pull trailer, and sometimes more.

A new fold-out with all best amenities can easily cost $18,000 and weigh over 3,000 pounds. This means that a buyer would need a large SUV or pickup to tow one. When you combine the costs of those two vehicles, you could easily be looking at a $30,000 to $40,000 price tag.

This is a lot of money to pay for something that will basically be awkward, inconvenient and uncomfortable.

You can save money by buying used units for considerably less money, but there is a good reason for that. People buy them, use them, don't like them and can't wait to get rid of them for the very reasons I just mentioned. This should be a red flag to anybody considering purchasing a this type of RV, especially a new one.

Should You Buy a Fold-Out Camper?

If you can find a good deal, you may still want to buy one of these recreational vehicles, but do not be blinded by price. Remember that when you are traveling, comfort and ease of use are important.

The stats and information I have given you in this article are based on personal research and experience. Use them well and choose wisely.

Happy Trails.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are a-frame style pop-up RVs a good choice?

Answer: They would be a good choice for some people because they have solid rather than canvas sides.

Question: What is the alternative to a popup camera?

Answer: It depends on your needs. A small travel trailer or slide-in camper would probably be the only alternatives, unless you want to do some tent camping.

© 2013 Sondra Rochelle


Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on May 25, 2019:

Most pop up campers don't have the amenities you mentioned, but because yours does, it obviously made travel much more pleasant. Sounds very much like a travel trailer except for the pull outs, but if it works for you, that's great!

Campbell in Ohio on May 24, 2019:

We did 8000 miles in 8 weeks across southern states and loved every minute of it. Our camper was a Fleetwood with high walls, full cabinets with double basin sink, stove with oven, microwave and fridge with freezer. Also had slide out dinette and an enclosed shower with toilet. Heat, a/c, hot water heater, fresh water tank, grey water and black water holding. I used a 500 in.lb. cordless drill to raise the top which made it a piece of cake. We would be set up, hooked up with the awning out in 20 minutes. We tried a travel trailer for 1 year and went back to the pop up because we felt like we were camping.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on January 04, 2019:

Sounds like you've found the perfect answer for your camping needs. Glad to hear it. Good info for others considering this option, too.

Book of Job on January 03, 2019:

A major advantage of the popup is their light weight. Many of us don't have trucks or vehicles that can haul much weight. Many have little choice unless they want to buy a vehicle to tow their camper.

I looked at both popups and travel trailers when my 27-year-old Coleman popup started requiring too much work.

My Subaru Forester has a tow capacity of 2500 pounds; a rule of thumb is not to go beyond 67% of that. The choices were fiberglass RV's with 10 feet of living space, the miniature RV's that can fit a human body or two lying down and not much more, or a popup. I wound up going with a $2400 used popup, which gives me 17' of living space when opened. It also has a furnace, which makes it comfortable at 25 or 30 degrees. Rain is not a problem when you're inside, by the way (no leaks or mildew smell), and it can be taken down when wet (although you do have to open it up and dry it out after the trip).

You're right, the set up and tear down is a pain. I can do it in 15 minutes in my driveway, but at a campsite, it takes an hour by the time I back it up, set the legs, pull out the wings and move everything from the vehicle inside. The hard-sided campers don't require moving gear around, and that's great.

The popup does make you feel like you're in the wild, which I prefer over a hard sided camper. I have a 10-room house with hard-sided walls, and am trying to avoid that when I go camping.

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