Is a pop-up right for me?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Many who come to the RV lifestyle come by way of “retiring” from tent camping. They love the outdoors, but tenting has reached a point where it isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Getting up from ground level with sore muscles can be a real drag, not to mention that they miss a “real” bed. Many former tent campers transition to RVs by way of a “pop-up camper.” You may hear them referred to as “tent campers” or “fold out campers,” but the concept is generally the same: a small, low-profile trailer that, once at camp, expands and unfolds, often by using canvas sides.

Is a pop-up for you? Like all other RVs, pop-ups have their advantages and disadvantages to be weighed and compared to see what fits you best.

Expense: Of all the RVs on the market, pop-ups are generally the least expensive of all. New pop-up rigs can be had in the range of five to twelve thousand dollars. Shop around for a used rig and the prices can be significantly lower. Don’t mind putting in a little “sweat equity” and you can really cut some deals.

Tow vehicle: Many pop-ups are so light, you can tow them with your car, small truck or SUV. That keeps the costs down for fuel and you might not need to upgrade your tow vehicle.

Storage: Because of their small size and low profile, a pop-up can often be hidden away in your garage. A larger RV may require special arrangements for storage.

So far, so good. But like the man says, “On the other hand ….”

Seasonability: Because the typical pop-up is a “soft-sider,” they are a bit more finicky about when they can be used. In cold winters, keeping Jack Frost outside your rig is up to your furnace, and chasing away chill can eat up a lot of propane.

Wind gusts often make pop-up users feel like they may be headed into the next county – without the need of the tow vehicle. And rain? While you can close up your pop-up against the weather, you’ll need to be watchful that rain doesn’t accumulate on “popped out” areas of your rig where the canvas may give way under water weight. And if the rain doesn’t stop when it’s time to move along, you’ll have to work fast to “dismantle” your pop-up, and later set it up again so that it thoroughly dries out, lest you accumulate mold and mildew in the canvas.

Set up time: Once you park your pop-up, there’s a considerable amount of setup time. You’ll need to crank up the cover, extend extensions, etc. Users say it often takes an hour to do, or even with two well-choreographed partners working at the job it can take more than a half hour. A hard-sided trailer can roll in and have camp set up in 15 minutes.

Storage space: By their small nature, a pop-up doesn’t allow a whole lot of room for storage. If you plan on taking gear for more than a few days on the road, look closely before you buy. Where will you put it? Typically pop-ups have all their cabinet space at floor level. If you’re not into stooping and kneeling, you’ll find a pop-out far less desirable than its RV cousins.

Amenities: “You pays your money, you takes your choice.” In the process of saving money on your purchase, you may give up amenities other RVers take for granted. Pop-up refrigerators (if they are more than an icebox) are notoriously small. Few pop-ups have bathrooms, and those that do can hardly be considered a “private” experience. If you’re noisy on the pot, your neighbors will know it. Other acts of life may also be game for sharing.

All in all, a pop up may be just the thing to “test the waters” with. If you plan on spending a weekend or a few days out camping during the “camping season” and want to find out about RVing, a pop-up could be just the ticket. If you’ll be spending more time on the road and don’t want to worry about the weather, think more in terms of a “hard-sided” rig.