Pop Up Campers - A Buyer's Guide

Pop up campers are a fantastic alternative to sleeping in a tent. You get all the benefits of camping, but you don't have to sleep on the ground, and they often come with additional amenities that bring the comforts of home along with you on your adventures. Often referred to as camping trailers and pop up tent trailers these units look like a long rectangular box anywhere between 8 and fourteen feet when being towed. However, when set up, they can extend out to as much as 26 feet with a hard roof, and soft side walls that "pop up" like a tent. Also, many of these units come with a standard sink, counter top, refrigerator and dining table. Some higher end models even include features like indoor and outdoor showers which really gives new meaning to the term "roughing it"

The fun in traveling usually starts on the pre-trip preparations. The decision over the living quarters poses the greatest difficulty. Aside from the wide range of pop up campers that can be bought or custom-made to your preference, there are also a lot of other camper options available in the market such as teardrop trailers, hard shell campers and micro campers that satisfy the comfort factor with ready-made beds and a compact living solutions. The bottom line with any of these options means no more bother with setting up airbeds and sleeping bags, all the bedding is stored where it will be used making set-up and take-down relatively easy.

One of the great things about traveling with pop up campers is that they are typically light weight and can be pulled by almost any tow vehicle. In fact, in recent years we have seen the emergence of various motorcycle campers that afford motorcycle enthusiasts the option of hauling a trailer behind their bike. In addition to being light weight and providing a lot more comfort than a tent, these units also provide additional storage space that comes in handy when packing for extended vacations.

Camping Trailers - Buying Tips

When you first start looking around at pop up campers, beware of falling into the trap of making comparisons based solely on aesthetics and features. Not that these things aren't important, but priority should be placed on ensuring the vehicle is sturdy, safe and that the main parts and components are in good working order. Often times you might be able to get a great deal on a used popup camper that only needs a little cleaning up and maybe a coat of paint. But if you know what to look for, and all of the main components are in good working order you may find a diamond in the rough. Following is a list of the major things to inspect when in the market for a new or especially used popup camper.

Chassis

The longevity of your pop up campers life depends on the quality of material and workmanship of the chassis. The chassis is essentially the shell or frame that the trailer is built on.

The chassis acts as the foundation and if it is strong and sturdy, there will be less problems with the camper down the road. Believe it or not, the chassis is typically purchased as an incomplete unit by the trailer manufacturer who then turns around and completes the vehicle by adding the rest of the body and features to the frame. Some manufacturers use box tubing which does not allow twist and adds to the overall strength of the unit. Also make note of the wall thickness of the tubing that is used on the chassis as this will be an indicator as to how strong the frame is. Lastly, if you are looking for low maintenance, try and find a popup camper that employs the use of rust inhibitors like zincseal or zincanneal in the chassis which can significantly reduce rusting and prolong the lifespan of the chassis.

Springs & Suspension

The suspension on pop up campers is typically comprised of a number of parts and components that all work towards giving you a smooth ride and is also key to reducing overall wear and tear on your camper. The main component that makes up the suspension on most pop up campers are the leaf springs. Leaf springs are several leaves of steel stacked on top of each other in many layers. They flex and bend when the vehicle goes over bumps in the road, and essentially work as the shock absorbers for the trailer. The springs and suspension are an extremely important consideration when looking at both new and used camping trailers as they are often the part that fails when people take trailers into off-road trips or remote areas with rough terrain. So be sure to examine this area of the vehicle very carefully, and if you're looking at a new tent trailer find out what kind of warranty is offered. Lastly, do a little research on the weight ratings of the springs in order to make sure that they are appropriate for the anticipated gross vehicle weight.

Doors

The main thing to consider with the doors, toolbox, tailgate or anything that opens or shuts on your popup camper is that they have to be dust and waterproof. If not, you will have quite a mess to clean up when you reach your destination (especially if it rains). So be sure to thoroughly check every seal on all of these parts to ensure that the seals are in good shape and durable. Many units now come with adjustable sealing locks in order to provide a more secure load. For additional peace of mind it's best to verify that all of the doors are lockable. That way, when you make a pit stop while traveling or leave your pop up unattended you can be assured that your possessions are safe.


Tires & Rims

A good set of tires will improve both the ride and the load carrying capacity of the camper. One of the best tips to keep in mind when looking at tires and rims is to ensure that the wheels on the trailer are interchangeable with the your tow vehicle. This will allow you to have 2 spares (1 in the trailer and 1 in the tow vehicle) which could come in handy on a long trip. To that end, it's good practice to approach the purchase of your trailer tires the same as you would your vehicle. 

Another good habit to is to always check the tire pressure on the spares before you start your trip. It's best to refer to the manufacturer's suggested psi levels (usually printed right on the tire) before inflating. If the manufacturer provides a range, it's best to run the tires at maximum psi. When the tires are filled to the maximum psi, the sidewalls stiffen which reduces any wobbling effect ensuring a smoother ride. When checking the tire pressure it's best to do so when the tires are cold and not after a long trip when the tires are heated up.

Canvas & Awnings

Before making an offer on a popup camper, it's important to inspect the unit once the roof has been cranked up and the beds slid out into place. Not only will this demonstrate that the lift system is in proper working order, but once set up, you can can thoroughly inspect the canvas siding, roof and awning. Pay close attention to the canvas that covers the beds. Look for areas of wear and tear, holes, mildew stains and areas worn by exposure to the elements (if looking at a used model). The canvas needs to be waterproofed and ideally mildew-proof as well. The roof and over-trailer canvas has to be heavy-duty for good waterproofing. Look for strong and long lasting fly-mesh and window flaps, as some will perish with continuous folding and UV exposure. You will want to make sure that all zippers and hardware is in good working order. When inspecting the awning, have a look for any areas where the canvas is stretched or worn. A functional awning is an essential addition to your camp to sit under, cook under, and to provide shade, shelter and extend your living space.

Mattresses

Many pop up campers provide standard foam mattresses standard with the unit. It's best to try lying on the bed surface when doing an inspection to make sure that you will be comfortable while sleeping. After all, the whole point of towing pop up tent trailers is for the comfort of not having to sleep on the ground. If you determine that you would prefer a regular spring mattress for added comfort, make sure to check that the frame can accommodate a thicker spring mattress Many manufacturers build their trailers with shallow bed frames used primarily for the cheaper and thinner foam mattresses.

Stoneguard

If you've ever been stuck behind a large truck or bus you know that all vehicles flick up stone while driving faster speeds on the highway. So when a vehicle is pulling a trailer, the stones that are kicked up often hit the front of trailer, causing damage to trailer body and paint.

Often times, the stones can rebound back and hit the back of the tow vehicle causing damage to the paint job and even the glass on the rear of the vehicle. A stone deflector is a great accessory to have for a popup camper and can work to minimize if not prevent this from occurring. Stoneguards can come in a wide range of choices from horizontally mounted shade cloth blinds to shade cloth deflectors on the front of the camper itself.

Trailer Hitch

Check your vehicle owners manual or specifications prior to even looking at pop up campers. There's nothing worse than falling in love with a specific make or model only to find out that your vehicle doesn't have the capability of towing it. The person selling the trailer may not know the limitations of your tow vehicle, so it's best to have a good understanding of this before you start shopping. Some vehicle manufacturers may even provide specifications for both a weight carrying hitch and a weight distributing hitch. Check out our trailer hitch page to learn more about the types of trailer hitches available.

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