What Is A Pop-Up Camper? All You Need To Know About Folding Trailers
By Marshall Wendler
Last Updated: September 22, 2022
Pop-up campers (also known as folding camping trailers or tent trailers) are like cool transformer RVs.
They are compact and streamlined while towing but expand open at a campsite, giving space to sleep and hang out when not enjoying the great outdoors.
Because they are smaller and lighter than a traditional travel trailer, they can be towed by smaller SUVs or trucks. This makes them an ideal recreational vehicle for weekend warriors and those who don't want to spend a small fortune on a larger rig.
But what is a pop-up trailer, and is it the right style of RV to give you the camping experience you are looking for?
What Is A Pop-Up Camper?
A pop-up camper is a unique travel trailer that can fold into itself when not used and then expand when used while camping.
The roof lowers down over the main body with a foldable camper to significantly reduce overall height. This makes it easier to tow, saves money on fuel, and allows it to be stored inside a garage.
When you reach your camping destination, you set it up to reveal the living quarters, which are often quite spacious considering the compact dimensions while in travel and storage mode.
A pop-up travel trailer is an excellent alternative to tent camping in that it lets you sleep in a residential-style bed while being off the ground and more out of the weather.
Many models in this style of recreational vehicle will include an inside cooking area, and there may be a toilet. But don't expect to find a shower in many models as the amenities can be pretty basic.
Foldable RV trailers are not fancy rigs by any stretch of the imagination. They give you a reasonably comfortable and affordable place to stay while enjoying the great outdoors at your favorite campground.
Pop-Out Camper Quick Stats:
(Stats are approximate ranges to give you a general idea.)
- Length: 8 to 31 feet (in the 'open' position)
- Sleeping Capacity: Up to 6 people
- Slides: 0 to 1
- Gross Vehicle Weight: 2,200 to 5,200 pounds
- Retail Price: $10,000 to $30,000
Fold Out Camper Pros and Cons:
Two Styles Of Folding Camper
There are two folding RV trailers - the popup tent camper (soft-sided) and the hard-sided collapsible camping trailer.
They both have the same characteristic of folding down to a low overall height when towing or for storage.
One style features canvas walls on the pop-up portion of the trailer, while the other style features rigid walls.
Pop Up Tent Trailer
The soft-sided camping tent trailers use canvas material for the walls.
The sides of a pop-up tent trailer don't provide much protection from severe weather as they lack any serious insulation.
If the wind is blowing, you will know it. If the rain is coming down in sheets, a little may get inside (though this shouldn't be an issue if the canvas walls are in good condition).
Forget about any sense of privacy when you are inside a camper tent trailer with canvas materials that make up the wall.
A pop-up camper trailer is no better than a tent for keeping outside noises out. Let's face it, any RV is not good at keeping noise out. But when the thin walls are nothing fabric, you will hear everything.
The pop up camper weight isn't very high, so it's really easy to tow with just about any vehicle. Plus, the size of a small fold-out tent trailer means it's fairly easy to store, including fitting into many residential garages.
Hard Side Collapsible Camper Trailer
The hard-side pop up camper has actual walls that fold down (the Aliner A frame camper is an example - pictures below), or the roof will come down over the lower section (TrailManor collapsible travel trailer is an example - images below).
The style of hard-sided fold-down camper that has the folding walls is most frequently an A-frame trailer. They resemble the letter 'A' with a high peaked, sharp sloping roof when you look at them from the side.
The hard side foldable travel trailer such as the TrailManor shown below looks more like a traditional camping trailer when in the extended position.
It offers the most interior room of all fold-down camping trailers.
This will also be the most comfortable folding travel trailer brand as the design is closer to a 'normal' recreational vehicle.
There are comfort amenities such as a bathroom with a separate shower, a dinette, a separate sleeping space with real camper mattresses, a larger refrigerator, a normal-sized stove with oven, optional air conditioning, and other equipment that you'd typically expect to see on other types of RVs.
The downside is the increased weight and size, though they do offer floorplans that can be towed by smaller vehicles, so you don't need a large truck.
Interiors Of PopUp Campers
The interior of collapsible campers will be a pretty basic design, and materials will be on the cheaper side to keep prices down.
Size and weight are HUGE factors for these tow-behind pop-up campers, so you typically won't find room for large families (more suitable for couples) with fairly tight living area space.
Seating may be limited to a dinette but should have space for up to 4 people. Cushions will be thin and not very comfortable, so if you are using your fold-up camper trailer frequently, this might be a good place to upgrade.
These RVs may not have a bathroom facility, and if it does, it most likely will just be a portable toilet tucked under a bench.
The exception to this would be hard-sided fold-out travel trailers made by TrailManor, which can have a full-size bath that is a separate room. Pretty luxurious for a popup!
There will be a basic kitchen with nothing too fancy. Basic cooktop stove, small sink, and maybe a tiny refrigerator, but look elsewhere if you want a microwave or standard oven as there isn't space for this in small pop up campers.
You will have a freshwater tank and some sort of camper holding tank with a basic water pump. Keep in mind that the tank capacity will be pretty limited, so don't expect to have 40 gallons of water available as you may with a much larger rig.
Bed areas commonly are in a section that folds out from either end. The actual pop-up camper mattress will be thin and will do in a pinch but won't compete with a 4-star resort.
So the interior of a fold-out camper trailer is fairly no-frills with basic dining and seating areas but isn't the kind of a place that you'll invite all your friends over to hang out.
But it does have everything you need to have a great experience enjoying the outdoors and is a definite step up from tent camping.
Stand-Out Features Of Pop Up Camping Trailers
Pull behind pop-up campers are small but pack a good number of features in a compact package. Just keep in mind that the 'features' listed below won't be as mind-blowing as you will find in larger, more luxurious recreational vehicles.
Considering its compact size, a pop-top camper trailer has everything you need to have a great camping experience.
One or more dry places to sleep, food storage and preparation facilities, sink for washing, seating space for multiple people, and often a simple toilet can be found even in the most basic folding tent campers.
Step up to a bit fancier pop-up RV, and you'll have such 'fancy' things as a hot water heater, AC unit, enclosed bathroom, and solid walls for a bit more privacy and weather protection. (Learn which is the best pop up camper with bathroom.)
These rigs range from a basic towable tent trailer (definitely a step-up from tent camping) to a folding travel trailer that is lighter and easier to tow than full-sized versions but offers many of the same features and comforts.
Don't expect to find large storage compartments on the outside of a fold-up trailer.
They are small on the inside, which translates to little interior (or exterior) storage space.
You can find a pop-up camping trailer that offers a 'tray' up front that allows you to bring along toys such as ATVs, dirt bikes, kayaks, etc.
This makes for an overall longer length, but it is convenient to bring all the goodies with you.
You may find a pop-up trailer with a slide to expand the living space, but the slide will be a manually operated affair and not overly common.
(Other recreational vehicles have electric or hydraulically operated slides.)
Most pop-up campers will be of a design that allows for relative ease converting from the down/travel position to the up/living position.
Spring or strut assists make the process easy for a single person to handle.
Towing A Pop Up Trailer
A folding camper trailer shines in how easy it is to tow.
A lightweight popup camper will only have a single axle and can be towed by just about any vehicle because of its smaller size, narrower width, relatively short length, and modest weight.
Pop-up trailer manufacturers talk about improved fuel economy by not having to pull a tall, not at all aerodynamic box on wheels down the road.
The collapsible nature of a pop-up camper trailer means less wind resistance while towing.
Combining that with the lighter overall weight equals better fuel economy.
How Much Does A Pop Up Trailer Cost?
Retail prices for a new pop-up tent trailer start at around $10,000.
The A-frame style of a pop-up trailer (and other hard-sided popup camper options such as Trailmanor) can run upwards of $40,000+.
For this amount, you will get a relatively basic unit with average quality furnishings (definitely nothing fancy!).
However, this camper style does offer an easy and relatively affordable camping adventure (an RV tent trailer being the best price).
Tent camping trailers are great for beginner RVers looking to build up experience!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Live In A Pop-Up Camper Year-Round?
While living in a popup camper year-round is possible, you will want to do so only in more temperate climates. A typical pop-out tent trailer only has canvas walls and little insulation, so you won't be equipped to deal with temperature extremes.
A hard-sided fold-down travel trailer gives you better protection from the weather and can come equipped with a furnace and air conditioning to deal better with hot or cold temperatures.
While no RV will handle sub-freezing or 100+ degree temperatures, folding camper trailers are generally less equipped to deal with extreme weather.
Are Hard-Side Pop-Up Campers Any Good?
Hard-sided popup campers are a great option if you are looking for a lightweight, easy to tow recreational vehicle. They offer quality construction and basic amenities that you need to have an enjoyable outdoor adventure.
Hard-side pop-up campers offer a few distinct advantages over tent campers: Their solid walls provide better weather protection and do a better job of keeping the critters out. They also cut down on outside noise intrusion better than their canvas walled counterparts.
What Is The Average Price Of A Pop-Up Camper?
The average price of a pop-up camper can range from $10,000 for a basic pull behind tent camper to over $40,000 for a well-built collapsible travel trailer.
This is a case of you getting what you pay for. If you want no-frills with few amenities, a small tent camper trailer is an affordable way to go camping.
If you are looking for a reasonably lightweight, extremely low profile, easy to tow trailer, folding travel trailers with hard sides are a great option but will cost more money.
What Is A Good Price For A Used Pop-Up Camper?
If you don't want to buy new, how do you know a reasonable price for a used popup camper? There are several ways to find out what you should pay for a used folding RV, which we outline in our article on finding used RV prices. Learn what you should pay for a used rig, and then go shopping!
Is It Worth Buying A Pop-Up Camper?
It is worth buying a popup camper if you are looking for an easy to tow, lightweight alternative to a traditional recreational vehicle. A trailer tent camper is the most affordable way to get into RVing and is a great way to try out the lifestyle before purchasing a larger, more expensive rig.
Is A Pop-Up Camper A Good Investment?
If by 'good investment' you mean an asset that will make you money, then no, a pop-up camper isn't a good investment. No RV is.
However, a fold-out camper is an excellent investment in happiness if you enjoy outdoor adventures and traveling to beautiful locations. They provide an economical way to travel and see sights you otherwise would never be fortunate enough to visit.
How Long Do Pop Up Campers Last?
A properly maintained popup camper can last for many years, and it wouldn't be out of the question to have a foldable RV last 20 years if it is taken care of and stored out of the elements.
Keep in mind that the canvas walls of a tent trailer will age over time and most likely will need to be replaced before any other major component.
It is tough to say what is the average life of a pop-up camper because so many factors come into play. But like many things in life, the better you take care of your RV, the more years it will last.
Treat your collapsible camping trailer well, and it will provide you with many years of outdoor enjoyment.
Is A Tent Trailer An RV?
Yes, a tent trailer is an RV, and in fact, a popup camper is considered a travel trailer.
Are Pop Up Campers Hard To Set Up?
While pop-up campers aren't challenging to set up, they can take some time to get things put together. Because they are collapsible campers, several steps need to be followed to 'expand' the RV and get it ready to use once you reach your campsite.
Here are a couple of videos that show setting up a tent trailer and a hard-sided camper.
A pop-up camper is considered self-contained if it has a fresh water tank, gray water tank (for sink and shower wastewater), and a toilet with its own holding tank.
Some smaller tent trailers don't have a wastewater system, so these would not be considered self-contained.
Do Pop Up Campers Have Electricity?
Yes, pop-up campers have electricity. They will have a dedicated 12-volt system that runs off a 12-volt battery (or batteries). This will power the lights, ventilation fans, and other smaller appliances and accessories.
There will also be a 120-volt shore power system that requires a dedicated 30-amp power source and will power an air conditioning unit, electric water heater, microwave (if equipped), or any other higher power usage appliances. Though smaller pop-up RVs don't have many devices that require high electrical usage.
Do Pop Up Campers Leak When It Rains?
Correctly maintained and set up pop-up campers should not leak when it is raining. If you do not install the canvas properly when setting up a tent trailer, there is a possibility that water will get inside, but if set up properly, there should be no leaks.
If the canvas walls get wet, make sure they dry thoroughly before folding the camper back into the travel position so that the canvas doesn't mold or mildew.
Do Hard Side Pop Up Campers Leak?
Hard-sided popup campers are even less prone to leaking than tent trailers because the solid walls have fewer potential entry points. Assuming the rubber seals between the moveable hard walls are well maintained and in good condition, there should be no water intrusion when it rains.
If you are looking for an entry-level recreational vehicle that is good for quick weekend getaways, lightweight pop-up campers are something to consider.
A collapsible camper isn't fancy and doesn't have much in the way of luxuries, but that isn't the point of these rigs.
Folding campers let you get out to your favorite campsite and enjoy the outdoors by yourself or with your family while being a step (or two or three) above having to rough it in a tent.
Fold-down campers can be towed by just about any vehicle, which means you don't have to invest in a large truck that may be required if you have a larger RV.
This means the barrier to entry is low, making pop-up trailers a great way to try out the RV lifestyle and see if it is right for you.
Author: Marshall Wendler
Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing from April 2014 - December 2020 (now RVing about 50% of the time), Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle. Marshall spends the majority of his RVing life boondocking. He is the part of Camp Addict that knows 'all the things'. He's good at sharing his technical knowledge so you can benefit.