Sleeping in a tent every time you head on a road trip or into the backcountry can get old, but you may not want to upgrade to a full-fledged RV or have the capacity to tow a fifth wheel. Thankfully, the best pop up campers provide a middle ground by providing many of the amenities of an RV in a compact and lightweight package that can be towed by a standard SUV or pickup truck.
The secret to pop up campers is that they are designed to expand outwards once you’re parked in camp, folding out beds and living space to comfortably fit an entire family. Depending on the style you choose, these campers offer additional amenities like lights and electricity, storage space, a miniature kitchen, running water, and even toilets and showers.
Pop up campers tend to be less expensive than other types of RVs and are even able to be trailed down narrow, twisting backcountry roads where you could never take a larger fifth wheel or mobile home.
To help you find the right pop up camper for your next trip, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing a pop up camper, including some of the advantages of these compact RVs and factors to consider when choosing a model. After that, we’ll highlight five of the best pop up campers currently on the market.
Be sure to check out this Guide to Pop Up Camper Rentals if you are ready to take the next step!
Advantages of Pop Up Campers
Pop up campers sacrifice space and amenities to maintain their compact size, so why would you want to opt for a pop up camper over a larger RV like a fifth wheel or mobile home?
The first reason is that pop up campers don’t require a huge up-front investment. Whereas a mobile home is expensive and requires its own vehicle insurance and a fifth wheel requires a heavy-duty truck to trail it safely, a pop up camper can be towed with the SUV or small pickup truck that your family already owns. This is because pop up campers weigh just a fraction of what larger RV trailers weigh. Pop up campers are also far less expensive to buy than larger styles of RVs.
Despite their smaller size during trailing, pop up campers don’t compromise on living space. The trailer expands outwards, typically with wings and often with a pop-out roof, to dramatically expand the amount of floor space available. In many cases, the amount of space available in a large pop up camper when it is fully expanded can rival the space of a small fifth wheel and has the bed space to sleep just as many people.
In addition, the small trailing size of pop up campers allows them to travel down narrow, windy roads – like those commonly found in remote areas in the mountains – where larger RVs are prohibited or unsafe.
While pop up campers may sacrifice on some amenities – bathrooms are the most notable feature that many pop up campers lack relative to larger RVs. However, some can be are surprisingly full-featured given their small size and weight.
Most pop up campers have all the makings of a basic kitchen, including a sink, microwave, and refrigerator and freezer. Many pop up campers also offer an electric or propane-fueled stove for cooking, so you won’t have to worry about limiting your meals to what you can cook over a campfire. For hot summer trips, it is even possible to add an air conditioning unit or fan into the top of the pop up camper.
Features to Consider in a Pop Up Camper
There are a huge variety of pop up camper styles and design available. It’s important to carefully consider how you plan to use your pop up camper and the options that you expect to need. Here, we’ll cover some of the most important features to think about when choosing a pop up camper.
The first thing to think about to circumscribe your search for a pop up camper is weight. Unless you’re planning on buying a new car, you’ll want a pop up camper that weighs less than the maximum towing capacity of your current vehicle. Typically, the weight of pop up campers scales with their size and sleeping capacity, but extra amenities like large water storage tanks for a shower or heating and cooling systems can also contribute significantly to the overall weight of a trailer.
Size and Capacity
Another extremely important consideration is the number of people that a pop up camper is designed to sleep. Small pop up campers may only have one relatively tiny bed that sleeps two people, while the largest pop up campers can offer two king-sized beds as well as a couch or pull-out bed to sleep up to six people.
When considering how much sleeping capacity you’ll need, think about whether you have enough room for your entire family as well as a few friends for the occasional trip.
The size of the living area is also important, since a large sleeping capacity does not necessarily translate to a lot of area for walking around inside the camper. If you expect to spend a lot of time in the trailer – for example, if you travel during the off-season when bad weather is common – having enough room to move around without bumping into each other can make a huge difference in the enjoyability of your trip.
Setup and Take Down
Having a pop up camper that is difficult to unfold or fold back up can waste hours of your precious trip time. When choosing a pop up camper, look for models that are designed to be easy to setup with just one or a few panels to pull on to fully expand the trailer. When possible, practice opening and closing the pop up camper before settling on a model to make sure it is user friendly.
After the beds, the kitchen is likely to be the second most-used area of your pop up trailer. While most pop up campers come with hookups for a microwave and a refrigerator and freezer, if you plan to do a lot of cooking during your trip it is important to also opt for a model with a built-in sink and an electric or propane stove. In addition, be sure to visualize how you will set up your kitchen based on the available counter space – different floor plans and kitchen styles may feel more or less comfortable for you.
Storage space inside pop up campers is typically limited to save space, but many models offer under-bed or under-couch storage areas. If you expect to be carrying a lot of gear, kitchen supplies, or clothing on your trips, having as much storage space as possible can make a big difference in how helpful your pop up camper is for you.
Heating and Cooling Systems
If you live in or travel to particularly hot or cold environments, having a cooling or heating system can make a huge difference in your ability to sleep inside the pop up camper without sweating or shivering. However, note that heating and cooling systems can add to the size and weight of your camper as well as add expense.
Many pop up campers forego a bathroom since it requires a large water storage tank and takes up a lot of space. However, if having a toilet and shower is important to you, there are pop up campers that feature small bathrooms often with the toilet inside the shower basin. Check out this Guide to Pop Up Campers with Bathrooms.
5 Best Pop Up Campers
1) Airliner Expedition (link)
The Expedition is Airliner’s largest pop up camper model, but weighs under 2,000 pounds and is extremely compact when folded down to make it towable by nearly any family vehicle. The Expedition is available in three floorplans that differ primarily in how they balance sleeping capacity against floorspace. All three models allow the dinette area to be converted to a double bed at night, while the other end of the camper can be filled with a couch, queen bed, or two twin beds.
The kitchen is fully featured with a sink, stove, microwave, and small refrigerator/freezer unit. This pop up camper also places some of its amenities outside, making it ideal for camping in good weather. These outdoor features include an awning, optional outdoor shower, and propane-powered grill. Plus, an optional toilet and small water tank adds an extra comfort to this trailer without creating a need for a large water tank.
2) Clipper Sport 125ST (link)
This large pop up camper from Clipper is designed for high capacity, both in terms of people and storage. The camper is designed with one king sized and one queen sized bed, both of which are insulated for added comfort during cold winter trips, as well as a six foot-long sleeper couch. There is a surprising amount of storage space in three separate units distributed around the floor, as well as under half of the king-sized bed and under the seats surrounding the dinette.
All of this space makes this one of the heavier pop up campers to tow, at around 2,400 pounds before loading with water and equipment. In addition, note that while there is an optional bathroom package included with the trailer, this is an outdoor bathroom designed to be set up in its own tent.
The pop up camper is extremely easy to set up in just a few minutes thanks to the innovative winch and drill system, which uses a power drill to rapidly raise and lower the roof. The extendable wings are supported by Clipper’s Glide-N-Lock cable system that is similarly simple to set up and take down.
3) Livin’ Lite Quicksilver 8.0 (link)
This pop up camper from Livin’ Lite is minimalist, compact, and extraordinarily lightweight to allow it to be towed with nearly any vehicle and down twisty backroads. The trailer folds down into a roughly four-foot by four-foot box, and unfolds such that the floor rests on top of the trailer base with the rest of the camper resembling a canvas tent rather than simply extending a set of wings from a main unit. However, the camper is fully weather sealed so you can stay warm and dry inside of it in any weather conditions.
The inside of the camper features two flip-out beds that can each hold two people, although expect them to be relatively cozy. The dinette seating can also be folded down to provide an additional bed. The kitchen is minimalist, with no included microwave or stove and relatively little storage, so this camper will largely encourage you to cook your meals outside on a propane grill or camping stove. The kitchenette does have some storage space for cooking supplies, but there is otherwise relatively little storage space built into this pop up camper to keep the size and weight down.
4) Jayco Jay Sport 12SC (link)
This large pop up camper from Jayco is designed to be extremely spacious. The king and queen beds located on the extendable wings plus the large couch allow this camper to sleep between six and eight people comfortably, while the floorplan is relatively open to allow several people to move around the camper simultaneously without feeling crowded. The pop up camper has an ample amount of storage space as well, distributed across two storage cabinets on the floor as well as storage areas underneath the king bed and the dinette.
The pop up camper has both an indoor and a portable outdoor kitchen, the indoor set with a propane-powered stove range and the outdoor set with a grill. There is a sink as well as a refrigerator and freezer, but beware that there is relatively little counter space for larger cooking operations inside the camper. While the pop up camper comes standard without a bathroom, a wet toilet and shower combination can be installed in place of one of the storage cabinets.
5) Flagstaff T21DMHW (link)
This a-frame style pop up camper from Flagstaff is designed to feel like home for two people. On one end is a queen-sized bed that flips up when the trailer is packed down, while on the other end is a spacious storage area that can fit everything you need to stock the trailer and for your adventures on the road. There is also exterior storage for additional gear.
Although floor space is limited, especially around the kitchen area, there is plenty of counter space for cooking and for keeping your stuff within easy reach. A gas grill on the outside of the trailer is ideal for cooking dinner on sunny summer evenings. In addition, one of the advantages to this pop up camper is that it comes standard with a toilet and shower as well as a large water storage tank and water heater. However, note that this does add significantly to the loaded weight of the trailer, so you’ll need a burly vehicle to tow it.