How Does a Pop-Up Camper Work?

How Does a Pop-Up Camper Work

Over the course of our camping life, we’ve owned different tent designs, starting from pop-ups, minivan campers, topper campers, full tents, and now our latest purchase, the pop-up camper.

The pop-up camper has been the most exciting purchase of all the options. It’s unlike any other design and so unique, almost belonging to a category of its own.

And today, I’ll share my experience with the pop-up. But before that, let me first explain how they work.

Pop-up campers have different operating manuals, depending on their design. But generally, typical pop-ups open and fold based on a lift system. A camper’s lift system consists of a series of pulleys and winches.

The real beauty, though, is the lift system can take the pop-up trailer from a box-like collapsed design in storage to a decent living space when erected.

And now that I’ve briefed you on how the pop-up campers works, let’s get back to the main story.

We got a SylvanSport GO camper tent because we needed a versatile shelter solution. See, we often do a lot of off-grid camping and wanted a shelter solution that I could take within the dirty off-roads where my Dodge Durango would go.

The pop-up camper seems like a great pick since I can take it with me virtually where I go.

And when not going off-road, I simply love the relative ease of setting this baby up.

And there’s more…

In this guide, I’ll share my experiences with the pop-up camper and give you detailed and first-hand insights into how a pop-up camper works.

Hopefully, by the end of the guide, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether you need one.

Read on!

The Different Pop-Up Tent Designs (Types of Pop-Up Campers)

For the sake of newcomers in the house and camping at large, we’ll start by first defining what a pop-up tent is.

A camper pop-up tent, also known as a camper trailer, is a type of RV that can transform into a tent. In a nutshell, it’s just a tent on wheels.

As with the typical RV trailer, truck campers are towable, so you can use them with pretty much any vehicle, from trucks, SUVs, cars to smaller vehicles.

The pop-up campers come in different shapes, sizes and designs. But whatever the type, they’ve one common characteristic: the “pop-up”.

It’s a helpful benefit, allowing the tent to be set up in a matter of minutes, or rather far much effortless and quicker than the traditional tents.

And unlike the traditional pop-up tents you’re accustomed to, these truck campers are quite large and offer a generous living space. We’ll see that much later.

Breaking down the pop-up tent is equally effortless. Even better, I simply love how the tent folds and compacts to a decent size for traveling.

In my opinion, the ease of setup and breakdown (portability) is probably the biggest selling point with the camper pop-up tents.

The other plus is the fact that these truck campers will fit in your truck effortlessly, so you can drive anywhere you want to without feeling like your truck will tip over.

The Different Pop-Up Tent Designs (Types of Pop-Up Campers)

The Different Pop-Up Tent Designs (Types of Pop-Up Campers)

Pop-up camper tents come in different shapes and designs, each with pros and cons.

Understanding the different types of truck campers is necessary to decide what option is best for your camping needs.

Pop-Up Camping Tents

These pop-ups are by far the most popular tents available. They’re a standard in the market and what many users refer to when they mention pop-up tents.

They’re also known as travel trailer tents, truck campers or tent trailers.

Typical pop-up camping tents have extendable sides, such as sleeping lounges or dinette areas.

Most of the travel trailers are available in a rectangular design, with most having a canvas construction from waist up.

A-Frame/Hard-Sided Campers

The A-frame pop-up tents are also known as the hard-sided pop-up campers.

They’re not any different from the typical pop-up tents, only that they’re covered with hard sides instead of the soft canvas walls.

The A-frame tents are great picks for campers looking for more reliability and safety.

On the flip side, however, the presence of hard-sides bumps the overall weight of the trailer, consequently reducing the fuel efficiency and gas mileage of your truck.

Pop-Up Truck Camper

This design is mostly used with trucks. The tent simply slides into the bed of your pickup truck.

How Camper Pop-up Tents Work

How Camper Pop-up Tents Work

As I previously mentioned in the introduction, a pop-up camper tent operation is based on a lift system.

A typical camper’s lift system consists of pulleys and winches.

Setting up the tent is pretty easy, and depending on the design, it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.

Of course, before you set the tent up, there’re several critical steps to consider for the safety of your camper.

For example, it’s necessary to stabilize your camper. Consider cranking the stabilizing jacks on each corner of your camper for a strong footing.

Also, I’d recommend setting up your camper in a relatively flat area.

Once the setup preparation is over, you can now get to the basics of setting up the camper.

Basically, setting up the camper is all about opening the roof and extending the slideout section. When opening the roof, be sure to unlock the latches.

Retrieve the handle crank handle from the storage area and insert it in the hand crank. Next, turn the handle clockwise and start cranking the roof.

The cranking motion simply turns a winch, which in turn pulls the cables to lift your roof and ultimately open the camper.

One of the impressive benefits of this lift system is it requires little work, only turning the winch. I found it quite easy, even for my 12-year-old son.

When you hand crank the roof, ensure no obstruction above and around.

To identify whether the roof has reached the maximum position, observe the tension cable, and see whether it’s taught.

Of course, the details of opening a pop-up campers lift system may vary depending on the design and manufacturer.

Some of the popular camper lift systems you may encounter include:

1)      Goshen lift system

2)      Jayco lift system

3)      Coleman lift system

What’s in a Pop-up Tent

While camper pop-up tents are designed to fold down and compact into a portable size, they can be as homely as the traditional RV camper.

Sure, tent trailers may not have as many amenities as other RVs, but it offers an extra load than a traditional camping tent.

A typical pop-up camper tent will include two queen slide beds (sleeping space) and a dinette area.

But there’re some newer models and bigger pop-ups that host various amenities that would rival the larger RVs.

Some options that may upgrade the premium camper tents include a wet bath (shower and toilet in the same room), cassette toilet, extra storage space, stovetop, refrigerator, and a water heater.

Even better, it’s possible to outfit truck campers for off-grid tent camping, and this includes adding amenities such as solar panels (hot water), AC units and battery banks.

So, generally, a pop-up tent camper offers a nice living space for camping enthusiasts, providing them with everything they may need for their next outdoor camping trip.

And the best part is some of the higher-end options go beyond the traditional camper design with an abundance of amenities. But they come at a high price, though.

Where Do I Use my Pop-Up Camper?

One of the main reasons I got a pop-up camper is because my traditional recreational vehicle was prohibited in most national parks, state parks and camping sites.

My motorhome is 30 feet, above the recommended RV size limits in most camping sites.

On the other hand, my pop-up travel trailer is modest in size and within the confines of most campers park size restrictions.

So, I no longer worry about getting kicked out by the campground staff because of my RV size.

While still in the same breadth, the compact design of my pop-up camper means I can literally use it anywhere, including in the cramped-up spaces.

I don’t struggle much to find the ideal space and location for setting up my tent.

Simply put, a pop-up camper tent is quite easy to manage while still doing a great job of providing campers with a “homely” living space in the wild.

Why you Need a Pop-up Camper

Why you Need a Pop up Camper

There’re several reasons you should consider a pop-up camper over other campers.

And in the guide below, I’ll document my positive camping experience with my pop-up camper and share some of the reasons you probably need one.


Generally, pop-up campers are pretty lightweight and compact.

What’s the benefit?

I can tow my camper with any automobile, including my Prius.

While I still have a Dodge for the task, I didn’t have to worry about upgrading my tow vehicle or anything once I got this camper.

In the same breath, a pop-up camper’s shape and size have an inherent aerodynamic component to them.

See, if you’ve hauled an RV before, you already know limiting the wind and speed can be. It feels like it’s going to topple any moment.

On the flip side, my pop-up camper seamlessly integrates into my towing system, feeling like a unit component with my car.

In a nutshell, I hardly notice its presence, and I can drive normally, without fear of anything breaking down on me.

Bring Outdoors Closer

We all want to get closer to nature, but the problem is most of the shelter options, including RVs and tents, don’t give us this access.

For example, typical RVs are usually closed to their entirety and hardly give you close contact with Mother Nature unless you go outside. Most tents aren’t any different either.

But a pop-up tent has a canvas flap and tent screen, which you can unfold to get an intimate experience with nature while still in the comfort of your living space.

I’m a big fan of the optional open-air design, especially in the breezy mornings. I can unfold the flaps for more airflow and enjoy full-view access to the surroundings while still enjoying the shade from the sun and shielding from bugs.

Budget Solution

I’ve had a couple of shelter solutions for my outdooring experiences, starting from tents RVs to topper campers.

Price-wise, none of these options come to close the pop-up camper tents.

Of course, they’re definitely some cheap-ass tents and canvas, but they don’t offer as much as the pop-up campers do. I’m referring to the shelter options within its class.

And the good thing is the budget tag isn’t only on the initial price tag but also across other dimensions.

For example, the low price translates to lesser insurance premiums.

The operation costs for the pop-up tents are also more forgiving than the typical RVs and their alternatives.

Since the pop-up tents are generally compact, lightweight, and small space, their running expenses are minimal, and they hardly have issues with components such as tires and axles.

The pop-up campers also have a less definitive plumbing system or electrical system, so you’ll hardly ever come into trouble with the taps, tanks or switches.

Their lightweight design also comes in handy at eliminating the two problems that heavy RVs are associated with. Your tow truck won’t struggle much to get the pop-up in place.

But just because they’re inexpensive doesn’t really mean they’re cheap or lack amenities! Far from that.

As we’ve already discussed above, you’ll see that some of these options are fully equipped for outdoor use and come complete with slide-away beds, a dinette area, and so much more.

Next-Level Portability

I found a big benefit with the pop-up tents because they can take them literally anywhere where my truck can go.

The same can’t be said for my old RV.

See, pop-up campers are literally like an extension of your vehicle. It means you can take it with you wherever the wind blows you to and never have an issue. It’s particularly true when you’ve a 4 by 4.

Traditional Living Space- More Sleep Space

The greatest benefit to spending your time on a pop-up camper is probably on the bed.

I mean, many pop-ups have two slide out sections that are completely dedicated to sleeping beds.

And depending on the size of the users, these beds can accommodate up to five people.

The bed has much more room, especially for kids.

Ease of Setup and Breakdown

Setting up a shelter in the wild should be effortless and quick. Unfortunately, most tents don’t offer that privilege.

But pop-up campers are different. Aptly named the pop-up campers, they set up in quick and easy.

From experience, setting these bad boys is by far easier than setting up a tent, as all you need to do is crank the winch and slide out the door.

The breakdown isn’t challenging either. I particularly love that I don’t need to pack up or store my amenities when heading out.

Downsides of Owning a Pop-Up Camper

While there’re numerous benefits of a pop-up camper, there’re equally several downsides.

Depending on your needs, you might find some of these downsides dealbreakers, but in most cases, they’re just inconveniences.

The first one has to do with the size.

Most pop-up campers are usually marketed as lightweight and compact shelter options. But the greatest downside to this design is they limit the number of amenities and living space in your camper.

Unless your pop-up camper is on the higher end of the price and with a large surface area, the room inside on a typical option isn’t sufficient to include a bathroom, definitive plumbing system, small kitchen and other stuff.

Secondly, most of the pop-up campers have an open-air design. And when closed, most of them use a canvas covering.

Either way, it means achieving temperature regulation in your pop-up camper can be a hard nut to crack, especially in winter camping and in cold weather. It’s challenging to stay warm during inclement weather.

Most of these pop-up campers lack definitive insulation, heating or cooling system, meaning you’re likely to experience an uncomfortable stay during weather inclement, especially when cold air blows.

In fact, during the intense weather inclement sessions, some of the campers have reported water seeping in through their canvas tent.

But this shouldn’t be a big problem if you pitch your camper in a relatively sheltered place.

Getting a Pop-up Camper; New Vs Used

Getting a Pop-up Camper; New Vs Used

If you’re about to get a pop-up camper, a big question should be whether to get a new one or a used camper.

Both options have their merits and demerits.

While getting a new one certainly has more benefits than renting or using a used one, choosing used pop-up campers is also a great option.

Here are some of the benefits;

1)      Save money

One of the perks of buying a used pop-up camper is saving on the initial buying costs.

In some cases, the price of a used option can go as low as 30% of a new RV.

Consequently, the lower buying costs mean lower insurance premiums and registration fees.

2)      A great way to test the waters

Buying a used pop-up camper offers a nice way to learn about what pop-up camping life entails without digging deep into your pocket.

Remember, the basics and experiences of a pop-up camper aren’t any different, whether you’ve a new or old camper.

But an old camper will give a detailed picture of the camper’s life without spending too much.

Of course, there’re some genuine concerns with acquiring a used RV over a new one.

The main one is probably the RV’s quality.

While it’s advisable to thoroughly inspect the RV, some of the potential issues may go unnoticed.

Simply put, the RV’s quality is not guaranteed with a used option.

The second one is the nullification of the warranty.

Depending on the manufacturer, you may realize the original warranty is not transferable to a new owner.

Buying a New Pop-up Camper

Buying a New Pop-up Camper

The other alternative, which I highly suggest, would be buying a new pop-up camper.

Yes, it might be a more expensive purchase than the used camper, but it’ll save you from a myriad of potential issues.

But that said, there’re several key elements you need to consider when buying a new pop-up camper.

And in the section below, I’ll briefly go over them to ensure you get the right pop-up camper for your needs.


Pop-up campers are generally compact, but there’re options with a large living space.

So, you need to consider the size you need for your camper, and from there, decide what option is best for your needs.

But a typical pop-up camper with two queen-sized beds will comfortably accommodate from three to six campers.

From there, it starts to get a little bit cramped up.

Storage Space

Still, you also need to consider the amount of storage available on the sizing.

Now, there’s not so much free space available in a pop-up camper, so check on the available cabinets.

A good way to enhance the storage capacity of your pop-up camper is by raising the camper’s roof. A raised roof provides more room for storage racks and bins.

Towing Weight

If you’ve an SUV or pickup truck, high chances are you won’t need an extra tow vehicle. Most SUVs will comfortably support the camper weight.

But if you’ve a car or van, you’ll need to consider its towing capacity or rather how much weight it can safely tow.

Generally, most pop-up campers have a decent weight of 1,000 to 3,000 pounds, depending on the camper model and design.

In addition to the camper dry weight, factor in the extra load weight. This should be about 300 extra pounds but will ultimately depend on the weight of your luggage.

From there, it’s not easy to determine the total towable weight (dry weight + luggage) and see whether your vehicle can support that.


Pop-up campers are quite different, and depending on the type and price range, some have more amenities than others.

Of course, it’s challenging to find a pop-up camper with all the amenities you desire. But you select one with the most important amenities, or rather those you prioritize most.

For example, besides the standard pop-up camper amenities, I also like mine with a bathroom, stovetop, AC unit and fitted with solar panels for lighting.

Handy Tips for Using a Pop-up Camper for the First Time

If you recently just acquired a pop-up camper tent, here’re a few pointers to help with your stay.

  •         Keep your first few trips simple
  •         Camp closer to home
  •         Carry packed food
  •         Have plenty of water
  •         Air your camper after rains to avoid the formation of mold
  •         Keep it fun

Wrap Up

Wrap Up

Living in a pop-up camper is definitely an exciting experience. There’s plenty to love with these compact shelter spaces.

And as we’ve also seen, using pop-outs is also quite effortless.

Personally, I’d choose these pop-up campers over the regular tents or RVs any day.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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