If you’re anything like me, you’ve slept in a tent for a pretty long time and you’re getting tired of waking up with a sore back every morning. You’ve seen folks towing their campers behind them, and secretly you’ve absolutely envied the comfort and convenience that they get to enjoy while camping. But for one reason or another, you can’t justify purchasing a full-sized travel trailer.
That’s when you spot a strange looking camper. You’ve seen them before, but your sore back hasn’t said to you “hey, pay attention to that!” until now. It looks pretty small when folded up, but when Its open, boy is there a lot of room! Pop-up campers are excellent transition trailers for those who are looking to step up their camping game from tent camping. Pop-up campers weigh next to nothing, making them towable by nearly any type of vehicle.
But how do you know if your vehicle can safely pull a pop-up camper?
While pop-up campers are one of the lightest styles of campers you can buy, with most weighing an average of 2,500lbs, it’s still important to be knowledgeable in towing lingo to ensure that you’re safely able to tow your camper.
A few terms that you can expect to see while shopping for any type of trailer are:
- Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW)
- Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC)
- Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR)
- Gross Vehicle Weight Ratio (GVRW)
Each of these terms is important to know and identify in your potential pop-up camper, as they indicate safe towing load capacities. They might seem a bit overwhelming to those who haven’t towed before, so let’s take a deeper look into what they mean and why they are important to know for towing.
Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) indicates how much the trailer weighs without anything inside of it. It includes the weight of everything that comes inside of the trailer, the outside of the trailer, and all of the other components. There are a few things that impact UVW that you need to consider.
The first is that the more components your trailer comes with, the higher the UVW it will have. If you want a trailer that is light weight to be easily towed behind a sedan or station wagon, you’ll need to give up some features in your pop-up to be able to achieve a satisfactory UVW.
Generally, you want to purchase a trailer that has a UVW that is at least 1000lbs less than your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity. The reason why is that you want to be able to safely load your pop-up camper with supplies and if the UVW is the exact towing capacity of your vehicle, you’ll end up exceeding your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity.
Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) describes how much your pop-up can carry safely. This includes things like water and additional gear that you’ll end up putting inside of your trailer and on top of it.
CCC is important because it tells you how much the maximum amount of weight that your trailer can carry. This is a much better indicator of whether your vehicle can tow the trailer over UVW, as you can know exactly how heavy your trailer can be and compare that number to your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity. You still want to try to avoid maxing out your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity, so be careful to purchase a trailer that has a lower CCC than your vehicle has maximum towing capacity.
Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) tells you how much weight that your trailer’s axles can safely hold. This is important to know, because if you overload your GAWR, you risk bending your axles. Bent axles are extremely difficult and costly to repair!
Gross Vehicle Weight Ratio (GVRW) tells you how much weight that your trailer can hold at any given point. It includes all of your gear, your water, and those who are going to be staying inside of the camper. While it’s not important to towing, GVRW will tell you whether or not you can safely house all of the people you intend to sleep inside of your pop-up camper.
With all of these terms, it’s important to make sure that the pop-up camper that you’re looking to purchase can be towed safely by your vehicle and meets all of your needs. Pop-up trailers have seen a lot of innovations in the last 20 years, with a lot coming with slide-outs or decks on the front of the trailer for towing ATVs and dirt bikes. These features, while awesome and convenient, add on weight. More features, more weight.
Now that you know how to identify some key features when shopping for a pop-up camper, let’s discuss how you can tell how much your vehicle can tow.
Inspecting Your Vehicle
Knowing how much your vehicle can safely tow is one of the most important things to know before you purchase anything that you plan on towing. If you exceed your vehicle’s capabilities, you run the risk of burning out your engine, transmission, and brakes, all of which would be disastrous to happen when you’re on the road.
Two of the most important things that you need to look for on your vehicle when considering how much it can tow is:
- Maximum Towing Capacity
- Maximum Tongue Weight Capacity
Maximum Towing Capacity will tell you exactly how much your vehicle can safely pull. However, car manufacturers tend to be awfully generous with how much towing capacity they say their vehicles can pull. Be sure to avoid coming too close to this number, as pulling trailers that are close to or are exactly on the maximum towing capacity will tax your vehicle’s systems pretty heavily. This is especially true if you intend to drive your pop-up camper in any sort of mountainous environments.
Maximum Tongue Weight Capacity indicates how much weight you can put on your vehicle’s tow hitch. If your trailer exceeds this amount, you run the risk of weighing your tow hitch down too much and causing the tongue of the trailer (the part that connects the trailer to your car) to dip too much when you drive. This might be ok when driving on level surfaces, but potholes and dips both exist and slamming your trailer’s tongue into either one because it’s too low can be extremely dangerous.
In order to find both of these numbers, you’ll need to do a bit of digging. Google is a great first start as it will help you find the numbers for the make and model of your vehicle. But some vehicles come with different packages, so how do you know exactly what your specific vehicle is capable of?
Start by locating the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This can be found inside of the driver’s side door or on the windshield, close to the driver’s side dashboard. Once you have located it VIN, call up a dealership that sells your particular make of vehicle. For example, if you drive a Toyota Tacoma, you’ll want to call up a local Toyota dealership.
Once you’ve called, give them the VIN and ask them to look up your specific vehicle’s ratings for towing to be 100% sure of what your vehicle can pull.
Now that we’ve covered two of the most important topics when shopping for a pop-up camper, let’s talk about loading it. How do you properly get your trailer loaded with all of your gear to ensure safe towing?
Loading Your Trailer
Balance is key when loading any trailer. You want to be sure that you don’t overload one side or another, as this will have serious consequences while towing.
Try to load most of the weight in your pop-up camper towards the tongue of the trailer. Your goal is to have more weight in front of your trailer’s axle than behind it. The reason why you want to have the front of your trailer heavier than the back is that you create a balanced load that is closer to the towing vehicle.
If your trailer has more weight behind the axle, you may not realize it until you’re driving on the highway. You’ll hit a bump and notice that the trailer is causing your vehicle to swerve around a little bit. That is because the trailer is swerving quite a bit behind you.
This can be extremely dangerous if not corrected quickly. Uncontrollable swerving can result in you losing control of your vehicle, which can result in a wreck if corrective measures aren’t applied quickly.
The best thing that you can do if you experience trailer swerve is to let off of the gas slowly. Don’t slam on the brakes as this might only make matters worse. Slow your vehicle down to a point where the trailer isn’t swerving anymore and then pull over. Go inspect your trailer to make sure that all of the connections are still intact. Once you’ve verified that all of the connections are still good, drive to a place that you can open up your camper and reposition your gear.
While it may seem like there is a lot that can go wrong while towing, there are some fairly easy things to keep in mind when hooking up your camper to your tow vehicle.
Tips and Tricks for Easy and Safe Towing
First and foremost, make sure that your camper is within all of the weight limits we discussed earlier. If you exceed any one of those values, you run the risk of encountering a catastrophic failure while you’re towing.
After that, be sure that your trailer is loaded down properly by staying within the GVWR and loading the majority of the weight in front of the axle, so that it is closest to your towing vehicle.
Once you’ve established those two things, be sure that you check the tire pressure on your vehicle as well as your trailer. Low tire pressure in either of these areas can result in less efficient towing and braking, which is something you want to avoid! Remember that things like altitude and temperature will impact your tire pressure. If you’re climbing up into higher elevations, the air pressure inside of your tires will go up as the air pressure outside of the tire goes down. If you’re going down in elevation, know that the opposite effect will happen. When it gets cold outside, especially in the morning, your tire pressure might be lower than it was the day before. This is because the cold air condenses the air pressure inside of the tires.
If you’re experiencing low tire pressure, even after you have inflated your tires after considering the change in elevation and temperature, consider taking your vehicle and trailer to a tire shop to have them inspect your tires. You may have a small leak that you’ll want to get repaired if possible.
Another important element to safely towing your pop-up camper is to make sure that you hook everything up properly. Connecting the trailer tongue to your tow hitch is a pretty easy task. You put the trailer hitch on the towing ball of your vehicle, close the tow hitch gate, insert the hitch pin, and presto! You’ve connected your trailer to your towing vehicle.
After you have done this, you need to take the chains that are attached to your trailer and hook them to your towing vehicle. You’ll want to cross the chains under the tongue of the trailer as they provide drop protection, should anything happen to your hitch connection while driving.
Once you’ve ensured that your chain protection has been installed properly, plug your trailer’s electric system into your towing vehicle. Go turn on your towing vehicle and have someone stand behind the trailer. Turn your flashers on for both sides to ensure that they work on your trailer. Hit the brakes to make sure the brake lights on your trailer turn on as well. If they do, you’re good to go. If the lights don’t turn on, check your connection and make sure it’s all the way plugged in. If it is and your lights still don’t work, you’ll need to go get some new bulbs and replace the dead ones.
Now that you have properly hooked your trailer up and ensured that all of the tires are inflated to the right amount of PSI, it’s time to hit the road. While driving, be sure to go nice and easy with acceleration. This will ensure that you stay in control of your trailer and that you are efficient with your fuel usage. Drive a bit slower than you normally do, too. This will help save on fuel as well as make braking easier. Give yourself plenty of room for braking as even the lightest trailer will increase your braking distance considerably.
Best Uses for Pop-Up Trailers
All of this seems like quite a bit of information to learn. Why bother with using a pop-up camper at all? Well, pop-up campers offer you some pretty amazing benefits that make all of the hassle worth it.
Pop-up campers are the best for boondocking (aka dry camping) as they can hold a decent amount of water and don’t use a lot of electricity. This means that they can be very comfortable when camping away from campgrounds as they don’t need hook-ups to work.
They are much lighter than travel trailers, which makes them great for people who have lower towing capacity vehicles. You can practically take them anywhere with any size of vehicle!
Pop-up campers are best used for camping in the western US as there are tons of places to boondock and tons of country to drive across on the highways. The weather is pretty dry and warm in the west, which makes staying inside of your pop-up camper really comfortable.
Pop-up campers are some of the most common styles of campers out there, and for good reason! They are inexpensive compared to full-sized travel trailers and much lighter too. This makes them easily towable by practically any vehicle.
Pop-up campers are also really easy to maintain compared to full-sized travel trailers, which makes them ideal for those who are switching over from tent camping to trailer camping. It makes it so that you don’t get overwhelmed with all of the maintenance requirements, leaving you time to focus on enjoying your camper.
Be sure to load your camper properly and give yourself plenty of time to get to your campsite so you can safely and efficiently tow your camper wherever you plan on camping.
Now that you have read all there is to know about how much a pop-up camper weighs, go out and find the pop-up camper that is right for you! Shop around a bit and don’t forget to check out the classifieds for a used camper to save a bit of money. Once you have your camper, get out there and enjoy the beauty of nature knowing that you have a comfortable place to sleep at night. Your back will certainly thank you!