The Ultimate Pop-Up Camper Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know
Written by Carolyn Jackson
Table of contents
Pop-up campers are an entirely different experience than other types of RVs. Using a pop-up camper is more similar to traditional camping than the experience you would have with a motorhome or travel trailer. You still get significantly more comfort than if you were camping with just a tent, but these rigs are a stripped-down, just the basics version of a recreation vehicle.
Not sure if a pop-up camper is what you are looking for? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Buying an RV, and then we break it down by each RV type in our Guide to Buying a Motorhome and Guide to Buying a Travel Trailer and Guide to Buying a Fifth Wheel. This guide is specifically on pop-up camper RVs, their benefits and all the information you would want to know before getting behind the wheel.
What is a Pop-Up Camper?
A pop-up camper is the most basic, straightforward type of recreation vehicle on the market. A pop-up camper gets its name because it is collapsible. When you reach your destination, it easily, you guessed it, expands and pops up to become a spacious camping oasis. These rigs are lightweight, easy to maneuver, and can be towed by a van, truck or SUV. They are a great option for someone looking to either ease their way into RV life or travel with a little extra comfort, but without the fuss and expense of a more traditional RV.
What are the Benefits of a Pop-Up Camper?
The benefits of a pop-up camper are twofold:
The simplicity of a pop-up camper is that it is small. You don’t need to worry about storage when you are not using it as it can easily fit in a standard garage or in the backyard under a tarp. A pop-up also can easily fit in any campground, so you have access to more spots than someone hauling a 35-foot travel trailer. It is also a no-fuss option because these rigs travel in such a compact size. They are easy to haul with your family or personal van, truck or SUV because they are smaller and weigh significantly less than other RV options. Pop-ups, when fully expanded, usually have two queen beds and space for a kitchen sink and stove and a kitchen table that can be converted to another bed. Some even have hooks up for a toilet, shower, AC and heat. Although most of these features and amenities are upgrades.
The other major benefit of a pop-up camper is the cost. These RVs are drastically cheaper to purchase and to own than other types of RVs. The maintenance is much lower and less expensive than a motorhome or hard-sided travel trailer. Because pop-up campers are significantly smaller than other RVs they are also able to reach destinations other RVs can never get to, or are not allowed due to size regulations. Lastly, pop-up campers pack up much faster so you can hit the road and make it to the next destination even quicker.
Who Would Own a Pop-Up camper?
- People looking for a no-fuss and affordable entry into the RV world
- People looking to travel to smaller, harder to reach areas
- People who camp just a few times a year or who enjoy short, weekend trips
- People looking for less maintenance, but still want to camp with some of the comforts of home
- People who go camping, but spent most of their time outside of the RV hiking, canoeing, etc.
Tow Vehicles and Pop-Up Campers
If you are interested in renting, buying or doing anything with a pop-up camper, you need to have a functioning tow vehicle. Before investing in a pop-up camper, make sure your tow vehicle is set up to tow a trailer. Pop-up campers use a traditional ball and hitch tow like a travel trailer RV. It is extremely important to make sure your tow vehicle has the engine power to tow all the weight included with a pop-up camper. This includes the wet weight (eg: the camper when it is fully loaded with all your gear and travel essentials) and the weight you are adding to the tow vehicle (you, your family and everything you are bringing along). Luckily, pop-up campers are designed to be extra lightweight and come in a variety of sizes and weights, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a pop-up that fits your tow vehicle’s limits.
How Much Are Pop-Up Campers?
On average, a new pop-up camper can typically cost anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000 depending on the size, weight, floorplan, materials, features, and amenities. If you’re wondering about how much it costs to own an RV, we breakdown the costs in our total cost of RV ownership article. Of course, you can get a used pop-up camper for much cheaper. Like cars and any other vehicle, RVs start depreciating as soon as they’re driven off the dealer’s lot, so a pop-up that’s a few years old could be about 20% – 30% less than its original purchase price.
Learn about new vs. used pop-up campers here where we break down the pros and cons of buying new vs. used RVs.
How Much Do Pop-Up Campers Weigh?
Pop-up campers can vary drastically in weight, depending on the different styles, amenities, brands, materials, etc. A hard-sided pop-up camper can vary in weight from about 1,180 to 2,700 lbs and a tent style pop-up can range anywhere from 1,300 to 3,700 lbs. These weights express the dry weight, or weight of the camper without gas, fluids travel gear, luggage, etc. When you are purchasing a pop-up camper you also need to consider the wet weight (the weight of the trailer with everything full and loaded for a trip) so that you can be sure you tow vehicle can handle the load.
Pop-Up Camper Manufacturers: Where Do I Start?
As far as pop-up campers compare to other types of RVs, there is less selection from manufacturers. But the brands that are made are all high quality,
- Forest River makes simple, durable and easy-to-use pop-up campers. Forest River is known for their Flagstaff hard side line and their Rockwood High lines. These are both some of the highest-rated pop-up campers available. Forest River, Inc. is one of the largest manufacturers of quality RVs that offers a variety of models and floorplans.
- Jayco offers a variety of pop-up campers that are spacious, easy to tow and easy to set up. Jayco’s Jay Sport offers 4 floor plans and sleeps up to 7 people. Jayco specializes in features that enhance the tailgating experience for a pop-up.
- Coachmen makes the hugely popular Clipper pop-up camper. The RV has lots of floor plan options, which is a rarity for a pop-up. Coachmen is a widely respected and trusted brand of RVs since the 1960s.
- Sylvan Sport make super portable and affordable pop-up campers that are really just the bones. They are made for simplicity and know that people want to pay for features like stargazing windows and waterproof gear storage, not AC and showers.
- LivinLite exclusively makes aluminum-framed lightweight campers. Their QuickSilver line is highly rated and comes in lots of different options and set ups, so you get exactly what you need.
These are just a few of the top pop-up camper manufacturers out there. Aliner, Palomino, Starcraft, and Dutchmen are some others to look into as well. Now that we’ve covered what a pop-up camper is, why you would want one and who makes the best of the best, let’s talk about some of their other features.
Buying a Pop-Up Camper: New Vs. Used
Pop-up campers are probably the most affordable RV you can buy. However, they can get expensive quickly if you start adding more amenities and features such as a toilet or shower or a cooktop. Storage is a premium when talking about pop-ups. These are meant to be small, compact and no-fuss, which means storage is the first thing to go. If you want a pop-up that is a bit bigger, has more features or updates, buying used might be a good option for you. You get more bang for your buck when buying used as these vehicles depreciate as soon as they leave the dealer.
Regardless of purchasing new or used, the price of your pop-up camper will still depend on the following aspects:
- Time of year
- Where you purchase from
- Who you purchase from
A used pop-up camper will vary in price based on the same factory as a new pop-up camper, however, there are some additional items to consider if you are looking at buying used:
- The seller – the more motivated the seller is to offload their vehicle, the more wiggle room you have for price negotiations
- The condition – if a used pop-up camper has water or roof damage, the price will dramatically decrease whereas if the vehicle is still in pristine condition, it could sell close to the original MSRP.
- The time of year – people usually do their traveling in the warm summer months, meaning they are more likely to sell once they have finished their planned trips in the fall. Use this as a negotiation tool and to search a wider array of inventory.
Pros and Cons of New Vs. Used Pop-Up Campers
New Pop-up campers
Pros: New pop-up campers are in perfect condition and come with a limited warranty. You may also be offered better financing and better deals if you are buying new.
Cons: They start depreciating the second you haul them off the lot and they come at a higher purchase price.
Used Pop-Up campers
Pros: Used pop-up campers will come at a cheaper purchase price and they may even come with newer upgrades from previous owners.
Cons: You can run into some hidden problems with any used vehicles and they may require more maintenance due to the previous ownership and age of the vehicle.
What Should I Look for if I Am Interested in a Used Pop-Up Camper?
Make sure that the previous owners kept up on maintenance and servicing, as you want to make sure you are making a purchase that is towable and worth the money. This includes checking the tires, hook-ups, that all the pieces are accounted for and working, and the overall condition of the vehicle.
What are Reliable/Safe Sites to Purchase a Used Pop-Up camper On?
GoRollick works with hundreds of Certified Dealers across the country who are committed to providing you an upfront, transparent price and a great price. You can start your search here. In addition, you can visit your local dealer lots for used inventory. You can also research a used Pop-up camper on the following sites:
- NadaGuides provides a tool to estimate prices
- ChanginGears describes determining a fair market price and provides a checklist for inspecting a new or used RV
- Craigslist, which connects with you private sellers. If you decide to purchase from a private seller, we recommend meeting the seller in a public place.
Want more info? We break it all down here in our RV Buying Guide: Buying a New RV vs. Buying a Used RV.
Ready to search inventory? Check out GoRollick’s nationwide network of used inventory.
Use our guide How to Take Advantage of Powersport and RV Manufacturer Incentives on Your Next Vehicle Purchase to get the most bang for your buck. When you’re ready to buy, check out our list of the latest available incentives.
Financing a Pop-Up Camper RV
Pop-up campers are usually more affordable than other types of RVs, but that doesn’t mean we all have that money just lying around to use at one time. It will make more sense for some people to take out a loan in order to purchase a pop-up camper. If you do take out a loan, you want to make sure you get the best possible loan rate, so that you owe as little interest as possible. Searching for good loan rates and negotiating pricing can be daunting. Luckily, we have a Definitive Guide to RV Loans that goes over everything you need to know about how to finance an RV.
Concerned about your credit and how your score might affect your ability to finance or purchase a pop-up camper? Educate yourself on how to use the tools in your shed to still get the best rate possible with our Guide to Bad Credit Loans.
How to Buy a Pop-Up Camper RV
Now that you have a better idea of what a pop-up camper is and the benefits of owning one of these vehicles, you probably have a good idea of which brand and style you want to look into. If you are feeling ready to search inventory, start with GoRollick’s nationwide network of new and used inventory.
GoRollick works with the best dealers in the country who are dedicated to price transparency and a great buying experience. With GoRollick you can get an upfront price and a special offer on your next pop-up camper, plus savings on after-purchase products. Then when you’re ready, you can shop at one of our Certified Dealers.
Renting a Pop-Up Camper
Renting a pop-up camper is a great choice if you only plan to get out once or twice a year. The other benefit to renting a pop-up camper is that you can test out different brands, floor plans and styles to find out exactly what you need or want if you buy later.
Most traditional RV dealers offer pop-up campers for rent, but their inventory is usually very limited. For more options and better pricing, try a peer-to-peer rental company such as Outdoorsy which is basically an Airbnb for RVs!
GoRollick has partnered with Outdoorsy and if you start your shopping here, you can take $40 off your first night with coupon Code = GoRollick. Typically a pop-up camper will rent for about $100-$150 a night on one of the rental sites mentioned above. There will be additional fees and taxes added to that total, however, so budget accordingly!
Post-Purchase Considerations for a Pop-Up Camper
Once you purchase a pop-up camper, the fun really starts! Trips, tailgates, parties, and memories that will last a lifetime. Your pop-up camper is an awesome piece of machinery, but it needs some love and care to make sure it lasts as long as possible for you and your family.
Where Can I Park My Pop-Up Camper?
One of the most appealing aspects of a pop-up camper is its smaller size and versatility to go more places than a larger RV. However, for the same reasons, a pop-up camper is not a good choice for full-time RV living or long-term adventures. Space is limited and most pop-ups do not come with all the amenities you would find on a traditional RV, such as a bathroom or a refrigerator, both things that make long-term RVing much easier. Pop-up campers are a fantastic choice for more short-term trips and outings.
Short-Term Pop-Up Camper Parking
If you are just passing through and need a place to stay overnight, there are some surprising options for you to consider parking on the road. Truck stops, casinos, Walmarts, and even schools are often willing to let RVs park in their lots overnight with permission. If you park in one of these locations, be sure to follow all instructions on where to park as well as any other rules that are in place. When you leave, make sure to leave it in better condition than you found it.
The most common RV parking scenario would be setting up camp for a few nights or weeks at a campsite in an RV park or national park. We laid out the Top 10 Best RV Parks in America for you so you can make your cross-country trip as enjoyable and Instagrammable as possible. Pop-up campers can go some places other large RVs aren’t allowed, so if you don’t see the park you want to visit on this list, don’t fret!
What are Other Costs Associated with Pop-Up Camper RVs?
The most significant cost of owning a pop-up camper other than the initial purchase price of the rig will be the tow vehicle and hitch. If you need to purchase a tow vehicle that could run you an additional $30,000 to $80,000.
Other than those two initial costs, there are some costs you will have to be mindful of if you own an RV:
- RV Parks and Campsites
- Off-Season Storage
Additional costs that are associated with a pop-up camper would be utility and power sources such as propane, batteries, generators, and inverters.
Learn more about the Total Cost of Owning an RV here.
Finding the right deals to make your investment worthwhile can be tough. Luckily, we have some tips to help you get started. Check out How to Take Advantage of Powersport and RV Manufacturer Incentives on Your Next Vehicle Purchase and Best Motorcycle, ATV and UTV Deals and Incentives so you can make the most of your purchase.
Pop-Up Camper Good-to-Knows
- Air Out Your Pop-Up After Each Trip or After it Rains
- Hot Water and Showers
- Cooking Inside the Camper
- Heating and Cooling in Your Camper
Mold and mildew can grow faster than you think in a packed camper, so make sure everything is completely dry before packing it up and storing it.
A shower is something we all love to have after a long day of camping, hiking or swimming. However, a shower takes up a lot of premium space in a pop-up camper. One option is to have an outdoor shower on the exterior of the camper. Another option is a more traditional camp shower that can easily be stored inside the camper while traveling from place to place. The third option is to use the campsite facilities. Most campsites have nice showers, toilets and other hygiene facilities for your use.
You might think you want a nice, spacious kitchen in your camper, but again, that is valuable space that might be better utilized with a bed or a kitchen table. If you pack a grill, you can cook outside almost as easily as in your kitchen at home.
This is one splurge you might consider investing in. Without heating and cooling, you might still have a very uncomfortable night’s sleep with the bitter cold or sticky humidity. If you need to pick one or the other, go with the AC. You can always find thermal sleeping bags and blankets or warm up by a fire. Sleepless nights because of sweating are miserable and can ruin any trip.
Pop-up campers are a great entry-level RV. The maintenance and upkeep is much lower than with any other RV and the cost of entry is by far the most affordable. Pop-ups are small, versatile and easy to haul and can be set up at nearly any location. Though you might miss out on the more luxurious RV features, if you just want to get out there and see what the great outdoors has to offer, a pop-up camper might be perfect for you.
Not convinced on pop-up campers? Learn all about Travel Trailers, Fifth Wheels, Toy Haulers, and Motorhomes, too. And don’t forget about the fun for when you reach your destination! When you’re ready to add some toys, check out our 10 best motorcycles, 5 best ATVs and our newest article, Top Side by Sides of 2019.