Is it worth buying a Pop-Up Camper? (17 reasons NOT to buy)

is it worth buying a pop up camper

Pop-up campers are just another choice on the long list of camper trailers available these days. They can be an attractive option – compact to tow with the ability to extend or ‘pop-up’ when you reach your destination. But they can also be a significant investment, so it serves to do your research before handing over your hard-earned money.

As with all camper trailers, a pop-up has both pros and cons. In this article, we’re going to discuss the flaws of this particular trailer that should be considered when deciding if a pop-up camper is right for you.

17 reasons a pop-up camper is not worth buying:

1. Expensive (for what you get)

The cost for a pop-up camper can range from a few thousand for a basic used model to $20,000+ for a modern camper with all of the bells and whistles. When you consider the limited amenities available in most campers plus the labor involved in maintenance and set-up, it may be worth looking at a lower maintenance option for a similar price. 

Travel trailers can be purchased new for anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000. While travel trailers also have their downsides, they generally come equipped with more amenities than you get in your standard pop-up.

2. Limited Storage

The idea of a pop-up camper is to increase space by expanding the camper once you’ve reached your destination is great. However, this does mean when packed up for travel, a pop-up camper will have limited space for storage, and often belongings need to be removed from the trailer for the camper to fold up correctly.

It’s possible to install extra shelving and use compact storage methods, but all in all the storage capacity of a pop-up camper is suited to those who like to travel light. The limited storage can present a challenge for families and those who travel with everything but the kitchen sink.

3. Lack of Insulation

The pop-up component of this camper is generally made from canvas or vinyl, which are relatively thin materials. The thin walls mean that you might struggle to keep your camper at an ideal temperature. 

When it’s cold outside, your pop-up camper is going to be cold, and the opposite is true when the outside temperature is soaring. I don’t know about you – but I’m not a fan of sleeping in hot and stuffy conditions or being cold when I’m trying to relax and enjoy my camping trip.

There are ways to combat hot or cold temperatures in your pop-up camper, but installing an air-conditioning or space-heater comes with its own challenges, particularly in a camper that is already limited for space. With little insulation, you’d be looking at running temperature control 24/7 which can be impractical and taxing on your power supply.

Insulation options are available, and require handiwork and spending a bit of money to get the right materials.

4. Increased Exposure to the Elements

Having a thin fabric wall means you’re going to be more exposed to the elements, including wind and rain. While most campers will manage to keep you dry, you’ll be hearing the constant pitter-patter of rain and howling of the wind which I think you’ll agree are not the most settling sounds when you’re trying to rest. 

It doesn’t help that most campers accommodate the sleeping area under the canvas or vinyl pop-ups either.

5. Set Up and Pack Away Time

Pop-up campers do require a bit of assembly when you reach your destination and packing up when you choose to hit the road again. 

While most modern campers these days have a crank system that means you won’t have to do too much heavy lifting to set up, you’ll still need to assemble poles for awnings and arrange bedding and other things you’ve stored away. 

The process of setting up your camper can cut into your vacation time, and double-checking everything to make sure you’re not going to have loose items or parts of your trailer flying all over the place can be a bit of a hassle that not everyone wants to deal with

6. No Bathroom

I’ll preface by saying that some pop-up campers do have some form of a bathroom – usually a cassette toilet and small sink, and some of the luxury models will even feature a wet bath. 

This being said, the vast majority of pop-up campers simply don’t have the space to accommodate a bathroom, so you’ll find yourself relying on campgrounds with bathroom or outhouse facilities provided – or using good old mother nature when you need to go.

Although not a deal-breaker for the hardiest of campers, the thought of digging a hole in the forest doesn’t appeal to all of us and is something to consider when thinking about buying a pop-up camper.

7. Difficult to Clean

It’s not always possible to give your pop-up a thorough clean before you fold it down. Over time, if you’re not diligent in drying and cleaning the pop-up, humidity and moisture can lead to the growth of mold and mildew.

This can damage both the fabric and the mechanics of the pop-up system, not to mention there are health risks of living in a camper that fosters the growth of harmful bacteria. 

8. Lack of Privacy

Harking back to the thin fabric walls of the pop-up camper – as well as providing little insulation, they are not very soundproof and don’t tend to give you a lot of privacy.

Anyone outside can hear what’s going on inside the trailer, and you’ll be pretty aware of any noises from the environment around you.

While waking up to the sounds of birds chirping around you sounds pretty ideal, you can forget a restful night’s sleep if you’ve got neighbors singing camp songs around the fire until the early hours of the morning.

9. Limited Interior Space

We’ve already touched on the limited storage, but little floor space also gives you less room to simply live in your camper. 

On top of this, a lot of pop-up campers are designed to sleep as many people as possible so they can accommodate a family camping trip, but this means there’s not a lot of space to do a lot other than sleep.

I suppose there is one upside to the limited interior space – it does force everyone outside to enjoy everything nature has to offer!

10. Pop-up Walls can Tear

While canvas and vinyl are strong fabrics, they are still thin enough to tear, rip or develop weak spots – compromising the structure of your camper.

Repairs are possible if you have the right materials and the know-how, but the possibility of  rips and tears is something to keep in mind if you’re after a camper that is going to last you more than a couple of years.

Related article: How Much Does it Cost to Re-Canvas a Pop-Up Camper?

11. Pop-ups can Leak

Even without rips or tears in your canvas or vinyl, the seams of your pop-up can leak after a bit of wear and tear. There’s a whole range of sealants and tapes designed to combat leaking seams but a lot of pop-up camper owners find leaks hard to avoid. 

12. Vehicle Tow Rating Compatibility

One of the appeals of pop-up campers is that they are marketed as lightweight – so any vehicle should be able to tow them right? This isn’t always the case – which is why it is so important to check your vehicle’s tow rating before purchasing or adding upgrades to your pop-up camper.

Most regular vehicles will be capable of towing a basic pop-up camper, however, if you’re looking for a few more features (and therefore a heavier trailer) you’re probably going to need something more akin to a pickup or larger sized SUV.

13. Stability in High Winds

The setup of a pop-up camper usually involves the use of some sort of support system to stabilize the camper, preventing it from tipping over. 

In spite of this extra support, on a stormy day, it is possible that the wind can catch the camper’s extensions and cause it to tip over – especially if you’re parked on uneven or sloped ground.

14. Limited Kitchen Amenities 

Most camper kitchenettes are pretty rudimentary – with a sink, a few gas or electric burners, and perhaps a small fridge. Enough for a weekend away from home, but the lack of amenities is certainly a hindrance when trying to cater to more than two people.

Larger camper trailers tend to have enough counter space to accommodate more kitchen utensils and appliances, but this extra space is sorely missed in a pop-up camper.

15. Not Ideal in Bear Country

The thin material of your pop-up is porous enough to allow the smell of food stored inside the camper to waft outside, which can be an issue when camping in areas that wild animals are known to frequent. 

You can reduce the risk of attracting wild animals to your camper by taking extra precautions, such as sealing food in airtight containers and ensuring you don’t leave litter around your campsite.

16. Residential Storage

A consideration with all RVs and camping trailers is where you’re going to store them when not in use, and a pop-up camper trailer is no different.

Unlike truck tent campers or regular tents, a trailer does take up a decent amount of space in your garage or on your property, and some local ordinances have restrictions prohibiting long-term parking of trailers on residential streets. For example – this Jayco pop-up camper is 18.5 feet long when closed.

17. Long Term Trips are Impractical

The small size of a pop-up camper often makes the trailer impractical to stay in long-term, so if you’re considering a long road trip you might consider something other than a pop-up camper.

With limited storage and floor space, plus the need to set up and pack down your camper every time you reach a new destination – the practicality of traveling and living in a pop-up camper might be difficult if you’re not in a routine of life out on the road.

FAQs

How long do pop-up trailers last?

Being a long-term investment, pop-up campers generally last 10-15 years – but this of course depends on how often you use it, and how diligently you care for it.

How much do pop-up campers cost?

The cost of a camper will vary according to whether it’s new or used and the features that are included, but you can generally expect to pay between $5,000 and $30,000+.

Should you cover your pop-up camper?

Using a cover when storing your camper is a good way to ensure its longevity, however, if you don’t have the right cover you might just be trapping moisture inside your pop-up.

Finding a cover that allows adequate airflow (such as one with integrated air vents) prevents the build-up of mold on your camper and prolongs the quality for years to come.

Closing Thoughts

Personally, I am not a huge fan of pop-up campers so would probably steer clear of owning one based on the cons listed above alone. 

These campers just don’t include the amenities (like a bathroom and decent-sized kitchen) that I’d want, and the consistent setup and packing down of the pop-up feature isn’t something I feel the need to do considering there are other camper options on the market for similar prices that don’t require the assembly. 

A great option if you’re still on the fence is to rent a pop-up camper for your next road trip. You’ll get to test out the features, figure out what you do and don’t like, and give the pop-up a test run without the long-term commitment of buying it outright.

Pop-up campers (like all camper trailers) have their flaws, but every traveler is looking for something different – so maybe for you, these flaws are minute in comparison to the benefits of owning a lightweight and compact camper.

 

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