Hard Sided Pop Up Campers

As a category of recreational vehicles, pop up campers cover a lot of ground. There’s so much variety within the category that it’s almost hard to put an ultra lightweight pop up camper, like one of Lifetime Products‘ Sahara or Great Basin tent trailers in the same class as a big, heavy a-frame camper from Aliner. Hard sided pop up campers are still pop ups, though, and they come with all of the same benefits you get from smaller units—and some unique perks as well—only on a slightly different scale.

There are two main types of hard sided pop up campers: a-frames and hard-sided pop up travel trailers. The former style is one of the tentpoles of the pop up camper category of RVs. Although a-frames aren’t as popular or widespread as traditional tent trailers, there’s no question about the fact that they are pop up campers, and it seems like more manufacturers are adding their own line each year. The other type of hard-sided pop up camper is a little more complex of an issue, as it straddles the line between travel trailer and pop up. Some of these hard-sided pop up campers are indistinguishable from tent trailers aside from the use of hard sides instead of canvas walls, while others are essentially travel trailers that collapse down to provide less wind resistance and better gas mileage.

Hard Sided A-Frame Camping Trailers

hard-sided a-frame camper

The a-frame style is the most common type of hard-sided pop up camper. Image courtesy of jd150, via flickr (creative commons 2.0)

A-frame campers are by far the most well known of the hard sided pop ups. They aren’t as common as tent trailers, but they are available from a number of manufacturers, including:

The basic idea behind a-frame campers is that they include two slanted “roof” sections and two triangle-shaped wall sections, all of which fold out to create a pop up camper that looks something like an a frame house. Of course, this isn’t just a unique look that sets these campers apart from other pop ups at the campground. Since the two “roof” sections and the two wall sections are all made out of solid materials (hence “hard-sided”), a-frames provide excellent protection against the elements. Although large camping families often find these campers to provide too little interior sleeping space, the form factor is perfect for a couple or small family to stay warm and dry when the weather turns cold and wet.

The other benefit of a hard sided a-frame camper is also tied in to the lack of canvas. Any tent trailer owner can tell you how much of a pain it is to pack up a soft-sided pop up camper in the rain. Not only can wet canvas make a mess of the inside of the camper, it also has to be properly dried out before the trailer can be stored. If it isn’t properly dried out, the wet canvas will provide a breeding ground for mold and mildew, which isn’t an issue with a-frame campers. Since the roof and sides are all solid, breaking camp in the rain isn’t so much of an issue with a hard sided pop up camper.

Like tent-trailers, a-frames are available in a wide variety of lengths, weights and configurations. They tend to skew heavier than tent-trailers due to the added weight of the hard walls, but small, light a-frames, like the Aliner Scout, are available.  Some a-frames also come with relatively rare features, like fully-enclosed, hard-walled bathrooms. The Jayco Jay Series Sport Hardwall line is one example that includes a number of floor plans with solid-walled pop up camper bathrooms.

Jay Series Sport Hardwall 12B Floor Plan

Some of Jayco’s Hardwall a-frames include bathrooms with solid, folding walls. Image courtesy Jayco.

Hard Sided Pop Up Campers and Travel Trailers

When you start moving into this territory, things start to get complicated, and there’s more than a little overlap between standard travel trailers, hybrid travel trailers, and hard-sided pop up campers. Unlike a-frames, these hard sided pop ups are true pop ups, in that the upper wall section and roof slides down over the lower wall section and literally “pops up” when you get where you’re going. Of course, that means that there isn’t a whole lot of weight savings when you compare this type of hard sided pop up camper with a travel trailer of a similar length. In fact, this type of pop up camper may weigh more than a similarly-sized travel trailer due to added weight from wall-raising mechanisms.

Hard sided pop up travel trailers are even less common than a-frames, but they are available from a handful of manufacturers. Although Hi-Lo closed its doors in 2010, outfits like Trailmanor continue to build hard sided pop ups in the same vein. In fact, Trailmanor’s hard sided pop up campers are about as close as you’ll get to a true hard sided version of a tent trailer. In addition to popping up, they also slide out, which effectively creates hard sided bunks on either end that are reminiscent of the canvas-sided bunks in a tent trailer.

hard sided pop up campers

Some hard sided pop up campers are relatively small.

Other Hard Sided Pop Up Campers

The last (and least common) type of hard sided pop up camper has come in and out of favor over the years. These hard sided pop ups are something of a hybrid between tent trailers and pop up travel trailers like the ones made by Trailmanor and Hi-Lo, in that they incorporate hard sides with pop out canvas bunks. The walls are solid and fold when the unit is collapsed for travel or storage, but the bunk sections still use the same soft materials used by traditional tent trailers. That provides some of the benefits of a tent trailer (less weight) and some of the benefits of a hard sided unit (more stability in the wind, etc).