Pop Up Campers

Pop up campers represent a halfway point in between tent camping and RVing, which allows them to provide the best parts of both of those experiences. Pop up tent trailers, a-frames, and truck campers are smaller and more lightweight than other RVs, which means you can tow or carry them with smaller vehicles and get them into places that you can’t get a larger RV. However, they provide much better protection against the elements than a traditional tent can. Larger pop up campers even include amenities like on-board bathroom facilities, although the limited interior space means that you’ll still be spending plenty of time enjoying the great outdoors.

Most Pop up campers fall into three categories:

  1. Tent trailers
  2. A-frame campers
  3. Pop up truck campers

While these different types of pop up campers all offer the same basic experience, each one has its own unique qualities and quirks. Smaller tent trailers are great for campers who drive smaller trucks and passenger cars, while a big a-frame is great for anyone who likes to camp year-round. Truck campers, on the other hand, are best suited to truck owners who want to tow a boat, ATV, or anything else when they go camping.

forest river pop up

Some manufacturers build more than one type of pop up camper.

Pop Up Tent Trailers


pop up campers

Tent trailers were the original pop up campers.

It’s hard to say exactly when the first pop up camper hit the road, or who invented them, because the basic form is much older than the modern concept of camping. In fact, there are patents that date to well before the invention of the automobile for horse-drawn carts that had pop-out or pop-up tent sides. The tent trailer is, without a doubt, the original type of pop up camper, although it has gone through a number of changes over the years.

Today, there are two main types of tent trailers:

  • super lightweight tent-on-trailers
  • traditional pop up tent trailers

Modern tent-on-trailer designs are similar to some of the first pop up campers from over a hundred years ago. These ultralight pop ups take the form of a trailer (or even a cargo trailer) that has a collapsed tent on it. When you arrive at your destination, the trailer acts as a platform to keep the tent up off the ground. So while you’re effectively still tent camping, you have a raised, flat, dry platform to sleep on wherever you go.

Pop up tent trailers are a more recent innovation, although they’ve still been around for well over half a century. These are relatively lightweight trailers that have collapsible walls that are typically made from heavy canvas. In most cases, one or both ends of the trailer also pop out to create a sleeping platform.

In addition to providing better protection from the elements, these tent trailer pop up campers can include bathroom, kitchen, and dining facilities for as many as eight people. The interior living space is typically quite limited in comparison to other RVs, but that just encourages you to spend more time enjoying the outdoors.

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Pop Up A-Frame Campers

a frame pop up camper

Pop up a-frame campers combine portability with a rigid-sided design.

The first a-frame pop ups arrived in the 1970s. These rigid-sided pop ups definitely look different than traditional pop up tent trailers, but there’s an important functional difference to consider as well. Unlike tent trailers, which have collapsible canvas sidewalls, the sidewalls of a-frame campers are solid just like bigger travel trailers. That makes these pop ups well suited to all types of weather–hot or cold. In fact, you can even get a-frame pop up campers with air conditioning units.

While the first a-frames were built by Aliner, there are a number of manufacturers in the space today. That means that there are a wide variety of a-frame camper choices, from the very small to the very large. While they are still very lightweight in comparison to travel trailers, and more aerodynamic as well, some of the bigger a-frames provide a great deal of interior living space.

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Truck Bed Pop Up Campers

pop up truck camper

Pop up truck campers allow you to tow something other than a tent trailer when you go camping.

Truck campers have a history just about as long and storied as tent trailers, but most of them have rigid sides. Only a handful of RV manufacturers build pop up truck campers, but there are options available for everything from small imports to full-sized trucks.

In addition to being lighter in weight to traditional rigid-sided truck campers, pop ups are also more aerodynamic. Most of these campers include a cabover sleeping area, just like traditional truck campers, but the collapsed height is significantly less than traditional units.

While even a small import truck is typically capable of towing a tent trailer or a-frame camper, pop up truck campers free up the hitch to tow other things. That makes these campers a great choice for anyone who likes to bring a boat, ATV, or other toy along when they go camping.

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