These simple tips make your used travel trailer more livable, convenient, secure… and fun
Getting your used tent trailer is just the beginning. Whether you are doing a bigger revamp or just want to make a few pop up camper hacks, there are so many ways to make your camper more your own.
Below are some of the tweaks we made to our 2004 Rockwood Freedom to make it more livable, convenient, secure… and fun.
Why hack your used popup camper?
Sure, you can buy a camper and just use it as-is. However, over time, as you gain experience with your camper, your own preferences (not to mention your understanding of your camper’s quirks) can steer you toward a few ideas on how to change things up with your camper.
We might never have thought much about this, except that we bought our camper used, and the seller was good enough to share his experience with us. He also explained many of the pop up camper hacks he and his wife had made. That in turn inspired us to think through changes we wanted to make ourselves.
Here are the simple tweaks we used to customize our used popup camper
The wonderful thing about tweaking a popup camper? Many of these changes and customizations are simple, affordable, and even pretty quick. Here are the things we did to customize our used camper.
1. Set up your vehicle’s trailer hitch so the camper battery can charge while you’re driving
Odds are your camper has a battery and a built-in electrical system. It might power anything from interior lights, to the fan that blows out the air from your on-board propane heater. However, batteries don’t charge themselves. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep a battery charged—and you can do it while you’re driving.
If you’re adding a trailer hitch to your vehicle, check that an electrical charging mount will be added too. Your camper’s battery will have a charging setup, but there are a couple of different kinds. Take a picture on your phone of your camper’s setup, and show it to the installer so they can certain to install the correct configuration.
For our Rockwood, our installer mounted a 7-pin circular outlet. Whenever we were towing the camper, one of our last hookup steps was to plug in the electrical (and give it a slight tug to make sure it was fastened well). Whether a couple of hours or an 11-hour spree (such as driving from San Diego to Big Sur, California), while we drove we knew we’d arrive with a freshly charged battery that was ready to go.
2. Turn dead vertical space into storage with ceiling hooks and wire shelves
Camping, especially camping long-term (such as our 4-week and 6-week adventures), can become a struggle to fight clutter, keep things organized, and use your limited interior space well. Fortunately, Jodie has always had a keen eye for how we can use our space better. That’s why, as we initially started getting a feel for our Rockwood, she made a brilliant addition. Actually, two.
Adhering peel-and-stick metal hooks to the ceiling, Jodie hung four hooks over the camper’s sink, and another four over the long, narrow counter space next to the door. From there, we attached S hooks to coated wire shelving, the sort you might use to organize your closet. We looped 12-inch lengths of chain into each S hook. (Tip: We also used pliers to crimp the S hook openings closed, so there was less chance of the chain link slipping out of the hook.)
The end result?
The shelf hanging over the counter made an ideal dish drainer. We laid down an absorbent mat, set the clean dishes there to dry overnight, and then could put them away later, while keeping the sink counter area clear and available whenever we needed it.
The other shelf, though, became our real workhorse. That shelf held our family activities, such as board games, art supplies, and our laser tag set.
That wasn’t all though.
On the other side of the door, Jodie hung two more hooks, this time on the wall. From those, she hung a removable coated wire tie rack. That became our jacket hanger, perfect for keeping our fleeces and rain shells at the ready.
3. Paint the cabinets and replace the hardware
Buying a used popup camper can be a great way to save money, but it doesn’t exactly mean you get a current look for your buck. This can especially be the case with cabinets. Cabinets take up a lot of space, and those surfaces make up a lot of what you see in the camper.
For us, the wood look of our cabinets wasn’t what we were looking for. The cabinets themselves were in great shape. So we gave each a light sanding, primed them, and painted them white. Not only did this update the look, it really brightened up the camper, which we especially appreciated in the evening as night fell.
When painting cabinets, you’re also taking off the doors and removing all the hardware, such as handles, catches, and hinges. If you don’t like the look of your hardware, this is an idea time to replace it with something that’s more your style.
For us, we prefer a brushed nickel to the brass that came with the camper. A quick trip to our local home center, and soon we had new hardware ready to complete our camper’s new look. The end result? A cheap and pretty easy update that made our used camper feel like new.
4. Change the lightbulbs to save energy and generate less heat
Light bulbs are just about magical. They provide bright, long-lasting light, while sipping electricity instead of gulping it. Newer RVs and campers often come with LED light bulbs installed. If you’re getting an older camper though, it’s always a good idea to see what sort of bulbs are lighting your way.
If your camper has non-LED lights, replacing those with LEDs can be a quick and easy way to save energy. You’ll get more mileage out of your battery, for starters. The low wattage requirements of LEDs also frees up capacity in your camper’s electrical system, giving you the option to charge or run other equipment with fewer worries about overloads.
Another plus? Non-LED bulbs such as incandescent and halogen are also notorious for generating heat. If you’re camping in a hot climate or during the summer, every degree of extra heat you prevent from accumulating can keep you and yours that much more comfortable while inside your camper.
When we got our Rockwood, one of the first things we did was take out the two light bulbs, nip down to an auto store, and buy LED equivalents. It was a cheap, simple fix that has helped us get more battery use when we’re not on shore power.
5. Stick levels on the trailer tongue and the back of the trailer so you can (almost) always level out
If you’re coming to this tip and thinking you don’t have to worry about leveling, we’re going gently encourage you to think again. If your camper has one side lower than the other, suddenly it’s like you’re living on a ramp. Even a little slant, and suddenly it can be tricky to get your fridge to work, or your water to drain well. The worst? Waking up at three in the morning and realizing you’ve slid halfway down your mattress. Leveling your camper is essential for your camper’s function and your comfort. Fortunately, it’s also pretty easy to check.
Confession: This was not our idea. Newer campers sometimes have auto-leveling systems installed, but for a popup camper, especially an older model, odds are you’re going to have to figure out leveling yourself, with some sort of spirit or bubble level. Fortunately for us, our camper’s prior owner was pretty smart. When he delivered the camper, one of the pop up camper hacks he pointed out was in two places.
Of course, no matter what, some spaces can be just too wonky to get level, especially if you’re boondocking and not staying in a campground. No matter what though, with this pop up camper hack you can get as level as possible.
We’re going to dive in just a little deeper on this one.
Place levels so one reads the long side and one reads the short side
Along the front of the camper’s trailer tongue, near where you stand while turning the crank for the trailer tongue’s jack, he had stuck on a simple adhesive bubble level strip. When working the jack’s crank during setup, a simple glance can tell you if you’re level or need another crank or two.
However, leveling a camper means checking level for both the short side and the long side, so you need two levels in two different places. At the back of the camper, he had mounted another little strip level.
Upon arriving at a camp site and backing in, Jodie would go to the back of our spot. Once we’d gotten the popup positioned about where we wanted to set it up, she would check the level on the back of the camper. Reading that told us if the site was level (rare, but it happened now and again), or if we needed a leveling block or two under one of the tires.
The end result? A nice, level camper—and each of us staying on our pillows all night.
6. Lock the trailer hitch when it’s detached from your vehicle
Our neighbor has decades of experience buying, storing, restoring, and selling RVs. (He’s also a great resource for pop up camper hacks). Unfortunately, he also has experience with sketchy people doing the damnedest things.
One time, he told us, a noise woke him up in the middle of the night. Heading outside to check, he discovered someone trying to back up a pickup to a trailer. The person was trying to hook up the trailer and steal it.
Fortunately, our neighbor was able to chase the person off. But it’s a good reminder that people sometimes do some weird stuff. Like try to steal a camper.
The prior owner of our camper gave us a simple bolt lock. It passes through a channel on the trailer tongue. Once it’s in and locked, the trailer can’t be attached to anything. Is it invincible? Or course not. But it can deter, and that’s the main thing. This simple fix has given us lots of peace of mind. And we’ve never woken up at night to someone trying to pinch our popup.
7. Bonus: Ditch the original stove!
When getting a used camper, it’s important to remember that equipment does wear out. The propane stove that came with our camper worked well, but the surround started having structural problems, and we no longer could trust that it was going to securely attach to our camper.
So we decided it was time to replace the stove. Instead of using the stove that came with us, we replaced it with a two-burner Eureka Plus! camp stove.
The downside? We couldn’t use the camper’s on-board propane tank anymore (don’t ask me to explain; it was something to do with pressure differences and not enough gas getting to the stove). We had to also get a dedicated propane tank (we got a cylindrical 11-pound tank, easy to store and move), with a hose and fittings that could work with the camp stove.
The upside, though, far outweighed the negatives. For starters, we had plenty of propane. Having the dedicated tank also meant we could move the stove wherever we wanted. If we wanted to have the stove on a picnic table, we could. If wind was making it hard to cook, we could shift the stove somewhere out of the wind. All told, ditching the original stove gave us more options and a better stove—a most worthy upgrade.
DOUBLE BONUS 8. Keep your mattresses dry: Stow camper shower curtains in the basement
One of our favorite (and cheapest) pop up camper hacks! Whether rain or dew, sometimes you just have to pack up the camper wet. Trouble is, wet canvas can make for a sopping mattress. We keep two cheap plastic shower curtains on hand to cover the mattresses when we pack up wet, so we can keep the mattresses dry.
Other fixes and changes we made over time
While the changes above we some of the main things we did, there are a few other pop up camper hacks we made over time as well, such as:
- Covering over the worn flooring with luxury vinyl planks (LVP), for a more updated look and a newer surface that could wear better
- Replacing the battery with a bigger, better battery
- Stashing a water supply hose in one of the storage compartments for anytime we had a water hookup
- Also keep a stash of cheap auto fuses on hand for minor electrical issues
- Installing puzzle-style workout tiles under each mattress for extra comfort
- When storing your camper, especially in a wet or humid climate, put a tub of dehumidifier crystals inside the camper to things dry and prevent mildew
Customizing your travel trailer makes it more comfortable, useful, and just simply yours
A used camper is such a great way to get a ready-to-go camper that can bring you and your family many outdoor adventures. However, it’s always handy to figure out how to update and change up your camper, so it fits your needs better. Our simple pop up camper hacks made our tent trailer more useful and more comfortable, and we loved that it simply felt more like ours. These little tweaks can make your used popup camper an even better comparison for your family adventures too!