Pop up campers: 5 things to know

Your top questions answered about family camping and tent trailers!

Why pick pop up campers for family camping? Finding the right pop up camper trailer can be a big decision, but it’s one you and your family can make with confidence.

Lots of questions might come up when looking through new or used tent trailers. (Goodness knows they did for us when we found Bebop, our Rockwood pop up camper!).

We wanted to answer some of your top pop up camper questions. Below are 5 questions we’ve gotten, and we’ll walk you through how we made the right decision for us. Naturally, every family is different. You may come up with a totally different answer that’s right for you and your camping style. No matter what you choose, our experience and perspective can help you find your way!

WATCH us answer these questions in our pop up camper video (with special guest host)!

You can also watch us answer some of your top pop up camper questions in this family travel video. PLUS, you’ll learn why Jodie decided we were done sleeping on the ground… and your questions are read by a special guest host!

1. How do you camp when it’s cold and rainy outside?

Cheap shower curtains. More on that in a bit…

Oregon’s wet climate can also make for some damp, chilly camping. However, our pop up camper helps us extend our camping system beyond the summer:

Pack games, books, and art supplies

We have more options for activities. When we’re ready to be inside, Bebop’s table, benches, and beds help us cozy up for reading, board games, art, or general snuggling and relaxing. Plus, using the camper helps us pack up extra activity options so we can be ready for anything from post-activity downtime to when we’re ready to be out of the rain.

Fire up the propane heater

When it’s cold outside, we fire up the on-board propane heater to warm up. Even a few minutes of running the heater in the evening or in the morning makes a big difference!

Does the tent trailer keep water out?

Bebop hasn’t had any issues with keeping water out. Checking the tent fabric now and again is a good idea, to see if there are any holes or such that need patching. When the inside covers are zipped up to keep the rain out, we also keep a few cracks, so less condensation builds up inside, especially overnight.

The biggest consideration, though, is taking care of the camper so it dries out after a trip. If a pop up camper gets stored wet, that can lead to mold or mildew inside. And um, no. That’s just gross.

And that brings us back to those cheap shower curtains.

Cover mattresses in plastic and open up pop up campers at home to dry out

When we’re packing up after (or during) a rainy trip, we spread out a cheap plastic shower curtain over each mattress. That minimizes any moisture that might get inside while we’re folding up the camper. Once we get home, as soon as we can we pop the camper up in our driveway, so it can thoroughly dry out.

We’ll add, too, that our idea of “cold” or “rainy” might be different from yours. Western Oregon can be rainy, but the climate is temperate. Your camper can help you push your camping capacity zone though, and you may be surprised at how many other times of the year you can camp!

2. Do you have to have a big pickup to haul a pop up tent trailer?

This was a big, big deal for us. You’ve probably seen giant pickup trucks hauling giant RVs. And that’s cool… but it’s not our style. Plus, we didn’t want to have to change vehicles in order to camp. We wanted a camper that we could haul with the car we already have: a Subaru Outback.

These factors made a popup trailer camper a perfect choice for our family.

You’d be surprised at how much today’s vehicles can haul, even sedans and compacts. For us, a lightweight pop up camper like Bebop meant we could tow the trailer while maintaining some fuel economy and minimizing vehicle wear and tear. And so far, our Outback has approved of our choice. The Outback hauls Bebop easily. While we do get lower gas mileage, it still hangs around the high teens and low twenties—not bad for hauling a tent trailer.

3. How do you deal with camper clutter?

Jodie is the systems queen of organizing our camper!

After all, when you have multiple people—including kids—in a small space, there’s going to be some clutter. The key is to minimize the mess, and make it easy to clean things up. That way, your space stays more pleasant to be in, and you can spend less time de-cluttering and more time adventuring.

Here are some ways we deal with clutter:

Collapsible mesh storage bins inside and outside.

By the camper door outside, we keep a mesh bin for everyone’s shoes. Shoes don’t get lost, people don’t trip over wayward footwear, and the bin can be cleaned out easily.

Inside, on a counter near one of the beds, another mesh bin holds all our dirty laundry, from clothes to napkins. When we get home, the bin can go straight to the laundry room.

Organizers

Plastic organizers, such as wee drawer sets, are cheap, lightweight, and easy to find. A set of two stacked shelves sits on the counter and holds our plates, bowls, and cups. A set of 3 plastic drawers keeps our silverware and cooking utensils organized and at the ready.

Make the most of dead space with hanging shelves

Pop up campers are full of unused vertical space. Putting that space to work can be a big help in combating clutter in your camper.

Inside by the door, a coated mesh closet shelf hangs from a few pieces of chain. The shelf holds board games, and there’s room for other supplies we want to find a place for.

Hanging over Bebop’s kitchen sink, another wire shelf is perfect for keeping washed dishes out of the way while they dry.

Fridge doesn’t have to be a fridge

While our camper has a 3-way fridge, we rarely use it as a fridge. Sometimes we use it more like a cooler, packing in ice or blue ice packs so we can keep things cold on a short trip.

Often, though, we use the fridge like any other cabinet. Before we leave on a camping trip, sometimes we pop up the camper a little so we can fold up the sink and access the fridge. We’ll store non-perishable food inside. If we have food that needs to be kept cold, we bring a cooler instead.

Not only does using the fridge as a cabinet help us use space in other parts of the camper or car better, when we arrive at camp, a lot of our food is already put away: less setup, more time for fun!

Make the most of popup camper’s “garage” and “basement”

Most popup camper trailers have a small cabinet just inside the camper door (ours is on the right). Dubbed “the garage,” we use this small cabinet for things we want to have close at hand, such as:

  • Dog food and supplies
  • Hammock
  • A box of batteries, matches, and other small supplies
  • The manuals for all the camper’s components and systems
  • A lantern

Tent trailers usually have a storage area under one of the bench seats. We call ours “the basement.” It’s perfect for things that are good to have on hand, but we don’t need them on every trip. Or if we do, we don’t need them until we’re packing up:

  • Water filter
  • Storage bags for sleeping bags, camp chairs, etc.
  • Short table legs for our roll-a-table

Every pop up camper has unused space that can be tweaked to work well for your family. Have a look in your tent trailer: You’ll be surprised at how more organized you can keep your space, with just a few tweaks and changes!

4. How do you pack pop up campers?

Things such as our clothes and the kids’ violin cases go in the back of the Outback. However, even folded up, pop up campers have ample storage space that we put to use:

  • In the space under the table’s footwell: Camp stove and sleeping bags (in stuff sacks)
  • Along the aisle: Camp chairs, scooters, helmets, board games
  • In the space where the sink is folded down: Utensil organizer, plates, bowls, cups, linens basket, dish soap, laundry soap
  • Under the sink: Cast iron griddle and skillet, misc bits and bobs
  • Between the seat cushion tops and the roof: Wire hanging shelves, pillows, and Jodie’s crutches

Sometimes we can also fit our cooler inside the camper. We’ll be tweaking this setup as we start camping with our two inflatable kayaks though, and we’ll update you on how things change!

In the aisle at the doorway, we also keep a plastic bin that holds things like the camper’s cranks, a pair of work gloves, a hatchet, and the wheel chocks.

A big factor is packing the camper correctly. You want most of your weight to be toward the vehicle. If too much weight is in the back of the camper, it can cause the camper to fishtail. So, put the heavy stuff toward the front of the camper, and lighter stuff in the back.

5. Why did you pick a used pop up camper for family camping?

There’s a bit of camping calculus here that’s going to be different for every family. Here are some of the factors that influenced our decision to get a tent trailer for our family camping adventures:

Done sleeping on the ground

During the summer, Jodie teaches at a fiddle camp in Western Oregon. People come from all over to camp out for a week and make music. However, after a day of teaching and an evening of jamming, Jodie was finding it pretty uncomfortable to sleep on the ground. Plus, during the day we just felt more limited on options for activities or for when we needed some privacy.

Our camper gives us more of a “home away from home” feel. And it’s way more comfy than sleeping on the ground.

No other changes needed

We can store Bebop in our driveway, and still have room for our Outback and Leaf. The Outback hauls the camper just fine too, no need to change out for a different vehicle.

Budget-friendly

Used pop up campers go for a fraction of the price of a new model. We found our 2004 Rockwood Freedom online for $2,000. The camper was in great shape, we could pay cash, and we could have money set aside for, well, more camping!

A tent trailer fits our style and holds our stuff

Even closed down, Bebop has a good amount of storage space inside. Its teal accent color adds a cool touch of pizzazz. It’s the right combo of cozy and compact that gives us options for activities, or for when we just want to feel like we’re home, even when on the road.

Pop up campers can be perfect for your family travel adventures

Our popup trailer combines the right balance of size, cost, towability, and adventure options for our family. Whatever you choose, be sure to see what new or used pop up campers could be a great fit for your family’s camping style, and you’ll find the right camper too.

Other camper questions? What camper did you go with? Tell us in the comments below!

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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