What to do when you get a used pop up camper

Camping all over Oregon and the Northwest in our used pop up camper. Hauling our kayaks and board games. Planning National Parks visits nationwide. Not sleeping on the ground anymore.

With so many plans to travel with our kids, it’s no wonder we’ve gone camper crazy.

After years of tent camping, we had decided we wanted to get a used pop up camper. It would help us extend our camping season, and we could give ourselves more activity options at camp, especially in bad weather.

The search for a used pop up camper: Finding our Freedom

Jodie spent about a year researching and following listings, and we started squirrelling away money so we could pay cash. Plus, we have a neighbor who is well experienced in all things evaluating, buying, fixing up, and selling RV trailers. (Seriously. As I write this, he’s across the street going back and forth from a large Airstream to a wee Flagstaff E-Pro travel trailer.)

In February 2020, Jodie’s eyes got pretty big. A listing had just gone up for a 2004 Rockwood Freedom tent camper, asking price $2,000. The seller wasn’t far. Then our neighbor dropped by to see if Jodie had seen the listing. He even offered to look at the trailer with her.

It turned out that Rockwood Freedom was in great shape. It had been lovingly used and cared for by a couple upgrading to a new camper. Still, we knew that when we got our camper, we would have some things to do, both to make sure it was in good shape, and to truly make it ours.

Here’s a breakdown of what we did. It’s not exhaustive by any means, but if you are also looking into getting your own used pop up camper, it’s a good start to figuring out your ways to keep your camper ship-shape and make it your own.

Check your used pop up camper’s roof for water-tightness.

Especially in western Oregon, as you can imagine, this is crucial. Luckily, it was raining the day that Jodie and our neighbor went to check out the camper. The seller had it set up in the rain, so it was easy to evaluate how waterproof the roof and tent panels were.

Obviously, it’s not always possible to check out a used pop up camper in the rain. Visually check over all the seams, the fabric, the windows, the overall roof condition. Look for where you may need to caulk or do some maintenance. And above all, make sure you are confident the camper can keep water out.

Practice setup and takedown.

(And train minions to do it for you.)

Even the kids can work the cranks on a used pop up camper.

Not only was the camper seller kind enough to bring the trailer to our house, he gave us a numbered list of steps for setup. He spent over an hour with us, helping us set up the camper, going through the entire space and its features, and helping us do takedown. It was a great way to get us started with our new camper.

Before we ever took our used pop up camper on a trip, we practiced setup and takedown a few more times. Now, we can have the camper fully ready in minutes—and the kids also help us with the process.

Spec out how you are going to organize and utilize storage spaces.

We carried on a couple of names that our camper’s seller had:

The cabinet next to the door?

That’s the “garage.”

The storage compartment beneath one of the bench cushions?

That’s the “basement.”

Our camper also has various unnamed drawers, cabinets, and other nooks and crannies. As we worked through how we wanted to use our space, we set out where things were going to go. For example, our camper drawers mostly hold kitchen items, as does the counter space above. Two cabinets hold a mix of food prep items, towels, cloths, games, and art supplies.

Spruce up your used pop up camper.

While the camper is in great shape, we knew we wanted to update its style.

The wood grain finish on the cabinets and such? Painted white—and we replaced the brass hardware with our preferred satin nickel finish.

The vinyl floor? Covered in vinyl planks that mimic weathered wood.

We added festive touches too. Over the camper table, Jodie added a colorful felted wool pom-pom garland that’s easy to hang, take down, and stow (we wrap it around a piece of cardboard):

Along the awning, we string solar-powered LED fairy lights. This is one of Anthony’s personal favorite spiff-ups. The lights add great yet non-obtrusive visibility under the awning, but they do more than that. Whenever we’ve been away from our campsite at night, the lights make the camper look cozy and welcoming, and we can’t wait to get back.

Make unused space useful.

A camper might have unoptimized space that you can use to your advantage.

For example, above the sink and above the counter next to the door, we hang lengths of chain to support coated wire shelves, the same sort you might put in a closet. Drying dishes now go above the sink, and we keep our camping stash of board games right next to the door, so it’s always easy to bust out a game.

Learn to tow a trailer and back it up.

We would practice hitching the trailer to our Subaru Outback, and now and again Anthony would tow the trailer over to a nearby school after hours. With the parking lot empty, he could practice backing the trailer.

Other ideas for getting the most out of your used pop up camper

Here are a few other things we’ve added and set up to help our camper work well for us:

Plastic drawer unit for silverware and kitchen tools.

When camping, we store this on a roll-a-table outside.

Crate o’ camp gear.

Ever see those long plastic crates that, say, farmers at a market might use to hold produce? We’d gotten one from friends ages ago, and it’s perfect for holding a few camp tools: rubber mallet, hatchet, water hose, and more. When camping, we tuck this crate near the trailer hitch, so these supplies are under cover but easily accessible. When the camper is closed down, the crate fits perfectly just inside the doorway.

Outside shoe bin.

Outside the camper, to the right of the door, we keep a collapsible mesh bin. Shoes go in there before coming inside. Along with cutting down the mess on the floor, it declutters the outside: Everyone knows where their shoes are, and no one is tripping over wayward footwear. Plus, it’s easy to clean: Just empty the bin, take it off to the edge of camp, and dump out sand and dirt and such.

Hang the essentials.

From the awning we hang a plastic shoe organizer (just like you might put on a closet door). This holds grab-and-go essentials, such as a box of matches, bug spray, sunscreen, sanitizer, masks, and a corkscrew. One pocket is usually kept free as a beverage holder.

Clothespin closet.

We got this idea from some friends: Near the door, we hang jackets and Anthony’s hat from the ceiling with clothespins. It’s a great way to use some vertical space, plus you can easily grab a jacket as you head out—and cut down on clutter by having somewhere to hang your hat when you come inside.

What’s next for our used pop up camper?

As we move into our second year of having our camper, we’ve got a few other improvements and fixes planned:

Replace the stove.

One evening while seasoning our cast iron griddle, we accidentally managed to melt part of our stove’s surround. Unfortunately, it makes it so we can’t use the stove. For now we’re using our Coleman folding camp stove.

Check the roof.

Now and again it’s good to check over the roof to make sure it’s watertight. We’ll be looking over the overall roof, and touching up sealant as needed.

Replace tires and repack bearings.

Since the camper is older, we also figured it’d be a good idea to get new tires and have the bearings repacked (but don’t ask me what that means; I just know that Jodie was calling shops earlier to ask about it).

Update curtains and other style touches.

Part of our vision for the camper will continue with redoing the cushions and reupholstering things like the bench cushions. We want an overall brighter color palate in the camper, so it always feels both cozy and fun.

Oh wow, talking about all this really has us ready to go camping! We hope you’re looking forward to some new adventures this year too.

A used pop up camper can be perfect for family travel

What are your favorite tips for helping your camper be awesome for you and your family?

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.

1 thought on “What to do when you get a used pop up camper”

  1. It’s great that you mentioned that pop-up campers can help you extend your summer. I would imagine that the type of traveling you want to do can affect the type of pop-up camper you should buy. Doing a lot of online research seems like a good way to make sure you buy the right camper.

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