Last weekend was our first trip in our new (to us) pop-up camper. We were so excited to try it out and see what the differences would be from camping in a small contained trailer. We learned a few things along the way that I thought I would share here. Some things were trial and error and others were just giant realizations as to how this new way of camping would differ from what we’d done in previous years. We had a great time in our new trailer and we are so happy that we decided to take the plunge.
Leave Time for Setup and Tear Down
This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you go from camping in a fully contained trailer to a pop-up trailer you may not necessarily think about the time it will take to set everything up or take everything down. For us, it was our first time setting it up by ourselves so we really had no idea what to expect. We left for our trip on Friday after work. We didn’t leave work early, which we probably should have to give ourselves a little more time, but ended up making it to our campsite around 7:30pm. This didn’t end up being too late really, it was summer solstice so the longest day of the year, but it did make us feel a bit rushed to set up so that we could get some dinner (and drinks) started. I think the part that took the longest was learning how to level out the pop-up. We’d leveled out the contained trailer we had used before, but knew that our new trailer had to be completely level otherwise the pop-up functionality may not work properly. The other trailer we used previously could be slightly unlevel if we were feeling lazy or if the site just didn’t want to cooperate. This did lead us to consider purchasing some extra supplies for our pop-up such as some leveler blocks, but maybe I’ll do a separate post on that. All in all, we got it done with enough time to get the beds made and dinner in our bellies, but had it been later in the year, it may have been too dark to comfortably set everything up. The same thing goes for tear down as far as time management. We had to check out of our site at noon, so being up earlier was imperative to making sure we had time to tear down. This wasn’t as difficult since the previous owner had walked us through how to do it, but again took more time than getting the contained trailer ready. Overall, my take-away was to make sure we leave enough time for set up and tear down. Making sure this 45 minutes or so of work is factored into the time of arriving and departing will make things easier and less stressful. We do hope that as we continue to take more trips that we get faster at being able to do it as well.
Make Sure Everything is Packed Before Tear Down
Again, this may seem like an obvious tip, but as a new pop-up owner, I didn’t think it would be such a huge deal! Everything inside of the pop-up must be completely and entirely flat before you can start pushing in the beds. This may mean rearranging cushions in a weird way or stashing stoves under tables on special racks. In our camper, just one of the pillows that goes with the dinette actually moves into a different area entirely so that the kitchenette portion can fold down and sit on a piece of wood, instead of on top of the cushions. We didn’t know this at first. We thought we had everything folded down and went to push the larger of the two beds in and it wouldn’t budge. Of course, my husband, being the man that he is, thought it was a matter of pressure – push harder and it will go in. Suddenly a heard a faint cracking sort of noise. I rushed into the trailer and realized what was happening. Luckily, nothing was broken but it was a decent lesson learned to be sure. I removed the cushion and folded the kitchenette all the way down. We pushed the bed again and voila! It was all good to go. The other big lesson we learned about packing up was in regards to our water storage tanks. We did not have hook-ups at this particular site, so we filled up one of the 5 gallon water storage jugs inside the trailer. This was great for using water, but again was not something we were used to with the contained trailer. We got the trailer packed up and hit the road when all of the sudden, I remembered that we hadn’t removed the jug from inside of the trailer. It was still connected to the sink and sloshing around inside of its compartment under some of the seats. We knew this wouldn’t be good for the interior, however if we popped the trailer up just enough when we got home to remove the jug and dry out the area it might be okay. So we got home, did just that, and were so glad that we remembered it was in there as there was some spillage under the seats. This was a big lesson, but thankfully I don’t think we’ll forget it again. In the end, this is something that is a great lesson to learn and is really just part of us learning how our new camper works.
Makeovers Aren’t Always Necessary
We are so fortunate to have found a camper that is in as good of condition as ours is. It’s clean with no smells or tears and has all the curtains, mattresses and amenities in tact. Looking at Pinterest and Facebook groups for pop-up owners can make it tempting to want to rehab the inside of our trailer. But since using ours we realized it’s not at all necessary for us. Eventually it may be fun to make things a little more stylish, but in the end we are using it for camping. It’s going to get a little dirty, it’s going to see some wear and honestly, I think it might hurt more if I spent days renovating only to see it covered in gunk. This isn’t to say that I might not make new cushion covers and curtains and paint eventually, but right now it’s just not a necessity. I realize that not all of us are so lucky. Sometimes pop-up campers need the rehabbing and the deep cleaning to make them feel livable. Fortunately, for ours we can take our time and not stress about doing it right away even if it means dealing with the 90’s style fabrics for a little while.
Don’t Overload the Trailer for Travel
This lesson was something we actually learned with our contained trailer but also applies here. Having the extra space in a trailer is great for camping. You have extra room to store and pack items for travel without overloading the car and potentially opens up more seating. However, it’s important not to overload the trailer as well. If you’re going to pack items in the trailer, it’s important to pack things in a balanced way. This means loading the same amount of weight towards the front and the back of the trailer. You don’t want to put all the weight on one side as it may cause problems for towing. When packing, make sure you’re keeping track of which items are moving to the front, which are going to the back and what items can be packed into the middle for optimal balancing. I typically try to pack the lightest items I can in the trailer. Things like bedding, chairs, towels, fishing gear, etc. The heavier items, like ice chests, pop-up day tents and tubs of food can go in the back of the SUV. If you’re going to load heavier items in your trailer, just make sure that the weight is balanced back to front. This will save you trouble with towing along the way and will even help your trailer to be more aerodynamic which will save on gas during your travels. I think it can be tempting to over pack a pop-up trailer since there seems to be so many nooks and crannies once you fold everything down, but if you can pack things in your vehicle too, I would recommend that. Plus, it makes it easier for when it’s time to set up your camper since you aren’t having to remove a bunch of items beforehand.
Storage, Storage, and More Storage
When my husband and I were looking at pop-up trailers we realized that we would have to either downsize our camping supplies or figure out new storage solutions. The previous trailer we were using had a full on closet, several overhead cabinets plus all the lower cabinets and kitchen cabinets you’d expect to find in a fully contained trailer. Pop-ups don’t have as many cabinets (at least the ones we looked at). It seems that the newer models did take this into account when coming out with new floor plans, but the older models really only have a handful of cabinets to store your things. Ours has exactly 3 cabinets and one large drawer. The drawer and one of the cabinets is fairly large, but it doesn’t leave alot of room for just tossing things to be put away. What I ended up doing for our first trip was using a plastic set of three drawers that I purchased at Goodwill for around $3. I set it up on a counter and used it to hold all of the items that would eventually need replenishing – trash bags, soap, toilet paper, foil, etc. This way, before camping trips, instead of popping up the trailer all we have to do is remove the set of drawers and replace whatever is inside. This works out perfectly because the drawers can still be stored inside of the trailer on the floor and be ready to go when we decide to go on a trip. If you have more supplies than what can fit in your trailer, you could also use this method with other tubs or sets of drawers and have a quick and easy place to access everything you need. The tubs can then be placed outside or in the back of your vehicle so they are out of the way when you’re using your camper. I still need to figure out more storage solutions that will be helpful while we’re actually camping, but that lesson won’t be learned until we are able to take more trips (which will hopefully be soon!).
These lessons are just the start of what we will learn in our pop-up camping adventures. I hope they are helpful to anyone else who may be considering turning to pop-up camping. I love it because I think it really is the closest you can get to tent camping without actually having to sleep on the ground. The set up and tear down is definitely more work than a contained trailer, but sometimes I think that’s half the fun. Let me know if you’re looking into getting a pop-up camper, or if you already have one, and if you’ve learned any lessons along the way!
Until next time,