5 Things We’ve Learned About Pop-Up Camping

Pop-Up Camping

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,

MelissaRose

Camping at Sly Park

Pop-Up Camping

This weekend was our very first trip in our new pop up camper! We went to the Sly Park campgrounds in Pollock Pines, California. The trailer worked out beautifully and we couldn’t have chosen a better weekend to escape the heat at home. We had a great time boating, fishing and hanging out with family and even learned a couple of things along the way too. Sly Park is located on Jenkinson Lake in Pollock Pines. It’s a little over an hour away from Sacramento in the mountains which makes it a great place to take a weekend away from the summer heat in the city. Jenkinson Lake is owned by El Dorado Irrigation District and provides drinking water throughout parts of the county. Because of this irrigation distribution, dogs and children in diapers are not allowed in the lake. There is also no personal watercraft allowed (ie: jet skis, wave runners, etc.) This keeps the campground fairly quiet and I would think keeps it a bit less crowded as well. There were many stand up paddle boards and kayaks, however, and plenty of fishing boats out on the lake. The water was gorgeous looking from the shore and on the boat. The blue-green color made it look almost tropical, especially compared to some of the other lakes near Sacramento. We ended up catching and releasing around 12 small trout on Saturday which was crazy, and if you look super close at the image below you can see one of two bald eagles that we spotted while we were out too.

There are 9 miles of hiking trails around Jenkinson Lake. I really, really wanted to do the hike out to the waterfall which is halfway along the 7 mile trail that goes around the entire lake. Unfortunately, since it was a short weekend and we ended up in or around the water for most of it, we didn’t end up hiking. Luckily, this beautiful place is pretty close so we could drive up just for the hike if we wanted to. The staff at Sly Park was super friendly from what little interaction we had with them. They have over 190 campsites around the lake with a camp host for each area. Many of the sites are water view, which if you have a chance to visit and snag one of these sites I definitely recommend. There are no hookups in any of the sites, but we didn’t let that bother us much. Luckily our little pop up trailer has an auxiliary battery for lights, water storage tanks for washing hands and dishes and my husband’s mom brought us a generator for powering the outlets (which we really only used to make coffee in the morning). We did not have the generator on the first morning we were there (we thought the battery might power the outlets), but thankfully there is a small market right outside of the park that sells coffee. If we were only going up for the day there are ten day use areas to choose from. We really liked the day use area near our campsite (called the Sierra Point day use area) because it sits on a long peninsula that juts out into the water. We spent most of our Saturday afternoon here visiting with family who had come up to picnic and bring the kids swimming. The boating was super fun too. My husband’s brother brought up his fishing boat and took us and our pup Nixie out on the water. It was the perfect weather for it, not too hot or cold, and Nixie did really well for it being only her second time on a boat. Here she is in the cuddy area posing for a picture 🙂

The campsites in our area were larger than we expected. Especially when they told us we could only have one motorhome/trailer in our site. We could have easily fit another small trailer, but it is what it is. If we would have had guests that were tent camping it would not have been an issue. The site was fairly level and was indicated as such on their website when I made the reservation. We were close enough to the vault toilets and a couple water spigots which was nice. If you don’t know what a vault toilet is, it’s basically a permanent port-a-potty. It’s a little creepy because it’s basically a giant hole in the ground with a bathroom sort of placed over the top of it. Thankfully they were fairly clean and it didn’t end up being as bad as I thought it would be. The site came with a fire ring, a standing barbecue and two picnic tables. There would have been plenty of room for us to have several guests in our site, but again, no other motorhomes or trailers were allowed and that’s what most of our family uses to camp. I loved the smell of the pines trees which filled the campsites and surrounded the lake. Looking up at the sky at night was also amazing. You could see so many stars and it was so dark inside the trailer once we went to bed that you could barely tell if your eyes were open or closed. We also appreciated how quiet the campground was after 10pm. We laid in bed and all we could hear was the whistling of the wind through the trees.

Obviously, since this was our first trip in the trailer we haven’t done any sort of renovating to it. It truly doesn’t need any work other than aesthetically. We were super comfortable in the larger bed, which we are thinking now might be a king size instead of a queen like we originally thought. I haven’t been able to find a floor plan online for this particular year and model anywhere so we just need to measure to figure it out. I was able to find places to put all of our camping gear even though we were worried about the minimal storage space. We did learn a few things while setting up and taking down the trailer. Since we had only taken it down the one time when we bought it we had to try and remember all the steps and pieces that went into assembling it. Overall it went fairly smoothly, and we didn’t yell at each other at all HAHA. Sorry, that’s sort of an inside joke based on past trips and watching other people set up campers. Seems like there’s just certain things sometimes that cause people to bicker and fight a bit (if you’ve ever been camping at all you probably know what I’m talking about), luckily that wasn’t the case for us on this trip. The pump sink (which I forgot to mention in my introductory post) worked great for dishes and washing hands and brushing teeth. The pop-up has two portable 5 gallon water storage tanks that sit inside under some of the seating. We were able to fill one of those up and use it for the weekend. The biggest thing we actually learned was remembering to remove the water from the trailer before packing up and leaving. This trip we accidentally forgot that we had left water inside of the seating. Fortunately, we remembered on the way home and we were able to easily pop-up the trailer just enough to climb in and grab the water and wipe out all the water that had spilled. Had we not remembered it could have meant some seriously devastating dry rot to the inside of the trailer.

We had such a great time at Sly Park and are already looking into booking another trip here. The pricing was super reasonable for what you get and with it being only about an hour away it was easy to pack up and leave on a Friday night after work and enjoy two nights away. We feel so blessed and grateful to have our new trailer. It worked out perfectly for us and is a great balance between tent camping and having a full on RV. I can definitely see us taking many more trips not just to Sly Park but to other areas as well, maybe even out of the state! Let me know below what your favorite camping spots are and if you use a tent or a trailer. We have been looking for new camping spots within California especially that we can take quick weekend trips too. We feel so fortunate that there seems to be an abundance of them fairly close to us, and we can’t wait for our next adventure!

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Buying a Pop-Up Camper: What to look for

Pop-Up Camping

My husband and I love to camp. There’s something so relaxing and freeing about getting out into the wilderness for even just a night, and living in California affords us so many options for places to go. The past few years, we haven’t gone camping as much as we have wanted to. We take a week long trip in May every year, but other than that we haven’t been able to make it out much. Between buying a new house, issues with the camper we were using previously and other scheduled trips we just didn’t have time to get out into the wilderness. This year though, we decided we wanted to try and get out more. What better way to do that than to have a camper trailer that was accessible to us at all times and ready to go at a moments notice. So we started shopping. We learned alot about what we needed and wanted throughout the process. Firstly, we knew that we needed something that we could fit into our garage since we don’t have RV parking at our house. We didn’t want the extra expense of storage and we didn’t like the idea of having to go somewhere else to pick it up before we were able to head out. This basically made it next to impossible to buy anything but a pop-up camper trailer, also known as fold out camper trailers or tent trailers. This realization didn’t bother us one bit. Once we knew what we could fit, we started thinking about all the other things we needed to consider and look for when shopping for our pop up. So, I thought I would use our experience to create a new section on my blog – Pop-Up Camping. This post will outline what to look for, and future posts will tell you about our adventures in pop-up camping including trips, set up and tear down, organizational tips, makeover stories and more. I hope you enjoy! Now let’s get into the things you should look for when buying a pop-up camper.

Budget

This first consideration may seem like a no-brainer, but the first thing you need to think about before even looking at pop-ups is your budget. Sure, it can be super fun to look at dealerships and websites and dream about your new pop-up, but if you’re limited on price it’s better to know before you start drooling over what you can’t afford. When we bought our camper, we knew we wanted to stay around $2,000. Once looking online we figured this gave us enough money to get something nice but older and hopefully something that didn’t need any mechanical work and only minor cosmetic work if any. We wanted something functional and mechanically sound so that we could take it camping as soon as possible. If you have more to spend, consider looking at options below your budget that will give you money leftover for supplies if you need them. We had to look for a few weeks to find something that fit our needs and our budget, but once we found what we were looking for, it was totally worth the search and the wait. Keep in mind that pricing may vary depending on your area. Many campers I saw in other states were quite a bit cheaper than in California for whatever reason. I even saw some that were under $1,000 in certain states. This may be because of the wage limits or cost of living, but just wanted to throw that in there since $2,000 may seem like alot more to people who live in other more reasonably priced areas.

Size

Size matters when it comes to pop-up campers – especially if you have parking restrictions, a large number of people to sleep, or a smaller vehicle for towing. For us, the sleeping capacity was not as important as our ability to fit the trailer in our garage while also still affording us space to reach our washer and dryer and fit my hubbies motorcycle. However, we did want to make sure that there was enough sleeping room for us, our three dogs, and an extra bed for friends and family when necessary. We have a larger SUV so weight was not something that was a huge factor, but if you have a smaller 6 cylinder vehicle or similar it’s important to also factor in how much your vehicle can tow. Camping World’s website has a great feature that will help you determine what you can tow based on the make and model of your vehicle. Check that out here. Another important consideration is parking space. Measure out where your trailer is going to live and make sure that whatever trailer you purchase will fit into that space. We found that the most important dimension to check was the trailer length, since most pop-up camper trailers are right around 7-8 feet wide. Sleeping capacity could also be something that you may need to consider. If you have children or often take people with you on your camping trips it’s important to make sure everyone has somewhere to sleep. Most pop-up camper trailers feature full size (or comparable) beds that pop out on either side and one dinette that folds into a bed. Sometimes there are other seating areas (like in our new trailer) that also fold down into beds. The dinettes are sometimes smaller twin beds, but I have also seen pop-up camper dinettes that fold down into full-size beds as well. Overall, you want to make sure that you have enough space to fit everybody comfortably – pups included!

Amenities

Amenities are things I would consider to be wants more than needs from a camper. For example, one of my amenities that I knew I wanted in our new trailer was that the stove would move from the inside of the trailer to the outside for outdoor cooking. Now, this wasn’t necessarily a make it or break it feature (since I could always purchase a small outdoor camping stove as well), but it was something that I looked for when looking at trailers. Other amenities to think about would be things like, do you want your trailer to have a refrigerator? Does it need to have a toilet or shower? Do the amenities run on propane or electricity or only full hook-ups? All of these items will make a difference in your experience camping if they are things that you are either used to having or want to have on your trips. For us, we knew we wanted a refrigerator but also knew we didn’t want a toilet or a shower in our camper. We typically stay in places that have full plumbing and showers available and so we didn’t want the unnecessary hassle of having a black water tank on board our trailer. Plus, the idea of having a tank of waste kind of grosses me out. We figured that by eliminating the need for this amenity we could also lengthen the life of our trailer by having one less item that may require ongoing (and stinky) maintenance. One of the last amenities we thought alot about was the amount of storage available in the camper. Since we had been using another camper trailer, we already have a stock pile of camping supplies that we knew needed to fit in our new trailer unless we were willing to downsize. In thinking about it, we realized we could probably part ways with some of our supplies since we don’t use them and that we could simplify our needs to fit into the storage area available without sacrificing what we need. Each family’s needs may be different depending on the type of camping they do and what’s important to them during trips. I find it best to make a mental list of what those amenities are either before or while shopping for your new camper trailer.

Condition

Once you’ve decided all of your restrictions and desires you can start the fun part – looking for your new pop-up trailer! There are many things to look for and many questions to ask the seller when shopping for a new pop-up trailer. First, check all of the canvas and make sure there are no tears, rips or holes. The canvas can be one of the most expensive things to replace on a camper so it’s important to make sure that the one you’re buying is worth the money you’re paying. If there are tears in the canvas and you don’t mind spending another couple grand to replace it be sure to factor that into your offer price. Keep in mind that smaller tears can be patched, but I haven’t done this myself and so cannot attest to the level of complication or the skill needed to do that. Ask the seller where the unit has been stored, if they are the first, second or third owner (or whatever!), and ask them how long the trailer has gone unused. This question is important because I’ve actually heard that the worst thing you can do for a camper or rv of any kind is to let it sit unused. Have them walk you through all of the amenities to ensure that everything works. Plug in the electrical, check the pilot lights and overall have the seller show you that everything works. You’re not being a dick – you can trust people all day long, but it’s important to protect yourself especially in the case of the seller not knowing that something may not be functioning as it should. Also be sure to check the structural integrity of the trailer. Check for dry rot in the subfloor, any possible leaks or sagging in the top, and make sure that the lift system for setting the camper up is functional. When we bought our trailer, the seller even walked us through taking the entire trailer down so that he could show us that everything was in working order. A pop-up camper is an investment, and it’s important to do your due diligence to make sure everything is in working order before purchasing, otherwise you’ll just be stuck with something you won’t be able to enjoy as you should. A great resource can be found on ThePopUpPrincess.com where they have a three page PDF document of questions you can ask your seller before purchasing.

I think that’s pretty much everything you need to look for when purchasing a used pop-up camper. Stay tuned for more posts about camping with a pop-up trailer such as camping adventures, how-to posts and makeover process posts. Let me know in the comments below if you like to camp with a pop-up trailer and if you have any suggestions on fun posts for the future!

Until next time,

MelissaRose