Buying a Pop-Up Camper: What to look for

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

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