For beginners who haven’t taken the plunge and bought an RV yet, a trailer attachment makes sense. This lets you get a feel for the driving, parking, and towing of an RV without the cost.
One of the most beloved trailer options is the humble pop-up tent trailer. This has plenty of room for storage, but it’s meant to be used for so much more than that.
With awnings that can pop up (hence the name), often on either side, you can camp out for a few hours or get some refuge from the sunlight. Once you’re ready to hit the road again, these awnings can collapse so they only take up minimal space.
While a pop-up tent trailer may sound like a great investment, you should still do your research before committing.
Here are 21 things to know about pop-up trailers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—to help you make a buying decision.
1. These Trailers Get Hot
Yes, I mentioned sitting under the awning to avoid the heat of the sun. Indeed, a camper’s pop-up trailer awning will protect you from sunburn and sweat, but what about the time you spend in the camper itself?
Okay, you don’t have to stress about sunburn in there. But sweat? Yeah…about that…
Listen, a pop-up trailer is not nor will it ever be an RV. That means space is going to be constrained no matter what (this will come up again later, so stay tuned).
Many campers are made of metal or wood, and the material is pretty thin. If you’re camping in the heat of springtime or summer, you’re going to start sweating fast. Even if you park in the shade, you’ll still feel the heat.
There are workarounds, but you’ll have to read on.
2. After the Rain, You May Have to Air Out the Trailer and Its Awnings
Rain, rain, go away, right?
For a pop-up trailer owner, the rain presents another problem besides simply putting a damper on your outdoor plans. Your awning is also going to get soaked through.
There are a few ways to prevent this. First, don’t sit under the awning if you know it’s going to rain. Second, make sure the awning is compressed as much as possible so it doesn’t get too wet.
If the awning is wet? You have to leave it open and let it sit until it airs out.
Speaking of airing out, it’s possible you may have to do the same with the trailer itself.
Depending on your window situation, rain may be able to get into your little trailer. This can be a major bummer.
Again, it’s best to take refuge away from the rain if you can. You may want to park your vehicle and trailer under cover of a building or garage until the rain passes. Otherwise, you’ll have to open the windows and let the trailer air out.
Don’t get lazy with this job. If you do, mold and mildew could sprout up, which would ruin your pop-up trailer for good.
3. You’ll Get a Real Feel for the Camping Lifestyle
Here’s a plus!
Hard-sided camper trailers may provide more refuge from the weather, but when you spend most of your time driving or sitting around, you’re not experiencing Mother Nature. Instead, it’s more like being back home or in your apartment.
Due to the small design and close quarters of a camper trailer, you almost have to get outside and get a taste for camping life. The awnings just beg to be opened on a warm afternoon before the stars come out at dusk.
So grab some firewood, hotdogs, and some s’mores ingredients, because you’re going to be camping. Make sure you have some ghost stories ready, and always keep spare batteries for your flashlight.
4. The Generator Can Be Really Noisy
Remember what I said before about thin walls? That was no joke. Pop-up trailers, for all their glory, often have simple construction. With their thin metal or wooden walls and ceilings, you’re going to hear your generator running all day or night.
Yeah sure, eventually you’ll get used to that constant hum. It’s still a nuisance, though.
Some people might find this endearing, while others will think it’s annoying. If you’re thinking about getting a pop-up trailer, though, it’s a reality you’re going to have to deal with.
5. These Trailers Tend to Be Lightweight
Look, if you’re bothered by the thin walls in these trailers, let’s turn a negative and make it into a positive.
If you’re a beginner who’s just getting into the RVing and camping lifestyle, you may be daunted by large motorhomes. After all, driving one of these is far different than commandeering even a large commercial truck.
There’s so much bulk to be responsible for. You’ll change the whole way you drive. You must make your turns earlier to calculate for the longer backside of the vehicle. You must start braking long before you actually have to so your RV can roll to a stop in time.
By driving a truck or SUV with a trailer attached, you don’t have those worries. Yes, you’ll probably have to tweak your driving technique here and there, but it won’t be a complete overhaul.
The lightweight size of pop-up trailers makes them much more maneuverable, especially when compared to behemoth RVs. You can get an idea of what it will be like commanding a bigger vehicle without all the weight.
6. Size Varies, and These Can Sometimes Fit in Your Garage
Besides the lightweight frame, pop-up trailers are also available in various sizes. That means if you really don’t need a lot of towing space, you can get a trailer that’s small enough that it fits in your garage when not in use.
This is beneficial for a few reasons.
First, you can just grab your trailer, tow it to your truck or SUV whenever you want, and be on the road. It’s as simple as that. You always have a backup weekend plan.
Second, you can save money. RV owners, when not driving their vehicles, usually rent out storage space in the winter months. Doing so for your trailer would be silly, since it’s not nearly as big as an RV, but hey, if that’s what you have to do, then that’s what you have to do.
Luckily, you have options. It’s worth going in your garage and clearing out the extra space for your trailer.
7. There’s Room to Live, Just Not Much
So can you actually plan extensive road trips for days and even weeks with a pop-up trailer?
Yes, of course you can. Just don’t expect to get much room to stretch.
Even the biggest trailer is going to feel a bit squished. That’s just the nature of these trailer attachments. That’s why so many pop-up trailer owners try to park on campsites and spend their evenings in tents. There’s somewhat more breathing room.
Don’t be disappointed, though. You’d be surprised what you can fit in your pop-up trailer. There’s room for a kitchen, a mini fridge, and even a bed in there. You won’t exactly be living the life of luxury, true. If you’re the rustic type who thrives being in the outdoors though, that won’t matter to you much.
8. Yes, You Can Get a Bathroom in There
What are you going to do when nature calls?
If you’re staying on a campground or park reserve for a week or so, there will certainly be some form of bathroom onsite. What if you’ve carved out your own path and you’re driving the open road with just you, your passengers, and your pop-up trailer?
Some trailer owners have managed to fit a whole bathroom in there. How, you ask?
Well, first of all, don’t expect the bathroom nook to the roomiest thing. It won’t be.
You may even have to install a storage shelf that you can fold down over the toilet lid when not in use so you can get all the room you can. This is known as a cassette toilet, and it’s great for those with a tiny pop-up trailer.
You’ll also have to get a water setup for a running toilet, shower, and sink.
Oh yeah, did we mention you can shower in your pop-up trailer?
Again, it is possible, but you may have to sacrifice a toilet for a shower. In lieu of that, your toilet may be reduced to a small portable plastic thing you’ll have to manually dump yourself.
It’s either that or invest in a big, expensive pop-up trailer.
The choice is yours, of course. As you can see though, you have plenty of options.
9. You’ll Need to Check Your Vehicle’s Tow Ratings
As I’m sure you know, you can’t just hitch any ol’ pop-up trailer to any vehicle. The heavier the trailer, the more powerful truck or SUV you need to tow it.
That’s why you have to learn about what’s called a tow rating.
Not sure what your tow rating is? Grab your owner’s manual and find out. If you somehow misplaced your owner’s manual, check out the manufacturer’s website. You should be able to find the tow rating there.
Listen, it’s really, really important you have an exact tow rating directly from the manufacturer. Your friends may know a lot about camping and RVing, but they don’t know your vehicle like you do. By assuming your tow rating, you could end up with the abovementioned situation, where your trailer is too big to tow!
10. Don’t Push the Tow Rating to the Limit with Your Camper
Okay, so now that you know your tow rating, what do you do with it?
This rating will limit which pop-up trailers you can buy. You can’t get any trailer that exceeds that rating.
Actually, you don’t want to even get close to your tow rating.
Wait, what? Why is that?
You have to accommodate for the extra weight that will come from passengers, gear, and additions like toilets, showers, refrigerators, and beds.
That’s why it’s better to pick a trailer that’s well below your tow rating limit. This way, you know you’ll have no difficulty towing it.
11. Heating and Air Conditioning Are Available
One of my points before was that pop-up trailers can get hot. If you’re the kind who likes driving in cold weather, you’ll find the opposite applies, too. The thin walls are not insulated and don’t really lend themselves to staying toasty.
Luckily, it’s possible to rig up your trailer with heating and air conditioning. Of course, these units should be as compact as possible to avoid taking up too much space and weight in your tiny trailer.
If you’re overly hot or cold inside but you don’t want to buy a full heater or AC unit for staying comfortable, you have other options.
A portable space heater is great for autumn and early winter road trips. In the spring and summer, a small, plug-in oscillating fan will add some cool air to your otherwise stifling trailer.
12. As Are Hot Water Heaters
If you have a shower or a stove in your trailer, then you’re going to need warm water at some point. Unless you plan on boiling all your water in pots (which is time-consuming), you need something that preheats the water for you.
A hot water heater can indeed fit in your trailer. You’re probably going to have to omit the heating/AC though unless your trailer is sizeable enough to fit both. This is where those portable space heaters and oscillating fans I mentioned before come in handy.
13. The More Collapsible the Items, the Better
I already talked about the cassette toilet, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As you start to buy items and gear for your pop-up trailer, you need to have the word “collapsible” etched into your brain.
I’m talking pop-up tables, collapsible seats, beds that can maybe fold up and push up against the wall, a mini fridge that can double as a storage space.
You’re going to have to be as creative as humanly possible and then some if you want basic amenities in a smaller pop-up trailer.
Also, let’s be real here: you may have to leave some things at home. It’s sad, but that’s the reality. Think about what are really necessities and what you can do without.
Be discerning. If you find something was more crucial for your trip than you thought, you can always go back home or pick up a replacement.
14. You Can Customize Your Camper, Creating More Storage Solutions
If you really can’t choose between having heating/AC or a working fridge, you don’t always have to. You can customize your camper your way.
I would recommend first adding a layer of insulation in the walls and floors. This will keep heat in during the colder months. It will also reduce the road noise and generator grumbles mentioned above.
Then I would suggest you build shelving or storage cubbies around the trailer. Try adding these to the walls and even the flooring. The more storage space you have, the better, after all.
15. Remodeling Your Camper Is Another Option
Now that your trailer is functional (hooray!), it’s time to start thinking about looks.
If your walls are made of wood, you may be able to paint over them so they’re a more appealing color. You can add some rugs or carpeting to the floor so it’s not cold at night (or during the daytime for winter trips). You may want to get some pressure-mounted curtain rods and install come curtains to keep the sun out in the morning while you or your passengers sleep. Pillows create a comfortable ambiance as well.
Your pop-up trailer is going to be your home away from home, so it might as well have some creature comforts. You own it, so now make it your own!
16. It’s Totally Okay to Go Used
Okay, you’re saying. By now, you’re starting to seriously think about getting yourself a pop-up trailer.
This seems like a feasible choice. You’re not ready for an RV yet, but your trailer will let you get a feel for one without the bulk.
Now let’s talk money.
I suggest visiting the National Automobile Dealers Association or NADA Guides website for the most up-to-date prices on pop-up trailers. When you’re ready to upgrade and buy an RV, you can also use this resource.
As I’m sure you know by now, a pop-up trailer won’t cost nearly as much an RV. That doesn’t mean it won’t set you back several hundred and sometimes even thousands of dollars.
That’s why some people opt to get a used trailer. There’s nothing wrong with that, except you want to be careful…
17. You Can Get a Camper for Relatively Cheap…Just Make Sure You Don’t Get Ripped Off!
Listen, some drivers out there are going to be willing to part with their pop-up trailers for less than $1,000. It definitely happens. I suggest you join some Facebook groups, browse Craigslist, and join a few RV communities to stay privy to these sales.
You know the old motto though, “you get what you pay for.” It’s possible for a trailer to look great in pictures but be crappy and barely functional in person.
It’s easy to use photo-editing programs like Photoshop as well as manipulate angles to make the trailer look nicer than it is. Filters can also oversaturate an image so even imperfections look artsy.
That’s why you should always, always see the trailer yourself before you finalize your purchase.
18. Be Wary of Trailers That Need Major Repairs
Another reason to see the trailer? It may be in need of serious work.
I’m not trying to allude that everyone who’s selling a used pop-up trailer for relatively cheap is trying to scam you. Far from it. That said, you should be aware of the signs of a scam so you can duck out before you sign a contract or worse, forward your money.
Sometimes the reason a camper is so cheap has more to do with cosmetics. The camper may require major repairs. Again, it’s easy to hide these problems in photos by being selective. You need to see and sit in the camper yourself.
If the frames of the trailer are bent, the lift system doesn’t work, or the canvas awnings are ripped to shreds, look for another seller. Similarly, beware of a cracked roof, roof and floor soft spots, and rotted wood in the roof or walls.
Could you fix these issues yourself or hire someone to do it? Sure. You’ll probably end up spending twice what you paid for the trailer, though. So much for saving money!
19. Minor Repairs Are Okay, Though
Listen, if you are indeed going used, then the trailer may not be perfect. That’s okay. The seller may suggest that the trailer will need minor repairs.
First, you should commend them on their honesty. If all you have to do is patch up the awning, make some small replacements, or ignore the dent in the metal wall, that’s alright. Those repairs won’t cost you too much.
Don’t eliminate all used campers as an option just because they need some TLC.
20. You Don’t Have to Make a Choice Overnight
You’ve spent hours browsing around online and combing through the Facebook groups looking for the ideal pop-up trailer. You just can’t find one that fits within your budget and is appealing, though.
Does this mean you should give up? No! Does it mean you should settle for the shoddy trailer that’s only a few hundred dollars? Definitely not!
It does mean you should pause the search for a while and try again another time. You want your trailer to be perfect, right? Or perfect for you, at least. That may take some time. Be prepared to wait. You just may be rewarded with the pop-up trailer of your dreams.
21. You Should Enjoy the Experience
Remember, above all else, owning a pop-up trailer is supposed to be fun.
That doesn’t mean you won’t do some hard work. From budgeting to researching to remodeling, you’re going to put a lot of heart and soul into your camper. The outdoorsy trips, incredible memories, and great bonding experiences you get will make all the work worth it.
A pop-up trailer is the ideal choice for those who want a taste of the RV lifestyle but aren’t quite sure if they’re ready to commit to such a big vehicle. These trailers hitch on to your truck or SUV for easy traveling.
That said, most trailers are small and can get hot easily. You’re also going to have to get used to smaller amenities like beds, toilets, and kitchen spaces.
If you can get past all that, though, you’ll find that a pop-up trailer is just as much—if not more—fun than driving an RV.