How To Buy Your First Fold Down / Pop Up Camper

About  Fold Down / Pop Up Campers

If your experience with camping is limited to tents on the ground, sharing a fold down camper with a friend or if you have no experience at all but want to start enjoying the great outdoors you should pay close attention to this blog.

First, why a fold down / pop up camper? 

First, they are much lighter in relation to regular hard sided campers and are easily towed by smaller vehicles.  Being lighter equates to better gas mileage and less wind resistance when towing.

Second, they usually sleep between 6 and 8 people.  The standard hard sized camper usually sleeps between three and eight but weighs much more and cost more, too.  Small families on a budget find the pop up camper much more economical.

Third, they are easy to store.  You can park them in your garage or in your backyard.  Being only 5-6 feet tall when folded down keeps the HOAs happy by reducing the visual impact from the street or on neighboring properties.

There are other important reasons to use a fold down camper.  One is ceiling height.  The typical hard sized camper has a ceiling height of 6’ to 6’2.  If you are tall or taller you will find the fold down camper much more comfortable than stooping over while moving around inside a traditional camper.   Also, by nature of their construction the fold down camper is far more airy and offers better outward visibility.

Different types of fold down campers are available.  On the surface they all appear to be similar.  However, on closer examination there are many differences and variations between types and classes of fold down campers.

Sizes and levels of appointment available.

Fold down campers come in box (floor size excluding hitch and bumper) sizes of 6 foot up to as much as 16 foot or more, with weights between 1400 all the way up to over 3500 pounds.

The size and level of appointment you select is determined by the following needs:

First, the towing capacity of the vehicle you will be using.  Most V-6 and V-8 engined vehicles can tow even the largest of fold down campers.  Towing a trailer of any type that is above the limits of your vehicle is dangerous and illegal and will shorten the life span of the car or truck you are using.  The amount your vehicle can safely tow can be found in the owner’s manual, by calling the dealer or manufacturer or by allowing your rv dealer to research that amount for you.  For liability purposes a reputable seller of rvs will not allow you to leave with something that could injure you or anyone else by being too heavy for your towing vehicle.  Aside from driveline horsepower and torque considerations, the capacity of the vehicles brakes to stop when carrying extra weight, the strength of the motor and transmission mounts to handle the extra torque from towing and the downward tongue weight (usually 10-12% of the trailer weight) on the bumper of the tow vehicle must be taken into account.

A second consideration to make is how many people you plan to accommodate.  The smallest of fold down campers will usually sleep 4-6.  The level of comfort is relative to what you are currently accustomed to.  Being better than a tent on the ground, these may still seem small if you compare them to 8, 10 or 12 foot box sizes, and referring back to your vehicle towing capacity this size may be all you can tow, so you may have to make do.  However, you must also remember that you will most likely be spending your awake time outside the fold down unless it is raining.  Also, an awning or screen room may be available to enhance the usable size of the smaller box.   Comfortably sleeping 8 or more will usually require a box size of 12 to 16 foot or more.

In most fold down campers there are beds on each end that pull outward from the center which are supported by poles from below or by aircraft class suspension cables from above, and for liability reasons are usually rated to carry over 1000 pounds.  Some fold downs have dinettes that convert into a bed that will sleep two, and a smaller slide out “goucho” bed that pulls out from an existing bench seat or sofa.  If you are accommodating just two people, a fold down that has the potential to sleep eight is just overkill in space utilization and excessive weight.

It is also important to note that both bed ends of the fold down must be fully extended to access the inside of the fold down even if only one end will be used.  There are a few example of fold down campers that accommodate only one or two people and I will discuss those later.

Additional Available Features

Today’s fold down camper has gone through 50+ plus years of research and development. Many optional accessories from that earlier era are now standard equipment.  The camper on wheels from the 1960’s could be found completely devoid of any additional features beyond fold out beds.

Most of today’s fold down campers have at the minimum a heater, sink with a small water system, stove, battery and a refrigerator.     Also available today are air conditioners, water heaters, showers, toilets, ovens, microwave ovens, televisions, heated beds, electric brakes and electric roof lifts.  Not all accessories are going to be important or of interest to you.  Keep in mind, these extras are both additional weight and cost.

Buy for the type of camping you plan on doing.

If your camping style is to use existing campgrounds with electrical hook ups, pressurized water, cable and sewer and/or campground shower/toilet facilities then you may not need all the added extras that are available.  Many people camp “off the grid”, meaning they see a nice spot and set up camp.     If you are going camping in the mountains or the seashore then you will probably not need air conditioning.   If you are camping where you will need air conditioning then you need to understand that you are only going to see about 20 degrees difference between the outside and inside temperatures at best, and you will definitely need 220 electrical service or a 3000-3500 watt generator for power.

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