5 Pop-Up Camping TipsBy Meg Jernigan; Updated June 08, 2017
Savvy camper secrets for pop-up success
Pop-up campers occupy the middle ground between tents and fully contained RVs. Basically a solid box on wheels, pop-ups are lighter and easier to maneuver than big rigs. The ends pull out, the roof lifts and canvas unfolds to create a fully-enclosed space with many of the comforts of home. Successful pop-up enthusiasts know that practice and organization are essential.
Organization is key to successful pop-up camping. Measure the height of the interior space when the pop-up is folded down, and purchase watertight storage bins to slide into the space. Store like items in each bin – cooking gear in one, clothing in another. When the pop-up is open at the campsite, store the bins outside under the beds to keep floor space in the inside clear. Use a folding hamper for dirty clothes and empty it into a trash bag when it’s full. Pack the bag near the door when breaking camp so the dirty wash will be handy when you get home. Though the temptation might be strong, don’t take shortcuts when it’s time to pack up. Things will be easier to find at the next campsite.
Without practice, backing up a trailer is an ordeal. Find a wide-open parking lot, set out traffic cones and back into a variety of imaginary spots, like a tight campsite or a narrow road. Experts recommend putting one hand in the six-o’clock position on the steering wheel of the tow vehicle because the pop-up will turn in the same direction as the direction you turn your hand. Practice hitching the trailer to the tow vehicle, and remember to attach the safety chain and the electrical connections. Setting up the camper multiple times until you can do it in a matter of minutes is good preparation for dealing with inclement weather at the campsite.
A bubble level is a must-have for setting up a pop-up camper. Uneven ground leads to a tilted camper, and a tilted trailer can damage the refrigerator and make walking around inside unsettling. Place the level on top of the camper before opening it up, set the jacks and then check the level. Adjust the jacks until the camper is level. Assemble a tool kit with basics such as a socket wrench set, screwdrivers and duct tape. A set of two-way radios comes in handy when backing into a campsite with a spotter telling you which way to turn. Pack extra bulbs for the trailer lights and a voltmeter to check for electrical shorts.
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Pack only essential clothing. Extra underwear is always nice, but if you’re not going to wear it, leave it at home. Compensate for leaving a favorite bathrobe at home by packing modest, warm pajamas to wear to the bathhouse in the middle of the night. Leave expensive items at home that might get damaged. Limit toiletries to the basics like soap and a single hairbrush. Perfumes and other scented items draw bugs; don’t wear them or hang air fresheners in the pop-up. Leave the big camera with its bulky bag, lenses and tripod at home unless photography is the express purpose of the trip. Smartphones take great candid shots.
Jargon rules in the discussion of tow capacity: tongue weight, dry weight, axle weight, gross vehicle weight. Check the tow vehicle’s manual for the amount of weight the vehicle is rated for, both loaded and unloaded. Pop-up campers typically weigh between 600 to 2,000 pounds, unloaded. Use a van or a pickup truck with a cap as a tow vehicle. The extra storage space helps free the pop-up's interior of clutter. Consider installing larger mirrors on the tow vehicle for added visibility. And, since a pop-up is basically a fancy tent, campers need to take the same precautions in bear country as tent campers.