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Not much has been spared from the clutches of materialism in our consumer-crazed world, not even the age-old pastime of camping.
Take a trip to any campground these days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone using a tent. Large travel trailers, expensive pickup trucks, and motorhomes equipped with amenities that rival a custom-built home occupy most campsites.
Are tent trailers, also known as pop-up campers, the solution? They might offer the perfect blend between tents and full-scale RVs, at an affordable price. In this post, I’ll share my experience with tent trailer camping, and let you know what makes them a great fit for families with kids.
The Early Years…
I never really camped as a kid. I mean, I did on a couple of occasions, but it wasn’t a pastime that we took up as a family. But regardless of my lack of exposure to camping early on, as I got older, it was always something I felt I would want my kids to experience.
Fast forward to eight years ago.
A friend of mine was taking his two boys camping at a nearby provincial park and called to ask if my son, who was around ten at the time, wanted to join them.
It was just one night, but I thought it would be a cool experience, so I quickly agreed. As it turned out, one night was all it took; I was hooked. I can recall the very moment I realized it.
A Sky Full of Stars
It was late in the evening, the boys had gone to sleep, and my friend and I were sitting by the fire, deep in conversation. I leaned back, and in the darkness, could make out the tops of the towering pines, swaying gently as the breeze moved through them. The trees appeared as black shadows against the night sky.
Above them was a canopy of stars. Without the pollution from house lights and street lamps, it’s incredible how brilliant the night sky becomes.
I distinctly recall how peaceful it felt and thinking how much I wanted my family to share the experience.
Based on my very romantic description above, I highly recommend camping to anyone. But there’s more to it than a starry sky.
When you’re camping, there’s no plan – no alarm clocks, no morning commute, and no meetings. You get things done, but you do them on your own time. The oft-harried pace of daily life is placed on pause for a few days. And it’s an easier environment than most to put down your phone and connect with real people.
Camping Can Be Very Expensive
…but it doesn’t have to be.
If you’re interested in taking up camping but tenting is too hardcore for your taste, owning a tent trailer or pop-up camper can be a great alternative.
While it’s important to pack the camping essentials, there’s no need to fork out tens of thousands of dollars on a luxury RV, not to mention the expensive pickup truck you would need to tow it.
Our Tent Trailer Camping Experience
That night my son and I spent camping with my friend and his boys had me hooked.
The following summer, my wife and I purchased a used tent trailer from my brother-in-law, who decided to, you guessed it, upgrade to a much larger and fancier RV.
6 Benefits of Pop-Up Campers
We’ve had our pop-up camper for seven years now, and we love it more than ever. In fact, I believe that just might be the best way to camp for families with kids.
To help convince you, I’ve created the following list of tent trailer camping benefits. I’ve also taken the time to dispel a few myths.
Tent Trailers Are Economical
We purchased our used tent trailer for $2000 nine years ago. I replaced the wheels this spring for $140, but aside from that, it hasn’t cost us a penny. Compare that to $25,000+ for a new travel trailer, financed over 15 or 20 years, not to mention the expense of having to own a pickup truck to tow it around.
Pop-Up Campers Allow the Air to Flow
This may be my favorite thing about camping in a pop-up vs. the hard-shelled variety. Because you can unzip the screens on all sides, it’s easy to get plenty of air flowing through the camper. On a summer night under a starry sky, nothing feels better.
Tent Trailers Sleep a Ton of People
Tent trailers can sleep more people than even the most enormous luxury RVs. A friend of mine has a larger tent trailer (12′ box), which sleeps ten people!
Ours has a 10′ box and sleeps eight comfortably. On one end, there’s a king-sized bed, and a double on the other. Two benches pull out into a double and single bed. It’s more than enough room for our family of five, with space for one of the kids to bring a friend along.
If you feel the need to spread out, you could always purchase a tent to pitch outside the camper. We haven’t needed for that, but it is an option.
Related Post: 50 Fun Things to Do While Camping
Pop-Up Campers Are Easy to Tow
Here is where small pop-up campers have a distinct advantage over much larger and heavier travel trailers. That is, a minivan or small SUV can tow them with ease. There’s no need to own an expensive gas-guzzling pickup truck or monster SUV. We own a 2005 Toyota Sienna with a 3.3L engine. It has a towing capacity of 3500 pounds, which is more than enough for a pop-up tent trailer.
If you have a vehicle that can tow a small pop-up camper, but it doesn’t have a trailer hitch, you can pick one up for a few hundred dollars and have it installed by a mechanic. Here’s a trailer hitch that’s similar to what we have. Before you buy, it’s essential to check the towing specs for your specific vehicle to make sure you get the right trailer hitch.
Pop-Up Campers Are Easy To Store
When camping season is over, you need a place to park your RV. Unless you own acreage, you likely have to pay someone to store it for you. Prices vary but start upwards of $100/month.
Our tent trailer sits on an 8 X 10 foot set of patio stones in our backyard, and we can quickly move it in and out with our van.
A Tent Trailer Duobles As a Sunroom
We keep our tent trailer set up in our driveway when we’re not camping during the summer months. In other words. It makes for the perfect sunroom! I’ll grab an afternoon nap there, use it as my summer “office” where I do my writing, and the kids will often use it for sleepovers with friends.
Dispelling Myths of Tent Trailer Camping
There are several myths about pop up campers that I would like to dispel, starting with perhaps the #1 complaint that you hear
Tent Trailers Leak
The slide-outs on a trailer tent are covered with canvas, so people often assume that water can easily penetrate the surface when it rains.
In the seven years, we’ve owned our tent trailer, we’ve endured many a rainy day. I can say that we haven’t had a drop of water get inside the camper during that time.
Of course, you do have to be careful not to get rips or tears in the canvas, and if it is wet outside, it’s essential to avoid touching the canvas from the inside, or water could saturate through. I highly recommend that you keep a screen repair kit handy. This way, if you do get a tear, you’ll be ready to make a quick repair.
Pop-Up Campers Lack the Creature Comforts of an RV
Our pop-up trailer has a furnace that keeps us perfectly warm on some relatively cool evenings early in the camping season. It also has a small refrigerator.
To ensure there’s always space to keep perishable food cold, I picked up this Coleman electric cooler, which we also use on long road trips in our van. To save space inside, we leave our cooler plugged in outside the camper on a picnic bench, where it’s easily accessible.
Another option, which will save you money, is to pick up a Marine-style cooler, which aren’t powered but are well insulated and can keep ice for up to 6 days! Another advantage to this type of cooler is that you get them in much larger sizes to hold more stuff, which is perfect for a larger family.
Our pop-up camper also has a stove that you can set up inside or outside, and I never forget to bring this electric griddle along to make pancakes, bacon, and eggs in the morning. I never leave home without it!
If the campsite has a water supply (sometimes they do, occasionally they don’t), we can use a garden hose to connect the sink in our tent trailer. This allows us to do dishes or wash up. I bought a separate garden hose like this one that we only use for camping. It doesn’t have to be very long; 10-25 feet is more than enough.
Making Coffee In a Pop-Up Camper
Here’s a GREAT tip for all the coffee lovers out there. If you don’t want to compromise on your coffee when camping away from home, you must pick up an Aeropress. Have you heard of it? It’s like a portable french press that’s perfect for the road.
In my opinion, it’s the absolute best way to make coffee while camping. The flavor is far superior to percolated coffee, and it’s effortless to clean. When finished, you tap the grinds into the garbage. We also bring a traditional coffee maker, but we never leave home without the Aeropress.
Related Post: 46 Best Camping Essentials for 2021
Drawbacks of a Pop-Up Camper
I’ll admit, tent trailer campers do have a few limitations when it comes to amenities. While some larger models come equipped with toilets, most do not, and they certainly don’t have a dedicated washroom or shower.
Most campgrounds have restroom facilities that people prefer to use, as they tend to be spacious and clean.
Our pop-up camper doesn’t have air conditioning, though some tent trailers do. With the abundance of air flowing through our camper, however, it’s not often that I wish I had A/C.
Tent Trailer Set Up and Tear Down
This is one advantage that a hard shell RV has over small pop-up campers. There is a moderate inconvenience in setting up and tearing down a tent trailer before and after using it.
But it’s not as much work as it may seem. When we arrive at a campsite, we can do a full set up in about 15 or 20 minutes. The same goes for tearing down when we leave. In my mind, it’s a small price to pay for all of the other benefits.
Final Thoughts on Camping in a Pop-Up Trailer
We’ve owned our pop-up tent trailer for eight years now, and I hope to have it for many more. If it sounds like something you’d enjoy, but you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, consider renting one for a weekend to try it out. These days, apps like Outdoorsy and Rvezy make it possible to rent pop-up campers without making a substantial financial commitment.
In the meantime, I’d love to get your thoughts, and your best tent trailer camping stories, in the comments below. 🙂