Pop-Up Campers vs. Expandable Trailers

Pop-up Campers and Expandable trailers are comfortable, lightweight, affordable family options for camping; one is a step up from tent camping, the other a step closer to a full-featured RV.

Pop-Up Campers

Affordable pop-up campers have been a popular camping option since the 1950s because many are light enough to be towed by a large car or mini van and spacious enough when fully opened to sleep a family in high and dry comfort.

Vintage Pop-Up camper: Image provided by Vintage Teardrop Trailer Plans Reprints

Vintage Pop-Up camper: Image provided by Vintage Teardrop Trailer Plans Reprints

Today’s pop-up campers can be outfitted with the bare necessities or loaded with luxuries, but the basics haven’t changed much: Pop-up campers fold down into a box that’s about four feet deep, built on a single axle trailer that ranges from about 8 to 18 feet long. The beds, or bunks, slide in when the pop-up folds down and pull out from either end when it’s time to make camp. The hard top cranks up manually or electrically, carrying the attached tent with it. A simple brace and pole system holds the tent up over the bunks.

The basics for life are loaded into the box dimensions of a pop-up camper. In smaller models that includes a sink and cabinet, dinette that converts to another sleeping area, credenza or sofa that doubles as storage and a place to cook with a camp-style stove. A tiny bathroom, built-in-stove and a slide out for the dinette may be included in larger models. Most pop-up campers will include the option to cook outside and some come equipped with an outdoor shower.

If you love tent-style camping – cooking and relaxing in the outdoors — but not sleeping on the hard ground, a pop-up camper is a great choice. In good weather, the canvas windows unzip all around the camper, inviting cool breezes to flow through screens and around the camper. When the weather turns, zip the camper up to stay dry and squeeze the family in around the dinette for games and conversation.


For those who crave more home-like comfort, think again. Most pop-ups do not feature residential style mattress and home-like appliances. Even the most deluxe pop-up will have a limited bathroom and many won’t have one at all. Because everything, including the kitchen sink, fits into the box, there isn’t room much room left for walking around; more than two people standing at the same time can be a challenge.

While there’s no RV easier to tow than a pop-up camper, few require more labor to prep, set up and take down. Because everything pushes in and folds down, stocking and prepping your camper means cranking it up and pulling out the bunks. Taking down these campers requires you to take down support poles, zip-up and fold down tent tops, bring everything inside down to floor level and push in the bunks — then crank down the tent when it’s time to pack up.

The whole process repeats when it’s time to unpack. If the trailer was folded down in the rain or with the early morning dew still on the tent, fully extend the camper and keep it open until the tent top is completely dry or risk mildew in your camper.

2012 Forest River Surveyor Sport SP-191T

2012 Forest River Surveyor Sport SP-191T

Expandable Trailers

When your camping life expands to longer trips and maybe a couple more bodies, consider an expandable trailer for more of the comforts of an RV, while retaining the joys of sleeping under a tent top.

Expandable travel trailers generally boast aluminum frame construction to keep down weight and can range from 14 to more than 20 feet. The unloaded vehicle weight generally ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 pounds making expandable trailers towable by some SUV and lighter-weight trucks. While not as compact as a pop-up camper, expandable trailers are among the lightest bumper-towed RVs.

2016 Forest River Salem 38RLT

2016 Forest River Salem 38RLT – $22,900.00

An expandable camper is the perfect choice for those who crave more comfort and home-like convenience, but lack the “oomph” of a heavy-duty towing vehicle. Space-efficient and lightweight expandable campers share looks with small, standard hard-sided, bumper-towed trailers, until it’s time to set-up. To expand the camper’s sleeping capacity, all you have to do is park and level and lower tent-covered bunks on one or both ends.

Expandable trailers can come equipped with many of the amenities that Rvers expect, including small entertainment centers, complete bathrooms and indoor-style kitchens. For those considering a small hard-sided trailer, but have concerns about the small footprint, expandable trailers are worth a look. With the beds external to the hard-sided body, the entire footprint of the expandable travel trailer is dedicated to living space, creating room for comfortable seating and moving about.

Interior of a Forest River Salem Expandable Trailer

Interior of a Forest River Salem Expandable Trailer

With no beds pushed into the hard-sided trailer or top to crank up, the camper can be prepped before your trip without opening the bunks. Because the bunks fold onto the walls of the camper, rather than pushing in, there’s also no need to open the beds to take shelter. This is known as “turtling” and any camper who has put up or taken down a pop-up in a driving rain storm, understands its value.

Most expandable trailers will include a dinette that converts to a bed, so if bad weather continues into the night, stay warm and dry without the loss of any of the camper’s functionality; a pop-up owner will say it beats sleeping in the tow vehicle or putting up a soggy, drippy tent top.

With its merits of space, weight efficiency and comfort, an expandable trailer still brings with it the wide-open feel of tent camping – and the challenges, including condensation and less protection from weather extremes. While not requiring the physical effort of a pop-up camper, it lacks the pull in and park convenience of other trailers.

The Right Travel Trailer

Pop-up campers and expandable travel trailers pack great camping value into small, lightweight packages. Choose the right travel trailer for your family by understanding your own habits and requirements.

Know how much weight your vehicle can safely tow; pop-up campers will be lighter with a low profile that does not require special mirrors or extensions. Decide how much work you want to do when you get to camp and evaluate your physical abilities. An expandable travel trailer will be easier to set up than a pop-up, but a standard travel trailer with self-contained beds will beat them both for ease of setup.

Pop-up campers are great options for extended weekends and family vacations at a camping resort, but may be the wrong choice for long road trips that require setting up every night, or long-term camping, when the cozy quarters and relative lack of amenities might feel a little too small and spartan.

For those who enjoy the sounds of nature and can sleep through the late-night partiers two campsites down, either travel trailer is the right choice. If things that go bump in the night and rustle in the woods are unnerving, consider a standard hard-side trailer.

Begin your camping journey with the experts at Crossroads Trailers, who will help you assess your camping needs and show you a selection of the right travel trailers for your next adventure.



Winter Camping Treks in New Jersey

Don’t let a mantle of snow give you a case of cabin fever; New Jersey’s great outdoors is still calling. With a clutch of year-around campsites available and a collection of activities and scenic vistas, enjoy the real New Jersey minus the summer crowds.

Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area

Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area

Go North

New Jersey’s Great Northwest is home to state parks and forests that welcome outdoor enthusiasts. Ten parks host the hardiest of campers in tent, pop up and group sites with no hook ups. For travelers with larger units – or those seeking more creature comforts – make your home base Harmony Ridge Campground in Branchville, N.J. The welcome mat is out year-round and tranquility is the order of the day. From Branchville the winter wonders of Stokes State Forest, Delaware Water Gap and the Kittatinny Mountain area are less than 30 miles away.

Just four miles from Branchville, Stokes State Forest is a 15,000 acres winter wonderland of beautiful vistas and adventures for all level of outdoor enthusiasts. There are scenic hikes as well as ice fishing, skating, sledding, and cross-country skiing.

Along the Kittatinny Ridge, a 9.3 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail cuts through the forest. The Appalachian Trail runs along the ridge of Sunrise Mountain, one of the most poplar sites in Stokes State Forest. From the crest at 1,653 feet above sea level, see a winter panorama of farmland and forest.

A little more than 20 miles south of Branchville in the Delaware Water Gap is the Appalachian Mountain Club Mohican Outdoor Center. The Mohican Center is situated on a beautiful glacial lake. The Center and Lodge is only ¼ mile from the Appalachian Trail, making it a great starting point for many outdoor activities.

Strap on your snowshoes for winter treks for all experience levels. Trails and treks range from family friendly four-mile loops to a more difficult trek of 5.8 miles. Winter hikes are also available from the center. If your snowshoe skills aren’t winter ready, the Mohican Center offers winter retreats with the emphasis on learning. Courses offered include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and mind and body renewal.

For the more adventuresome, the nearby Shawnee Mt. Ski Resort offers gentle slops for beginning to intermediate skiers and snowboarders. For family fun, the park also offers a snow-tubing park.

Head for the Shore

Cape May Lighthouse

Cape May Lighthouse

If braving unplowed roads for scenic, snowy vistas isn’t right for you, head to the shore, where a clear day can yield beautiful views of the ocean and breathtaking sunsets. With fewer tourists, there’s sure to be a table available for you even at the most popular of restaurants, and most wine-tasting venues remain open throughout the winter. From Sandy Hook on the North Shore to Cape May in the south, enjoy your favorite beaches, restaurants and shops, minus the tourists. A handful of top-notch RV campsites convenient to the ocean remain open year around for hardy winter campers.

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Don’t think Atlantic City is just open for summer visitors. The Atlantic City boardwalk still delivers visitors to fabulous hotels and casinos in the coldest of months. Even on a chilly day, visitors can enjoy ocean views and the boardwalk’s famous attractions. Escape the cold in some of Atlantic City’s museums from Ripley’s Believe it or Not to Atlantic City’s Historical Museum. The Absecon Lighthouse, the third tallest lighthouse in the country is open in the winter on every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Escape even the winter hustle and bustle of Atlantic City in nearby year around campgrounds. Chips Folly Family Campground in New Gretna, N.J., and Arrowhead Campground in Egg Harbor, N.J., offers year around RV camping less than a half hour from Atlantic City.

The City Lights

Get the best of New York City from the comfort of your travel trailer or RV with a trip to Liberty Harbor Marina and RV Park on the New York Waterway in Jersey City. Year around camping is available in the closest RV park to New York City. While not a rural, tree-lined environment, this trip is all about location: catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty from Liberty Harbor, or just enjoy the view from your front porch. Take a bus tour into Manhattan from Liberty Harbor RV office front porch or catch the light rail into New York City at the station a block away.

Get ready for winter!

Before heading out on your winter trek in New Jersey, make sure your travel trailer or fifth wheel is winterized with a visit to the service department at Crossroads Trailers. For an extended winter stay, consider upgrading to a spacious new fifth wheel trailer.