Hard side pop up camper: Better than a tent camper?

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When RVs first started erupting in popularity, bigger was always better. Large, luxury units ruled the road and smaller travel trailers, such as the hard side pop up camper, were slightly stigmatized. 

Today, the trends are shifting. 

Travelers are looking for more flexibility, lower costs, and a more minimalist traveling experience. With tiny footprints but expandable room for all the essentials, small campers are seeing a bigger demand than ever. 

When it comes to pop up trailers, there are two main categories, soft sided or canvas trailers, and hard sided pop up campers.

In this article, we’ll walk you through all the benefits of hard side pop up campers and explore some of the best hard-sided pop up campers for sale right now.

What is a hard side pop up camper?

A pop up camper typically folds up for towing into a short, flat trailer or an A-frame, triangular trailer. When parked, the roof and sometimes dormered walls lift and expand out to increase the size of the trailer. 

These pop outs are either made out of canvas, tent-like material, or the same hard sided material as the rest of the trailer.

Both tented or hard side pop up campers have benefits that draw a lot of love from their buyers, but it really comes down to your unique wants and needs when traveling that will determine which is the best option for you. 

The best hard-sided pop up campers for sale

Rockwood hard side pop up campers

Exterior view of Forest River Rockwood hard side pop up trailer.
Photo courtesy of Forest River.

Rockwood’s line of hard side pop up campers is crafted to feel just as luxurious as the interiors of their standard trailers. When these pop-ups are parked and expanded, they feel like a seamless space; it’s hard to even imagine the walls are movable. 

With sleek leather furnishings, standard RV kitchenettes, and a range of modern finishing options, the Rockwood best hard sided pop up camper is everything you could want in a pop up.

These campers come in 7 very diverse floor plans, offering an option suitable for any type of traveler.

If you’re interested in a hard sided pop up camper with bathroom amenities, Rockwood has two layouts that manage to fit a toilet—and even a shower—into an incredibly small footprint.

Every option has an exterior gas grill for outdoor cooking, which can further help to maximize usable space in a small sized camper. 

These campers also fold down completely into a short towable box, making them ultra-efficient to travel with and a breeze to store. That makes these campers the perfect compromise between hard sided pop ups and tented ones. 

Learn more about the Rockwood hard sided pop up campers.

Jayco J Series Hardwall hard side pop up campers

Jayco Jay series hard sided pop up trailer exterior.
Photo courtesty of Jayco.

The Jayco J Series of hard side pop up campers is perfect for travelers looking for a no-fuss option for their pop up. Jayco claims these campers can set up in just 30 seconds.

If you’ve ever pulled up to camp in pouring rain or freezing wind, you’ll know how nice a 30-second setup really is. This lineup of campers is unfortunately no longer made by the brand, but there are tons of secondhand units on the market. 

Buying a used camper is a great way to cut down on costs while still getting a reliable and high quality unit.

If you do decide to buy used, it’s extra important to know what you’re looking for. If you’re not very mechanically savvy, it might be worth having a mechanic or knowledgeable friend take a deeper look at the unit before you hand over the money.

Otherwise, make sure to test out every single element. You don’t want to be out on your first summer camping trip before realizing the air conditioning doesn’t work.

Learn more about the Jayco J Series.

Flagstaff hard sided pop up campers

Flagstaff hard side pop up camper exterior by Forest River.
Photo courtesy of Forest River.

Forest River knows their travel trailers, and these hard sided pop up campers are proof of why they’re a leader of the industry. With dormers, decks, and flip-up beds, the Flagstaff lineup is incredibly spacious. 

There are 7 Flagstaff layouts, each of which is remarkably different from the next. You can choose exactly where you want to prioritize space.

If you want a hard sided pop up camper with bathroom space totally private and separate from the living area, they have a model for that. If you don’t need much kitchen space but want a bed and a collapsible dinette, Forest River has several models perfect for you.

Having such a range of options means you’ll likely get all the space you need, and none of the space you don’t. When you’re traveling in such tight quarters, having only the space you’ll actually utilize is essential.

Learn more about Forest River hard sided pop up campers.

Trailmanor camper 2518 series hard sided pop up campers

TrailManor 2518 hard sided pop up camper exterior.
Photo courtesy of TrailManor.

After enthusiastic customer demand, Trailmanor has brought back their 2518 series of best hard-sided pop-up campers. Rather than the standard A-frame design with dormers, the 2518 series has totally rethought what a pop-up camper could be. 

Enclosing into the standard short, rectangular trailer, these trailers lift upward completely, doubling into a full-height trailer. Then, the top halves slide apart, doubling the top half of the living area horizontally.

What that leaves you with is enough space for a king bed, a queen bed, an enclosed bathroom, a dinette, and a kitchenette.

You read that right, Trailomanor manages to squeeze all that into a short, flat, effortlessly towable box. 

Because of the advanced mechanics of this pop up, they’re a bit more expensive than similar other models, but considering the incredible amount of space you gain from it, it may be well worth it.

With an abundance of living and sleeping spaces, this unit is perfect for small families looking for the travel trailer experience in an easily stored, towable bundle. 

Learn more about the Trail Manor.

Chalet Classic hard side pop up campers

Chalet Classic Arrowhead hard sided pop up camper exterior view.
Photo courtesy of Chalet.

Chalet offers two hard sided pop up campers in their Classic line, the Alpine and the Arrowhead. The Alpine features dual dinettes for a huge amount of seating space. Combined with Chalet’s standard panoramic windows, you’ve got a pretty stellar hangout space. With both dinettes collapsing into beds, this camper also sleeps three.

The Arrowhead replaces one of the dinettes with a convertible couch or a permanent bed with storage. 

All Chalet models feature their innovative and patented Power Lift System. This system does all the setup work for you. No push poles or heavy lifting, just a simple push button for instant and effortless set up and take down.

Especially if you’re moving around a lot, having such an easy pop up will save you a whole lot of time and effort down the road. 

Learn more about the Chalet.

Aliner Classic hard sided pop up campers

Aliner hard sided pop up camper.
Photo courtesy of Aliner.

Aliner credits themselves as the original creators of the A-frame pop up camper. They’ve come a long way since their founder tinkered together his first prototype in a garage.

While virtually every RV maker has jumped on the trend, Aliner has remained one of the biggest and best names on the market. 

They currently offer 10 different models, designed to fill the needs of almost every type of camper. From solo travelers to small families, Aliner has meticulously crafted an entire model of hard side pop up camper for your needs. 

No matter which model suits you best, you can expect a long list of features and amenities that come standard on all Aliners. This includes things like solar ports, skylights, and more. 

With such tried and true experience making hard sided pop up campers, buying an Aliner is a pretty solid bet. They take pride in their customer support and reliance, so you can count on getting a unit that will last and a company that will stand by it if it doesn’t.

Learn more about the Aliner hard sided campers.

Coachman Viking and Clipper tented pop up campers

Small Viking pop up camper for sale

Coachman is another huge name in the travel trailer industry, and for good reason. When it comes to pop up campers, they’ve mostly stuck to tented trailers.

The Viking and Clipper lineups are still so impressive that we’ve decided to include them in this list, despite not being hard sided pop ups.

With these campers, you’ll likely end up getting a bit more space for your buck, though as we’ve outlined above, tent campers come with their own list of drawbacks. 

Both the Clipper and Viking lineups come in a huge range of layouts and floor plans, featuring various interesting and unique shapes, pop out styles, and footprints.

These lineups offer smaller units than any others on our list, so if you’re just looking for a place to rest up at night without the bells and whistles of bathroom and kitchenettes, this might be a more appropriate option for you. 

The bunk-style tent beds also are a great space saver and you’ll find the interiors can be a bit more spacious with the sleeping area taking up its own separate footprint.

Some small campers also really love the feeling of sleeping in a tented bunk bed, and you’ll definitely get much closer to nature sleeping in that vs. a hard side pop up camper. 

Why you might want a hard side pop up camper rather than a tent camper

Spacious Flagstaff hard side pop up camper interior with dinette, counter space and sink.
Photo courtesty of Forest River.

Choosing between a hard sided and a soft sided tent camper is a tough choice. Here are the main positives for going with the best hard side pop up camper.

It feels like a travel trailer

When you step into a fully expanded hard side pop up camper, you might not even realize you’re in a pop up. The biggest benefit of a hard side pop up camper is exactly this, it feels like a full size travel trailer.

With a tent camper, the canvas pop-outs feel much more like standing in a tent than a true camper. Some tent campers have a hard A-frame and only tented dormers, while others have the entire upper half of the extended unit out of tent material. 

It will outlast a tent camper

Canvas material isn’t as durable or weather-resistant, and even if you put in the extra care it requires, it won’t last forever and replacing it might be more expensive than you’d think.

The extensions on hard sided pop up campers will probably never require replacing.

You’ll get more privacy

A tent camper’s walls don’t offer any more privacy or protection than a standard ground tent. Privacy isn’t just from nosy campsite neighbors, but animals and critters that might find their way into your tent walls for a snack.

Some campsites actually prohibit soft sided campers in an attempt to protect the wildlife, and with a tent camper you might find yourself restricted.

But animals aren’t the only creatures that might bother you at a campsite.

Every camper is all-too-familiar with noisy, packed campgrounds, and when you’re next to a particularly raucous party group or a newborn still learning to sleep through the night, the thick, insulating walls of a hard side camper can mean the difference between a comfortable night’s sleep and a cranky morning. 

You’ll stay warmer and drier

The comfort of a hard sided pop up camper is also generally going to be better than a tent. Better insulation means more comfortable sleeping temperatures and protection from the elements.

Owners of tent campers often find dew and other elements manage to seep their way into the canvas walls. With a hard side pop up camper, you’re going to feel like you’re sleeping in a traditional RV. 

What we don’t like about hard sided pop up campers

View out the window of a Chalet hard sided pop up camper.
Photo courtesy of Chalet.

While hard sided pop up campers might seem too good to be true, we have to point out some of their drawbacks, too.

They are more expensive

There’s a pretty big price range for both types of campers, but across the board, tent campers are more affordable than hard sided pop up campers. They’re only cheaper upfront, though, and with the added maintenance and potential need for replacement, hard sided campers are cheaper to upkeep.

They’re larger than tent campers

Tent campers can close up into much smaller spaces. The entire body of a tent camper can close down into a short, small, easily towable trailer. Without the tall A-frame of a hard side pop up camper, a tent camper is much easier to tow and store.

Being able to keep your trailer in a garage or even a shed when it’s not in use can be hugely helpful if you’re tight on space.

Some hard sided campers also have collapsible A-Frames, but they tend to be heavier and more expensive than a comparable tent camper. 

Hard sided pop up campers are heavier than tent campers

Not only are tent campers easier to tow because of the lower profile, but they’re also much more lightweight. That doesn’t just make them easier to tow, it makes them able to be towed by a wider range of vehicles. Even some sedans can tow a small travel trailer if it’s lightweight enough.

If you have a pickup truck, this probably won’t matter to you much, but if a lighter weight trailer means you don’t have to buy a towing vehicle, it might be worth it to size down. 

You’ll lose that tent camping feeling

While hard sided pop up campers are generally considered more comfortable for sleeping, some travelers actually prefer tent pop ups.

There’s something special about sleeping in a tent, and some people enjoy the closeness to nature thin tent walls offer more than the comforts of sleeping in an insulated room. 

TrailManor pop up camper interior with bed and dinette.
Photo courtesy of TrailManor.

Conclusion on the best hard side pop up campers

Hard sided pop up campers are an amazing way for just about anybody to pack up and hit the road on an adventure. Without being limited by a large footprint or huge, inefficient towing vehicle, the possibilities are all but endless.

If you’re still dubious about fitting into such a small space, go check some out and see how you feel. Most people are pleasantly surprised when they actually step into an expanded hard side pop up camper by how spacious and sturdy they feel. You might find yourself surprised, too. 

Hopefully, our list of the best hard sided pop up campers has helped you get a good start on the search for your perfect pop up trailer.

If you’ve still got some questions, or you’re looking for something you haven’t quite found in this article, let us know in the comments. We’ll do our best to answer any questions you’ve got and help you find the perfect mobile getaway.

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