The Popup Camper vs Tent Camping – What’s the Difference


popup camper

Popup campers and tent camper both have one thing in common.  They’re both sleeping underneath of tent material.

So why get a popup camper when you could just sleep in a tent?  A popup camper has many advantages over a tent camper.  These advantages usually come in the form of amenities, but there are also other advantages to consider as well.

Of course, tent camping also has many advantages over popup campers as well.

In this post, we’ll break these advantages and disadvantages down for the ultimate rundown on the popup camper vs tent camping.

The Advantages of Popup Campers over Tent Camping

Popup campers have been around for a long time and for good reason.  There are many benefits that popup campers get to enjoy over tent campers.

Here are the top 7 reasons to choose a popup camper over tent camping.

Less Packing

Even the smallest popup campers will have beds built into them already.  This saves you from having to pack your sleeping pads and cots.

On top of this, small popup campers will also have some storage space inside.  There, you can permanently house your camping gear so that you don’t have to pack it every time you head out.

Additionally, most popup campers will have a kitchen.  This kitchen often comes equipped with a stovetop, a sink, a mini-fridge, and a microwave.

Some popup campers even have bathrooms inside of them.  Sometimes, this will come in the form of a small portable toilet.  In other models, you might have a full wet-bath complete with a nice shower.

A fully loaded popup camper could put you in a situation where the only things you have to pack for your trip are food and clothing.  And, both of these items can be placed in your popup camper before you head out so your vehicle will be free from the clutter and mess that comes with packing for a car camping trip.

Climate Control

Popup campers always come with heaters in them.  These heaters are usually gas heaters so you can use them even when you’re off-the-grid.

Additionally, many popup campers also come with air conditioning units as well.  These powerful units, combined with thick canvass, help to keep popup campers cool while tent campers sweat it out in their tent.

Of course, if you’ve read my post on how to keep cool while tent camping, this won’t be a problem for you but it is for most other tent campers.

Popup campers without air conditioning units will still have the advantage of a rooftop vent.  These vents allow hot air to escape the tent and help to reduce condensation.

Power

Popup campers have their own 12-volt battery bank and usually a 30-amp electrical system that can be hooked up to the grid or to a generator.  They also have their own propane hookups and a place to store a tank or two.

This means you can run and charge your electric devices, use a gas cooker, and keep your fridge running 24 hours a day.  If you’re camping with anyone with medical issues, you’ll have an easier time meeting their specific needs.

For example, CPAP machines can easily be hooked up to popup campers and medicine can be stored at a consistent temperature inside of their refrigerators.

Kitchens, Bathrooms, and Dinettes

Popup campers often come with their own kitchens, bathrooms, and dinettes.  This makes cooking a breeze and you don’t even have to leave your tent before you have your morning coffee.

Not only this, but you’ll be able to sip your coffee at your dinette table.  While the tent camper is huddled next to his fire on his camp chair or fighting with flies at his picnic table, you’ll be eating and drinking inside of your climate-controlled tent trailer.

The onboard bathrooms prevent you from having to use public showers and they eliminate your need to head to the restrooms in the middle of the night.  They also make it easier to boondock in leave-no-trace areas as you won’t have to worry about packing your waste out in bags.

Instead, your sewage will go into your cassette toilet or black water tank and you can empty that when you leave.

Comfortable Beds

People with popup campers don’t have to worry about packing cots and blowing up air mattresses.  This is because popup campers come equipped with their own beds.

These beds are often quite big and you’ll get to sleep on either a queen-size or king-size bed while you camp.  The beds will have real sheets on them and you’ll be able to sleep with the same blankets and pillows that you normally sleep with at home.

Elevation

A popup camper gets you off of the ground.  This gets rid of a lot of the issues that tent campers often have when camping.

For starters, it ensures that water can’t soak in from underneath of you.  This can be a big problem in areas that tend to undergo mild flooding and waking up to a flooded tent isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

Also, being up off the ground helps to improve the temperature of your popup camper.  You won’t lose heat to the ground in a popup and you’ll get better airflow when it’s hot outside.

Storage

A popup camper comes with its own built-in storage.  This means you won’t have to put anything inside of your vehicle when you go camping.

In some cases, this could mean you could go family camping with just a small sedan capable of towing your popup camper.  This could eliminate the need for you to bring a gas-guzzling SUV or truck and could save you money on travel.

Besides this, storing everything in your popup camper helps to keep dirt and allergens out of your vehicle.  When you get back from your camping trip, you’ll only have to worry about cleaning the popup camper as your vehicle should still be clean.

The Advantages of Tent Camping vs Popup Campers

While popup campers are definitely worth the money for some people, for others, it might not make sense.  This is because tent camping has its own advantages that can often outweigh the advantages that popup campers bring to the table.

Here are the top 7 advantages of tent camping instead of using a popup camper.

More Privacy

Popup campers will often have a lot of sleeping space.  Even a smaller camper will sleep two people on each end and at least one person in the middle.

The problem is that these people will not have any privacy or space to move around in when they’re not sleeping.

Large tents on the other hand often have multiple rooms.  This won’t give you any sound privacy, but it will give you visual privacy.

Also, tent camping campsites usually aren’t restricted to one tent.  For this reason, many people will bring a large community tent for everyone to share as well as smaller tents for people to sleep in at night.

A setup like this gives people the chance to sleep and to change in private while also allowing everyone to congregate together to cook, play games, or to just get out of the rain.

Cost

A new popup camper is going to cost you around $10,000.00.  This will be for a small popup and it won’t include a full wet-bath.  It probably won’t have air conditioning either.

Larger popup campers with AC units and wet-baths are going to cost you at least $15,000.00 or more.  Not only this, but they’ll depreciate fast so you’ll never be able to sell a financed popup camper without losing money on it.

By contrast, a large 10-person tent can cost less than $300.00.  Add in the cost of buying some camping cots, camp chairs, a cooler, and a gas burner and you could still keep your costs down below $1,000.00.

After you’ve purchased your tent, you won’t have to pay money to insure it either.  With a popup camper, you’ll have the ongoing expenses of insurance premiums and state tags.  On top of these expenses, your state might even add a luxury tax that you’ll have to pay for the privilege of owning a popup camper.

Ease of Use

Popup campers are even harder to set up than hard side RVs.  First, you’ll have to level the popup, then you’ll have to raise the top, and then you’ll have to hook up the water, electricity, and gas.

If the lift system decides to die on your popup, you might not even be able to use it.  You’ll have to try to force it open and prop it up or cancel your trip and go home.

With a tent, you can be set up in a matter of minutes.  This is especially true of smaller tents and larger instant tents as they’re designed with easy set up in mind.

Maintenance

Tents don’t require a lot of maintenance.  You may have to clean and waterproof them from time-to-time but doing so is easy and inexpensive.

Popup campers, on the other hand, are often maintenance traps.  These RVs often fall victim to mice, squirrels, and other vermin that ruin the canvass, destroy the wiring and leave urine and feces throughout your camper.

After this happens, popup camper owners are usually shocked to find out that replacing the canvass on their popup camper often costs thousands of dollars.  If you doubt this, just take a look at some of the popups with ruined canvasses selling for almost nothing on Craigslist.

Other maintenance steps might include tire maintenance, battery maintenance, and maintenance on the braking systems.  You’ll lose a few weekends of camping each year just doing the maintenance on your popup camper.

If you only go on 4 camping trips a year, you’ll end up losing half of your camping season just to maintenance.  Tent campers don’t have this problem.

Driving

This is an obvious one, but tent campers don’t have to tow anything.  They have an easier and faster drive to their destination.

Most likely, they’ll have a cheaper drive to their destination as well.  Popup campers usually don’t weigh much, but they can still cut down on your fuel efficiency.  This can be especially true on windy days.

Versatility

Tent campers can camp at campgrounds but they can also camp deep in the woods as well.  With a good tent and a backpack, a tent camper can go to many places that popup campers will never be able to get to.

This isn’t just true for backpackers either.  Some wilderness campers get to their campsites by ATV, by bike, or even by canoe.

Interested in taking your tent canoe camping?  Check out the post below!

The Beginner’s Guide to Canoe Camping

Easier Storage

Apartment residents will often have to pay to store their popup campers somewhere.  This adds to the cost of owning a popup camper and makes camping a little less convenient.

Get a storage space for your popup camper and you’ll have to time your trips around the storage company’s business hours.  Not only this, but you’ll lose valuable camping time while you’re picking up and dropping off your camper.

Even homeowners might find that storing their camper is kind of a hassle.  It will take up valuable yard or garage space and your HOA or township might disapprove of it.

How to Decide Between Tent Camping and Buying a Popup Camper

My advice would be to rent a popup camper before ever committing to buying one.  Take it someplace that you can also tent camp and try tent camping at that campground as well.

Take some time to compare the two experiences and then choose the one that fits your lifestyle the best.

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Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf loves camping, hiking, canoeing, and basically anything that gets him outdoors.

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