The hard-side pop up camper is the alternative to the tent-sided version. With a hard-side pop up, all the walls are made of fiberglass and/or steel. They boast great durability and appeal.
From the teeny-tiny A-frame camper to larger models, you might be interested in buying your own hard-sided pop up. Are they more advantageous than campers with a tent or less so?
In this article, I’ll go over all the advantages of owning a hard-side camper. To balance things out, we’ll talk about the disadvantages, too. This way, you can weigh both factors and make the best decision for your RVing needs.
What Are the Advantages of Hard-Sided Pop Up Campers?
Tent trailers are typically made with vinyl or canvas sides. These campers look like they have a giant tent draped over either side of the vehicle. That tent fabric, no matter what it is, can bend, fold, and is generally malleable.
Compare that to hard-side pop up campers. Their steel and fiberglass base will not move or bend unless it’s designed to. This provides greater stability. Unless you’re towing a tiny A-frame camper, then you rarely have to worry about a hard-side camper tipping over in wind or other weather conditions. That doesn’t mean you can omit your stabilizing jacks and good ol’ common sense. If you park on an incline or in muddy, rocky terrain, you still risk tipping over in any pop up camper.
Generally, hard-side pop ups are renowned for their stability. That’s not always so with tent trailers.
Fewer Risks of Leaking
Another advantage hard-side pop ups have over their tent counterparts is they’re practically leak-proof. There are many seams and gaps in a tent camper that can become prone to leaking when it rains. Admittedly, this is is a much bigger problem with older vehicles. It is worth noting that in some instances, general use and wear and tear can cause leaks in newer models, too.
You could spend lots of valuable camping time outside patching up your awning or tent sides as well as resealing gaps. With a hard-side pop up camper, that issue is practically nonexistent. There’s no tents or awnings that can rip, tear, or get holes. Sure, you might have small gaps every now and then if you have an older camper, but this is uncommon. Even if you do, you could quickly patch up gaps or holes with sealant.
Can Withstand All Sorts of Weather
If you’re in a tent pop up and the rains start a-comin’, you have a decision to make. You can either stay outside in the rain and have to spend many subsequent hours letting your awnings and tents air-dry, or you can get out of the weather as best you can.
There’s less need to panic if you’re camping out in a hard-side pop up. Their solid, steady roof and walls can handle the rains with aplomb. That means if you’re by chance caught out in a storm, you can stay put where you are. In strong winds and rains, tent trailers can lose awnings and tents. That’s not a problem to stress about in a hard-side pop up.
Due to their very design, hard-side pop ups have better insulation than tent trailers do. When the walls of your camper are made of canvas, you’re going to hear every little noise outside of your vehicle. From a safety standpoint, this can be a good thing. However, when you try to sleep at night, it may prove to be very difficult to get any shuteye.
Not only that, but tent sides cannot trap in cold air or hot air like hard walls can. If you’re camping in a tent trailer in the cold weather, it’s going to get quite frosty in the vehicle overnight. You might shiver during the day, too. In the summer, you’ll feel the heat even if all the windows and doors are closed. These vehicles just aren’t very good for insulation. Hard-side pop ups are.
It’s More Like Being at Home
Everyone gets homesick from time to time, but you’ll probably feel it less in a hard-side pop up camper. That’s because, with their hard walls and roof, this is more like being in a tiny version of your home. Sure, the bathroom inclusion is negligible, but you have a nice place to sleep and a secure roof. The walls are sturdy, too. Those creature comforts will help you enjoy your trip and maybe camp out even longer.
Less Time Spent Setting up and Disassembling
Ah, the dreaded setup and disassembly. When it comes to pop up campers, these vehicles are sometimes vilified for their intensive assembly effort. We get it. It can take a long time to park your tent-side pop up in just the right place and then get the tents erected. Then, when it’s time to pack it in, you have to get all the parts retracted before you can go.
What a pain! You can cut down on your assembly and disassembly time with a hard-side camper. There’s less to retract, so there’s no need to spend so much time on that. You can just find a stable area to park, put down your jacks and/or stabilizers, and get camping. Does it get better than that?
What Are the Disadvantages of Hard-Sided Pop Up Campers?
The Higher Price
Getting into the disadvantages of hard-sided pop up campers now, one of those is the higher price. Let’s compare two new pop up campers. First, there’s the tent camper, the 2019 Jayco Jay Sport. The 2019 Forest River Rockwood Hard Side camper is one of the most renowned trailers with hard walls.
If you were getting both these vehicles new from RV Trader.com, here’s what you’d pay. For the Jayco tent camper, it’d be $9,980 for the 10SD floorplan. If you wanted the Forest River pop up, expect to shell out $18,495 for the A213HW floorplan.
Now, floorplans can boost or lower the price somewhat, but c’mon, there’s no way a Jay Sport floorplan is going to increase the price of this tent trailer to the $18k mark. You’re paying almost $10,000 more for a hard-side pop up than a tent camper. That’s something you definitely have to consider when choosing your pop up.
The Heavier Weight
Not only do hard-side pop ups pack a financial punch, but they’re weighty powerhouses, too. Let’s continue comparing the 2019 Jayco Jay Sport tent trailer and the 2019 Forest River Rockwood hard-sided camper.
According to Jayco themselves, the 2019 Jay Sport can weigh between 1,570 to 2,295 pounds. Admittedly, that’s heavy for a camper, especially a tent-sided one. This is one lengthy vehicle we’re talking about, which likely contributes to its heavier weight.
The dry weight for the 2019 Forest River Rockwood Hard Side A214HW floorplan is 2,646 pounds. Its gross weight is 3,382 pounds. As you can see, just in dry weight alone, the Forest River hard-side weighs more than the Jayco tent camper.
Fewer Towing Options
As I said before, the Jayco Jay Sport is an unusually weighty pop up. Most tent campers are on the lesser end of the weight spectrum and thus can be towed by a variety of vehicles. These range from unbelievably tiny options like ATVs and motorcycles to the standard car.
With a hard-side pop up camper, your towing options are far more limited. Most cars are out of the question. You’d instead have to rely on an SUV or pick-up truck for the job. At that point, you might as well upgrade to a more sizable travel trailer so you can get more space and a practically guaranteed bathroom.
Storage Becomes Difficult
Winter is on its way. What do you plan on doing with your camper? If it’s a tent camper, then you have more decisions to make. The versatility of these trailers makes parking them a breeze. You can retract all the tent walls and awnings to make your camper more compact. Then, instead of paying sometimes astronomical monthly storage fees all winter, you can stash your camper in your driveway. Some smaller models might even be able to fit in your garage!
Unless you get the mini A-frame hard-side pop up, then you’re going to have to pay for vehicle storage like many other RVers. Your hard-side camper is too heavy and bulky to do much else than put it away for a few months. While it might be able to fit in your driveway or on the curb, are you even allowed to have a big vehicle like that out there? That’s up to your neighbors and your community to decide.
You don’t want to break any zoning laws or regulations by keeping your hard-side camper on your property. That means you might be relegated to putting it in storage, where it’ll rack up hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fees over the winter.
Do you care about headroom? If so, then you might find that some hard-side pop ups might not be the best choice out there for you. This is typically only true in A-frames and smaller models, but the headroom is often minimal in these vehicles.
That’s not the case for tent campers. The wide, roomy tent walls can give you a feeling of more space, even though these pop ups are often not larger than hard-side campers.
If you’re tall, then an A-frame hard-side camper is more than likely not an option. Sorry, but it won’t work. You won’t be able to stand up fully without bumping your head or other parts of your body on something. Walking around hunched over isn’t great for your posture, especially if you camp often. You’ll also find it difficult to use many of the amenities in these small hard-side campers, such as the bathroom (if one is available), the kitchen, and the bed. Yes, that’s right, the bed. Forget getting a good night’s sleep in such a tiny, crowded vehicle. You’ll be all curled up or left with your feet protruding all night. That doesn’t sound like fun.
A Disconnect from Nature
I saved one of the biggest disadvantages for last. By investing in a hard-side pop up camper, you’re really going to be disconnected from nature. The same qualities that make your camper feel more like home are the very ones that take away from the camping experience.
Pop up campers are, as the name tells you, adept for camping. The tents and awnings of your tent camper are like the ones you’d painstakingly put up when staying at a campground. Instead of just having a tent to support you though, you get the stability of an entire camper. The walls may be made of canvas, but you have a roof over your head and steady ground beneath your feet.
With a hard-side pop up camper, that’s all you get. There’s a floor underneath you, walls to all sides of you, and a roof to keep you safe. Sure, you get windows to see what’s going on outside, but it’s not like camping in a tent trailer. There’s much less of a sense of roughing it.
For some RVers, this will matter a lot. Others might not care as much. That said, if you are paying to stay at a campground like Yosemite or Joshua Tree, you’re going to want to do more than experience it by looking out the windows of your hard-side camper. Right?
Making the Choice
The above list of advantages and disadvantages of hard-side pop up campers is exhaustive. I touched on just about any point that might matter when choosing between one of these trailers and a tent camper.
The factors that matter most to you may not be as important to the next person, and that’s okay. What I recommend is carefully considering each advantage and disadvantage on this list. Then, decide which ones personally matter. If you have more pros than cons, then a hard-side pop up camper might be a good option. You might also find that you have more cons on your list than pros, in which case, maybe a tent camper would be better.
Hard-side pop up campers offer more stability than tent trailers due to their hard walls and roofs. You also tend to enjoy better insulation and more coverage from rain and other inclement weather.
It’s not all good. The large, heavy qualities of hard-side campers make them more difficult to tow. You tend to be more closed off from nature than if you were to camp out in a tent pop up. Also, some hard-side designs don’t boast as much headroom as you might expect.
[box] If you’ve been on the fence about whether a tent camper or a hard-side pop up is right for you, I hope this article provided some guidance. Both are expensive vehicles, so it’s important to make this decision slowly. If you’re not confident in your choice, then give it time. You don’t want to spend several thousand dollars on a pop up camper unless you’re absolutely in love with it.Good luck![/box]