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If you're keen on camping and recently purchased a pop-up camper, you may wonder whether it qualifies as an RV.

You would rather not spend your hard-earned cash on buying a pop-up camper, only to discover that it's not suitable for use as an RV. You would like clarity on the status of pop-ups. Are they considered RVs or not?

Pop-up campers are generally considered RVs, as the definition of an RV covers motorhomes and trailers with home amenities. However, pop-ups have certain disadvantages as RVs related to their design and are not suitable for long-term living or camping where there are bears.

Although pop-up campers are generally considered to qualify as RVs, as they offer some basic conveniences, they have certain downsides that I will discuss with you.

As someone keen on camping and interested in buying a pop-up, I have done plenty of research on reputable sites regarding this issue. I will be sharing what I have found with you.



Why A Pop-Up Camper Is An RV By Definition

One way of deciding whether a pop-up camper is an RV is by looking at their definitions, as defined by insurance providers. Insuramatch defines an RV or recreational vehicle as a motor vehicle or trailer equipped with some of the amenities one would have in one’s home.

RVs come in two primary flavors. Motorhomes offer living quarters, kitchen, bathroom, and beds and are motorized. They come in three types (A, B, and C) and are what many people immediately think of when you say "RV."

However, the other flavor of RV is the camper, which includes travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers, pop-up campers, and truck campers.

Therefore, by this definition, pop-up campers count as RVs. Definitions are all very well. But, I can imagine you are asking, can a pop-up camper be used as an RV? Is it worth investing in one?

Using A Pop-Up Camper As An RV

A pop-up camper offers beds, living space, and typically a basic kitchen. Some larger models also provide a toilet and a shower. If the camper does not have these facilities, you will have to use the bathroom facilities provided at the campground where you have parked.

Once you have extended the pop-up camper into its open configuration, you will have an enclosed camping space that can sleep multiple people. You can use this for camping in most campgrounds for a tent-like camping experience.

However, you will be able to bring a lot more gear than you would if you were using a tent, and you will have considerably more space. They also offer amenities such as dinettes, fold-down furniture, and electricity.

The result is that you will have a more luxurious camping experience. It will be like tent camping, but with more comfort and space.

I love tent camping, and the added luxury of a pop-up camper, combined with the ability to sleep more people, makes this an attractive option. However, I am aware that not everyone is into tent camping, and some people may want to buy an RV for more than camping.

Do pop-ups cover the needs of all RV users? The short answer is no; they do not. However, I am sure you want to know more about why and what the disadvantages of a pop-up camper as an RV are.

Disadvantages Of Using A Pop-Up Camper As An RV

Pop-up campers have certain disadvantages as RVs, related to their specific design.

They have extremely thin walls, usually canvas, although hard-sided pop-ups have metal walls. These give rise to various problems:

  • Lack of privacy
  • Lack of soundproofing
  • Lack of insulation
  • Tear easily (with canvas models)
  • Prone to mold and mildew (with canvas models)

Lack of privacy is a big concern for many people. The canvas walls of most pop-up campers mean that other people can see what you are doing inside your camper.

As I said, I love tent camping, but some people find the lack of privacy when tenting a problem. If you are one of them, you will probably want to give pop-up campers a miss and go for an option that preserves your privacy.

A more serious concern with the lack of privacy afforded by a pop-up camper is the safety aspect. An aggressive animal or an intruder will easily be able to gain access to you and your family.

This lack of safety means that some campgrounds are off-limits to pop-ups, and you should not camp by the side of the road for safety reasons.

Lack of soundproofing relates to a lack of privacy in one way (everything you do inside the camper, other people outside can hear), but it also means that you can hear every noise from outside the pop-up inside.

While you might want to hear birdsong when you wake in the morning, hearing neighbors’ generators can cause your family to lose sleep and tempers to fray. Much as I love tent camping, I’d rather camp with my family in something more soundproofed.

And hearing the snuffling of a bear outside is quite alarming. If you are someone who takes fright at random noises in the night, a pop-up camper will not suit you!

The lack of insulation in a pop-up camper means that it tends to be challenging to regulate temperature. Pop-ups tend to get really hot in summer and really cold in winter.

Temperature extremes are not as much of an issue with hard-sided campers, but they are still less comfortable than a motorhome.

You can only avoid this by installing a heater and AC unit, which takes up valuable space inside the camper.

The canvas material of soft-sided pop-up camper walls is prone to problems with tearing or mold. If roughly handled, you will find the material tearing and requiring repair. While this is not a severe issue, it is a hassle that you will not face with a motorhome.

If you pack up your pop-up while wet, the mold problems you will face are much more severe. Breathing mold causes health issues, and mold will also cause your canvas to weaken. You will have to clean your canvas regularly and make sure it dries out completely before packing up.

Pop-ups also have other disadvantages, namely:

  • limited space
  • limited storage
  • lack of bathroom facilities
  • set-up and take-down time

Although the living space and storage space and storage space inside a pop-up camper is a considerable step up over tent camping, it is still a lot more cramped inside one than inside most motorhomes.

The lack of bathroom facilities inside pop-ups can be a deal-breaker for some people. Most campgrounds have very pleasant ablution facilities and restrooms, but you may not want to take a walk in the middle of the night to use the toilet.

Whether you go for a soft-sided or a hard-sided option, you will have to spend time setting up a pop-up before you use it and taking it down before you hit the road. Even if the pop-up comes with a hand crank system for setting up, you will still have to set up the inside.

Plan to spend around an hour setting up and taking down a pop-up camper.

Should You Use A Pop-Up Camper For Van Living?
In light of the above disadvantages of a pop-up camper, I would strongly counsel against trying to live full-time on the road in one of them.

From my research, I have concluded that pop-ups are a fantastic lightweight form of RV that works great as a luxury alternative to tents when camping.

But the disadvantages of pop-up campers as RVs strongly militate against using them for living full-time.

I would especially advise against using a soft-sided pop-up camper for full-time van dwelling.

The hassle of keeping the canvas free from mold when you are guaranteed to have the camper set up during a downpour would quickly turn a minor inconvenience when camping into a significant time sink and a potential health hazard.

The lack of safety in a soft-sided pop-up would keep me away from using it for full-time van living. It is far too easy for an unsavory character to gain access to you or your possessions in a soft-sided pop-up.

But even if you have a hard-sided pop-up, I would advise against using it for van living because of the inconvenience of regularly setting up and taking down your home.

Do Campgrounds Consider Pop-Up Campers RVs Or Tents?

Although I've said that RVers consider pop-up campers to be RVs, campgrounds differ in how they treat pop-ups. Many believe that if you rolled up to the campsite on wheels, you are an RV, especially if you require electrical hookups.

However, other campgrounds consider pop-ups to be tents based on their small footprint. You will therefore pay less for campsites when using a pop-up than a motorhome.

Yellowstone National Park considers pop-ups to be tents due to the danger of bear attacks. Due to bear activity, they sometimes close specific campgrounds for tent camping, including pop-up camping. The only exception is for hard-sided pop-ups.

If you are camping somewhere with substantial bear activity, rather don't use a pop-up.