Upgrading from a tent to an a-frame pop up

A-frame pop-up camper in the woods

tent pop-up beginnings

In our day to day lives, we spend most of the hours of the week attached to some form of electronic device. When we need to recharge, we look to the woods, campfires, and dark skies. For us, nothing beats sitting under a the forest canopy and reading a book while a gentle breeze brings us respite from the sun.

But there realities of going camping. The planning, the packing, setup, breakdown and cleaning parts. So how do you minimize the tedious parts and maximize the enjoyment?

For modern campers, RVs, travel trailers, and pop-ups help answer this question. They provide better protection and amenities than tents. Most pop-up floor prints include two beds, a dinette/bed, sink and stovetop, and heater. Some may have refrigerators, toilets, showers, and even air conditioners.

Tent trailers give you a wider margin for weather, accommodate more people, and speed up the packing process since you can keep what you need stored and ready to go. They tow easily and fit in most garages. If you're dipping your toes into the camper market, they’re a great, frugal first choice.

And that’s how we started our journey, with a 1982 Coleman Sequoia.

1982 Coleman Sequoia Tent Pop-Up Camper

At 28 years old, she'd seen some days. We remodeled the basic things to breath new life into it, like putting down new flooring, painting, re-upholstering the cushions, and installing new canvas (which cost almost as much as we'd paid for the camper.)

And we loved our pop up. We loved the days playing Yahtzee at the dining table and the nights snuggled up in sleeping bags. Our four-pawed family members loved having a huge bed all to themselves - and we loved not having them walk over us at all hours of the night.

Interior of remodeled tent camper with dinette and bunk

But even with our remodeling efforts, the inner mechanics needed a lot of work. The trailer no longer had a water tank. Even if it did have water, there was no shower or toilet anyway. That meant slogging on a pair of shoes and trudging in the dark to the latrine (although getting a portable toilet did eventually solve that particular problem). The propane lines were questionable and so the heater and stove went unused out of an abundance of caution. The gentle breezes of the day became bone-chilling drafts laying next to the canvas at night.

Interior of tent pop-up camper

Despite all that, the biggest downside of all was the setup. The process went:

  • level the camper (an Anderson leveler made this part easy!)
  • lower the stabilizers
  • raise the lid
  • pull out and stabilize the two bunks ends
  • flip up the sink/stove
  • secure the canvas over the bunks
  • take down and install the door
  • zip up the canvas seams
  • open up ALL the windows because by the gods it is hot in here already
  • secure canvas to door
  • setup the table
  • stack the storage shelves
  • ... finally grab a beer

Reverse the entire procedure for heading home. For longer stretches, it's worth the effort, especially over the tent camping life. But, for us, the set up was a little too much of a barrier for the short weekend getaways we yearned for. We found ourselves going camping about once a year, twice at most. Our beloved little pop-up spent more time taking up floor space in the garage than it did giving us memories.

a better pop-up?

In his hours spent gleaning pop-up forums looking for remodeling ideas, Russ had discovered a different kind of PUP: the a-frame pop up, a.k.a. a-frame trailer, a-frame camper, or hard-side pop up. It seemed to solve our biggest issues with traditional PUPs.

The a-frame pop up was a familiar concept but with a twist on the execution. There were no bunks to pull out, no seams to zip up, no doors to install. With the a-frame setup, you popped up the roof, locked in the side walls, and was ready to go. We were in love at first sight. 

Infographic Comparing A-Frame vs. Tent Pop-Up Camper Options

But we weren’t heavy campers, we said, so let's hold on to the old tent trailer. We told ourselves that if we go more often, then we'll upgrade. We would often lend the PUP to the in-laws, so at least someone was enjoying our tent trailer, but it mostly wasn't us. 

Still, we watched YouTube videos demonstrating how they setup and comparing floor plans. We toured a model at a local used RV dealership. We ran the numbers to see if we could afford a new or used model (or not buy any at all.) The a-frame trailer kept calling to us... 

A 5,000 Mile Decision 

Then we decided to make a three-week cross-country trip from Las Vegas to Pennsylvania.

The travel legs of the trip would be rigorous. We’d drive eight to ten hours each day and stay four nights to get to there. On the leg back, we planned longer, 12-hour drives and three overnight stops. Our campsites varied between fully-equipped KOAs to primitive state park sites. We even had planned a few nights set up in my parent's driveway. All told, the most we planned on staying in any given place was three nights. Most of our stays would be single-night experiences.

Map of route from Nevada to Pennsylvania

With eight site changes, we needed a camper that required minimal effort. Something that could protect us in case of bad weather. Something that could be dinner- and sleep-ready in a matter of moments. Something small enough to tow with our Toyota Tacoma and put in the garage when we got back. Something with working plumbing, a toilet, and a shower for our future camping needs.

The road trip was enough of a reason to push us over the line from researching into finally buying an a-frame trailer. After a few weeks of searching inventories, we made our way to Mesa, AZ to close the deal on a new 2016 Comet Starcraft H1235.

Comet Starcraft Trailer

Our First A-venture 

A few weeks later, we were locked and loaded on our 5,000 mile trek across the country and back.

The a-frame pop-up experience was everything it promised to be. The a-frame set up process, in comparison to the tent pop-up, went:

  • level the camper
  • lift the roof eaves
  • raise and lock in the wall sides
  • lower the stabilizers
  • ... grab a beer (we're done already?!)

With the improvements in the process, we were even able to setup in the wind and rain of the Kansas plains without getting blown away or soaked through our clothes. If we'd been hauling a pop-up, we would have had to find a hotel for the night.

All told, the a-frame had held up beyond expectations. Pulling into home at the end of the 21-day trip, we were tired and had learned many lessons about cross-country camping road trips, but we'd made it home without incident. We'd had fun and made memories with family, friends, and each other that we will carry in our hearts forever. We had one trip under our belts and couldn't wait to get on the road to give the pop-up another run. 

A-frame pop up camper set up

Our investment in an a-frame camper has been an investment in ourselves.

We still spend way too much of our time at home on social media, that hasn't changed. But we've gone from camping once a year to camping once a month. We've visited more campsites in the past year than our entire life. Our long weekends will still never be long enough, but our a-frame lets us focus more on enjoying the beautiful places we visit rather than the business of setting up a camper.

After all, isn't that what it's all about?

Russ and Trish posing in front our our a-frame pop up camper
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