Many pop-up campers have toyed with this idea. However, while it may be feasible, it may not be practical. There will be a lot of work involved and you may or may not be skilled enough to handle all the little details that crop up during a renovation.
It can be done and some owners have done it. The biggest tip we can give you for this project is to get help. It is more than a one-man job and you may come across situations where you need more than 2 hands to do the work. Conversions have hidden issues you may not be aware of when you start the work.
To learn more about how to do this project, just continue to read this article. It has the information you need to know about and some of it may not be good news. Buying a new or used hard top may be your best option rather than spending the money for a conversion.
If you do a quick internet search, you will find that there are more than enough models of hard side campers than you thought there would be. It seems to be the new trend when it comes to camping.
Manufacturers are looking for ways to improve on the traditional pop-up camper and make camping better for you. Their idea has been to create hard-side pop-ups so you get the best of both camping worlds.
Those worlds are ease of towing and still being a minimalist when it comes to RVs, etc. The drawback to the commercially built models will be the A-frame style. You will lose some headroom in some parts of the camper while feeling more secure throughout the night.
The good news about these models is that their weight varies. That means on some of the smaller versions you can use just about any car you own to tow them. Due to the economics of your small car, you may not be able to camp way out in nature but you can get close enough to walk to it.
The hardest decision if you go this route will be deciding on the style, size, and floor plan. Some come with toilets and showers while others are just one step away from roughing it.
We do not think they are bad by any stretch of the imagination. Hard-side pop-up campers provide you with a lot of upgraded features that you may not get with a traditional pop-up camper.
Their design makes them as easy to tow as a traditional pop-up and that means good gas mileage for you. Then depending on your needs and living situation, these trailers are perfect for a single person or a childless couple no matter their age.
If you go small, the key will be your ability to live in small places and some of these hard-side trailers are very small. One model hits 12 feet, 9 inches but that length is including the 3-foot tongue. You would be living in a space that is less than 10 feet long and maybe only 4 feet wide.
Other than that, a modern hard-side trailer is built with all the upgrades and advances that technology has created over the last few decades. Also, you may not have much choice in floor plan design when you go small.
If you are up to the task, it will be a lot of work. Before you start you need to make sure you will finish the project as a half-done trailer is no good to anyone. There will be several methods you can use depending on the design you want and the features you want inside.
The following is but one example of how to do this work.
Step one- park your traditional pop-up camper in a convenient spot where you have easy access to power and tools. If your garage roof is tall enough you should park it inside to protect the trailer from the elements.
Step two- start removing those parts and features you do not want. Some people say to take it down to the shell and begin your conversion from scratch but it is possible to leave some features inside if they will not be in your way.
You should leave any fittings you will be reusing in their original place unless you are re-designing their location as well.
Step three- once you are at the shell level you want, you start your conversion by making the wood ribs that will support your hard sides. Keep in mind the weight factor and make sure the frame can hold the new weight level.
Once the ribs are in place make sure they can be lowered if that is what you want in your new hard-side trailer.
Step four- for security issues, you may want to use 1/2 to 3/4 inch plywood for the base on the sides then layer some fiberglass sheeting over the plywood to make the trailer look good.
Or if you are weight conscious, forget the plywood and just go with the fiberglass.
Step five- this is where it will get difficult. Once the exterior walls are in place, you should add insulation and then do all your wiring and plumbing work. This may take time as your corners, etc., may not be too accommodating.
The next toughest part will be making sure you have the right spots cut out for windows and a door. You will have to do a lot of accurate measuring as you may not have any forgiveness room or space to hide any mistakes.
Once everything is in place, you can move on to the next step.
Step six- This is where you connect all the features you want inside if you are going to have any. Place your benches, tables, bed, and other amenities where you need them and secure them in place.
Step seven- test your features to make sure everything works and there will be no fire hazards, etc.
Step eight- When you are done, put your tools away and take a well-earned rest.
Now there may be some details we left out but those details will depend on the design you chose to use and how many amenities you want inside. We will say that this isn't an easy nor an inexpensive project to take on so make sure you have the skills and the budget to do the job first class.
You have just read about some of the work involved in doing this project. You may think twice about taking on this project as the easiest part will be removing all the sides and interior features.
Destruction is always easier to do than construction. But if you want to go with the trend or the canvas and screening from your traditional pop-up camper is worn out, this is a possible project.
The key will be in the materials you use for the sides. Fiberglass will be light and strong but it can be easily damaged if you scrape a tree or post backing up into the camp spot.
If weight is not an option, using plywood as a backing material for the outside improves security while making your trailer stronger. Remember you may have to do cut-outs for windows, doors, or vents, etc, so the hard side material should not be too difficult to cut.
This is a job for more than one person. There is no doubt about that. When you start doing the walls, make sure to have a competent helper to hold the sides while you secure them.
This is not going to be an easy project to complete. That means this is a question you have to answer once you hear all the facts and what is involved. One of the key factors is price.
Unless you are going to copy all the RV and camper makers and use the cheapest most inferior products available, you may end up spending more than you figured on spending. This is not going to be a cheap project and you never know when a problem arises that adds to those costs.
Then you have to consider all the work involved. if wiring and plumbing is not your forte., then you either need to hire someone or convince a friend to help you. Hopefully, he is skilled in those areas you are not.
Next, you have to consider your labor and the amount of time involved in doing the conversion. How much is your time worth and how long will it take you to complete the project are important questions to ask yourself.
After thinking through these issues and getting all the figures you need to make a decision. Compare the prices of new models already built as hard sides. the range of prices can be as low as $11,000 or as high as $20,000+.
Their cost will depend on numerous factors including size. some times it is just best to buy new and save yourself the time, trouble, energy and money. The only positive reason to do this conversion is if you like working with your hands and creating great items. or you want a nice hobby to help you relax.
The exact amount of weight will depend on the size of camper and what is included inside. Some frames can hold as little as 600 pounds empty and maybe another 1000 in supplies, gear, and people.
Others can hold up to 4500 pounds plus the same items. The construction material used to make the frame will play a large role in how much extra weight you can put on the pop-up camper frame when you are converting it.
As you do your calculations, you need to find out the strength of the frame, how much it can actually hold, and then factor in the weight of the hard sides you want to install. The four weight capacities that you should know about the frame are:
1. UVW- unloaded frame weight and this is the lightest amount of weight you will have.
2. CCC- cargo carrying capacity. This measurement lets you know how much cargo, supplies, and people you can place on the frame. This includes any fresh water you will carry if your pop-up will have a freshwater tank.
3. GAWR- Gross axle weight rating. The frame resides on an axle and you need to know this rating so that you do not overload it. This will be the maximum weight that the axle can handle. The rating will include camper body, amenities, water, and so on.
4. GVWR- Gross vehicle weight rating- this is important to know as it will tell you if your tow vehicle can tow the new hard side camper. This weight also includes any gear, passengers, pets, etc., you place in your tow vehicle.
At no time can you exceed these totals or you may have a lot of trouble down the road. Especially if the frame or axle breaks.
When contemplating this project make sure to cover every aspect. You may see that it is not a great objective to pursue. There are a lot of hidden issues that we have not covered here and you may find those to be more than you want to deal with.
As we said, unless you like working with your hands, it may be best to buy a used or new hard side and just enjoy it.