Expansion Plans: Pickup Campers & Folding Trailers Evolve

Manufacturers created more space for sleeping and dining, use a new construction material that’s designed to reduce water damage, and introduced another way to open and close pop-up pickup campers.

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Pickup campers (campers) and folding trailers are the smaller siblings of the RV market, but some of the latest campers in particular have more space than ever before. To make this happen, manufacturers in the past 4 years added more slide-out room extensions to their most expensive models to create more living and dining space.

You also will encounter the first campers that have a composite material that’s part of the interior-wall construction that makes the camper more resistant to moisture, as well as campers that have heated floors or solar panels as a standard feature, so you can power creature comforts, such as a TV. Furthermore, one manufacturer introduced the first pop-up camper for pickups that you can open and close automatically rather than manually. Although we found virtually no new features on the latest folding trailers, we found that financing terms are particularly attractive in 2014. For instance, interest rates dropped as much as 3 percentage points since 2010, RV financing experts say.

SPACING OUT. Although slide outs on hard-sided pickup campers aren’t new, the number of models that have at least three slide outs increased to four from two in the past 4 years, and manufacturers created first-of-its-kind floor plans as a result of new slide outs.

In February 2013, Chalet introduced the first camper that allows you to add an optional fourth slide out. The TS116FB ($52,751) has three slide outs as part of its standard floor plan, and they make room for a sofa, a U-shape dinette and an overhead storage compartment in the galley kitchen. The optional fourth slide out in the overhead sleeping compartment accommodates a king-size bed and additional wardrobe storage. This slide out adds $2,275 to the price and 150 pounds to the 4,700-pound camper.

Chalet introduced the first models that have three slide outs in 2010, but in 2012 Adventurer followed suit when it began to produce the Eagle Cap 1165 ($43,043). The camper has a slide out for a sofa, a dinette that converts to a full bed for two adults, and a refrigerator and a three-burner cooktop. The kitchen slide out that’s on the 1165 creates enough space for the manufacturer to add a kitchen peninsula.

Even if you can afford the TS116FB, which is the most expensive camper that we found, or the 1165, which is the least expensive model that has three slide outs, you’ll have to deal with other factors that might dissuade you from buying a camper that has at least three slide outs. For starters, campers that have at least three slide outs weigh at least 4,588 pounds. By comparison, the lightest camper that has two slide outs weighs 3,339 pounds. (These dry weights don’t include filled water tanks or your food, clothing and other cargo.) As a result, you’ll have to have a really big pickup to tow a three-slide-out camper. For instance, Greg Tucknies of Adventurer recommends that you use a 1-ton pickup that has dual rear wheels and a long bed (typically 8 feet) for the 1165.

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The other problem that we found is that it’s more difficult to access interior areas of a folded camper that has at least two slide outs than it is on models that have one or no slide outs. You typically have to open at least one of the slide outs at least partially if you want to grab a sandwich from your camper’s mini fridge or use the camper’s bathroom. Some manufacturers advertise that you still can get into their campers regardless, but dealers say it’s a tight squeeze if you aren’t a child or a thin adult. This problem is particularly true for slide outs that are in the back of the camper, because they take up space in front of the entry door.

As a result, if you want to pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot to grab a snack or use the camper bathroom, you might not have enough space to expand the slide outs and, thus, complete your task.

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