Pop Up Camping: A Beginner's Guide

This post was updated in December 2019 to reflect some additional things we learned during our time as pop up camper owners.

Our pop up camper is packed up like a little jigsaw puzzle with everything fitting snuggly into place.  Setting up involves a series of steps that must be done in just the right sequence for everything to fit together.   Pop up camping can be a lot of work.  But, you can easily enjoy a pop-up camper if you know what you are doing and make smart work of these tasks.  So where should a beginner start?

Pop Up Camping:  A Beginner's Guide


Pop up camping should begin with a level camping spot.  Some campers use the BAL 28050 Light Trailer Tire Leveler.  We actually opted for using Hopkins 08525 Graduated Level and a set of  Camco Heavy Duty Leveling Blocks.

*Since this post was first shared we have started using Andersen Levelers.
Camco Leveling Blocks come in a pack that stack neatly and hold up well over time.
The graduated levels stick onto the camper and show you if your camper is level.  If you use these, you will want one level to sit on the backside of your RV to measure from left to right.  A second level will stick on the side to give you the front to back measurement.

You want to focus on leveling your RV from left to right first.  You can even place a household level on your bumper if you don't have the stick on ones for your RV.  Don't try to eyeball it!

To level your pop up camper, you need to position your tires onto the leveling system of your choice on the side that needs to be raised.  So, look at your back level or the level on your bumper first and determine which side of your pop up camper needs to be raised for the camper to be level.  Drive onto your level that has been placed on the appropriate size and work until you have a level reading from left to right.

Once you are level left to right, place wheel chocks behind or in front of your wheels based on any slope that you might have at your site.  This will keep your RV from sliding or slipping once you unhitch.  Whatever you do, don't forget the wheel chocks!  We had our new RV slide in the yard when we forgot this step, and I grabbed the tongue jack in a moment of panic causing me to tear my knee in two places.  Next, unhitch the camper from your tow vehicle.

After unhitching, place a level in the doorway of your camper or use the stick on levels to get level from front to back.  Raise or lower the jack on the front of your RV to adjust the height from front to back.  You should now be completely level both side to side and front to back.  Now you can lower your stabilizer jacks.  Remember, your stabilizer jacks are not to level your camper.  These are only to provide a good ground contact and keep your camper from rocking around so much while inside.  They are just to stabilize you.  That's it.

Getting our camper level was one of the hardest things for us to learn how to do.  It was more frustrating than towing or anything else that we did when we first started camping.  I think that Andersen Levelers are certainly the easiest way to get this job done.  Patience is the key to learning how to do this job right.  Don't give up.

Since I first wrote this post, I have written another post about leveling your RV as well as a YouTube video that might be helpful for first-time pop-up camper owners.  Regardless of what you have, this might be helpful!

Now, if you have an awning like we do, you will need to unzip it and allow the legs to swing down before you start cranking the top-up.  If you don't have an awning, just skip this step.

Next, crank up the top.  Leave a little slack in your lines for adjusting your door later. Being level also helps with this.

Pull the bunk ends out and attach the bunk end rods into place. The bunk end rods will slide into a metal bracket under the bed and attach to the frame for added support.  There should be 2 rods per bunk end side.  Now, you need to unload all of our gear and boxes that are stored underneath your bunk ends.

Pull the bunk ends out.

Lower the door into the camper frame.  We then crank up the top a little at a time until the door is straight and fastened into place.

Our screen door folds up and attaches to the ceiling.

Pull the canvas outward over the bunks.  If you are using Pop Up Gizmos, which I recommend, you will lay these over the canvas tops and loosely attach with clips.  You can adjust the gizmos later.  Extend the shepherds hooks into the bunk end frames and attach them.  Last, fasten your canvas all the way around the bottom of the bunk ends.

Hook Up

Now it is time to connect your electricity and water.  You should have a 30 amp electrical plug that will plug into the campsite electrical hook up.

The city water inlet and grey water outlets have hoses for each.  You will need a clean water drinking hose.  This will attach to your city water inlet.  At most campgrounds, you will find the water pressure will need to be regulated.  Purchase a simple water pressure regulator.  We have also added a Camco TastePURE Inline Water Filter.  Before turning on the water from the exterior of the camper, make sure that your water is off inside.  Otherwise, you will have water going like crazy inside!  Trust me!  I know from experience here.

The Camco water pressure regulator will help at the campsite.
For your grey water, you will need a grey water drain hose and a grey water container.  Walmart readily has 5 and 8-gallon containers from around $30.  However, you can buy larger containers on wheels like the SmartTote2 Portable RV Waste Tote Tank from Thetford.  Consider how much water you will use and how you will transport this container to empty it.

After our first year, we made an adjustment to this and began getting full hook up sites when possible so that we could drain our grey water directly into the sewer line.  If you do this, it will revolutionize your camping set up.  I encourage you to do this when it is possible.

Make It All Home

After you have unhitched, set up and hooked up, it is time to make beds and make your camper home.  This is when I attach my outdoor stove to its spot near my door.  I begin unpacking my food and setting up my camp kitchen.  I also make the beds and set up my outdoor seating.  This can be as elaborate or as simple as you want.

One thing I discovered right before we sold our pop up was that we could make our beds at home before our trips.  I would crank up the top and pull the bunk ends out.  Make the beds on the exterior of the RV so you aren't crawling around inside.  You can reach everything easily this way.  Tuck everything in neat and tidy.  Then, push your bunk ends back into place and crank down your top.  When you get to the campground, a big portion of your work is done.  And it is so much better to do it this way!  Try it and let me know how it works for you!

Peggy Sue all fixed up!

Tips to Make Your First Trip Run Smoothly
  1. Do a practice set up at home.
  2. Decide who should do what.  My husband hooks everything up outside while I make everything up inside.  It is the best way to divide our labor.  
  3. Be realistic about what you can do that first day based on the time that you plan to arrive at your spot.  Better yet, maybe plan to arrive a little early (before dark) to allow you time to set up in the daylight.  
If you are just getting started, I have created a Pop Up Camper Beginners Checklist with the essentials of RV gear that you need.  Be sure to check out my Camp Kitchen Checklist and First Camping Checklist.  These are designed to help make that first trip successful.  If you want all three checklists, I placed them in a folder for easy access if you prefer.  Southern Glamper Checklists.

If you would like to explore places beyond the campground, consider adding a generator to your gear and set up.  You can check out 6 generator recommendations from GeneratorHero.  He has taken the guesswork out of selecting the right model for the type of camping that you would like to do!

Don't get too stressed the first few times you camp.  Expect some bumps in the road along the way.  It is part of the process.  Later you can laugh at your first few mistakes and how you overcame them.  We do.  

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  1. wish I would have had something like this when we bought our first pop up, would have probably kept it. We had been only seasonal glampers prior, left in campground for winters etc. 10 yrs after selling, decided we wanted to camp again, only had a 4 cyl. pickup, so....pop up it was, disasterous couple of attempts, after practicing at home, took it boondocking 2x, decided pop up's not for us and sold within 3 days. We now have a very small vintage(still same truck for tow), and I am doing much better since set up is only half the work. You give great tips that could work for any small camper. Thank you

    1. Thank you for your comments and feedback. I'm so sad that pop up camping didn't work for you. It is a little more work to set up and take down. But, we love it and are enjoying it after we have a year under our belt!

  2. Hello I'm 622 single camper and presently rent camp alone. I'm considering purchasing a pop up. Is this something I could set up alone?

    1. I do think that you could set up a pop up camper alone. It certainly would depend on your strength and ability. But, I would consider a small pop up camper. We had a really small one and loved it. I have also met a couple of solo women campers that use A-Liner style campers solo. I also think this is a good choice for women. And, they don't have the maintenance of a canvas. Good luck and happy camping!!

    2. My husband drives and backs the pop up and hooks and unhooks it. I do all the rest. It takes me about 20 minutes. Longer if he helps. I’m 65. Still learning from all the posts of tips.

    3. My husband drives and backs the pop up and hooks and unhooks it up. I do all the rest myself. It takes me about 20 minutes, longer if he helps. I’m 65.

  3. Just bought a used PUP. Can't wait to try it this spring. The tips you have shared here a fantastic!!! Thank you

    1. I'm so glad you found this to be helpful. I hope you enjoy camping as much as we do!

  4. Hi, just discovered your blog and we just bought our first pop up!!! I was wondering about when you painted, did you paint the top?


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