If you’re starting your journey of entering the RV (recreational vehicles) world, there’s a good chance you started looking at popup campers (or tent campers), which are one of the most economical RVs on the market. They don’t require a large truck to tow, can more easily be stored at home, and provide incredible square footage of living for their relatively low weight and size. They’re a great way to enter the RV lifestyle.
You may now be wondering what you would be sacrificing in a popup camper vs. a larger RV. One question you may have is, “Do popup campers have electricity?”. Well, the good news is that almost all modern popup campers will enable you to plug in at the campground.
Electricity in Popup Campers
To quench your curiosity, the answer is a resounding yes! Popup campers are equipped with electrical systems that, much like your home, offer power for lights, water pumps, and even electrical appliances, making your camping trip a different experience with the comforts of home in tow. The extent of how you can use the electricity largely depends on your specific camper model and the power supply options it offers.
Understanding Your Popup Camper’s Electrical System
In most popup campers, you’ll find two primary electrical systems: a 12-volt DC system, similar to a car battery, and a 120-volt AC system, used when you’re connected to ‘shore power’ at a campsite.
The 12-volt DC system, powered by deep cycle batteries, runs lower power draw systems like interior lights, water pumps, and even a 12v fridge. This system is a lifesaver during off-grid adventures, providing just enough power for essential functionalities without needing an external power source. A 12V system can be upgraded with more batteries to increase your power supply if you plan to do more camping without access to the electrical grid.
On the flip side, the 120-volt AC system powers higher electricity-consuming devices like your air conditioner (AC unit), microwave, or larger television sets. This system kicks in when you’re hooked up to shore power at a campsite, transforming your popup camper into a small package bursting with big comforts.
Different types of electrical hookups
If you’re new to RVing, one thing you’ll quickly get familiar with is electricity demands. This is especially true when booking a site at a campground. One of the first questions most campgrounds will ask is what type of electrical hookup you need: 50 amp or 30 amp. This essentially refers to the type of plug you’ll use, but it also relates to the amount of energy you can get from the hookup. As you would think, 50-amp connections provide more electricity capacity than 30-amp.
Most smaller RVs, such as small travel trailers or popup campers, will use a 30-amp connection. This doesn’t mean that it’s less of a system; it’s simply manufactured that way because the electrical components of the RV don’t require more electricity than that. In fact, some smaller trailers may easily be able to operate on a 20-amp connection, which is what you find in most standard household outlets.
Below is a brief overview of typical RV hookups:
1. 50amp RV Hookup: These hookups deliver a significant amount of power, enough to power multiple high-demand appliances at once. They provide 240 volts via two 120-volt hot wires, a neutral wire, and a ground wire. Larger RVs, particularly those with two air conditioning units, often require 50amp service.
2. 30amp RV Hookup: These hookups are quite common and are found on many medium to larger-size RVs. They deliver 120 volts via a single hot wire, a neutral wire, and a ground wire. They are generally adequate for powering a single air conditioning unit along with other less-demanding appliances.
3. 20amp RV Hookup: These hookups are akin to the power that common household outlets provide. They also offer 120 volts but can’t support as many or as high-demand appliances as the 30-amp or 50-amp hookups. Many smaller RVs, trailers, and camper vans can operate off a 20amp service.
What are the typical appliances and electronics in a Popup Camper?
Popup campers, or tent trailers, can be simple or well-equipped, depending on the model. However, most will offer amenities that are also found in larger RVs. Here are some typical appliances and devices in a popup camper that may use electricity:
- Interior Lighting: Most pop-up campers have overhead lighting and sometimes additional task lighting.
- Refrigerator: Some popup campers come with small refrigerators that can run off electricity.
- Heater: Although your camper may have a propane furnace, you will still need electricity to operate the fan and igniter. Also, many RVers will also choose to use an electric
space heateron chilly nights, which will require you to be connected to shore power.
- Air Conditioning: While not always standard, some larger or more high-end pop-ups will likely have an air conditioning unit.
- Microwave: Some models also come with a small microwave oven.
- Water Pump: If the camper has a sink or an outdoor shower, there’s usually an electric water pump.
- USB/Power Outlets: For charging devices like phones, laptops or powering other small appliances.
- Fans: Either ceiling or freestanding fans for ventilation.
- Stereo System: Some campers come with built-in stereo systems for entertainment.
In addition to these common features, your camper will also have outlets, which can be used to power any regular 110V device such as TV, computers, small appliances, etc.
Battery Power in Popup Trailers
Most popup campers come equipped with a 12-volt system powered by one or more deep-cycle batteries. This system can handle the essential electrical needs of your camper when you’re not connected to a shore power source. This includes running lights, water pumps, fans, and sometimes even a 12-volt refrigerator.
These batteries can be recharged when connected to shore power. However, to prevent them from running out, it’s important to manage your power usage wisely. Remember that appliances like air conditioning units and microwaves generally require more power than a typical battery setup can provide. Your popup camper will likely come with lead acid batteries, but this can easily be upgraded to a lithium-ion battery if needed. Additionally, the size of the battery will be important to consider if you have a great demand for power.
Exploring Various Options to Power Up Your Popup Camper
Popup campers typically come with built-in electrical outlets and an onboard battery. However, you may choose to consider different options to expand your camper’s electrical capacity, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time enjoying your camping adventures away from the grid.
Solar power is a renewable energy source and a great option for long-term camping. Installing portable solar panels can help keep your deep cycle battery charged, offering a more sustainable power source.
In addition, a portable power station or a backup generator could provide that extra power boost when you’re camping in remote areas with no shore power. Upgrading your standard batteries to lithium batteries can also provide longer-lasting power, as they are designed for deep discharge cycles, making them a great option for extended use.
If choosing to purchase a generator, a small 2,500 or 3,500-watt generator will generally be sufficient for a popup trailer. If you do not have an air conditioner, a smaller generator will be more field efficient and typically quieter.
Energy Conservation: Making the Most of Your Power Supply
While popup campers offer electrical conveniences, it’s important to remember that conserving energy is an integral part of a successful camping trip, especially if operating off battery power. Here are a few simple steps to help you maximize your electricity usage:
- Consider upgrading to LED light bulbs, which are extremely affordable and consume much less power, and last longer than traditional bulbs.
- Keep a check on your battery levels. Aim to recharge your deep cycle battery when it hits around 50% to avoid depleting it entirely.
- Make use of solar power whenever possible. It’s a renewable and plentiful energy source that can supplement your camper’s power needs.
Solar Power in Popup Trailers
Solar power is an increasingly popular power source for RV, and this holds true for popup campers. It offers a renewable, clean, and virtually unlimited source of power, particularly useful when camping in off-grid locations with ample sunlight.
Solar power systems for popup campers typically involve solar panels, a solar charge controller, and the camper’s existing battery system. Some newer campers may even come prewired for solar panels. However, even if it isn’t, there are many tutorials for a DIY setup.
One of the best things about a solar setup is that it can maintain your batteries’ charge level throughout your camping trip, extending the duration of your off-grid capabilities. It’s also a silent power source, so it won’t disturb your peaceful camping experience like a traditional generator might.
However, the effectiveness of solar power will depend on the size of your solar array, the weather, and your location. Solar power will primarily be used to recharge your batteries, so the amount of electricity available will typically only be as much as your battery bank can hold. A single lithium battery will be sufficient for powering lights and fans for a day or so, but extended or more demanding uses will require additional lithium-ion batteries.
How is a Pop-up Camper different from a Travel Trailer?
The world of RVs can be quite varied, with different types of RVs offering different advantages and features. The two most popular types of entry-level RVs are popup campers and travel trailers. While both serve the same primary function, which is to offer a comfortable and portable living space while traveling or camping, they can differ in terms of design, size, amenities, and overall camping experience. In short, the larger the RV, the more amenities (or bigger size of amenities) you’ll have.
Design and Size
A Popup camper, also known as a tent trailer or a folding trailer, is smaller and more compact than most travel trailers. They feature a collapsible design, with hard roofs and bases and walls made of canvas or similar material that can be folded or expanded as needed. When collapsed, popup campers are relatively low-profile, making them easier to tow, more aerodynamic, and often lighter than travel trailers.
On the other hand, travel trailers are fully rigid structures and come in a wide range of sizes, from small teardrop models to large multi-room designs. They are generally larger and offer more living space compared to popup campers.
Popup campers, due to their smaller size and collapsible nature, are often more basic in their amenities. They typically include sleeping areas, a small kitchenette, and a dining area that can usually be converted into additional sleeping space. Some models may include a toilet or shower, but many do not, and those that do often feature a cassette toilet and portable shower rather than full bathroom facilities.
Travel trailers, however, often come equipped with more extensive amenities, including full kitchens, bathrooms with showers, separate dining and living areas, and even multiple bedrooms in larger models. Higher-end models may also feature luxury amenities like flat-screen TVs, sound systems, multiple air conditioners, and more.
The camping experience in popup campers tends to be more similar to traditional tent camping, thanks to their canvas walls. They can provide a closer connection to the outdoors and are often a popular choice for those who enjoy the feel of tent camping but desire additional comfort and convenience. On cool nights, it’s a good idea to have some warm sleeping bags available.
Travel trailers, in contrast, provide a more residential feel. They offer greater protection from the elements and a higher level of privacy. These traits, along with their added amenities, make travel trailers a good choice for longer trips, full-time RVing, or camping in areas with more inclement weather.
Popup campers are usually less expensive than travel trailers, both in terms of initial cost and ongoing expenses. First time RVers may be attracted to the lower price point. Their lightweight nature often allows them to be towed by smaller vehicles, potentially saving on the cost of a heavy-duty tow vehicle.
Travel trailers, with their larger size and more extensive amenities, are generally more expensive. They also require a more robust tow vehicle, especially for the larger models, which can add to the overall cost. While there are some smaller travel trailers that can be towed by an SUV, most will require at least a ½ ton truck.
Popup campers may lack a dining room table or have a smaller one available. Luckily, you will usually have access to a picnic table at your campsite. Another difference is storage space. If you plan to bring along a lot of items for a large family, a travel trailer may be a better choice as your storage options will significantly increase. Finally, if you get chilly easily and plan to camp in cold weather, the best option may be a hard-side camper. There are even some hard-sided pop-ups (like an A-frame design) available.
Popup campers are a great option for RVing after first considering some of the limitations when compared to travel trailers or larger RVs. However, what they lack in amenities, they make up for in compactness, “towability,” and cost.
With that being said, they still offer many of the same features RVers have come to love, including electricity. Popup trailers will primarily offer a 30-amp electrical connection that will power most electrical devices campers need. They will also allow for off-grid camping via battery power and are just as easy to upgrade to a large battery bank as their bigger RV counterparts.
So, if you were wondering if popup campers have electricity, the answer is yes. Almost every used or new pop up camper available will have a reliable electrical connection for shore power and 12-V battery systems.