Popup Camping Market Trends

Popup Camping Market Trends

Popup camping provides an exciting experience in the outdoors similar to tent camping with breathable fresh air and the adventure of setting up camp together.  Market trends show how people might be temporarily losing sight of the great value of Popup Campers.  But maybe some day their popularity will come back.

Market Trend Data
  • Popup camper sales peaked in years around 1998 with sales of around 63,000 popups.  
  • In 2010 Sales were 15,000 popups (click link for source)
  • Fleetwood/Coleman went from a peak of around 30,000 Popups sold per year and around 45% market share, to around 3,000 units sold per year when they went out of business in January 2011.
Reasons Why We Personally Bought a Popup
  • Better than a Tent
    • Up and Off the Ground.  My wife wanted to be up and off the ground, rather than in a tent, right on the ground.
    • No more rain ruining a tent camping trip. In the past, tents would notoriously leak and make campers generally miserable.
    • No more cold and clammy feeling all day.
  • More like a Cabin, but less expensive
    • We didn't want to spend $2500 - $3000 per year on a decent, clean, 1 week cabin resort anymore.  
    • We had rented a resort cabin for 4-5 years after we gave up on tenting but it kept costing a lot each year to rent something nice.
    • Brand new, clean popup was a great solution
    • In Popups you breath fresh air every night.  A cabin or Tent Trailer is like a house or mobile home.
  • Cost and Capacity
    • Large sleeping Capacity for 6-9 people, for our family of 6 (can't find this in a small Travel Trailer)
    • Could tow with our present minivan, no need to buy an SUV, saving $20,000
    • Lower cost than Travel Trailers that sleep a family of 6, saving $10,000
    • Could store in 3rd stall of our garage, saving $50-75/month * 8 months =$400-600/year * 10 yrs =$4,000-6000 over 10 yrs vs a Travel Trailer
    • Lower gas consumption costs
    • Total savings of $34,000-36,000

Reasons Given for Market Trends
  • Easy and Electronic.  "Where do I tap?"  Some people have lost sight of a wonderful vision to build family memories and teamwork by setting up camp together.  Today some can imagine themselves conquering the world by exploring the internet and learning about amazing places all over the world, or through social media in front of a computer screen.  It's a different frontier that is as easy as a push button, click, tap, or touch.  When camping, some people are willing to settle for something without an adventure, roughing it, proving yourself courageous, or reliving the adventures of ancestors and Wild West heroes like Daniel Boone. 


  • Quality of Tents has improved dramatically.  Modern high tech tents are so easy to use, set up, and store, there is less need for a popup to stay dry while car camping.   My son's REI tent always stays dry even in heavy rains.   REI does a great job of making great car camping tents trendy and cool!

  • Compare modern high tech tents to the photo below
    This type of 1990's style Sears nylon tent costed around $150 ($300-400 in today's money) but was...
    notoriously leaky
    cold, clammy, and miserable when wet
    took a long time to set up
    parts went missing, rather than staying attached where needed

    These kinds of tents helped boost the popup market in the 1980's-1990's.

    Modern tent technology has become
    Highly Engineered
    Totally Waterproof
    Trendy and Fashionable

  • Entertainment and Infotainment.   Entertainment and hedonism is the center of life and existence for many people.   Travel Trailers feel more like video gaming or going to a movie, sitting down in the seat, and taking in the entertainment, standing up from your seat and walking back to your car, sitting down and driving home.   Just turn it on, hit play, and sit in front of screens.  Larger RVs accommodate a lifestyle saturated with televisions, video games, computers, ipads, internet, and other forms of entertainment.

  • Changing Family Structures.  There are less stay-home moms and smaller, or non-traditional family structures. More women are working outside the home and people are postponing and having less children.  Dual incomes provide more money for toys and conveniences that busy working mom's demand, with less time for setting up a popup camper.  Less or no children can fit into more luxurious Lightweight or Ultra-light weight Travel Trailers. Popups are designed to sleep a large family of up to 6-7, back in the day when people had 4 children as the norm.  Travel Trailers are often designed with less beds for less kids, and more luxury.  Sometimes grandparents take the grandchildren camping, rather than traditional two parent family structures camping together.  Some younger adults are investing in education, careers, and paying down debts on college loans, rather than thinking about having children that need large sleeping capacity that popup campers are designed for.  Here is a link to quality graphics of trends by the Pew Research Center on family size changes.

Large Tow Vehicles.  We have moved from cars to Station Wagons, to Minivans, to SUVs and Trucks.  With a single family income all people could afford was a Minivan, but now people place a high priority on owning an SUV or Truck, which opens up possibilities for a Travel Trailer rather than a Popup.

  • RV Dealer Profit.  RV dealers make more profit margin on larger RVs than on small Popup Campers so they tend to attract and/or upsell customers to buy the biggest purchase and profit for which customers can get financing approved.  This is the same in every market - autos, homes, etc.   This upselling and marketing attract people to the benefits of larger units.  

  • High Debt.  Personal Debt has increased significantly for Auto Loans, Home Equity Loans, Credit Card debt, and Mortgage Debt.   See a graph of the trends in Personal Debt at this link.   Auto Loans and Home Equity Loans increased beginning in 1999.  Both of these types of loans can be used for RV purchases and Tow Vehicle purchases.  Since the Great Recession people reduced personal debt slowly, as credit has no longer been available as easy as during the latest economic bubble.

  • More Appliances.  In recent years, Popups kept adding more appliances like electric sink pumps, refrigerators, heaters, hot water heaters, showers, toilets, etc.  Prices increased from $6K up to $12K - $18K for high wall popups.  For those buying new units, smaller Travel Trailers are similar in price to large popups, so people with small families consider just buying a Travel Trailer that does not need to be popped up and popped down.

  • Build Complexity.  In order to have a large sleeping capacity, Popup Campers are more complex to design and manufacture than economy Travel Trailers with low sleeping capacity.  Popups transform into a small compact space when popped down.  The structure of an economy Travel Trailer stays in one position at all times.  The compact nature of Popup Campers make them very convenient to store in a garage, and they weigh less.  Many specialty products designed for camping are more expensive than big and bulky products.  People still buy Popups for their large sleeping capacity, light weight, ability to be towed by a mini-van, and ability to store in a garage or smaller space.
  • Empty Nesters.  Baby Boomers are getting older and migrating to larger Tent Trailers and 5th Wheel RVs with less sleeping areas and more luxury for older retired people
  • Roof Issues.  Certain years of Fleetwood/Coleman popup roofs had failures that might have given Popup's a bad reputation.  All other brands have also had roof failures that leak or delaminate.  
  • Lower Airfare.  Sometimes people would rather travel by air, rent a car and a hotel to see a national park rather than "Get Their Kicks on Route 66".

Personally, I keep hoping culture will change and people will go back to having larger families, catch the vision of setting up camp together, and stop increasing debt, spending, and excessive purchases of large RVs and Tow Vehicles designed for hedonistic small families.

Benefits of Popups

In spite of the trends away from Popup campers there are still many benefits of popup camping that may become popular again some day including:

Economic benefits:
Lighter weight
Can be towed with the existing family Mini-Van or Crossover Vehicle, rather than upgrading to a significantly more expensive Tow Vehicle like an SUV or 4 door Truck  (This is a huge factor for many who still want to minimize their personal debt.)
Much better gas mileage to tow, due to less weight and smaller Tow Vehicle
Compact and possible to store in the Garage, which saves money on storage, and is very convenient too
Most Popups are generally less expensive and more affordable than most Travel Trailers  (though the trend for Popups has been to make them bigger and more expensive than even some Travel Trailers)

Personal preference benefits * 
Fresh Air is breathed all night long as you sleep, providing a great sleeping environment compared to the recycled air we normally breath indoors
Has the feel of being like a tent, but off the cold and clammy ground
Feels more like camping to some people who tent camped in the past
Does not feel like a mobile home 
Not cold, clammy and wet, like you get in some tents after a big rain (depending on the quality of the tent).

*Not everyone shares these perceptions; only a certain percentage of the market has these perceptions, but to that share of the market these perceptions are held very strongly.

Consolidating Ownership of Popup Manufacturing Companies

Three primary holding companies now owning most popup manufacturing companies in the US:

1.  Columbia Northwest, which owns:
    The new (in 2011) successor to Fleetwood / Coleman high quality designs and features
    Marketed to a niche market of couples without children, desiring high quality popups

2. Jayco,  purchased by Thor Industries in 2016 for $576 million, which owns:

In January 2019, Jayco announced they will only make toy hauler popup campers in the future.

3. Forest River RV, owned by Investor CEO Warren Buffet's company Berkshire Hathaway, which owns:
Coachman Viking
Coachman Clipper
Polomino - a low cost brand
Plus other RVs that are not Pop-up style RVs