If you’ve ever come across a camping trailer that’s shaped like an Army private first class insignia with wheels, you’re looking at an A-frame camper trailer. In civilian speak, this folding camper has a pointed roof like the letter A and a wide base that may have rounded corners at the bottom. Unlike its cousin, the soft-shell pop-up trailer, it has hard walls all around.
We’re going to examine these little known campers in this article. We’ll see where the concept of them originated, their benefits in today’s camping world, and how easy it is to set them up. Throughout our journey, we’ll show you some of the more popular brands that are made through independent and big-name manufacturers.
The History of the A-Frame Camper
The concept of the A-frame collapsible travel trailer isn’t a new one. It dates back to the 1970s when Ralph Tait started tinkering in his garage. After a few weeks, this Oregonian built a lightweight hardshell expandable camper that could be towed by almost any vehicle. As word spread about his new design, orders came in faster than he could build them.
With business on the rise, the Tait family decided to move to Pennsylvania to chase their American dream by opening up their first factory. While two of Ralph’s sons helped with building the A-frame pop up campers, the third would hitch one up to the family station wagon to sell throughout the country. Once sold, he’d come back, hitch up another, and do it again.
In 1984, ALiner was officially established as a business by the Tait family. Due to their efforts, this independent company has continued to be one of the leading camper brands on the market. In 2007, the family retired but the legacy continues.
A great example of the original model is the current Scout ALiner camper. This 15-foot, 1,395 pounds unloaded vehicle weight (UVW) entry-level A-frame is a great choice for those that want to get back to basics. Something as small as a Kia Sorento would be a great tow vehicle for this small pop up camper.
Both the rear sofa and front dinette fold down for sleeping space. There’s plenty of storage space in the cabinets that make up the mid-coach. For off-grid camping, the coach comes with a solar prewire port.
If you want a more comprehensive camping experience, you can opt for the park package that includes a sink, refrigerator, and city water hook up. To keep things comfortable, a side-mounted 6,000 BTU air conditioner can be factory installed. If you want to further your off-road adventure, this package upgrades the tires and suspension.
The Scout appeals to those that want a lightweight basic camper trailer that has a lot of storage and sleeping space. It’s budget-friendly with a price lower than $9,000. No matter how basic or upgraded you go, the protective diamond plate on the front and back will protect your camper from road debris and other hazards.
Breaking Down These Expandables
Appearances can be deceiving. When people look at them, some A-frame reviews mention that they are too small and you wouldn’t be able to stand up straight in them. Others may think that their construction would be flimsy and are prone to leak.
The truth of the matter is they are built with the same materials most travel trailers are constructed from. The side walls are laminated and bonded with insulation. A-frames are built to resist weather and wind in the warmer seasons.
Standard A-frames are big enough where you can stand up straight in most of the walking area. When you open the door, you’ll see that that floor is deep inside the base of the trailer. It’s only at the far ends that you have to bend down, but this is where sitting or bed furniture is located.
Bigger A-frames, like the Flagstaff T21DMHW, have added ceiling flaps that fold up to give more headspace. These dormers flatten out the A-frame camper interior ceilings to make it easier to function in the front or back of the RV. They also have windows to add light and more ventilation.
On this particular Flagstaff model, the front dormer allows those inside more headroom to move around in the kitchen and wet bath area. A popular feature of this model is the solid walls that fit in place around the wet bath. Campers can feel comfortable taking care of their morning routine with more than just a shower curtain around them.
When you check out Flagstaff A-frame reviews concerning this model, you’ll find that its storage space is best in its category. You’ll have storage bays in the front and rear of the camper that has sliding trays to make things easily reachable. The interior has cabinetry and strategic storage under the bed as well.
Towing this 2,700-pound UVW is a breeze for something like a Dodge Caravan. This 20.10 foot long A-frame camper with a bathroom will feel very roomy for two people on a rainy day. You can find new units between $15,000-$18,000
Setting up an A-Frame
Another misnomer pertaining to A-frame hard wall pop-ups deals with how complicated the set up is. Generally, it’s as simple as moving four walls. As you’ll see in the instructional video above, you start with the roof panels. They are either spring-loaded, hydraulic assisted, or position into place with an electric lift system.
To lift the roof into place, there’s a handle that you use to move the rear panel up. This glides the front roof panel up smoothly. It doesn’t take much effort to do this.
To put the side walls up, you open the trailer door, step in, and hinge the door side wall up first. As it goes up, you’ll fit through the upper door opening. Once in place, lock the wall.
For the back wall, you lift that into place and lock it. You finish up with the fine detail of the furniture and shore connections. Complete setup time should take approximately 20 minutes.
Setting up the Dormer
If you have a dormer on your hard wall pop up, like the Rockwood A213HW, the extra step is to lift it up, and set the side pieces into place. If you find a reason not to open up the dormer, this won’t affect the integrity of the coach. You’re still watertight and insulated.
Rockwood does two great things with their dormer. The first is that their dormer models have electric lifts on the main roof. The second is that they have velcro on the side dormer flaps. This doesn’t hold them in place, but it does hold them up long enough to allow you to use both your hands to lock the side flaps.
Another great feature of the Rockwood A213HW is the two twin beds. This over 20 foot RV comes with a connecting panel and cushions to make the bed into a king. The dinette folds out for an overnight guest.
This Rockwood shows up on many of the industry’s best hard side pop up camper lists. It sells for under $20,000 and weighs in at 2,670 pounds UVW. Your GMC Acadia will have enough power for all of you and your gear, as you head out on your camping adventure.
A-frames are a great choice if you’re looking for a lightweight camper trailer to take off-road. With their insulated hard walls they keep the interior comfortable in most climates. Many come with furnaces with high ratings. You can choose the option of a factory-installed air conditioner.
The Chalet Arrowhead is apart of their 15-foot Classic line up. This Oregon based company installs a 16,000 BTU furnace and a 3-speed exhaust fan in the ceiling. You can also choose to have an 8,000 BTU air conditioner with a remote.
Their Trail Boss Package upgrades their A-frame to handle all kinds of terrain. These components include:
- A 4-inch raised suspension
- 14-inch off-road tires and wheels
- Upgraded heavy duty stabilizer jacks
- Dual entry steps for the added height
To keep the essentials going on your off-road excursion, you can hook into the solar prewire port, with your own or purchase their 80-watt folding panel with the 10 amp controller. Chalet installs a 15-gallon freshwater tank as standard equipment. For hot water, they have an optional six-gallon water heater and an exterior shower.
To enjoy camping, you need more than the essentials. You can bring your favorite music outside with their optional outdoor speakers that connect to the stereo system inside. While you’re outside, you can also grill up your favorite meals on the barbecue that connects to the sidewall and the propane quick-connector.
The Arrowhead has a dry weight of 1,585 pounds. It sleeps up to three people and measures 15.6 feet in length. Using a tow vehicle like a Jeep Wrangler will get you where you want to go without any power problems.
Choosing an A-Frame Over a Pop-Up
A-frames are recommended more for couples than for families. There are models for families of four, but most work best for groups of two or three. Their insulating properties are better than softshell pop-ups.
If you are looking at the weight differences, softshell pop-ups and A-frames have similar weights. Any vehicle that can tow a traditional pop-up, can tow an A-frame. This is due to the lightweight materials the A-frames are built from.
Folded sizes are generally the same. The longest traditional pop-up and A-frame can measure around 20 feet in length. Storing them in your home’s garage or your rented storage unit shouldn’t be a problem.
You can have a more comfortable camping experience when it comes to weather and temperatures in an A-frame. Since they are better insulated, using them in early spring or late fall with the climate control features wouldn’t be much of a problem. If you’re thinking of cold weather camping or winter camping, A-frames won’t be able to handle those conditions.
If you’re concerned about the quality of the mechanisms, remember, A-frames and traditional pop-ups were created in the 1970s, so their technologies are the same age. Their hinges, levers, and other components are built the best manufacturers in the industry. As long as you keep up on your preventive maintenance, you can keep any surprises down to a minimum.
Charles Joseph is one of the original authors of Camper Smarts from when it first started.
- A-frame RV: Pixabay