Pop-Top Caravans

Take a look at the types of caravans being towed and you will soon notice how popular the pop-top caravan really is. These unique caravans with a height similar to the tow vehicle, gives the owner more flexibility and towing confidence. The pop-tops these days are designed with innovative features such as ‘easy lift’ bars and nylon keepers for the skirting. This article talks about the various types of pop-tops in the market, some useful tips on buying new or second hand and pop-top lifting mechanisms.

What is a Pop-Top Caravan?

Pop-top caravans are built along the same lines as a full or standard caravan except that the roof can be raised and lowered. To allow the roof section to be raised and lowered whilst still providing interior protection, a 300 to 400mm gusset, which is typically made of vinyl or canvas. This skirting ensures a waterproof and windproof seal and commonly has zippered sections that can be opened to allow airflow through the caravan. These are made with flyscreens – similar to tent window screens, which are used to keep out mosquitoes, flies and other insects. The roof mechanism generally comprises of spring assisted scissor lifts and gas struts, although to make it even easier to 'pop the top', many manufacturers are now implementing 'easy lift' handles. Now a pop-top caravan may not have the full-height door and an abundance of big overhead cupboards which is quite evident in a full sized caravan. However, when the pop-top roof is raised, there's plenty of height and living space, sections can be opened out to let fresh air circulate inside and it doesn’t take all that long to set up or pack down.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Like anything, there’s going to be some advantages and disadvantages of a pop-top caravan especially when compared to its solid-walled brother. For many pop-top owners, the few advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and many also believe it’s an urban myth that pop-tops are heavier. Some historically known disadvantages of a pop-top may be disputed by the purists today, although the list of disadvantages below is the general consensus.
  • There are not as many cupboards or smaller eye-level cupboards because the design of the pop-top caravan does not allow full overhead cupboards.

  • There are a few extra steps required when either, setting the pop-top up for camp or packing it down for travel.

  • The door height may be lower, so care needs to be taken when entering the caravan.

  • Vinyl or canvas pop-top skirting does not provide much insulation in very cold weather.

  • Pop-top caravans may have more maintenance issues because they have more components and moving parts.


The two main advantages of the pop-top caravan has always been the fact they are easier to store and they provide less wind resistance when being towed. Since the height is around the same as the tow vehicle when the roof section is down, the pop-top can be stored in most car ports. This height reduction also provides easier and safer towing due to the wind being deflected by the tow vehicle instead of the caravan. Other advantages in today’s pop-tops include the use of spring assisted scissors and gas struts to help with raising and lowering the roof and big zip-open panels in the skirting which provides excellent interior ventilation.

Types of Pop-Top Caravans

Standard Pop-Top Caravan

The standard pop-top is the most common type of pop-top available and is generally what most people would visually recognise as a ‘pop-top’. These caravans provide just about all the features and amenities of a full or standard caravan, plus the added benefit of a roof that can be raised for extra living space. There’s a huge advantage for the caravan roof to be lowered, especially to assist in easier and safer towing during transit .

There are usually less moving parts when compared to the other types of pop-tops as the roof section is the only thing that's designed to extend. Less moving parts typically means less maintenance issues in the future. Many standard pop-top caravans include retractable ‘easy lift’ handles to provide extra grip and leverage when raising the roof. Some ‘food for thought’ though - the bigger the pop-top caravan, the heavier the roof section. That said, the average length of pop-tops are often found in the small to medium sizes and they do not normally exceed 18ft. Also, to keep the weight of the roof down, the roof is usually made in one piece and constructed with lightweight materials such as aluminium or fibreglass.

Expanding Pop-Top Caravan

These expandable pop-top caravans have single or double pop-out ends and hence its name, are designed to be expanded. This design usually accommodates queen sized bedding at the ends and being extendable, provides much more living space without the increase in towing length. Some models provide one-piece tent sections with large flyscreen windows such as the Jayco Expanda, whilst others provide a solid-wall expanding section such as the Roma Spyder. They are very similar in size, height and weight to a standard pop-top caravan, quite easy to tow and relatively quick and easy to setup. They provide a lot of extra storage solutions and living space with some of the larger models big enough to accommodate up to eight people.

Off Road Pop-Top Caravan

There are some manufacturers without mentioning names that are not great advocates of off-road pop-top caravans. Their main argument is that a “pop-top caravan cannot be built as strong as a hard-top full height caravan and you will have more maintenance problems in the long term”. Problems which may be amplified with the knocks and bumps from rough off-road conditions and dust which can cause wear and tear on canvas, dust seals, latches and gas struts. On the other side of the coin, there are manufacturers that build their pop-top caravans as tough as a full or standard off road caravans by using similar design technology in the chassis, suspension and body framework. They usually incorporate a full length and full width roof section with a water-proof, mildew and UV resistant skirt that’s held in by a nylon keeper. There are some pop-top caravans that are built strong and are compact such as the All Terrain Little Robin Mini whilst others are larger like the Pioneer Corvair from Coromal.

Pop-Top Camper Style

These amazing caravans are as tall as a full-sized caravan when setup and as small as a camper trailer when packed down. Many of them feature lifter systems which usually incorporate telescopic posts, a pulley system with cables and a manual or electric operated winch. The roof of the camper can be easily raised because there is tremendous force generated by the winch and pulley system. Once the roof is high in place, there is a feeling of open space due to the many large flyscreen sections. There are campers that feature push-out bedding sections to provide more living space, with some models capable of accommodating up to seven people. There are also off road versions that have beefed up suspension and body armour to handle the tracks less ventured. Examples of the pop-top camper style caravans are the Windsor Sunwagon, the Goldstream Gold Storm and the Jayco range of campers such as the Jayco Hawk, the Jayco Penguin and the Jayco Finch.

Lifting Assembly

The lifting assembly is the components that are used to ‘pop up’ the roof section. Unless it’s a pop-top camper with its cable and winch system, most pop-top lifting assemblies are quite standard. These standard components all assist when raising and lowering the roof section and typically comprise of spring scissors, gas struts and in most cases today – ‘easy lift’ bars.

Gas Struts

Gas struts were first used in Australia in the late 1970s and were installed to the pop-top roof section of campervans such as the Toyota HiAce and the VW Kombi. They assist by pushing the weight of the roof up when the roof is being raised and absorbing the weight when the roof is being lowered.

How do Gas Struts Work?

A gas strut is fully open when it is in its natural state because compressed gas is pushing on a piston inside the strut. When the pop-top roof is fully raised, the gas strut is in this natural state, however, when the pop-top roof is lowered, the gas in the strut is compressed even more. This is how it assists by taking some of the load or weight of the roof section. Gas struts need to be cycled, which means the roof needs to raised and lowered every now and then (one or two times a month). The reason for this is because every time the strut is cycled, the seals are automatically lubricated with a tiny amount of oil. This oil is needed not only to ensure that the seals work properly but also to keep the compressed gas inside the strut. If the seal dries out due to constant non-use, the compressed gas may slowly leak out and therefore reducing the strength of the strut.

Measurement of Gas Struts

Gas struts are commonly measured in newtons (or N) which is the internationally recognised measurement of force. Since a 1kg weight on the Earth’s surface works out to be 9.8N, a gas strut that is rated at 400N will provide a lifting capacity of approximately 40kgs. 500N will approximately equate to 50kgs, 600N to 60kgs and so on.


If you are upgrading your gas struts, take the time to get the right strut. Choosing a strut that's too strong may be great when raising up the roof, however it may be a great effort to bring it back down.

Easy Lift Bars

The task of raising and lowering the roof section of a pop-top has been made even easier with the help from ‘easy lift’ bars. These bars are designed to provide a cantilever type affect to minimise the force needed to raise the roof. They are usually constructed from square or tubular steel bars that are strong enough to take the load of lifting one side of the roof. The lifter has a pivoting point on each side and is connected to another steel section which is attached to the roof. Once the roof is raised, these lifters include a latch mechanism to keep the roof in place and the lifter from coming undone and swinging back down. ‘Easy lift’ bars are a simple but very effective way of raising and lowering a pop-top roof section with minimal effort.


When raising the roof of a pop-top caravan, it is a good idea to leave the main door open. Raising the pop-top roof while the main door is closed may cause a vacuum inside the caravan. Opening the main door allows air to be drawn from the outside through the entrance to allow the roof to be raised much easier.

Canopy Lifters

Canopy lifts, scissor lifts and scissor arms are some of the names that represent the component that’s used to raise the roof on a pop-top caravan or campervan. It comprises of a steel track on the bottom and top sections and two flat or tubular steel lengths that form an ‘X’ and pivot in the centre. Two ends of the steel lengths are attached to rollers to provide the smooth rolling action on the track when the lifter is raised or closed. Springs are commonly used to assist and provide load whilst the lifter is in the raised position and to unload when the lifter is closed. Canopy lifters are available in 700mm, 900mm and 1200mm width sizes and most have a maximum lift height capacity of 685mm. Depending on the type of lifter, most can handle weights of between 30 and 40kgs per piece. These pop-top lifters have been around for a long time and it’s very common these days to find them being used in conjunction with gas struts and ‘easy lift’ bars.

Pop-Top Maintenance

Mould and Mildew

Prevention is better than the cure when it comes to mould and mildew because any build-up may result in permanent staining. Before these nasties take hold, clean away any first signs of mould or mildew in the soft material parts of the pop-top such as the pop-top skirting or the roll-out awning. To clean vinyl, use a recommended vinyl cleaner preferably in a spray and do not use any abrasives or abrasive cleaners. For cleaning dust and dirt from canvas, use cold, clean water and let it thoroughly dry afterwards. Do not use detergents or bleaches as this will remove the waterproofing properties from the canvas.

Cleaning Moving Components

Moving components need to be free from any dirt and grime to work effectively. For example, dirt and grime can be quite detrimental to gas struts, so any evidence of this should be removed regularly from the steel shaft. It's also important to inspect moving components for early signs of wear and tear, rust and corrosion. These systematic maintenance checks, if done by yourself or a service technician will provide good peace of mind and confidence.

Lubricating Moving Components

This is not only crucial for smooth movement and unintended friction, but also to prolong the life of the component by protecting it from rust and corrosion. Apply a recommended silicone spray to moving components such as springs and scissor arms and any components that may start to show an indication of rust. You may want to use a shield such as a piece of cardboard to prevent accidentally spraying the vinyl or canvas because doing so may show unsightly grease marks.

Pop-Top Considerations

New Considerations

When you are considering buying a brand new pop-top caravan, there's nothing wrong with doing a little ‘tyre kicking’ because a caravan is something you may only buy once. Taking the time to research the various types of caravans and making sure that the pop-top is the right caravan type for you, is a start. After that, it's a matter of determining which pop-top caravan model or manufacturer to go with. It’s a good idea to research, look around, learn and ask heaps of questions and of course – take notes. You could even post a message regarding pop-top caravans in our forum and ask the audience some questions. Either way, it is something not to rush into.

An important consideration to think about when purchasing a brand new pop-top is what sort of warranty comes with it. How many years is the cover and what does it cover? If it's an off-road caravan – what does the manufacturer consider off-road and to what degree? Also get some advice on the construction methods used and how the technology will last the test of time. For example, some caravan manufacturers use a full nylon keeper to hold the vinyl or canvas skirt in place. This design is said to prevent water leakage in the long term because there isn't any rivets or screws used that may otherwise rust away. It’s innovations like these that are always a good thing to keep in mind when purchasing a new pop-top caravan.

Second-Hand Considerations

There are many areas to a pop-top caravan that’s just plain hard to get into, especially when inspecting for any damage. Assessing physical damage on the exterior and the interior of the caravan may be plain to see, but what about inside the wall cavities and the structural framework? Also, are the walls, floor and roof of the caravan straight and not warped in any way and are they free from water and moisture? Pop-top caravans are subject to the same extreme conditions as the tow vehicle such as going over road undulations at speed and being out in the rain for extended periods of time. Depending on factors such as the age of the pop-top, the quality of the design, the construction methods and last but not least, the way it has been used and stored over the years, may determine whether there has been water ingress. Take a look at some useful tips on purchasing a second hand pop-top caravan.
  • Thoroughly check all dark recesses with a torch and inspect underneath the chassis, trims and carpet where applicable.

  • Smell for any mustiness when you open the caravan door as this may be the first sign of dampness or condensation.
  • Consider moisture meters which are used to help determine the moisture levels in some materials.

  • Look for signs of dirt and rust especially on the chassis, A-frame, moving components and any other steel parts.

  • Inspect the skirting trim thoroughly and look for any mould or mildew on any canvas or vinyl sections.

  • Check for quick paint jobs and discoloured wood and wall coverings.

  • Focus your eye on the straight edges of the caravan for warped panels as water logging creates extra weight and may warp panels in severe cases.


Many insurance companies consider a pop-top caravan and a pop-top camper as a soft target and may not fully cover items stolen from the inside. There have been cases where insurance claims were not honoured on the grounds that the caravan was not forcefully ‘broken into’, as the intruder gained access through removable Velcro or zippered sections. Some insurance policies may not fully protect a pop-top caravan from item theft even though a sharp instrument was used to gain entry. It is essential that you read the insurance policy and any fine-print very carefully when deciding on which insurance company or broker to go with. To assist caravanners with this, many insurers now have policies that are quite easy to read and understand. Some may advise that you should consider upgrading your household contents policy to include cover for items anywhere in Australia.

It’s very important to fully understand the insurer’s definition of ‘forceful entry’. Find out whether the insurer covers contents stolen as well as the damage caused by any forceful entry through the vinyl or canvas section of the pop-top. Some caravan insurance policies may cover contents stolen from inside an annex, so this option could also be looked into.

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Created: February 2007
Revised: June 2007
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