The lift system on a pop-up camper is the secret ingredient that enables weight reduction but helps provide ample living space. Don’t be daunted by the system, it is robust and designed for easy use.
The pop-up camper’s lift system is a series of pulleys and winches that lift, unfold and open the collapsed parts of your camper. Some mechanisms are turned by a crank, whilst others may be battery-powered. The system is designed to open with very little work from the camper themselves. A cable runs within the frame of the camper, and this connects with the winch to provide the tension needed to keep your pop-up open.
Individual systems vary a little so we’ll look at a few common designs. Plus, the steps needed to use the lift system and what you need to do before, and after, you lift the pop-up. There are also some maintenance tips.
The lift system on a pop-up camper is an ingenious system based on pulleys and cables. When you crank the pop-up camper’s roof, you are actually turning a winch. The winch pulls on cables to lift the system, and tension is distributed to the four corners of the camper to keep the pop-up’s roof in place.
The winch won’t ‘free-wheel’ as it is clutch controlled. This safety feature means the roof cannot slip down during the lifting or lowering process.
A cable connects the winch to the block. This cable is usually aircraft-grade and requires very little maintenance. The block’s role is to distribute the ‘pull’ from the winch out to the four corners of the camper.
Different campers use slightly different mechanisms to connect the block and the corners. Some use chains, others use springs, and some systems use pulleys and rods. A few use hydraulics.
As mentioned, there are design differences between lift systems, though the basic mechanisms are very similar.
First, we’ll look at the Goshen lift system as it is the most common. Jayco and the Coleman range have subtle differences and we’ll explore those too.
The Goshen lift system is well established and popular. You’ll find this system used on a number of pop-up camper models including SylvanSport and Forest River.
In the Goshen system, the cable and block connect inside a tube that sits along the length of the vehicle’s frame. Inside the tube, the cable and a single pulley push on springs at each corner of the pop-up camper. These four heavy-duty springs are pushed through secondary tubes, opening the roof. There are square telescoping covers that surround the springs and ensure the springs remain straight.
Normally the winch would be turned with a hand-crank, but the Goshen system can be powered by an approved motorized winch too.
The Jayco Lift System uses pulleys and four cables to connect the block to the four corners of the pop-up camper. The cables pull on push-rods that raise the roof. As with the Goshen system, square telescoping tubes surround the push-rod and extend as the roof opens.
The Coleman System has a more complicated mechanism connecting the winch and the push tubes that raise the roof.
In the frame of the pop-up camper, the winch connects to a chain (not a cable) that then connects to a threaded rod. As the winch turns, the threaded rod moves the distribution block forward or back. This in turn pulls on cables and pulleys that connect to the push tubes in each corner.
The basic steps needed when opening the roof on your pop-up camper are the same across models. However, you should obviously check the specific instructions for your camper.
You should level and jack your pop-up, just like a travel trailer. There’s more information on these initial steps here.
Next, open all the latches that hold down the roof. Get in a routine of going clockwise (or counterclockwise) around the camper. Then back-track in the other direction to double-check everything that’s needed has been opened.
- Crank the winch: For most pop up campers this means hand turning the winch with a crank. Clockwise will open the roof. Some systems have an electric winch, so you’ll just need to press the button!
Some models have a safety cable that runs alongside the extending rods. Look for that to become tight- that’s your signal to stop cranking.
Using the crank should feel easy and smooth. If you feel any resistance when cranking, stop and reposition the crank. Also double-check all latches are open.
- Safety brackets: Once the roof is lifted, add the external safety brackets. Some models have vertical rods that act as extra safety supports at each corner, but not all models have this.
Generally, though you will need to support the pull-out sections of the pop-up camper. Usually, these are V-shaped metal rods that connect to the frame and sit below the bed area, providing support for the slide-out bed(s).
- Look inside: Just check that nothing has fallen on to the beds before you pull them out.
- Pull the tented ends out, along with the beds
- Add additional brackets: Usually there are secondary brackets that connect the bottom side of the slide-out section with the frame of the pop up.
- Secure tented ends: Pull the tented section over the end of the horizontal bed base and fasten down. Start at the ends, then the sides. This might involve bungy cords or velcro depending upon your pop up camper model. Usually these secure beneath the horizontal bed base.
- Lower the door: The door, or perhaps just the top half of the door, likely clips to the roof during travel. Lower the door and slide it into place. Latch the door to hold it in place and velcro the sides to seal the edges.
- Unpack inside: This might be setting up the sink, dinette etc, depending upon the model.
- Push out tent ends: This is usually via a rod that pushes the upper roof of the tent section open from the inside.
- Finish outside: There may be additional seals, velcro fastenings, guy rope lines etc depending upon your model. Often the push-rods have a velcro cover for example. Then connect your services and you’re good to go.
Follow the steps above in reverse in order to lower the roof of your pop-up camper.
Sometimes you may be forced to pack away your camper when the canvas is wet. If that is the case, then unpack again as soon as you can and allow the pop-up camper to dry out.
Checking the lift system should be part of the regular assessments you do on all of your camper’s systems. Aim to specifically check the list system seasonally.
Check for wear
Lubricate with water-resistant grease
Bearings and shaft
Lubricate with light oil or silicone spray
Take special care with silicone spray as it can damage fabrics and canvas. Cover the fabric areas with cardboard before using the spray
Check for fraying or other damage
Do not lubricate
Can The Lift System Be Upgraded?
As with any upgrade, you’ll want to balance the cost with the convenience. We’d suggest working your way down this list of upgrades rather than jumping straight to the expensive hydraulic options.
One very simple ‘upgrade’ for your lift system is to use an electric drill and suitable, deep socket, rather than the hand crank. Just take things easy and ensure you don’t overwork the winch.
Swapping the winch out for an electric version is another potential upgrade. Depending upon your camper model, you’ll also need to think about whether this necessitates the addition of a battery too. Make sure to get a winch that ‘drives’ in both directions, otherwise you might be able to open, but not close your roof.
Hydraulic systems can be retrofitted to a pop-up camper. They usually use an electric drill to power a small hydraulic pump that pushes open the roof. The roof is then lowered by opening a valve.
The pop-up camper’s lift system is key to the vehicle’s appeal. Like any aspect of your recreational vehicle, it’s important to know how it works and how to help maintain the system. The system is durable though, and when well-maintained causes few issues to camper owners.