Home » The Adorable Aliner Is A Pop-Up Tent Camper But Without The Bear Attack Concerns

The Adorable Aliner Is A Pop-Up Tent Camper But Without The Bear Attack Concerns

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I’m always on the lookout for a small camper that could be towed by a wide variety of vehicles. Not everyone has or wants a big pickup to haul a camper. Often, going really small means getting what’s more or less a tent on wheels. At the 2023 Florida RV SuperShow I found what appears to be the best of both worlds. Aliner campers are light and compact for towing like a pop-up tent camper but blow up into a nice living space with hard walls to keep you in and wildlife out.

Last week, I attended one of America’s largest RV shows in Tampa, Florida. While there, I found myself surrounded by mammoth coaches and colossal travel trailers. Those rigs were great, but I couldn’t help but think about the countless crossovers out there that won’t even come close to hauling one of those beasts. RV manufacturers haven’t forgotten about the other end of the market, and small campers made a splash.

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Unlike a lot of the newer campers that I feature here on The Autopian, Aliner isn’t a startup company. If you go to campgrounds as frequently as I do, you’ve probably seen Aliners before. I’ve often found myself captivated by these campers’ A-frame, but haven’t actually taken a tour of one until now.

Aliner’s history is a short one. Back in the early 1970s, Ralph Tait decided that he wanted to design a new camper. Working out of his garage in Bend, Oregon, he spent several weeks crafting what would become his first A-frame camper. The resulting travel trailer was like a more traditional pop-up camper, but different in one key area. While a traditional pop-up opens up into a sort of tent on wheels, Tait’s camper has hard walls. Apparently, people loved his camper enough to request their own, and eventually, Tait decided to make it into a business.

Tait’s family moved to Pennsylvania, where Ralph and his brother built the campers. A third brother hitched a completed camper up to a station wagon and drove around the country until the camper sold. Aliner says it’s been producing the campers in Pennsylvania since 1982. The Taits retired in 2007, but the company still builds the A-frame campers that you’ve probably seen on the road.

Pop-up tent campers are really cool. These things can be found for dirt cheap and can be a nice little basecamp at a racetrack or local campground.

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Forest River

However, they do have some notable downsides. The biggest, I think, is one that’s shared with a regular tent. Pop-up tent campers, like a regular tent, largely separate you from the outdoors with canvas. That means you’re getting little in the way of sound and temperature insulation.

There’s also the safety element, as tent campers don’t offer much protection from bears or some jerk with a knife. Because of this, you may find a campground where a pop-up tent camper isn’t allowed. A campground at Yellowstone National Park is one of those places. These are the problems that an Aliner seeks to fix. It starts with the Classic, the A-frame camper that Aliner says started the whole company.

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Aliner says its other camper designs are just variations on this trailer. It’s 15 feet long, 1,725 pounds empty, and costs roughly $29,000. I say “roughly” because the advertised price that I got came from a dealership. Aliner’s site does not list pricing. Even though the list price may be that high, it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll pay that price. The Aliner dealer at the show was offering $4,000 and $7,000 off its own pricing, and you can find brand new examples for similarly “discounted” pricing.

I do wish the pricing were a bit more transparent in the RV world. You can walk into a Ford dealership knowing the MSRP of an F-150, but the same isn’t always the case in the RV industry.

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Anyway, Aliner campers net you walls and a roof consisting of a sandwich of vacuum-bonded fiberglass with a polystyrene core. Inside, the wall and ceiling panels are made from Azdel thermoplastic composite. Aliner says that these materials provide strength and insulation. Aliner boasts a setup time of under a minute and while I didn’t get to test that for myself, this video suggests that the claim is likely true.

Once set up, you get a genuinely nice living space. I toured all of the Aliners that were at the show and the company appears to be telling the truth when it says its campers are all variations of the same thing.

The company offers a variety of options, but otherwise, you’re getting the same experience but in different lengths and weights.

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Standard equipment for an Aliner Classic includes a sink, microwave, air-conditioner, heat pump, propane tanks, and even struts to help with opening the camper in high winds. There are even 11 gallons of fresh water, a water heater, and a kitchenette onboard. Basically, these come with almost everything that you need for a camping getaway, but in a package that folds in on itself. You do get an outside shower as well.

There isn’t a toilet, but that can be solved with the addition of a portable toilet or moving up to a higher trim level that has a bathroom. Options include expanding the unit with pop-out dormers and an off-road package that adds a heavier-duty axle and off-road tires. Aliner sells these in different trim levels including the LXE, Ranger 12, and Scout. They’re all largely the same, but with different equipment

From there, really you just scale up or down depending on your needs. Aliners get as small as the 13-foot Scout-Lite, which weighs just 1,180 pounds.

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That’s about as tiny as a fiberglass camper! Going this small does mean losing out on the kitchenette, outdoor shower, and water heater. The air-conditioner and heat pump also become options here.

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If you have the towing capacity to spare, the Ranger 10 is the same size, but you get the same features as the bigger Classic. That one weighs in at 1,300 pounds. I’m told that the Scout-Lite starts at around $19,000 while the Ranger 10 is about $25,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Aliners like the Evolution, Family, and the Expedition.

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These come in at 18-feet-long and the extra length nets you some additional equipment like an internal bathroom and more sleeping berths. The highlight here is the Evolution, which is advertised as having aluminum-framed cabinetry and furniture, plus two queen-size beds and 185 Watts of solar right from the factory.

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I’m told that these larger units start around $39,000 before discounts. These larger ones weigh from 1,850 pounds to about 2,300 pounds depending on the equipment.

After spending a lot of time playing around with and feeling up these campers, they seem to be built pretty well.

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There’s nothing in them that I’d think wouldn’t last very long. That said, these do seem to be an imperfect alternative to tent campers. Some owners have complained about water leaks coming from various places. There are also a number of threads about refreshing or repairing seals after some length of ownership. Of course, there’s no such thing as a totally maintenance-free RV, but it seems that seals and leaks are a concern at least for some owners.

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Aliner’s trailers are another type of camper that I’d love to try out for some real camping. They seem to do mostly the same job as a tent camper but without the canvas. At least from my short time messing around with them, I can see why the company has its fans.

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37 Responses

    1. That seems… overly complicated. It took three people what I guess is close to 20 minutes to set it up and not have any of the amenities of the A frame. It also doesn’t look like it will be as well insulated as the A frame camper. The only advantage you get is space, but it’s empty space.

      But I agree about the microwave. WTF?

  1. I love A-frames in general so kudos to the designers for that but… $29K and no bathroom? For me the one advantage to RVing over camping is you get a toilet… and in a perfect world, a shower too!

    1. I’m with you. I can cook on a fire just fine. Sleep in my car just fine (if I really don’t want to be in a tent on the ground). Toilet is what separates a RV from just “camping”.

  2. I understand the appeal of solid walls, but a good tent trailer has vastly more interior space when you put it up. This A-frame roof style means you can only stand up in the very middle of the thing, and most of the floor space is taken up by beds. It ends up having less interior space than a regular hard-side camper. That just seems really inefficient. With a tent trailer, the beds slide completely out of the way, and you have the entire box to roam around in, PLUS the beds. You end up with twice the usable space in the same footprint.

    1. There are two distinct advantages to the A-Frames over the tent campers. They hold heat much better and they are allowed in California / PNW camp grounds that ban tent campers because of bear activity. It’s a fairly narrow use case, but if those things matter, they matter quite a bit.

  3. Neat campers Mercedes. But having grown up in bear country, the metal construction means nothing. At all. The town I grew up in gets about 6 bears into the homes a year, and dozens of bears ripping the doors off cars to search for food. The only benefit of metal is that you can hear the noise as the bear rips it open. Google shit bears do for food…

    1. You beat me to it. These look like a great option for someone who wants more comfort than a canvas popup while staying lightweight, but that ain’t stopping no bear.

    1. Oh, 100%, bears are breaking into this camper and taking all of the food. I’ve seen them open sturdier buildings and containers and they just don’t give up, probably because spending 20 minutes trying to open a door is less energy for lots of sugary calories than climbing an apple tree or foraging in blueberry bushes.

      Bears are absolute dicks about eating your stolen food, too. My parents have one that used to get into their outdoor built-in closet when they still kept their trash there, grab a bag of kitchen garbage, carry it about 50 feet across the lawn to this one spot at the edge of the woods, then plop down completely at home and just sit there chowing on lettuce cores and banana peels or whatever while occasionally glancing over at the house like, “That’s right, I’m a bear. What the fuck are you gonna do about it?”

  4. My parents have been using an old A-Liner camper for about 10 years, and really like it. It’s not a full self sufficient camp for overlanding, but it works well for those wanting one step up from a tent. With the walls and a little heater inside, it lets them camp comfortably in weather that would be cold and miserable in a tent.

  5. I’m always absolutely blown away at how expensive these are. They’re made of tin and particle board.. I don’t think so. $20K? $15K? Maybe at sub $10K I would bite at something like this. But, that’s me, obviously, people buy them up.

  6. I borrowed my buddy’s starcraft a-frame for a week over Thanksgiving and it was…not great. Heat leaked out of the gaps between the pop-up sides and roof, as others mentioned interior space was limited, and it *still* killed my mpg (was I doing 75? Yes. Was it on hills? Yes. But still.). Setup also sucked, and I can’t imagine people who are shorter and/or more frail than me (i.e. a typical camper owner) setting the dang thing up. I don’t have that much experience with campers in general, so I can’t compare it to a traditional soft-side camper, but the experience quickly turned me off on pop-ups in general.

    1. Pics for those curious: https://photos.app.goo.gl/QnW5geKC1gZEUfXX7
      (Trust me, I hate generators when wild camping as much as the next guy, but turned out the battery sucked so bad it wasn’t enough to run the thermostat on the propane heater for more than an hour. It was a choice between being obnoxious and freezing, though luckily I avoided people for the majority of the trip).

  7. Nicely built camper, but I’ll stick with the sweet 1985 Coleman Columbia pop-up that my uncle gifted me last year. I am very excited to get this thing out as it was my family’s camper when I was a kid. My dad gave it to my uncle a few years back, and now he is done with it so he passed her onto me. He installed a solar panel, new canvas, and several other upgrades. Cannot wait!!

  8. Well, this is nothing NEW, my parents owned an *Apache solid state camper* in the late 1970’s.
    Do a google search, they were very cool and advanced for their time.

  9. As others have said, a bear could peel this open in no time. On the plus side, bears are rarely an issue anywhere you could take a trailer, and the big national park campgrounds with the most bear trouble have started putting electric fences around the campgrounds.

    I think the biggest advantage of these is that they don’t get as wet as the tent-style versions so if you have to pack up in the rain things stay drier.

  10. There is a third way, but admittedly expensive and heavier. The A liner is elegant but sacrifices space. There are box shaped pop-up campers from Hi Lo and Trail Manor that have an elevating roof section and fold out beds more like a tent camper, but fiberglass.

  11. Last year, my partner was dead set on getting a camper. We spend 40-50 nights a year in the woods, and our camping crew has shifted from tents to trailers as kids have become part of the picture. We borrowed an older A-Frame and loved it, but were pretty shell shocked by the $37k price tag for a fully kitted model. The Forest River models are absolute junk at a lower price point.

    We ended up getting an Airstream Basecamp 20x instead.

  12. I have an Aliner Ranger 12. For my needs of being a step up from a tent it’s wonderful. I’ve camped during below freezing nights toasty warm and hot summer nights cool thanks to the A/C.

    Water leaks around the bubble windows are an issue. I DIY’ed re-sealing mine. Thankfully it only needs that every 4-5 years since getting a clean surface and making it look neat is a PITA.

  13. After owning 5 travel trailers my days of towing and setting up anything are so over with. I have seen Aliners for years in campgrounds and I know they are pretty well made and popular though.

  14. “After spending a lot of time playing around with and feeling up these campers, they seem to be built pretty well.”

    I have a friend with a couple of kids. When they were younger, his wife wanted him to ask one of the teachers at the kids’ daycare if she could babysit the kids. The teachers aren’t allowed to moonlight like that, so she wanted him to be subtle about it. The conversation between him and his wife went reportedly went like this:

    Wife: “I want you to feel up the teacher at daycare, for the babysitting.”
    Friend: “You want me to feel up the teacher?”
    W: “Yes.”
    F: “You’re sure? We probably won’t be allowed back if I do.”
    W: “Just be subtle, and if she doesn’t want to, don’t push it.”
    F: “…. Do you mean ‘feel out?'”

  15. Forest River makes a good Aliner A-frame alternative for ~1/2 the price. It’s a little heavier but also sturdier. We tow ours all over Colorado with an Outback and it’s been a great step up from a ’74 Westy for our family of 3.

    1. For light weight the Aliner can’t be beat except for a home build. The Forest River does get more creature comforts for the same price. More storage too. But at about 1000 lbs heavier than the comparable Aliner, not everyone can tow one.

      Different campers for different audiences.

      1. At the time we bought it, the weight difference between ours and the comparable 12′ Aliner was only ~300 lbs. The Aliner did have a better (lighter) tongue weight, but it also felt flimsier inside. And ours was ~14k vs. about $27k at the time for the Aliner. No idea how they hold up over time vs. each other, though.
        Not sure I’d buy a bigger A-frame than we have though. The longer you go the bigger the unused space at the top you are heating.

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