Pop top vs full height caravans; which is better?

If you are in the market for a caravan, and aren’t sure whether you should be looking at a pop top version, or something that is full height this post will help you make an accurate decision.

Like most choices in life, there’s pro’s and con’s for going with a pop top van, and the best van for you is the one that is most suitable to your circumstances.

Pop top caravan
Is a pop top caravan better than a full height one?

So, what’s the benefits of a pop top caravan?

Low height means less fuel consumption

Towing something around Australia has always been expensive in terms of fuel, and its just gotten a whole lot worse. Any savings that you can make in terms of reducing fuel consumption are always very welcome, and a pop top van makes use of simple physics by reducing the drag.

Towing a full height van will always use more fuel than a pop top, because you have a substantially greater amount of wind drag.

One of the reasons we love our Reconn R2 is that it’s the same height as our Dmax, and that means we save a huge chunk of fuel over towing a big, off road van.

Dmax and Hybrid Camper
Pop tops can save a heap of fuel, like our Reconn R2 which is the same height as our tow vehicle

They fit much better down tight tracks, or where branches overhang

When you tow a full size van, you have to be awfully careful where you take it in terms of overhanging branches, and anything else that might damage the van.

The height of your van plays a huge role in where you can take it, especially when its coupled to something that is full width as well.

Camper on a big angle
Pop tops fit much better through tight, and undulating terrain

On a big full height van, you only have to get one wheel dropping into a 30cm hole and the van will lean over nearly a metre at the top and if there’s anything nearby you are going to do damage.

Caravan sliding in the mud
Full height caravans are so much easier to damage when towing

Pop top vans are much shorter, and are much less susceptible to getting damaged off road. Just recently we arrived at camp with my folks, who have a full height off road van and they found their TV antenna was bent like a banana.

Despite Dad always paying careful attention to what could damage the top of the van, he’d caught a branch somewhere along the way and done some damage.

Kokoda Digger Caravan
Despite a lot of care, Dad still managed to snag his antenna

The air flow is exceptional

Most pop tops have a huge number of windows in the actual sock, which means on a hot day you get as much air flow through the van as you are ever going to get.

On a warm summers night there’s nothing better than having the air flow right through your van.

Windows open for air flow
Pop tops tend to have amazing air flow for when its warm

They are much easier to store

If you’ve never stood next to a full height off road Caravan and looked at how tall they are, you should. Some are literally 3.5 metres tall, which rules out any normal storage option for most people.

Even with raised garages and sheds, they usually will not fit without extensive modifications, and that can be a huge problem for a lot of people.

Pop top vans on the other hand, are often substantially smaller, and will fit in much shorter spaces. We can comfortably get our Reconn R2 into a normal garage, and you’d never fit a full size van in there.

Caravans are really tall
Full size Caravans are massively tall

Less weight

In general, you’ll find that pop top caravans are lighter than full height ones, and that’s even after you consider the gear needed to raise and lower the pop top.

Towing weights are always a bone of contention, and it can be really hard to stay legal today, with all the gear everyone takes.

Where does a full size van win?

There’s less setup and pack down time and effort

A full size van is ready to sleep in the moment you pull up to camp. Yes, you could detach, and put legs down, but you have to do that with a pop top van too.

The only real difference with a pop top van is that you have to pop the roof up when you arrive, and then back down again when you are leaving.

In the scheme of things this is usually pretty easy and fast, but its something you don’t have to do with a full size van.

Now, I want to make a point of mentioning that the actual roof popping can be very easy and quick, or very difficult and time consuming.

Some pop tops have airbag assist, which lifts the roof up, or you can get electric actuators. Alternatively, you have to use your back, and muscles to get the roof up, which isn’t always easy, depending on the setup and weights.

Pop top offroad
Full size vans don’t require any additional setup

The insulation is substantially better

When it comes to maintaining a pleasant temperature inside your van, a full size setup will generally win. On a cool night, a full size caravan can be warmed up fairly easily with just the normal cooking and dishes, and it will stay warm for a long time as the heat doesn’t escape very easily.

Pop top vans lose their heat super fast because they have virtually zero insulation around their sock. If you’ve slept next to canvas on a cold night, you’d know you can feel the coldness coming through, and a pop top is no different.

Cold night in the paddock
Pop tops are terrible for insulation when its cold compared to full height van counterparts

Less maintenance required

Full size vans are complete, and have no moving parts in terms of the roof. There’s no gas struts, actuators, scissors, over the centre latches and anything else to go wrong. There’s also no sock, which will eventually need replacing.

Our Reconn R2 had a failed gas strut after about 5 years, and although I was replacing them anyway with heavier ones and they are quite cheap, its something you will have to do in due course.

Overall length of gas struts
Pop tops have more to go wrong, with PVC socks, zips, gas struts and scissors to maintain

Wind is less of a problem

The wind is a major annoyance when you are travelling Australia. If you have a full size van, you’d know that the inside is a sanctuary from the wind. Yep, it might rock the van around a bit, but there’s no flapping, and you can’t feel the wind much at all.

Our pop top is pretty good in the wind, but if it comes and goes it flaps, and becomes quite annoying. The larger your sock, and the less support it has the more it will flap and that can hugely affect your sleep and make it quite uncomfortable.

Wind at Nambung Station
When its windy, its far more pleasant in a full height caravan

Mounting accessories to the roof is easier

If you want to install caravan solar panels on your roof, its much easier on a full size van as the roof is generally designed to take it without any modifications.

If you want to do the same for a pop top though, you need to know if the roof is suitable for the panels, and what modifications have to be done in order to make it possible to lift up, and pack down.

On our Reconn R2, I installed 600W of panels, which was an extra 36kg, and I couldn’t lift the roof at all afterwards. I knew this would happen, and had ordered 4 new gas struts which we replaced, but don’t expect to be able to fit accessories to the roof as easily.

Cheap camping in Port Lincoln
Full height caravans are so much easier to mount accessories to the roof

You can see out of the windows even when its raining

Most pop top caravans don’t have clear sections on their window, which means if its raining, you have to zip the windows up. It’s not the end of the world, but being able to look out of a window when its pouring with rain and a storm comes over is quite special.

We miss out on this unless we are very careful in our pop top because if we opened the windows we’d end up with a camper full of rain!

Sunset is late in South Australia
If its pouring rain and any breath of wind around, we have to shut the windows, which isn’t always nice

Water and dust proofing

There’s no denying that pop tops introduce a whole new realm of leak potentials. Whether its the PVC sock, the zips on the windows or the seals around the roof, it is more likely to get dust or water into a pop top caravan. That said, if they are well made, you should have zero issues in either regards.


Full size vans are always going to have more storage, in particular when it comes to overhead cupboards.

You physically cannot have these in pop tops, which means you are limited to other storage options. Of course, being able to fill these with items really depends on your vans tare and ATM, and many have a payload that is far too low to be useful anyway.

What’s better then?

Ultimately, the best setup is going to be the one that suits your situation. I don’t think there’s one that is any better than another, just they will appear to different niches. I’d hate a full height caravan as it would be too restrictive off road, but there are certainly other appealing factors.

Have a good think about the pro’s and con’s, and then get what you are happy with (and maybe hire one first!).

What do you run? Do you think pop top caravans are better than full height ones?

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *