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What do you call a cross between a popup tent trailer and a travel trailer? Why, a Hi-Lo camper, of course! For a half-century, these stout and sturdy campers have been a staple to many RVers. Their low profiles made them a favorite because of the ease in towing, and the hard-sided shells raise to create a fully enclosed travel trailer.
But hard times have hit the Hi-Lo Trailer Company not once but twice. We wonder if these beloved campers will be able to make a comeback again.
What Is a Hi-Lo Camper?
A Hi-Lo camper consists of two hard-shelled pieces that pop up into a solid-sided travel trailer.
The top shell fits over the bottom one for travel with a lower profile, like a pop-up tent trailer.
Then, when stationary, the top shell telescopes up with a hydraulic system, sitting on top of the bottom shell.
With walls made of fiberglass rather than canvas, the Hi-Lo is structurally stronger and more dependable than a pop-up camper and has all of the amenities of a full-size travel trailer.
About Hi-Lo Trailer
The founder of Hi-Lo Trailer, Don Snyder, began to design a more protective camper after having some “critter” problems while tent camping.
He struck upon a concept based on a simple shoebox, where the box’s lid was slightly larger than the box itself.
From there, he created the first Hi-Lo camper in 1956 with telescoping walls.
There, one shell would fit down over the other during transport, then pop up on top of the other shell when set up at a campsite.
His design made the campers lighter than comparable hard-sided travel trailers, so they were easily towable by smaller vehicles.
It also created a new niche in the RV market, with a lightweight trailer that was stronger than canvas but had a low profile.
Construction was high quality, and a hydraulic system was designed to raise and lower the top shell.
As a result, prices for the Hi-Lo were higher than for a pop-up tent trailer.
Where Were Hi-Lo Trailers Made?
After building the very first Hi-Lo trailer, Snyder continued to manufacture them in his hometown of Butler, Ohio.
In fact, he built the trailers in his free time after a full day’s work at the local Tappan plant.
He continued to hold down both jobs for more than 20 years.
Four years after the economy’s nosedive and the company’s subsequent closure in 2010 (more on that later), William Karola purchased the rights.
He moved the company and its manufacturing facility to Transfer, Pa.
Pros of a Hi-Lo Camper
A Hi-Lo camper is light enough to allow some cars, SUVs, and small trucks to tow it.
That opens up the travel trailer field to many who don’t have large trucks.
It also offers the protection of a hard-sided camper to those who could only tow low-profile pop-up tent campers.
Because of the fiberglass structure, there is little worry about animal break-ins, tears in the canvas, or wind issues.
And with the hard-sided shell, there is more insulation from cold temperatures.
Cons of a Hi-Lo Camper
With the telescoping wall design, Hi-Lo campers don’t have the upper cabinetry found in many travel trailers, so storage space is at a premium.
Also, on many older models, the hydraulic systems wear out or fail altogether.
In some cases, the ceiling may sag a little lower than at full extension, or the top half can’t be lifted in case of a failure.
Another big problem is that the camper doesn’t have a full shower or built-in toilet.
Some newer versions do have space for a porta-potty, but a bathroom might be a deal-breaker on family camp trips.
Keep in Mind: Should you consider a pop-up camper? Let’s check out what a pop-up camper is and if it’s right for you!
Why Did They Stop Making Hi-Lo Campers?
Initially, Hi-Lo Trailers closed down its operations in 2010 because of a weak economy.
Prospective buyers could only find Hi-Lo campers on the used market. In fact, they became quite collectible.
However, in 2014, Kerola purchased the Hi-Lo trademark and designs with the intellectual property.
He had hopes of renewing the brand under the business name Hi-Lo Trailers Worldwide.
With an RV dealership in Pennsylvania, Kerola felt he had the perfect marketing vehicle for new campers built with the same design.
His wish was to preserve the original Hi-Lo camper history and open a repair facility while introducing new Hi-Los to the RV industry.
And by 2018, an 18-foot Wanderer model was created.
He upgraded the hydraulics and provided a backup system to overcome the aging problems on some older models.
About the Newest Hi-Lo Camper Before Production Ended
When Karola began producing new Hi-Lo trailer models, the first one off the line was the Wanderer ‘18 with two floorplans.
It immediately gained a new following. With features like a fully-stocked kitchen, complete with a three-way refrigerator, two-burner propane stovetop, and a stainless steel sink, it caught the eye of many RV enthusiasts.
A 13,000 BTU furnace and a 5,500 BTU air conditioner provided pleasant temperatures no matter what the season, and a 12V electrical system provided power through an included battery and 30amp converter.
The Wanderer SD came with a side dinette, a queen bed with storage underneath, and the ability to sleep four.
The RB model also had a queen bed and a flip-out table but no room for more than two sleepers because the floorplan made space for a porta-potty.
Sadly, the new Hi-Lo trailer is currently not in production, with the manufacturing facility closed due to COVID-19 concerns. It is unclear as to whether Hi-Lo Trailer Worldwide will ever reopen.
Keep in Mind: Do you know exactly how tall a truck camper is off your truck? If not, you should!
You Can Still Buy a Used Hi-Lo Camper
Used Hi-Lo trailers can still be found on the market occasionally.
A variety of older models still hold up well.
Quality construction is responsible for the well-preserved state most of these units are in, along with the great care taken by their owners.
Many rigs are in collectors’ hands, and it’s unusual to see Hi-Lo campers on the road today.
So if you come across one, count yourself fortunate!
We Have High Hopes for Hi-Lo Trailers Return
It is encouraging to see the possibilities that this iconic brand might return to the RV market, as Hi-Lo trailers are such unique and innovative campers to so many.
They fill a niche that was never identified until their creation. We would love to see them back in action at campsites around the country.
Let’s hope that their new leader can overcome the obstacles of today’s setbacks and bring new Hi-Los to dealerships everywhere.
What are your thoughts on the Hi-Lo camper?
I own a 1968 HiLo Voyager 15ft. I have had it for 40 some years. All original lifting system. First year it went with the hydraulic lifting. Was optional for the first three years. She is still a beautiful trailer. I love it. Have never had any major problems with it. Pretty as can be set up. If any body can find a old one Jump and buy it. Best thing I ever bought myself. Have wonderful memories over the years.
Getting ready to purchase one myself!
We had one. A 2003 model. We positively loved it.
It towed like a dream easily fit in the garage for storage.
Unfortunately circumstances dictated we sell it.
I would pounce on one if I could find one for sale.
I pray they do make a comeback. They are so versatile I was able to pull into my hunting area in Montana.
Much easier than a full sized non telescoping trailer.
Never had a problem with hydraulic system even at -22 degrees.
Me and my two hunting companions, wife and son were snug as bugs.
We have a 1999 Hi-Lo 22 ft. Classic. The Classic is slightly wider and has more storage than the other model made for many years, the Towlite. Towlights were lighter weight, as the name would suggest, and a little less expensive due to less fancy outfitting. Contrary to what this article implies, the Hi-Lo’s were often heavier than trailers of the same length, because of the steel frame required to provide the necessary rigidity of the separate parts, but this also provided more quality than wood-framed trailers. In 2001, Hi-Lo switched to aluminum frames, which did help reduce the weight. Even with additional weight, Hi-Lo trailers are BY FAR the least expensive to tow and the most stable, because they do not have the wind resistace when towing that other trailers have.
We have owned our Hi-Lo for about 6 or 7 years and have upgraded it some and maintained it well. Sometimes in the summer months, even while we are at home my wife likes to just go out and play a game of cards because in the Hi-Lo she is not surrounded by reminders of all the housekeeping that needs to be done. Kind of a getaway without getting away. I suppose you could do this in other RV’s as well. But for it’s age, it is really a pleasant place to be. Many modern trailers this size are not very well decorated.
Another negative impression one might get from the article is that Hi-Lo’s lack bathrooms and showers. This is only true of the newer trailers–the original company included both, although some might not be as comfortable with the flexible fabric panels that provide privacy, particularly with little sound insulation. For a couple, however, this is not likely a problem.
One should expect to do due diligence when buying a used Hi-Lo, as the originals are ageing and can have the same sorts of problems with things like water damage as with other trailers. On the user forum there are posted check-lists of what to look for when contemplating a purchase. Also, there are manuals for various models and years that one might like to look at. A buyer should familarize himself or herself to some degree with the unique lift system, so as to know what to check. And once you are an owner, the members of this forum are a great resource if one needs help in dealing with just about any aspect of maintenance and repair.
Good luck if you join the world of Hi-Lo! Originals are harder to find but they are out there, and they can be well worth the investiment that becomes more reasonalble all the time.
We are in Queensland, Australia. We have possibly the only HiLo in this country. Bought 10 years ago, it’s a Funlite 21ft with an ensuite at the back. It originally had a Blackwater tank with a flushing toilet but we removed that and put a cartridge toilet in. We are in the process of doing some renovations with a vintage caravan repairer. We actually love the way it tows and even though it has basic storage we have come to be quite good at travelling light. Would love to know whether there are others out there.
The Australian version was a Prattline manufactured in South Australia.
My dad had a 1974 24′ model. He passed it on to us when they were done using it. I’m pretty sure it had a cable & pulley system to raise and lower it. I seem to remember fiddling with the cables. It also had a full bath with flush toilet and shower. He installed vertical shelf standards on the walls so when you got to camp, you would install the brackets & shelving, all of which were numbered as to where each piece went. Certainly not as convenient as permanent cupboards but worked well enough. We traveled all over Michigan & went to Ontario a few times also. Then the mice made a mess of it after one winter but I cleaned it all out. We used one more time, I think in 1997, but the mice soon trashed it again so I gave it away. I think the new owner restored it. I still have the load leveling hitch and sway control system so I was looking for weight ratings when I found this.
I just found the original brochure online. It had a hydraulic piston underneath between the chassis cross members with a plate on it’s end and the cables were attached to the plate. So the piston pushed the plate, which pulled the cables that were guided by the pulleys to raise the upper half.
We had a Tow Lite, lower priced model to the Hi Low. It was lighter in weight, without oak cabinets. As I remember it was 19’ but not sure what year, because we bought it 2nd hand and sold it 14 years ago after 10 wonderful years of ownership. We loved our trailer. Because my husband had serious eye sight problems, I was the driver at all times towing it with a Chevy Tahoe. We purchased sway bars for towing, which gave us security when towing. We lived in Florida so took it out to the beach campgrounds often. One trip to Biloxi we had cold weather at night and it was so nice to go to the thermostat and turn in the furnace and soon it was toasty warm. Most of the time it was just the two of us using it but at times our daughter and 10year old granddaughter traveled with us and had sleeping area for them, in upper bed and dinette being made up to a bed.
We used the installed toilet and shower/tub often. The refrigerator/freezer/propane stove were perfect. The closet in the bathroom and above cabinets were sufficient for our clothing. Kitchen cabinets and drawers we found to hold our needs especially after my husband installed roll out drawers in the cabinets on the shelves. During hot FL weather we found the AC unit to well take care of cooling the trailer.
Lowering the top when ready to leave the campsite was no problem. We each had our duties and mine was making sure all items were stored away and nothing higher then the lower part of the trailer. While I was doing that, my husband was disconnecting the water and hooking up the SUV.
I found pulling the trailer was very easy, even when being passed by semi trucks and even when I drove over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in FL. I know that was because of the sway bars and because we balanced the interior weight and didn’t overload. Swaybars installed by Camping World.
The only reason we sold the trailer was because we moved to a northern state and had gotten to an age we were no longer able to do much traveling. Tow Lite and Hi Low Trailers were great. Wonderful idea. If a resale is in well kept condition I would tell folks to consider a purchase. Check the hydraulic lift, gasket that runs around at mid section. AC/propane stove & furnace. And you are good to go.