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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?