How Does A Pop-Up Camper Lift System Work?

The lift system on a pop-up camper features a basic system with three components that include a winch, a cable, and a series of pulleys. When the winch is turned, the cables attached to the pulleys are pulled, therefore raising the roof and keeping it in place until it’s manually lowered.

how does a pop-up camper lift system work
Pete Hoffswell, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How A Pop-Up Camper Lift System Works

Although it might seem complex, the lift system on the pop-up camper is actually quite simple. It features a system of cables and pulleys. When you crank on the pop-up camper’s roof, you are in fact turning a winch. 

When the winch turns, it pulls cables to the lift system, and tension is distributed among the four corners of the camper which helps to keep the roof in place. 

Simply put, you turn a winch that is attached to pulleys and cables, and those cables slowly pull the roof open. What is important to note is that the winch is not a freewheel winch, as it is controlled by a clutch. 

This is an important safety feature as it means that the roof can’t slip down during the lowering or lifting process. There is then also a cable that connects the winch to the block.

The role of the block is to distribute the pulling motion from the winch out to all four corners of the camper so that all four sides of the roof lift simultaneously.

Although the basic lift systems or mechanisms are similar across the board, there are a few different types to consider, each of which has small differences. The way in which the corners are connected to the block is one of the biggest differences that you will find between the different types of lift systems.

Pop-up rv camper

Common Types Of Lift Systems

As mentioned above, there are a few definitely types of lift systems out there, three of them in fact. Let’s take a quick look at all three of the most common pop-up camper lift systems.

The Goshen Lift System

We first have the Goshen lift system, which is very popular and common. Many modern pop-up campers use this type of lift system.

With this system, you will find that the block and the cable connect inside of a tube that rests along the length of the pop-up camper’s frame. Inside of that tube, the cable and a single pulley push on a series of springs at the corners of the pop-up camper. 

These are four extremely heavy duty strings and they are then pushed through secondary tubes, which result in the roof opening. These also have square telescoping covers that encompass the springs to help keep them straight.

Generally speaking, the winch would be hand activated, although there are some high quality models that even come with a motorized winch.

The Coleman Lift System

We then have the Coleman lift system, which is quite interesting, as it does not attach directly to the cable. Here it, you will see that the crank connects to a special shaft that then transmits the movement through the chain to a threaded rod. 

This rod then goes right through the middle of a distribution block that sits securely in a track, which helps to keep it straight and in alignment with all of the outgoing cables. 

Here, the crank is turned in one direction, which then causes the threaded rod to move the distribution block forward or backwards within the channel.

The outgoing cables are then passed through a series of pulleys that are located within the body of the pop-up camper, and inside very large telescopic tubes, which are located in the corners of the roof. 

Simply put, the crank rotation is transmitted through a chain which then turns the threaded rod, which then turns the distribution block, which therefore causes the cables to retract or extend the telescopic tubes, which then lowers or raises the roof.

The Jayco Lift System

We then have the Jayco lift system, which is quite simple, as it has the cable attached directly to a distribution block, which is located in the main body of the pop-up camper. 

Working outwards from the distribution block, the cables that go to the individual corners work through a number of pulleys that then causes pushrods to raise the roof.

These pushrods are housed inside of a square telescopic tube that extends as the roof is raised to the open position.

How Do You Raise A Pop-Up Camper Roof?

camper color icon

No matter which of those three pop-up camper roof lift systems your model features, it really doesn’t matter, because how to open them is really the same across the board.

That said, before you do anything, it’s probably a good idea to read the owner’s manual for your specific model. Follow the steps listed below to raise your pop-up camper’s roof.

  1. All you have to do is find the winch and the hand crank, and then turn. If you turn clockwise, the roof will open, and if you turn counterclockwise, the roof will close. Some may even have electric models that just require you to press a button.
  2. Many models have safety cables alongside the extending rods. If these become very tight, it means you need to stop cranking. Also, keep in mind that cranking should be smooth and easy. If there’s too much resistance, stop and reposition. Also, make sure that all latches are open.
  3. Once the roof has been lifted, you will need to add the external safety brackets. Some models may also come with vertical rods for extra support in all of the corners. These are simple V shaped rods that connect to the frame and then sit below the bed area. This is required to provide support for slide out beds.
  4. Before you go to pull out any beds, make sure that nothing has fallen onto them. When you go to pull out the beds, you can also pull out the tented ends.
  5. You may then also need to connect secondary brackets to the bottom side of the slide out section with the frame of the pop-up.
  6. You will then want to pull the tented section over the end of the bed base and fasten it down. Make sure to start at the end, move to the sides, and then finish it off. Depending on the model you have, this might include using Velcro or bungee cords.
  7. You will then lower the door and slide it into place. There is usually going to be a door latch to help hold it in place, as long as Velcro to help seal the edges.
  8. You can now push out the tent ends of the pop-up camper, which is going to be done using a rod that pushes the upper roof of the tent section open from the inside of the vehicle.

How To Lower A Pop-Up Camper Roof

Generally speaking, to lower the roof of a pop-up camper, just follow the steps above in reverse order. you need to pull that extends back in, raise the door, remove that enter the section from the bed base, and remove all secondary brackets.

You can then slide your beds back in, and remove any support rods. Once everything else has been removed, just start cranking the winch counterclockwise to lower the roof.

You’re just doing everything you did above in reverse order.

Pop-Up Camper Lift System Maintenance Tips

old pop-up camper

To help keep the lift system on your pop-up camper in good condition, there are some maintenance tips that you need to follow.

Maintain The Winch

Regularly check the winch to ensure it’s still in good condition. Lubricate all moving parts of the winch with water resistant grease on a regular basis. You may also lubricate with oil or a silicone spray.

Maintain The Shaft And The Bearings

Lubricate the shaft and bearings with silicone spray or with light oil. Be sure to cover all fabrics with cardboard before using a spray, as silicone spray can damage fabrics.

The Cable

You do not have to lubricate the cable, although you do want to check for damage, especially fraying.

Camper Canvas

As far as the popup camper canvas is concerned, always make sure that it is 100% dry before you lower it. If you lower it and it is not dry, moisture will get trapped, and the canvas can develop mold (regular cleaning is also very important).

Related: The cost of replacing your Canvas explained.

What Is A Whiffletree On A Pop-Up Camper?

A whiffletree, also known as a whippletree, is a mechanism that distributes force evenly throughout all of the linkages. It may also be called a double tree, leader bar, or equalizer.

It helps to ensure that force is evenly distributed so that all four sides of the camper roof open the exact same way and are totally even. 


As you can see, pop-up camper lift systems are relatively simple and straightforward. As long as you maintain those three main components, the winch, the cable, and the shaft in the bearings, you shouldn’t have any problems. Just remember that the canvas needs to be dry before you lower the roof.

Madeline Cooper