Camping Home - What's Your Home in the Wild?
Plaskett Creek, Ca.
Camping Gear Through the Years
I grew up camping; as a small child my family made a trip to Disney World several times, driving down US 1 and camping the whole trip. As a result I enjoy camping and have owned a large repertoire of camping homes and equipment throughout the years. My own home in the wild has run the gamut from camping tents to tent trailers to motorhomes with pretty much everything in between and what I haven't owned I have usually experienced at one time or another.
My intent here is not to discuss such things as camp stoves, sleeping bags or lanterns, but rather to take a look at the camping home that provides your temporary home away from home. It is my hope that you can garner a few thoughts or tips on what you might like to try on your next outdoor camping trip. Particularly the more expensive camping homes here are often available for rent and thus may be tried out before making a large expenditure for something like a motorhome or camp trailer.
Closest Home to Nature
As an older teen I spent many enjoyable weekends backpacking into the Wallowa mountains in Eastern Oregon. Those days are long over, however, and I have neither the stamina nor the desire to carry everything on my back that I will need for a week or even a weekend. Our first weekend camping trip as a married couple consisted of my wife and I packing one sleeping bag and a few blankets to spend some time on the Skyline Parkway in Virginia - I will not repeat that , either. Rain and lightning with nothing but a sleeping bag is not my style.
That leaves, for me, the camping home closest to nature being a camp tent of some kind. I started with a plain and simple canvas camping tent. It was very heavy, not very waterproof and had no floor. Thank goodness tents have come a long way. They are available in nearly any size wanted from a 1 person pup tent to a circus tent if that's what you really want. One of the pluses of tent camping is that children seem to enjoy it the most, and camping with kids can be best with a simple tent.
Tents are easy to pack and carry and can be set up nearly anywhere. They are not perhaps the best option in inclement weather, however, as such things as cooking and eating must be done inside the tent where room is always at a premium. After a few years of using a camping tent we moved on.
The Tent Trailer Makes a Good Solution
Tent Trailers - an Economical Solution
Next on our list of a camping home was the tent trailer. These are small trailers that can be pulled by most cars and that expand out while parked to provide additional room. We purchased the type with canvas sides and sleeping areas while still having a metal roof. This provided many benefits; small camping equipment such as stoves and ice boxes are built into the trailer. Bedding, cookware and eating utensils can be left there indefinitely and need not be packed for each trip. Most units may be plugged into a shoreline for power and may contain air conditioning, microwaves and other electrical appliances and conveniences. Cooking is usually via a propane range and a propane refrigerator may be optional.
The major downside for me was that the sides and extensions over the sleeping area were still canvas. They were usually damp in the humid climate of Virginia and would of course drip water if touched while raining. For those readers living and camping in dryer climates this might make an ideal camping home upgrade from a camp tent.
Various Camp Trailers
Other Camping Trailers
The next probable upgrade in camping homes is the solid camp trailer. These come in an absolutely huge variety of sizes and shapes and can be found in every campground. The tiny teardrop style has had a renaissance lately and there are more and more of them being found around the campgrounds. Just big enough for 2 people to sleep in and have a semi-covered cooking area, I have seen them being pulled by even motorcycles although that might be quite a load for even the largest cycle.
As an upgrade from the tent trailer, this camping home offers one major advantage; it is usually completely covered and poor weather conditions do not affect the user nearly as much. Owners of these trailers and higher end camping homes can get out that much earlier in beautiful spring weather. All but the smallest sizes offer all the amenities of home, including air conditioning, TV's and a full range of cooking and heating equipment. Such niceties as awnings for outdoor eating are usually available, as are holding tanks for both clean and waste water. Bathrooms are common and found in most units.
One word of caution; camp trailers must be pulled by some other vehicle; the owner must be absolutely sure that they are not overloading their tow vehicle with too large a camp trailer. Camp trailers must be hooked up to a hitch on the tow vehicle; while this takes some small amount of time it can also leave the tow vehicle free to drive around after parking the camp trailer.
A Fifth Wheel Home Away from Home
The Fifth Wheel Trailer
A specialty class of trailers, the fifth wheel trailer is a modification of the regular camping trailer in that it is pulled by a truck or pickup with an attachment called a fifth wheel that is fastened to the truck or pickup. These are typically the largest of the trailers, and by far the nicest. I have even seen models with built-in fireplaces! Every option imaginable is available on these beautiful pieces of camping homes; so much so that it almost doesn't classify as "camping".
These trailers require special vehicles to pull them and my small pickup won't accept the lightest of the bunch. For that reason I have never owned one, but I have camped with those people that do own and use a fifth wheel. They are indeed beautiful inside and out and carry all the amenities, but can be considerable work to hook up to the truck. They also put quite a strain on the tow vehicle; make sure that your tow rig is capable of handling the load.
At the high end of the list of camping homes is the motorhome. I include the pickup, or slide in, camper in this category because it has it's own motor - the one in the pickup truck. Modern slide in campers can be quite nice, although nowhere nearly as much so as other motorhomes. They are a good compromise if a large pickup is available and a trailer is not desired. The one I owned was an expanding model in that it collapses to reduce air resistance and the the top heavy attribute that such campers impart to the truck and then expands back up to use with a built in hydraulic system.
Class B motorhomes are ordinary vans that are either converted or originally built as a motorhome. Small, but useful with cooking and sleeping facilities, they are able to go where larger units cannot and give the owner the option of driving around the camping area with no trouble.
Class C motorhomes are larger and designed from the ground up to be camping equipment. Many are totally self contained with holding tanks for water and waste as well as a generator for electrical power. All have propane for cooking and heat. These are very nice units but carry a higher price tag in both purchase price and travel cost than smaller camping gear. They also limit the owners ability to travel the local area while camping.
Class A motorhomes are the largest of the lot and can reach 48' in length; some states require a CDL license to own and operate such monsters. Like the fifth wheel trailer, these are the cream of the crop for camping homes with possibilities for interiors limited only by the owners budget; some of them cost $2 million or more. Many owners pull a small car behind them for local travel as these behemoths simply do not do well on city streets. Smaller motorhomes as short as 30' are more maneuverable but still not an easy task to drive around town.
My own current camping home is a 35' Class A motorhome that we purchased very used and have put a lot of work into. I am finding, however, that it is larger than I either want or need and may look for a change in the future.
Since writing this article, I have replaced the 35' behemoth with a much smaller Safari Trek motorhome. At only 24 feet long it is the smallest of the class A motorhomes on the market, and is much, much easier to drive around the city or in cramped camp grounds.
To accomplish the short length while still having all the amenities, the bed is in the living room. Mounted on motorized tracks, it lowers from the ceiling for sleeping and during the day raises back up to provide a living area.
Mounted on a chassis designed for motorhomes, it drives much better than the class C rigs, and for us was preferable even though it does not have the normal Class C sleeping area above the drivers compartment. With a turbocharged diesel engine, power is adequate though not startling and fuel mileage is better than most motorhomes or even pickups pulling a trailer.