From Tent to Trailer, what did we do?!

It is 6 a.m. My coffee is keeping me company this morning. And you too! I am not a morning person. But my in-laws just hit the road back to Oregon and I find myself up and unable to go back to bed. And really there is no better time for this mom to write a post. So here we are. Today I am joining one of my blogging buddies, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, as she addresses the many different styles of camping.

Maybe you think we are one of those extreme families. And maybe you think this post is going to be all about how buying a camper is “selling out.” And maybe at the end you will think we did “sell out.” That is fine. For awhile I thought that too.

Our camping story is more like a pilgrimage. Filled with trial and error, and more emotion than is warranted for something as silly as “how you sleep” when you aren’t at home.

snow camping

When we first got married, we were that couple who took great pride in our little two-person backpacking tent. It went places unseen by the majority of the population. We liked that. It was light, compact, quick, adventurous. Everything we wanted to be. Who knew so much identity could be wrapped up in nylon and netting?

Well, kid number one came along and we had to figure this camping thing out. We wanted to figure it out. So we moved to a four-man-tent my parents had sitting around. We ventured into issues like: car camping, loud campgrounds, keeping the kids warm at night and getting kids to sleep in a tent.  Well, three more years, two more kids [totaling 3, ages 4 and under] and one dog, now meant we needed a bigger tent, yet again… six-man-tent here we come.

And we did. And it was fine. Fine.

Let me elaborate on “fine.”

It kept us dry. It allowed all of us to sleep in one tent. It kept us outdoors more than if we’d not had it. And it made for some really fun trips, with really fun friends! But out of the five nights we spent in it last summer, I probably only slept one. This is mainly my fault. But between the cold nights, worrying about if each child was 1. in the sleeping bag still 2. frozen solid and the rock that always stuck up at odd angles beneath my shoulder, I found myself wanting to go less and less. Going camping only twice in a summer was downright depressing to me, but I also couldn’t muster the energy or excitement for much more. Especially with how much MORE work it can be with kids.

So what did we do? We endured. We talked it up.  And when all else failed, we accidentally bought a 1964 Terry Camper Trailer. Yes, accidentally. Well, as accidental as paying $700 for a camper could be. It was the biggest mistake we never regretted.

For the next 4 months, a lot of things went wrong. A few hints: it involved lots of water damage, including water in the gas lines, a furnace that didn’t work and a new axel. I’ll save that story for a different post.

But when all is said and done we realized that though it is not nearly as extreme or cool as a backpacking tent, we get out eight times as much. This summer we’ve spent eleven nights in it. With another seven nights planned in the next month. Here is why we love it:

  1. Our kids are warm and rested in the morning.
  2. We have a dry, warm place to go in the rain. And we’ve noticed our friends all join us too :).
  3. When it is time to leave, I pack the food and our clothing and we roll on out of the driveway.
  4. We can do much longer trips without loosing our minds.
  5. We don’t have to get out of the tent at 6 a.m. to heat water and start breakfast. Maybe some people enjoy this? But we did not.
  6. We are not limited by weather or elevation [ie. cold nights]
  7. During those Moab sandstorms, we don’t have sand raining down on our heads. [This actually happened to our poor friends.]
  8. Our last pack-up time was twelve minutes from my husband saying, “let’s pack up,” to us pulling out. We just toss everything back in the trailer.
  9. We spend less energy on surviving and have more energy for the REAL reason we are there: climbing, hiking or biking.

Usually our conversation with friends goes like this, “We won’t ever buy a camper.” Why we ask? “Well, our parents [or friends, or family or co-worker] used to camp. Then they bought a camper. Then an RV. And now they don’t camp any more. They just stay in hotels. We don’t want to be like that.”

It is a slippery slope, isn’t it? I wonder, did those people ever really like camping though? And is it so wrong if they didn’t?

Here is where I am coming from:

My parents were backpackers. One of my favorite all time photos is of the three of us backpacking when I was only a few years old. But it didn’t take them long to see that this wasn’t going to work long term. Like us, they got out less, enjoyed it less. So they bought a series of different campers, finally settling on a pop-up camper that sat on the back of their truck so they could pull a boat too. And the end result? My parents have camped nearly every weekend from the end of May till September for most of my life. They still do. My childhood memories are of lakes, swimming, beach chairs, campfires, and legendary storms. Two days ago I chatted with them as they sat fishing on the beach, sun setting, camping on the warm sands of Lake McConaughy.

We hope our camper gets us out more. Out and enjoying more of what we want to enjoy: the sun, the butterscotch smell of pine, the crisp air, and a crackling campfire. The company of good friends, challenging climbs and epic hikes.

Here is our style: what ever gets you out the most, with the least pain and the most enjoyment. And we’ll see our backpacking tent again. I got to enjoy it for three nights this summer in the Collegiate Wilderness. But until then you’ll find us here: by the rinky-dinky orange and white 1964 Terry Camper Trailer [at least until we get around to re-painting it :)].

Other camping styles:

Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, It is all about style

Adventure Tykes, A tent on your roof? What?

Outside Mom, My camping style: no fees, no toilet, no people

Wilderness for Kids, Public Use Cabins, Yurts and Fire Lookouts

ColoCalders, Camping in Style with an RV Trailer 

37 comments on “From Tent to Trailer, what did we do?!
  1. Pingback: | My camping style: no fees, no toilets, no people

  2. Pingback: A Tent On Your Roof? What? | Adventure Tykes

    • Just make sure it doesn’t have interior water damage…the fix-up was way more than we bargained for. It is fun now, but for a few months we were wondering what we got ourselves into! But I do like the vintage one’s better for some reason 🙂

  3. Great story. Fun to read. We are following the same path I’m sure. We started out with the tiny 2 person backpacking tent and now are up to a 3 person backpacking/car camping tent. It’s still petty small and we have to crawl in. But we’ve gotten out 11 nights this summer already so I’m proud of how we’re handling the tent with the 3 of us.

    However, like you, it’s a lot of work to camp with even one child and we want to be more comfortable. I don’t sleep well in my tent and I hate sleeping bags, always have. I love cooking and spending all our time outside but when it’s raining it just really sucks. We’re hoping to maybe get some kind of small trailer before next summer. (if all our money doesn’t go into buying a kayak and SUP Board instead.)

  4. Great post! You are such a wonderful writer. “so much identity could be wrapped up in nylon and netting”– I love that line!

    I have been looking forward to your post. We love tent camping and we actually sleep well in our tent. But the packing, setup, tear down and unpacking gets so time consuming. Especially with school age kids, because we have a limited amount of time to camp on the weekends. And we try to get our tent setup before dark. Like you, I don’t think I will ever give up my tent completely, because we love tent camping, but I wouldn’t mind a small trailer or pop-up camper for quick weekend trips.

    • Yeah, I was looking forward to the warmer nights but the best benefit has been how quickly we can pack up. Most our camping stuff – chairs, sleeping bags, dishes, etc stays in the trailer. Ready and waiting for the next trip!

  5. Totally agree with your decision. I am single so it’s no problem to throw a tent in my car and go. But when I camp with my brother’s family (4 kids), the logistics of a tent don’t always work.

    • Yeah, the more kids you have, the more interesting it becomes! And every family is different! I do sometimes miss the old days of fitting everything in trunk of my small car and going…

  6. Hi, I have visited all the posts by all the bloggers doing this story! And each and every story I can relate to. We are tent based campers but I TOTALLY understand where you are coming from.

    One point that really resonated with me was “We don’t have to get out of the tent at 6 a.m. to heat water and start breakfast” – that can be a real pain in the butt when its cold and raining! And sometimes, the set up of a tent is not always a joyous, fun filled experience that you would like it to be.

    Who knows when and if we will convert from tenting it…..I suppose the main thing is that we are all getting outdoors and having some special experiences, but you certainly make not always using a tent, an appealing option.

  7. Great post! We recently bought a camper – and I’ve been feeling like maybe we’re cheating. But you’re right – it’s making us want to camp more and definately making it easier with the kids.

  8. This is a really nice, well written post. I love that line “Who knew so much identity could be wrapped up in nylon and netting?” – That’s so true! I think it’s interesting that you know people who switched to RVs and got out *less*. I can’t think of one… In my family, we tried camping a handful of times in a tent growing up, and it was always miserable. Then my mom got sick and they stopped traveling all together for several years. What got them back out? Buying a class-C RV. And now they camp 2-3 weekends a month, in beautiful places they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. But it did take a total mental turn-around to get us all there. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the link-up!

  9. Wonderful post! It really does not matter what anyone else thinks and it is so irritating to me to hear “sellout”. It makes no sense. There is no right or wrong way to camp. There is only your way. The camper looks cool! Have fun!

  10. I agree with the other comments, it isn’t a sellout. You’ve got to do what is right for you not what others think is right or wrong. A trailer certainly gives you some different options especially when the weather is not at its best.

    Getting out and enjoying the outdoors is what it is all about after all.

  11. Pingback: Wilderness for Kids | Camping Styles

  12. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed ready this. We have a very similar story and have just purchased a vintage camper, a 12 foot 1968 project. We even have the same Xterra as you. Happy camping!

  13. Pingback: A Tent On Your Roof? What? - Adventure Tykes

  14. Pingback: Secrets Revealed- Outdoor Moms Share Their Camping Styles

  15. Pingback: What kind of camper are you? - Bienvenido Adventure

  16. Great story! You could have been writing about my hubby and I 🙂 We also were in the “we will never buy a camper”, die hard tenters club… 2 kids and a few years later, we bought a new to us hybrid camper. We have had it for 2 summers and LOVE it! Why? For all the reasons you wrote about… especially because we are getting out way more again. We are still a camping family, and while we try to do at least one back country trip a year with the kids, we are loving how easy and fun camping is with a trailer!

  17. Thank you for this post! I stumbled upon it just as I am contemplating (literally tonight) this same question- I have to make a counter offer on a trailer that I really like, but is just that bit over our budget. At the same time I still haven’t given up the romanticism of sleeping in a tent, despite the lack of sleep each time we’ve attempted it since having kids.
    You’ve helped with looking at finances to make that trailer happen.

    • Good luck! Finding the right trailer can be hard. Looking back we spent way too much money on a trailer that needed a lot of work. But still, we haven’t regretted having it! Not once! Just wishing we’d been smarter on the front end and known more about what kind of damage to look for in old trailers… but you’ve got to learn some way, right??

      • Thanks! We are picking her up tomorrow…. fingers crossed
        We’ve gone over budget, but gone for a 5 year old trailer instead of an old timer. I reckoned I have enough on my hands with 3 kids and a house to maintain and didn’t fancy doing the trailer up on top. (We’ve had an old trailer before while renovating our house, we stayed in it, but I wouldn’t have liked to go away in that…too old and rickety)

  18. I have a 64’Terry that my boys grew up camping in. I bought it in 1990 in very good condition, used it for 10 or so years, then sold to a family member cheap. She loved it and after several years she got where she could not use it anymore and now I have my girl back. The memories won’t let me get rid of her now, I want to restore her. She has done some wyoming winters with no shelter and I fear the roof may have leaked some. frame and axle, tires bearings are solid. Just need to know where to start…

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