Going on a road trip this summer doesn’t have to mean pitching a tent next to your car, splurging on a van conversion or – check your savings account – buying a Sprinter. There are plenty of comfortable options in between.
Sure, if you’re posting at a trailhead or in a Walmart parking lot, the stealth and self-driving comfort of a Sprinter or similar pickup truck is nice, but most of us wouldn’t want one like daily driver.
They can be tricky to drive, they’re gas-guzzling, and they’re not fun to parallel park in downtown Denver.
So consider less intrusive alternatives: mattress toppers, rooftop tents, and teardrops. Smaller, more nimble, potentially more practical and much cheaper, you can get the same lifestyle – the freedom to live on the road for a week or even a month – without committing to paying for a car.
Some of the best options fall into three categories: truck bed toppers, rooftop tents, and teardrop trailers. Interested? Browse the internet and find one that you like the look of.
Then check them out in person at outdoor stores, RV shows, and local manufacturers and retailers.
Consider a truck bed mattress topper
If a pickup truck is Colorado’s unofficial vehicle, then the camping roof might be the state’s unofficial road-sleeping option. These come in many flavors, the most popular being the simple truck bed cap – usually a fiberglass shell that covers the bed of your truck, protecting it from the elements. Shelter your bed not only allows you to lock up and keep your adventure gear dry, it also turns your truck into a place to sleep.
The internet is full of custom builds that allow you to spread out your mattress and sleeping bag without sacrificing storage space. Plus, when you’re running errands around town, it’s a breeze to get your gear out and fill the bed with groceries or firewood. It’s a great camping option for one or two people.
Benefits: RV roofs are easy to install, allow you to save your truck for other uses, and are a relatively economical option. If you set them up correctly, they’re also incredibly stealthy.
The inconvenients: When the bed is configured for sleeping, you sacrifice storage space. A truck bed is also not somewhere you would want to hang out for long periods of time in bad weather – they can be cramped.
Try a rooftop tent
Rooftop tents originated overseas as an alternative to setting up your tent on the ground and within reach of critters like snakes and insects. Most are easy to install, ultra-comfortable, and mount on your vehicle’s roof rack. Just about any vehicle with a roof rack can support one, and they come in different sizes and designs, from big enough to fit two people to big enough for a whole family, and to open like a shell to pop up like a motorhome.
Once you know how yours works, you can open it at camp in seconds. Many come with a pre-installed mattress that’s more comfortable than any sleeping pad, and you can usually store your sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows inside the tent, meaning you can ride to camp. and be in bed in minutes. . Most of them require you to climb a ladder to enter.
Benefits: Rooftop tents don’t use up storage space inside your car, work on most vehicles, and you can set them up and take them down as you please, meaning they’re a great addition to your vehicle you already own.
The inconvenients: If the weather gets really bad, you’ll be dry, but you won’t exactly have a lot of room to relax. And if you find a great campsite you want to “claim,” you’ll still need to set something up because if you go exploring in your vehicle, your tent goes with you. And don’t expect to have both a tent and a kayak on the roof of your car.
Choose a teardrop trailer
Tears are probably the closest option to a traditional camper. Small towed trailers, they are often nothing more than an enclosed bed with some storage, as well as a small kitchen for cooking. Some have a folding table and seats. All of these are relatively simple, giving you a comfortable living space, a place to cook, and a home base that you can customize with awnings, solar panels, and more.
Tears are comfortable for one or two people, but they also make a great base camp for a group of tents that are sheltering friends or children.
Benefits: Find a place you love? Disconnect the camper and leave the tear behind you. In bad weather these can be much more comfortable, especially if you add an awning. On the road, you have your entire vehicle, including the roof, to store. And when you’re home, the trailer stays disconnected from your vehicle, giving you complete flexibility.
The inconvenients: Although the tears are relatively light, not everyone has the ability to tow a trailer, and not everyone wants to. And they certainly put a ding in your gas mileage.
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