If you’re following the ECOA Instagram feed (which you should be) then you’ve already seen the teaser pics of my newest project. Then plan is to combine a surplus military M101 cargo trailer with a commercial utility truck cap into a “poor man’s teardrop.”
|The platform on which I will be building my trailer: M101 ¾ ton cargo trailer.|
However, before I go into too much detail with that project, let’s take a step back and look at why I’m building a trailer in the first place. There are four major factors influencing my decision to move to a camping trailer: Weight, Flexibility, Time, and Security. Read on to see how they impact and influence each other.
During the 2015 “No Highways Tour” I slept in a tent when I camped. Major advantages were cost and weight savings. Major disadvantages were loss of time for setup and teardown, exposure to the weather, and security. I knew shortly into the trip that if I were to every do another long-distance trip a trailer would make things a lot easier.
|“Camp Taj-Ma-Humble” at Overland Expo East 2015|
What sealed the deal for me getting a trailer was the fall three-week-swing in 2015 when I went to the Appalachian Rendezvous, Overland Expo East, and then the Vermont Overland Rally back-to-back-to-back. During the Rendezvous I found out my tent was no longer waterproof and during Expo I dealt with the fallout from Hurricane Joaquin which dumped ten inches of rain on me along with some very windy nights. Luckily the VOR went okay, but things could have gone better given the bitter New England cold.
I can already hear your thoughts now. “But Dean, if you’re trying to save on weight why are you adding a heavy bulky trailer behind your Jeep?” The issue isn’t SAVING weight, it’s MANAGING weight. For the 2015 season I loaded everything (food, tools, spare parts, camping gear, my tent, an ez-up, clothing, cooler, etc) into the back of the LJ. This full load-out was pushing the GVWR of the LJ as well as pushing an already old and tired factory suspension to the limit. Roughly 100 miles into the NHT trip I knew it was going to be a rough ride. By going to a trailer I can split the load-out in half. Everything Jeep related (tools, spare parts, recovery gear, Onboard Air, etc) can stay in the Jeep. Everything campsite related (clothing, cooking gear, food, awnings, bedding, etc) can stay in the trailer.
Other than being a little over-loaded while on the NHT, having all my gear in the Jeep wasn’t too big a deal because I was hopping from location to location and taking everything with me. However, at events such as the MOAF, Rendezvous, Expo, VOR, and trips to Rausch it meant everything was still in my Jeep despite the basecamp nature of my campsite. This made it very hard, and frustrating, to go wheeling because I only had a small tent and either had unload non trail related gear into the tent while I was gone (both time consuming and not very secure; more on that soon) or it meant riding the trails with a lot of excess weight which would bog me down and limit the difficulty of the trails I could attempt. By going with a camping trailer and a split-load out I can detach the Jeep from the trailer and hit the trails without unloading it or being bogged down with unneeded gear.
One of the things about traveling solo is that everything falls on my shoulders. I’m the one that has to set up the tent and prep my bedding. If I want a fire I have to build the fire. If I want dinner I have to cook I have to get the mess kit, stove, and food out. In a group it’s easy to delegate responsibility or at least split up campsite chores which speeds up the processes. By having a trailer it speeds up at least one of those duties. My bedding and ‘home’ for the night is already good to go.
That makes two other things much easier for me. First, the late night arrival. There were a few times I pulled into camp well after dark. I was already exhausted from being on the road all day and trying to set up a tent at night is not any fun. Secondly, a portable ‘bed in a box’ means I can pullover and park anywhere safe and go right to sleep. I had to do that a few times and sleep in the front seat of the Jeep. Having the trailer already good to go means I can get a much better “cat nap” than I could with the front seat reclined.
The other time factor relates to just setup and teardown. It took me on average 45 minutes to an hour to “make camp.” Sure the tent goes up in a manner of minutes, but there’s all the extra time factors. I’m talking from the moment I open the rear gate to the moment the tent is ready for me to sleep in. The little things like unpacking the gear, getting the cot out, setting up the sleeping bag all add up. The same goes for teardown. From the moment I start to break camp to the moment I slam the tailgate shut is often 45 minutes to an hour. In total I probably spend 50 hours on the NHT this year making and breaking camp. That’s TWO WHOLE FREAKING DAYS! That’s a lot of time wasted. A trailer would certainly speed things up since all I’d have to do, at minimum, is open up the back door and crawl in.
When I talk about the security provided by a hardshell trailer I’m not talking about security from people or animals. Neither really scares me to be honest. First, you’d have to be really dumb to mess with a 300 pound bearded guy in the woods that’s traveling solo in a Jeep. Second, I’ve camped in bear country, around mountain cats, and near wild dogs. Most of them are curious not threatening. The main things I’m looking at security wise are from the elements (wind mostly) and ‘thieves of opportunity.’
As far as the elements go, the biggest issue I deal with when tent camping is wind. This was the most annoying thing about tent camping at Overland Expo East during Hurricane Joaquin. The rain wasn’t bad. Annoying, but not bad. The wind however kept me up at night contributing to a slow spiral into fatigue which was complicated of course by the rain. During the VOR things got a little chilly at night and although I was toasty warm in my sleeping bag, everything else got cold. Having a hard-body trailer with some insulation and maybe a small heater would make cold weather camping a lot nicer.
In terms of protection from ‘thieves of opportunity,’ I believe in a general theft mitigation philosophy of “out of sight = out of mind.” Nothing short of an armed guard and armored truck will stop a determined professional thief. If they really want what you have they will break your windows, pop your locks, and riffle through your stuff till they find something of value. What I’m talking about are the young punks and drunken idiots stumbling about who see something and go, “hey, I can take that since no one is looking.” Those are the ‘thieves of opportunity.’ If I can keep my most valuable stuff (camera, computer, tools, etc) in a solid metal box on wheels free from prying eyes then I don’t have much to worry about. Now, will that stop the determined ones? No. If they really want what I have they’ll take it. There isn’t much I can do to stop them. I’ll do my best, but I honestly won’t lose any sleep over it.
The above four factors (weight, flexibility, time and security) are what led me to getting a camping trailer. In my next post I’ll cover some of the decision making process behind what kind of trailer I’m going with and some of the other alternatives out there. After that, it’s build-thread time!