The evolution of a camper

From pitching a tent, to owning a major RV

By Cliff Maurand

Not quite Darwin... Much like anything else in life, people who enjoy the camping experience all had to start somewhere, and evolve to where they are at now. Not everyone who tools around town in the big dollar Class A Motor Home started out that way. By the same token, not everyone started out pitching a tent either. However, the large majority of big RV owners made meager starts in this highly popular past time, and over the course of time moved up to bigger and better things.

We say some, but not all of them have done it that way. Sure, there are a few out there that started out with the big rig, and never tried doing it the hard way. Others may have started in a "middle of the road" type of unit, and moved up, or even down from there.

This evolutionary process falls far short of anything that Darwin may have pondered, but there can be similarities to his theories. And wouldn't you know it, the RV manufacturer's subscribe to the "Camper Evolution" theory with a passion! Their take on the subject is well documented, and there is some substance to their ideology. The RV dealers and the manufacturer's they represent have gone to a great deal of trouble to document and study the trends of the populace as they purchase new products. Among the information they gather, is what the current buyer used prior their latest purchase.

The resulting data base that came out of such research has given them a clear indication that the vast majority of "Campers" and "RV'ers" tend to upgrade their equipment every so often, and that when they do, it generally means a significant jump in the type and style of unit they move into.

Well, some but not all of them. Here is the my theory on camper evolution...

Step 1... Most of us probably started when we were young, and had limited financial resources. Because of that, the most affordable medium for the beginner is a tent, and what ever equipment they can buy, borrow or otherwise gather together. This works well for most start-up campers, at least for a while. But eventually, ones needs change, and the desire to improve the situation, and the financial means to do so have also matured.

Step 2... The next logical step in the evolutionary chain would be to move up to a folding camper, also known as pop-up campers. These units are bottom line RV's with generally bottom line prices. That makes them affordable, and desirable. Additionally, these units are usually half tent and half RV, thus giving the owner that feeling of still camping in a tent and staying at one with nature. At the same time, those little folding trailers are equipped with beds that are up off the ground "high & dry", a sink, stove top for cooking, water storage, and excellent accommodations from inclement weather. Some even have toilets, showers, and water heaters!

Another great feature about this type of RV, is the simplicity of towing and storage, their low profile and light weight make them ideal towing down the highway. This plays particularly well with the way todays cars are made. Gone are the big gas guzzling behemoths that once graced our highways. In a world full of under sized and under powered mini-vans and mid size SUV's, which are not capable of pulling the bigger trailers around, these smaller units really make sense. Their small size also makes storage easy too, many of which can be stored inside your garage.

Step 3... But the evolution doesn't end there either, that was just the first step of many. Sure, some will never move beyond the folding trailer, but most will upgrade again, and usually within a few years. The next step used to be a travel trailer, but a relatively new type of RV has moved in to take the next step, the "Hybrid Trailer" as they are commonly known as. These are constructed from the ground up to be truly light weight hard sided trailers. Part of their allure is the bunk ends (or bed bows), which are the same as the those on the folding/pop-up trailers, complete with tenting.

Generally smaller than a full size Travel Trailer, these light weight Hybrids are priced slightly higher than a folding trailer, and slightly lower than the full size travel trailer. While they still give the user that "under the canvas" feeling, it does provide the owner with the big RV conveniences. While some folding trailers have cassette toilets and curtained shower stalls, the Hybrid provides a walled off bath room, with shower, a full size refrigerator with freezer, and most of them are available with microwave ovens, stereo's, and wired for TV and Cable.

Step 4... Next up is the full size Travel Trailer. These units can be smaller than a folding trailer, but generally are much larger, and much longer. Weight is the primary concern here, you're not going to tow one of these with the mini-van! Ranging in size from 8' to 38' with slide out's, these rigs are going to require a good solid tow vehicle. While larger and heavier, these units are equipped with pretty much the same amenities as the hybrid, but feature fully inboard bedrooms and real mattress to sleep on. They are usually adorned with much nicer appointments as well.

Step 5... The next step in the process could go in a couple of different directions. While some might move straight up to the Motor Home, some would go the route of the 5th wheel trailer. The 5th wheel is much like the Travel Trailer in it's amenities, but it's size is monstrous, and the appointments are among the finest available. The 5th wheel is generally the grandest of all the trailers, and of course they cost more too. Additionally, you're going to need a very heavy duty rig to tow one of these, as they are usually much heavier than their travel trailer cousins. The 5th wheels that are equipped with multiple slide-out's can rival a small apartment, and they are among the favorites of those that consider themselves full time RV'ers.

Step 6... Moving up the ladder again, is the motor home. There are actually 3 classes of motor homes, though only two of those classes are widely recognized. The three classes are Class A - Large box like motor homes, generally built on truck frames with diesel engines, and sometimes built from buses. Class B - are van and truck style conversions, generally lengthened but still look much like their original design. Class C - Van fronts, with boxed campers on the rear. These are built on heavy duty van chassis, usually gas powered, though some are available with diesels.

The Motor Home is the final step in the evolution, though some may work their way up through the classes. It's not usual for people to start out with a Class C and then move to a Class A. And from the standard Class A to the Class A on a bus chassis. These rigs can get mighty expensive too, from $30-40k for a small Class C, to well over a million dollars for a top of the line Bus conversion!

Now back to reality... Most of you may start out in a tent, and might move up to a folding trailer, hybrid, or travel trailer. Some of you may take that next step of the evolution to a bigger and better unit. But it's unlikely that the vast majority of campers will ever go through the full evolutionary process as described. But those that would like to sell you a better unit still won't subscribe to any other theory, and hedge their bets that you'll be in for an upgrade soon!

Stepping backwards in the evolutionary chain... Yes, some people who have gone the gauntlet and moved to the top of the evolutionary ladder, have done an "about face" and moved back down the same ladder. I've talked to several people that have had every type of RV imaginable, and have gone back to camping in a folding trailer. Most of them followed their dreams and moved up to bigger and better units, just to find out that the grass is not always greener in the other fellows yard.

Dollars vs Need

The extinction theory... One last item. I've have heard from several sources, including RV industry inside sources, that seemed to think the folding/pop-up trailer was doomed to extinction. And as of lately, they have been forced to re-think that theory, as sales of these units have maintained at a rather healthy pace.

I've also heard that the slide-in campers that go in the back of a pick-up truck were also doomed to extinction. Yet I notice that each year there are newer models of these things being introduced to the public.

I've often said that the extinction of the low cost units were merely a touch of wishful thinking by the RV manufacturer's that would rather raise their profit potential by selling only the bigger pieces. That is not great thinking on their part, as there will always be those that can't afford the big items, and those that don't want the big rigs. Oh, and of course, there will always be someone out there willing to provide them too!

Camper for life!

My parents planted the seed that eventually turned me into a camping enthusiast. They went on their first family camping trip in 1966, I was only 12 at the time. They had a station wagon, four kids, and a tight budget. Camping was the only way they could possibly afford to take the entire family for a two week outing somewhere.

From what one could only consider a meager start, my parents purchased a cabin tent, big enough to sleep four people. My older brother and I had a pup tent, which was included in the equipment list. They also purchased one two burner gas stove, one two mantle gas lantern, one large cooler, and six air mattress and sleeping bags.

Once they added in all the other items, pots, pans, utensils, tableware, supplies and other necessary items, then added in luggage with the clothing, it quickly became apparent that all of this wasn't going to fit into that station wagon! While some it, like lawn chairs and other items not weather sensitive were tied to the roof racks, another "enclosed" luggage carrier for the roof was added.

To this day, I don't know how they ever got that car out of the driveway. The back bumper couldn't have been more than a couple of inches off of the ground. The car sagged so bad, that driving it at night kept the headlights shining into the tree's. And despite all that stuff, they were always wishing they could carry more.

After a couple of years of struggling along like that, my father purchased his first pop-up trailer. It didn't look like those that are available to day either, this one was nearly all tent. The 1962 Apache "Comanche" was nothing more than a big cabin tent on wheels.

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But it did solve several problems. First and foremost, it provided my folks with a great deal of added storage space. This trailer had a double bed on top, and the tent folded in on top of the bed. The entire body of the trailer was nothing more than boxed in storage. This not only made it possible to carry more stuff, it also reduced the load inside the car. But perhaps more important to my parents, it made the big tent available for us kids, and they finally had a room of their own!

A few years later they bought a Starcraft Starmaster 8, which was pretty much the same as the pop-up's we use today.

They never once considered a hard sided camper, they never wanted to pull anything that big behind them. They were tent campers through and through, and even though they switched to a trailer, they kept sleeping under canvas.

My parents were such avid campers, that five years after they passed away, we children got together at their favorite State Park, and buried their ashes as they had requested. Odd as it may be, it must be quite unique. How many of you can say that your parents are buried in a campground?

One last thing, that old two mantle lantern that my dad bought back in 1966, I still use it today! It's been rebuilt a few times, it's dented and scratched. It doesn't burn as brightly as my new ones, but it's always the first one I light.

While others may burn a candle in the window, I just burn an old lantern on the picnic table.

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