• Randy Reek

The Cooking/Eating/Screen/Shower/Toilet Tent

Why even van campers need to carry a tent.

One of the GREAT advantages of van camping is that you can drive easily from crowded cities and parking lots to remote locations. Not pulling a trailer makes negotiating rough roads and congested areas MUCH easier. Plus, some of the best sights, small campgrounds and destinations are OFF-LIMITS to larger vehicles and trailers. These include many parking areas in popular parks and even roads through the mountains - like the very narrow Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

GoneCamper van camper

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Another huge advantage of van camping is that you can use the smaller and less expensive "tent" campsites at campgrounds. Since you are self-contained, all you need is a place to park the van. These tent sites are usually half the cost of larger RV sites with water and electricity and TV hookups.

GoneCamper van camper

A Tent-Only campground along Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona, Arizona. No trailers allowed!

We have camped in "tent" sites in national parks, state parks, county campgrounds and private campgrounds. We have NEVER been refused a tent campsite because we didn't pitch a tent. Obviously, even people who camp in tents need a place to park their vehicle. We just happen to sleep in our vehicle.

But there are a few good reasons to pack a tent even if you are van camping. First, eventually you may run into an over-zealous public employee who insists that you have a tent to qualify for the less-expensive campsites. So far we haven't had to face this issue, but it would be sad to get to a campground just before dark and be faced with this problem.

A better reason to carry a tent is to reserve your multi-day campsite if you drive away to go into town or explore the surrounding area. Some of the best campgrounds are remote and unmanned by any officials. These campgrounds use a self-registration method that is largely based on the honor system. Even with a registration stub on the post, you could return after a day of exploring to find someone set-up in YOUR campsite. (The honor system isn't universally recognized - especially if your "empty" campsite is the last one available...)

GoneCamper van camper

Typical Forest Service campsite in the Yukon Territory

Finally, a tent provides you with additional outdoor living space. Most vans - especially minivans - lack the space for cooking, showering, and a toilet. This is not an issue if you are traveling since all established campgrounds at least have pit toilets. All private campgrounds have more facilities, including flush toilets, showers, and laundries. If you are putting on lots of miles, you might not want to take the tie to set-up and take-down a tent each night. In fact, we made the 10,000-mile trip to Alaska and back in the GoneCamper minivan WITHOUT including a tent in our gear.

A tent is most important if you are "dry" camping - that is, camping beyond outhouses, picnic tables, and other amenities. When you are dry camping, you are solely responsible for all of your necessities as well as any creature comforts you require. While there is nothing wrong with "roughing it" for a night or two, you don't earn extra points for being miserable. So if we are going to be setting up a base camp for more than one night we take a tent along.

Our tent serves several purposes:

1. It blocks the sun and wind for cooking and eating. The tent provides a cooler place out of the sun and a warmer spot out of the wind - plus there is less dirt blowing on our food.

2. The tent provides an enclosure for our portable toilet. In the deep woods we forgo a toilet shelter, but if there is anyone within a mile radius we prefer some privacy.

3. The tent provides an enclosure for our portable shower. Like the toilet, four walls of fabric make an acceptable screen even if we are in close proximity to other campers.

Many van campers use pop-up shower/toilet tents. Some also use pop-up canopies, often with accessory walls and screens. This is our Cooking/Screen tent/Eating tent/Shower and Toilet shelter. The tent is an Eureka Copper Canyon 4-person, 8-foot by 8-foot.

GoneCamper van camper

Tent used for cooking and eating, as well as toilet and shower shelter.

Unlike flimsy pop-up shower tents, this tent has a STRONG exterior steel frame. The photos don't show the top fly because it is not necessary here in dry Arizona - unless it is really cold or windy.

Unlike pop-up shelters, this tent is light weight and folds into a small carrying bag. You don't have to buy the shelter sides and screens separately - there are huge, screened windows on each side.

The tent is large enough for a folding table, 2 folding camp chairs, and our cooking gear (in 2 totes which store under the GoneCamper bed).

We carry a "Luggable Loo" toilet on a 5-gallon bucket - along with a roll of trash bags and a small bag of kitty litter (from the Dollar Store). We place double bags in the bucket, and add a handful of kitty litter after each use. The bags are removed at least daily and disposed of cleanly in any dumpster - with much less mess than a disposable diaper.

GoneCamper van camper

The Luggable Loo on a 5-gallon bucket

When it's time for showers, we pull out the table and chairs. For washing we use a bucket of warm water and a 2-gallon sprayer for rinsing. We use the SAME, perfectly clean bucket used for the toilet - with the bags removed, of course!

GoneCamper van camper

Camp shower: Two-gallon garden sprayer, plus kitchen sink spray nozzle.

The tent floor has been cut out of the tent for showering, leaving a one-foot apron around the edges. We also carry a small rubber door mat to stand on. After showering, we open the windows to let the ground dry. Then we place a blue plastic tarp - also cut to size - over the floor flaps.

You can spend over $200 for a decent screen tent/shelter. But these shelters are very heavy, bulky and notoriously flimsy. Broken shelter tents are some of the most common garbage left behind by slob campers here in the free-camping areas of BLM land. You can also spend as much as $200 for a sturdy shower/toilet shelter. The spring-frame pop-up shelters are lousy in the wind, and cramped inside. Some campers have both tents, but EACH will take up more space than this folded tent - which costs $200 from Amazon.

GoneCamper van camper

The complete Cooking/Eating/Screen/Shower/Toilet tent is folded in the rust-colored carrying bag

GoneCamper van camper

Why not join us on the road - and comfortably camping in the best locations? Contact us today to schedule the delivery of your own GoneCamper conversion for either minivans or standard vans.

Traveling Efficiently, Camping Comfortably, Living Frugally

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