Camping out west.

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Last year my wife and I bought a small, lightweight, pop-up camper, and began exploring the Rocky Mountain West a little farther from home. Until that time, most weekends we'd be up enjoying activities in the mountains on regular day trips, like hiking, biking, snowshoeing, skiing, and attending festivals and events. We thought it might be nice to linger a little longer and take our time.

The trouble was, we only had 4 cylinder cars, and there was not much we could pull with them. We didn't want to have to buy both a new tow vehicle and a camper, because we were concerned we might not take to RVing, or not have the time to get enough use out of it. Also, I am a cheapskate. After researching and calculating towing specifics 9 ways to Sunday, we settled on an Aliner Sport Weekender.

The Aliner is a hard-sided, A-frame popup that is lightweight, but has all the comforts of home. It's insulated, has a sink, fridge, stove, water heater, even a microwave and an air conditioner. Since it's a pop-up, all of the cabinets and fixtures are in the lower half of the rig, so there's a lot of headroom, and it feels really spacious inside, due also to the A-frame design.

After camping a few times, we realized we liked to head for more remote areas, such as national forest campgrounds, state parks, national parks, etc. Campgrounds such as these usually have no hook-ups — for electric, water, etc. This actually made things easier, since the downside of RVing is the stress of towing a camper to and from your destination, and we could now travel even lighter.

I had already tweaked the Aliner to lighten the load on our 4-cylinder Honda Element so that we would be comfortably within the limits of the Element's rated towing capabilities, but now I could remove the microwave and air conditioner, since they ran on 110 volt A/C. I also converted the heavy hot water heater to a much lighter tankless system, and we slowly lightened the load further by minimizing what we needed to bring. We realized we didn't need to haul around a bunch of stuff we usually wouldn't use, and we made other things we brought do double duty.

Now the camper is a joy to travel with, and even at highway speeds, going up and down mountain passes, we average 20+ miles per gallon, which is nice, considering most larger rigs get half our MPG. The camper is spacious enough for two, but we get some odd stares and comments from folks with bigger rigs — they just can't imagine there's enough room. However, tenters always regard it as nothing short of extravagant.

We each have our own bed, and typically sleep in shorts and t-shirts — even in below-freezing weather, thanks to the onboard propane heater. We're more than comfortable and dry on rainy days, usually sitting inside at the dining table (which converts to a bed) and playing games, etc. On sunny days we're usually not inside, preferring to explore our surroundings on foot, bicycle or car. We never need the A/C, since we camp mostly in the mountains, but I can still remount it in a few minutes if our destination will be hot and we have the power. I added a larger deep cycle battery that gives us plenty of DC power for lighting, charging phones, using laptops, watching movies, etc., and this winter I am adding a solar charging system so we can be off the grid indefinitely if we want. We have no generator, and camp with very little impact on our surroundings, and on our neighboring campers.

I'm glad to say my wife likes camping as much as I do, and so far we are averaging 30 nights away from home each year. I suppose there may be a bigger rig in our future, but for now this is working out much better than we hoped.

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