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Pros & Cons: Truck Camper vs. Van Life

In the modern age, people have nearly unlimited ways of camping in the outdoors. On one end of the spectrum are the minimalistic ways of camping that range from ultralight backpacking tents and hammocks to just sleeping out on a tarp under the stars. On the other extreme, are RVs, mobile homes and trailers that include all of the modern comforts of home.

For those who want some of the comforts and stability of RV camping, but with greater flexibility and relatively lower investment costs, there is modern vehicle camping. Within this category, two main schools of thought have emerged: Truck Camping and Van Life.

Truck camping can range from rooftop tents on trucks and SUVs to hardshell campers that sit on a truck bed. There is also a great range in different van options from large sprinters to smaller utility van conversions.

Here we will explore the pros and cons for these two types of vehicle camping to help you decide which fits better within your lifestyle.

Why Van Life is Better:

1) Four Season Camping Solution

For those looking to camp in the colder months of the year, especially ski bums, van life gives you comfortable conditions on even the coldest nights. This makes it the ideal vehicle for ski resort hopping or for those who want to enjoy the outdoors all 12 months of the year.

2) Bad Weather - No Problem

There is nothing worse when truck camping than trying to pass the time during bad weather. While you may be safe from the elements once you are inside a rooftop tent, you do have to go out into the conditions in order to set up for the night and when going in and out of the sleeping area.

Anyone who has woken up to relieve themselves during a rainstorm knows the pain of having to leave the tent to use the bathroom. Van life solves this problem because you never have to leave the vehicle when moving from the driver's seat to the sleeping quarters and there is nothing to set up. Passing time during a storm is a breeze - it is not nearly as fun playing cards in the front seat of a truck (trust me I know). If you find yourself camping in rainy conditions often, van life provides a clear advantage to truck camping keeping you and your bedding toasty dry.

3) Built for the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

If you consider yourself a modern day digital nomad who finds themselves working from the road often, van life could be the way to go. Easier access to outlets, wifi and workstations within a van make it much easier to work from anywhere. With the prevalence of indoor kitchens in vans, it is also much easier to cook your meals, wash up and use the restroom with the modern amenities of vans.

4) Protection from Animals (and People)

Typically, I am not one who camps in fear of wild animals, but depending on where you are camping, it can be a potential consideration. In parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho where grizzly bears live, soft-shell or tent camping is not allowed - including rooftop tents. There are also mountain lions, black bears and other large animals that can be prevalent that could pose some danger (albeit low in most places). I once had an overly curious mother black bear and cub try to break into my occupied rooftop tent while camping in Sequoia National Park in California.

While large animals might be only slightly deterred by a soft-shell structure, van camping provides more than enough protection from other animals. This also includes other humans which will give you more confidence when camping in isolated locations.

5) Discretion & Privacy (aka Stealth Mode)

When getting ready for the night in a van, you don’t need to convert anything that would indicate you are sleeping inside your vehicle. Combined with privacy shades in the window and people outside the van may not even know you are inside. This gives you the flexibility to camp comfortably at rest areas, truck stops, parking lots and places where tent camping may not be allowed.

Why Truck Camping is Better

1) Explore Wilder Places

If you are looking for a vehicle to explore the wildest places and don’t want to sacrifice maneuverability, truck camping is the best choice for you. I have seen vans struggle and fail on dirt roads on the way to ideal remote campsites and wild trailheads.

Rocky obstacles, low clearance and tight turning radiuses can pose a problem for vans that most 4x4 trucks and SUVs can sail through without a problem. River crossings and steep rocky walls are navigable with a truck sporting a camper or rooftop tent meaning that some of the hardest to get to spots are within grasp. This means you have more options for busy weekends or locations, which can make all the difference in claiming a spot, especially in popular mountain destinations like Colorado.

2) Lower Cost

Fully kitted Vans can range anywhere from $30,000-$100,000+ which is likely out of budget for most people. If you already own a truck or SUV as a daily driver, you can easily convert it to an ideal truck camping for less than $5,000. This gives you more budget to focus on more expensive gear like mountain bikes or for those that may be slightly more cost conscious. Even hard-shelled campers can be half the cost of a basic van. Factoring in higher fuel, maintenance and repair costs for vans, you can be saving a great deal of money by choosing truck camping.

3) More Flexibility

Rooftop tents and campers can be taken off of a vehicle that you may not be camping in all the time, but you aren’t likely to use your van for much else besides camping. Unless you are planning on living in your van for a good part of the year, truck camping will provide you with more options on a day-to-day basis.

Why Tents are the Best:

1) There is no cheaper way to camp than a good old-fashioned tent or hammock. Sometimes that's all you need for a night in the woods. If you want to be immersed in nature and camp in the wildest places, tent camping can’t be beat.

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