by Alf Alderson
As for many people, my first camping experiences were in a tent. Back then, I was a care-free teenager, so the fact that it was a very moth-eaten tent and would only keep the rain out for short periods was not an issue. Despite its obvious shortcomings, the tent endured for many years and accompanied me on some memorable trips everywhere from the coast of Morocco to the glorious campsites of the Scottish Highlands.
As a teenager you don’t worry too much about the things that later become ‘essentials’ – regular showers, decent meals, a comfortable bed – so my small, two-person not-quite-waterproof tent was ideal.
But then I got into surfing and a campervan became almost compulsory. Thus it was that I became – almost – a convert from tent to campervan, and here are half a dozen reasons why.
· When you arrive at a campsite in a campervan there’s no messing around with tent poles, tent pegs and guy ropes – you simply hop in the back, put on a brew and relax. If it’s raining (or snowing) this is so much better than the miserable experience of erecting a tent and getting soaked in the process.
· You’ve got comfort in a campervan – mine has a double bed, a cooker, a sink, a fridge, a toilet and a solar shower; sure you can camp in a family tent and bring all that stuff along with you but you’ll need a vehicle the size of a camper to carry it all.
· And if you do bring along all the above for your camping expedition, it’ll take you hours to set it up!
· Using a campervan gives you more time. For instance, I can arrive at a surf spot in my camper, hop out and go surfing; when I’m back I can have a shower, hop back in the camper and open a cold beer. If you’re in a tent you can’t do any of that unless the campsite is right beside the beach, and you’ve still got to erect your tent either before or after you surf.
· In winter, a campervan is even more versatile. I’ve enjoyed winter road trips around the Alps and the Rocky Mountains in a campervan which would have been literally impossible with a tent; well, not ‘literally’ impossible but the idea of camping in temperatures as low as minus 15C doesn’t appeal to me that much…
· Your gear is safer in a campervan. As a surfer, for example, there’s nowhere to leave your boards safely if you’re in a tent (as I know only too well after our boards were stolen from outside our tent once in Portugal, thus bringing the trip to an early, disappointing end). When I’m in my camper I can safely stow boards, skis, even bikes inside the vehicle.
So why bother using a tent at all?
Well, despite my obvious affection for campervan camping, I still do enjoy ‘real’ camping, particularly in a small one- or two-person tent; nothing beats the freedom of heading off into the hills with your tent on your back for some wild camping.
I know it’s a cliché but waking in the morning to the sound of birdsong and a gentle breeze, or falling asleep to the gentle flop of snow falling on the tent walls, are some of life’s great, free pleasures.
A tent is also far cheaper than a campervan, and for me as a youngster, camping was the only affordable means of travelling – there’s no denying that a tent allows you to explore the world in a way that no other form of accommodation does.
I also enjoy the simplicity of life in a tent – sleep, eat, hike – and the fact that you can just leave the world behind you. Sure, you can go car camping and take all the paraphernalia of the modern world along with you, but if you have your tent and sleeping bag on your back you have no choice but to revel in the simple life.
So, tent v campervan, which one wins?
Neither, I’ll have both…