Friday, September 18, 2015

Stop Crime Before It Starts - Securing My Camp-Inn Trailer, Part I

"Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it." - Gilbert Chesterton. There is a segment of society that does not play by the rules, they don't care about you or how hard you worked to get something nice, they only care about themselves...and while this may be a fitting description of a politician, I am talking about your regular ole dirt bag thief. You work hard and save your money so you can reward yourself with something nice only to have some punk ass thug come steal it out from under you. So, in this post, I thought I would share how we secure our trailer while camping, what products we chose and why. This is a 2 part blog post so stay tuned for both posts.
As you may recall, my wife and I bought a beautiful Camp-Inn Teardrop trailer towards the end of last year. Since then, I have seen a number of stories about people who have had their trailer stolen out of their driveway or while they were out hiking. Losing your trailer to a thief is not only painfully disheartening but a major inconvenience as you have to file a police report, deal with your insurance company (assuming you have insurance), find lodging if it happened while camping, replace the trailer and all your gear. If your trailer was hand-made, you have a lot of labor and hard effort put into the build process so it not easily replaced. The entire process can be emotionally overwhelming. I don't know what the odds are of getting stung by thief but I do know I want to take some steps to try and prevent it.

Now, there is no full proof security solution and a determined thief will find a way to defeat even the best lock. Therefore, locks are only a deterrent, the more difficult the lock, the better the deterrent. My goal is to provide enough of a deterrent that would be thieves will move on to an easier target. There are a lot of different security solutions out there, some as low at $20.00, some as high as $300.00 or more. Some from well-known brands and some from brands that might be new to you. However, consider the thousands of dollars you spent on your trailer or the hours you spent building it along with the emotional distress and inconvenience of having your trailer stolen, isn't a few hundred dollars a reasonable price to pay to protect your investment? You should also keep in mind that a $20.00 lock is going to give you $20.00 protection.  

Given there are so many different options, I spent a great deal of time reading reviews, looking at specs and watching videos to try and find the best solution for us. I found that there are generally two types of locks or ways to secure trailers, coupler (aka hitch) locks and wheel locks (aka the Denver Boot). Each has advantages and disadvantages. So, after extensive research, I decided that a two pronged approach was best for us and therefore selected both a coupler lock and a wheel lock. This post (Part I) will focus on the coupler lock while Part II will cover the wheel lock. 

Coupler Locks - These locks are supposed to prevent access to the coupler hitch on your trailer making it difficult for thieves to hitch your trailer to their vehicle. After watching a number of videos on YouTube, it became apparent that a LOT of the mainstream coupler locks were not much of a deterrent at all. They were easily defeated by a crowbar, hammer or bolt cutters in a matter of minute or two and in some cases, seconds....seriously....SECONDS! These solutions provided only a false sense of security and that was not going to work for me.

I did manage to find a few coupler locks that were actually quite rugged and not easily defeated by common tools from a hardware store. The AmpLock, Megahitch and Proven Industries lock all seemed to withstand quite a bit of punishment without failing. The AmpLock was made from cast iron while the other two were made of hardened steel and used lock designs that resisted both lock picks and other common attacks. The AmpLock secured the coupler by sliding over the lip of the coupler and a ball mechanism slid up into the coupler, preventing access to the ball hitch. The Megahitch and Proven Industries locks both covered the entire coupler.

Each of these seem like really nice locks and much more in line with what I was looking for in a coupler lock. However, there are two main drawbacks of coupler locks, securing the safety chain and securing the wheels. I will address the wheel lock in Part II and as for the safety chain, if it did not secure the safety chains on my trailer, it was a deal breaker for me. The purpose of a safety chain is to keep the trailer attached to your vehicle should it come off the hitch while traveling. If a thief shortens the chain(s) enough by looping it around the hitch or through the bumper, they can easily haul off your trailer even with your coupler securely locked. Of the locks I was looking at, only the Proven Industries lock secured both the hitch and the safety chain. For me, this was a major advantage and one of the biggest reasons I chose this lock for my trailer.

So, let's take a closer look at this lock and you can see why I like it over the others. It is a 3 piece design with a sleeve, tongue and puck lock. It comes with 2 keys. The sleeve and tongue are made from 1/4" hardened steel making the walls thick and very beefy. The manufacturing process uses a CNC machine for precision cuts and robotic welds so it is solid and well-constructed. The puck is aircraft grade aluminum and shrouded by the hardened steel sleeve.

The keyed lock has a brass cylinder with steel shank/shackle and locking pins that slides up and inserts into the tongue and sleeve. It is a 6 pin design with special security pins making it pick/bump resistant. It is on the underside so this does make it a little inconvenient but that also means it is more difficult for thieves to access. You can hit this lock with a hammer all day and this will hold firm. There is really no way to get a crowbar in there to pry it off and bolt cutters would be useless. I suppose you could spend a while with a loud cutting wheel and eventually make progress but thieves are looking for quick/easy targets.  

As previously mentioned, you can actually secure the safety chains as well by attaching them to the tongue and then inserting the tongue into the coupler and the sleeve over the coupler.

I like the aesthetic appeal of the Proven Industries lock over the Megahitch. I was told by the manufacturer that puck has 4 color options, Silver, Orange, Red and Blue. The lock retails for $195 at the time of this posting and is sold through retail trailer vendors. Contact Proven Industries to find a retailer in your area. 

As I said at the beginning, no lock is perfect and a determined thief can find a way to breach this or any other solution. I am sure there are ways to improve the design but overall, I am pleased with this lock. It it sturdy and well designed and should do a good job at helping secure my trailer. The ability to secure the safety chains does provide an extra level of protection and peace of mind. About the only downside I see with this lock is the location of the key access. It does make it a bit inconvenient as I did have to lay on my back so I could see what I was doing. This may get easier once I get more familiar with the lock operation and practice putting it on and taking it off. However, the inconvenience for me is also an inconvenience for would be thieves so this may be a bit of a wash. While I am not sure this will ever be an issue, I did note that there is no cover for the key access so it is not protected from the weather. I don't anticipate anything given the key is on the underside and made of brass so it should hold up well against the weather, but thought I should point that out. I really like the design and the color options are a nice touch. It seems to be a great lock and looks good on the trailer.

They do have different models that work with various coupler type designs as well. So if your coupler is a different style than what I have, check with Proven Industries for the correct model number for your hitch/coupler. 

With this coupler lock, I think I have met part of the original objective of providing enough of a deterrent so that thieves will decide to move on to an easier target. In Part II, I will cover the Wheel Lock I chose and provide more insight on the ins/outs of wheel locks.

However, security products are only part of the solution. As I mention in my other blog post, get to know your camp neighbors, good neighbors will help keep an eye on your site while you are not around. If all else fails, I do carry insurance on it but I hope I never have to use it. 

I would like to give a special shout out to Ron Lee, President over at Proven Industries. I had some questions about their locks and dropped him an email over the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised that he responded quickly and professionally that very weekend. Additionally, I explained that I was trying to get a lock before I left on my trip and was not able to find his lock online for a quick shipment and therefore, I was considering an alternative solution. He explained that if I was going with another lock, he recommended a competitor's product that was probably next best in quality to theirs. To me, this speaks volumes about the man and his company...he did not try to stall me or bash a competitive product, he tried to help me find a solution to my problem in the time frame allotted. So friends, if you are in the need of a coupler style lock, not only do I think that you consider the Proven Industries lock because it is good, but also because I think they have integrity...a quality that can be hard to find in many businesses these days. I think this is a person worth doing business with and a small company worth supporting.

I know this has been a long blog post but I am hoping it is informative and provides you some ideas on how you can secure your trailer from those punk ass thieves that want to steal your property. Be sure to catch Part II where I cover wheel lock type devices.

I will be posting a youtube video of both my coupler lock and wheel lock showing them in more detail and how they install/remove. I will update this blog post with a link to the video once I have it ready. 

As always, please feel free to leave your questions/comments below or on my YouTube channel and I will try to address.  

Until next time, take a bite out of crime and secure your trailer. 
Jay T.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Casting Shadows - A Tale of Two Canopies

In a previous blog, I shared how we added a side tent to provide a private place to change clothes, etc. In this post, I thought I would talk about canopies. Most RVs come with canopies attached to their sides that roll out and provide shade as they climb in/out of their motor home. Teardrop trailers really don't have this as an option and while these little trailers do often get access to more shaded tent sites, many teardroppers like myself bring along a canopy for some extra shade. 

However, canopies do more than provide a little extra shade, they also provide some place dry during wet weather, protection from debris or bugs falling from trees and often a central gathering spot to hang out. Like many teardroppers, we place our canopy over the galley area to provide cover when we are cooking, eating or cleaning up.

There are many different canopy solutions out there and often much debate around what is the best canopy for a teardrop trailer. Here are a few factors to consider when selecting a canopy.

Top Material - Most use a rip stop nylon or polyester. These materials are typically measured in weight and can range from 50 Denier to 300 Denier or more. The higher the number, the more durable the material but also the more it will add to the weight. They are typically UV coated and some are water resistant but not always so be sure to check.

Frame Material - This can be anything from fiberglass shockcorded poles, to aluminum to steel. As you might imagine, the more durable the material, the more weight and bulk so there is a trade off to be considered. 

Coverage Area - Coverage area is typically measured at the foot of each pole. A 10' x 10' base will cover 100 sq. feet in a straight leg design where a slant leg design will typically be less.  This is because it might measure 10' at the base of the leg but at the top it might only be 9' depending on the slant of the leg.

Open vs. Closed Design - Most canopies/shelters are open design. Open shelters can provide better visibility but less privacy. Shelters with walls provide better protection from the sun/elements and privacy but might restrict the view.

Ease of Setup - The larger the shelter, the more challenging it can be to set up. Large, heavy shelters might require 2 people where simple ones pop up quickly and easily. 

Size/Weight - If you have limited space in your tow vehicle, canopies that pack away into smaller size and less weight can provide a real advantage. However, they may also be more susceptible to harsh elements.  

I know many that favor the REI Alcove because it is inexpensive (MSRP $109 at posting), sets up quickly/easily and is light weight. It has a floor space of 10' x 10' and is supposed to provide 100 sq. foot of coverage. It uses a light weight poly material but they do not mention the fabric weight on their site. Another popular shelter among teardroppers is the Paha Que Cottonwood (MSRP $285 at posting), they offer this in 10' x 10' or 12' x 12' options. It is a 150 Denier poly material for the top and you can get it with optional side walls as well. 

In my opinion, there is no "best" canopy on the market because it all comes down to wants/needs and preference. Some people may have a small tow vehicle and need something small that will not take up much space. Others may want something lightweight, while others may want more heavy duty and durable.
Paha Que 10x10
REI Alcove

We were fortunate as our trailer came with a really nice Eureka Northern Breeze (MSRP $449 at posting) Canopy/Screen Room like the one shown below. This is a 12' x 12' Screen tent made from 150 Denier poly material that is UV and water resistant. It is very light in weight but sturdy with 1" aluminum shockcorded poles. It has full walls (50 Denier) that zip closed to provide extra protection during cold/wet weather and provide added privacy. If camping in nicer weather, the walls can be unzipped and extended out to provide an even larger shaded area while also providing a screened room so you can enjoy a bug free meal. While it is very light, it is also quite sturdy, standing up to weather and windy conditions quite well. It does take a little time to set up as you need to stake down the corners and add guy lines to help provide that stability during windy conditions. However, once you have done it a few times, it starts to set up fairly quickly and easily.

Eureka Northern Breeze
One thing to note about owning a teardrop is that you cannot be shy as they attract a lot of attention at campgrounds. It is common for people to stop by and ask to check them out. An added benefit of the Norther Breeze is the extra privacy it provides as it deters people from coming up asking for a tour of your teardrop. The drawback of this one is that it is a little more time consuming to set up but even that is really not bad. We really like this canopy as it does hold up to the elements quite well. This is our go to canopy when we know we are going to be camping in cooler/wet weather.

Quick Shade Summit 170
While we really like the Northern Breeze, we also wanted something a little more open, something for fair weather camping. For that we picked up the Quick Shade Summit 170 (MSRP $249 at posting). It is a 10' x 10' straight leg canopy but it is much heavier than the Northern Breeze. The top material is a 300 Denier poly material with a vented roof design. The legs are heavy duty, powder coated steel with a straight leg style design to maximize coverage area. The vented top let's wind pass through without trying to carry it off like an umbrella while also allowing heat to vent out the top. It has 1/2 walls that can be adjusted to 3 different positions (fully extended, approx. 45 degrees or all the way down) to block the morning/afternoon sun or provided larger shaded area. Since it is heavy and have a vented roof, it takes a pretty strong wind to pick it up so it withstands windy conditions quite well. I have had it out and set up with winds reaching about 25Mph and it held up fine.  I did stake down the legs and added guy lines to make sure it would not go anywhere. This canopy does set up quite quickly with telescoping poles and quick snap lock buttons. The biggest drawback to this canopy is that it is easiest to set up when you have 2 people. I have done it myself, but it was a bit of a pain to do. It is also fairly heavy and bulky compared to other canopies. However, this is still my favorite canopy despite some of the challenges. It provides great coverage and visibility while holding up to wind fairly well. 

There are many, many different canopies out there that offer different features at different price points. Some work great in wet/cold weather, others are more appropriate for fair weather camping. It's just comes down to what your needs are and how much budget you might have for your canopy. We have found that we almost always set up a canopy, which one just depends on the weather on where we are camping. 

So, what is your canopy solution? What do you like about it and what are the drawbacks?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Sitting in the shade until next time,
Jay T.

Images used with approval from copyright holders