Thursday, April 30, 2015

Making a Side Entrance Tent for your Teardrop

In Doubling the Teardrop Floorplan, I provided a brief write up of our side entrance tent and shared some benefits it brings when teardrop camping. In this post, I thought I would provide some more detail on this project and how we made our side tent along with pictures we captured during the modifications. 

As I stated in the earlier post, we started with a Privacy/Shower tent from Lightspeed Outdoors. It is a great starting platform because it sets up and packs away in about a minute (a little more if you need to stake it down due to windy conditions), it is light weight and has sturdy poles. Because the poles are collapsible, the one short pole you need sits neatly on the fender making it nearly ideal for a side entrance tent.

The first step was to set up the tent next to our trailer on level ground so we could measure the gap between the trailer and tent so we could create side and top panels for the tent. Since the tent is wider at the bottom than at the top, we needed to figure out the general size/shape of the  panels so we can climb in/out without being seen through any gaps. We also needed to determine where and how big of a hole to cut the side wall of the tent for the door.

Once we had a general idea of the fitting, we could start planning out the design and picking up the extra material and supplies we would need for this project. We made a trek down to the local fabric store to try and find a water resistant material in a nice accent color. We wanted something that was durable and still help provide some moisture protection as we climb in/out of the trailer during bad weather. We selected a nylon rip stop material for the panels. We also needed nylon straps, grommets, velcro and some suction cups for this project.

We created the panels first. The side panels were triangle shaped due to the shape of the tent. It measured about 48ish" tall x 2" (at bottom) x 8ish" at the top. The top panel measured 45ish" long x 14ish" wide.

We sewed in some velcro so the top panel could be attached to the side panels with enough flexibility to adjust if the ground was not level and the tent sat lower/higher than the trailer.

On the top panel, we also sewed in straps that were 6" long with 2" sewn in and 4" hanging off.  However, going back, I don't think I would add the straps as I don't think they are necessary.  We originally thought we might need the extra length but that is just not needed.

Since we were using suction cups to attach the panels to the trailer, we added grommets on the panels as well as on the inside tent.  The suction cups have little hooks on them that can be bent closed once attached to the panels. 
Here you can see all 3 panels laid out on our floor.   

Next step was to sew the panels to the sides of the tent and along the top ridge.  The tricky part was making sure the fabric did not bunch up while sewing. We did get a little of that so we had to go back and use a seam ripper to fix the seam and re-sew it correctly. 

With the panels sewn on, we did a test fitting to make sure it was coming together as expected.

Overall, everything lined up well and the suction cups work fairly well. I will not say they are perfect, but they hold well enough to block any gaps between the trailer and tent. 

With a pretty good testing fitting, we moved on to sewing in the floor. The tent had a removable floor since it was both a privacy/changing tent and/or a shower tent. We decided to put in a tarp for the floor since it would be more durable and fully enclose the tent. The bottom of the tent measures 58" x 58" so we cut out just over that size and sewed it into the bottom of the tent.

Next up was measuring and cutting the opening for the door. We used masking tape to mark the door way so we knew where to cut the opening. This was probably the most concerning point. Up until now, we could undo any of the work but once you cut that side wall, the die is cast, Hannibal is at the gates and Cortez has burned the boats...once cut, there is no turning back.

Once you get past the trauma of making that cut, you start to realize this just might work. It's going to be OK, you did not just waste money or a perfectly good privacy tent.

Since the hole cut across a factory seam, we wanted to make sure we did not overly weaken that side wall. Therefore, knowing there were going to be pulling forces on that wall, we sewed in some nylon straps just above the opening to help provide a little more strength. I don't know if this is overkill or not but we would rather be safe that sorry.
With the hole cut, we did not want loose ends on the fabric so we sewed on some edging material all the way around the opening.  We also added some nylon strapping along the bottom edge of the opening to reinforce that area as well. 

As you can see, we are nearing completion in these photos. Only need to add some edging on the cut out, some grommets and suction cups on the inside.

Here is a shot from inside the trailer. Nice, private area for dressing, clothes storage, etc.

Here is the completed project. It holds up well in light winds, but in heavier winds it tends to be challenging to set up. You can stake down up to 3 of the corners. It also has guy wires that can be used in windy conditions. However, the real challenge is the one short leg on the fender. There is no easy way to secure it in strong winds. I am looking at creating a fender shelf with a notch to help secure that last leg. I will update this post once I get that finished and let everyone know if it did the trick for those windy days.  

Here is the video one more time in case you missed it.  Hope you found this useful. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or on my Youtube channel. I am happy to provide more insight on what we did and why.
Until next time, happy camping!
Jay T.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why we chose Camp-Inn for our Teardrop

In an earlier post, I shared our story of how we stumbled across teardrop campers and had our Moment of Discovery. In this post, I would like to share why we chose Camp-Inn and the roller coaster ride of buying our trailer.

After our 2013 family camping trip, we knew we needed something more than a tent and found teardrops as the ideal solution for us. The next journey was to figure out whether we wanted to build or buy a teardrop. Once we decided to buy, we needed to figure out a budget and then went through the arduous process of trying to determine which manufacturer had the right teardrop design and quality that we wanted in a trailer.

Lots of Options
We looked at a number of different manufacturers online as well as some in person. We looked at T@G by Little Guy, Oregon Trail'R, So-Cal Teardrops, TC Teardrops, and several others before we finally decided on Camp-Inn. There were trailers in various price ranges from $8,000 up to $20,000. No small amount of money for sure, so careful examination was required before I was ready to lay down such a large sum of cash on a trailer. Now, you may be thinking "but you can get a brand new travel trailer for around $10,000" so it naturally begs the question, why so much for a teardrop? Unlike typical travel trailers, most of the manufacturers listed above do not mass produce their trailers, they are often built especially for you when you order. Having a trailer built just for you allows you to get it exactly how you want it, whether it is no frills or fully loaded. In addition to the custom nature of a build, like any other product, the more you spend, the higher the quality of materials used, the more amenities you get and the more attention to detail (think labor intensive) put into the building of your teardrop. For example, to protect the trailer from wood rot and moisture, Camp-Inn uses marine grade plywood, not standard plywood or press board. They sand and finish all the wood 3 times and seal all the ends of the plywood which helps prevent warping and damage due to moisture. This is a labor intensive process that ensures the trailer will last for years to come. The all stainless steel galley is another example of something that drives up cost and improves the value of the trailer.       

Quality & Design
We had already heard great things about Camp-Inn's customer support and after seeing one of their trailers in person, we were stunned by the quality of the build. It was better than most travel trailers we saw and the fit and finish was truly impressive - a demonstration of their expert craftsmanship for sure. Now, I will say that some of the other trailers were also extremely well made and would have easily been a good choice but none of them had the Raindrop design which combined with the quality was what ultimately sold us on the Camp-Inn. 

The design and layout of the Camp-Inn 560 Ultra offered more room. The extra space up front that serves as a couch and gives us a place to sit out bad weather and watch TV or Movies in comfort. It also serves as a place for our dog to sleep as she can be quite the bed hog.

Additionally as proud new grandparents, we knew at some point, we might have a grandchild or two sleeping in the trailer with us on family camping trips (like our Thanksgiving trip in 2015, woohoo!) so the bunks were a real value for us. We can't wait to take this little angel camping with us.

After much deliberation, we settled on Camp-Inn for the trailer. Now came the hard part of waiting and saving to make our purchase. While it only takes them 4-5 weeks to make a trailer, Camp-Inn typically has a 4 to 6 month waiting period due to all the orders they are getting in for these fine products. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we were resigned to the fact we would be in a tent 1 more year. 

We had considered buying used, but these trailers rarely come up for sale and when they do, they sell fast and are nearly the cost of a new one. In the 8 months we were looking we never saw 1 Raindrop model go up for sale.

Scrimp, Save & Wait
So, we scrimp and save to raise the money for our trailer and with a bit of good luck in not having to fix the foundation on our house (that's a story for another time), we finally have everything together. It was a Thursday in October 2014 and we are ready to place our order. We get our quote from Cary at Camp-Inn and get ready to send our deposit when a Raindrop goes up for sale on the Unofficial Camp-Inn Forum. I immediately contact the seller as these things go was a 2009 model with lots of great features but not quite what we wanted. It's now Friday and so again, I get ready to send out our deposit when low and behold, another Raindrop gets posted on the forum. Again, I reach out to the seller, this one was even nicer, a 2010 model. I like it but it was all the way out near Camp-Inn's office so I decide once again to place my order on the following Monday. And as luck would have it, 2 more get posted over the weekend. Keep in mind, for 8 months, nothing and now over the course of 3 days, 4 trailers get posted for sale. Both these units are exceptionally nice, one in Vermont (30+ hour drive one way) and the other in Florida. 

Now, I am really starting to go through the emotional ringer trying to figure out what to do. Every time I think I have the answer, another wrench tossed into the mix. Throughout this ordeal, I had been speaking with Cary at Camp-Inn, he new each of these sellers and their trailers and was advising me on each trailer. He knew what I was looking for and knew whether each trailer would be a fit. After careful consideration, he recommended the trailer in Florida. To me, this speaks volumes about the integrity of Camp-Inn. Instead of just trying to sell me a new trailer, they recommended buying a used one.

It was meant to be...
After speaking at length with the seller, we finally agree to meet and buy the trailer if all checks out. The sellers were some great people...a retired couple that bought the trailer specifically for a trip to Alaska and then were planning on selling upon their return. However, they liked it so much they kept it for one more year and only selling because they were losing their indoor storage location. The seller agrees to save me some driving time and meet me part of the way so I'm thinking great, he just knocked 6 hours off my drive time and saved me some gas money too. He then calls me back the next day saying he always wanted to visit Dallas and would be passing through my area on the way so how about just meeting me out here...I can't believe my luck. So we meet him at a campground about 40 minutes from my house and we love the trailer. Before I can even hand him the money he profusely apologizes for how dirty the trailer is and explains he hit every rainstorm on the way out and knocks $1K off the already agreed price and proceeds to throw in all the gear he had for camping. 

I felt truly blessed to be able to meet such a generous couple and to own such a wonderful trailer. While it was a lengthy ride to get here and quite a emotional roller coaster, I can say it was truly worth the wait and it made our 2014 Thanksgiving camping trip so much more joyful. 

So, do you own a trailer or RV? Was it a long process for you as well? Share your experience in the comments below.

See you on the road,
Jay T.   

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Teardrops - Build vs. Buy

So you have reviewed your options and have decided you want a Teardrop trailer...Great! However, you are not done yet as you now have to decide do you build or do you buy? For some, the answer is easy, for others it's only the beginning of the process. Perhaps you don't have the necessary tools or skills to build so your decision is made for you. Perhaps you are a craftsman/woman and enjoy the challenge and feeling of accomplishment when completing such a project. For others, the decision process is much more challenging. Budgets must be considered, build time and facilities all play into the decision process. For us, we waffled back and forth over building vs. buying as there are advantages to both options. 

If you have the skills or even if you don't but want to learn, building can be an exciting option. There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of creating something from scratch and know that you made it and it fits your exact needs. Some of the benefits of building a trailer include:
  • Cost - Building your own trailer can be significantly cheaper than buying since you are only paying for supplies and not the labor. High end teardrops can be $10,000 to $20,000 or more. DIY trailers can be a fraction of that cost.
  • Togetherness - Many people that build often do this with friends or spouses. It can create a memorable experience for you and your co-builder(s). Of course, it could also lead to divorce I suppose. 
  • Satisfaction - It's your baby, your creation. Knowing you designed and built it with your own hands can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
  • Design - It's your design and only has what you wanted in it, no extras and no paying for things you don't want/need. It is exactly what you wanted, no more, no less.
  • Opportunity to learn - Every project presents opportunities to learn something new.
  • Ability to fix it if needed - Since you designed it, built it, you are best suited to fix something if maintenance and/or repairs are required.
Not everyone has the skills, tools or free workspace to tackle such a large build project. Even if one does have the skills, some may still opt to buy as there are some benefits when purchasing as well.
  • Time - Buying can get you out camping sooner. Depending on how much free time you have and how complex your design, it can take thousands of hours to build a teardrop trailer. Time that might be spent camping instead of building.
  • Fit/Finish of Trailer - Experienced teardrop builders have learned over the years the little nuances that might get overlooked by a 1st time builder. It might take 2 or 3 builds to fine tune a trailer to exactly what you want. 
  • Resale Value - Quality manufactured Teardrops tend to hold their resale value very well. This is not to say that home built units do not, only that top end trailers can sell for almost the cost when first sold. 
  • Warranty/Support - If there is an issue, it might be under warranty or at least easily supported by the manufacturer. 
For us, while we have the tools, we knew it would take several iterations to get to the fit/finish we desired in a teardrop. Furthermore we would rather get out and start camping sooner instead of taking a year full of weekends building a trailer. My wife and I still have a strong desire to build one and at some point, we may undertake a project but for now we just wanted to get some camping time in and so we are really happy with our Camp-Inn 560 trailer.   

Whatever your choice, there is a large community of teardroppers out there that will welcome you into the fold. It is a great way to meet new people and make new friends. They all share a common passion of camping and teardrop or tiny trailers. In a future post, I will share some of my favorite resources for teardrop campers and teardrop builders. There are a lot of websites, blogs and forums out there that provide a great place for teardroppers to gather and share experiences. In any case, fire up the saws or the checkbook, the important thing is to just get started.  Every day spent trying to decide is one less day you could be building or camping.

Do you have a story to share? Did you build or buy?  Leave a comment below. 

Until Next Time,
Jay T.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Our Moment of Discovery

In my first blog post, I talk through some of the benefits of a teardrop over a traditional RV. So with this post, I thought I would share how we came to our decision to buy a teardrop camper. Most of my family is scattered around the west coast and with my wife and I residing in Texas, we don't always get a lot of time together. A few years ago, my sister started hosting a family gathering over Thanksgiving weekend on the Colorado River. My dad, brothers, nieces & their husbands and their husbands family, etc. all get together and enjoy a few days together. We sit around the campfire, play games, go riding in the desert, eat great food, and have a good time.
Back in 2013, we drove out from Texas to join the annual family camping trip. My sister was there in her Class A motor home, my dad showed up in his Class C. My younger brother and step dad came in their Class C, my older brother pulled up in his Class A and there we were in our little tent with an air mattress. Now, it's late November on the California/Arizona border and we are in a tent with sleeping bags and a dog...what could go wrong? Well, the air mattress developed a slow leak, the temperature dropped to the mid 30s at night and the dog barked at every sound she heard outside the tent.  Needless to say, it made for some long nights.

The Search Begins...
Upon returning home from that trip, we knew that tent camping was just not viable any more. We are too old and I am way too crabby when I don't get a good nights rest. So, we started our search an appropriate camping vehicle.

Since all my family had motor homes, that is where we started. Looking at Class C RVs and travel trailers was fun, but the more we looked, the less we felt it was the right solution for us. They were quite expensive new and buying used can be hit or miss. There were some cheap travel trailers, but it was clear as to why they were cheap. They all had that glue factory smell which gave my wife a headache. Furthermore, both would require off site storage which is inconvenient, can be expensive and would not get used as much as something that I could keep in my garage.

So, with motor homes and travel trailers ruled out, we started looking for something smaller. We checked out tent trailers and the A-Liner trailer. Both are very nice, fairly light weight and can be stowed in my garage. However, both require some level of set up before you can climb inside to sleep. Some of our trips can be very long hauls (like 1500 miles to California) and even though some trailers set up quickly in just a few minutes, you still have to set them up. We wanted something that we could pull into a rest area, climb inside and go to sleep, no setting up pop outs or pop up roofs, no setting up beds, just climb in and sleep.

Teardrop Discovery 
One day while scouring Youtube for camping videos, I stumbled across a teardrop trailer video. I had no idea these were still being made. When I was a kid, our neighbor had one that he pulled behind his Rambler station wagon. I remember playing in it with my friends, turning it into a fort. These trailers opened my eyes to a whole new set of options.

To my surprise, there were quite a few different manufacturers producing these little gems. The more we looked, the more we liked. It was light weight so easy on gas mileage. It was small enough to fit in our garage. It had hard sides and small enough cabin on the inside that was easy to keep warm. It did not require any set up to use. These trailers provide enough conveniences to make camping easy to set up and enjoy like an RV yet still allow us to get close to nature like a tent. It was as though a light went was exactly what we were looking for and we knew in that instant we had our moment of discovery.

We are thrilled with our little camper and have done more camping in the past 6 months than we have in the last 10 years. Our family camping trip the following year was a vastly different experience and our little trailer was the hit of the campground. It was quite funny to see this small little trailer sandwiched between the big Class A motor homes of my sister and my dad. In our case, less was more and it worked out perfectly. 

In a future blog, I will share why we selected Camp-Inn and the story of how we purchased our trailer, it's another fun story. So, are you still searching for your perfect camper? Have you already found the perfect solution for you?  If so, please share your moment of discovery?

Till we meet again,

Jay T.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Doubling the Teardrop floorplan

How do you double the square footage of your teardrop trailer? Add a side entrance tent! OK, so it is not exactly double but it does add a lot of useful space. 

In my earlier blog post, I shared some of the benefits of camping with a teardrop. The economic advantages, ease of use and the unique design are strong points to consider when choosing any RV for camping.

However, there are some challenges when teardrop camping as well. There is no bathroom or shower so being close to the campground restroom is usually preferred. With limited space in the cabin, you don't have much room for duffle bags, suit cases or shoes. Getting dressed in the morning, well that  can be a bit interesting as you do the "inch worm" to put on pants. This does not work for everyone and it was certainly an inconvenience for us.

So, to address some of these concerns, we decided to add some square footage to our little home on wheels by adding a Side Entrance Tent. There are a number of companies that sell Privacy/Shower tents for campers needing some place to change clothes, get cleaned up, etc. These tents can make a great base for a Teardrop Side Entrance Tent. We bought one from a company called Lightspeed Outdoors and modified it to serve as our little private area to climb in and out of the trailer. 

The Lightspeed tent is well constructed with sturdy poles yet still light weight and comes with carrying bag so transporting is easy. One of the great things about teardrop trailers is that they can be set up at the campground in about 10 minutes. The Lightspeed tent fits in well with our teardrop because it too sets up and breaks down in about 1 minute so we can spend more time enjoying camping. The tent is roomy with a 58" square base and the telescoping poles worked perfect because at the 1/2 point, it is nearly the perfect height to sit on the trailer fender.

And, as I said earlier, while not quite actually doubling our square footage, it does help provide a little more room inside the cabin. We now have a place to store our clothes and shoes, answer those late night nature calls, and best of all get dressed in the morning without mooning the entire campground. Incidentally, the extra space we gain in the cabin does get taken up by our Catahoula/Mix dog (Kya - yep, that is her you hear in the background of the video). However, we love camping with our pup so it's OK.  Check out the short video of our new side entrance tent... 

If you would like to learn more about how we modified this tent, you can read more here. Please feel free to share your camping experiences or questions/comment below. I have a posted set of pictures of most of the steps in constructing this at the link below along with a blog post linked above.

Side Entrance Tent Pictures

Until next time, enjoy the morning moon,
Jay T.