Chris Coyier

My Camper Journey

I’ve had a lot of camping units in my life so far. I was a long-time tent guy until my tech life started affording me the finances to try other things. Here they are in the order I bought/sold them.

The Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon (2010-2012)

The “Westy”, as owners typically call them. It was super neat looking and in extremely good condition thanks to Go Westy.

I loved all the little engineered bits and bobs to it. It got a lot of comments. But I never personally fell in love with it. For one, despite the new engine, it always felt like a really underpowered vehicle. It’s not rugged in any way. The acceleration was so slow it felt dangerous at times. I didn’t have any big disasters with it, but seeing how many of these things break down it always had me nervous.

But the biggest thing I didn’t like? It was a bit too small for me. Not only am I a big dude, I like to roll a little thick camping. I like to have my own table or two, and at least a few camping chairs. Probably a cooler or two. Outdoor cooking equipment. Plus at least a banjo and a guitar, if not a little pile of other instruments. Bringing all that stuff made it feel weighed down, and the cool interior isn’t very cool while you’re traveling when it’s stuffed with crap.

I could see a Westy life being super awesome if you lived somewhere relatively flat, travelled alone and quite light, and had a very nice beefed up/restored one. Anyway, not for me and I sold it. Purchase price: $40,000. Sale price: $11,000 😬

The Jayco Sport Popup (2012-2013)

By this time I had sold my little Saturn sedan I had in Flordia and bought a truck after moving to California. So I had a vehicle that had more power and could tow. I liked that, and figured I’d get a towable camper. I can’t remember the exact year or model, but it was essentially like this:

It was friggin BIG and I kinda liked that. More space to hang out in while camping if that was needed. To some degree it was easier to keep camping stuff inside of it at all times, and to another degree it was harder, because you couldn’t access anything at all unless it was popped up, which took some doing.

I hauled that thing all around the U.S. once.

Camping at Glacier National Park in Montana

On that particular part of the trip I had two friends with me, and there were literally three big beds in there that fit us all fine.

But. It was kind of a piece of junk I thought. All kinds of little crap on it would break. You could just tell the build quality was low. It was designed to be affordable, and that’s fine, it just ended up not being for me. I made two mistakes as well:

  1. Went a little too big. It was awfully heavy for what it was. I had to get special brake controllers installed in the truck. It was more of a beast that I really needed.
  2. I had an expensive air conditioner installed in it. But I never camped anywhere I could shore up. So I also bought a generator to power it, but the generator was slightly underpowered for the air conditioner, so it didn’t work. That was a lot of burned bucks for nothing.

I ultimately sold it after moving back to Wisconsin.

The SylvanSport GO (2014-2017)

Knowing that I went “too heavy” with the Jayco, I swung the other direction with the SylvanSport GO.

Rather than an electric crank popup, this had a hand-crank. Sorta cool, and less to break, but you better as hell not lose or forget the crank! It only took a few minutes to kinda crank out and pop up into the camping mode from the fully collapsed mode. After expanding, it’s still pretty bare-bones! really it’s just a sleeping area. There isn’t any storage or anything fancy.

I mostly really loved this thing. It was light and comfortable and easy to manage, but there were a few things that ultimately made it not right for me:

  • Even for 2 people, it’s awkward. Either you sleep on either side of it, or you have to take these boards down to make one giant sleeping area. If you do that, there is zero other room inside.
  • It’s just a tent. You’re off the ground which is nice, but it doesn’t provide any more privacy, protection, or noise reduction than a tent.
  • Squeaky floor!

We sold it after moving to Bend because we had a baby and we knew it would never be enough for 2 adults, a kid, and a dog. I did get a lot of use out of it though and had good resale value (unlike all the others).

Back to Tentsville (2017-Present)

Ah, screw it. For a while when Ruby was really little, we weren’t camping anyway. For my own little tiny excursions, a tent was just fine.

What’s next?

Ruby is camping age now for sure. We just went on a little camping trip together, and we rented a “Sprinter” camping van to do it from Bend Adventure Vans. I call it a Sprinter because it’s just shorthand a lot of people use, which was based on Dodge Sprinter van conversions that were popular first. But now I think lots of brands make big vans, which they can sell for all sorts of reasons, camping conversions being one of them.

Classic “Sprinter”

The one we rented was a Storyteller Overland, which used a Mercedez-Benz van as the base. It was nice!

As nice as it was, I found it a bit small. Even for just Ruby and I. If all three (or four, with the dog) came along, it would definitely be too tight for my tastes.

Part of me was really convinced I want a trailer camper again. But not a popup, a hardshell. Like an Airstream trailer. Partly because they are way less expensive than an actual vehicle with an engine and all. Plus, once you’re parked, you detach and have a vehicle to drive around. I’m still a little attached to that idea, but it’s starting to be overpowered by the vehicle idea. I don’t love driving with trailers. It makes everything harder and more stressful, including actually getting into the spot you want to get into. A rugged vehicle can get into about anywhere and are relatively pleasant to drive. That’ll probably work best for my family, once we feel like we’ve thought about it and researched it enough to be actually sure.

At this exact moment, the Airstream Touring Coaches look so awesome, and incredibly expensive.

I dig the floor plan.