Sometimes, when parking at trailheads or lots before a hike, I look longingly at that Sprinter Van conversion or cool RV and think how nice it would be to come back at the end of the hike and take a shower, change clothes, crank up the heat and cook a meal. Or how about taking off for a few weeks for far flung hikes, using my traveling home as base camp? As I near retirement I've been perusing all the options, but I keep coming back to the central drawback: cost. Even those bare bones tear drop trailers can run 10K; I think, for 10K I can stay in nice hotels or Inns, eat lavish food and never have to worry about insurance, maintenance and storage. And 10K is the low end when one starts looking at Sprinter conversions and the like (Earth Roamer anyone? just a quarter mil for the cheap one). So recently I decided on a much more practical and frugal alternative, making a few upgrades to my "vintage" 2002 Chevy Avalanche. For those unfamiliar, the Avalanche has a mid gate that folds on top of the rear folding seats, opening up the space from the front seats to the tailgate, essentially 8 feet in length by 4 feet wide. I've taken good care of it over the years and it is still in fine shape with just 145,000 miles, not bad considering it was my main vehicle for a decade, carting kids everywhere, going to work, loading it with construction materials, even hauling rocks, beauty bark and pallets. It's also a well balanced and capable 4WD.
I just needed to add a few lux items to give me those amenities I (we) needed. I fashioned a screen window for the removable rear window for those warm nights, cutting a piece of wood to matching dimensions of the window, then jigging cutouts for the screen. I addressed cramped quarters (the bed is 8 feet long, leaving 2 feet of storage at the tail gate area for gear), especially if two of us were sleeping in it, by adding a rear deck rack for gear with room for a bike rack. Here's where things like shoes, poles, snowshoes, stove, folding chairs and other miscellaneous equipment can reside without cramming things in the front seats or leaving them out in the open on the rear deck. The best addition has to be the Zodi hot shower and shower tent, as there is nothing better after a strenuous day than a hot shower and clean clothes. Cooking is easy on the tail gate or folding table, and I keep a container stocked with plates, utensils, folding sink, percolator (gotta have hot coffee) and the rest of the kitchen gear. If rain is in the forecast I can pack a folding canopy for the rear of the truck to stay dry while cooking. I've always had a small inverter stowed in the truck for charging electronics and a LumenAid solar powered light bathes the small interior with soft light. Add in a few bags or bins for clothes and gear and I've got everything I need for multiple nights out. Sure, I don't have the standup room of an RV or trailer and nature calls have to be done, well, in nature. But for a comparatively small expenditure of funds I've been comfortable this year so far with over 2 weeks of use, both solo and with my daughter or a buddy.
Just like gear, it all depends on the user's needs. This is intended as a base camp. It's stealthy, giving no hint of occupancy from the casual observer if parked in a lot (the rear windows are tinted). It can go anywhere with 4WD and excellent clearance, including skid plates. It's old enough to not worry about getting scratched, dirty or dinged. It's been paid for for years, and with regular maintenance it should go for many more as it is no longer my main vehicle. Best of all I am free from the thought of spending thousands of dollars on a trailer or vehicle for what in reality would be occasional use. Now, my chariot awaits for my next overnight this weekend!