Venturing out into the great green expanse of Ontario presents a pivotal choice: hitting the road in a van or setting up camp with a trusted tent. I’ve done both. Each was a unique experience—and I’ll break down the highs and lows.
Van Life: A Cozy Room on Wheels
Picture this: a snug room on wheels, my own personal shelter wherever my road leads me to. Van camping offers a mobile retreat, a comfortable steel cocoon with the convenience of a food prep and a cozy bed. It's nomadic living at its finest. While you might not be able to reach all the places a tent can, you can just pull over in any parking lot or residential street for the night…
Tent Tales: Sleeping Under the Stars
On the flip side, there's something enchanting about unfolding a tent beneath a canvas of stars. Tent camping immerses you in nature, from the sounds of the nocturnal symphony of frogs to the morning dew on your tent. It's a raw, immersive experience that connects you with the elements. There are just too many wooded places you can camp at in a tent but not a van.
Rolling Scenery or Campsite Serenity?
Do you crave ever-changing landscape outside your window or does the tranquility of a campsite nestled in the trees call your name? Van lifers chase sunsets on the go, while tent enthusiasts savor the stillness of the most secluded spots. With the van just stopping over between destinations is effortless and I’m gone first thing after breakfast. No matter where I stop there is no unpacking and repacking my gear. Obviously, this is personal choice dependent on location and spirit of travel.
The Gear: Van Versatility vs. A Tents Simplicity
Packing up for camping can be like orchestrating some free form jazz. Crazy. If you’re like me and gone for weeks if not months your list can be extensive. At the onset it’s pretty equal, but when you consider packing up to leave somewhere how much easier it is to throw everything in the back of the van. Oppose that with zipping bagging and stowing all the extras from camping in a tent into my tiny Toyota matrix. Eat your heart out I’m a logistics genius, but the van won this round.
Weathering the Elements: Resilience
Whether it's rain, shine, or a surprise gust of wind, your choice of shelter matters. Vans offer a haven in unpredictable weather, while tents let you feel the elements—sometimes a bit too intimately. A nice night though, you leave the roof flap open, you can see the stars and enjoy any breeze, something you can’t do in my van. One of the lessons I learned in construction was how incredibly often a weather forecast is wrong; most of the time if you were wondering. As a side note there was a certain nervous excitement and anticipation laying in the tent listening to storms brew. The release of ions in the air creates a positive mind frame, and I can’t lie, I enjoyed that too. There was also a sense of real accomplishment at Red Rock Dam when the storms were so powerful they shook the earth and my tented campsite rocked right on through it. But that’s me. With the van, I could open the back door and sit on the rear bumper (or lie in bed.) and enjoy a rainstorm. Try that with a small tent. The van wraps up this round as a unanimous decision.
Community or Loner: A Campers' Social Life?
Are you a butterfly or a wolf? Van campers often find themselves in communal spots, swapping stories with fellow travelers. On the other hand, tent campers can seek solitude, their own patch of quiet paradise. Oddly enough, even in crowded camp grounds people in tents self-isolate. At the other end of the spectrum, you have places like Aubrey falls. Crownland camping, but literally hundreds of sites with RVs and trailers parked right on top of each other. A real party place apparently, but I didn’t stick around. Really though, this is your prerogative. I seek out solitude most of the time either way.
Cost Considerations: Van Budget vs A Tents Thriftiness
Let's talk dinero. Van life comes with a hefty initial investment, but it's a rolling investment in comfort. Tent camping, on the other hand, tends to be more budget-friendly, with gear that won't break the bank. Tent with a sweeping victory in this round, although generally speaking you still need car to tent it as well. Maintaining a tent IS a whole lot cheaper.
My very first year out I slept under a tarp held up by driftwood. The insects feasted on my delicious red serum by night, but my budget was the cheapest possible that year. I don’t recommend it for anything beyond an ‘experience’.
Ecological Impact: Tread Lightly, Clean Where You Camp
Camping comes with a responsibility to Mother Nature. Consider your ecological footprint—vans may guzzle gas, but so do cars, and tents require careful campsite consideration. It's a delicate balance between comfort and conservation. I’d really call this one a draw although my van does burn a little more gas than my car did.
Just pick up your litter.
Safety and Security: A Universal Concern
In the wilderness, protection from wildlife and unwelcome guests is paramount. A tent camper in their sleeping bag is just a bear burrito. Vans offer a secure shell, a metal barrier between you and the unknown. Tents, while an immersive experience requires more vigilance and a keener awareness of your surroundings. Both choices demand a proactive approach to safety. Hand down the Van wins this one since I don’t go to sleep making sure I know where my bear spray is. Insects? My tent was a pop up. Throw it on the ground and bang, I have protection. In terms of ‘time to safety’ the difference was moderate, but the effort involved was a little more. You’d think the van would win this easily, but instead I’d call it a win, but only by a nose. A few of the people we cross paths with in our life are monsters, but more likely it’s just other people’s drama. The van not only has doors that lock, but does a way better job of smothering voices. I’m a large male, so I could only imagine this would be even more relevant to most other people, especially a woman travelling alone. Overall, the van does win this round with its locking doors.
Personal Preference Prevails
In the end, whether you opt for van life or roughing it in a tent, it depends on your personal style, adventure you desire, and the kind of connection you seek with the Universe. So, which camper are you? The van enthusiast tripping along or the earth loving tent traditionalist? The choices are yours, and the experience you want to live. I’m fucking thrilled to have done both, but I would recommend the van as the better choice offering more fluidity of plans and that I do pack my tent in that load out too.