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Car Camping – Motoring Back To Nature Since 1900

Almost since mankind first built permanent shelters and moved indoors, we have occasionally gone back to sleeping rough in the outdoors. Sometimes it was while stalking prey, sometimes it was because the trip was further than we could travel in a day, and sometimes it was because we just enjoyed being in the great outdoors.

With the development of civilization, camping moved from a necessity to a way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. When camping, we return to our roots, living with minimal comforts and cooking over a wood fire, and just being able to forget a hundred petty little worries of modern life. And ironically, we have used every advance in modern technology to make it easier to get “back to nature” starting with the horseless carriage.

Transportation Changes

In frontier days, Conestoga wagons were America’s first mobile homes, allowing pioneers to camp their way across the country on their way to a new life in the west. With the industrial revolution, rail lines brought people to places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks, allowing campers access to these natural wonders with just a day’s walk. Almost since the advent of motor cars, people have been camping in them, though at first it was because roads were bad, and services were few once you got away from the major population centers. Even after WWI, in 1919, an Army convoy required nearly 60 days to travel from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, so car camping was still very much a necessity, but that would soon change.

As Henry Ford’s Model T put America on wheels, local, state, and federal agencies, as well as automobile clubs, worked to build a network of good roads. Motorist services and guide books helped people who wanted to get away from it all get there and back safely. As the roaring twenties roared into the great depression, inexpensive used cars were rebodied to become the first “motor homes”, and various accessories were introduced to make living on the road easier.

Post-War Boom

Like just about everything in the modern world, it was only after WWII when car camping as we know it was really invented. New construction methods first used by aviation and the military allowed lighter aluminum and fiberglass camper trailers to be designed. Cars running more powerful engines, thanks to wartime innovations, allowed motorists to get up and over any mountain while pulling a small house. And air conditioning and synthetic fabrics allowed campers to be comfortable in the hottest or coldest of campsites.

Plus, thanks to a huge push by Eisenhower, paved superhighways were starting to link all of the major cities. Vacationers could get away from it all at speeds once only achieved on race tracks like Indianapolis Speedway. Never before was it so easy to get from the urban rat race of the city to the unspoiled wilderness, all while taking along the comforts of home.

Car Camping Now and in the Future

Given that we have one of the most-developed highway systems in the world, the hardest part of car camping now is packing up the family and camping gear. With GPS, far-reaching cell phone networks, space-age materials, modern cars, and well-maintained roads, the trip can be nearly as relaxing as the destination. In many places, you can get away from it all for days at a time while still checking your social media every few hours.

Today, car camping is still a popular excursion, and many innovations make it more convenient and fun for the entire family. Depending on how much you plan on “roughing it,” car camping options include ground tents, roof or truck-bed tents, even tow-behind campers. Cooking options range from wood fire pits, to propane grills and cooktops. Sanitary options range from a hole in the ground, to full-size toilets with doors. Hygiene options can include bathing in the stream, to full hot-water showers.

As long as there are “outdoors” to explore and experience, and cars to get us there, there will be car camping. Perhaps some future transportation option will be even more convenient, so who’s to say that, in 50 years, we won’t be car camping via solar-powered flying car?

Towing and Maintenance

If you are going to go camping off the beaten path, you are going to want to make sure your car or truck is up to the task. Towing a camper trailer, even a small one, puts a lot more wear on your vehicle, so service intervals should be shorter to avoid wear. Your Chilton manual list both regular service and severe service intervals in the maintenance schedule; towing a camper or driving off-road are considered severe service.

Chilton doesn’t make manuals specifically for motor homes or RVs, but many smaller units are based on regular truck and van chassis. Chilton covers Ford Ranger, full-size, and Super Duty trucks, Dodge/Ram Dakota and full-size trucks, and GMC/Chevy vans and trucks of all sizes. If you prefer the classic pop-top VW bus, we’ve still got a manual for that as well.

No matter what you are driving, stashing the Chilton manual in with the rest of the gear and tools is always a great idea.

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