I love to hunt from a backcountry camp, but I’ve never enjoyed setting up and breaking camp. Last year, a couple of friends and I decided to hunt Colorado’s first rifle season for elk. We chose a camping spot near the end of a marginal Forest Service trail (it took 45 minutes to drive one mile). We had no neighbors on this stretch of steep, heavily forested public land, and our hopes were high for finding wapiti. It took a good two hours after arriving in late evening to erect our cabin tent and set up camp.
The next day we scouted the country for elk sign and saw nothing but old trails. No fresh beds, tracks, droppings, recent rubs[ldots]nothing We realized that we had to pack up and find greener pastures. Late that evening we rolled our sleeping bags, took down the cabin tent, slung our gear haphazardly into the pickup and headed into the night toward more familiar hunting grounds.
Our situation was not unlike that of many folks who hunt big game on public lands. That sweet spot you picked out on the map five months ago might be a bad choice, and you can appreciate the benefits of being able to quickly and cleanly pack up camp and keep moving.
Large pop-up, fifth-wheel and trailer campers are great for backcountry trips that don’t involve treacherous roads or off-highway driving on four-wheel-drive tracks. Setup is easier than with a large tent, and there are more amenities. Haul one of these babies into the forest, though, and you might find your camper wedged between a couple of trees or hung on a large rock.
A better option for some folks are truck campers, those nifty little numbers that fit securely in your truck bed. They are more portable than the larger camping trailers but can be unwieldy on a rugged trail, and some models limit how much gear you can pack in your truck.
So if large cabin tents are a pain and traditional campers are often too cumbersome to be practical for backcountry hunts, what’s a sportsman to do?
The solution can be found in the latest generation of lightweight and compact truck tents and campers. These are handily designed to provide four-season shelter, are easy to set up and tear down, require a minimum of cargo space, and offer a higher degree of mobility than big tents.
The ultimate in lightweight mobile camping shelters are truck tents like the Sportz Truck Tents manufactured by Napier Enterprises. These shelters come with all the standard features you would expect in any free-standing tent. The Sportz Truck Tent is cut to fit the dimensions of neatly all domestic and import pickup beds, from short-box compacts to full-size long-box models. This self-contained tent (with floor, sidewalls and domed top) fits inside your truck bed and is supported with shock-corded fiberglass poles, then secured to the box with straps. Large mesh windows provide ventilation, and a water-resistant rain fly can be added for extra protection from the elements. The tent, rain fly and poles all stow in a nylon carry sack that can fit behind the seat of most trucks.
Aside from the ease of assembly (10 to 15 minutes), one of the best aspects of the Sportz Truck Tent is that no matter where you end up hunting, you’ve always got a place to camp. And better yet, you never have to worry about finding a level and dry patch of ground or fret over a midnight thunderstorm. Simply throw your gear in the cab, set up the tent and you’re ready for bed.
A different twist is the new Camp along from Sport Masters. The Camp along hybrid tent design was developed as a spin-off of Sport Masters’ hinged slant-side bed covers. By adding a zip-on “tent to fit between a pickup bed and its raised bed cover, the company developed a quick-to-assemble and effective shelter for the mobile hunter. The hinged bed cover also offers gear protection when you’re traveling or in the field and away from your truck, and an optional, detachable awning is available.
Finally, there are the mini pop-up camper/tent trailers like the popular versions manufactured by Back Country U.S.A. These little numbers were designed by off-highway 4×4 adventurers looking for a more secure and protective shelter than that afforded by a tent, but who needed something smaller than the traditional pull-along campers.
The Back Country U.S.A trailer tent is comprised of a reinforced fiberglass body and top that, when set up, delivers a 5×8-foot sleeping area with a 52×90-inch sleeping mattress. The shelter can be set up by one person in about four minutes. An adjustable-height tongue support assists in leveling the camper. The housing sits on a Torflex axle with independent suspension and uses full-size wheels and tires for optimum ground clearance (17 inches with 33-inch tires).
Sure, there are many instances where a full-blown cabin tent, truck camper or tagalong is desirable, such as during extended hunts in one location. But if you like to keep your options open–to keep up with the game or find the optimum hunting grounds–and don’t relish the drudgery of complicated camp setups and teardowns, you might want to consider these lightweight camping options.