When you get to camp, setting up takes time. At one end of the scale you have Caravans, which need very little setup, and at the other end is the big, soft floor campers with multiple rooms, or taj mahal tents that have a huge pile of poles to put in place. Setup times can range from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours, depending on where and how you are camping.
Not every location you go to will require the same setup; if you are just going for a weekend, sometimes its not worth setting everything up, but knowing how long its going to take you is important.
Does setup time really matter?
If you only camp a few times a year, and you don't move around much in each trip perhaps you've never been fazed by how long it takes you to set your camp up. Some people don't seem to mind, but when you are regularly moving and camping many times a year it can get frustrating spending longer setting up and packing away than you could. If it takes you 1.5 hours to set up and 1.5 hours to pack away, that's 3 hours every couple of days if you are moving regularly. Do this for more than a week or two, and you will be sick of it by the end of your trip. I guarantee it.
If you don't mind setting up and packing away for more than an 45 minutes either way then you are more patient than me. I like things to be as efficient and easy as possible, and I reckon most of you are like that too!
Is there such thing as a fast tent?
Many of you will know we have an Oztent RV5, that has had a lot of use over the years. It's one of the fastest tents on the market; once you get it out of the bag and put the ground sheet down you can set it up in about 30 seconds.
What I've discovered though, is its not the tent that adds to your setup time. Once the tent is up, you need to get the bags of clothes out, mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags, table, gas burner and bottle and water tanks out too. You then need to unpack your mattresses and sleeping bags and set them up, connect the gas burner to the bottle, pull your solar panels out and set them up and the list often goes on.
In the scheme of things then, even with the quickest tent, the moment you camp out of a tent its not going to be a quick process. On our 5 weeks through the Kimberley, we got our setup time down to about 30 minutes. In my mind, that's perfectly reasonable for however you camp. If you can get it down below 30 minutes, you are winning.
Moving from tent to camper trailer
A couple of months ago, we picked up a second hand soft floor camper trailer. You can read more about it here - Our new Camper Trailer. Despite reading over and over online that soft floors are slow to setup, we did our research, shopped around and picked up an Outback Deluxe. While its most certainly not the fastest setup camper trailer on the market, its definitely not the slowest either.
It probably takes us about 40 minutes to set the camper trailer up now, and that will get faster as we become more familiar with it. The difference though, is that we get a tent that's probably 3 times the size, a proper stainless steel kitchen, water on tap, substantially more shade and wind protection and easily double the storage space. Our payload has gone from 865kg in the Land Cruiser to nearly 1600kg between the trailer and the vehicle (not that we will need all of that!).
Setup is quite simple; disconnect the 4WD, Unlatch the boat loader and flip it over, undo the tent cover and remove it along with the extra annex, fold the tent out, peg it out and put 6 poles inside the trailer tent. The kitchen unlatches from the rear and folds out, and all we need to do is connect the gas line up.
I suppose what I'm getting at then, is if you are moving from a tent to a camper trailer, you probably won't take any longer setting it up but your camp base station is much nicer. However, bear in mind that every camper trailer varies; I've seen some soft floors that take 40 minutes just to get the basics up, and another hour to get other rooms and annexes up.
Soft floor vs hardfloor camper trailer setup times
So, onto the age old argument; hard floor camper trailers are faster to set up. In general, this is often true; I won't argue with it. However, the lines between hardfloor and softfloor camper trailers are continually being blurred, and you should set the trailer up before purchasing it, so you know what's involved.
Something like the Kimberley Kamper is very quick to set up; undo 4 latches, flip the lid over, pull the kitchen out the side and its pretty much done. There are some very quick hard floor camper trailers, and there are some that are not so quick at all.
With any camper trailer the time consuming part is setting up additional rooms, or annexes. Set these up before you buy one so you know what's involved. It may take 5 minutes to set your camper trailer up, and another 35 minutes putting the kids room and annex in place.
How can you set your camp up quicker?
The way to get better at setting up and packing away is to do it often. If you go on a 3 week trip where you are moving regularly, I guarantee you will shave at least 10 minutes off your setup and pack away times by the end of the trip. Do it for more than that, and you will get quicker and quicker. It's all about routine, knowing what you are doing and finding the easiest way to do it.
There should be a place for everything, and the more people helping out the better. You'll learn what works well and what doesn't; we tend to learn quickly when it involves hard work! Our setup and pack away times got progressively quicker over 5 weeks spent in the Kimberley, and everything became easier as a routine was developed.
Fast setup camping
If you are sick of spending time setting up and packing away, there are a couple of quick options
Even though swags have changed a lot in the last two decades, they are still a very quick way to camp. Your mattress, 'tent', sleeping bag, pillow and sometimes even clothes are all contained in one bit of gear that can be rolled out easily. These are a fantastic option for fast paced camping. They are bulky, you have much less room to move around and change and less protection from the weather. However, a very popular way of camping as they are economical, comfortable to sleep in and easy to set up.
Sleep in your canopy
If you have a ute, you may have the option of sleeping in your canopy. If you can keep your bed made up inside then its a fast way to camp. Dual cab utes are pushing the sleeping limits unless you are fairly short, but they will work. Bear in mind the need to keep the bugs away, and allow some way for the air to escape or you will wake up with rain drops on your head.
Caravans and some camper trailers
A lot of Caravans are ready to go when you pull up. Some require the lid to be popped up, and you will likely have an awning to setup, but they are very fast. As mentioned above too, some camper trailers are very fast. Make sure you set one up before committing to it though!
Roof top tents
Another favourite amongst those moving regularly is roof top tents. They are comfortable, off the ground and quite economical. Some of these can be setup in under a minute, with many taking just a few minutes in total. Your mattress and bedding are contained so you save on having to set them up. However, if you ever want to move your vehicle, you need to drop the tent down, and this can be a pain. They are also fairly heavy and increase your centre of gravity, affect your fuel economy and aren't the easiest (or safest) with little children.
RV and Bus Travel
If you've got an RV or Bus, your setup times are pretty much nil - pull up and you are good to go. Maybe you have an awning, but there's no canvas or poles to deal with! These are a great option, but will limit where you can travel (and they aren't cheap!).
What to think about when choosing a way to camp
If you are considering changing the way you camp, have a think of the following facets
- Setup time
- Ease of setup; do you need two strong people to do it?
- Strength and reliability
- Room inside (width and height)
- Protection from the elements - wind, rain and snow.
- Weight and size of your chosen camping method
- Kitchen and cooking
- Water storage and access
- Whether you need level ground
- Tow ball weight (as required)
- Fuel economy
Life is a compromise
There is no perfect 4WD; no matter what you buy it will be a compromise one way or another. Like 4WD's, you'll never have the perfect camping setup. Finding something that is light, nimble, cheap, robust, quick to setup with a huge amount of room and shade, plenty of storage space in weight and space just doesn't exist. You have to make a compromise somewhere along the line, and that's up to you. The more research you do, the better informed you will be and the more likely you are to get something that works for you.
What do you use, and how long does it take to setup?
Let me know below; what camping arrangement do you use, and how long does it take to set up and pack away? Do you regret your decision to buy what you camp with? What would you change?