I’ve always loved tent camping. Back when I was a kid I would tent camp with my family and I loved the feeling of falling asleep under the stars all snug in our sleeping bags. Once we moved to Alaska we bought tents for every scenario – 4 person car camping tents and small lightweight backpacking tents. While I’d always rather choose to tent camp over cabin camping, I will admit that tent camping in Alaska is definitely cold and buggy and sometimes wet! And sometimes tent camping doesn’t go exactly as planned.
Last August we got a coveted permit to drive our car into Denali National Park on Elliott’s first birthday (and I need to write a post about how amazing it was!). My friend was coincidentally trying to sell her campsite at Teklanika Campground for the exact dates I was going to be there, so I purchased her campsite and got super excited about the opportunity to camp inside the park. Everything about that trip was amazing – except for the time we spent at our campsite. It was cold, buggy, and it rained. We had to keep everything in the car because of the rain and bears, and even though everything was organized it was really hard to keep track of where everything was. It felt like I had to take half the stuff out of the car every hour just to find something I had stored on the bottom of the car. We were freezing and frustrated and it felt tougher than usual because we had a baby. On the long drive back to Anchorage Andrew asked me, “Why were we the most miserable people there?” and I answered, “Because we weren’t in an RV like everyone else!”. We both agreed that RV life was not for us, and we couldn’t afford one anyways. And one of those cool converted Sprinter vans would be nice but super hard to find in Alaska.
Literally a week later I was scrolling through Facebook marketplace and saw the exact answer to our problem: a tiny home camper! It was just a homemade wooden box on a trailer that had two bunks (one that flipped up and one that turned into a wobbly table) and a cabinet with a foot pump sink. It was built for off grid camping and even had a solar panel so you could charge your phone! The best part is that it was something we could afford and small enough to store in our driveway. Within 24 hours of it being posted we were the new owners! The old owners called it the Bear Cave and we decided to keep the name.
The camper was cute and already had some great features. But our first change to the camper was adding more storage. It was my least favorite part of car camping in Denali, so we wanted to make sure this camper had enough room to store everything within easy reach. We bought three small wall cabinets off Facebook marketplace for $10 and stacked them next to the sink. We also bought a matching cabinet to the sink cabinet and created a “kitchen” area complete with a wooden countertop. I found wire shelves to hold all of our hats/gloves/adventure gear, and set up the kitchen with some hooks to hold mugs and utensils. One door has hooks for our coats while the other has an “over the door shoe rack” that we filled with all the little things we need to easily access.
The camper came with cute little blackout curtains so we could sleep at night, plus thick memory foam “mattresses”. I bought some sheets and blankets to make it feel more like a tiny home and less like a tent. The beds are shorter and narrower than a full, so Andrew usually sleeps up top alone while I sleep down below with Elliott tucked safely next to the wall.
About a month after we bought the camper we decided to test it out. We drove up to Kesugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park and spent one night in the camper. It was so much better than sleeping in a tent! It was a cold and windy night but we didn’t feel anything through the walls. Even though there isn’t any insulation or heat, we stayed nice and warm with our big fluffy comforters. And Andrew especially loved that he could just pull in and relax without having to set up a tent with a toddler. Since that trip we’ve been slowly building it up and this spring we finally finished. I’ll be posting about our 5 day Memorial Day camping trip soon, but spoiler alert: it was awesome! The camper was comfortable, everything was easy to set up, and the storage worked really well. I already have every other weekend booked at different campsites around Alaska and I can’t wait to explore so many fun places with the Bear Cave in tow! I don’t think it will ever truly replace my love of tent camping (and I’ve already got lots of tent camping and backpacking planned for this summer so I still love tent life), but at least in this stage of life with a crazy toddler and all of his gear it just feels easier for us. And easier means that we’ll be more excited about trips and have more fun!
What’s your favorite way to camp? Would you rather sleep in a camper or a tent?