Opinions on vehicle / sleeping arrangements for small family

#1
Hi guys,

Looking for opinions and experience of those who overland with their families, specifically on sleeping arrangments. In the past it was just my wife and I with our dog. We got everywhere we wanted to go in my '98 Tacoma with a sleeping platform in the truck bed. Now, We've got a 10 month old daughter as well as the dog, so the tacoma is going to be too tight (no room for carseat) and my wife is wanting something somewhat climate controlled for comfort and to keep baby warm. I'd be fine with a quick pop set up, family sized coleman tent, but she's not sold. We've since gotten my wife a 2005 4runner as well. Here are the options I have been pondering over:

RTT - Rooftop tent: Could easily be added to 4runner, but I'm not really sold on it. Some are pretty expensive, and in general with a young baby, as they get older it seems like it could be a liability if they were to climb around on it, etc and potentially get hurt. Aside from that, we're still in a tent.

Small travel Trailer : Have also considered getting a first gen sequoia (more cabin room for storage + thule box) and small travel trailer like a Casita or lifted scamp to roam around in. Creature comforts, not to big and somewhat affordable. Not a fan of the idea of towing a trailer, as I am a bit of a novice with it and worry a bit about running into tight situations needing to turn around or navigate through.

Truck camper : I am a fan of this idea the most I think, but would probably require the most $$ as I would need to upgrade my tacoma into a double cab tundra + find a somewhat lightweight truck camper that is not $20k+ like the four wheel campers are. No towing and having everything on one vehicle is really appealing, and this is the way I am leaning but I find myself changing my mind every few days.

We could always find a cheaper old motor home of a smaller size as well for shorter trips, which seem to be plentiful in the area, but I could run into reliability issues, as well as fuel costs.

We live in Southeast Idaho, and tour mainly forest service and backcountry roads throughout the west. With a new baby, this summer was spent mainly at home, but I am trying to sort things out to travel more next summer.

Any help is greatly appreciated, thanks!

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#2
man o man, do you have so many options, ha. Its really going to be based on what you're willing to spend. The RTT is going to be the cheapest. I wouldn't worry about falling off the ladder as you'll most likely be near them most of the time. My little are really good on the ladder and I don't stress to much about it. I also have had tent trailers, RTT's, trailers, and FWC's. I am a huge fan of FWC. Yes they are pricey but for a damn good reason. They also hold their value so well that whenever I've wanted to sell mine its been easy and I've got my money back. There are used ones available that help cut costs as well. Im a fan of the shell models since I don't need all that other stuff and my wife would prefer to cook outside anyway. The shell models can cut costs (and weight) down significantly so that helps.

If nothing else check out @UsedFourWheelCampers on Instagram and Facebook.

Good luck and remember the main things is to keep getting outside. Its going to be different with the little and at times a lot tougher but don't let that stop you. My 3 love the outdoors and camping.
 
#3
Best advice any one gave me : just go on your first trip ...but plan ahead and minimize your Hassle Factor (HF).

Remember this term - Hassle Factor and let this be a primary decision factor moving forward.

As a new family, you have plenty to worry about - so make things easy and simple...and plan. You and your wife will be plenty tired with the baby...more importantly, maximize the time you can spend together doing fun things.

We've been camping and road tripping since our son was 2 mo...first trip was 11k miles and 7 weeks in the middle of winter from CA to ME and back with a 90# St Bernard mix in a 4dr jeep(all back roads, mom/pop hotels). We hiked Arches, Bryce, Rocky MTN Nat Park, Canyon Lands,...etc...all in the snow when it was well below freezing...and had a blast.

At 4 mo, we went tent camping for about a week and that was awesome!!

And remember make this fun...make this a game or a puzzle...don't be stressed about it.

Before committing to a path (trailer, RTT, Casita, land yacht) take a few shoer trips to estabilsh some routines and preferences. Take aleast one 'impromptu' /last minute trip...this will help underscore pain points and frustrating routines.

Do all of the above - 2 normal trips (a longer one and shorter one) and 1 impromptu trip...

Then...

Establish mini systems (e.g., pack/unpack routines, baby changing routines, trash/diaper stoarge, etc)) and bags/bins for everything...everything has a home and crap is not 'stuffed' in various places in your travel vehicle.

Nothing is more annoying than moving that misc bag and pile of toys a 100x to change a baby with an upset stomach in the rain.

Babies/little kids need some extra things, but not really all that much. Diapers, wipes, clothing, bug spray (applied to clothing, not skin) and sunscreen etc. is all a you really need. Skip the pack n play, crib, bouncy chair, high andchair etc...but they do have some hassle factor (HF) - so space to change, nurse, clean them is very important.

Make things as easy as possible for your wife - that is your job right now otherwise you will quickly STOP camping. Babies need clean hands, clean bottles if nursing and clean pump supplies if your wife is nursing/pumping. For short trips, just throw it into a ziplock bag (old milk stinks!!) And wash at home.

Make the washing station easy and use some sort of pressurized water system. A table top water heater is an extravagance we never used...but understand why people love them so much.

If you and your wife are in good health, don't smoke, take drugs of any kind - then you can feel very secure in having her sleep with you. From what I understand there has NEVER been a single recorded instance of a healthy mother smothering her breastfed baby (forumla babies roll around a lot and the baby/mother don't have the same instincts...). As the father, you need to be a bit more careful, so have the mother sleep in the middle...

Ok so all that out of the way...

Sounds like you are on the fence about needing to replace your vehicle anyways...

My vote is get a comfortable, capable 4x SUV with a large back seat (kids seats are stupidly huge) and a small lightweight cargo/camp trailer. Having space travel comfortably in the rain / snow/long distances is very important. Put all the crap in the trailer - make it easy to get on the road.

For the first several years, your travel/camping style will change to more of a base camp setup - 4wheeling with a little one is not too much fun and I used to worry a out all that stress on their neck/head from being jostled around too much.

If budget is a major issue - Stay with the tent for a while...but get a good canvas tent. Skip all the Costco and REI garbage. Go for a Kodiak Canavs tent....I can setup a 10x16 in less time than I can an REI Kingdom 6. Canavs tents are both warmer & cooler, breath better, and have virtually no humidity issues. Tip: use a cordless impact driver and long lag screws (4- 8" depending on soil) and 1.5" fender washers instaed of tent stakes.

Having a space to nap/get away from the sun/weather with the baby is important.

We also sometimes would take two vehicles - I would go up a day or more in advance, get everything setup and the wife and son would come the next day... everything was setup and ready to go. Very little stress like this...and my wife viewed it as a bit of a break (since I would try to be primary on everything on these camp trips - cook, change the baby, etc). (Me going up early is also a by-product of campground camping in CA - reservations a year in advance and full/jammed campgrounds is not our idea of camping).

I upped the comfort factor a little bit with some cots, a decent canavs tent, a quick up privvy tennt, and a rain/dew/sun shelter tarp for the camp table/kitchen area - otherwise, we don't bring that much extra crap.

My wife is no princess - in fact she intially liked less creature comforts than I do and would prefer to be involved in the setup - but she has enough on her hands with the baby...

Game changers for my wife :

A canvas tent, cots, a quick setup poo castle (privvy tent) with loo, and pressurized water of some sort. The loo is a bucket with sealable bags.

Game changers for me : Systems, a canvas tent, pressurized water, elimating rubbermaid/hard sided containers, dedicated use/purpose bags, butane single burner stoves (no more large colmen stoves), dometic fridge/feezer.

Dedicated use bags:
Bag for each person, small bag for tent (light, dust sweep & pan, etc), small toliet bag for poo castle (wipes, hand sanitizer, to, etc), kitchen go bag (utencils, coffee kit, various kitchen items), small bag for bug &sun (mosquito coils, spray/wipes, sunscreen, etc).

Why a poo castle:
Women who have give birth (or are pregnant) recently may have a temporary or permanent increased need to use the facilities...and if she is nursing, she will be drinking a lot of water.

As your kid gets older, the poo castle helps immensely with potty training - it is a fun/special trip into the poo castle and the kids really get into it...it also make it much easier on the parents when your toddler starts taking massive dumps (especially in the rain).

Casita
We rented a Casita several times and loved it - low HF for sure. It was great in the rain, cold and wind. Setup time was relatively quick, but it has it own quirks (leveling, cleaning, finding a space large enough)).

However, it was relatively cramped - much more so than a tent. With our dog on the floor, it was very hard to move around. It was also relatively warm in full sun.

We quickly realized we preferred dispersed camping and with more remote back country travel rather than developed campgrounds...so we figured the Casita would become a burden in a few years. Setup and teardown was easy - minimal HF, but found it would require too many mods to make them rugged enough for our style of camping / travel.

RTTs
My opinion on RTTs - don't. nearly every young family I've spoken with who has RTTs has expressed annoyance with getting the kids up/down, dealing with the lengthy teardown/packup time for the soft topped ones...and the cost of them is quite high. Don't underestimate the cost of racks and or annexs...

Older families (with kids that can help/ be more independent seem to be happier with the RTTs). We've been going to Expo West for 6 or 7 years and when my wife was pregnant, I made it my mission to talk to as many young families as I could...

One surprising take-away : stay with a larger ground mount tent...(or get a hard sided camper/van/pickup camper).

Tearsdrops
Teardrops, while they sound cool, are very impractal (can't standup, cramped space for getting away from rain/bugs/wind, would need an external sleeping soln once the kids get a little older...). We rented one a few times and quickly concluded they weren't for us.

Our solution:
We use a small cargo Jeep military style trailer with metal top. The bed is about 42"x 60" with 38" vertical space. Everything lived in that trailer (save the dometic fridge freezer), food and tolietry items, our clothes, and the baby items. Our TV is an anemic 07 Jeep Wrangler 4dr Rubicon...so small and lightweight is a primary concern.

Our tent base camping setup sounds complex/like a lot of crap. In really isn't and is straightforward /quickly setup. It takes me about an 1-1.5 hrs depending on the site if I do the intial base setup by myself. Sometimes it takes me far too long to decide on the tent location...but I'm very easily distracted...hah!

To fully settle in, the final setup of the tent or kitchen happens with first night/first meal (about an extra 10 min or so). Aka - deploy blankets & sleeping bags, take out the stove/wash basins. An extra set of hands drops setup time to about 45 min...and figure 2x-3x as long if solo with a toddler! Ack!

We still tent camp from time to time, but now have a Sprinter that I'm slowly building out (I also use it for my engineering business). Jeep is used for solo trips or trips with just my toddler and I.
 

jeep-N-montero

Expedition Leader
#4
We started taking our son camping in the Uintas when he was 7 months old where it's an hour or so drive to find cell service, a decent canvas tent and a pair of cots with his pack and play in the middle worked well, just be sure to bring lightweight as well as heavyweight onesie pajamas to be prepared for 60's or 40's at night. Since then he has spent about 15 nights in a tent not including our road trip to Maine and back last year and loves camping, he turns 3 in January.
 
#5
What @vtsoundman said. Hassle Factor is a good yard stick. When I camp solo I prefer ground tent or no tent and no trailer. Then my wife wanted to come. She prefers the RTT b/c she's afraid of cougars and bears and thinks she's safer up high. Plus, she requires the annex and floor be attached so she can put her 5-gallon porta-loo in there and it makes changing clothes easier and it gives a place for the dirty dog to sleep. RTTs are a hassle and I think I would prefer the canvas tent as mentioned above but... we must sacrifice a few things right?

Then we added a baby boy to the mix in 2016. First camp trip of ONE night filled my 80-series to the brim. I built a 4'x8' utility trailer with a rack on it for the RTT and awning. This was nice since I don't have to drive around with them on and I don't have to pack them up if I want to move the truck. We keep all the camp furniture and chuck box, etc. in the trailer and clothes, bedding and baby stuff in the truck. The trailer is capable enough to take on every trail I've tackled but I have a lot of experience with trailers that size and I'm comfortable backing and in narrows. My son will try to climb the RTT ladder now but as stated earlier we are generally near by and can stop him. And as of this writing, he hasn't figured out how to get through the zipper yet.

I'll agree that you don't need all that extra baby crap but a pack-n-play is nice since it allows you to sit baby down somewhere safe/clean. I'll also agree co-sleeping is much easier but when they are little, and if you are nervous, a collapsible bassinet will work too (https://www.amazon.com/BRICA-Fold-Go-Travel-Bassinet/dp/B004L2JJ6E).

After towing the trailer with the 80-series a few times, I got sick of the anemic inline 6 so I upgraded to '07 100-series with vVTI which makes towing a breeze.

Since then, we've added another baby boy (six weeks old now) and we are planning a trip in November with the whole family. I think after that trip we will look at upgrading the RTT to a larger one (CVT Mt. Denali) and modifying the trailer with softer springs and a tonneau cover to allow more clean storage area will be next.

A place for everyone to potty and for babies to get diapers changed is critical. Keeping mama and babies happy allows me to get out and do what I like to do.
 
#6
Man o man, thanks a ton on the first hand experience, this is great! Sounds like my goal of keeping the wife happy is on the mark and will make everything else smoother. I will look into the Kodiak tents for sure, and they are located in Salt Lake City so I could go take a look at what size would work best for us. Originally was looking at the Coleman Instant Cabin tents, but this may be a better option long term. Is a buddy heater an option in a tent like this? I'm glad you touched on the RTT experience, as I was thinking of the same HF you laid out involving them. Same goes with the tear drops. My wife and I are on the smaller side so she thought a tear drop would fit the bill but I think it would be wayyy to tight for us overall and the ability to not stand up is a huge factor.

What we have now is a 2005 4Runner. I have been thinking of getting another first Gen Sequoia for our main weekend / exploration rig for more cabin room and we have a large thule box up top for more storage. I'll keep my first gen Tacoma for solo trips with the dog.

We are fortunate to live just west of the Tetons, so we have a lot of public land options around us for easy last minute weekend trips. The ability to set up camp somewhere and we can leave it for 14-21 days is ideal as we can come back on the weekends to a fully set camp for the most part.

Eventually, I would like to do the hard sided option as the HF is considerably lower, but then I would need to purchase an double cab truck + FWC or outfit a Sprinter or something like it and its just not in the cards for us right now.

Thanks to everyone for all the input, this is super helpful coming from a somewhat lightweight / minimalist backpacking background. Lots of changes and I enjoy doing the recon and research ahead of time!
 
#7
I'm surprised that this thread hasn't been bombarded with people posting about how you don't need anything or how they went camping with 4 adults, 2 kids and 4 GSDs in a 2 dr Jeep in 19XX...what many don't realize is just how big car seats have gotten and/or are getting. Anyhow...

Buddy heater - yes it is an option for canvas tents. It is actually better in canvas than other materials. Get a CO monitor and maybe even a CO2 monitor...most folks know about CO, not many know about high levels of CO2. Before running any combustion in a closed space, do a bit of reading on excessive CO2 levels - low levels of oxygen it can lead to headaches, brain fog, moodiness, and general malaise. It can be hard on babies...Good news, is that our bodies are damn good at extracting oxygen and there are not any lasting effects nor is it usually life threatening. We have run a buddy heater in our 10x16...we keep a small vent open at the top and one at the bottom (opposite side of the tent)...Unless the temps are into the low teens & it is windy, we just use some extra blanks on TOP and BOTTOM...

Coleman tent WILL be cheaper & faster ... but not as comfortable as a canvas tent.

Since you're still in the early stages, rent first. We ruminated and dreamed...and then experienced first hand reality with renting. Glad we went that route as it got the tear drop and Casita dreams/desires out of our system pretty quickly. If you're relatively close to a major metro area, there will likely be all kinds of stuff to rent (tent, tear drops, and hard sided options.)

Your '05 4runner is pretty capable & comfortable tow vehicle...I looked long and hard at a pickup + FWC/pop truck camper. Biggest issue is having enough space for 2 car seats and a St Bernard mix or two...A full size quad cab isn't going to cut it, not by as long shot as were intent on keeping all the kids and dogs in the cab. While we are on the taller side, we're not that tall. I'm just under 6' with a large frame and my wife is 5'9" and a life long athlete ... we both prefer a relaxed driving position and her legs are the same length as mine. Very few vehicles have enough space for two car seats (count on being rear facing for up to 2-3yrs - wait as long as you can before turning the kiddos around - FAR safer/better) AND still being able to maintain a comfortable driving positions. You mentioned that you guys are smaller in stature, so this may not be an issue for you...we spent a full day at a car max going through all sorts of SUVs & trucks with our car seat testing out various vehicles. It was eye-opening...that Sequoa (or even a Suburban) while seemingly huge, is really not that bad of an idea...

14-21 days - hmm. A small hard sided camper trailer - could you leave that out there without issue? Seems like an ideal solution as they are a dime a dozen and relatively inexpensive if you don't mind something that is a few years old.
 
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#8
I'm surprised that this thread hasn't been bombarded with people posting about how you don't need anything or how they went camping with 4 adults, 2 kids and 4 GSDs in a 2 dr Jeep in 19XX...what many don't realize is just how big car seats have gotten and/or are getting. Anyhow...

Buddy heater - yes it is an option for canvas tents. It is actually better in canvas than other materials. Get a CO monitor and maybe even a CO2 monitor...most folks know about CO, not many know about high levels of CO2. Before running any combustion in a closed space, do a bit of reading on excessive CO2 levels - low levels of oxygen it can lead to headaches, brain fog, moodiness, and general malaise. It can be hard on babies...Good news, is that our bodies are damn good at extracting oxygen and there are not any lasting effects nor is it usually life threatening. We have run a buddy heater in our 10x16...we keep a small vent open at the top and one at the bottom (opposite side of the tent)...Unless the temps are into the low teens & it is windy, we just use some extra blanks on TOP and BOTTOM...

Coleman tent WILL be cheaper & faster ... but not as comfortable as a canvas tent.

Since you're still in the early stages, rent first. We ruminated and dreamed...and then experienced first hand reality with renting. Glad we went that route as it got the tear drop and Casita dreams/desires out of our system pretty quickly. If you're relatively close to a major metro area, there will likely be all kinds of stuff to rent (tent, tear drops, and hard sided options.)

Your '05 4runner is pretty capable & comfortable tow vehicle...I looked long and hard at a pickup + FWC/pop truck camper. Biggest issue is having enough space for 2 car seats and a St Bernard mix or two...A full size quad cab isn't going to cut it, not by as long shot as were intent on keeping all the kids and dogs in the cab. While we are on the taller side, we're not that tall. I'm just under 6' with a large frame and my wife is 5'9" and a life long athlete ... we both prefer a relaxed driving position and her legs are the same length as mine. Very few vehicles have enough space for two car seats (count on being rear facing for up to 2-3yrs - wait as long as you can before turning the kiddos around - FAR safer/better) AND still being able to maintain a comfortable driving positions. You mentioned that you guys are smaller in stature, so this may not be an issue for you...we spent a full day at a car max going through all sorts of SUVs & trucks with our car seat testing out various vehicles. It was eye-opening...that Sequoa (or even a Suburban) while seemingly huge, is really not that bad of an idea...

14-21 days - hmm. A small hard sided camper trailer - could you leave that out there without issue? Seems like an ideal solution as they are a dime a dozen and relatively inexpensive if you don't mind something that is a few years old.

Thanks for your input, super helpful. I understand that it can technically be done in any type of vehicle and shelter, and if it were completely up to me, it would be super simple. But as they say, happy wife happy life, and I want them to be in comfort so we can get out more often as noted above.

We live in a somewhat remote area. The largest metro area is Salt Lake city, 4.5 hours away so finding a rental somewhere may be somewhat tough to do, although not impossible. I've thought about the cabin room with the FWC and have similar concerns. But we're both pretty small, I mean I could probably sneak onto the local peewee hockey team with the right birth certificate, so leg room in any vehicle (or aircraft) for that matter isn't a huge concern. but add another kid into the mix in the future, and I can see where 2 car seats in the cab could get tight, especially with a dog. I also imagine the storage in a FWC when in transit doesn't offer a whole lot of cargo room.

My thoughts initially was to maybe purchase a cheaper, older trailer that seem to be a dime a dozen around here, and we can leave that for roughly a month at a time during the warmer months on lots of the public land around us and use it as a base camp on the weekends. Every 21 days or so, by law we would need to move it to a new location. So this COULD be a solution to our trips that are shorter in length and are really close to home. Again, we're pretty spoiled to live right in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone area.

For longer trips, I am thinking the ground tent route for now until we figure out what we really want for extended travel. I will look into the Kodiak tents for sure, seems like we'll be better off compared to the coleman stuff. Really surprised at how heavy the canvas is at 80+ lbs! My wife and I both clock in under 130 lbs each.
 
#9
I don't have first hand experience with any of this but one thing that I thought about was my intention for being outdoors affected what route I want to take in my family camp setup. At first I wanted a RTT, but then realized that my ultimate goal for camping is to do off-road driving/trail riding. So if I wanted to do that, I would have to pack up the RTT which doesn't work for my family who wouldn't be out doing what I'm doing. This leads me to using a ground tent with the family and eventually buying a small trailer for a better base camp. Just something I wanted to share about my thought process.

Also, I vote a V8 powered SUV if you're in the market for a new vehicle. The added potential to camp in the vehicle if necessary is a huge plus. My flavor is GM Tahoe/Suburbans but any manufacturers should do fine.
 
#10
I don't have first hand experience with any of this but one thing that I thought about was my intention for being outdoors affected what route I want to take in my family camp setup. At first I wanted a RTT, but then realized that my ultimate goal for camping is to do off-road driving/trail riding. So if I wanted to do that, I would have to pack up the RTT which doesn't work for my family who wouldn't be out doing what I'm doing. This leads me to using a ground tent with the family and eventually buying a small trailer for a better base camp. Just something I wanted to share about my thought process.

Also, I vote a V8 powered SUV if you're in the market for a new vehicle. The added potential to camp in the vehicle if necessary is a huge plus. My flavor is GM Tahoe/Suburbans but any manufacturers should do fine.
Suburbans are sweet and the VORTEC motors are also bulletproof. They also hold their value really well. We've got a 4.7l V8 2005 4Runner right now, but I have been thinking about upgrading to the Sequoia with the removable third row and same powertrain. For some reason, the Sequoias are also cheaper than the 4runners. They are essentially the SUV platform of the Tundra.
 
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