Teardrop Camping with Big Dogs

I first met Ernie and Joy and their two large, black Labrador Retrievers, Rudy and Holly, at the International Redwood Gathering. They are fairly new teardroppers, but all four of them already look like pros. I wanted to get the Seattle couple's input on how they camp in their 2014 Cozy Cruiser with their big dogs—while still having room for themselves. I also wanted to get Rudy and Holly's opinion on teardrop trailers.

"We are having fun learning the ins and outs of teardropping," Joy said. "We love the time when we’re able to get away and we love bringing “the darlings” with us. The darlings are our two black labs, Rudy and Holly. They will be 12 years old this Christmas. Rudy is short for Rudolph and Holly is short for Holly Berry, our 2002 Christmas gifts.They’ve been going to work with us every day since they were seven weeks old, but both have slowed down in the last couple of years. Both have health issues and have their limitations, especially Rudy."

Why did you decide to get a teardrop? 

Ernie had been looking into getting one for some time. We hadn’t been camping in a lot of years but knew we wanted to get back to it. We wanted something simple that would be easy to tow and wouldn’t require a gas-guzzling vehicle to pull it. We also wanted something that would get us off the ground to sleep in, yet still allow us to enjoy the outdoors.

Did you have to consider how the dogs would fit? 

We didn’t agree on this topic. I wanted the dogs to sleep in the teardrop with us, but didn’t want to admit they were too big for that. So our plan was to buy them their own tent. We wanted one that would attach to our teardrop but still haven’t found the perfect one. We settled for an EZ-Up tent as a temporary solution and set it up close to our teardrop. The darlings have the entire tent for their beds and toys and they’re happy.

What are the sleeping arrangements like? 

The darlings are very happy sleeping in their very own tent together. Ernie and I sleep in the teardrop. When Ernie goes camping by himself Rudy gets to sleep in the teardrop with him. Holly doesn’t go with Ernie because she has separation anxiety when I’m not around.

A couple of times I couldn’t get away from work to go camping but Ernie could and was anxious to take the teardrop out again. I didn’t want him to go alone so he took Rudy along for company on two trips. With just the two of them going, Rudy was able to sleep in the teardrop with Ernie. Ernie said Rudy can really stretch out and also added, "...that dog knows how to relax!" The mattress that came with the teardrop was good but we added a very plush mattress topper to improve it. Now it’s definitely very, very cozy. Ernie said Rudy takes up more room than I do. They watched movies at night on our TV in the teardrop and Ernie had his furry companion to cozy up with. Ernie was telling me there is no way all four of us could fit in there after sleeping with Rudy.

What items do you have to bring for the dogs?

Treats, tent, foldable fencing, dog beds, leashes, dog food, water and food bowls, treats, toys and medicine. Did I mention treats? We have to bring our propane camp ring because Holly is afraid of the smoke from campfires. If there’s too much smoke from campfires nearby, she’s happy relaxing in the teardrop until it’s time to go to bed. 

What logistics do you keep in mind? 

We have to stop more often to allow them to stretch their legs and go potty.

What's the best part about camping with dogs? 

First of all; they love going for rides in the car. They love camping and we’re able to spend more quality time with them.

What are some challenges? 

We’re limited on some of the places we can go because they can’t be left alone for long periods of time.

Rudy and Holly, what do you think of teardrop camping and what's your favorite camp food? 

We LOVE getting out of the house and going camping with Mommy and Daddy. It's fun sleeping in our new tent and smelling all the smells of the great outdoors and we enjoy swimming any chance we get. The fresh air makes us really hungry! We enjoy our dog food and doggie treats but also enjoy any leftovers Mommy and Daddy want to share.

Friday Teardop Photo

A mule deer took a quick peak in our teardrop trailer door before taking off into the sagebrush at the Lower Twin Lakes Campground near Bridgeport, California.

What clothes do you carry in the teardrop?

I carry a full set of clothes in my side of the teardrop trailer cupboards at all times. Having all my clothes in the teardrop makes packing much easier, and all I have to do is grab my hiking boots (or I just wear them) and maybe a puffer jacket for colder temps and off we go.

Flip flops for hot weather and public showers. My camp shoes were $5 at a sports store clearance.
 The space for my clothes is very small: about 25 inches wide by 11 inches deep. The vertical space is barely another 11 inches since it slopes down at the back. The cupboard shares space with our two small towels, our toiletries box, and my husband's clothing. His clothing consists of just some sweat pants and a sweater, a couple pairs of underwear and socks, his camp slippers, some shorts and a T-shirt. He's REALLY minimalist, but sometimes lacks items for extreme up or down temperatures.

I keep several pairs of undies, sports bras, socks and a hat in a small sunflower bag.
I also have a swimsuit and a small packable shopping bag that we use for laundry (the strawberry).

Even though I don't like to have a lot of things in the teardrop, I tend to hang on to a lot of clothes. Where we camp tends to have crazy weather, and in one day you could change your clothes two or three times to stay comfortable. However, I'm surprised how much I can fit into a space about 275 square inches.

My outer layers consist of a Sierra Designs rainjacket and a Patagonia fleece.
We are lucky to have a Patagonia outlet where we live.

I think the key might be in the folding, I tightly roll or fold all my items and stack them according to temperature needs. Unfortunately, even during short trips, I will find myself sitting on the teardrop bed, pulling all the clothes out, refolding them and stacking them back in again. I'm pretty bad when it comes to putting clothes back in the cupboard while camping. When rushed, I'll just toss them in and close the door really fast.

Other warm items include a puffy vest that folds into its own bag and some long (very colorful) underwear.

I will store a few items under my pillow. Usually a warm puffer or fleece jacket will go under my pillow, or I'll put socks or hats in the netting above the bed. Having a wide range of clothing that can be used in all situations comes in handy when traveling through various locations.

I have a few items for sleeping including two long sleeved T-shirts and a long, fleece bottom.

Having said that—my teardrop wardrobe won't really take me to a fancy restaurant or a ball. I actually went to the thrift store to shop for my teardrop wardrobe to keep the cost down and I don't carry any "nice" clothes for going out at night. In fact, dressing up means putting on our clean jeans and knocking the dirt off our hiking boots.

Clothing for warm weather includes two tank tops, three T-shirts and two shorts.
I'll sometimes sleep in the gray shorts if it's hot at night.

I only bring one other pair of pants. I'll usually be wearing my hiking pants while traveling,
but my comfy jeans wait for me in the cupboard. These are for "dressing up."

Friday Teardrop Photo

Taking a nap in the Sunflower at the Lone Pine Campground the day after hiking Mount Whitney.
I usually like to read or take a nap in the teardrop with the doors open for a fresh breeze. In fact, if we are camping in a warm (and safe) place—we'll sometimes sleep with the doors open all night.

The Sunflower and Stargazers Hike Mount Whitney

Well...the Sunflower and the Stargazers teardrops stayed comfortably in the Lone Pine Campground while my husband, our Stargazers friends and I hiked up Mount Whitney. All summer we've been training to hike to the summit of the tallest peak in the contiguous U.S. and last weekend we made it to the top of the 14,508 foot peak after two days and 22 miles...and some very sore feet and knees.

Mount Whitney is about five hours south of us, near the entrance to Death Valley, California. We'd heard about people attempting the challenging hike in one day, but we all decided to do it in two days—spending a night just below the summit at 11,800 feet at Trail Camp to rest and acclimate to the high altitude. We made a mini vacation out of it and brought our teardrops as a basecamp to the foot of the Sierra Nevada in Lone Pine. Our last night before hitting the Whitney Trail was spent sitting around the fire, eating pasta and really appreciating our teardrop beds.

We hit the trail at about 9:00 the next morning with 30+ pound backpacks. Mount Whitney's trail is divided up into several sections. The first three miles are switchbacks straight up into the foothills of the John Muir Wilderness. The views are stunning and you hike through pine and aspens forests, near small creeks and alpine lakes and essentially over one mountain range before even seeing Mount Whitney and the Sierra Crest—towering in the distance like a granite castle. After the first backpack camp, Outpost Camp, the trail gets very steep and rocky— a giant boulder Stairmaster. These first six miles up to Trail Camp took us nearly six hours.

Once we got to Trail Camp (two hours earlier than we thought we would), we pitched our tents and grabbed some dinner. The Stargazers were in a small two-man tent, my husband brought his bivy and I have a 6x8 tarp. Every one of these various sleeping arrangements were awful—we really missed the teardrop beds! After filtering some water in the tiny lake at the camp, watching the sun go down and the stars light up, we all headed to bed for a fitful night sleep. Sleeping at altitude is considered difficult and I tossed and turned most of the night before finally getting about five hours of sleep.

We hit the trail again at first light. The alpenglow on the Sierra Crest above camp was worth the very early morning. However, the next part of the trail was the notorious 99 Switchbacks. Yes, there are 99 of them. These took us another two hours and we finally reached the Trail Crest section of the Trail where you can see into the Sequoia National Forest and south along the Sierra Nevada as it descends into the Mojave Desert. We were all doing pretty well with the altitude. At this point we had hit 13,000 feet with only slight headaches and slight difficulty breathing, but it was cold. Probably about 25 F with the wind chill. We actually met two guys coming back down who had to turn around two miles from the summit. They were from the Los Angeles area and this was their first 20+ mile hike. They had attempted it in one day, had not anticipated the altitude issues and the terrain, and realized it was too dangerous for them to proceed.

The Trail Crest (my favorite part of the trail) was steep, rocky and had some incredible views on both sides of the trail. We had to pick our way carefully across this section and it took another three hours to complete. The last portion of the trail to the summit, we were all very quiet and had to just will our feet and legs to keep moving. Once we saw the small, stone hut at the summit, it was a sight for sore eyes.

I was ecstatic to be at the top (with about 40 other people) and had a sudden burst of energy. I was not affected at all by the altitude, but after a quick snack, writing our names in the registry and taking some photos, my husband started to have trouble breathing and his hands were beginning to get numb. We decided to head down quickly. Well...quickly is not the right word. Getting back through the Trail Crest, down the 99 Switchbacks, packing up at Trail Camp and heading back down the trail took us another five hours. At the end of the hike down, my feet and knees were killing me and the last three miles took me nearly three hours as I limped down the mountain. Luckily, I have three wonderful campmates who went ahead to the restaurant at the trailhead to pre-order me a cheeseburger.

Getting back to the Lone Pine camp and the teardrops could not come soon enough. After a quick shower and a beer, I curled up in the fleece sheets of the Sunflower and slept for the next 10 hours.

Hikers and backpackers need permits to hike the tallest point in the Lower 48. These can be obtained from a lottery in February. Toilet business is taken care of in a WAG Bag provided by the permit office. Fun stuff...

Photos by Christina Nellemann, Harry Thomas and Brancy

Friday Teardrop Photo

The Sunflower parked next to a rather large semi trailer truck at a rest stop on Highway 80 in California. Although we tow a much smaller load, a rest stop is a nice chance to have plenty of parking, get out and stretch our legs and take photos of our tiny yellow trailer next to some massive road warriors.

Teardrop Camping: Plan It or Wing It?

Tiny Yellow Teardrop reader ML recently asked this question:

"I'd be interested in discussing how much itinerary planning goes into your travels with your teardrop. I'd like to venture out with no particular route in mind, but I feel the need for reservations so I can drive along with confidence. Kind of keeps me from using the camper to the full extent that I should during good camping weather."

I'm also curious how often teardroppers plan out their camping trips or if they just wing it. We have done it both ways and I think it comes down to both timing and where you will be camping. A little bit of luck can be thrown in for good measure.

Our "lucky" campsite at Twin Lakes in California.

We recently got back from a teardrop camping trip down to the Mount Whitney area (trip post coming soon) and left on a Wednesday afternoon with about 300 miles to go. We had our reserved campsite for the Whitney area, but knew we would need to stop for the night somewhere along the way. Many of the campgrounds in the area along the Eastern Sierra can be reserved, but we were not sure where we would be at around sunset. We were planning on heading to our favorite campground at Convict Lake, but were so tired after a long day, we didn't make it. So we winged it and headed into a campground 10 miles off Highway 395, Twin Lakes. Luck must have been on our side because we pulled into the campground way after dark and got the very last spot next to a bubbling creek.

Our long-term reserved spot at Madison Campground in Yellowstone NP.

This doesn't always happen. There have been times when we've tried to wing it on a Thursday or Friday afternoon and have had to drive around to different campgrounds to find a space. This happened to us on the Oregon Coast. We went to four different campgrounds before we were able to squeeze into a space at Humbug Mountain State Park.

Our spot at the Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton.
In fact, I don't think the campground ever filled up over the weekend.

Some locations just don't warrant the "wing it" option. Some very popular areas like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and areas with amazing views like the Gulf Coast or the Pacific Ocean require reservations way in advance. When we went to Yellowstone National Park, we had our spot reserved about seven months ahead. However, when we went to nearby Grand Teton National Park on our way to Yellowstone, we winged it and arrived at the Gros Ventre Campground around 11:00 on a Friday morning and got a great spot just before the weekend groups showed up.

Another "lucky" site we got on Friday before Memorial Day at Silver Lake near Lake Tahoe.

Teardrop cuteness and the "tribe" factor has also gotten us into very last minute camping spots. We wanted to take a quick weekend trip up to the Blue Lakes near our home and left on a Friday after work. We drove through the campground and could not find any open sites. However, just as we turned a corner, a couple was just starting to pack up their own teardrop trailer. We stopped and chatted with them about our darling trailers and they offered to give us their site when they left in about an hour.

So I think my advice to ML would be to first look into where you would like to go and then look up the available campgrounds in the area. Check out Reserve America and Recreation.gov to see if these campgrounds are very popular or can be reserved. Sometimes having a site reserved ahead of time can take a lot of stress off your trip. If they are not popular or cannot be reserved, then just head out and try your luck. Sometimes the hunt for a great campsite is part of the fun of teardrop camping.

Friday Teardrop Photo

The Sunflower in line to get into Burning Man 2014. Timing is everything when you arrive at the event. We tend to go later in the week after most of the crowd has gone in and try to get there early in the morning so we have time to set up camp before having some fun. However, we still find ourselves in line for about an hour.

What do you keep under the teardrop bed?

I've met teardroppers and non-teardroppers who are suprised that we have so much storage space under the teardrop bed. Our bed is set up with two twin mattresses that lift up and there are two plywood panels with finger holes that can be moved to the side. Underneath is about six inches of deep space for us to keep items we only use once in a while. They include emergency items, extra blankets and, of course, the Sunflower lights.

 Under my side of the bed we keep:
  • Emergency blinker lights in case ours fail
  • 12-volt sunflower lights that we string up in the galley
  • Simple mesh hammock in case we see a perfectly spaced pair of trees
  • 25 foot extension cord and a campground 50 amp male to 30 amp female adapter
  • Battery operated tent light for use in our shelter or for tent dwelling guests
  • Folding camp shovel
  • Ziploc bag of First Aid items
  • Ziploc bag of laundry items: clothesline, clothespins and travel packets of Tide
  • Ziploc bag of bungee cords
The black thing in the corner is the inverter for the power.

Under my husband's side of the bed we keep:
  • one extra fleece blanket
  • two extra towels in a plastic bag 

That's it. We actually have room for a lot more stuff, but we don't like getting into this storage space too often. It's a bit of a pain and messes up the bed. We try to keep this space clean and organized and only get into it when we absolutely need to dig out those sunflower lights. 

What do you keep under your teardrop trailer bed?