8 Ways to Go Camping If You Don’t Own a Tent
“I always think the minute you start planning it, that’s when the adventure begins,” says Gerard Lester, a cofounder of Wander PNW, the Portland branch of Boise-based Wandervans. But what if you start planning that summer camping trip and quickly realize you don’t have a tent, or even a car? Or maybe you do have some spindly yard-sale tent tucked away in your basement, the musty one with the missing rain fly, and it’s just not going to cut it when the forecast is wet or windy?
Well, good thing you’re in Portland. Lester’s company is one of many area resources that can help you get yourself out in the woods, under the stars, but still with a roof over your head. Here are a few of our favorites.
(Remember that gas, mileage, and insurance might not be included in nightly rental fees, so be sure, as you’re planning your own adventure, to read the fine print. Also, companies charge extra for one-way rentals, but keep an eye out for special deals on rentals to get vans back to their starting point.)
Operating out of a lot at SE Madison Street and 11th Avenue, across from the Asylum food cart pod, the company rents camper vans, teardrop trailers, and rooftop tents. Vans, which come in three sizes and can fit up to five passengers, have a sink and a cooler-shaped 12V refrigerator, and rentals come with a stove, table, and camp chairs. Optional add-ons include bedding, kitchen gear, a tent shower, and a portable campfire kit to roast marshmallows even when there’s a fire ban. For people with their own forest-road-ready car who just want a comfier place to sleep, there are also teardrop trailers for rent, as well as rooftop tents, which sleep two and pop up in seconds. After starting with just one last year, Wander PNW added more tents to its lineup for 2021, and the company says they’ve had people rent the tents as they’re deciding whether to buy their own. Wander PNW hopes renters don’t just hang out in the comfort of the vans, trailers, and tents, though. “We encourage people to be friendly and curious, talk, introduce yourself, spend, bridge the gap between urban and rural,” says Lester, who grew up in Portland and says he loves showing off the state to people.
In April, this family-run van rental company moved from Troutdale to Hood River (along with its custom-build sales arm, Axis Vehicle Outfitters—in case you get hooked on #VanLife and want to buy your own). It’s closer to the owners’ home but also, as they noted in a customer survey in advance of the move, not in Multnomah County, where a 17 percent county rental tax added an average of close to $50 a night to renters’ costs. For anyone bound for the Gorge, Mount Hood, Mount Adams, or other points east, picking up a vehicle in Hood River also saves on gas and mileage. Roamerica vans come with more goodies than some other rentals, with a full kitchen set, pillows, headlamps, Rumpl blankets, and a deck of cards, as well as the usual sink, campstove, table, and chairs.
This Portland-founded, woman-owned company rents vans like Airbnb rents houses: owners list their camper vans and you choose the best one for you. Because of this, no two are the same, with loads of options for how you want to camp. The vans go through strict maintenance and safety requirements before being listed and come with all the gear you need for a comfortable trip (bedding, cookware, camping chairs, etc.).
Oregon Teardrop Rentals
Located in Sherwood, this outfit has five different models to choose from, best suited to couples (and throuples!) or a best-friend getaway—the largest size sleeps only three. For those who are in the mood to get hitched (as in married, not just attaching the trailer to your car’s hitch) there is a “wedding on wheels” option that promises “no fuss” and “no drama.” The package includes everything, literally: they’ll deliver, cake, flowers, Champagne, a photographer, and the camper to your venue of choice. I might just fake a wedding to get all these perks.
Road Trip Oregon
With VW, Sprinters, Land Rover, and Winnebago models, Road Trip Oregon has a wide varaiety of vans, with basic kitchen gear, bedding, and towels thrown in. The company has a location on NE 82nd Avenue and another one in Glendale, Arizona, so watch for seasonal one-way specials to get its fleet to the place where people are camping at the moment.
The 600 vans in this Colorado-based company’s rental fleet each have a unique painted exterior, with eye-catching designs like bright colored landscapes or trippy geometric patterns. Rentals don’t come with much camping gear, but you can add on extra equipment such as camping chairs, tents, a kitchen kit, and a winter bedding upgrade kit.
San Francisco–based Outdoorsy might be the camping van world’s best-known Airbnb-like service, where you work directly with the van’s owner to rent a vehicle. You’ll find vans, RVs, various types of towable trailers, and vehicles with rooftop tents. Hauling a party with you? Search filters include “tailgate-friendly” and “festival-friendly.”
You've probably seen these RVs and truck campers flying down the highway. Locally, Cruise America has locations on SE 82nd Avenue and in Sherwood. Four size options for rentals can fit between three and seven, a higher capacity than a camper van. The RVs come with toilets, showers, gas cooktops, and microwaves. Is it camping? Not quite. But is it comfy? Oh, yes.