Want to elevate your camping experience? Try a Woolly Bear

Pop-up tent on a trailer takes an extra hand to set up but offers a new view from treetop level


Highlights

Fit City took a Woolly Bear, a trailer with an elevated pop-up tent, to McKinney Falls State Park.

It takes more than one person to set up the tent on the Woolly Bear.

The contraption hauls lots of gear and is fun to use, but is bulky and somewhat tricky to set up.

The view from the Woolly Bear is great, and the maker says it turns any spot into a campground.

Nothing beats snuggling inside a tent and staring out mesh windows at hooting owls, breeze-ruffled tree branches and a night sky full of stars.

Could anything possibly enhance the experience? After noticing a host of photos of tents that either attach to the roof of a vehicle or unfold like origami from a trailer, I wondered.

Curiosity in tow, I dropped by Outdoorsy, an online RV-sharing platform that recently moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Austin. Like the Airbnb of the recreational vehicle world, Outdoorsy helps people rent their RVs to other travelers when they’re not using them.

The company, housed in a groovy space on East Cesar Chavez Street, also owns what’s called a Woolly Bear that it rents out to customers. In the natural world, woolly bears are a species of hairy caterpillar. In the adventure world, the Woolly Bear is a rugged trailer with plenty of space to stash food and gear, and a tent on top that unfurls like a page in a pop-up book.

I had to try it.

I drove to Outdoorsy, chatted with company co-founder Jennifer Young for 30 minutes, then latched the 900-pound, 10-foot-long rig to the back of my husband’s Ford F150 truck before rolling to nearby McKinney Falls State Park.

Young told me how she and her partner sold most of their belongings, bought a truck and an RV and spent eight months driving around the country researching the world of RVs before starting Outdoorsy. I told her how my family did lots of car camping when I was a kid, and how I’ve fallen in love with ultra-light backpacking, where weight means everything, and you haul all the gear you need to survive in the wilderness on your back.

The Woolly Bear looked big and bulky. But interesting. According to the website for TAXA Outdoors, which makes the contraption, a Woolly Bear “transforms any spot into the perfect campground.”

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I’ve invested a couple of weekend mornings lately learning how to drive a truck that’s pulling a trailer. Usually, it’s a boat, which weighs a lot more than 900 pounds and measures more than 10 feet. But I’m new at towing things, so I took extra wide turns as I drove the Woolly Bear slowly to the park, flashed my State Parks Pass and $20 overnight camper reservation at headquarters, then wheeled into camp slot No. 44 on Grapevine Loop.

If you haven’t camped here, by the way, check it out. Considering how close it is to town, it’s not bad. Leafy oaks surround spacious campsites. You can walk down the road to the falls, hike or ride mountain bikes, or dip a toe in Onion Creek. Unfortunately, this was August in Austin, and it was hot and dry, and the falls weren’t flowing. And you do get some road noise.

After getting the trailer properly backed into position, I hopped out and unsnapped the cover from the tent atop the Woolly Bear. It didn’t take long before I figured a few things out. One, you can’t access the Woolly Bear’s storage compartments without raising the platform on which the tent stands. Two, no way could I deploy this thing by myself. It takes two people (at least) to raise the Thule rack and platform on which the tent sits.

I called in reinforcements. Together, we hoisted the platform — no easy feat — and locked it into place. We set the outdoor awning, which seemed flimsy and unstable. We deployed the trailer’s stabilizing feet.

Then, I scrambled onto the trailer and reached up to flip the tent open. It practically popped itself up. A ladder telescoped down automatically. I climbed up the ladder and poked my head inside to admire the cushy padding on the floor. Then, I unzipped and pinned up the window flaps, hauled my entire body into the tent (rated for three but comfortable only for two) and smiled, despite the infernal heat. All this took maybe 30 minutes.

Cool. This contraption is silly: It’s cumbersome and way harder to put up than a traditional tent, which I can handle by myself in about 2 minutes. But, I appreciated the treetop view and can imagine it coming in handy when you don’t have a flat spot on which to pitch a tent. Plus, it was fun.

“Bears,” someone mentioned when I asked about the point of the elevated tent concept. “The bears can’t get you.”

What? Bears climb. They’d just come for you like a beagle would counter-surf for a loaf of French bread on the kitchen counter. (Yes, that happened in my house once.)

But an elevated tent does provide new perspective — and perhaps offers access to a better breeze. I can see it coming in handy on a beach — as long as you didn’t bog the trailer down — because you could keep more of the sand out of the sleeping quarters. And yes, I really liked the novelty of it, although I can’t see investing $8,000 in one.

I flipped open the storage bins and used the ample counter space to prep my dinner. After the sun set, I climbed the ladder, grabbed my camp pillow, spread out the sheets, unzipped the mesh screens to boost air flow and listened to the cicadas.

It was hot, and the mosquitoes feasted on me. I resisted the urge to pee at 3 a.m., simply because I didn’t want to clamber down the ladder in the middle of the night and bust my buns.

The next morning, I sat up, peered out at the great outdoors and made my way down the ladder without mishap.

Breakdown was easier than setup, and I’m pretty sure with practice I could speed up the process. The trailer can carry a couple of kayaks or bicycles, so makes sense if you’ve got toys to haul, too.

In a nutshell, not worth the investment in my book. I prefer my camping simple, and a tent works just fine for me. But the Woolly Bear is definitely worth renting for a weekend just to get the experience.



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