Monday, February 16, 2015

Trailer Tires...A Camper's Biggest Friend or Foe

Uhaul Camper Tire Pic
There's a lot to be said about tires for campers. They can make or break a trip. You always want to go through a checklist before a trip. But there's a couple things you need to consider with tires whether you own a trailer or are looking to buy one. The first thing to understand is that trailer tires take more abuse than car tires due to trailer bounce while driving. Also, they sit a lot when not being used. So trailer tires are more likely to dry rot before the tread wears out. So lets talk about two topics related to tires: how to tell the measurements/size you need, and how to tell how old a tire is.

Tire Measurements

There are a lot of numbers/codes on a tire. They all give you some information about the tire itself. Most folks are familiar with something like P225/70 R15 on your car. This is the type and size designation of the tire. P at the beginning stands for P-metric (or passenger car in the US). It's never a good idea to use P-metric tires on a trailer. They aren't designed for trailers and if you put them on a trailer you can't go by the load capacity on the tire. LT (Light Truck) and ST (Special Trailer) tires are typically used on trailers. So you should look for LT or ST for your trailer.

The second part of the code (225 in this example) is the measure in millimeters from sidewall to sidewall of the tire. The third part of the code is the aspect ration which simply means the percentage of the height to the width of the tire. Basically the bigger the number here, the taller the sidewall. R stands for radial (which is most tires today). And the last digit is the wheel/rim diameter that the tire is supposed to fit. There are plenty of information on tire websites that goes into more specifics but that's the basics on tire size. My tires on the U-Haul are ST175/80 R13.
Picture of U-Haul Fiberglass Camper tire size

If you buy an old camper, you may find Bias Ply tires rather than Radial tires. They are sized differently. Your best bet is to take the tire/ or the numbers on the side of the tire to a tire store to get a replacement. Bias ply tires have been phased out over the years in favor of the softer ride of radials.

How old is my tire?

uhaul camper tire coversKnowing the age of the tire is just as important as looking at the tread (especially for those of you buying a camper who may have to drive it a ways to get home). If you want to know the gritty specifics on why tires dry rot, ask your friend who took chemistry in college or Google it. Basically, think of old rubber bands, The oils and chemicals in the rubber break down and some evaporate over time and the rubber gets more brittle. This makes it more prone to cracking and blowouts. A big cause (or accelerator) of this is UV rays from the sun. For those who are new to campers, you probably thought those tire covers on other campers were just for looks or to keep the tires clean. Not really. Veteran RVers know that shielding them from the sun will make them last longer. You may even want to get a cover for that spare tire to make it last longer.

Picture of U-Haul Fiberglass Camper tire date code
All tires, in the US at least, are manufactured with an Tire Identification Number (TIN). The same code is stamped on every tire in a batch. The TIN is the code after the DOT part on the tire. as you can see in the picture on the right from my tire. What we care about is the last 3 or 4 digits on the tire. For tires made before 2000, there will be 3 digits at the end, for those made after 2000 it's 4 digits. So right away if I bought a camper with there being 3 digits only at the end of the TIN, I'd go get a new tire. For those made after 2000, the 4 digit code is easy to read, the last 2 digits are the year the tire was manufactured. That will tell you how old the tire is. (The preceding 2 digits are the week of the year.) So in my example to the right, This tire (my spare) was made during the 16th week of 2012 (1612).

So now you know how check your tires. I can't stress how important this is for those buying used or vintage campers to look at the dates on the tires. When I bought our U-Haul fiberglass camper, the tires on the camper were decent age but the spare was a bias ply that was probably 20-25 yrs old. I replaced that the first week as my very first "project" on the camper. I just wasn't comfortable trusting that spare if I needed it. Oh and always carry a spare! If you are buying a camper and it doesn't have a spare tire, then I'd recommend trying to find one before you go on a trip.

I hope this helps some of you. Feel free to drop me a line or comment below if you have any questions.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Camping With Kids: Games and Activities

Camping with kids typically involves coming up with entertainment or activity ideas. While some of us would love to take naps and read books while camping. The kids want (and need) to be active. And you need them to be active too. An active kid is a better sleeper! Don't be afraid to wear them out during the day. Of course, activities depend on where you're camping and what the weather's like. Camping at the beach provides a lot of options if the weather is nice. Camping inland or in the mountains typically means trying out hikes or canoe/boat events on lakes/rivers/streams. And there's always the park rangers programs if you're at a state/national park or near one. I highly recommend taking advantage of them. One of the first things I ask when checking in, is what programs and activities they have going on.

Sometimes though you want to stay close to camp and relax. To keep the kids from pestering you for movies or video games on your Kindle (cause you probably want to read a book on that Kindle), you need to have some go to activities/games they can do around the campsite. Below is a list of some activities that we've either done or plan to do.

  • Scavenger hunts and camp/wilderness bingo. This is probably the easiest to do with almost no prep work needed. Come up with a list of things to find for the scavenger hunt. Camping with older kids might involve picture scavenger hunts where they take a picture (great if you're big on leave only footprints). A twist on this is camp bingo. Make some bingo cards out of cardboard or print some off like these and laminate them for use multiple uses with dry erase markers. There's many lists and bingo boards out there on pinterest and other sites if you don't want to come up with your own.
  • Horseshoes or ring toss. We have a small plastic kids set of horseshoes and ring toss that we keep in the camper. It's a great activity for the kids close to the campsite.
  • Ladder Golf and cornhole. Ladder golf is another activity that our whole family enjoys. I like that they are lightweight PVC and pack down. You can also get portable cornhole games too. 
  • Giant Jinga. I saw this on the web a while back and it's on my list of things to make. Though I will probably make a smaller version with 1x2s instead of 2x4s so that it will be more portable. 
  • Pet Rocks and Rock Games. Who remembers Pet Rocks? There is something to be said about an activity that involves being creative. We typically try to plan at least one thing to do that's creative during a weekend camp trip. Painting rocks is a lot of fun for little ones. You can either pick up some river stones at craft store or find your own when you get there. There are many games you can create with painted rocks too. Tic, Tac, Toe is probably the best one, but you can do your own rock dominoes, bingo rocks, or rock checkers. 
  • Card Games. Nothing passes the time inside during cold/rain than card games. Bring your favorites: Phase10, UNO, Spades, Spoons, etc.
  • Puzzles. Another option for indoor times are puzzles. Depending on the age of those involved 60-300 piece are probably about the right size without get too big. Make sure you it'll fit on your table or take a piece of cardboard if your tent camping. 
  • Bird watching or Leaf collecting. For those that want a bit of nature/education in there activity. Try teaching your kids how to make a journal on each trip of all the new wildlife or leaves/flowers they see. This can be a great way to engage the local rangers and learn more about the local ecosystems or even following up when you get home by researching what you found/saw. Guidebooks can also be a great resource to have for this.
  • Items to bring to engage/entertain. Some other items you may want to bring along to provide opportunities for playing/learning are magnifying glass, bug nets, compass, or stuff to make bracelets (beads, paracord, twine, etc).
  • Geocaching (or treasure hunting). This one requires either a GPS device or phone that has GPS capability. and other sites have lists of local caches and it's fun for adults and older kids too. Georgia State Parks have a geocaching program and other states may have them too. 
  • Traditional Indoor Games. Lastly, I'll reference that typical indoor games like charade-based games or word games like Catchphrase, can also be a big hit at the campground. I'd stay away from board games with too many little pieces unless you are playing inside during the rain.
  • Get the kids involved in cooking! One thing they'll take with them long into the future and will become helpful when they get older is teaching them how to cook at the campsite. Plan meals that will involve some prep work and will be fun (I'll do another post later on some ideas for that). Even if it just starts with smores or baking potatoes in the coals, they'll love to be a part of it. (Heck you can even make your own custom smores sticks with a wire coat hanger and wooden dowel as a craft project.)
  • Take a hammock. Years ago after years of coveting one, I bought an ENO hammock. It has been a great investment and I've used it a lot. I've even been backpacking with it as my primary "tent." There are several other brands out there; some less expensive. The nice thing about a portable hammock is that it becomes whatever you need it to be: shade to sit under, a relaxing place to nap or read, a swing, etc. Pretty much every age will love it and you may find you need to buy more than one!
There's hundreds of websites with ideas for every age range of child of ways to entertain them outside or while camping. So do a search for more ideas via Google, Pinterest, etc. These listed should give you some starting points. Don't use them all on the same trip though. Save them up and pull them out when you need them. And for little ones, don't forget their toys. We have a play grill and food we carry in the camper so the little ones can "cook" up their own food at the site.

Leave your own ideas below! I'd love to know what you've done with little ones to keep them entertained.