Primitive tent camping has been a great outdoor activity for hundreds of years. ATVs have only been around for about eighty years. ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle and the first ATV was developed back in the 1930’s. It was a six-wheeled amphibious vehicle with three tires on each side. These first ATVs had no suspension other than what the tires offered and turned by disengaging the drive from one side or the other. The first utility 4 x 4 ATV was developed by Honda in 1986, the FourTrax TRX 350. The other manufacturers quickly followed suit, and the 4 x 4 utility ATV has remained the most popular type of ATV ever since. People quickly realized they could load their camping gear and supplies on the attached racks and head into the deep wilderness for an ATV camping adventure. First it was mainly hunters but soon others realized this exciting new camping adventure.
The first utility 4 x 4 ATVs had very harsh suspensions by today’s standards and very small load capacities. As technology improved, the suspensions got better and with the ability to handle the machine better, the engine sizes started to increase. When the 4 x 4 independent suspension was developed, the “Big Bore” engines quickly followed. The “Big Bore” utility 4 x 4 ATVs range from 500cc up to 960cc. These bigger ATVs have much larger load capacities than the original utility ATVs, enabling more camping gear and supplies including extra fuel. With the extra capacities, campers can go further into the wilderness. As technology has improved, the side by side UTVs (Utility Terrain Vehicle where the riders sit side by side) have improved and these allow even more load capacity.
One of the most obvious trends is the increased interest in ATVs and primitive tent camping. So when you combine the two you have ATV camping. With utility 4 x 4 ATVs people can get to deep wilderness camping sites faster and easier than full size vehicles. Utility 4 x 4 ATVs can carry more camping gear and supplies than backpacking and properly equipped can go further distances.
With this increased interest in ATVs comes increased carelessness. Statistics released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that in 2005, there were an estimated 136,700 injuries associated with ATVs. According to these statistics, the risk of injury in 2005 was 171.5 injuries per 10,000 four-wheel ATVs in use. The risk of death in 2004 was 1.1 deaths per 10,000 four-wheel ATVs in use.
In 1988, the All-terrain Vehicle Safety Institute (ASI) was formed to provide proper training and education for ATV riders. The cost of attending the training is minimal and most manufacturers offer the training with the purchase of new ATVs. Some states require successful completion of this type of training by minor-age children before they are granted permission to ride on state land. Increased awareness of helmets and safety gear has had a positive effect.
Wilderness areas are shrinking by approximately 100,000 acres every year by the unmitigated growth of single-family housing and industry. Subsequently, Environmentalists criticize that excessive use of ATVs in the remaining wilderness areas is causing excessive erosion to the landscape. Others complain that ATVs produce excessive noise. ATV advocacy groups have been organized to purchase property or obtain permission of landowners, or both. Many US states now work with clubs to build and maintain trails suitable for ATV riding and educate ATV riders about responsible riding, safety gear and maintenance of their machines. Many states require ATVs to be registered and display proof of registration on the ATV. The income generated from gas taxes and registrations are used to develop more trails and to perform grooming and maintenance of existing trails.
Like everything else, people have to take responsibility for their own actions and not rely on the government and others to pick up after them. It only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch. One person riding carelessly without the proper knowledge, safety gear, or respect for the environment, ruins the sport for everyone. And when this same person gets hurt, they are usually blaming (suing) the manufacturer, the government or someone else. Everyone need to take responsibility for his or her own actions!
This applies equally to camping, ATVing, and enjoying our wilderness areas. Leave No Trace® and Tread Lightly!® means picking up after yourself and others. Leave your camping site the way you found it preferably better. Respect private property as well as nature itself. The message is simple: conserve our environment! Doing this ensures everyone will be able to enjoy ATV camping and the great outdoors for many years to come.
Education on ATVs and the proper selection of camping gear, supplies, and accessories for your application means a trouble free and enjoyable ATV camping experience. Each trip is unique and should be prepared as such. Take only what is required to be prepared for the occasion. When loading an ATV for a camping adventure pay close attention to the load capacities of the unit, load the unit effectively between front and rear racks without exceeding the manufacturers rated load capacity. Overloading your ATV can cause a tip hazard as well as possible damage to the unit. Try to keep your load as low as possible as this will help keep the center of gravity of the unit as low as possible. There are some nice aftermarket rack packs available that help keep things organized and waterproof.
ATV camping gear and supplies needs to be as lightweight as possible to minimize the wear and tear on the ATV, but most importantly for safety due to the more weight on the ATV the more the difference in handling the ATV is. The rider needs to understand the weight difference and the effect the extra weight has on handling, controlling and stopping the ATV. Freeze-dried food or MRE’s (Meal Ready to EAT) are great for ATV camping, as they are light and compact (don’t taste that bad either). ATV camping does not mean you cannot cook gourmet meals. There are many lightweight stoves and cooking utensils available along with several easy great tasting camping recipes.
Along with camping gear and supplies each ATVer should have at least a basic survival kit and a basic tool kit that should be carried at all times when riding. It is amazing what can be fixed with basic tools (adjustable wrench, combo screwdriver, multi-tool, small Vise-grips, safety wire, tire plug kit, and electrical tape).
ATV camping is really another version of primitive tent camping and one of the great things about ATV camping is the campsite location because with an ATV you can really get into the deep wilderness quickly. No crowded campgrounds out there. Just remember you are a visitor to the area, so minimize your impact on the environment and stay on existing trails. Plan your trip in advance and have maps of the area. Portable handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) units are great especially if you get lost. Always travel with a group, never alone. Breakdowns, flat tires, getting stuck, and accidents are all possibilities with this sport and having the extra help is a comforting feeling. Also there is always someone to tell the story.
Once you find the perfect wilderness campsite unload your camping gear and supplies. Setup your camp on durable surfaces and cooking areas on a non-vegetated area. Make sure you are aware of any fire restrictions for the area. Be aware of the wildlife that may be in the area. Make note of any landmarks around the campsite so you can find the campsite again after a ride or hike. With your campsite setup, you are free to ride your ATV, hike, fish, hunt (if in season), or just relax, after all this is camping, ATV style.