Last weekend I finally achieved a dream of many years when I attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2022, one of the largest and coolest gatherings of planes on the planet. Almost everything about AirVenture happens on an impressive scale, and camping is no exception. Camping at AirVenture is some of the most fun I’ve ever had involving a tent, and it didn’t even involve watching cars blow up.
When I departed my home a week ago I had no idea what to expect. The campground attached to AirVenture, Camp Scholler, has a website that details the grounds and the facility, but it won’t prepare you for what you’ll experience. When I packed up my fiancé Sheryl’s Prius I pictured something like a regular campground; if you’ve gone RVing before then you know what I’m talking about. A typical campground will have neat gravel spaces for large RVs to park and manicured lawns for tent campers to set their stakes down in.
The first sign that things were going to be different at Camp Scholler appeared when we started seeing seemingly endless rows of parked RVs a full mile from the campground’s entrance. But even then, I didn’t quite wrap my head around just how big things were going to be.
As we checked in, a skywriting plane drew a happy face directly above our heads. [Editor’s Note: This is amazing. -DT]
Off in the distance, ultralights took off from AirVenture’s ultralight runway and circled camp.
Awesome RVs and Vans
The AirVenture camping experience was already turning out to be pretty awesome and we hadn’t even checked in yet. The icing on the cake was that there were cool RVs as far as the eye could see. Check out this old GMC truck-based rig.
Next to it was one of the cleanest Ford Econolines I have ever seen. And the owner of the Ford really tugged on my heart by having a little Honda Monkey that matched the van.
The Scale Was Absurd
Once we checked in, we started trying to find a place to set down our stakes. That’s when the scale of Camp Scholler finally hit me. This wasn’t so much a campground, but a small city.
There were people everywhere going in all sorts of directions. They were on foot and in cars, golf carts, motorcycles, and all sorts of mobility contraptions.
The last time I saw camping on this scale was when I attended King of the Hammers back in February. And as luck would have it, I have a picture of what both camps look like from the sky.
Here’s what King of the Hammers looked like.
And while not a current picture, this is what Camp Scholler looks like.
The difference is that this year had far more campers. EAA AirVenture 2022 attracted over 650,000 visitors and over 10,000 planes, an all-time record for the fly-in. Previous years still had over 600,000 visitors, so I should have expected a huge campground turnout. But I was still wowed.
Facilities Erected Specifically For The Campground
The campground is so large and so vast that there are facilities strategically placed throughout the camp. Most people staying at Camp Scholler have access to showers, toilets, and markets all within walking distance. There’s even an on-site laundromat. You could conceivably stay the entire week-long length of AirVenture in a tent and never need to leave the campground. And to further compare the campground to a city, there’s a transportation system set up where you can take a free bus directly from the campground to AirVenture and elsewhere.
And if the bus isn’t running fast enough, you can order a bus or a taxi.
I’ve been to campgrounds with laundromats and a store, but nothing on the scale of Camp Scholler. I’m not even listing all of the additional amenities like Wi-Fi and charging stations placed throughout. Just check out this map.
We decided to settle down on Sunrise, just a few rows down from the showers and Red One Market Southwest. As Sheryl began pitching the tent I got distracted by the wonderful vehicles in camp.
More Awesome RVs and Vans
One thing that disappointed me just a little about the King of the Hammers is that I didn’t really see any really awesome RVs out there. Sure, there was a converted school bus or a few, but most of the rigs out there were nothing amazing. Things were different here.
I dropped my part of the tent to snag a picture of this Thor Tranquility 4×4 van.
This $171,600 beast is based on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. It has a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel with four-wheel-drive and appropriately chunky tires. But it apparently comes with a hitch rated for just 3,500-lb. At least it looks really cool.
This sixth-generation Ford F-250 also caught my eye.
Like the GMC from earlier, it was worn down a bit. But you could tell that this truck gets around, taking its owner to places that hopefully make them smile. I bet this truck has stories to tell about camping adventures.
Not too far away was this Chinook Concourse.
Chinook was founded in 1938 and built a reputation for building distinctive and high-quality campers. When this camper was built, Chinook was known for mounting monocoque fiberglass shells onto the backs of vans. Going fiberglass allows for a Class C RV that’s resistant to leaks and other water damage. Plus, you get really neat curves that you don’t really see with more traditional builds.
I also spotted a U-Haul CT13 from a distance.
This was the first time that I’ve ever seen one in the wild that wasn’t mine! The campers at this event were quite varied. There was everything from a General Motors PD-4106 coach bus to a guy with a truck bed converted into a trailer with a camper on top.
Setting up camp is also somewhat chaotic. While Camp Scholler tries to herd campers into 20 foot by 30 foot spaces, it’s really a sort of free-for-all. Most of the space at camp is unmarked and does not have hookups of any kind. So wherever you drop your tongue or your stakes is where you’ll end up. For us, we set down our stakes next to a creek.
We then got our tent up, set up a grill, and cooked food while all sorts of planes flew overhead. It was as perfect of an evening that I could ask for.
Another benefit of camping is that you aren’t necessarily missing AirVenture, either. The area clears out of regular planes, then you get to watch an airshow from your campsite. Sure, you’re not as close to the action as you would be from within the gate, but you can watch planes and fireworks from the comfort of a chair next to a campfire!
Working Without Hookups
Many of those who brought travel trailers and motorhomes brought generators with them. Some of these folks brought two generators and lots of gas cans with them. A lot of these generators ran around the clock. Other, more expensive setups combined generators and solar panels. Those trailers were quiet during the sunny day, but ran the generator at night.
Either way, the widespread use of generators got me thinking about California’s upcoming ban on the sales of new small off-road engines. In 2028, you won’t be able to buy a new RV with a gas-powered generator. At this event, I got to test an alternative to a gas-powered generator.
Last year, the folks of EcoFlow sent me this EcoFlow DELTA mini Portable Power Station.
It’s a 882Wh lithium battery that currently costs $750. I’ve been using it on all of my camping trips trying to get a gauge on if it can really replace a generator. And after several months of testing it, my conclusion is that it’s an imperfect replacement.
On the first night, I switched on the EcoFlow. Its screen indicated a state of charge of 69 percent.
I then hooked up my dead iPhone 11 Pro and Sheryl’s iPhone 12 Mini, which was also dead. While charging, the phones pulled about 13 Watts. Assuming the screen is correct, the battery had about 609Wh left in it. It lost 27 percent battery just from charging two phones, or 238Wh.
Part of the reason, I think, is that Sheryl’s wireless charger seemed to have a leak, where it drained a constant 1 Watt when it wasn’t even doing anything.
On the second night, it lost an additional 14 percent charge. The difference is that both of our phones were just below half-charged. I also ran a string of LED lights, which according to the charge estimator would have drained most of the remainder of charge if I left them on all night.
I feel like this thing is great for tent and car camping. You can charge your phones and run other low power devices like a small radio or LED lights. You might even get away with brewing a cup of coffee every morning. And with the addition of optional solar panels, which we used on a different camping trip, it’ll charge itself back to full during the day.
Campers are more power hungry. Running lights alone would drain this little guy before the night’s out. When I camped at the King of the Hammers I slept in a camper with a bigger battery and a bigger solar panel. All I did was run one or two LED light strips, charge my phone and run the camper’s propane heater, yet by the end of my three night, four day adventure the camper’s battery was below 12 Volts. It couldn’t keep itself charged despite my low power demands.
So I wonder what will ultimately be the best solution for this down the road. If you come to AirVenture, I’d recommend bringing a generator. But if you’re tent camping like I did, I think you’ll be just fine with a battery power station like an EcoFlow.
Who You’ll Meet At Camp
The Experimental Aircraft Association says that it’s hard to meet a stranger at Camp Scholler. Instead, the people you’ll meet are friends that you’re just getting to know. And you know what? That’s not far off. I didn’t come across a single mean person at camp. One time, I sat on the bench of the showers waiting for Sheryl when two people on Honda Groms rolled up. I complimented their bikes and we struck up a short conversation about how fun they are.
Even more shocking is just how many random people will wave and smile at you, even if they have never seen you before. The people camping at the campground were a genuinely heartwarming way to wake up every morning. I shared laughs with other women when they discovered, just like me, that the shower heads were clearly set to “power wash.” I had fear with others when giant spiders occupied the toilet stalls.
That friendliness extended to the bus drivers, too. The bus rides to and from the event grounds were filled with people joking with the drivers. I even managed to share my fascination with the air doors on one of the school buses with the driver, who remarked how nice they are compared to the old-school handles.
The variety of people was vast, too. There were families just enjoying a weekend away, the plane nuts who have been there all well, the young people trying something new, and lots of curious kids. There were people from all walks of life and many locations, even from halfway across the world. I’ve been camping in a lot of places around the country, there have been few that felt as welcoming as Camp Scholler.
Oh, and those people had some sweet rides to get around. A lot of people got around on scooters and golf carts, but others had wilder ideas. One guy was riding this tracked scooter called the DTV Shredder.
The terrain absolutely didn’t call for something like this, but it certainly was a head-turning way to get around.
Another guy got around in this go kart built into something like a scale Model T or similar.
I saw trikes, those Onewheel boards, tandem bicycles, custom-built ATVs, all sorts of motorcycles, and even an airport tug. I wish I got a picture of the tug because if I had to pick the coolest way to get around, it definitely wins.
Check-out time was 12 pm on Sunday and honestly, we felt a bit sad. Sheryl calls Camp Scholler the best campground she’s ever been to.
Camping at AirVenture was so fun that I wish I could have gotten another night under the stars. We didn’t even have enough time to enjoy Top Gun: Maverick, at the campground’s outdoor theater.
If you’re considering coming to next year’s AirVenture, I highly recommend coming to camp instead of a hotel. The camping spaces are as cheap as $30 a day, and if there are enough people I bet we could totally set up an Autopian zone at camp. But honestly, the camping is also so fun that I feel it’s an integral part of the AirVenture experience. I will be back next year, and I hope to see some of you out there!