Life long beach camper Mike Layton walks us through the basics of truck camping on the beach. It’s time to air down, take it slow, and point the truck to the ocean waves.
Mike Layton has been beach camping in a truck camper since he was five years old. In the early 1970’s, his would take him out to Assateague Island National Seashore in their Six-Pac truck camper. Mike told us that he couldn’t wait to get to the beach so he could sit on his father’s lap and drive. As he got older, Mike started helping his father with the beach camping and soon his father was just watching to make sure Mike was doing things right. Today, Mike is passing on the knowledge his father showed him.
Beach Camping 101
by Mike Layton
If you have never been on a particular beach, I strongly recommend researching that specific beach before you go. For example, in Florida you can drive a car on the beach because the sand is like concrete. But in Maryland, you need a four-wheel drive vehicle because the sand is extremely soft.
You also need to know what equipment you will need on the beach. I recommend that you call the beach visitor’s center to get information and the beach rules so that you don’t get in trouble with anything. Of course I also strongly recommend that you know your vehicle and it’s capabilities as much as possible.
I’ve found that Assateague Island National Seashore is one of the most challenging beaches to drive on. It’s a federally owned park and the rangers are strict. Other beaches are not as particular.
Most of the information I will give you is about driving on Assateague, but most of this information should apply to other beaches that you want to truck camp on.
Driving on the Beach
Sand differs at every beach. Down in North Carolina, the sand is soft on the top and harder underneath. In Maryland, the sand is soft and deep. You need to know what kind of conditions you are facing before putting your vehicle on the sand.
On Assateague, you are not allowed to have dual rear wheel trucks. You must have a single rear wheel vehicle. If you have a dually, you can take the outside wheels off so that you can drive on the beach. This is not a rule at all beaches.
Since I’ve been a mechanic for many years, I know how the drive train, the engine, and the transmission work. With all the weight of your camper on the back of the truck, it is quite a load. In fact, you’ll only get about four miles per gallon when driving on the sand, so make sure you have a full tank of fuel before hitting the sand.
My advice is to put your transfer case in four-wheel drive low anytime you are driving on the beach. It makes the engine work less and helps keep the transmission and engine from overheating. Also, the speed limit on Assateague is twenty-five miles per hour on the beach. I go fifteen miles per hour, at best, with the camper on the truck. Because of the ruts, you will have sway and rocking when driving on the beach. Go slow. And if somebody is parked, slow down.
If you have to change lanes on the beach, you should slow down to five miles per hour. The ruts can be deep. When you turn your wheel, it doesn’t want to come out of the ruts right away. When your back wheels go across the ruts, you should be extremely slow. As you going into the next rut, it will make you rock. If you are not slow enough, you could flip your truck camper.
When driving on the beach you may want to stay aligned with the ruts because it’s easier on your vehicle. At Assateague, if you are traveling south you have the right of way. The ocean side has to give when you come face to face. That’s when you would have to change lanes, which means you have to move a couple of sets of ruts over.
Any type radial tire will work when you drive on the beach. I’ve had mud tires and all-terrain tires. As long as it’s a radial tire, it will belly out when you take out the air and float on the sand.
Here in Maryland, 19.5”, like Rickson wheels and tires, are not good on the beach. 19.5” tires are so thin that you can’t get a belly out of them. They want to roll right off the rim. They are made more for the road, but not for the beach.