Comparing the “Big Five” Work Kamping Jobs

When we started the full time lifestyle, I was still working my corporate job, but I always very interested in seeing what other types of work were out there.  Fast forward one year, I voluntarily chose a buyout, and Lee and I started down the path of trying to fund our lifestyle with work kamping jobs. I am an analyst by vocation and nature, so early on I stated I wanted to try everything at least once.  Lee agreed, although in all fairness neither one of us had any idea what we were getting into, and two years later we finally completed what I consider the “Big 5”  With current technology there are all kinds of jobs you can do to support yourself on the road, but the “traditional” work kamping jobs are all onsite positions.  In my mind they included Camp Hosting, working at Amazon, selling Christmas TreesGate Guarding, and the Beet Harvest.

Let me start by saying, this comparison is based upon our experience.  I have met people who had a terrible time at the Beet Harvest, couldn’t stand Amazon, or made tons of money selling Christmas Trees.  Camp hosting in particular is an incredibly wide category and our few experiences in no way represent the large variety of working environments you could experience.  Our experiences are also only one season in a place.  Work Kamping in the same place can vary from year to year based on factors that change, such as weather, fellow employees, guests, and managers/employers.  And finally, our thoughts and feelings are of course subjective.  I did the best I could to provide a balanced view in the summaries (linked above), but if you really want to get a feel for each day-to-day experience I do recommend you read the daily logs which are linked in each summary post.

So why take the time to compare them if all of the information is situational?  Well, partly because I can’t help myself.  Analysis is what I do.  But also because I would have loved to have read something like this before I decided to quit my corporate job.  I don’t regret leaving that position; the company was poised for another buyout  and if I would have stayed there’s a good chance I would have been forced to quit or come off the road. More importantly, I had been there for 15 years and it was past time for me to try new things.  But if I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have jumped right into work kamping jobs.  There is a huge difference between being a senior manager/knowledge worker and being the lowest level employee in physically demanding jobs.  And of course there is a big difference between working these positions a few months a year to supplement income and working them 10+ months a year to fund the lifestyle.

So please keep all of that in mind as you read this comparison.  Hopefully you will find value in it, but even if not, writing it has allowed me to put a cap on the “Big Five” experience, before we move on to figuring out the best way for us to fund this lifestyle, long term.

Money Earned

The main reason we do these jobs is to earn money. But unlike our old life, we are looking for more of a work/life balance, and money alone isn’t the biggest factor.  If it was we would go back to our old professions as none of these jobs come anywhere close to what we used to earn.  Instead we weigh every job on a Time versus Money versus Quality of Life scale.  So let’s start with the money earned.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to the question of which job earned the most money.  So instead of a simple answer let me look at the revenue in multiple ways.

  • Hourly Wage – The highest wage we have earned was when we camp hosted in Alaska where Lee made $15 an hour.  At that same job I only made $12 so our “couple” average was $13.25 an hour.  We both made $14.25 in Oregon, but we were only guaranteed 34 hours per week.  We made $12.15 an hour during the beet harvest, but since we worked 12 hours days (with the last 4 hours of each day being overtime @ time and a half, and the full 12 on Saturday and Sunday being overtime @ time and a half) our hourly rate ended up being $14.58 an hour.  So depending on how you look at it, any of those three could have been our highest hourly wage.  Our lowest wage came from gate guarding, which was $5.21 an hour.  It is fair to note that this was for a $125 a day gate.  Our current gate is $175 a day or $7.29 an hour.  It’s also worth noting that Christmas Trees was the only job where we did not receive a set hourly wage.  The compensation was $2500 base pay and then commission, and bonus on top of that.  At the end of our season that worked out to $7.13 an hour.
  • Season Totals – I have provided the gross income from all of our jobs and then calculated a daily rate for days on the job location.  My rationale is that in order for us to work these jobs we have to be there, and often we were so tired on our days off we couldn’t do much in the way of sightseeing. The one exception to that was Alaska where we absolutely made the most of all of our days off.  As far as taxes go, two of the jobs we worked were 1099 jobs and the other 4 jobs were W-2.  The highest tax burden by far was Amazon where we ended up paying 21% in combined taxes.  Even our 1099 jobs weren’t that high because we were able to use deductions to offset some of the tax liability. 
    • Beet Harvest$10,082 W-2 Gross; 39 days $259 per onsite day
    • Amazon$11,825 W-2 Gross; 56 days  $211 per onsite day
    • Alaska Camp Hosting$16,899 W-2 Gross; 110 days   $154 per onsite day
    • Gate Guarding$9,750 1099 job; 79 days $123 per onsite day
    • Oregon Utility Park Camp Hosting$16,527 W-2 Gross; 136 days $121 per onsite day
    • Christmas Trees$6002 1099 job; 55 days $109 per onsite day
  • Fringe Benefits – Our campsite was included with every position, but it is worth noting that none of the jobs included a campsite I actually would have paid for.  Trees, Gates, Alaska, and Oregon all involved staying in a site that was newly created, and in all cases we did have some initial issues with getting all the services we needed.  Beets and Amazon provided a site in a traditional campground, but in both cases these were “parking lot” type RV parks that had minimal extras.  Here are some additional benefits we received:
    • All of the jobs included at least one free group meal and most included additional snacks or food items, or coffee/cocoa.
    • We received free wifi at Beets, Amazon, Alaska, and Oregon and free firewood in Alaska and Oregon.
    • All the jobs provided workers comp insurance except for Christmas Trees, which was a concern because there was some danger.
    • Amazon, Beets, and the Utility Park all offered some sort of medical benefits after 60 days.  We only took advantage of this in the Utility Park getting free dental which we were able to use for cleanings.
    • Amazon was the only job where we earned any paid time off, and received 4 hours of pay while we were there along with getting paid a full day on our last day even though we were released early.
    • We received “stay” pay at Beets, where we were paid for a half day if they called off the work due to weather.
    • We received gift cards and presents at season end from the Utility Company equaling around $35 each and we received over $70 in gift cards from Amazon, along with some Amazon logo items.  We received  lunch boxes from the Beet Harvest at end of season, and free salmon and moose meat from our Alaska job.

Working Conditions

  • Shifts – Despite the fact that these jobs are relatively low paying they have some of the most challenging schedules I have ever worked in my life.  The Beet Harvest was a mandatory twelve hour day for 16 straight days , Amazon and Christmas Trees were 10 hours a day, and gate guarding was a 24 hour shift which Lee and I split between us, generally resulting in a 12 hour day for each of us.  Alaska was an 8 hour day and Oregon was a 7 hour day, but the Oregon job had split shifts on the weekends so we both worked in the mornings and then again in the evenings.  Gate Guarding, Trees, and Beets were all 7 day a week jobs although the others gave us two days off, generally Tuesday and Wednesdays.  The exception to this was Amazon who gave us Fridays and Saturdays off, along with Sunday if we didn’t work overtime.
  • Environment – All of the jobs had a percentage of our time being outside except for Amazon which was in a climate controlled building.  The camp hosting jobs allowed for some flexibility so that tasks could be completed to some extent around the weather conditions and Christmas Trees had a large tent which helped protect us from some of the weather.  Gate Guarding was done from our rig and although we did have to walk outside in weather some of the time, again we were able to change our process some when the weather was particularly bad. I will say though that gate guarding was very dusty and it took months to get our rig clean.  The beet harvest was 100% outside and the weather was a significant factor as we experienced rain, snow, hail, heat, and lightning in the few weeks we were there.   We did have some days off if it was too cold, hot, or muddy but we worked many unpleasant days outside in difficult conditions.
  • Physical Exertion – Most of these jobs are physically demanding.  Christmas Trees was by far the most difficult as we had to lift and stage hundreds of very heavy trees with minimal staff to help us.  The Beet harvest was also difficult for me as I had to repeatedly bend over and pick up beets ranging from 5 – 30 lbs, and Amazon required that we walked 10-12 miles per day, with no sitting.  The camp hosting jobs were less strenuous, although I did have some difficulty with certain tasks like weeding and floor scrubbing that were a little more demanding.  The notable exception in this category was gate guarding, which required minimal physical effort.
  • Pace – Except for a few stages of the process, gate guarding had the slowest overall pace by far.  Since we worked out of our rig, all down time could be spent on personal activities.  Christmas trees was similar.  We had to keep an eye on the lot, but when there were no customers we could work on personal tasks.  Alaska camp hosting also had downtime, and I could use that time for personal activities, and we did have the occasional slow periods in Oregon as well, although the weekends were very busy.  From a pace perspective, the most challenging by far was Amazon.  Unlike the Beet Harvest when extra breaks were given during slow periods, Amazon was almost always a constant stream of work.  The breaks were strictly limited and there was absolutely no sitting while we were working.
  • Safety – All the companies we worked for cared about safety, but despite that we saw or experienced numerous injuries in every job we had.  Lee developed a serious shoulder strain working in Alaska and I fell into a gate and scraped my leg pretty badly while gate guarding.  Several people we know left Beets and Amazon because they had a serious strain or sprain and at Christmas trees one of the employees at another lot broke their foot. We saw several people with cuts serious enough to require stitches, and a really nasty case of poison oak in Oregon.  The worst safety incident we personally witnessed was at the beet harvest.  A truck rolled over and thousands of beets flew out of the truck bed.  Thankfully no one was seriously hurt, but the incident definitely gave us pause. The important thing to note here is with a single exception these jobs were not office jobs.  They required physical exertion, the use of power tools, and often exposure to heavy machinery.  They also often involve vehicles such as trucks or fork lifts and all the inherent risks associated with that exposure. That being said, in all cases we were provided some level of safety training and safety gear was also provided.

Quality of Work

This is a tough one, because more than any other category it is so subjective.  So, I can only speak from our experiences.  It’s also tough to sum up quality in a few sentences, but I am going to give it a shot.  They are listed below in order of which ones we liked from most to the least.

  • Gate Guarding –  Actual task time is generally pretty low, and you have lots of down time where you can work on personal projects. The work itself is pretty boring, checking people in and out isn’t rocket science, but the people were mostly nice and we did enjoy all the down time. There is also very little oversight, and as long as people are being checked in and out in a timely manner folks leave you alone.  If the weather is bad it isn’t fun, although you can often minimize your outside time by learning the names of repeat workers and waving them in and out from your RV. Wildlife is definitely an issue, and I mention it here because it did impact my quality of work.  Coyotes, rattlesnakes, cougars, vultures, and other birds of prey are all very common and although the lights and generator noise help to discourage them getting too close, you do have to be situationally aware.  Both of our gates had strong wifi and TV, which isn’t always the case, but we did experience several instances where our water or fuel was late and in one case we lost our power altogether.  These conditions do impact the work because it is not fun doing this job with minimal lighting or after not being able to shower.
  • Alaska Camp hosting  – Lee really enjoyed this job because he predominately did maintenance and his work was much appreciated by the owner.  They also largely left him alone, and allowed him to schedule his own day.  I, on the other hand, was severely micromanaged by the owner’s wife.  Almost every day she had specific tasks for me and her involvement in the minutiae drove me crazy.  That being said, I did love dealing with the customers.  We had lots of people from different countries who stayed at the campground and getting to meet them was wonderful.  I had lots of down time, which was initially difficult for me, but once I was allowed to bring my laptop in and work on personal projects during slow periods things got quite a bit better.
  • Beet Harvest – We both actually enjoyed the challenge of the beet harvest and despite difficult environmental conditions and the job being physically demanding we were never bored.  I liked the truck drivers, Lee loved running the piler, and I felt good about being up to the challenge.  The hardest part of this job was the team dynamics.  We were matched with a team of people at the beginning and with minimal instruction we were just thrown into working.  It took some time to find a working structure that everyone could live with and there was definitely some conflict until we got it all sorted out.  Overall though we did pretty well in comparison to other groups.  Several people had to be separated because they simply could not work together and dealing with “people drama” was a major part of the supervisors day. What was nice about the job though was we could actually see progress every day and our beet pile grew.  Both of us liked that.
  • Oregon Camp hosting – Our job here was “running the river” and our primary responsibility was keeping the pit toilets clean.  I don’t think I am too good to clean toilets but that was the bulk of what we did all day every day.  We did have some maintenance activities which were more fun and since we got to drive from location to location along a scenic road our views were stunning.  The people we worked for were also very nice and professional and we were given a list of tasks and largely left to accomplish them in our own way which was nice. We did have some very hot days and working outside in the full sun was difficult, but the truck was air conditioned and we were encouraged to complete our tasks during the coolest parts of the day.  My major problem with this job was definitely the lack of mental stimulation.  Since we were not able to do personal tasks during our down time we spent a ton of time babysitting the various locations. The people we interacted with were a mixed group.  Many were on vacation, but others were locals who knew more about the area than we did.  Consequently we spoke to numerous people who had complaints about how things were being managed.
  • Amazon – The work was physically demanding, fast paced, repetitive, and largely boring.   We experienced the largest amount of micromanagement of any work kamping job, and our time was tracked and reported down to the minute. The supervisors and fellow workers were mostly very nice and the company did lots of extra things to help and improve the work conditions, but just getting through some days was very difficult. We were able to cross train, which allowed us a little variety in our work, but mainly we did the same basic task all day every day.
  • Christmas Trees – More than any other job we have had, this job did not live up to my mental image.  Selling Christmas Trees sounds like fun, but it is hard damned work, and since our pay was dependent upon our sales, often very stressful.  More than any other job we have had, our roles were delineated by gender, and when I tried to cross those boundaries I was severely rebuffed.  I liked talking to the customers and I enjoyed decorating and spraying the Christmas trees with fake snow, but the rest of the job was miserable.  I spent an inordinate amount of my time with personnel issues which including hiring, scheduling, and firing people.  We were told we would put the tent up and folks would just show up to work, but that absolutely did not happen.  Our labor targets were also extremely low, which required Lee and myself to do a significant amount of the physical labor ourselves.  Worst of all, we had no idea how much money we were going to make until the very end of the season, and more than any other job we have had, we felt like we couldn’t just walk away when things got bad.

Surrounding Area

  • Alaska Camp Hosting  – More than any place we have worked, Alaska afforded us the opportunity to see many amazing things.  The short nights worked to our advantage because we had very long stretches of daylight to explore the area.  Most of these trips did require 12 hour days though.  The nearest large town was 3 hours away, and many other towns were over 5 hours away. The local town we lived in was very nice, and had a wonderful view of Mount Drum from right outside the campground. We also saw numerous moose in the local area and were able drive a short distance to see the copper river and eagles. The one thing that was lacking in my estimation were good restaurants.
  • Oregon Camp Hosting – Our campsite was right along the Clackamas river and our daily work view as we drove from place to place was absolutely gorgeous.  We were 7 miles outside of the small town of Estcada which had a nice grocery store and numerous small town events and we were about 30 minutes from a Portland suburb that had everything we needed.  It was also a great jumping off point for numerous day trips.  During the summer we saw Crater Lake, Mt. Saint Helen’s, the Oregon Coast, and numerous waterfalls.  Because we had 2-1/2 days off in a row we were able to spend time exploring the area.  Towards the end of the season though weather was a factor.  Once it got hot we were very tired from our daily jobs and did less and less as the season progressed.  Still we definitely made the most of our time there and once it stopped raining we really loved the area.
  • Amazon –  We worked in Cambellsville, Kentucky which is a nice town in the middle of Kentucky bourbon country. The town itself was very nice and had grocery stores, restaurants, and a ncie college where we were able to buy a meal ticket to their dining hall.  The town and college have numerous local events and many work kampers attended those.  It’s also in a beautiful part of Kentucky and many people went to several distilleries along the bourbon trail. We were only able to go to one, but we had a really nice time and enjoyed the experience tremendously.  The big problem for us was we were working 50 hours a week and too tired to do much of anything.  After walking 10-12 miles a day the last thing I wanted to do was walk any more, which is why we never saw Mammoth Cave National Park, even though it was only 45 minutes away. Many people we know did have the energy for sightseeing and there was plenty to see and do.  There were also numerous social events with other work kampers and happy hours galore.
  • Beet Harvest –  The beet harvest was in Sidney, Montana, which was pretty close to  Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The town itself was very friendly towards seasonal employees and they had one of the best local grocery stores I have ever seen while we have been on the road.  There were also several very nice restaurants in town.  Since we did not have any days off (unless the weather was really bad) once we got started we were unable to do anything else in the area.  
  • Christmas Trees – We were in New Braunfels,  a very nice suburb of San Antonio, but aside from one trip to the Riverwalk prior to opening the tent for business we didn’t go anywhere.  That was because we worked long, hard days and even in the mornings when we were off we never knew when a tree delivery was going to come.  Leaving to go to the grocery store, the bank, or get a  haircut was a major challenge, and invariably if one person left something would happen that would require them to come right back.  So even though we had all of the basic necessities close to us, we weren’t able to take advantage of them.  The site itself was by far the worst we have stayed in.  It was on the corner of a lot next to a gas station and on a major road.  Traffic noise was omnipresent and there was a fire station right behind us, and alarms were not uncommon. Even though we were 15 minutes away from some very good friends of ours we were only able to see them a few times as we we couldn’t leave and when they visited it was just too busy to spend time together. This job was all about the work.
  • Gate Guarding – This was by far the worst from the standpoint of exploring the surrounding area for two reasons.  First these gates are generally in isolated areas and you are lucky if there is a small town nearby.  Secondly, because we didn’t have any days off together we couldn’t drive and explore, but even if we could have there really wasn’t much to see nearby. We were near the small town of Dilley, Texas which is a very depressed little town, and didn’t have any of the local events or charm that we saw in Alaska or Estacada.  The closest grocery store was about 40 minutes away and it was 1-1/2 hours to San Antonio,  which was the closest town. The best thing about the local landscape was the sunsets, but these ranches are generally lots of dust and grit and minimal vegetation.

So, that is my summary of all of the summaries, and I hope you found it helpful.  Again, everyone’s experience is very different so please keep that in mind when you are thinking about which jobs to try.  I’m going to take most of this information and update my Revenue on the Road page with it, but then I think I will be ready to move on.  I will still be writing about our jobs as they are obviously part of our lives, but I don’t feel the need to make that my focus.  We completed what I set out to do and going forward hopefully I will find more interesting things to write about.  For some of you I am sure that will be a welcome change, but for others I know you like reading about all these crazy jobs we do.  And that may still be a big part of what I talk about, I really am not sure at this point.  What I do know is that I won’t feel compelled to write about it anymore. That may not make much sense, and may not look any different to the casual reader, but it is an important distinction to me.

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11 thoughts on “Comparing the “Big Five” Work Kamping Jobs

  1. Tracey, I love reading EVERYthing you write. Truly, your style resonates with me, and Lee’s comments sometimes have me in stitches. What’s next, now that the Amazon gig is over?

  2. Crud. I can’t delete my last comment, which looks really uninformed. I *knew* you were doing the gate guarding, b/c I just read Lee’s post a couple days ago about the alarms. *sigh*

  3. What a great overview of your workamping experiences so far! I think this post (with the links for added info) will be a valuable resource to anyone considering any of these jobs.

  4. Nice Recap !! I’ve been following along and have read about all your experiences except for Alaska, I’m going to head there to catch up and then I’ll feel as though I know enough to make our own plans for the future once we hit the road! I already know what I won’t be doing, LOL !! Thanks to you two! And as usual Great Read ! Thanks !

  5. This was very interesting to read. Thank you for putting it together and sharing. I’m sure many people will find it helpful for some context to think about, even though, as you wrote, conditions can change in many different ways.

  6. a couple of tax questions for you.
    – when the camp site is provided do you have to report that as income in kind ? ie my brother works for a hotel chain and was transferred out of state. The hotel provided a suite for 6 weeks while they looked for a house. He was shocked to get a stmt from the hotel for the value of that suite. I think it was a 1099.
    – as for the 21% tax you paid at Amazon, don’t you get all the taxes you paid, refunded to you when you file each yr?

    • Hi Carol,

      Our friend Bill got back 1/3 of the state taxes and the county tax of 1% cannot be refunded. Even at our low annual wages you don’t get everything back. We have never run into a situation where the campsite was a taxable benefit although we have heard cautionary tales about that. At this point I can’t imagine taking a job where that was the case because we have to be there to work. The recommendation is to ask that question in the interview…which we did do for our first job..but we haven’t done since. I don’t think this is a very common thing when work kamping, but again if you are concerned its definitely working asking the question.

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