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20-something small, portable campers for backwoods living


September 27, 2013

Campers of the 2013 Dusseldorf Caravan Salon

Campers of the 2013 Dusseldorf Caravan Salon

Image Gallery (80 images)

Perhaps it's just that we've been paying closer attention to the segment lately, but we've seen a surge of innovative, small camper hardware over the past few years. From utility trailer build-ups like the Teal panel kit, to car conversion "campers in boxes" like the SwissRoomBox, to more permanent van and Jeep conversions, these small campers let you escape in your everyday vehicle without the bulk and cost of larger motorhomes and RVs. Our recent trip to the Dusseldorf Caravan Salon revealed that there are dozens upon dozens of small camper designs to choose from.

Out back

Easily the largest category of small campers in the collection is hitch trailers, which come in every size, shape and style. Some of them are designed to tackle the rigors of off-roading, but most are simple asphalt nomads. If we were pressed to pick a favorite from the many that we saw, it'd have to be the tiny, stylish Pino Pi2010.

Handmade in the Netherlands, the Pi2010 is the smallest camper in Pino's collection, measuring in at 6.9 x 5.4 feet (2.1 x 1.65 m) and weighing 772 lb (350 kg). Despite its diminutive size, the Pi2010 still manages to pack the full array of essentials inside, including a stove, sink, table and bed. The map of its homeland on the exterior is a nice touch, but those that aren't into Dutch pride can choose a variety of other exterior designs, from simple to wild. The Pi2010 camper starts at €8,900 (US$12,000).

Another interesting design in tiny camping trailers is the Mini Cowley concept, one of three camper set-ups that Mini revealed earlier this year. It was the only one of the three that we saw at Dusseldorf, and it managed to impress with its matching red paint and low profile footprint. The Cowley teardrop was designed to emulate classic Mini cues and tiny sizing – it weighs even less than the Pino at around 661 lb (300 kg). Unlike the Pino, which integrates all its equipment inside, the Cowley houses the kitchen in a tailgate trunk.

Up top

Less popular than trailers, but perhaps packing more visual impact, rooftop campers were another well-represented category of small camper, especially at Autohome's booth. The large collection of Autohome rooftop pop-ups and clamshells on display included the pink, flowery Fiat Panda topper above. We wouldn't necessarily want to take a safari with one, but the jolt of femininity provided an interesting break from the somewhat grizzled, masculine world of camping and backcountry living.

The old timers

As much as we live and breathe new technology here at Gizmag, sometimes it's the older, simpler classics that really get our attention. The Airstream trailer is one of the best examples. As novel as cutting-edge designs like the Caravisio camper are, nothing stands out in a crowd of campers and RVs quite like the glimmering aluminum shell of an Airstream. It's truly a thing of beauty, and we'd go so far as to say, the camper version of an iconic, cherry red sports car classic like the Jaguar E-Type. There was a nice display of Airstreams outside the show, including this €107,000 ($144,690) 684.

Of equal interest to lovers of classic camper design was the display of circa 60s and 70s campers. Some of these campers had generation-appropriate cars to match, and others were meticulously furnished and decorated, inside and out, looking as though they had just been plucked from a campsite in the Bavarian hinterlands or Black Forest. Our personal favorite was the below combination of baby blue 1972 Citroen DS 20 Pallas with 2,200-lb (1,000-kg) 1967 Dethleffs Nomad 420 T trailer in tow.

Cabin camping

Why tow a trailer or balance a roof box when you already have all that empty space inside the car cabin? We got a closer look at two in-vehicle camper conversion systems that we've covered in the past: the Yatoo and the Ququq, essentially two takes on the same idea.

While Ququq didn't have an actual car in its booth, choosing to focus more on the gear itself (pictured above), Yatoo was happy to demonstrate just how easily its bed sets up – or breaks down, as it were. Within about a minute, the Yatoo rep had made a couple of snaps and folds, unhooked a couple of straps, and collapsed the accordion-like Lidoo bed unit into transport form, taking it from this:

to this:

The Yatoo system also includes kitchen equipment, and an available tailgate tent expands the amount of available shelter.

The touch, the feel of canvas

There's still something refreshing about sleeping under the stars with nothing more than a piece of light, airy fabric between you and nature. While hard-sided campers dominated the show floor, there were still plenty of soft-sided tent campers.

Reminiscent of the SylvanSport Go, but with less cargo versatility and a roomier, more elegant living space, the Opus Camper is part toy hauler, part tent camper. During travel, it houses its tent hardware beneath two reinforced lids and carries gear like bikes and boats with a universal rack system. At camp, the Opus folds out into a roomy abode with sleeping room for four to six people. The interior is more similar to full-sized camping trailers than simple fold-out tents, offering a generous living area with U-shaped couch and table, a sink, a two-burner stove, work space and a refrigerator, in addition to two bed areas. It even offers an optional toilet room. The Opus starts at £10,999 ($17,745).

Another innovative use of tent fabric can be seen in the Holtkamper Sky Wing. One of the show's world premieres, the Sky Wing is a stormproof add-on camper tent. With the help of a self-pitching air pressure system, it pops to form in just 90 seconds. A zipper system connects it to a camping trailer or motor camper, and it is designed to move naturally with the wind to prevent too much turbulence and discomfort.

"The tent moves like a young tree in the wind and is accordingly stormproof," says Bert Holtkamp, Managing Director of Holtkamper and developer of the Sky Wing. "Strong wind, a gust of wind or a major storm – nothing can do the Sky Wing any harm."

Getting wood

Wood doesn't seem quite as practical of a camper material as tent fabric, but it's certainly more beautiful. In addition to its ornate truck cabin campers, Dutch wood camper specialist Tonke showed how wood print can enhance a Mercedes Sprinter van camper. The Tonke VAN on display featured warming trim all over the exterior and interior. It's powered by a 130-hp common rail diesel engine, and includes sleeping for two (optionally three or four), a 90-liter compressor refrigerator, toilet, and water system with hot water heater. Models start at €88,771 ($120,036).

A smaller, cheaper way of enjoying some extra wood in the woods is the handmade Kulba woody teardrop. Crafted to the buyer's specification, each Kulba is built, inside and out, from Latvian Baltic birch plywood. The Kulba comes with the basic structure, LED cabin lighting and electrical wiring, but equipment like water supply system and mattress are add-ons.

You'll find more classics, more new models and more innovative uses of travel space in our full photo gallery. Let us know which are your favorites in the comments, and if you have any better ideas for designing a small camper, please share.

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

It's strange because they're all American designs from the 1930s through 1950s. I swear I saw all those plywood jobs offered up as weekend projects in Popular Mechanics in the 1970s.

Windsor Wilder

I think that is a really nice variety of campers; from big to small.


You could probably still find the plans in PM catalogues! These smaller versions are getting popular again as the world moves away from gas guzzlers with lots of towing capacity to smaller cars with less to spare. People are realising that a bed, cooking, sink and chem. toilet are virtually all you need - no huge TV, fold-out spa etc.

The Skud

Smaller seems the way to go with gas prices going up and smaller tow vehicles being more common. There are even some campers that can be towed by motorcycles. There are some that are small enough and light weight enough for a Smart Fortwo can tow.

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