For a bit of fun I’ve taken a look at space-saving campers, researching a selection of compact yet functional ways to travel and camp out overnight.  This post has been inspired by articles sent to me by Zero to Sixty … Eventually in the States and my brother in Zambia, both of whom quite rightly knew that this kind of thing intrigues me.

Way back in the early 1950s the owners of basic VW panel vans realised that their flexible midweek load-luggers could also be used for weekend camping trips.  By 1952 Westfalia began producing ‘camping boxes’  – removable, portable kitchens – to serve this growing interest – and soon fully-fledged camper vans were being produced by the company in Germany.  A variety of models were produced from the mid-1950s onwards with rear bench seats, kitchens, water tanks, carpets and curtains.

Over the last sixty years the camper van has been developed and refined so that to many, it is the epitome of space-saving design.  And of course, it is.  But it’s only one approach to compact, mobile living.  What if you want something smaller than a camper van ?  Or something more akin to a trailer ?  Or something that isn’t motorised ? **

As I’ve discovered, the world of space-saving campers has many, many options.  Some of these are still at the concept stage but others are in production.  All are very ingenious (even if you wouldn’t necessarily want to buy one !).

With a huge interest in small-space living, sparked by TV programmes such as Amazing Spaces here in the UK, let me give you a whistle-stop tour of some of the designs that piqued my interest.

 

Small campers

So if you fancy something a little smaller than a VW California, for instance, there are many different options.  The small motorhome forum provides for owners with a range of vehicle conversions including Romahomes, Renault Kangoos, Citroen Berlingos and little Daihatsu vans.

The smallest I’ve seen is actually owned by my Mum !  She has a little converted Suzuki Wagon R which sleeps one, has a permanent kitchen and a pop-top roof.  It’s her daily vehicle and holiday home on wheels – and as you can see, it’s pretty much dwarfed by my Cali.  It’s neat, multi-functional and (touch wood!) runs pretty much trouble-free.

Suzuki Wagon R camper

Suzuki Wagon R camper

But if little ‘Suzie’ isn’t quite small enough for you, how about the Bufalino based on the Piaggia APE50 chassis ?  A nifty conversion of the classic Italian three-wheeler will give you a bed for one, a kitchen-cum-bathroom (with a fridge), a wardrobe and a workstation.  OK, so perhaps you have to be a little imaginative with all of those potential uses but the designers certainly seem to think that it’s possible.  Cheap to buy,  super economical to run and all mod cons – what more could you possibly want ?

Photo credit: Yankodesign.com

Photo credit: Yankodesign.com

Roof tents

OK, so maybe you’re quite happy with your daily vehicle and just want a camper on an occasional basis – so how about a roof tent ?

I’ve seen some weird and wonderful versions – some downright ugly and others ever so slightly precarious.  There was a flurry of interest a year or two ago when various Mini concept vehicles were mooted.  I don’t think any of these made it into production but you kind of get the idea with the picture below … sporty adventure vehicle, bike rack behind and a little ladder to go up to your bedroom upstairs.  A flat roof, a ladder as you’re only exit, no storage … what could possibly go wrong ?!!

Photo credit: dornob.com

Photo credit: dornob.com

The Doubleback

Let’s swap the idea of a flimsy tent on your roof for something a little more substantial: enter the Doubleback.  This also caused quite some interest when it was launched several years ago and certainly is a very eye-catching design.  At a touch of the button it extends the length of your VW California to give a light, airy and spacious living space.

As you can see from this video, the second-generation Doubleback addresses some of the (significant) flaws in the original design.  Now, the layout has changed completely so that there are two seats in the rear when the van is in ‘normal’ use; at least now it seats as well as sleeps four people.  The kitchen’s now bigger and in a better position, and various other design tweaks have been made.  It’s definitely eye-catching but with an eye-watering price – would you get your money’s worth out of this ?

Photo credit: Dornob.com

Photo credit: Dornob.com

Teardrop trailers

Trailer tents have been around for many decades and offer a different kind of solution.  They’re practical in that they’re only needed for occasional use, leaving your tow vehicle in its usual configuration for day to day driving.  Teardrop trailers provide an aerodynamic and attractive design, allowing (typically) for a bed or two inside and cooking facilities at the rear.

When twinned with a splitscreen VW it’s an appealing combination, although having had a peek inside it did seem a little cramped.  Other designs, such as in the picture below, feature raised roofs and a seating area; the configurations are endless.  What’s more, teardrop trailers are still being produced and there are several companies providing trailers for campers in the UK and elsewhere.

Volksfling August 2014

Photo credit: Campingearth.com

Photo credit: Campingearth.com

 

And if you felt that the examples above are too small, how about the Alto, a larger model which is much more spacious and airy ?  It contains an electric, retractable roof to increase its size when camped, a double bed, kitchen with fridge, toilet and shower – certainly a modern and much more interesting twist on a conventional caravan.

Photo credit: Livinginashoebox.com

Photo credit: Livinginashoebox.com

Ingenious awnings

Talking of caravans, many of you will recognise from the picture below the same design concept that George Clarke used in his own caravan conversion.  Here, the sides fold down to give a closed awning at one side and a tranparent awning at the other.  The footprint is multiplied three times when the awnings are folded out to give a modular space for sleeping and/or living.

Photo credit: Dornob.com

Photo credit: Dornob.com

Self-powered campers

If you’re not taken by any of these motorised campers and trailers, why not do down the self-powered route ?  Bike trailers are attracting attention among designers given the availability of strong, lightweight materials and a resurgence of interest in cycle touring.

First up is a cute seaside-y bike caravan – the tiny bike camper trailer – that has a single bed and even a pop-top roof.  OK, it may just be a design concept but it certainly shows what’s possible.

Photo credit: Dornob.com

Photo credit: Dornob.com

You might want to go more minimalist with the Foldavan.  You’ll notice it also has an aerodynamic, teardrop shape, is very light and ingeniously expands widthways (up to one metre) for sleeping.

Photo credit: Livinginashoebox.com

Photo credit: Livinginashoebox.com

Another variation on this theme is the Wide Path Camper, a slightly more robust (but heavier) design that includes a sofa and table, and cleverly folds down to create a double bed.

Photo credit: Livinginashoebox.com

Photo credit: Livinginashoebox.com

Back to the future

I love seeing these ingenious designs.  Many of them for me belong in the “cool design but I wouldn’t necessarily want to buy one” category.  However, there are elements from these modern, space-saving designs that can certainly be used to update classic models.

When I saw this retro-inspired VW camper design concept a couple of years ago I definitely wanted to go out and put down my deposit (unfortunately it is just a design concept).  If you could add some clever awnings, solar panels for power and modern conveniences to a retro VW then this would I think be my ultimate space-saving camper.

Photo credit: Goodshomedesign.com

Photo credit: Goodshomedesign.com

 

In the meantime, however, perhaps I should just save up my pennies for a timeless classic.  Sometimes, it’s hard to beat a tried-and-tested design.

Photo credit: Goodshomedesign.com

Photo credit: Goodshomedesign.com

 

 
** For the purposes of this article I’m ignoring an obvious option which is … er … a tent.  I know, I know … tents have been around for eons and are actually the bees knees when it comes to space saving living, but let’s just disregard tents for the time being and put them aside for a separate article.

 

8 Comments on “Space-saving campers

  1. Great post! Rooftop tents are pretty much de rigeur here in southern Africa for self-drive safaris (although we haven’t yet kitted out the Landcruiser with one), and a must for keeping the wildlife at bay!

    • Thanks Robin – I hadn’t considered the practicalities of a roof tent when there’s wildlife prowling around so it’s a valid point !

    • Hi Richard, Thanks for the link to your test drive in the electric campervan – this could be a great option if you live near a well- developed charging network.

      For a family I think ingenious awnings are the way to go for greater functionality. I don’t see much creativity in awnings currently offered unfortunately. But warm weather does help !

  2. I love these ingenious designs! As you say, shame some are just at the drawing board mock up stage, not into production. I also like the Dub Box trailer http://www.dub-box.com/ which is a clever adaptation of a T2 shell – if a trailer is what is wanted.

    I agree – awnings are still rather lacking. There is a lot to be said for being able to mark your spot at a site, extend the living space – and not have to pack it away if you want to go for a drive (unlike the DoubleBack).

    Young niece and partner are about to tour Africa with a RangeRover and roof tent… they love it and have had some fun with it in the UK so far.

    • I do like the Dub-box ! Very cool. Are your niece and partner blogging about their tour around Africa ? It would be good to hear about their adventures …

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