We didn't see a camper quite as wild in 2015 as the seaplane camper we saw in 2014, but we have seen many a cool mobile living solution since we last compiled a list of our favorite RVs. New camper vans followed big events in the van market, including the launch of the Volkswagen T6 Transporter, US launch of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4, and discontinuation of full Ford E-Series vans. Beyond the Type Bs, there were also versatile expandable trailers and efficiently packaged roof- and chassis-top designs. Here are the coolest, most interesting motorhomes and camping trailers we looked at in 2015.
Conversion shops, not to mention Volkswagen itself, were quite eager to breathe new life into their lineups by quickly transforming the sixth-generation Transporter into cozy camper vans. The Dutch-designed Tonke Van is an early favorite.
Campers love to spend the night outdoors, and many of them enjoy those outdoors in the day by staying active. That means gear, toys, accessories and more toys. We've seen a steady stream of gear-hauling campers pop up to meet the needs of these active types, the Xventure XV-2, SylvanSport Go and BCT MOAB Yak being a few examples. These trailers tend to use engineering tricks to fit both outdoor gear and sleeping quarters inside the footprint of a small trailer.
Australian outfit Patriot Campers takes a more no-nonsense tack: It stretches the trailer footprint with a 10-foot (3 m) bed slapped behind a rugged, off-road-built box trailer, bringing overnighting up front, toy hauling in back. The TH610 is plenty bigger, heavier and more expensive than other gear-hauling camping trailers, but it also comes standard with an outdoor kitchen with awning, 120 Ah battery, water tank and hot shower system, and 2,000 liters of storage. The flatbed holds five dirt bikes, two ATVs or one side-by-side, ensuring that all campers have a throttle in hand come morning. The trailer can even haul a boat with the optional winch-based boat loader.
At a hair under AUD$60K (US$44,000), the Patriot TH610 certainly isn't an option for everyone, but those that do choose it are pretty much guaranteed to have fun in the outdoors.
What do you do when Ford decides to discontinue a best-selling, decades-old van platform that's long served as a pillar of your conversion business? You could focus solely on other van platforms, including the Transporter that Ford replaced the E-Series with (Sportsmobile does that, too), but Sportsmobile decided to design its own van on top of the E-Series cutaway chassis, which Ford is still selling. And while it was at it, it made the van just a tad better for its camper van needs.
The interior of the fiberglass body that Sportsmobile designed for its new Classic camper van is 4 in (10 cm) wider than the discontinued stock E-Series van, providing a bit more room and allowing for a width-wise bed configuration. As usual, Sportsmobile has fortified this Ford with a 4x4 system and upgraded suspension, readying it for travel and camping on or off road.
Happier Camper HC1
Living in a small box behind your car can make you claustrophobic and uncomfortable in a hurry. Compounding the problem, it's difficult to know exactly what layout will work best for you until you've spent some time (and money) out camping.
Quantis Marq Concept
It was the contrast of white, smooth fiberglass and military-green Land Rover Defender 130 that attracted our eyes to the German-designed Quantis Marq camper concept, but it's the highly efficient use of interior space that makes it one of the year's most intriguing.
We chose not to write this list in any particular order because it seemed silly to compare campers of such different sizes and purposes. Any given design here might be highly useful for one outdoor type but completely useless to another, and the designs aren't made to compete head-to-head. Gun to the head, though, we'd say that the French-penned Beauer 3X has to be our favorite of the bunch.
This ingenious small trailer rolls down the highway as a tiny droplet behind your car, but at camp it stretches out to 3 times its width with a push-button electrical telescoping action. The folding furniture is packaged neatly together in transport mode and automatically opens up and drops down during deployment, giving campers a complete living/dining area, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom – quite an impressive space when compared to the average small trailer!
Expandable campers have been hot lately, because what's better than having a compact, maneuverable vehicle on the road and spacious abode at camp? Trailers like the aforementioned Beauer 3x and Gidget teardrop show two different means of using expandable design to a trailer's advantage.
The German-designed Bett Mobil shows expandable construction is also useful in a camper van. By sliding the bed area out of the back of the cabin instead of folding it down inside the cabin, Bett Mobil's package completely separates the sleeping area from the living/dining space and kitchen. So when you wake up, you don't have to fold the bed away to cook breakfast or sit at the table. What we like even more about the Bett Mobil design is its modular nature, allowing you to create a camper van out of the Volkswagen Multivan, then remove the motorhome modules when the camping trip is over to get your normal, everyday van back.
iKamper Hardtop One
Some of the trailers we've covered this year and in the past rely on roof-top tents for sleeping accommodations, but the iKamper Hardtop One is the first standalone roof-top tent to earn a place on one of our annual best camper lists since we began compiling them in 2013. Roof-top tents provide a light, simple, affordable alternative to camping trailers and motorhome conversions, but they tend to look quite the same from one make and model to the next, without a lot of unique innovation separating them.
A small, lightweight pop-up tent camper with a convenient twist, the ScarabRV is a nice option for trailer camping by compact car or motorcycle. Its 300 pounds (136 kilograms) are concentrated low to the ground, a fact that the driver should be happy about when towing, especially if he or she has experience towing heavier, broader trailers.
Unlike other pop-ups, which require manual actions like unlatching, cranking, pulling and folding at camp, the inflatable ScarabRV leaps to life in about a minute at the push of a remote control. You don't even have to leave the comfort of the car while the tent sets itself up, a nice advantage anytime it's cold or rainy. The inflation system can also be used to pump up equipment like air mattresses and inflatable kayaks.
Essentially an inflatable tent on wheels, the ScarabRV lacks the integrated kitchen equipment, wash area and other amenities of more complete camping trailers, but it looks like it should excel as a light, easy-to-use pop-up trailer.
Transforming the interior of an average van into a space that can support human life for days on end is an impressive feat, but doing so in a small car is a near miracle – or so we would have thought before seeing just how common tiny campers are at this year's Japan Camping Car Show.
We stuck to a classic 10-item format so as to avoid moving anywhere close to declaring nearly every camper we covered this year as a "top design of 2015," but we could have easily found arguments for making it 15 or 20. Here are a few other designs that were in the running: