The Teal Camper gives campers an interesting way of combining the sturdy, hard-sided living quarters of a camping trailer with the easy storage of a smaller pop-up or tent. The camper is shipped to your door as a series of panels, and assembles into a two-person dwelling within about 90 minutes. When your camping season is over, you break it back down and store it neatly.
On our recent look at the NASA-inspired Cricket Trailer, many readers echoed the same two complaints: too expensive and not all that lightweight considering what it was designed for. There's certainly some merit to those arguments. On paper, the Teal Camper seems to steer well clear of both of those issues.
Inventor Lawrence Drake was inspired by a combination of family camping and daily cargo haulin'. When his daughter suggested a camping trip in 2009, Drake decided that his days of tent camping were in the past. He realized a pop-up camper would be a much better route but didn't want to have to go out and buy a big truck to haul it. The towing capacity on his Chevy HHR was 1,000 lbs. (455 kg), so what he really wanted was a compact trailer less than that weight.
When Drake had traded in his pickup truck for the HHR, he purchased an 4 x 8 foot (1.2 x 2.4 m) utility trailer to replace the bed for hauling tools, gear and the like. Drake realized that what would really work in terms of a camper is something that he could assemble within the utility trailer for camping trips and take apart when not in use. In that way, he'd have both a camping trailer and a utility trailer in one.
The solution that Drake came up with is a modular, assembly-required camper that consists of a series of foam-insulated polyethylene panels. The panels ship to your door by way of UPS truck, and you assemble them inside your tow trailer with the help of nothing more than a trusty Phillips head. The panels fit together with a series of hardware and waterproof sealing, and create the camper shell. Certain panels are equipped with doors and windows, and a pop-top roof kit expands head room to around 6 feet (1.8 m). The camper body attaches to a plywood floor in the utility trailer by way of straps or angle brackets.
The camper can be purchased in several sizes for use in different utility trailers and pickup truck beds. Thanks to its beveled base, it fits neatly in the trailer while offering a little extra interior room than it would with straight, right-angled walls. Because it's made up of individual panels, it's easy to customize to preference with things like extra windows. You can even expand to a larger sized trailer by adding extra panels.
Inside, the standard Teal camper kit limits you to the basics in order to keep weight below the magic number of 1,000 lbs. Bench seating, a table and a double bed are included in the full camper. From there, it's really up to you. Teal offers some add-on equipment like a canvas sink cabinet (lighter and easier to break down than wood), and the camper's open, minimalistic framing leaves the door open for you to customize it with your own equipment and accessories. Drake's idea is that you stick with light, camping hardware rather than built-in fixtures to keep things lightweight and easy to break down. So instead of an integrated cooking range and bathroom, you would use a propane camping stove and portable toilet.
Since you can assemble and disassemble part of or the whole Teal package, it also takes on a level of versatility that other camping trailers don't enjoy. Keep it empty and load an ATV, bike or other toys in through the large double doors on back or fill the space up with the conveniences of living, depending upon your trip. During the off season, you can break it down completely instead of having a camper sitting in the middle of your driveway or garage. The panels are designed to nest together to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Drake has gone as far as to build several prototypes of the camper. Along with the trailer he had to tow it, his original empty camper prototype weighed in at a very lightweight 630 lbs (286 kg).
Currently, Drake is finding out that it takes more than a great idea to get a product off the ground. Despite having some background in the manufacturing realm from a career in the home heating industry, he's run into difficulty finding a manufacturing partner to get the project up and running. He's currently looking for partners and investors to help him make that big next step.
"Ive pretty much gotten to the point, to be honest with you, where I've put everything I've got into it and I'm looking for someone to pick it up and help me take it to the next level," Drake told us. "The opportunity is definitely there. I've got over 600 people who have expressed interest in purchasing; I've got 150 people that are interested in being a dealer. The interest I get on it is pretty high."
Drake opined that the tough economy over the past few years has forced manufacturers into shrinking operations and focusing in on proven, high-volume cash cows. In short, they're afraid to take a risk on an unproven quantity like the Teal Camper.
Since manufacturing costs remain up in the air, there's no solid pricing on the Teal Camper. However, Drake has published some projected prices. For the most basic shell, which includes exterior panels, a fixed roof and doors, but no interior equipment, the listed estimate is just under US$3,000. Full campers, which include more windows, a cabinet with sink, bed, dining area, and pop-up roof, are projected at a starting price of just under $5,000.
Beyond the camper, Drake also sees some potential for his panel system to be applied to other lightweight shelter solutions. He cites things like ice fishing huts, hunting blinds and emergency shelters as projects that the Teal panels would be well-suited for.
"The camper is a great little product, but my sense is that that's not going to be the biggest use for this [panel system]," Drake predicted. "The ideas and the uses that have come up for the panel system - everything from hot tub surrounds to emergency shelters that can be taken in and set up on snowmobiles - that, to me, could end up being a much bigger market."
Of course, he'll need to get production and marketing off the ground before expanding into new areas. But it looks like he's got an innovative shelter solution on his hands.
"It's gonna just take the right match, the right person that not only sees the opportunity but they feel good about getting involved."
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