Home on a hitch: 2017's best camping trailers
A camping trailer is a great compromise for those that want something sturdier than a newfangled tent but smaller and less expensive than a camper van or large motorhome. And with the way established trailer brands and startups continue to innovate creative, new towable shelters loaded with luxuries, they're only getting better. Whether your thing is connecting tourist attractions with highway miles or journeying far beyond the outskirts of civilization, there's a new caravan out there that will make the experience easier and more comfortable.
Track Trailer Tvan MK5
Many a caravan is described as a no-holds-barred off-road tool built up to traverse the world's roughest terrain, but few say all that with nothing more than a look. Appearing something like a towable boulder, the Track Trailer Tvan MK5 is one of those that give just such a first impression.
Born and raised in Australia's Outback, the Tvan is a super-burly trailer meant to roam over roadless, perhaps trackless, terrain in search of adventure and solitude. The latest generation of this Australian caravanning staple is based on nearly 20 years of that type of travel, with the latest tweaks and improvements added to ensure it performs at its absolute peak.
As with past Tvans, the MK5 is set on a hot-dipped galvanized chassis and military-grade independent suspension. The steel and aluminum-sandwich body houses a queen-size bed, which campers can access immediately via a new quick-lift hatch system. Those who have a little more time to set up camp can drop the rear deck down and set up the annex tent for added interior space.
Cooking is done outside below the awning, and the available premium kitchen slides out to give backcountry gourmets a three-burner stove, sink, and plenty of storage and workspace. Another slick, new feature is the removable Fusion StereoActive sound system, one of our favorite camping gadgets of the year.
The Tvan MK5 comes in four trim levels with available equipment like a 120-W solar system, lithium battery storage, diesel heat and hot water, air conditioning and more. Pricing ranged between roughly AU$53,000 and $77,000 (approx. US$41K to 59K) before additional options when we investigated back in August.
Knaus Deseo 400 TR
For a more graded road-oriented trip, with a side of adventure, the new Knaus Deseo 400 TR brilliantly blends the utility of a toy hauler with the comfort of a caravan. Knaus describes it as a cozy living space first and foremost, and it furnishes campers with a full kitchen, bathroom, convertible dinette/bed, and sleeping capacity for four when the lift-away raised bed is added.
The full-width tailgate lets you easily load up motorcycles, surfboards and other large gear for travel, then doubles as a large patio door at camp, providing fresh air and views from the comfort of the living area. Another cool available feature is the retractable 24-in LED TV that disappears into the living area console when not in use. The boxy shape may not be as smooth for towing as other designs, but it makes for a very livable interior.
Knaus showed the Deseo 400 TR at the 2017 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, at which time pricing was €20,900 (approx. US$25K).
Hofmann Architecture Living Vehicle
Part mobile home and part hard-edged Airstream, the 27-ft (8.2-m) Living Vehicle is an immediate eye-catcher thanks to its shiny aluminum shell. While it reflects the local scenery, that shell also symbolically reflects away any sign of dirty, sweaty "roughing it," as this rolling home is equipped more for full-time living than simple weekends at camp. It might not appeal that much to the canvas-and-campfire set, but it'll definitely appeal to those who loathe leaving behind the comforts of home.
The trailer's interior is outfitted more like a posh apartment, complete with a multimedia system with flush-mounted TV, multi-zone audio, and app control. There's also a chef's kitchen with dishwasher, modular island, full-height refrigerator, commercial-style stainless steel sink and floor-to-ceiling pantry and a spa bathroom with rain shower and towel warmer.
Outside, a fold-out elevated deck provides a comfortable place to enjoy the scenery, and a roof-mounted LTE/Wi-Fi antenna keeps inhabitants connected. It's pretty much your own off-grid, four-season wilderness lodge on wheels with room for six people. Pricing starts at around US$130,000.
Turtleback Trailers Turtlebacker
Dilemma: You need a trailer to haul toys, but you also need a trailer to camp in. You could go with something like the Deseo TR 400, but maybe your toys won't fit or maybe you aren't keen on tracking mud into your living room. Plus, what if your toy-fueled adventures take you far beyond the paved roads the Deseo was designed for?
Solution: the new Turtlebacker from Phoenix-based Turtleback Trailers.
Turtleback becomes the latest to offer this type of solution for fun-loving off-road travelers, sticking a 12-ft (3.7-m) bed off the back of its ol' reliable Expedition Trailer. Turtlebacker owners can tow an ATV, side-by-side or dirt bikes and still have a fully equipped camping trailer.
The camper box includes a birch-built slide-out kitchen with dual-burner stove and sink and an available roof-top tent topper to sleep in. The outdoor shower is located over the trailer bed, getting you up off the ground for a cleaner showering experience.
The Turtlebacker starts at US$26,995, and options include a 270-degree awning, solar power and upgraded kitchen.
Whether you're sleeping in a tent or a pop-up camper, setting up camp can be the worst part of the trip ... perhaps the second worst, right behind cleaning camp up early in the morning. Opus makes it easier. Already known for its light, elegant pop-up campers with wraparound sofas and sleeping space for up to six, Opus now offers an inflatable pop-up camper.
The Air Opus inflates into a roomy backwoods shelter in a minute and a half, and it relies on an electric pump so all you have to do is flick the switch and watch it grow. You'll still need to set up some of the other equipment, but Opus says it'll only take about 5 minutes, all in – about a third of the time it takes for its original hard-frame pop-up trailer. And when it's time to leave, you'll get on the road quickly thanks to the 30-second deflation.
After giving the US$21,500+ Air Opus its US launch in Winter 2017, Opus introduced the Australian-designed Air Opus Off-Road (originally called the Outback), a ruggedized off-road model with a slide-out outdoor kitchen in place of an indoor kitchen. The introductory Air Opus Off-Road package starts at US$24,500.
Green Cat Technologies sCarabane
A truly wondrous caravan, the Green Cat sCarabane is a towable tour de force of sustainable living. Pulling the 25.6-ft (7.8-m), 5,500-lb (2,500-kg) block will likely be the worst part of the sCarabane experience, and the engine muscle needed won't get you off to a clean start. But things will change at your destination, where you'll unfold the dense box into a two-bedroom home and start harnessing the natural energy around you.
The roof houses a pop-up wind turbine, 500-W solar array and parabolic reflector water heating system, and the entire structure rotates on a circular track to provide the best exposure to the sun or wind. Smaller details like the rose petal skylights and bubble window help the caravan make use of natural light and heat, and future development plans call for rainwater collection and water filtration systems.
That collected energy goes to good use, as this caravan is very different from your basic bed-and-galley teardrop. It's wired and plumbed with an entertainment system, washing machine, dishwasher, microwave and touchscreen control center. It'd be easy to spend all your time inside, but details like the full-length deck, outdoor bar and large window connecting the kitchen with the bar/deck area ensure you don't forget to spend some of your time outside.
We're not sure there's a market for an sCarabane-like vessel, or that Green Cat will ever get to test those waters, but the sCarabane is a fascinating experiment in creating a temporary shelter that works seamlessly with the natural environment around it.
Wide Path Homie
Moving to the far opposite end of the sizing spectrum, Wide Path Camper specializes in tiny, efficient caravans, starting with one that can be towed by bicycle. Recognizing that not everyone is game for pedal camping, Wide Path introduced a small auto caravan based on its bicycle model.
Playfully called the Homie, this diminutive camper looks almost like a teardrop flipped up 90 degrees by its rear bumper. At camp, though, the section that nests inside folds down to increase cabin space and give it a more natural-teardrop look. It takes about three minutes of set-up.
As you might imagine, the interior of the Homie is far from the well-equipped, near residential interiors of some of the other caravans here, housing but a convertible bed/seat, small table and storage. You can do the cooking on the available outdoor side table or elsewhere outside, and you'll have to make your own bathroom arrangements.
But at 440 lb (200 kg), the Homie is one of the lightest campers you'll find, able to be towed by all sizes of vehicle. It's also much more affordable than more complex designs, starting at US$6,970/€6,500. A 507-lb (230-kg) XL model adds some extra space for US$8,040/€7,500. Options include solar power, a portable stove/cookware package, and an outdoor package with the side table and camp chairs.
Motorhomes and trailers with pop-up roofs are quite common, but less common are trailers with entire pop-up body shells. That's not to say they don't exist at all, but Woodenwidget's Robin Benjamin had his mind set on a very particular design, a lightweight, wooden trailer with a comfortable interior he came to call Slidavan.
In creating a trailer that packs low for towing and grows at camp, Benjamin – or "Benjy," as he prefers to be called – wanted a mechanism simpler than a hydraulic lift, so he designed his own lead-screw based lift operated by handheld drill. It raises the roof from its 5.6-ft (1.7-m) tow-behind tuck to 7.7 ft (2.3 m), opening up about 6 ft (1. m) of headroom inside.
The standing headroom (or near-standing headroom if you're 6 ft or a bit over) is nice because, unlike some other small trailers, the Slidavan is one you won't mind spending some time in. It includes a kitchen area and a dinette set that can convert into a large bed or two smaller beds. The curved roof creates a feeling of openness, and the white wall next to the dinette doubles as a movie screen. When you're not using the rechargeable batteries in the drill to lift the roof, they power interior LED lighting and USB charge ports.
If one of those details doesn't sound quite right, you could always adjust it, the Slidavan is a home build, not a retail camper. Benjy offers the £50 (US$67) 100-page plans to guide you through, but you'll need to purchase your own materials and spend the 200 hours or so building it up.
Lotus Caravans Tremor
Australia's Lotus Caravans caught our eye last year with the Off Grid trailer, and this year it went bigger and more luxurious with the new Tremor. Available in multiple sizes and floor plans, the Tremor is the latest trailer to raise the comfort of the dirtiest, rockiest, most remote campsite to a level higher than some solid-foundation homes.
Below its roomy, diamond plate-reinforced composite-walled cabin, the Tremor's combination of all-terrain tires, SupaGal chassis and independent suspension keeps it wheeling along, whatever the road and trail throws its way.
When the Tremor arrives at camp, its demeanor instantly changes into that of a relaxed, welcoming host, offering luxuries the average camper wouldn't expect in places identified only by GPS coordinates.
Its fully equipped kitchen whips up meals with a four-burner stove, oven, microwave and laminate countertops. A Dometic three-way refrigerator keeps perishables fresh. An Ibis air conditioner cools the inside during the sweltering days of summer, and a washer scrubs up sweaty, dusty clothes. Other amenities include indoor and outdoor TV hookups, a Wineguard HD antenna, a full dry bath, and an electrical system with 300 watts of solar and two 120-Ah batteries.
Take a full tour of each of these trailers in our photo gallery and let us know which one, if any, you could imagine yourself camping in.