From self-drivers to auto-expansion chambers: Amazing camping trailers of 2018
Not that 2017, 2016, or other years of recent memory didn't have moments of their own, but 2018 really seemed to be the year of weird, wild camping trailers. More than once, it felt like we were looking into a caravan crystal ball. We saw expanders that grow multiple times their travel size, camping trailers without wheels, a lithium-powered motorized caravan, and many other trailblazing designs. Follow along as we take a look back at a year of the intriguing and outlandish trailers.
Living van life without the van in the ioCamper
What better place to start off a year in review of outrageous camping trailers than with a power-expanding camper that isn't quite a trailer at all. The ioCamper sparked a debate as to whether to include it here or in our upcoming 2018 camper vans retrospective, but we figured that a non-motorized camper module that relies on a separate vehicle to travel to camp belongs with the trailers, even if it doesn't trail.
Unlike most trailers, the ioCamper doesn't have wheels or a hitch, because this expanding European camper fits neatly inside the back of standard L1 H2+ size vans. Upon arrival, it slides out and expands four times its packed size. Travelers can leave it attached to the van or remove it completely and let it stand on its own, freeing up the van for other uses.
Weird? Yes. Cool? Undeniably. And it's not hard to see why some campers might prefer such a design over a regular camper van or trailer. The ioCamper keeps the van's footprint unchanged during the ride and lives roomy as a three-room shelter with master bedroom, main living area/second bedroom with kitchen block and wet bath, and dining room/lounge/third bedroom. The design also includes a touchscreen command center, multiple TVs, air conditioning and solar power.
The ioCamper seemed a little over-the-top when it surfaced, and its Indiegogo campaign never moved a millimeter, so it's not clear what the future holds. What is clear is that it was one of the most memorable trailer ideas of the year.
Warming from near-Arctic chill with a Mink
The first camping trailer we covered in 2018 still looks as new and unique as it did back in January. Iceland's Mink Campers has somehow managed to take the already cool, iconic teardrop trailer and make it even more spectacular. The bright-yellow rounded edges and round doors with porthole-style windows crank the aesthetics up enough to make the Mink totally distinctive but still as effortlessly cool and clean as any other teardrop.
The Mink isn't just a looker, either, as it's loaded with features that should appeal to hordes of trendy millennials and eco-tourists. A Wi-Fi antenna keeps Mink travelers connected; a Bose speaker keeps the soundtrack cranked up; an electrical system with roof-mounted solar panel keeps the lights on and devices charged; a large skylight serves as the stage for northern light performances; and a heater takes the bite out of icy nights. The tailgate galley stands neat and uncluttered with its single-burner stove and inbuilt cooler. Down below, a steel chassis and leaf-spring suspension keep the bright, modern cabin rolling smoothly over rough Icelandic terrain.
When we spoke to Mink in January, it was offering rentals and sales in Iceland only, but it had ambitious plans to expand out into Europe and North America. Its website now mentions it will open operations in Norway and Scotland in 2019.
Dropping the top in the Lume Traveler
Moving on from fighting off the cold of the near-Arctic, we let summer breezes flood in with the convertible Lume Traveler. Every inch of this eye-grabbing Dutch trailer is genuinely distinctive, from its smoothened-edge aluminum shell to its leather, wool and wood-dressed interior. But it's the 6-foot (1.8-m)-long draw-back Sunbrella fabric roof that really puts it in a different category, allowing occupants to lie below the open sky, either completely exposed or with a screen between them and the fluttering critters above.
The Traveler includes a tailgate galley with dual-burner stove, sink, 40-L fridge and gas grill hookup. It also brings many standard and available technologies, including an electrical system with 100-W roof-mounted solar panel, 32-in TV, seven-speaker Bose audio system and Wi-Fi. Traveler models start at €27,250 (approx. US$30,825) for an empty shell and quickly rise to €46,500 ($52,600) for the flagship "No. 1" version.
Lume's booth at the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon showed renderings of a larger dual-axle model coming to market in 2019, so we'll be keeping an eye out for that.
Building forward momentum with Dethleffs
Last year, Dethleffs imagined an electrified motorhome with the E.Home concept, a big step but not an entirely unexpected one, given how steadily electric vehicle technology has been taking off. This year, it released an E.Home successor, an electrified caravan that was entirely unexpected, given that caravans are unpowered vehicles that rely entirely on separate tow cars and trucks.
The E.Home Coco concept doesn't power itself like a full-blown motorhome, but it rides on a dual-motor electric axle that matches motive power with the drive vehicle, cutting the effective tow load to improve efficiency. The design could theoretically cut effective weight to a fraction of the caravan's actual weight.
With the electrified axle pitching in, an undersized coupe or hatchback could tow the Coco to camp and an electric vehicle could do so without its range dropping off a cliff. The torque-vectoring system would improve handling performance throughout the drive, and the trailer would park itself via smartphone app upon arrival. The 80-kWh battery pack and roof-mounted solar panels could even double as a power supply, both at camp and when plugged into the home grid.
We're not sure if an e-powered caravan like this will ever be part of the future, but it certainly is an interesting concept that reimagines just what a caravan can be, blurring established lines between RV categories. Dethleffs said at the E.Home Coco debut in August it plans to test the concept further in 2019.
Losing the wheels with Hitch Hotel
Any ordinary year would have seen one wheel-less trailer, if any at all. But as we said before, 2018 was a different animal. Joining the radical ioCamper on the wheel-less trailer crowdfunding circuit was the much sleeker, simpler Hitch Hotel.
The Hitch Hotel is essentially a hitch-riding, telescoping fiberglass box. It carries sports gear, camping equipment and other cargo during the drive, then stretches out like an accordion once there. The 88 x 58-in (224 x 147-cm) watertight interior offers enough space to sleep two or three people. Unlike other trailers, the 240-lb (109-kg) Hitch Hotel doesn't include kitchen equipment, a water tank or even a mattress, so you'll have to bring your own gear. It does have a roof vent, set of windows, 12V light, door lock and USB port.
Hitch Hotel wound down a very successful Kickstarter campaign in July, shooting well past its $100K goal. The California-based company is now selling its trailer for US$3,699, with estimated delivery in February 2019.
Blowing up bike camping with the Gentletent
Camping trailers are popularly thought of strictly as motor vehicle accompaniments - because that's how you pull nearly every one to camp. There are a few that don't rely on motor-vehicle power, however, towing forward under pedal power. With the growth of electric bicycles, we suspect we might continue seeing more new bike trailers like the Wide Path Camper and Kamp-Rite Midget Bushtrekka.
This year, we saw the B-Turtle trailer from Austria's GentleTent, and it's definitely an all-original. Instead of folding or sliding into shape like other bicycle trailers, the 66-lb (30-kg) B-Turtle inflates into an above-ground, two-person tent shelter with vestibule. Inflation happens in about 10 to 20 minutes, breakdown in 10. The trailer includes a 120-L storage compartment for carrying cargo and a waterproof cover to keep things dry.
The two-person B-Turtle still lists at €2,990 (approx. US$3,400) on GentleTent's website, and the company has also put a €2,790 single-person model up for pre-order, deliveries to begin in February 2019.
Building a bigger, better camp with Tipoon
All the trailers on this list have some wow factor, but there was one 2018 trailer that really made us step back and say, "Wow! Well done." Hailing from France, the expanding Tipoon Travel Machine looks nicely designed from the word go, a fairly low-riding capsule with a shiny metal skin and roof rails. But its true innovation comes when you arrive at camp and hit the remote control, watching it quickly expand upward and outward to triple in size.
The fully deployed Tipoon provides over 6 feet (1.8 m) of standing room and a spacious four-person interior with central living area, bathroom and kitchen block. Storage drawers under the raised bed double as furniture supports, creating a dining room, king-size bed or dual beds, before retracting away to leave an open central space.
It doesn't look it in the photos, but the Tipoon is actually the third wheel-less trailer on this list. It's built as a standalone module that mounts atop a separate trailer. That might seem like extra hassle and cost, especially when looking at the estimated ~€24,000 ($27,150) base price, but it does offer the advantage of freeing up the trailer for other uses when you're not out camping. Tipoon's website indicates that it hopes to get the first production models out on roads during the first half of 2019.
Nesting with a different type of Airstream
For the better part of a century, "Airstream" has essentially been an easy way of saying "shiny aluminum trailer," but to help capture the attention of a new audience, the company has been diversifying a bit. The most unexpected path that diversification has taken is the Nest, a fiberglass trailer that's very different from the stereotypical Airstream.
The Nest is not just a different breed of Airstream trailer; it's an inspiring American dream story. Designed several years ago by Robert Johans, the Nest was quickly scooped up by Airstream and finished out with Johans overseeing the remaining development. So the Oregonian designer gained the backing and resources of an iconic global trailer brand, without completely giving up his baby.
The Nest's semi-monocoque fiberglass shell remains much the same, but Airstream's development has noticeably streamlined and refined the interior design from Johans' original. The two-person caravan has a rear convertible dinette or double bed, a spacious kitchen and a wet bath. The wraparound window array, skylight and Bluetooth-controlled LED lighting work with the white trim to brighten the inside. All in all, the 3,400-lb (1,542-kg), fully climate-controlled Nest is a very stylish design that appears compact enough for no-hassle towing but large enough for comfy living. And we guess it had better be, because at $45,900 to start, it certainly isn't the cheapest way for a couple to travel the country.
Exploring topography with Escapod
We'll admit that the Escapod Topo Series had a leg up in a finding a place on this list. Sure, it's plenty cool enough to land here on its own, but the fact we actually tested it out in Southern Utah's beautiful canyon country really bolstered its case. That full review will be coming in early 2019, but for now we'll say we loved the overall experience of towing the light, stylish off-road teardrop - from the waves and double-takes on the highway, to driving anywhere and everywhere without a second thought.
The Topo Series initially caught our attention with its bright, distinctively styled aluminum skin. But it isn't just a pretty trailer; it's a tough, weathered warrior with a warm heart. The curvy, fast-dropping body rides on a stout powder-coated steel frame that Escapod builds in its own shop just outside Park City, Utah. Raise that frame up on an independent suspension and 17-in Mickey Thomson wheels wrapped in Goodyear all-terrain tires and you get a trailer perfect for exploring every corner of one of the USA's most notoriously wild and rugged states.
The Topo's distinctively laid out galley goes in some different directions from other teardrops (hose and bucket instead of a sink, Yeti cooler instead of a fridge), but as we learned from company founder Chris Hudak, every choice was made quite purposefully (and can be customized differently, if you don't agree with that purpose). We found the interior quite comfy and the kitchen plenty functional.
What impressed us most: The Topo is a living design, and when we stopped by the shop, the small team was busy making some small but substantive tweaks on the 2019 model that should add some noticeable improvements at camp. We'll look more at the redesigned $16,500 2019 Topo Series in the near future, too.
Looking into a more home-like home on the road with Bürstner
Dethleffs wasn't the only Erwin Hymer Group brand exploring the future of caravan camping at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon. While it was exploring the future of trailer axles, Bürstner was focused on the future of the interior. And that future looks a lot nicer than the present - nicer than many homes with concrete foundations, even.
The Harmony 3 concept caravan explores how trailer interiors could move closer to stylish smart homes in the future. Alexa voice control helps streamline interior functions, and features like an inbuilt coffeemaker, wine case and stone-look wall make the space feel more like a home or high-end rental. Adding to the ambiance, the TV doubles as a digital picture frame and backlighting gives the shower a soft glow. If caravans start coming with interiors this stylish and cozy, full-time #vanlife might lose the spotlight to full-time #caravanlife.
We don't expect to see the Harmony 3, or any caravan in the same league, launch in 2019, but such a warm, stylish interior isn't necessarily a total pipe dream. Trailer manufacturers are integrating more and more smart home-style technologies and homey equipment and decor, and we imagine that will continue in the years to come.
You can see more of each of these innovative camping trailers in the gallery.