Exploring the best camping trailers of 2016
For the past three years, we've been doing a year-end round-up of the year's most interesting motorhomes and camping trailers. This year, we're splitting those categories up because we've witnessed such an explosion of interesting new trailers. From ruggedized, off-road adventure trailers to super-chic museum-worthy pieces tough enough to survive roadway voyages, 2016 brought new caravans for campers and travelers of all types and income brackets.
Taxa Outdoors TigerMoth
Taxa Outdoors, best known for its Cricket trailer, had a busy 2016, giving its original NASA-inspired caravan two very different stablemates, the TigerMoth and the WoollyBear. The TigerMoth was one of the first trailers we covered back when 2016 was still a cooing infant, and it still stands as one of the most visually arresting we saw all year.
A mash-up of shapes and angles, the 12-footer (3.7-m) equips two people for journeys off the grid and into the forest, desert or wherever. It has both a rear door and an upswinging side hatch, making for easier loading and breezier camping. Other interesting features include a slide-out kitchen that stores under the convertible couch, NASA-inspired lash points for versatile storage, and an electrical system that Taxa advertises as robust enough for weeklong trips away from hookups. Taxa offers several different TigerMoth packages with various equipment levels.
Mobilight BorderLand (Base Camp) Trailers
Mobilight International has extensive expertise in designing rugged trailers built to carry work lights to oil fields, mines and other faraway job sites. So naturally, when it turned its designers loose on a camping trailer, they came up with a rugged, go-anywhere trailer that leaves the destination completely open to the camper's imagination. It originally called this trailer Base Camp, but perhaps realizing that Base Camp was the most popular, generic camping trailer name of 2016 (we also saw the Airstream Basecamp, the UGOAT Basecamp and one other we'll detail below), it later switched up to BorderLand, which definitely stands out more effectively in the crowd.
The tubular steel frame and steel body ensure that BorderLand trailers get to the roughest destinations in one piece, and a long options list ensures that they treat campers right while there. In addition to familiar options like a roof-top tent, roll-out kitchen and power package, Mobilight offers extras like an electric water filtration system, gun boxes and its own powerful field lights. This one quite clearly takes home the unofficial 2016 "Swiss Army knife award, off-road trailer category."
One of the cool things about new trailers this year is that they came in all kinds of distinctive materials, from shiny polished aluminum, to colorful fiberglass, to the knotty cedar of Homegrown Trailers. More than just pretty timber, the roomy teardrops can be equipped with a beefy 800-W solar system and 6,000-Wh lithium-ion battery for supplying power without constant hookup. The 94-sq ft (8.7-sq m) cabin inside the 19-footer (5.8-m) doesn't look anything like the mattress + cabinets/tailgate kitchen of smaller teardrops, offering a four-person layout with bunk beds, a pullout couch, a "cook's kitchen" with induction cooktop and fridge, and even a toilet room.
Indiegogo proved an awkward fit for Homegrown, but the company now offers sales and rentals directly. It advertises two different trailer packages, along with a number of options.
More traditionally teardrop-packaged than the Homegrown, but no less stylish, the Timberleaf Trailer is another teardrop flaunting homey design. Timberleaf's day job is home remodeling, and its expertise in interior design and fine woodworking shines through in its teardrop trailer. Design points like the large skylight, custom wood-paneled ice box, and interior wood trim make this particular teardrop stand out from the myriad others out there. Buyers can upgrade the basic trailer with comforts like heating, air conditioning and solar power. Timberleaf's off-road teardrop followed several months behind the road-going model, adding reinforcements like a Timbren suspension, off-road tires and tough step-on fenders.
Backcountry Box Base Camp
Yep, we promised it and here's that other "Base Camp." Backcountry Box's Base Camp stands out not only among "Base Camps," but also among the many off-road trailers we saw at Overland Expo West 2016. Using a versatile Camp Chef cooking unit, Backcountry Box fits a dual-burner stove, grill and griddle within the limited space of the sliding kitchen area. The grill and griddle drop directly atop the stove burners, providing more cooking versatility. Pull them off and you're back to a standard two-burner stove. Most trailers we've seen have just a two-burner stove, leaving campers on their own if they want to grill, which seems only natural when cooking under the open sky.
The slide-out kitchen is one of many available options on the sleek, customizable Base Camp. The greater list also includes a power system, Kenwood stereo, roof-top tent and water system.
No two adventures are exactly alike, so having an adventure trailer that can transform around different journeys and activities is sure to pay off. Most trailer companies, including UGOAT, offer serious customization through their options lists. But UGOAT goes a step further in designing a modular trailer that can actively transform even after you tow it home.
The heavily military-inspired Scout "multi-trailer" is one of the most versatile off-road trailers we've looked at, relying on optional stackable modules to transform from basic cargo bed to fully organized tent-top camping trailer. Its combination of base cargo bed, dual stackable storage boxes and raisable tent platform adjusts around current trip needs. Overnight sporting trip? Secure the tent platform up high, load the gear in the bed, around the roof tent and/or on a hitch rack, and get going. Longer camping trip? Stack the galley box between the cargo bed and tent platform and now you have organized cooking capabilities. Hauling old odds and ends to the dump? Remove the tent platform, fill up the bed and get to it. You get the idea.
Bowlus Road Chief Lithium+
Out of the backcountry and back onto roadways, the Bowlus Road Chief Lithium+ edition is easily the most stunning combination of aesthetic exterior design, well-furnished interior and off-grid power and computing capability we covered all year. And it has the shocking price tag to match. A new package for the Bowlus Road Chief aluminum trailer revived a few years ago, the Lithium+ earns its name from the robust 4,000-Wh lithium-iron-phosphate battery that's on board. Unlike the usual trailer battery, this one is powerful enough to run the included 8,000 BTU air conditioner and microwave. It'll even get a Tesla going. Occupants can use all that power to keep connected, as there's also a 3G/4G modem and wireless router, a cellular signal booster and a mobile device charging station. A 120-W solar panel helps keep the battery firing.
Sure, towing a fully wired $219K aluminum trailer isn't everyone's idea of "camping," but the Lithium+ does look like the perfect way for those with the right combination of career and personal assets to abandon the 9-to-5 commuter swarm and become a part of the nomadic digital tribe. It also looks like a good way to convince the most reluctant of spouses and friends that "roughing it" is something worth doing.
Inka Outdoor Venture OHV
When it's all packed up and rolling behind its tow vehicle, the Inka Outdoor Venture OHV could easily be mistaken for a number of other off-road teardrops, save for its branding. At camp, though, the Venture OHV reveals its personality the minute you open the doors, which rise up in gullwing style instead of swinging out. This gives it a cool, standout look, supplements the galley tailgate in providing a little outdoor overhead protection, and prevents the wind from smashing fingers against the door frame.
Moving back from those gullwings, it's the galley where the Venture OHV really shines, offering a lot of versatility in food prep. In addition to the usual two-burner stove, sink and counter, there's room for a microwave or convection oven and an optional folding arm mount for proper grilling on a Weber Q 1000. There's also a refrigerator/cooler slide-out. The rugged trailer sleeps two on the queen mattress inside the gullwings.
Transformis Inspire caravan houseboat
One of the things that's missing from today's large market of five- and six-figure camping trailers is the DIY ingenuity and elbow grease behind the classic, garage-built teardrop. DIY building is still alive and well, though, and the Transformis Inspire proves it in the coolest way we've seen in a long time.
Part expanding houseboat and part caravan, the Transformis Inspire camps on land and on water. This capability puts it in a very small group of amphibious caravans and motorhomes, and separating it into a field of one is a custom-designed pontoon/interior expansion system that increases interior space and improves on-water stability while keeping the body slim(ish) during towing. The Inspire requires a separate trailer, so it's technically a trailerable houseboat and not a proper "caravan," but designer Claudia Moffat has used it both on land and in water, so her creation does indeed function like a caravan and the expansion slide-outs work on the trailer, as well as water. It's obviously not the solution for every camper or vehicle (it weighs close to 7,000 lb/3,175 kg), but it's an innovative blend of marine and motorhome design that provides a one-of-a-kind experience.
The Inspire was a one-off, personal-use prototype when we covered it a year ago (it came a couple weeks too late for our 2015 best-of list) but is now listed for sale. Transformis also has a new camper in the works, indicating it's moving along from "garage DIY" to full-fledged camper company. We look forward to covering future designs.
The Bowlus stands as the most luxurious, high-tech trailer we looked at all year, but we don't think you'd want to have it hitched up when wading through a river or climbing a rock garden in your Land Rover Defender. And that's why the Bruder EXP-6 takes the title of most luxurious, techiest off-road caravan of the year. This Aussie-designed trailer combines a bomb shelter-like, off-road-ready structure with a comfy, meticulously equipped cabin space for four to six people.
Highlights include the smartphone-adjustable multi-link air suspension, interior/exterior kitchen, electrical system with 260-W solar panels, and dust filtration/pressurization system keeping the interior air fresh. Options like the satellite communications pack and water filtration system further enhance livability. If you want to venture out to rugged, remote parts of the world and live in comfort when you get there, without spending a likely six figures on a full-blown off-road motorhome, we can think of few better ways to do it than in an EXP-6.