Outdoors

Otherworldly teardrop trailer uses chicken feather composite for light, tiny car-friendly towing

The Earth Traveler is designed to bring family camping to your bumper at under 300 lb
The Earth Traveler is designed to bring family camping to your bumper at under 300 lb
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Earth Traveler diagram
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Earth Traveler diagram
The available front tent turns the Earth Traveler teardrop into a roomier trailer with standing room
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The available front tent turns the Earth Traveler teardrop into a roomier trailer with standing room
Earth Traveler plans to build trailers out of both carbon fiber and feather-based composite
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Earth Traveler plans to build trailers out of both carbon fiber and feather-based composite
Earth Traveler is still finalizing its manufacturing facilities and preparing to build the first production-ready trailer
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Earth Traveler is still finalizing its manufacturing facilities and preparing to build the first production-ready trailer
The Earth Traveler is designed to bring family camping to your bumper at under 300 lb
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The Earth Traveler is designed to bring family camping to your bumper at under 300 lb
The interior is super-simple, and Earth Traveler owners will likely add to the low curb weight by loading up with furniture and gear
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The interior is super-simple, and Earth Traveler owners will likely add to the low curb weight by loading up with furniture and gear
Earth Traveler teardrop with deployed front tent and side awning
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Earth Traveler teardrop with deployed front tent and side awning
Earth Traveler plans to offer an optional kitchen unit
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Earth Traveler plans to offer an optional kitchen unit
The front and rear Earth Traveler roof panels open like large falcon wings to expand space
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The front and rear Earth Traveler roof panels open like large falcon wings to expand space
When closed, the Earth Traveler measures 5 x 5 x 11 ft (1.5 x 1.5 x 3.4 m), expanding to 11 x 7 x 11 ft (3.4 x 2.1 x 3.4 m) when opened at camp
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When closed, the Earth Traveler measures 5 x 5 x 11 ft (1.5 x 1.5 x 3.4 m), expanding to 11 x 7 x 11 ft (3.4 x 2.1 x 3.4 m) when opened at camp
With its large upswinging roof panels and side doors, the Earth Traveler won't have any problems with ventilation
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With its large upswinging roof panels and side doors, the Earth Traveler won't have any problems with ventilation
Building the Earth Traveler prototype
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Building the Earth Traveler prototype
Earth Traveler owners will be able to fill out their cabins with optional equipment or leave them empty for hauling gear
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Earth Traveler owners will be able to fill out their cabins with optional equipment or leave them empty for hauling gear
Earth Traveler prototype
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Earth Traveler prototype
The Earth Traveler prototype is a rougher construction of wood and fiberglass, but the company plans to move on to more advanced materials for its production models
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The Earth Traveler prototype is a rougher construction of wood and fiberglass, but the company plans to move on to more advanced materials for its production models
The Fiat 500 that inspired the project
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The Fiat 500 that inspired the project
A peek inside the Earth Traveler prototype
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A peek inside the Earth Traveler prototype

New Mexico-based startup Earth Traveler is developing a very different style of teardrop trailer, a skeletal archway built of lightweight composite meant to put minimal strain on your engine and wallet. And while the range-topper will be made from carbon fiber, the more interesting version will use a composite concocted from chicken feathers, a material that's literally featherlight. At camp, full-length gull-wing panels will rise up like a phoenix, creating standing room and a spacious, breezy interior intimately connected to the surrounding outdoors.

The story behind the Earth Traveler trailer is a slightly more dramatic rendition of an oft-repeated tale of scrappy trailer-building ingenuity. After heading out for a relaxing family camping trip only to find himself battling unrelenting winds and collapsing tent fabric, founder Angel Irlanda knew it was time to upgrade to a more robust camping shelter. But having recently purchased a Fiat 500, towable options were basically non-existent for a car more likely to be towed than do the towing. Irlanda turned his attention away from buying a trailer and toward designing a more minicar-friendly breed of towable.

The idea was to sleep the whole family inside the trailer, so the traditional aluminum-skinned two-person teardrop was out. Instead, Irlanda tapped into his skills as an artist to reimagine the teardrop into a larger, more open space, constructing the first prototype out of simple, accessible materials like wood and fiberglass. Like so many other small trailer entrepreneurs, he was initially quite happy simply using it for his own camping trips, but the urging of friends and family impressed with his work inspired him to pursue a business.

Earth Traveler plans to build trailers out of both carbon fiber and feather-based composite
Earth Traveler plans to build trailers out of both carbon fiber and feather-based composite

With an artistic background ranging from sculpting to movie set painting, Irlanda was well-equipped for creating a unique teardrop but less equipped for navigating the unfamiliar waters of business development. After winning US$4,500 of local small business grant money last year, and getting some nice publicity to go along with it, Irlanda tried to build on the momentum and attract additional investment to build molds and start production. Unsuccessful at raising the investment money he needed, he turned his attention to earning the money on his own, working overtime on a movie set gig to buy the materials and equipment himself.

Irlanda is planning to launch two teardrop models. A full carbon fiber trailer will top the range, scaling in at an estimated 216 lb (98 kg) – an astonishingly low weight for a trailer sized for a family of four. But with a projected retail price of $30,975, and standard amenities no more luxurious than a pop-up roof over one's head and windows at his sides, the T250LX seems a niche product without much of a niche.

Earth Traveler teardrop with deployed front tent and side awning
Earth Traveler teardrop with deployed front tent and side awning

Earth Traveler's second trailer, the T300, will be the more affordable model with mass appeal, thanks to the most unlikely of solutions: chicken feathers. Feathers are quite famously lightweight, but according to Irlanda, the feather-based fabric he works with also offers strength close to that of carbon fiber when set in resin. And since farmers are eager to give the feathers away, the material is far cheaper than other composites, bringing the estimated retail price of this variant screaming down to $10,000.

Feather-based composite might sound like a late April Fool's joke, but there has been a lot of research into this type of material as an eco-friendly alternative. Irlanda is having the version he's using tested for strength, flexibility and insulation value at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He admits that the material does have some drawbacks, such as lack of uniform structural integrity, but he intends to use it only for non-structural components, where it will provide insulation and weather protection. The load-bearing structural elements will be made out of more traditional composite and Corecell.

Rather than designing his own chassis, Irlanda plans to purchase an existing chassis to plant the Earth Traveler body on, with aims of keeping weight of the feather-composite version around 298 lb (135 kg). The T300 looks to be a futuristic family camper for those driving smaller, more efficient vehicles, including electric cars.

The interior is super-simple, and Earth Traveler owners will likely add to the low curb weight by loading up with furniture and gear
The interior is super-simple, and Earth Traveler owners will likely add to the low curb weight by loading up with furniture and gear

Of course, part of keeping weight so low is creating a minimalist trailer with little more than open space inside. The cleanly arched roof is actually two dramatic, centrally hinged wing panels that open at the front and rear, expanding interior headroom and space. Design plans call for the production version to use expandable sides to create floor space for two single beds on the sides of a central double bed. Standard mosquito mesh will keep critters out, and an available front tent will provide fuller weather protection around a high-ceiling, standing-height space. Additional equipment, such as the available kitchen, will be optional.

One advantage of this empty-shell design is that the trailer will have plenty of space to haul toys and gear on the way to camp, functioning similarly to the SylvanSport Go. Irlanda intends to create an interior capable of carrying a small ATV, as well as smaller gear like bikes, fishing equipment, camping furniture, etc. Integrated underfloor storage will provide additional cargo capacity.

Earth Traveler owners will be able to fill out their cabins with optional equipment or leave them empty for hauling gear
Earth Traveler owners will be able to fill out their cabins with optional equipment or leave them empty for hauling gear

Irlanda still has some work to do to turn his artistic vision into a viable retail product, and we wouldn't be surprised if the design and specifications change from now to production. He tells us he has the materials for the first production-spec model and hopes to finish his mold and build the first trailer over the next few months, beginning regular sales sometime thereafter. He's also making tweaks and adjustments, including the addition of a roof spoiler to help increase downforce. After speaking with him over the phone, it's clear he has loads of interesting ideas and enthusiasm for the product, and we're looking forward to seeing how the finalized models shake out and evolve over time.

Source: Earth Traveler

7 comments
Fletcher
In the blue prints I see one side opens to make room for additional sleeping area, then the next blue print has both sides with big pullout tents on both sides, then the next image of the model has 1/2 the roof missing, then the next image has half the roof on in closed position, but the bottom half is missing. Not sure which design is what your selling. Also I know they said all the weight is being shaved by using feathers but correct me if I’m wrong but the windows and door in one of these pictures are made with carbon fiber matting (which is expensive) later images show them as painted white to cover that fact up. So how is this going to be sold for under $10K. Looks like smoke and mirrors to me.
MikeofLA
Main reason I (most?) want a camper/travel trailer is to have a sleeping area protected from the elements and a shower and toilet. This is a cargo trailer with a fancy tent attached to it. nucamp's TaB is an excellent, lightweight product that blows this out of the water.
TomLeeM
I think that is very interesting. It would be great if they do make it for $10,000.00 or less.
ljaques
Not TEN thou for a $1k trailer, THIRTY ONE thou. Pass. Cute little diamond, though.
nazza
Please read the article before commenting people. 1. There will be more than one model. 2. He specifically discounted conventional teardrops as too heavy for his small car and not large enough for his whole family to sleep in.
toyhouse
Cool product. The problem with most small trailers is they're usually too heavy for smaller cars - something this was designed for. Those with bathrooms etc., no matter how tiny, have to meet certain safety requirements and usually wind up far over the limit of many small cars. Even tent trailers are often too heavy. No company likes lawsuits. We've towed all manner of tiny trailers with various small cars and motorcycles over the decades, (including a gen 2 prius which did way better than expected),. I think it's a tricky segment to design for but it's do-able.The tow vehicle brakes/suspension and ability to be pushed around by weight out back, (especially in a cross-wind), are something to take seriously at this end of the scale. That's why I like seeing folks tackle this segment of the market. And there's certainly a market,...as long as the price matches that of the small car buyer. Too high,...and I'm not sure they'll sell. Chicken feather fabric - that's new to me. At first, it's sounded weird, but after giving it some thought, the feather structure impregnated with resin sounds interesting and as stated, a way to cut costs. Going to look that up.
jesper
Let's get some BS out of that article; that the Fiat 500 should only be towed and not towing. I suspect that the author is referring to the 1957 model - if not: get updated on the 2007 and later models ! Towing capacity is 800 Kg of braked trailer ! And from own experience: towing a Hymer/Eriba Touring Triton of 750 kg empty weight and very little load aboard; the 500 has no problem controlling the trailer ! I do however recomend the twinair 80 or 105 over the twinair 60 or any 1.2 4 cylinder model. They will lack power compared to the twinair turbo models. It's a smooth ride - and that package also attracks some attention ;o)