Small, simple Ello camping box turns compact cars into off-grid camper vans
Over the years, we've seen many variations of the in-vehicle camper box from around Europe. From Switzerland's 3D puzzle-like transformer, to France's multi-piece pack-up caravan, and from Germany's pickup bed Oktoberfest party, to Great Britain's mini-campervan in a box. And who can forget the hitch-able porta-potty? Now we have another design from Germany, the unofficial leader of the space. The ElloBox is one of the slimmest camper box systems we've seen, but it still packs its own solar-fed power system, pressurized water supply, electric refrigeration and gas cooking, giving small cars the food-prep power of a full-blown RV.
Prior to founding Ello Camping, Pascal Schalapski was just a lifelong camper who found himself hopelessly trapped in the middle ground between van camping and car camping. After realizing all the money and upkeep going into his VW Bulli camper van was only translating into about a month and a half of camping fun each year, he sold the van and switched over to simpler car camping – i.e. packing up a tent, cooler and other necessary gear in his everyday driver and setting out for the wilderness.
While car camping was definitely cheaper and came with less year-round hassle, Schalapski missed some of the conveniences of van camping, particularly having important gear stocked and ready to go and having a dedicated power supply at camp. So he set about stocking a checklist of his "must haves" into a plug-and-play camper box compact enough to fit in back of a variety of vehicles.
Following his goal of establishing a better middle ground in which to dwell, Schalapski has managed to create one of the more compact camper-in-a-box systems out there while also giving it capabilities that many competitors lack. Unlike other systems that only work with vans and/or take up the entire width of the trunk, the ElloBox works in small vehicles right down to subcompacts and only takes up part of the trunk width. And it combines common features, like dual-burner cooking and water storage, with the less common feature of a solar-charged battery system for powering the water pump, compressor fridge box and other equipment.
Ello manages this feat of tiny design by relying on some simple, light solutions. Instead of an inbuilt slide-out stove or portable dual-burner camping stove, Ello goes lighter with a pair of foldable gas cartridge stoves, each of which pulls 3,200 watts (10,900 BTU) of cooking power out of 320 g (11.2 oz) of stove weight. That's not quite ultralight backpacking stove territory, but at well under a kilogram (2.2 lb) for the pair, this solution is definitely lighter than the usual dual-burner stove. Perhaps more importantly, it's also much more collapsible, the burners folding down and sliding into the main storage drawer with the gas cartridges and cookware.
The main storage drawer at the bottom of the three-piece upper stack is the only one of the three that's actually a drawer. The other two storage compartments remove and mount on the edges of the drawer, one carrying utensils and the other carrying the collapsible sink and spice canisters. The worktop lays atop the front, providing space for food prep and for standing the burners for cooking.
Below the upper compartment stack, a 24-L Bluefin compressor fridge keeps food and drinks cold. To the viewer's right, the tall, slim water canister keeps 16 L of fresh water at the ready, feeding the sprayer with help from an electric water pump. Put the food and burners away, pop the collapsible sink up, put it on the worktop, and it's a functional, little dish-washing station.
The rear compartments of the ElloBox house the 90-Ah Victron Energy deep-cycle gel battery, inverter, wiring and other electrical hardware. The battery supplies power directly to the fridge, water pump, and 12V and USB ports for external connection and charging, while the inverter adds 230V AC power for plugging in laptops, TVs and other equipment. A standalone light for after-dark cooking draws power from its own rechargeable battery.
Ello supplies three different ways of charging the gel battery, starting with a folding 120-W solar panel kit that sets up outside. The 5-m (16-ft) cable provides flexibility in positioning and adjusting the panels, while the battery also plugs into the vehicle's cigarette lighter/12V outlet and charges off the running engine. Finally, a shore power connection provides for on-grid charging.
One other reason the ElloBox is slimmer than other camper-in-a-box systems is that it lacks a fold-out bed or other sleeping accommodations. To turn the vehicle into a full-functioning camper, owners will need to mount a roof-top tent up top or find another way of camping in or on the vehicle. Or they could save money by packing a ground tent, hammock or other solution and using the Ello-equipped vehicle solely for cooking, at-camp electricity and water/washing.
The ElloBox is compact at 51 x 67 x 71 cm (20 x 26 x 28 in), but because of heavy components like the battery and fridge, it's not exactly lightweight, scaling in at 89 kg (196 lb). It does, however, break down into components to make it lighter to hoist into the vehicle. The heaviest component is the battery at 26 kg (57 lb), so a single person could install it one piece at a time.
The ElloBox detailed above is the flagship model and retails for €3,265 (approx. US$3,675). Those willing to scale back on components like the solar charging or inverter can find lower-level models priced down to €2,700 (US$3,050). The box is designed for vehicles with hatchbacks, ranging from crossovers to subcompact cars. Ello's list of compatible cars/model years includes the BMW X1, Citroën C3 Aircross, Honda CR-V and Nissan Micra.
Ello also rents units from its Oberhausen headquarters, offering the ElloBox for €140 (US$160) per week or a package with the box and two-person roof-top tent for €340 (US$385) per week. The company is working on an upsized ElloBox XL for station wagons.
You can experience Ello-style car camping in the video below.
Source: Ello Camping