Outdoors

Small, simple Ello camping box turns compact cars into off-grid camper vans

Add a roof-top tent to a hatchback that can carry one, and you make a proper RV
Add a roof-top tent to a hatchback that can carry one, and you make a proper RV
View 20 Images
Ello's stackable compartments link up into a functional work space
1/20
Ello's stackable compartments link up into a functional work space
Add a roof-top tent to a hatchback that can carry one, and you make a proper RV
2/20
Add a roof-top tent to a hatchback that can carry one, and you make a proper RV
Ello uses compact Fox Heat Transfer cartridge stoves as a light, packable cooking solution
3/20
Ello uses compact Fox Heat Transfer cartridge stoves as a light, packable cooking solution
The Nissan Micra is one subcompact compatible with the ElloBox – see it peeking out of the window
4/20
The Nissan Micra is one subcompact compatible with the ElloBox – see it peeking out of the window
Preparing a meal at camp
5/20
Preparing a meal at camp
The Bluefin 24L fridge stores below the drawer/worktop, holding food and drink
6/20
The Bluefin 24L fridge stores below the drawer/worktop, holding food and drink
The solar panels set up outside to charge the onboard battery
7/20
The solar panels set up outside to charge the onboard battery
The ElloBox starts at €2,700
8/20
The ElloBox starts at €2,700
Each drawer holds specific cookware and tools
9/20
Each drawer holds specific cookware and tools
The rear of the ElloBox is dedicated to the electrical system
10/20
The rear of the ElloBox is dedicated to the electrical system
The battery powers a water pump for the sink sprayer
11/20
The battery powers a water pump for the sink sprayer
The 16L water canister tucks neatly away
12/20
The 16L water canister tucks neatly away
Elle founder Pascal Schalapski gets set up
13/20
Elle founder Pascal Schalapski gets set up
The ElloBox seeks to find a balance between the preparedness and organization of a full-time camper vehicle and the simplicity and affordability of car camping
14/20
The ElloBox seeks to find a balance between the preparedness and organization of a full-time camper vehicle and the simplicity and affordability of car camping
Inside the ElleBox storage compartments
15/20
Inside the ElleBox storage compartments
Time for dishes
16/20
Time for dishes
A look inside the fridge
17/20
A look inside the fridge
The top-tier ElloBox comes with four USB ports and a 12V outlet
18/20
The top-tier ElloBox comes with four USB ports and a 12V outlet
Elle includes five spice canisters
19/20
Elle includes five spice canisters
The top ElloBox offers solar-charged battery power and an inverter
20/20
The top ElloBox offers solar-charged battery power and an inverter

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.

The solar panels set up outside to charge the onboard battery
The solar panels set up outside to charge the onboard battery

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.

Ello uses compact Fox Heat Transfer cartridge stoves as a light, packable cooking solution
Ello uses compact Fox Heat Transfer cartridge stoves as a light, packable cooking solution

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 ElloBox seeks to find a balance between the preparedness and organization of a full-time camper vehicle and the simplicity and affordability of car camping
The ElloBox seeks to find a balance between the preparedness and organization of a full-time camper vehicle and the simplicity and affordability of car camping

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.

Time for dishes
Time for dishes

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.

Verwandle dein Auto in einen autarken Camper mit der ElloBox

Source: Ello Camping

1 comment
TomLeeM
I think that is cool but pricey. I think the price seems a little high for what one is getting. It does have a some cool features. I think it could possible - perhaps a tight squeeze - fit into my my tiny car. It reminds me of the My Camp Kitchen. I think that the My Camp Kitchen is a little more affordable since it is also simpler. I think making it yourself also helps keep the price down. I wonder if one could use it in a small cargo trailer? or utility box on a small trailer?