Automotive

Multifunctional $37K Free Bird camper van bridges van life with work life

The Campbell brothers hope the Free Bird camper van becomes a camping icon for a new generation
The Campbell brothers hope the Free Bird camper van becomes a camping icon for a new generation
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With a couple of camper boxes as the base and four individual cushions on top, the Free Bird interior turns into a full-size bed
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With a couple of camper boxes as the base and four individual cushions on top, the Free Bird interior turns into a full-size bed
The cushions also create dual benches around the convertible dining table
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The cushions also create dual benches around the convertible dining table
A 12V outlet and dual USBs just inside the double rear doors provide for device charging
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A 12V outlet and dual USBs just inside the double rear doors provide for device charging
A peek inside at the Free Bird's dining area
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A peek inside at the Free Bird's dining area
The Nissan NV200-based Free Bird is a compact, affordable camper van for couples
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The Nissan NV200-based Free Bird is a compact, affordable camper van for couples
The Campbell brothers hope the Free Bird camper van becomes a camping icon for a new generation
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The Campbell brothers hope the Free Bird camper van becomes a camping icon for a new generation
The interior offers limited headroom, so Caravan Outfitter puts a slide-out kitchen out the rear doors
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The interior offers limited headroom, so Caravan Outfitter puts a slide-out kitchen out the rear doors
The kitchen installs and removes as a single box, helping make it easy to convert the Free Bird from camper van to cargo van and vice versa
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The kitchen installs and removes as a single box, helping make it easy to convert the Free Bird from camper van to cargo van and vice versa
Caravan Outfitter offers the cross bars and roof box as options
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Caravan Outfitter offers the cross bars and roof box as options
Morning views like this are why people are rushing to live in vans
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Morning views like this are why people are rushing to live in vans
The Free Bird includes some simple roll-down window covers
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The Free Bird includes some simple roll-down window covers
Caravan Outfitter is offering 2019 Free Bird pre-orders now
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Caravan Outfitter is offering 2019 Free Bird pre-orders now
The wraparound Batwing awning is an option
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The wraparound Batwing awning is an option
At just over $37K to start, the Free Bird is an affordable entry into van life
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At just over $37K to start, the Free Bird is an affordable entry into van life
On the road in the Caravan Outfitter Free Bird 
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On the road in the Caravan Outfitter Free Bird 
The Free Bird uses a "Slide and Glide" camping furniture installation system offering five-minute transformation between camping and cargo formats
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The Free Bird uses a "Slide and Glide" camping furniture installation system offering five-minute transformation between camping and cargo formats
Out and about in the Free Bird camper van
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Out and about in the Free Bird camper van
Caravan Outfitter Free Bird camper van
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Caravan Outfitter Free Bird camper van
The compact kitchen includes a single-burner stove, small fridge and storage
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The compact kitchen includes a single-burner stove, small fridge and storage
Enjoying the views in the Free Bird camper van
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Enjoying the views in the Free Bird camper van
The Batwing awning offers plenty of shade and shelter, and available side walls create an add-on tent
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The Batwing awning offers plenty of shade and shelter, and available side walls create an add-on tent
The Free Bird tours the Oregon Coast
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The Free Bird tours the Oregon Coast
The compact Free Bird camper van looks even smaller next to the redwoods
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The compact Free Bird camper van looks even smaller next to the redwoods
At camp with the Free Bird camper van
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At camp with the Free Bird camper van

Find an affordable, multifunctional and downright awesome new camper van model and chances are pretty good it's only available in Europe. It can be kind of frustrating to those of us in the US. But with a big push from #vanlife, we're starting to see more of these types of multipurpose, semi-affordable camper vans on the west side of the Atlantic. The latest to roll through our consciousness, the Free Bird from Caravan Outfitter, turns the 186-in (4.7-m) Nissan NV200 cargo van into a fully equipped camper and back again with a smart slide-rail system.

After touring the floor of the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon last month, this American got pretty jealous of Europe's selection of affordable multi-use camper vans. It seemed the show was absolutely packed with smartly packaged camper vans priced somewhere between €30,000 and €50,000 (US$35,000 to $58,500), many of which double as everyday drivers thanks to floor rail mounting hardware and other innovative transformation solutions. While multifunctional camper vans, like the ModVans CV1 and imported-from-Europe TerraCamper Mercedes, have been gaining some momentum in the US, they're often priced at $60K+.

The Free Bird from Washington's Caravan Outfitter is the type of camper van the US needs more of to slowly level the playing field in the game of smart, multipurpose camper vans. Its story starts as many American camper van stories do ... with the ages-old melancholy resulting from Volkswagen's abandonment of the US van market. Brothers Kurt and Craig Campbell were hit particularly hard by that development because selling VW camper vans was a big part of their Pacific Northwest Volkswagen dealership business.

For years, the Campbell brothers looked back fondly on the era of VW campers, but eventually they decided to move on and do something about the loss. In 2015, they determined to create a new-generation camper van with the same kind of seamless functionality, fun look and manageable price range as the original VWs.

Being that they had a Nissan dealership, the Campbells decided to base that camper van on the NV200. They formed Caravan Outfitter as a new business venture, hired a team and got to work turning the compact NV into a properly tiny and efficient multi-day adventure vehicle.

At just over $37K to start, the Free Bird is an affordable entry into van life
At just over $37K to start, the Free Bird is an affordable entry into van life

Keeping things small and simple, Caravan Outfitter didn't attempt to recreate the pop-top design central to many of the VW and Westfalia camper vans of yesteryear and today (actually they did on an initial prototype but decided to scrap it before production). Instead, they maintain the hard roof and let campers sit or lie down inside. The company says the seating is designed to comfortably accommodate people up to 6 feet 2 in (1.88 m) tall.

Cooking inside would be a bit claustrophobic without the headroom afforded by a pop-up roof, so the Free Bird does its cooking outside, through the rear double doors. A slide-out, single-burner butane stove and 29-L fridge combine with a pair of drawers to create a functional outdoor kitchen. The stove can be removed and used elsewhere, and the slide-out below it can be used as a worktop.

The compact kitchen includes a single-burner stove, small fridge and storage
The compact kitchen includes a single-burner stove, small fridge and storage

The optional Batwing awning provides some rooftop over that kitchen as it swings its way around the back and side of the van to provide wraparound shade. Available add-on sidewalls create an exterior tent.

In the main cabin, Caravan Outfitter relies on a proprietary "Slide and Glide" floor to quickly transform the NV200 from empty cargo van to cozy camper van and back again in about five minutes a go. The rear camp kitchen box works with the auxiliary battery/storage box just behind the driver cab seats to provide the support structure of the interior.

During the day, each box holds two mattress cushions to create the cushioned benches that sit opposite each other across the dining table. The seat-back cushions are supported by each box's swing-back frame, which folds away in bed mode.

With a couple of camper boxes as the base and four individual cushions on top, the Free Bird interior turns into a full-size bed
With a couple of camper boxes as the base and four individual cushions on top, the Free Bird interior turns into a full-size bed

When night falls, the table legs remove, and the tabletop drops down to join the benches together and create a mattress platform, allowing the four individual mattress cushions to form a 76-in (193-cm)-long full-size bed. A series of straps secures those cushions together and in place atop the platform. The fold-up passenger seat up front even works as a nightstand.

The Free Bird features a variety of other handy features, including LED interior lights, screen-vented windows, roll-up window curtains, dual USB charging ports, a 12V outlet and a roof-mounted vent. A battery isolation module ensures that the auxiliary AGM battery and primary vehicle battery are completely separate, so you'll always be able to turn the ignition and get going in the morning. A Battery Tender under the hood lets you keep power topped off at the campground or at home.

As you can see, the Nissan NV200 is a two-sleeper and two-seater, without any rear seats during driving. Caravan Outfitter explains that it doesn't offer a rear-seat option because the American-spec NV200 cargo van is not safety-tested for rear occupants. So while the Free Bird does offer camper and cargo configurations, it doesn't convert into a people-mover.

Caravan Outfitter says that its conversion kit adds 525 lb (238 kg) to the weight of the vehicle, bringing the total van weight to 3,720 lb (1,687 kg). The company doesn't expect the van to deviate too much from its EPA-estimated 25 mpg.

The Batwing awning offers plenty of shade and shelter, and available side walls create an add-on tent
The Batwing awning offers plenty of shade and shelter, and available side walls create an add-on tent

Caravan Outfitter began production late last year and is now preparing to get 2019 Free Birds rolling out of the factory. The 2019 model is available for pre-order now, and standard van features include a 131-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder, backup cameras, heated side-view mirrors, cruise control and remote keyless entry. Pricing starts at $37,165, but Caravan Outfitter is offering an early bird special of $1,000 off during the month of September, bringing that base price down to $36,165.

Available van and camper options include a sonar bumper warning system, Thule crossbars, the Batwing awning, a Yakima roof box and a 2-in tow hitch receiver. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in December of this year.

Caravan Outfitter has several short Free Bird videos on its YouTube page, walking through various features and set-up procedures. The overview video below does a very nice job summarizing the overall layout and key features in about 3.5 minutes.

NV200 Overview

Source: Caravan Outfitter

6 comments
jesterly
"As you can see, the Nissan NV200 is a two-sleeper and two-seater." -- I suspect this will be a deal breaker for many. Camping usually involves the entire family, and most families have at least one kid in them.
ljaques
Perfect for SINKs, DINKs, and us single folks, ah reckon. Now when will the Outfitters make one for the Ford Transit? (Who wants a Nissan?) Sooo, is that a real fridge (w/ compressor) or a wannabe fridge? No terlit?
bergamot69
If the Nissan NV200 isn't safety tested for rear passengers, how is it that the city of New York is using it as the basis for it's yellow cabs? And Reimo make universal-fit elevating roofs (not suitable for sleeping in but offer standing room) which could be fitted to this van using their proprietary kit. Perhaps this is why the US lags behind the Europeans (and the Japanese) when it comes to simple panel van conversions... This convertor should have done it's homework.
MartinVoelker
If this would also be available as an EV I'd be even more thrilled. New Atlas featured such an option in July: https://newatlas.com/nissan-nv-electric-camper-van/54957/
nick101
Why not buy the van and do your own conversion and save a whack of cash?
C.C. Weiss
@bergamot69 - the Nissan NV200 taxi is an enhanced, purpose-designed version of the NV200, with separate safety features from the cargo van https://www.nissanusa.com/vehicles/commercial/2017-nyc-taxi.html In Europe, Nissan offers an NV200 passenger van that it does not sell in the US. https://www.nissan.co.uk/vehicles/new-vehicles/nv200-combi.html The NV Passenger available in the US is based on the larger NV 3500
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