Outdoors

RiverLeaf kits rework American minivans into affordable mini-campers

RiverLeaf kits rework American...
RiverLeaf Arches in cook/dine lounge mode
RiverLeaf Arches in cook/dine lounge mode
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The removable indoor/outdoor tabletop is also the last piece of the sleeping platform puzzle
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The removable indoor/outdoor tabletop is also the last piece of the sleeping platform puzzle
The RiverLeaf Arches kits have a simple two-drawer kitchen with single-burner camping stove and collapsible sink basin, good for use with a disposable or reusable water canister with spout
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The RiverLeaf Arches kits have a simple two-drawer kitchen with single-burner camping stove and collapsible sink basin, good for use with a disposable or reusable water canister with spout
The Grand Tetons kit steps the kitchen space up with a cooler slide, more work space and more drawers, but by doing so, it loses the
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The Grand Tetons kit steps the kitchen space up with a cooler slide, more work space and more drawers, but by doing so, it loses the interior space for a dining lounge
Like the Arches, the Grand Teton is designed to work with minivans and small commercial van platforms like the Ford Transit Connect
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Like the Arches, the Grand Teton is designed to work with minivans and small commercial van platforms like the Ford Transit Connect
Grand Teton kit packed up and ready to head to the next campsite
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Grand Tetons kit packed up and ready to head to the next campsite
RiverLeaf Arches in cook/dine lounge mode
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RiverLeaf Arches in cook/dine lounge mode
Preparing the fold-out bed for the night
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Preparing the fold-out bed for the night
The Grand Teton is heavier than the Arches, weighing in at 165 lb, including the cushions
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The Grand Teton is heavier than the Arches, weighing in at 165 lb, including the cushions
RiverLeaf Arches looking for its minivan
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RiverLeaf Arches looking for its minivan
Arches (left front) and Grand Teton kits packed up and ready to make a pair of mini-campers
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Arches (left front) and Grand Teton kits packed up and ready to make a pair of mini-campers
Early bedtime with the RiverLeaf Grand Teton kit
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Early bedtime with the RiverLeaf Grand Teton kit
RiverLeaf looks to offer a simple, versatile, affordable small camper alternative
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RiverLeaf looks to offer a simple, versatile, affordable small camper alternative
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With RVs soaring sky-high in popularity and supply chains suffering under never-before-seen circumstances, buying an RV will likely continue to be difficult and expensive in 2022. But Kansas-based startup RiverLeaf is ready to save you headaches and money. Its affordable, easy-to-install kits transform minivans like the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica into mini-camper vans with interior dining and sleeping, and outdoor kitchen space.

Like much of the world, RiverLeaf founder Kim Michael Sanchez found himself out of work following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. After growing restless watching daytime television and feeling unproductive, Sanchez pulled himself up by the bootstraps and got to work on a project and business he'd had knocking around in his head.

Having recently learned carpentry and CNC skills through local fabrication classes, Sanchez put together a series of camper-in-a-box kits designed to create affordable, flexible mini-camper vans. The kits were a polished version of a personal DIY in-van camper kit he'd created years earlier to alleviate his family's anxiety about the exposure to wild, unpredictable animals that goes along with tent camping.

At first, Sanchez worried that the ongoing pandemic might make it a very difficult time to launch an RV product, with people out of work and struggling to make ends meet, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Travelers of all kinds were turning to RVs as a means of safe, comfortable travel, making RVs so popular they were becoming too expensive and hard to locate for many potential RVers. RiverLeaf had a simple, affordable alternative, perfect for new RVers, and launched its first kits in late 2020. It has been slowly expanding its lineup ever since.

RiverLeaf's bestselling Arches kit reminds us of the Campal ForTwo we looked at a few years back, albeit designed in the US for American-market vans. It's mostly the curvy dining table that brings the Campal to mind, but the basic layout of the kit is also similar, albeit with a few organizational differences in the kitchen.

Arches (left front) and Grand Teton kits packed up and ready to make a pair of mini-campers
Arches (left front) and Grand Teton kits packed up and ready to make a pair of mini-campers

The Arches packs as a two-drawer box that lifts into the back of the van and secures to load floor tie-down points with an included strap. At 135 lb (61 kg) and 46 inches (117 cm) wide, lifting it is a job easiest for a couple of people. Because there's no vehicle modification, RiverLeaf's hardware removes as easily as it goes in, allowing owners to convert their camper right back to a Monday-Friday MPV, a nice solution for those new to RVing who want to dip their feet in without spending money on a full-time RV that might sit in the driveway for much of the year.

The multi-positional Arches kit features fold-out hardware that creates a pair of rear-facing lounge seats, a front-facing sofa, or a rear dining lounge with U-shaped bench. The removable table can be used in the front, rear or outdoors, and the tabletop fills in the empty space between the rear benches to complete the 48 x 72-in (122 x 183-cm) bed. Size-matched cushions ensure comfortable sitting and sleeping.

The RiverLeaf Arches kits have a simple two-drawer kitchen with single-burner camping stove and collapsible sink basin, good for use with a disposable or reusable water canister with spout
The RiverLeaf Arches kits have a simple two-drawer kitchen with single-burner camping stove and collapsible sink basin, good for use with a disposable or reusable water canister with spout

The tailgate kitchen area opens up via the left and right drawers that store below the rear benches. The driver-side drawer has a collapsible sink basin, while the passenger side has a single-burner portable gas stove with windscreen. Campers will likely fill out the space between those two bench drawers by packing a cooler and water jug.

RiverLeaf offers three slightly different Arches packages, each for the same US$2,225 base price. The original Arches A1 features a taller drawer design with more storage space but limits interior sitting headroom to those roughly 5 foot 5 in (1.6 m) or shorter. The A3 version cuts down drawer height by 2 inches (5 cm) to increase headroom, a revision RiverLeaf made upon customer request and now offers as a standalone kit. The A1 and A3 kits are available for a wide variety of minivans and small commercial vans, including the Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Town & Country and Pacifica, Ford Transit Connect, Dodge Caravan, and Nissan NV200.

The A2 is an Arches revision designed for the Honda Odyssey and other vans with a load floor sunk below the lower edge of the tailgate frame. It raises the drawer height so that the kitchen can be pulled out over top the frame lip. RiverLeaf suggests calling to verify that you have the right kit for your van, as well as to discuss whether the van make/model will require removing the rear seats for installation.

Early bedtime with the RiverLeaf Grand Teton kit
Early bedtime with the RiverLeaf Grand Teton kit

RiverLeaf also offers the larger Grand Teton kit, which eliminates the rear dining lounge in favor of a taller three-slide outdoor kitchen layout with a center fridge box/cooler slide. Designed for the same selection of minivans, the Grand Teton starts at $2,298 without the mattress or $2,595 with the mattress.

A Badlands variant currently under development will be compatible with SUVs, for more of an all-terrain mini-camper experience. We'll take a look at that version once it's ready to go.

The 1.5-minute video below shows how the Arches kit folds out and sets up.

Minivan into camper in minutes (Camper Conversion Kit)

Source: RiverLeaf

View gallery - 12 images
3 comments
3 comments
BlueOak
Cool. But those curves, both on the drawer fronts and top surfaces appear to be “form over function” and interfere with smooth obstruction-free operation. Not acceptable in a multi-thousand dollar product. And you’ll note they only show kids sitting in that dinette - because minivans do not have the clearance for an adult to sit that way. Using all the area below the raised deck for drawers and dispensing with the table would make more sense for most use cases.
Username
I find the video makes a strong case against buying the product!
Nobody
Just putting a thick air mattress and a couple sleeping bags in the van with the seats folded down would be more comfortable. But having camped in a van, I can tell you it is miserable most of the year. In colder weather the windows fog up and everything feels damp just from your breath. In hotter weather the bugs will eat you alive without any screens if you open the windows for ventilation. I would also recommend a hard luggage carrier for the top of the van for all your essentials and a few chairs. A large tent is less confining than the van and allows more room for a family. I've tried about every type of camping and inside a passenger vehicle is the worst. Except for the time at Yellowstone when there was a severe hail storm and the tent was flooded. Then and only then, inside the vehicle was better.