RiverLeaf kits rework American minivans into affordable mini-campers
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.
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 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.
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.