Modular micro-camper builds from basic sleeper to beastly adventurer
Born in the heart of American road trip country, Zion Off-Road has developed a more modular breed of camping trailer, a compact squaredrop framed out by T-track. Instead of coming fully equipped like many a modern camping trailer, it can be ordered bone stock and accessorized up from basic towable sleeping pod to expedition-ready backcountry retreat. And the buyer doesn't have to do it all at once, adding accessories over time as one might do with a DIY build — start with the basics and add those necessities and comforts that are sorely missed after spending some time beyond civilization's limits.
Five or 10 years ago, it was fairly common to see entry-level off-road-ready teardrop and squaredrop camping trailers with base prices in the US$10,000 to $15,000 range, a few even dipping well under $10K. Nowadays, it seems many of those trailers have been axed completely or specced/priced up to double or more than what they once were. Those stickers might still look cheap compared to a $200,000 all-terrain camper van or $300,000 expedition truck, but they've started to put a crimp on the concept of a simple, affordable road vacation.
Based in St. George, Utah, Zion Off-Road looks to turn the calendar back a few years. Its eponymous trailer still tops $20K when fully equipped, but it starts out at a much more affordable $12,500. That only gets you the basics, but Zion does a nice job of creating a solid, ready-to-camp foundation that keeps price and weight down as much as possible while offering plenty of possibilities for future upgrades.
The 12.9-foot (3.9-m) Zion trailer has an aluminum-skinned birch plywood body atop a laser-cut steel frame. The floor, roof and front wall are insulated with 1.5-in (3.8-cm) foam. The trailer's solid 3,500-lb (1,587-kg) axle is suspended by leaf springs and capped by 27-in tires mounted on six-lug wheels, all of which combine for 12 inches (30 cm) of ground clearance. The 2-in hitch receiver in back is ready for gear racks.
Zion equips its base model with some equipment you don't always find on a base trailer, starting with the dual entry doors that give each camper a dedicated way of getting in and out without crawling over each other. It also wires the trailer up with electrical hardware, including LED ceiling lights, side and rear outside lights, electrical sockets, solar and inverter hookups, and a shore power inlet. It does not include a battery, so power comes from either a campground hookup or the tow vehicle battery. Finally, it adds in a ceiling fan and rear driving indicator lights.
From there, Zion takes advantage of its integrated T-track and pre-cut frame bolt holes to offer a full lineup of plug-and-play accessories that can be added at the time of the initial build or later down the line.
Those looking to cut reliance on the grid and tow-vehicle battery will want to add the electrical box, either on its own or as part of a greater upgrade package. Mounted in the tailgate cargo area, the optional box brings a 1,000-W inverter, dual-battery solar charger, extra switches and outlets, fuses, and space for one or two Group 31 batteries.
On the trailer exterior, Zion puts an emphasis on mounting hardware, allowing owners to easily carry additional accessories, gear and cargo. Its Front Accessory System is particularly capable, offering a shelf-like storage platform with four planes of cargo carry loaded with pre-cut holes and two mounting plates. The frontmost area is designed to carry a spare tire, recovery boards or other cargo; the sides are designed with propane tanks and jacks in mind; and the top accommodates a weatherproof cargo box quite nicely.
For additional carry, Zion also offers up to four rooftop crossbars, a Side Accessory System, and gear-specific mounts for items like jacks, Maxtrax boards and Rotopax containers. Available off-road step-on fenders open space for larger, more rugged tires up to 33 inches and can hold up to 200 lb (91 kg) on their own or up to 350 lb (159 kg) when paired with the lower frame-mounted front and rear steps. The axle and leaf springs can be swapped for a Timbren independent suspension.
In addition to standalone upgrades, Zion offers four upgrade packages. The highest-tier package brings something of a kitchen sink (without a kitchen sink), including the electrical box, four cross bars, both front and side storage systems, Timbren suspension, off-road fenders with front and rear steps, 31.5-in BFG KO2 off-road tires, a mounted spare tire, a tailgate slide sized for a 45-L cooler, a side ladder for easier roof access, and a tri-fold memory foam mattress. That full trailer costs $20,942, a price Zion calculates as over $1,000 less than adding all the components separately.
One aspect on which Zion falls a little short, in our opinion, is kitchen offerings. For $21,000, we'd expect a hard-plumbed water tank and a sink, ideally with electric pump — or at least a simple, modular solution like the Dometic HYD. Something. We'd certainly give up some of the cargo storage solutions for a hard-mounted tank with decent volume. A stove, even just an inexpensive portable camping stove for use on the counter, would be a nice option, too.
We suppose another advantage of such a modular design is that Zion can easily add to its options ecosystem, especially if it gets multiple requests for certain features. So perhaps a water tank, sink and stove will be available down the line. In the meantime, owners will just have to pack their own water and cooking gear via one of the trailer's multiple storage options.
Source: Zion Off-Road
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