Automotive

Next Gen off-grid camper van drops weight with ultralight cots and components

Next Gen off-grid camper van d...
A look inside the Outside Van Next Gen camper van
A look inside the Outside Van Next Gen camper van
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Outside Van puts the Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 170 Extended's  long roof to use, adding on a trio of solar panels, an air conditioner and a custom cargo system
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Outside Van puts the Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 170 Extended's  long roof to use, adding on a trio of solar panels, an air conditioner and a custom cargo system
The roof basket includes a set of fork mounts for easily carrying bikes
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The roof basket includes a set of fork mounts for easily carrying bikes
Sliding screen door 
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Sliding screen door 
A peek inside Outside Van's experimental Next Gen Sprinter
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A peek inside Outside Van's experimental Next Gen Sprinter
A custom overhead rack for carrying clothes or other soft goods
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A custom overhead rack for carrying clothes or other soft goods
Marine-grade vinyl flooring
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Marine-grade vinyl flooring
Tern Arctic Windows are among the components Outside Van is testing ahead of possibly offering them on its customer vans
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Tern Arctic Windows are among the components Outside Van is testing ahead of possibly offering them on its customer vans
One of the highlights of this build is the modular double-cot system in back, designed to save space and weight over a bed
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One of the highlights of this build is the modular double-cot system in back, designed to save space and weight over a bed
The sofa fills out the living/lounging area and covers the power system
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The sofa fills out the living/lounging area and covers the power system
The compact central shower room conceals the entire water system behind it, helping to keep weight centered 
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The compact central shower room conceals the entire water system behind it, helping to keep weight centered 
Outside Van ties the look together with Katzkin leather and Sunbrella fabric seating
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Outside Van ties the look together with Katzkin leather and Sunbrella fabric seating
Overhead shelving
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Overhead shelving
Two captain's chairs provide drive seating for four
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Two captain's chairs provide drive seating for four
The retractable soft wall splits the Next Gen into driver cab and living areas, helping to keep the living space cooler (or warmer)
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The retractable soft wall splits the Next Gen into driver cab and living areas, helping to keep the living space cooler (or warmer)
The roll down curtain appears to seal more neatly than the usual hanging shower curtain
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The roll down curtain appears to seal more neatly than the usual hanging shower curtain
The Vitrifrigo fridge/freezer looks as fit for a superyacht as a lightweight camper van
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The Vitrifrigo fridge/freezer looks as fit for a superyacht as a lightweight camper van
The stylish kitchen combines lightweight structural components with more features than average
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The stylish kitchen combines lightweight structural components with more features than average
The mounted Vitamix blender definitely separates the Next Gen kitchen from the typical camper kitchen block, providing a great way of starting the morning with a fresh smoothie
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The mounted Vitamix blender definitely separates the Next Gen kitchen from the typical camper kitchen block, providing a great way of starting the morning with a fresh smoothie
A look inside the Outside Van Next Gen camper van
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A look inside the Outside Van Next Gen camper van
Outside already offers flip-away bunk beds, but the prototype cots do away with the solid platform and mattress combo in favor of a tubular aluminum frame and fabric body
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Outside already offers flip-away bunk beds, but the prototype cots do away with the solid platform and mattress combo in favor of a tubular aluminum frame and fabric body
The Sunbrella fabric combines with ripstop for a strong, colorful sleeping surface
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The Sunbrella fabric combines with ripstop for a strong, colorful sleeping surface
The cots easily adjust, fold and remove, adding versatility to the van
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The cots easily adjust, fold and remove, adding versatility to the van
Outside plans to test the various components and features of the Next Gen and possibly offer them as customer options in the future
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Outside plans to test the various components and features of the Next Gen and possibly offer them as customer options in the future
Outside Van's Next Gen is a test bed for different design strategies and components
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Outside Van's Next Gen is a test bed for different design strategies and components
Outside Van builds a rear ladder out of tubular aluminum for easier roof rack access
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Outside Van builds a rear ladder out of tubular aluminum for easier roof rack access

A leading name in custom camper vans, Outside Van developed one of its latest customs with a different purpose in mind. The Next Gen van is an experimental prototype designed to optimize and centralize weight, using new strategies and experimental components. It doesn't skimp on features, though, keeping the lights and A/C on with a beefy 720Ah lithium battery pack wired to roof-mounted solar. If the van's design works out, it paves the way for a new generation of lighter, better-handling and more fuel-efficient camper vans.

It's called the Next Gen, but the camper van is based on a last-gen Mercedes Sprinter, a 2018 Sprinter 4x4 170 Extended. When working with a huge, capacious 290-in (736-in) van, it's easy to fall into the mindset of piling heavy components in the empty rear cargo area. With this build, Outside broke that mindset to focus on keeping weight better balanced between the axles.

It started by building the entire water system behind the aluminum shower compartment. This puts the weight of the vertically mounted 114L water tank, water heater, pump and water lines directly in the center of the van while also freeing up floor space that might otherwise be eaten up by the plumbing components. A single access panel removes to reveal the entire water system, streamlining maintenance and repair.

The compact central shower room conceals the entire water system behind it, helping to keep weight centered 
The compact central shower room conceals the entire water system behind it, helping to keep weight centered 

The shower room itself uses a simplified, three-panel construction meant to eliminate seams for strength and durability. A custom roll-down shower curtain zips into place to prevent leaking and dripping on the cabin floor.

An even more conspicuous part of the weight-savings program are the dual bunks clinging to the driver-side wall. Outside ditched the bed completely in favor of a pair of custom-designed cots built from aluminum tubing and a combination of ripstop and Sunbrella fabric. Each 10-lb (4.5-kg) cot mounts to tie-down track on the wall and ceiling and can be adjusted, folded against the wall or removed completely, making it easy to free more cargo space in back.

The sofa fills out the living/lounging area and covers the power system
The sofa fills out the living/lounging area and covers the power system

Directly across from the cots, the sofa cushions rest atop a sturdy box built around the battery pack and electrical hardware. Outside didn't focus quite so much on light, slim design with its electrical set-up, dropping in a pair of 360Ah Mastervolt lithium batteries, along with accompanying equipment like a 2,500-watt inverter.

Charged at camp with a trio of roof-mounted Zamp solar panels and on the move (or idling at camp) via the engine, the batteries help keep components like the air conditioner and induction cooktop running off the grid. Another interesting electrical system add-on is the 110-volt outlet under the hood, designed to charge the e-bike riding on the front rack during driving.

The kitchen is an interesting mix of lightweight structural elements and elevated componentry. The frame is built from lightweight plywood protected by a rugged laminate finish, while the drawers are built from bamboo. A walnut butcher block with inset induction cooktop and sink serves as the top. That counter also includes a mount for a Vitamix blender, something you wouldn't necessarily expect to see in a camper van, let alone a lightweight camper van with cots in place of a bed.

The stylish kitchen combines lightweight structural components with more features than average
The stylish kitchen combines lightweight structural components with more features than average

Another component that looks a little out of place in the light build is the luxurious Vitrifrigo drawer-style fridge/freezer below the countertop. Next Gen campers may not get the most restful night of sleep on their narrow cots, but they'll wake up to the option of a full, healthy breakfast prepared on one of the nicest van kitchens the world over.

The Next Gen also includes a Webasto diesel heater and a removable insulated soft wall to split the living area (beds, sofa, kitchen, shower room) from the driver cab area (front and rear seats). The wall helps to better optimize temperature in the living space and includes a zippered door for getting between "rooms."

The retractable soft wall splits the Next Gen into driver cab and living areas, helping to keep the living space cooler (or warmer)
The retractable soft wall splits the Next Gen into driver cab and living areas, helping to keep the living space cooler (or warmer)

Other interior features include the custom overhead shelf above the driver cab and passenger seats, insulated and covered walls, marine-grade flooring, and custom Katzkin leather and Sunbrella seats.

The van is equally impressive outside. Along with the aforementioned front e-bike carrier, it has a custom-designed roof rack and basket up top with cross bars raised to clear the air conditioner and a set of fork mounts for securing bikes. A 13-foot (4-m) Fiamma awning creates some outdoor shade, and retractable running boards make hopping inside less taxing. The build-out also has a VB air suspension, underbody lighting and an aluminum ladder on the rear door.

The roof basket includes a set of fork mounts for easily carrying bikes
The roof basket includes a set of fork mounts for easily carrying bikes

As its name implies, the Next Gen was developed as a working prototype built to put experimental components and design elements to the test. Features like the lightweight cots may or may not be available after Outside uses and abuses them during testing.

That, of course, means no available pricing information for this van, but you can see what a current-gen Outside camper van costs by looking through the prebuilt one-off vans in the Ascend Series. Or if you really have something special in mind, take a look at the pages of build options available in the built-to-order Peak Series.

Source: Outside Van

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