We were just getting used to covering mini-campervans, and now a company called Simple has gone and downsized things to what it calls a "micro camper van." The base vans aren't any more compact than the minis we've looked at, but Simple's conversion kits are about as lightweight, basic and affordable as it gets, earning the "micro" title. The solo and two-person camper kits install in minutes without any permanent modifications, carving out a functional living space inside van or SUV while adding less than 100 lb (45 kg), and costing less than some tents. In short, van life made Simple.
As we saw recently with Scotland's Eco Campers and related spinoff venture Campervan Co, the good folks around the United Kingdom aren't afraid to go small, efficient and affordable when it comes to camper van living. We thought we'd found the bottom of the pricing chart when we looked at the US$1,400 Campal ForTwo kit back in February, but then we found the Welsh-designed Simple kit that slides in at roughly half that price (with a lighter equipment package).
Simple got its start in 2015, and it's been living up to its name ever since, developing dead-simple over-the-counter conversion kits that drop into place. Unlike more complete camper-in-a-box systems, like the Campal or those from Ququq, Simple's kits are primarily skeletal frameworks CNC-machined from 12-mm birch plywood.
Simple initially went after the compact van segment, designing a kit for the Citroën Berlingo, Peugeot Partner, Fiat Doblo and Renault Kangoo. The kit includes a folding bench/bed platform, Fiamma pop-up dining table and under-bench storage space. Installation takes about five minutes, without requiring so much as folding a rear vehicle seat, and the kit folds neatly away in the trunk when not in use, allowing the van to continue duties as an everyday people-mover. Drivers can even remove the cushions and use the Simple frame as a trunk organizer/shelf.
Come the weekend, the rear seats fold down and the Simple kit folds out into a full-blown two-person camper with sofa lounge, dining area and bed. The included Fiamma table installs via the floor mount, transforming the seating group into a cozy dining nook. At night, the tabletop drops down and the sofa backrest folds flat to create a sleeping platform, supporting the five cushions as they slide together to form a 3-inch-thick (8-cm) mattress measuring 45 x 70 in (114 x 178 cm).
The Simple interior layout is quite similar to the Campal ForTwo, but unlike that kit, the Simple doesn't include any kitchen components or even structural hardware like a fridge or stove slide. Really, the only other thing it does include is empty space – under-platform storage where you can pack your own camping gear. At £548 (approx. US$720) for the full framework and cushion package, the kit costs a fraction of every other camper box kit we can think of, so we reckon there's no reason to expect the kitchen sink (literally or figuratively).
The standard Simple kit makes for a cozy little mini-campervan, but if your preferences lean more toward the modern crossover, Simple's latest kit has you covered. Launched for 2019, the £548 Skoda Yeti kit turns 2WD and 4WD Yetis (MY2009 to 2017) into tiny adventure campers. The Yeti kit's interior layout is simpler than the van's, doing away with the table and working merely as a convertible sofa/39 x 71-in (100 x 180-cm) bed. A three-cushion folding mattress creates both the sofa and bed surfaces.
Simple's third and final kit provides an option for those that like to break free from the pack and enjoy the solitude of nature to the fullest. Available for the Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Partner only, the £274 (US$360) solo camper van kit is essentially half a Yeti kit, a lounge chair that folds into a single-person bed, leaving the other half of the trunk empty. It does not include a table, but it looks like it'd be easy enough to set up your own in the free floor space next to the bench.
Each Simple kit has been designed for compatibility with multiple model years and/or generations of its respective base vehicle, and Simple carefully lists the compatible make/model/years for each on its website. The van kit is compatible with the new 2019+ third-gen Berlingo, and Simple is working on a kit for the new Peugeot Rifter, which replaced the Partner. Its website doesn't mention anything about a new kit for the Skoda Karoq, which replaced the Yeti in 2017.
Simple's kits weigh between 35 and 66 lb (16 and 30 kg) for the birch framework, not including the cushions. The aforementioned prices include the plywood structural hardware and accompanying cushion set, though buyers can buy each separately. Not included are shipping costs, estimated for the two-person kits at between £25 and £75 (US$35 and $100) throughout most of the UK and £150 (US$200) to continental Europe.
Unlike more complex built-to-order camper conversions, Simple kits are prebuilt and ready to ship. The company says it tries to get orders out within one business day of receiving them, adding that UK customers can expect to receive their kits as quickly as two business days later, with EU customers waiting but a week or so.
Sadly for the US, and the empty abyss that sits in place of the small, innovative and affordable camper van market we'd much rather see, Simple doesn't ship over the Atlantic. However, given the kit's simple design and low weight, maybe the company will figure out a way of getting them to US shores for use with the Fiat Doblo's American cousin, the Ram ProMaster City.
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