Taxa Outdoors has been making a name for itself over the past several years, putting NASA small-living know-how into a lineup of funky trailers. It all started with the original Cricket trailer, and the company has been going smaller and smaller with trailers and living modules like the TigerMoth, Woolly Bear and Firefly. Now it's going in a bigger direction with the all-new Mantis, an 18-ft (5.5-m) flagship that sleeps four adults in backcountry bliss.
After seeing the simple, ground tent-topped Woolly Bear at last year's Outdoor Retailer, it seemed unlikely that Taxa would keep going smaller without getting into the non-camping cargo trailer or bike camping trailer markets. But there's always room to expand, and this time Taxa has introduced a trailer that's 3 ft (914 cm) longer than the original Cricket.
"Our dealers wanted something with more sleeping room to round out our family of products beyond the Cricket, which is designed for two adults and two younger children," says company founder Garrett Finney. "The number one selling trailer for the past decade is a 20-ft (6-m) trailer that sleeps four adults. This is our version of that."
While its 18-ft-long sizing might fall more in line with market standards, the Mantis' asymmetrical styling is distinctively Taxa and most definitely not the big, long box look common among other trailers. Every edge veers off in its own direction; the sides have a touch of extra texture thanks to a central crease; and even the windows are tilted in various directions.
The oblique chaos of the exterior gives way to a more straightforward interior with sleeping areas at the ends and a central kitchen and bathroom. The main full-size convertible sofa/bed is located at the rear, while the front houses two bunk beds, sleeping the promised total of four adults. The wet bath and kitchen are located side by side below a central roof panel that pops up to create standing headroom.
Storage space can be found underneath the bunk beds and kitchen area, and the Mantis can accommodate large gear like bicycles inside. Like other Taxa trailers, even the ceiling is able to store gear thanks to the cargo nets and bungee cords built in. The roof includes a cargo deck, lash points and available storage rack.
Interior equipment varies by trim, and we'll outline the features based on the spec sheet that Taxa supplied while warning that these types of specs have a tendency to change. We mention this because the list looks like a rough draft, and some specs – like the 20 vs 30-gal (76 vs 114 L) fresh/gray water tanks – vary according to which piece of Taxa literature we're looking at. We've used the aforementioned spec sheet wherever possible, as it has the most comprehensive list of specs for each trim.
The base-level Mantis "Camp" is designed to be run solely on electric power, either via the shore power connection or off-grid via the dual 12-V deep-cycle batteries stored in the kitchen area. It's also pre-wired for solar panels. The optional refrigerator can be run off either the batteries or shore power, and the electrical system also powers interior and exterior LED lighting.
The higher-spec Trek trim uses a mix of propane and electric power. It includes a two-burner propane stove, 65-L 12-V refrigerator-freezer, interior heat and hot water, and air conditioning, all standard. Like the Camp, it is pre-wired for solar. The electric Dometic Cool Cat A/C is offered optionally on the Camp model, but the propane heat/hot water system is not available.
The Trek also includes a more robust exterior standard package with 8-ft (2.4-m) awning, roof rack with crossbars, tongue box, front stabilizer jacks, powder-coated gravel guards, 15-in aluminum wheels with all-terrain tires, and a 15-in steel spare wheel/tire. Those items are available optionally on the Camp model. Both models have a standard exterior shower.
Without propane equipment like a stove or heater, the Camp trim might seem under-designed compared to the more complete Trek, but Taxa has long worked against the "house on wheels" paradigm with designs that encourage campers to spend more time outside, less time behind four walls (or however many unevenly cut wall panels a Taxa trailer has). The company hopes campers will get dirty, cook on a fire and have myriad adventures outside during daylight, retiring inside to get a good night's sleep before doing it all again.
"Lots of our customers never considered owning an RV," Finney explains. "They were backpackers who thought of RVs only as things that you were stuck behind on the highway. We've successfully positioned ourselves as the equipment that lets them say to themselves: 'It's nice to be able to pee in the middle of the night and not have to stagger 100 yards in the dark, and it's nice not having to sleep on the ground.'"
So we reckon the idea of cooking outside on a campfire or propane stove and bundling up in a heavy sleeping bag at night shouldn't be a deal breaker.
Taxa has sized the Mantis to fit in a standard garage and worked to keep it as light as possible for a trailer of its size. The body panels around the powder-coated steel frame are made from aluminum and reinforced plastics, and foam-core insulation helps maintain a desirable temperature inside. The translucent polycarbonate rear panels help the windows in letting natural light flow in.
The Mantis weighs under 2,300 lb (1,043 kg), and Taxa believes many buyers will be able to hitch the trailer to their everyday vehicles and take off for the great outdoors, rather than having to hitch up to a huge, grumbling diesel pickup truck. The Mantis is not quite in the same rough and rugged league as the likes of the Tvan MK5, but it is built to venture off of paved roads and includes the available all-terrain tires, a torsion axle suspension, and 14 in (36 cm) of ground clearance.
The Mantis will officially hit the market in October, with an estimated starting price of US$32,500 for the Camp version.