Outdoor living: Top RVs, campers and tents of 2014
Another year, another few dozen ways to escape urban life and set up camp in the wild ... 2014 has been an interesting year for campers. From the heavy-duty off-road machines of Overland Expo to ultralight bicycle campers, and from familiar campground designs to new concepts of sea and air camping, the year has seen a large variety of innovative designs from around the world. Here are our picks for the best tents, camper vans, trailers and mobile homes of 2014, in no particular order.
Tentsile Vista multi-story tree tent
Since we first featured Tentsile in 2012, the company has continued to impress us with its suspended tents. Other manufacturers offer hammock-based tents, but Tentsile makes large, spacious aerials that are more like canvas treehouses, none more so than the all-new Vista. The non-weather-sealed nature of the design isn't for everyone or all conditions, but the available multi-floor layout is certainly an interesting twist on the tree tent. The primary Vista tent protects three campers with a combination of detachable insect mesh and removable rain fly. The really cool part of the design is that you can add extra floors to make a suspended, multi-level "portable treehouse" for nine or more people. The basic tent without extra floors costs US$595.
SylvanSport GO-Easy ultralight camping trailer
A compact, 275-lb (125 kg) gear trailer, the SylvanSport GO-Easy is designed to give the smallest cars and motorcycles the ability to haul all kinds of sports gear and tools. To add overnighting capabilities, SylvanSport teamed with Roost tents to create a flip-top tent camper with underbody storage. When you don't need a tent, remove the foam mattress and canvas sides and Roost's innovative two-person clamshell becomes a gear box. To add some of the comforts of home, SylvanSport offers options like Goal Zero solar power systems and the Road Shower. Combine the $2,000 price of the GO-Easy with the $3,000 price of the Roost tent, and you have an ultralight, ultra-versatile camping trailer for around $5K.
Tonke Fieldsleeper International expedition vehicle
Prior to 2014, we knew Tonke as the Dutch company behind some the most stylish wooden trailers we've ever seen. This year, it added one of the most stylish aluminum trailers on the market not named Airstream. The Mercedes Sprinter-based Fieldsleeper International is built as an expedition vehicle, available in both 4x2 and 4x4 drive options. Its aluminum skin creates a more modern exterior style, but the interior still features the warmth of mahogany wood.
Tonke attempts to give Fieldsleeper International owners more off-grid autonomy by eliminating the liquid propane systems typical in RVs in favor of a roof-mounted solar array and auxiliary diesel tank. The 400- to 600-watt solar system powers onboard equipment like the refrigerator, stove, lighting and even air conditioning. The five-person camper includes a washroom with sink, shower and cassette toilet.
When we covered it earlier in the year, the International was offered with a 190-hp Mercedes Sprinter 519Cdi for $192,000, but now it's listed with a 160-hp Sprinter 516Cdi base for a bit cheaper – $154,576.
XVenture XV-2 penthouse trailer
Simple problem, simple solution. The military-grade Xventure XV-2 makes the most of its small trailer form by pushing the pop-up tent high above the cargo box below using an elevated rack system. The adjustable height opens up more storage space in the cargo box – enough for an ATV, even – and makes everything inside that cargo box easier to access. As a few astute readers pointed out, it looks like the configuration could prove quite chilly in the winter, when the thin floor of the XV-2 could use the added insulation value of a trailer directly below, but that shouldn't be as much a problem in the popular warmer months, or with a heavier sleeping pad. And if it is, you can always adjust it to one of the lower settings on the six-setting rack. The pricing information we received earlier in the year put the XV-2 with elevating rack system and roof tent at around $14,500 to start.
Wide Path bicycle camper
There are dozens upon dozens of camping trailers on the market, but the overwhelming majority of them are designed to be towed by vehicles with motor. The slim, 88-lb (40-kg) Wide Path Camper, on the other hand, is built to be towed by leg power alone. The bicycle camper offers enough sleeping space for two adults and one child and includes a basic but functional interior with a folding table, convertible bed/seats and 300 liters (79 gal) of storage capacity. Add a few select pieces of gear like a propane stove and portable toilet and suddenly you have a fully functioning mobile home on the back of your 12-speed.
The Wide Path Camper was still in the prototype stages as of last month, but its Dutch designer hopes to have it ready for sale next year, starting around $2,500.
Amok Draumr hammock tent
While not quite as common a sight at the campground as a dome tent or RV, the hammock shelter is a widely available camping option offered by brands like Hennessy Hammock and Grand Trunk. Typically, these hammocks are strung between trees end to end, but the Amok rotates the Draumr around 90 degrees, creating a side-to-side hanging structure. This construction creates a flat, sleeping pad-cushioned bed designed to deliver a more comfortable night of sleep. With a few tugs of the adjustment straps, it also turns into a suspended chair.
The ISPO BrandNew Award-nominated Draumr is available now for $379, which includes mosquito netting, straps and a rain fly, but not the required sleeping pad. All in, the Draumr weighs less than 4.5 lb (2 kg).
MVP Aero MVP seaplane camper
We're already suckers for amphibious vehicles, so throw in a convertible overnight package, and you get one of our favorite vehicles of the year. Billed as the "world's most versatile plane," the MVP, which we checked out at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2014, is part seaplane, part fishing boat and part floating/flying camper. The tri-phibious plane can land on dry land, snow or water. On water, it can motor along and act as a boat, and slide the canopy back and it offers a flat deck for fishing and observation. The wings also fold up, adding to its maneuverability on water.
At night, the MVP's instrument panel lifts out of the way, creating a large, flat floor with the help of a four-panel origami deck that slides over top the seat wells. Tent fabric secures over the entire cockpit area, providing shelter for two occupants. A fitted inflatable mattress offers added comfort, and there's also a hammock that sets up between the engine pylon and the tail.
The MVP isn't exactly a practical camper for the masses, but one can certainly dream of using it on some pretty epic adventures. The aircraft is still in the prototype stages, but for those that simply can't wait, it's available for reservation at a price of $189,000. Delivery is not expected until 2018/19, however.
Audi-Heimplanet Q3 tent camper
Two innovative German brands teamed up for something a bit different at Volkswagen's 2014 Wörthersee festival. Heimplanet custom-fit its inflatable tent technology to the hatch of an Audi Q3 2.0 TDI. The design created an extended car-tent living space with vestibule and also allowed for a freestanding tent set-up. The inflatable tent and Q3 combo certainly wasn't the most rugged camper design of the year, but it was rated up to wind speeds of 43.5 mph (70 km/h).
The Audi-Heimplanet inflatable car camper was clearly designed as an eye-catching showpiece (a role it filled quite nicely), and we don't expect to see Audi dealerships advertising the Q3 "overnight package" anytime soon.
2014 EarthRoamer XV-LTS xpedition vehicle
A beastly, intimidating contradiction on wheels, the 2014 EarthRoamer XV-LTS combines one of the more rugged 4WD expedition vehicle platforms out there with a carefully-detailed, luxury-level interior and front porch. In designing the truck, Colorado-based EarthRoamer fortified a commercial-duty F-550 chassis for rough, off-road use, bolted a composite living module to the back and outfitted it for comfortable off-grid living. The design includes a cozy six-seat living room, sleeping space for four to six and a bathroom with a sink, full-height shower and cassette toilet. Occupants are furnished with utilities by way of a solar-driven electrical system, engine-powered dual alternators and a 90-gallon (340.7-L) fresh water tank. It appears to be an extremely cozy space to retire to after hard days of fighting through mud, boulders and dust with the 300-hp V8 turbo diesel and 37-in tires. The model we stepped inside at Overland Expo even included luxuries like a wine cabinet with engraved wine glasses, slide-out Keurig coffeemaker, and exterior tailgating package with retractable 46-in TV.
The 2014 XV-LTS sold out, but EarthRoamer is now advertising the 2015 model at prices between $312,000 and $560,000.
It's not at all rare to find a gritty, all-terrain expedition vehicle furnished like a luxury apartment on wheels. In fact, there are two on this list, including the EarthRoamer we just looked at. When you're spending six or seven figures on a large, motorized toy, there's no reason you can't have it all.
It is rarer to find that mix of any-terrain readiness and luxury in the far more modestly priced camping trailer segment. Most off-road trailer manufacturers we've covered seem to put all their R&D money into building a bombproof chassis and body ready to take on everything Mother Earth can throw at it, leaving live-in accommodations to a simple fold-out tent or small, spartan teardrop interior.
Built by a group of outdoorsman tired of inferior campers quitting when the road got rough, but too seasoned for a skimpy, uncomfortable shelter, the ADAK Trailer offers an admirable combination of rugged exterior and spacious, comfy interior. The design uses a mix of aluminum and composite to hold up to rough, choppy roads and off-roads. Inside the trailer's 116-sq ft (10.8 sq m) cabin, campers find three beds, a bathroom with toilet and shower, a tankless hot water system designed to work in the middle of winter, and available wood flooring and cabinetry. When we originally covered the ADAK earlier in the year, pricing started at $49,000.
Volksleisure T5 camper van
After more than a decade of focusing on camper conversions for vans from manufacturers other than Volkswagen, Wellhouse Leisure presented its first production-ready VW camper van this year. The first offering from the brand's VW-centric subsidiary Volksleisure, the little people mover packs enough versatility for both everyday and holiday use. It's Wellhouse's electric rear bench that makes the Volksleisure camper a van that you can overnight in on the weekend and get the kids to school in come Monday morning. The bench slides the length of the cabin, allowing it to work as a live-in camper, regular people mover or big-item hauler. The camper van offers sleeping space for up to four people, along with a kitchen area, refrigerator, dining table, and 35-L (9.2 US gal) fresh and waste water tanks. Volksleisure's T5 camper is currently listed at a £47,850 ($75,000) base price.
Safari Condo Alto R1723 teardrop pop-top
Combining two timeless camping-trailer concepts into one seamless family tag-along, the Alto R1723 by Safari Condo is a pop-up teardrop camper designed to get the family outdoors. The 83-in-high (2.1-m), 1725-lb (782-kg) teardrop design gives the Alto R1723 drag-cutting aerodynamic performance on the road and garage clearance during storage. The electric aluminum roof pops up at camp to offer 82 inches (2.08 m) of interior headroom, more than enough for the average person to stand up and walk around, a convenience that smaller, lower teardrops lack. The trailer sleeps three or four and includes home-like comforts such as a flush toilet and shower. The large windows let you experience the grand scenery of the outdoors while remaining under the roof.
The Alto R1723 starts at around CAD$28,500 (US$24,500), and Safari also offers the smaller R1713 for CAD$1,000 less.
Knaus Travelino camper concept
Much like automakers do at every major auto show, German manufacturer Knaus Tabbert has been using the annual Düsseldorf Caravan Salon to showcase ideas for the future of the industry. It followed up last year's much talked about Caravisio concept with the 2014 Travelino trailer.
While we aren't really sold on the odd, broadsided shape of the black-and-white Travelino, the real highlight is the interior. The caravan offers very versatile use of its limited space through carefully designed and placed equipment. In place of a dedicated bathroom, a folding-panel wall and slide-out cassette toilet provide indoor privacy without permanently occupying floor space. The indoor and slide-out outdoor kitchens share a portable camping stove, eliminating the need for fixed cooktops.
The Travelino launched as just a concept, so there was no accompanying price information, but it's easy to see how some of its features could find their way into production camping trailers.
Marco Polo Activity light camper van
Manufacturers around the world have come up with very clever ways of packing all kinds of amenities and comforts into small, portable vehicles. But there's really only so much equipment you can fit into a camper while keeping it light, spacious and comfortable. And not every overnight trip requires a full bathroom, kitchen and living room. If you're sleeping in a ski resort parking lot or adjacent to a surf break so that you're in prime position to take advantage of first tracks/early morning waves, you don't necessarily need a fully equipped RV, just a roof and a comfortable place to sleep.
In that spirit, Mercedes-Benz dropped some of the usual camping equipment to make a lighter, simpler camper van in the form of the Marco Polo Activity it revealed in Düsseldorf. The Activity has a three-seat bench that extends clean across the width of the van thanks to the absence of the kitchen unit. That bench folds down into a bed for up to three, and two more people can sleep below the pop-up roof. If you need to cook your own meals, you can slide the bench forward on its rails and store a stove, cookware and plenty of other gear in back, then eat on the included folding table in the cabin. What you give up in equipment and amenities, you gain in versatility and spaciousness. The Activity was released at a starting price of €38,960 (US$49,000).
Action Mobil Global XRS 720 6x6 camper
Our second rolling, all-terrain luxury apartment, the Action Mobil Global XRS 7200 introduced at the 2014 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon was this year's exercise in no-expense-spared expeditioning opulence, the type of vehicle one only considers if the very thought of "roughing it" is a much bigger deterrent than a seven-figure price tag. The 720-hp, 18-ton MAN-chassised 6x6 is eager to travel to any part of the world and stay there about as long as its occupants can handle. Once inside the spacious, climate-controlled cabin, they'll immediately forget about whatever harsh, desolate reality surrounds the exterior walls. The cabin is appointed in materials like stone and metal, includes a master bedroom, is hydrated by a 720-L (190-gal) fresh water tank, and keeps everyone entertained with a multimedia system that's more impressive than what many people have in their living rooms – 40-in HD TV, satellite internet, Apple TV, Bose audio, and a large-capacity hard drive for storing multimedia content. There's even a bidet and washer/dryer. Not a bad living situation for the middle of $#@#$in nowhere.
Pricing info out of the Düsseldorf show put the XRS 7200 at €850,000 (US$1.1 million) to start.
Look through our gallery for a closer look at the interiors and features of each of these campers and tents. And if you're wondering how this year's designs compare to last year's, take a trip back in time with our best of 2013 camper round-up.