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Finding The Best Lightweight Camper Solution

What is it about being a nomad that inspires us? We like the idea of being on the move while still taking enough of our stuff with us to be completely empowered. Very few toys appeal to that sense as strongly as just the right camper. For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find the right camper for my life. I want something agile, so the full size RV is out.  I also want something that I can use in the winter and take off road.  Let me take you on a tour of what I’ve found.

xl-vtEarth Roamer

The first Earth Roamer I discovered was the XV-LT. These camping rigs are built on a full sized truck frame and designed to go anywhere. These units look amazing and have tons of features. It’s an efficient camper that can handle adverse conditions well. I could take this rig on snowboarding trips and star warm and comfortable all night long. I could also take it up challenging jeep trails here in the mountains and get well away from the usual crowds. Unfortunately, these things cost a small fortune. A new rig can cost you up to a quarter million dollars. You can occasionally find them used, but they still demand a premium.

I also looked at the XV-LT’s little brother, the XV-JP. Built on a Jeep Wrangler frame instead of a truck, this little guy is considerably more efficient and agile. Even if I could afford the $110k price tag, this unit doesn’t solve all of my problems. The sleeping arrangements come in the form of a pop-open tent on the roof. As clever as this is, it won’t keep me warm in the winter.

westyWestfalia Vanagon

The Westfalia conversion of the Vanagon makes for a very nice little camper. I recently test drove a model that was lifted with four wheel drive. The engine was upgraded for a horse power boost. Inside, the van had sleeping arrangements for 4, with two in the pop top. It had a double burner stove, sink, outdoor shower, water heater, and heater. This van was nearly perfect. It would keep me warm on the slopes (with the top closed and heater on) and get me deep into the woods in the summer. The entire vehicle ran about $18, a far cray from the triple digit costs of the Earth Roamers.

I didn’t buy the Vanagon. The owner was kind enough to give me an extensive education on ownership of the coveted vehicles. These units are old. They require a lot of attention. While they are reliable, they have to be maintained. In addition, these units are also difficult to insure. The owner was only paying for liability because he could not find a good policy to cover his rig. Ultimately, I just didn’t feel this vehicle could give me the reliability and freedom I really wanted. Still, I really like rigs. I wish something similar was being made today.

sportsmobileSportsmobile

Imagine the Vanagon all grown up. I actually discovered the Sportsmobile in person and didn’t realize it at the time. These rigs are built using full size cargon vans, many of them converted for off road use. The engine, suspension, and drivetrain are comparible to that of the Earth Roamer. However, the camper design is much more akin to  the Vanagon – only bigger.

I love these vans. Like the Vanagon, they go to hard to reach places. However, these are built on modern American vehicles. They’re newer, more reliable, and cheaper to maintain. It’s also a slight bit easier to find insurance for them. Unfortunately, they can be expensive. I’ve found good rigs for around $40k. The rigs that excite me the most are usually anywhere from $85k to $115k. Many people build their own, saving a bit of money along the way.

I’m still considering one of these rigs. However, one big drawback is the weight and the poor gas mileage that results. Most rigs see 12 to 15 miles per gallon. The turbo diesels, particularly the Sprinter based ones, get up to 22mpg. I would feel better about taking one of these things to Alaska if I could get 20+ mpg.

campliteinsideCamplite Quicksilver

Nino and I started talking about building out our own van. In the process, I started researching lightweight materials. That’s when I found the Camplite Quicksilver. I’d already looked at the Scamp, which is kind of neat; but ruled the Scamp out because I didn’t want something I had to tow up challenging trails. Still, the Camplite trailers got my attention because of their building materials. These rigs are ultralight because they are made with aluminum and synthetics. There’s no wood in any of their campers. This makes them extremely light.

I’ve looked for these trailers and they’re not very common in the US. I haven’t been able to get a solid idea of how much they cost. They’re full of brilliant ideas, like making the sleeping/sitting benches double as coolers or storage containers. They also come out of the RV if you want to setup a picnic table outside. I think Sportsmobile could learn a thing or two from this company.

My Dream Rig (Right Now)

I think I know what I want, if I can find it somewhere. Most of the Sportsmobiles are built on longer or larger vans. I want a small but full sized van. A shorter wheel base and good departure angle will help when offroading. Obviously, I want a good 4×4 drive train and elevated suspension. I want a powerful and efficient engine, such as the 7.3l turbodiesel that Ford used to provide.

Inside, I need the standard fair: sink, small stove, heater, holding tanks, water heater, 110 power sources, battery system, sleeping space, sitting space, etc. I would like this to be as light and effective as possible, which means I may have to design and built it myself. Using lightweight materials should improve my mileage. Additionally, plastics would be easy to hose down and flexible under stress where wood will decay and break down over time.

I need space to store bikes, kayaks, surf boards, and snowboards. This doesn’t all have to be at the same time, but that would be nice. I want class 3 receivers front and rear. This allows me to carry a whench that can be swapped out on either end of the rig if I get stuck. Additionally, I’d like to mount a motorcycle hauler on the rear receiver. Attaching a dual sport bike would give me efficient and agile transportation when I need to run after supplies or go exploring.

I’m still trying to find or build the dream camper. When I find what I’m looking for, I’ll be sure to share.