Cool, classy and easily available don’t often go together in the camping world. That’s why almost every caravan you see on the road is a white box and every trailer tent is a rather ordinary-looking tent in a rather ordinary trailer. Where’s all the cool and quirky kit that actually works well too?
To quote Jonathan Schofield and Stuart Barrow, who designed the Opus camper (more on that later), the UK is a country of around 60 million people and roughly 30 million cars. Only around one per cent of those people are caravanners. And, say Jonathan and Stuart, Jeremy Clarkson has done his bit to make sure that number isn’t on the rise!
So, if you want to design something a little bit special, you’re reducing your market even more. It has to be expensive; it’ll probably be exclusive. Trawl the web and you’ll find lots of fabulous prototypes that have never been built, simply because there aren’t enough people to buy them. And when production is small, prices need to be higher.
Campfire Magazine testers have found the same problem with lots of camping kit. Cheap, mass production seems to be the norm, and design innovation or finish often suffer.
Of course there are exceptions – beautifully designed and made caravans, campervans and tents. Look at Airstream, for example, the VW California or Helmplanet’s Cave tent. Plus, you should keep an eye on those prototypes, because one day – maybe thanks to crowd-funding or the ability to sell globally rather than in a single country – you’ll be proud to pull your smart trailer down the M1.
Meanwhile, we’ve found some interesting options…
The Kip Shelter
These don’t look instantly amazing, but the devil is in the detail. They’re lightweight and incredibly customisable – from inside/outside kitchens to room for a motorbike. There’s even an off-road version. Prices start at around £9,000, but we’d guess that would quickly rise once you started adding on all the tempting extras.
Purely by chance – while visiting a haberdasher in an old mill! – we discovered a small Yorkshire company making the fibreglass, insulated Space Cave microcaravan. They’re tiny and streamlined and have a rising roof for a bit of headroom. The company can fit extras, including windows, battery powered lighting and inside units. They seem light, basic and worth a look. Their dedicated website didn’t work for us, so the link below will take you to the main website (they make others things in fibreglass).
Go Barefoot Caravans
Rather smarter than your average caravan, the Go Barefoot aims for luxury and bespoke options for its £22,000 price tag. Designed and made in the UK.
“An innovative and mobile accommodation with amphibian characteristics. It can be used as a customary caravan, but with a few hand grips and the help of an outboard engine it can let you travel on water.”
A German-designed space-age caravan that’s very dinky. Price: Around £15,000.
The Opus Camper
“Opus is a revolutionary folding camper. It is ultra-lightweight and extremely easy to tow, even with a small car. Its low profile allows for all round visibility, so you can hitch up and drive away with confidence. It’s strong, rugged and extremely clever. With two reinforced lids and a universal racking system, it’s the perfect load-carrying platform. Carry boats, bikes, kayaks, kites..and with the Opus Moto you can even carry two motorbikes.”
There’s now an Air Opus too, which uses inflatable poles to speed set-up time.
Price: From £13,000 to £15,000
The Topeak Bikamper Bike Tent
“At about 1.6kg the Bikamper is light and small, enabling you to ride faster and further. A brilliant design uses your bike and its 26″ or 700c wheel in place of tent poles. Simple and quick to set up for one person, three-season use. Features three mesh panels for ventilation and stargazing on pleasant nights. Supplied with fork anchor piece, stakes, cords and carrying bag.”
Do look at the reviews first, as we’ve heard some grumbles. Price: Around £160.
An how about this for behind a bike…..
The Cricket, Woolly Bear and Tigermoth
“The Cricket’s shell, made from aluminum composite panels, provides an unprecedented degree of insulation without warping. The result is an economical, lightweight and athletic trailer that exceeds industry norms for innovation, aerodynamics and durability. With a single touch roof latch that opens in seconds, Cricket removes the tricky set-up associated with most pop-ups, making it easy to use for all ages and abilities. Dual entry doors make loading and unloading a breeze.”
New for 2017 is a sleek silver Cricket. The same company make adventure trailers called Tigermoth and Woolly Bear – both equally versatile, well-equipped and weird to look at.
Sadly not available in the UK just yet. Price: $12,000 upwards
“GO is simply the most versatile camping trailer on the planet and was called “The Coolest. Camper. Ever.” by National Geographic Adventure. As well as being superbly designed and built to the highest standards, it happens to be the only camper that can actually take your toys to the playground. Canoeing, mountain biking, road racing, motocross – your outdoor adventures will never be the same again!”
We’ve seen this one in the real world, and you can read a bit more about our first thoughts here. Price: From around £9,000.
“The Mehrzeller – the multicellular caravan. Using our configurator, we set up a design that is unique for our customers, including their own layout that they can identify with. The configuration is generated by a computer using the customer’s inputs, and then the final design is done by parameters from the architects to yield an attractive and practicable result.”
So what do you get? Well, that’s up to you, apparently. Price: Looks expensive!
Tracking down the Opera is tricky. There are plenty of pictures of this Sydney Opera House styled trailer camper out there, but it seems they may only be available custom-made these days. We’ve included it here because it’s lovely. Inside, the desk surfaces and beds are finished in oak, and the floor and veranda are teak. At the back of the room, behind a curtain, is a ceramic sink and toilet. There’s a choice of a gas/electric stove or a charcoal grill – the Opera carries its own gas supply, so there’s no need for canisters. Plus built-in compass for finding south, heating and an espresso maker.
Price: Custom-built only
If space age isn’t your thing, how about the age of elegance. The Schafer trailer tents look like beautiful wooden boats and have some lovely design features, like this pull-out kitchen. Sadly, they seem to have disappeared. We’ll leave their old web address here just in case they return, but it didn’t work when we tried recently. And if your Dutch is good enough, you could try this specialist company, who also list the Opera.
Price: Around £20,000.
For more inspiration, have a look at our article on tiny homes. Still hankering after a tent? We’ve got recommendations for the best quick-erect tents too.