New Lightweight Towable…maybe!

I just received a personal note from one of our readers, H.G., that he had discovered this site:

and he passed the link on to me. As most of you probably know, I had indicated that I had more books planned, one of them on how to create a camping trailer on a little 4 x 8 fold-up trailer, like the ones available from Harbor Freight. This fellow has one way of doing it with a very unique design, but as with anything so “high-tech” there are bound to be problems, and he has already run into some, as evidenced by the information on his site.

This is one reason I like to stay with simpler designs that use standard parts available from most building supply stores. Yeah, people can copy them easier, but if they have the know how to put something together, more power to them! I’m all for showing people what ‘s possible and then letting them use their own imaginations. More people should learn to do things on their own anyway.

Although I’m sure there is a market for this type of unit, the biggest obstacle is getting the parts made. I have had first hand experience with problems created by molding and extrusion companies. It costs a lot of money to get the dies made for the products, and they don’t even want to talk to you unless you can commit to either the set-up costs, or guarantee to purchase a huge quantity of the product once they get all the bugs worked out of it. That’s bad enough for one single product, but this one has SEVERAL different pieces which have to be produced, complicating the process and initial expense by that amount!

So now, his molding company has suddenly informed him that they have to go with more lucrative products and can’t produce his anymore… even after the molds are done and some products have been produced! Bummer! But no surprise. Hopefully, he can retain the molds to provide to another company.

I can’t pick on his product too much, because  he just got started with this in 2009, and given the short life so far, I think he has come a very long way with it! I think it has much potential if the price is right. But I also think he las a long way to go yet, too.

For instance, the edge joints between his panels appear to be flat surfaces only sealed from rain by a foam gasket. No interlock, no tongue and groove… just foam. And first he says you have to use screws to hold the panels together, and shows them being tightened up, but then after it’s assembled, you still have to put a ratchet strap around the whole thing to draw it up tight. Based on the videos, how can do that when you have already tightened down the screws? This makes me wonder if this thing has ever been tested in a heavy rainstorm. The design and the process needs more work.

The canvas for the top also appears to use a ratchet strap to hold the sides down. Surely, there must be a better way of doing it! Anybody ever seen a ratchet strap on a Westphalia, Sportsmobile, or any pop-up tent campers?

I didn’t think so!

For holding the panels together, what’s wrong with using cam locks, similar to the type used in K-D furniture, so you turn the cam and draw the pieces together? That would make a whole lot more sense! There are heavy duty types available with fold-down handles, such as those used on some tool boxes and storage containers designed as air-freight shippable (I own one). With that, you wouldn’t need any tools at all to put it together, nor would you have to worry about screws getting lost!

The fact that he doesn’t supply a floor is not a “big” deal, but for those who aren’t very handy, and expect a finished product, I think he needs to come up with one as part of the kit.

The ability to vary the size of the camper by using a varying number of panels is great, but the roof still has to be made for a particular size, so it appears you have to order your kit accordingly… there’s no changing sizes in the field once you make up your mind. So is that really an advantage?

The one thing I do like is the modular cabinets that can be anchored to the wall. But I think a better means of running water is needed, as well as a better means of supplying the lighting power. It appears that the only way this thing will work is plugged into shore power. It needs a deep-cycle battery (or two) to be worth anything for boon-dock camping. Those could be mounted to the trailer tongue in a cover, and then simply plugged into the camper.

In one picture he shows that it can also be used on a pick-up truck… but what about the overhang that goes all the way around? That means you have to put a spacer near the bottom in the front of your truck bed to keep it from hitting the back of the cab. Not a big deal, but then an eight foot camper will no longer fit in an eight foot truck bed without overhanging at the back. And since it has no floor, then what do you do?

The other issue I see is that every one of these models come with a long dinette and table. In a small 4 x 8 unit, that is barely big enough for one, why do you need a table that will seat eight people?! A more practical use of space would be to have a dinette booth at the front that seats only two, and allow the center of the booth to be pulled out like a sofa bed for sleeping. That would allow a lot more usable floor space for just traveling! And since the sides are built out away from the center anyway, you could still have some storage cabinets attached to the sidewalls that wouldn’t be in the way of bringing the bed out. The extra storage on the sidewalls would help compensate for what you would lose under the dinette seats.

The roof seems very flimsy, as I can see it flexing when he’s putting it up in the videos. That tells me that they are way too light to attach anything to, like solar panels. And on the square unit, that he claims can be used for temporary living quarters he talks about how well insulated they are, and yet the entire expanse of roof is nothing but canvas! That defeats the whole purpose of well insulated sidewalls! But to give credit where it’s due, he said they are also working on a panel type roof, which would be a big improvement if it’s strong enough.

I didn’t see him mention anything about windstorm security. As light as these things are, surely they have to be anchored to something. He did mention D-rings around the outide to anchor it to a trailer, but for the larger “liveable” shelter, I would want nothing less than augers drilled into the ground, like they use for anchoring park models and mobile homes, to keep this light duty “house” from blowing away! Which brings up another question… just how much of a straight line wind will these things withstand? Inquiring minds want to know!

As for the fold-up trailer itself, I have had a problem with mine, and I didn’t even exceed the weight, or if I did, it wasn’t by much. I have gone through several of the original 4-ply tires, and finally bought six-ply tires for it, which is about the most heavy duty you will find for these trailers. The first two original tires blew out at highway speeds and shredded. I noticed a huge bubble on the last one, and was able to have it replaced prior to blowing out.  The problem with these trailers is that they have small wheels, and nearly every tire that is made to fit them is made in China. You can upgrade to larger tires, but you also have to buy a special hub adapter for the larger rims to fit on these axles. The GVW of these trailers, even in the “heavy duty” model (which is what I own) is only about 1134 pounds, and the trailer itself weighs close to 400 (I think I read 378 as shipped, plus the 3/4-inch plywood deck I put on it.) I know for a fact that I didn’t have anywhere close to 700 pounds of cargo in it when the tires failed!

So what do you do? You either have to get the adapters for the hubs so that you can put heavier duty tires on it, or buy a heavier trailer to begin with. Most trailers designed for landscaping crews have standard automotive rims and tires on them, and you can get those in 8-plies without too much trouble. I had 8-plies installed on our 6 x 12 enclosed cargo trailer and have had no problem with them. But we did blow one of the standard 4-ply tires that were on it when the trailer was heavily loaded. It all gets back to getting what you pay for.

Speaking of which, he doesn’t have any prices on the web site yet, which is understandable given the production problems he is running into. But I know that injection molding is not cheap unless you can do it on a grand scale. With any new high-tech product, the first ones are always higher in cost due to the manufacturing costs. They try to recover as much of that cost as they can initially, in case the demand isn’t there. If it is, then they can bring the costs down by buying raw materials in larger volume, and letting the retail prices go lower to encourage even more sales. As innovative as this little unit is, I don’t see it as being cost effective for what you get, unless it really takes off and he can sell a lot of them. Maybe I’m wrong. Stranger things have happened!

Anyway, what are YOUR thoughts on this Teal camper? What would YOU do differently? Don’t be shy, let’s hear it!