Author Topic: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?  (Read 10420 times)

fossilhog

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What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« on: April 01, 2015, 12:36:34 AM »
So. My fiancee and I have mastered the life of not owning a car. Even in Anchorage, AK. However, we're looking to finally snag one. The simple choice would be a Honda FIT or Pontiac Vibe, and that Vibe is still high on the list. But here's our unusual situation, we would put low miles on this vehicle each year b/c we still get around town on our feet and bikes. About 25% of the travel would be to the edges of town and the other 75% of miles would be on monthly weekend road trips around Alaska where we would actually camp IN the car. Overall I estimate about 5000 miles per year. And it's of high likelihood that we would sell this car in 3 years...or drive it out of Alaska and into the ground till it dies. After coming up with a rough spreadsheet estimating costs, something occurred to me. Gas efficiency isn't that big of a deal for this vehicle. We have mastered the art of living within biking distance of the primary places we visit. So with that in mind, I'm thinking of more of a camper van type setup. Think minivan without the back seats. The more important costs will be depreciation, insurance, and upkeep/reliability.
So, what is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
Immediately I would say an earlier 2000's Honda or Toyota minivan. Except, they don't seem to have the greatest reliability. Not as much as I'd expect from these two companies. The Odysseys seem to have major transmissions issues. I suppose I'm leaning towards the Toyota Sienna then.
Perhaps a Subaru Forester? Nope, according to the divine collection of data that is consumer reports, Subarus had some major issues beyond about 5 years ago or so.
Mazda5? 1) Hardly exists up here. 2) Bad suspension reliability(that won't work for Alaska roads).
Other reliable SUVs?

Requirements: Big enough for two 6 footers to sleep in(and do adult things) and still have enough room to pack stuff for a possible 3-4 day trip. Plus cooking equipment etc. (These reasons are why I feel the Vibe or a wagon are a bit too small). If only the Honda Freed existed in the USA. 

Side notes:
The other option is to stick without a car and just rent something once per month. We realized this was the more cost efficient way to go early on for multiple reasons. However, we still would like a vehicle to do some occasional travelling around town. The bus system up here doesn't run late and not early enough on the weekends. So that option is out(we still ride it quite a bit though). Plus, it's CRAZY hard to get yourself to spend the money once a month on a rental car. You just end up staying in instead.

Trifele

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2015, 05:31:48 AM »
I've thought along exactly these lines, Fossilhog.  We investigated various 'camper van' vehicle options, including the Odyssey, Sienna, and various cargo vans like the Nissan NV and NV200.  Of the options we've looked at, so far the NV200 looks the best to us.

But -- we're never gonna do it.  Because we're too mustachian, we are just gonna stick with our dear Honda Fit and our 18 year old tent.  :)  Maybe when we are much older, and can no longer sleep on the ground for some reason, we will revisit. 

Retired To Win

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2015, 06:54:06 AM »
My solution to car camping was to design and assemble my own "truck camper."

I drive a 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup with a camper top.  I designed a simple interior truck bed layout for bed, counter and storage.  I designed it to be constructed out of plywood and stick lumber in modular sections that I could install/remove/install again as needed.  (After a little practice, I became able to do either in under an hour.) My total cost for the rig -- including accessory gizmos like power inverter, tailgate load rack, insect netting setup, mattress, etc was under $500.  If I retro-added the camper top cost, it would still be under $800.

With winter now over, I am ready to install the camper rig back in.  When I do, I'll try to figure out how to add a couple of pictures to this post.  :D

sandandsun

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2015, 08:15:30 AM »
My solution to car camping was to design and assemble my own "truck camper."

I drive a 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup with a camper top.  I designed a simple interior truck bed layout for bed, counter and storage.  I designed it to be constructed out of plywood and stick lumber in modular sections that I could install/remove/install again as needed.  (After a little practice, I became able to do either in under an hour.) My total cost for the rig -- including accessory gizmos like power inverter, tailgate load rack, insect netting setup, mattress, etc was under $500.  If I retro-added the camper top cost, it would still be under $800.

With winter now over, I am ready to install the camper rig back in.  When I do, I'll try to figure out how to add a couple of pictures to this post.  :D
+1 to a truck set-up... I had a Toyota Tacoma with a cap on the back.  You can install a raised sleeping platform with enough room for plastic storage bins underneath for very little money (article I saw recently said less than 100.00 - I can't remember what I spent but it was way less than that).  I used this set up for 12 years for me, guests and my dogs and it worked flawlessly... Add some carpet remnants and a good mattress and its luxurious (it's my dads daily driver now, so I will likely get it back at some point and will use it in the same way again)... Can go anywhere w 4x4 Tacoma- bins don't move around under the platform, plenty of room for cooking on the tailgate, make sure the cap has sliding windows with screen and you are set for most any weather... You might want to go with a reg cab for extra sleeping length, mine was an extended cab and worked fine for people less than 6ft...

Retired To Win

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2015, 09:14:49 AM »
My solution to car camping was to design and assemble my own "truck camper."

I drive a 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup with a camper top.  I designed a simple interior truck bed layout for bed, counter and storage.  I designed it to be constructed out of plywood and stick lumber in modular sections that I could install/remove/install again as needed.  (After a little practice, I became able to do either in under an hour.) My total cost for the rig -- including accessory gizmos like power inverter, tailgate load rack, insect netting setup, mattress, etc was under $500.  If I retro-added the camper top cost, it would still be under $800.

With winter now over, I am ready to install the camper rig back in.  When I do, I'll try to figure out how to add a couple of pictures to this post.  :D
+1 to a truck set-up... I had a Toyota Tacoma with a cap on the back.  You can install a raised sleeping platform with enough room for plastic storage bins underneath for very little money (article I saw recently said less than 100.00 - I can't remember what I spent but it was way less than that).  I used this set up for 12 years for me, guests and my dogs and it worked flawlessly... Add some carpet remnants and a good mattress and its luxurious (it's my dads daily driver now, so I will likely get it back at some point and will use it in the same way again)... Can go anywhere w 4x4 Tacoma- bins don't move around under the platform, plenty of room for cooking on the tailgate, make sure the cap has sliding windows with screen and you are set for most any weather... You might want to go with a reg cab for extra sleeping length, mine was an extended cab and worked fine for people less than 6ft...
\

HEY!  Have you been spying on me?  Or me on you?  LOL.

Great minds think alike, they say.  :O

CheapskateWife

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2015, 09:53:42 AM »
Now you two have me thinking on how to retrofit my Dodge Grand Caravan to be optimized for camping....we have only ever done the air mattress thing in the back, which is great but we lack the storage capacity you mention with the platforms....love that idea.

JLee

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2015, 10:04:30 AM »
Check out the ExpeditionPortal.com forums. :)

I had an 80 series Landcruiser for a while, but if you don't need offroad capability that's going to be way overkill.

sandandsun

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2015, 04:06:16 PM »
My solution to car camping was to design and assemble my own "truck camper."

I drive a 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup with a camper top.  I designed a simple interior truck bed layout for bed, counter and storage.  I designed it to be constructed out of plywood and stick lumber in modular sections that I could install/remove/install again as needed.  (After a little practice, I became able to do either in under an hour.) My total cost for the rig -- including accessory gizmos like power inverter, tailgate load rack, insect netting setup, mattress, etc was under $500.  If I retro-added the camper top cost, it would still be under $800.

With winter now over, I am ready to install the camper rig back in.  When I do, I'll try to figure out how to add a couple of pictures to this post.  :D
+1 to a truck set-up... I had a Toyota Tacoma with a cap on the back.  You can install a raised sleeping platform with enough room for plastic storage bins underneath for very little money (article I saw recently said less than 100.00 - I can't remember what I spent but it was way less than that).  I used this set up for 12 years for me, guests and my dogs and it worked flawlessly... Add some carpet remnants and a good mattress and its luxurious (it's my dads daily driver now, so I will likely get it back at some point and will use it in the same way again)... Can go anywhere w 4x4 Tacoma- bins don't move around under the platform, plenty of room for cooking on the tailgate, make sure the cap has sliding windows with screen and you are set for most any weather... You might want to go with a reg cab for extra sleeping length, mine was an extended cab and worked fine for people less than 6ft...
\

HEY!  Have you been spying on me?  Or me on you?  LOL.

Great minds think alike, they say.  :O
Well, I can't take any credit, my dad had a similar set up in an old bronco when I was a kid... But hey, it's a time tested set up and it works great, why tinker with (cheap) perfection : )

Bonus: my beagles love riding up higher where they can see out and be shoulder height with me when they want to have a 'conversation' with me when we're traveling: )

Le Poisson

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2015, 04:14:39 PM »
Being from Alaska, I have an image of you being able to build anything from nothing.

Have you considered building your own Superlight tear-drop trailer from an old pop-up trailer frame? Many of these can be towed behind even the tiniest of cars, and still work to do all that you wish. Heck, you may even be able to avoid buying the car and just borrow/rent on weekends!

Some inspiration: http://tinyhouseblog.com/tiny-house-concept/teardrops-tiny-trailers/

If you want an actual vehicle, the Chev Lumina APV van I used for a tonne of canoeing was great for this, as was my Buick Century station wagon, both from the 1980's - 90's.  Both were 6-cyl, but very good on gas considering the size of vehicle.

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2015, 09:30:10 PM »
Now you two have me thinking on how to retrofit my Dodge Grand Caravan to be optimized for camping....we have only ever done the air mattress thing in the back, which is great but we lack the storage capacity you mention with the platforms....love that idea.

If you elevate the bed frame just so, you can custom build drawers to fit underneath.  And you'd be amazed at how much can be stored in them.  Then you can also (which I did) create a nested box in a front corner of the truck bed to jam in all kinds of soft items such as pillows, blankets, etc.

deborah

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2015, 04:37:29 AM »
I car camped all around the place in a Mazda 121. This was great because the front seats can lie flat, as can the back ones, so you end up with a very long flat space. SO (who is long) has an old station wagon, into which he puts a futon when he goes away car camping. The newer models are shorter, and he can't fit.

Unfortunately the Mazda went to meet its maker after having its gearbox sump cap come off in the middle of nowhere after the service guy didn't tighten it or the side cap.

After this happened I tried out all the cars available to find one I could sleep in, and came up with something that fits me perfectly. Unfortunately I am shorter than OP, so my car wouldn't suit you. However, I found out that even in Australia (where it is terribly easy to be more than 80km to the nearest garage, many modern cars only come with space savers. And, if you want to put an ordinary wheel in the back, it needs to be built up, as space savers are narrower than an ordinary wheel. So you need to be careful.

Once I had found the car I wanted, I got some extra comfortable foam rubber in the exact measurements I wanted to fit the back of the car, and had it chopped into three cushions (which I covered), and made a fitted sheet for my "bed". This works extremely well, and means I use exactly the space I want to. My car folds down 60/40, so I measured the 60 section for my "mattress".

TheFixer

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2015, 09:45:22 AM »
Our solution is an efficient car, towing a tiny trailer for camping occasionally.

50+MPG unloaded, and 30+MPG towing, and we have a fridge, furnace, stove.


deborah

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2015, 02:06:18 PM »
Beautiful photo! Love the setup too. I just don't want to be pulling a trailer of any sort.

Le Poisson

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2015, 03:37:18 PM »
The micro fiberglass trailers are really cool - but buying one is difficult. Many older ones have a rotted out frame and new ones cost more than your car. We looked into getting one a while back and couldn't stomach the cost. 

deborah

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2015, 03:52:01 PM »
I really like car camping because I can set up in such a short time. Some friends and I went on a trip and I was set up before they had their caravan finished - he was very impressed, as he is a very experienced caravaner.

deborah

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #15 on: April 02, 2015, 04:09:22 PM »
I have a tent like that, and I don't really like it.  One good thing is that the part of the tent that attaches to the car is zipped onto the tent, so the tent could be left without the car being there.

I thought I would use it a lot, but when I camp, I often use the car during the day (national parks often have multiple trails starting kilometers from one another). This would mean trying to align the car with the tent when I came back. Even if I didn't move the car, the setup means that the car has open access at the back while the tent is up. Also, the tent is a fairly large and cumbersome package to haul around.

dungoofed

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2015, 04:13:18 PM »
Can you find a second hand van and sell it after a couple of years? Anything like the Mazda Bongo Friendee with Auto Free Top where you are? V6 and guzzles gas in the mountains but if you're not using it that much it may not matter.

Le Poisson

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2015, 04:43:06 PM »
Assuming you have a hatchback - the most mustachy of vehicle types...

I wonder if it would be possible to create a slide-out floor extension with fold-down legs to give you the bed length you need. This could at least double the back-seat-down length of the car.

To enclose it, you would need to make a tent enclosure that would attach with sticky-backed velcro to the inside of the trunk lip, and then be velcroed or tacked to the bed extension. How much does a roll of velcro, a sheet of plywood, and some sunbrella or nylon fabric cost? A google search shows that this has already been invented... http://www.chromjuwelen.com/de/network/320-hooniversecom/151749-fastback-friday-hatchback-camping.html

fossilhog

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #18 on: April 02, 2015, 06:22:27 PM »
Awesome awesome awesome suggestions, and really cool to see and hear some of the setups. That Scamp setup is pretty nice and could be what happens to us once we leave Alaska someday(I've got some land in Arkansas with a cabin-in-progress)
Anyway, let me address some things that were said suggested.
As much as I'd love to build a teardrop(I'd probably build something boxier) I don't really have the weather. Huh? No garage, and during the warmer months I get sent to the far reaches of Alaska on field projects.
I SHOULD be happy just dealing with a tent, I've done it a lot, but this little camper setup would mostly be for sight seeing the "settled" places of Alaska. I like the ability to quasi-stealth camp in pull offs and decent parking lots on the edges of the small towns up here. Hopping out and throwing up a tent just doesn't feel right. And if we want the "real camping experience" we just throw on our bags and disappear into the wilderness for a few days.
I've done the truck bed camper for about a month out in the desert when my tent was destroyed by high winds in Utah...I like the idea of a comfortable interior, something with some slight insulation and possible climate control.

Right now I've shifted away from the van idea and back to a Prius. I never did read the Prius article that MMM wrote until after my first post and I noticed it was right after the "10 best cars". It didn't really give me new information, but it did cause me to take a second look.
After some research, the Prius seems to have some extremely good reliability. Yes, you pay a decent premium for that battery/hybrid setup. But it allows you some interesting flexibility. I think that's sort of the best selling point for this car. Yes, two people can camp in it comfortably(with a nice window looking up at the stars, room for fullsize mattress+other items, and the ability to leave the AC on overnight<--this is really neat). But it also allows for a flexible future. If I make the assumption that we hold onto this car for many years, it allows for flexibility. If we add another 100k to the vehicle, then that gas mileage looks a lot sexier (about $6k sexier vs another hatchback). If someone ends up changing jobs and has to commute to the other side of town--that mpg looks better. If we end up using it in town much more than I'm estimating--mpg looks better. Gas shoots through the roof in 2016--mpg looks better. We wouldn't fear budgeting for much longer road trips(Week long road trip to Chena Hotsprings anyone?). Also, if we were to leave Alaska sooner than planned, this car allows us flexibility for how we setup for the next step in our lives.
So 1) It's functional...enough. 2) It's versatile for the future.
Plus, there's actually a few of them on Craigslist.  And with gas down right now, demand for these things should be lower.
This is probably my favorite display of a simple easy setup...and the video isn't too long:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5XAlMhiemU

TheFixer

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #19 on: April 03, 2015, 08:21:54 AM »
The micro fiberglass trailers are really cool - but buying one is difficult. Many older ones have a rotted out frame and new ones cost more than your car. We looked into getting one a while back and couldn't stomach the cost. 

It's a lot like buying a used car: new ones are bad investments, and used can be a moneypit.  It pays to know what youre looking at and know the market value.  I stole this one for $1200, then spent several hundred more replacing the axle, fixing electric fridge, patching plumbing....  But the shell, floor & frame are all excellent, and seller had put 2 new tires on to make it saleable/towable.  Now we have a $1900 camper that can be sold tomorrow for $4000.  This is past the bottom of the depreciation curve, so it will always be worth more than I paid for it.  Heck, I would sell it & look for another to fix & flip, but DW has fallen in love with it.  Happy wife= happy life.

I love this!! I know that Scamps and Casitas brands are both super light weight but didn't realize you could tow them behind a compact car. I do very long road trips each year (several months at a time) and generally camp (tent or in vehicle) but have a dog with me and a small hard sided trailer would be nice to leave her in while I do other stuff.  I have looked at a bunch of small and tiny pop up tent trailers, and I think those could work very well for most people with small cars too, but problem with the dog so will stick to car camping/tent camping for now.
The trailer weighs 1200#.  Car is rated to 1500# according to USA owner's manual, but same car is rated to 3300# when sold in der Deutschland, so it's only being tasked w/ 37% of it's max capability. 
We got this because we were tent camping with DW and doggie, and it would always rain, which means putting away a wet tent, and trying to keep the dog sorta clean & dry so he wouldn't trash the backseat of the car or inside the tent.  DW is OK w/ tent camping, as long as she doesn't get wet, thermarest doesn't leak down overnight, not too cold, not too far to the pottie, etc. (we're still working on her inconvenience muscles).  So far this particular solution is working out well for us.  YMMV.

darkadams00

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #20 on: April 03, 2015, 10:54:05 AM »
Our solution is an efficient car, towing a tiny trailer for camping occasionally.

50+MPG unloaded, and 30+MPG towing, and we have a fridge, furnace, stove.



New River Gorge, WV?

TheFixer

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #21 on: April 03, 2015, 11:03:35 AM »
Yep, last August on a trip thru WV and VA.

wheatstate

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #22 on: April 03, 2015, 11:05:50 AM »
I will second the minivan based campers.

A key point is you only need a vehicle that is reliable for 20K miles in the next 3+ years.
A lot of vehicles can be reliable for that little of mileage.  I would consider the American minivans as well, with the plus that they are very depreciated.  People still pay a big premium for the honda/toyota name that I don't think is entirely justified.

Good luck and it looks like the adventures will be a bargain for the price of a used vehicle.

fossilhog

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #23 on: April 03, 2015, 04:31:09 PM »
I will second the minivan based campers.

A key point is you only need a vehicle that is reliable for 20K miles in the next 3+ years.
A lot of vehicles can be reliable for that little of mileage.  I would consider the American minivans as well, with the plus that they are very depreciated.  People still pay a big premium for the honda/toyota name that I don't think is entirely justified.

Good luck and it looks like the adventures will be a bargain for the price of a used vehicle.

Yeah, we really have to decide if it's going to be a vehicle we keep for long term, or just a few years with minimal miles. My brain is flip flopping b/w Prius and a van.

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #24 on: April 04, 2015, 10:58:35 AM »
Following.

My combo right now is a Fit + small tent. I'm very happy sleeping in either, but regularly ponder more options for: cooking outdoors in crap weather, larger mosquito-free area (e.g., massive, walkable tent), living in an RV of some sort, etc.

I like that the car is reasonably bear-proof (they're not if a window is open a crack, as mine usually is for sleep). Also, I've had person-trouble at a couple of sites, and was so happy to be able to move into my car and lock it for sleep, then wake and drive away without being vulnerable in a transition. Also great for camping inside residential areas.

The Fit's warranty is voided, I think, if we pull something over a certain weight.

Have we looked at this awesomeness yet? http://www.swissroombox.com/  Apparently, the company is looking at ways to offer it cheaper.

powersuitrecall

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Re: What is the ultimate Mustachian car camper?
« Reply #25 on: April 04, 2015, 11:20:36 AM »
We had a VW camper van and loved it dearly.  Once the kids get older we might invest in another, but reading the responses here have us liking the minivan option.  They have to be more reliable than the westy.

Aliner makes some great pop ups.  The lightest ones are about 1000 lbs and therefore can be towed by most vehicles.  They set up in 3 minutes and have insulated walls.  There are some on the used market but you have to be quick.

http://www.aliner.com/

LivinLite makes really light options as well: http://www.livinlite.com/index.php