#Vanlife: The Empire Strikes Back

I’ve heard from a lot of people that have owned them that tear drops get old fast. They’re cool, but there are far more space efficient ultra lights these days, and you get a lot more out of a shell if you want to stay as miniature as possible. I hear a lot of nice things about modern hibrids, sort of small ultralight trailers that borrow from pop ups (which are cheap but awful.

If the truck is 4wd you can snag an outer beach permit and get in on those sweet beach campsites that aren’t open to tents or vehicles like the Vanagon. There’s a dry camping beach bum scene my parents are very into.

They lived at a campsite on a military base in Key West for about 5 months last year. All the same kit is apparently involved in off grid deserty camping out west as well.

We spent practically my whole childhood doing this kind if stuff all summer, every summer. Even the dogs loved it.


It’s mostly ease of driving and storage. And they’re overall simpler. There’s fewer cranks and leveling, no need to set out blocks to keep it from sinking in soft ground, you aren’t on the hook for additional tires and shit.

But beyond that because they’re directly in the bed of a truck. They sit higher and can get into some spots tow behinds can’t. Which is very useful for anything offroady. You aren’t towing a trailer over rocks and trees.

Around here they’re primarily popular with the surf casting crowd. One or two people, and you can get them out into some very out of the way place, and very close to the water. Which is key for odd hours fishing sessions and getting to certain fishing spots.

The trade off is in space. Especially cargo space. With a tow behind you have the full bed of the truck to pack shit in on top of the capacity of the trailer and the cab. And features, like not much of toilet in one of those if at all, less water capacity. You won’t be posting up anywhere long term in one of those.

1 Like

I had the VW set up for a lot of that and did it in Mexico. Solar panel to feed the fridge and other electronics. Built in BBQ and a lot of other great stuff. Kept almost all of it. Gave the BBQ to my pal cause the mount is on the bus and they aren’t expensive.


Most of that can probably be bodged into whatever you pick up.

If you do decide to chase the beach thing I’d tell you to disregard the advice above on not worrying about weight. You tend to need more towing capacity to drag things through soft sand. The base fight seems to be bigger truck vs lighter camper.


The truck is already bought and it is a “Tows heavy shit” model.


Tow the VW as a trailer. Win win?


Ok, so the same sort of advantages as a RV built into a Van chassis (like a Road Trek, although I assume less costly than a Road Trek).


Yeah, and also with a trailer you can drop the trailer off and use the tow vechicle to mooch around (like go to a restaurant for dinner). If that is your thing.

Anyway, thanks to both of you. I can see the appeal now. I think for me personally I prefer a trailer, but can totally see why someone might want something fitting into a tighter space, or allowed “more off-road”, or just something where they don’t need to take extra caution while in reverse :wink:

1 Like

I’m kinda diggin’ the Metris camper conversions, but yes, it’s not a truck.

1 Like

As a former passenger van conversion owner I think the Sportmobile conversions are a better path with the Sprinter someplace in the middle.

1 Like

Believe it or not I’ve seen that done with a cap.

No clue what was required or if it was safe and sensible. But I seen it.

It’s sort of the light weight, small equivalent of that Road Trek. Plus truck. @jlw 's VW camper being one of the not truck option in that space.

A lot of them are shockingly light. My neighbor’s could be lifted off and dropped on by one person if it wasn’t so awkward. I’ve helped him pull it off a couple times. He usually does it with two ten year olds to stabilize it.

Was that the official spec name? :wink:

1 Like

“Heavy Duty Tow Package”


They should’ve gone with your label for it lol

1 Like

The appeal of a camper shell over a teardrop trailer is modest, but trailers are a PIA on any kind of over-landing trail and are difficult to park at trail heads, etc. There are tax advantages because a trailer is tagged separately and camper is just seen as part of the truck. You can also stand up in a camper shell where you can’t with a tear drop or other small trailer. Of course, the camper shell reduces cargo room and increases center of gravity. It just depends on what you are looking for, but for overlanders, it’s almost always a camper shell or rooftop tent over a trailer.

1 Like

Sort of where pop ups and hybrids come into it. .

Tear drops are cool. But like Airstreams they’re state of the art 70 years ago.

That said as much as small trailerables have changed. So have shells. It’s not all Wolverine’s set up from that first X-Men flick anymore.

I’m told you can get modern ultra light trailers that weigh less than an old school tear drop and provide a hell of a lot more space. I have actually camped in old pop ups that do that easily. But don’t they leak like nobody’s business, new ones might be better but the older ones were worse than camping in a thrift shop tent. As in I opted to sleep in the thrift shop tent more than once.

Tear drops are apparently mostly a vintage/restored thing, with few current manufacturers and come at a premium. Much like Airstreams. Having poked the used market with a stick, that seems to be more than true.

While shells seem to be surprisingly cheap. If I was looking for my own set up, or already had a truck for other reasons. I’d give a used shell a serious bit of thought. I really like tear drops and Airsteams as a general idea, but the more I’ve learned about either the more it’s about disposal income and preference.

Like my mechanic restored and tricked out his parents 70’s Chevy camper van. For what it would have cost if he didn’t do the work and had to buy it he could have gotten some wild shit. For what it cost him he could have gotten a truck and a cool little camper. But he loved that fucking thing. And it didn’t clash with the kinda camping he wanted to do.

I’d never seek that out, and probably couldn’t justify the cost if I did. But if I was sitting where he was, Already have it and have the time and resources to do it right? I’d do it twice.

Now that is joined-up thinking!

(I’ll show myself out.)

I visited Peace Vans and got a tour of their Metris camper from the company’s owner. Great take on a modern-day Westphalia. Very high quality by a company that loves what they do.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.