I Took A Close Look At Some Lightweight Off-Road Campers That Actually Look Badass. Here’s What I Saw

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Last week, I toured the RV Open House in Indiana to check out the latest and greatest in RVs. Among the hundreds of square boxes on wheels were some great ideas. We’ve already talked about Airstream’s electric-powered trailer and an adorable fiberglass trailer from the UK. Today, I have a relatively new camper from Canada, and this one is for the off-roading crowd. Mission Overland wants to sell you a lightweight off-road camper where durability and sex appeal are among its highlights.

Americans have an insatiable lust for camping right now. As we’ve noted before, the RV industry has been posting record production volumes as people take to the open road for vacations. The industry has also noticed the popularity of off-road camper builds, and as a result you can buy all sorts of trailers with lift kits and all-terrain tires. However, as I’ve noticed with my own eyes, these are often just regular campers that merely look rugged. Here’s a look under a lifted Little Guy teardrop camper:

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Underside of a lifted Little Guy teardrop.

Underneath, they’re the same as the regular street version. One wrong move, and you’re dumping your black tank out on a trail.

Thankfully, you can buy campers that are designed around the idea that you’re going to bash them off-road. Earlier this year, I got to sleep in a Taxa Outdoors Mantis Overland at the King of the Hammers and it was an unforgettable experience:

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Taxa Outdoors, a company founded by a former senior architect for the NASA Habitability Design Center, sells campers that are stripped of everything but the basics. Forget about slides, washers and dryers, or chandeliers. A Taxa is so aggressively bare-bones that you store stuff in milk crates held in place with bungee cords.

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Taxa Mantis interior.

In a Taxa Mantis, you still get a furnace, air-conditioner, kitchen, and even a bathroom, but all of that stuff is just put there without any regard for beauty. At the Open House I found Taxa’s direct competitor, Canada-based Mission Overland, and it has some ideas on how to improve on Taxa’s designs.

What Is Mission Overland?

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I spoke with Aaron Boring, President of Mission Overland. He told me that this is a startup in the classic sense. It was started by two guys who wanted to continue having adventures after having children.

Boring owns 50 percent of the company and to him, part of what sets Mission Overland apart is that the company’s trailers are built by people who adventure, for people who adventure. Boring tells me that while the company is new, its people have more than 15 years of experience building campers. He also worked for Taxa Outdoors before deciding to create his own version of the same idea.

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Taxa Outdoors and Mission Overland do a few things similarly. Both camper companies believe that lightweight, rugged campers are the best way to camp off-road. Both camper companies have minimalist designs meant to keep you connected to the outdoors. And both campers are designed to last a long time. Boring tells me that these types of campers are great because the low weight and tiny size means that you aren’t trying to drag a luxury hotel room through the woods.

Also somewhat similar are the walls. Mission Overland makes its walls out of two 16-gauge aluminum panels with high density foam insulation sandwiched in. It adds up to 1.5-inch thick walls. Here’s what a sample of it looks like:

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Taxa’s trailers sport walls of aluminum composite panels with a resin-based coating said to able to withstand serious torture. Along with sunlight and UV exposure resistance the coating also offers some resistance to fire and abrasion. That’s bonded to aluminum alloy panels and includes a two-pound closed cell foam core.

What Makes Mission Overland Different?

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The two camper companies follow a similar formula, but with different methods to achieve it. The most obvious difference to me was the arrangement for cooking in larger trailers. In a Taxa Cricket or Mantis, your stove, sink, and cooler are inside of the camper. But in a Mission Overland Summit or Approach, the cooking unit is outside, mounted to drawers. Boring tells me that the reason that you buy a trailer like this is to be outdoors, so why not cook outside, too?

I do think that these slide-out kitchens are pretty neat. On a good day, you can cook your meals in full view of a lake, mountains, or wherever you set your stabilizers down. I like that. Here’s a Taxa kitchen, for comparison:

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However, it’s those bad days that hold me back from truly embracing this style of kitchen. At night at King of the Hammers, it sometimes got into 30 degree temps. I wouldn’t want to go outside and cook in temps that low. And I’ve experienced how miserable it is to cook while it’s raining or snowing. But if you camp in fair weather, an outdoor-only kitchen probably isn’t a problem.

Another difference between the two brands is interior design.

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Mission Overland Approach interior.

In a Taxa, it’s all super simple. Your lighting consists of LED strips strung out over the ceiling. Your counters are high pressure laminate with baltic birch for cabinets. And as I said before, your storage solutions are metal caddies with milk crates in them. Check it out:

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Taxa Cricket interior.

I dig this kind of interior because it seems like you could fix things that break with duct tape and zip ties if you needed to.

Mission Overland’s approach uses a lot of metal. Your storage cubbies are metal, with plastic doors. Your benches are metal, too. You don’t really get any form of countertop space, but you do get a wood table.

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Mission Overland Summit interior.

The cushions are also pretty thick, which felt great. That said, Mission Overland’s trailers felt a little less “open” than a Taxa.

Taxa’s campers are designed to have a lot of windows that swing open. They also have huge doors that also swing open. Together, they really do make you feel like you’re still outside as you relax on your bed. Here’s the Mantis that I slept in, exploded open:

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Mission Overland has this going on, too, but with fewer windows and a smaller door, the feeling isn’t the same. Perhaps the dark colors also influence the more closed-in vibe.

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That brings us to another huge difference between the two camper brands: aesthetics. As you can probably tell, Taxa loves theming its trailers after insects. The company’s trailers are also intentionally funky, featuring asymmetrical designs inside and out.

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Boring tells me that one of Mission Overland’s goals is to make a camper with sex appeal. So the campers have black-painted metal, sweet graphics, and a shape that makes them look like they’re a camper meant for Mars. They do have a futuristic space age vibe to them.

Check out the Summit all closed up:

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There’s another difference underneath. Under a Mission Overland you’ll see the same Timbren axle-less suspension as you can get as an option on a Taxa. A 360-degree hitch is also there, also an option for a Taxa. But look at this, you get a big skid plate and some protective metal for the fenders:

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While there really isn’t much to break under a Taxa (see below), I could see one getting its frame hung up on something. That wouldn’t happen as easily with Mission Overland’s big skid plate.

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Taxa underside.

Other Models

Mission Overland currently sells one model with a second about to launch and one more in the works. The current model, the Summit, is a direct competitor to the Taxa Cricket Overland. A Summit will run you $43,900 compared to $43,745 for a Cricket Overland. The two are the same length, with a similar height and similar width, but the Summit weighs in at 2,250 pounds to the Cricket’s 1,978 pounds. One interesting difference is that the Cricket gets 15 gallons of fresh water storage while the Summit has a huge 37-gallon tank.

Mission Overland is also coming out with the larger Approach.

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This one is similar to the Taxa Mantis Overland. Pricing and specs aren’t finalized yet, but I’d expect both to be close to the $57,874 Mantis Overland. The obvious difference that I saw between the two is the aforementioned kitchen and window arrangement.

The Approach also has a bathroom, like the Mantis. But unlike the Mantis, where you could sit on the toilet while cooking yourself breakfast, the Approach has more of a contained bathroom unit.

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Mission Overland’s third trailer is called the Trail Dog, and that one is a small toy hauler meant to carry bicycles, dirt bikes, and motorcycles with a roof tent. It’s 15-feet-long and about 1,500 pounds. Pricing for this one hasn’t been announced, either.

I was really excited to see these trailers at the Open House and I love that there are companies competing in the space of tiny rugged off-road trailers. I definitely need to try one of these out (as well as another Taxa) and see how they stack up.

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35 Responses

  1. Whether you realize it or not Mercedes, you’ve spawned the ultimate idea/solution. You need an overlanding trailer which has a cook station that is stored in a compartment like the Mission, and slid out to keep more interior room by cooking outside, or can be slid back and using some sort of clever hinge mechanism, tilted up and in so the cook station is available for use inside in bad weather. Have the cook station itself have a built-in down draft ventilation system to pull all the nasty fumes out and away from the interior.

  2. I really can’t get on board with Mantas. I feel like there isn’t enough there to justify the price. It’s not that I don’t understand the point of milkcrate storage, it’s that paying 50 grand for something that looks like an erector set and comes with milk crates and bungee cords doesn’t sit right with me at all. I just don’t feel like you get anything that should cost that much. With the Boring fellow’s trailers I feel like you just get more for your money and I would honestly trust his designs in the backcountry over the other.

    As for the outdoor kitchen, I gotta be honest with you, there has been maybe 2 times in the history of owning my tent trailer we didn’t cook outside. You just put out your awning and carry on. The times I did cook inside it was a much simpler one pot mean that could be accomplished with any single burner stove. In short, I think its smarter to have the kitchen outside and make the inside area more accommodating.

    1. Thank you for your input as always!

      I suppose it depends on the person. Sheryl does most of the cooking out of the two of us, and I can’t pay her to use an outdoor kitchen when it’s snowing. And despite my love of riding motorcycles in the snow, I’d still rather cook inside during similar conditions. But when it’s nice out? You bet we’re cooking outside.

      In regards to interior space, the Mission Overland trailers seemed similar to the Taxa trailers. Those nice metal storage bins take up quite a bit of space.

      1. I grew up riding dirt bikes as a teenager and camping out of cars with my friends as soon as we got licenses.

        Cooking outside sucks, especially if there’s any wind. Your stove is constantly blowing out, your food gets cold instantly, and you’re constantly hitting your head on your Ez-up.

        That said I can afford neither of these things. You’d have to have both a ridiculously lax work schedule and a huge salary to get your moneys worth.

      2. https://www.opuscamper.com.au/op4/

        I grew up under canvas and in Australia so nobody was cooking in the snow ever.

        These sorts of things are everywhere in Australia and where I would want to be at. This one looks to be too $$$ and more off-road than I would ever need but I like the idea but would want to spend less than half.

        Not seen them in the states really.

        1. Those look awesome! They’ve made little trailers similar to that for decades that can be towed by motorcycles. Seeing it scaled up it seems like a no brainer, but I guess the end result isn’t so different from the standard pop-up camper that’s been on the market forever.

      3. I guess it is a personal preference. In this space (overland/adventure) I feel like the majority of users would prefer outside cooking. That being said, I don’t really do much snow camping with or without the trailer so maybe my opinion is moot. My tent trailer is pretty much worthless in the winter even with a heater and if it’s snowing I’m probably more stoked to ski than camp. I’m still of the opinion that the idea family camp trailer hasn’t been brought to market yet. but some are closer than others. If it were me and I was willing to drop 60k on a trailer…it would be closer to the mission than the Cricket/Mantas. What I need is something in between the junk on the market and the super high end “can carry a bus” overbuilt mission et al. A simple frame with high-quality off-the-shelf components that don’t have to be “space grade” or military grade or whatever. The other thing of course is that if you have kids you move from a teardrop style pretty quickly and move into much bigger units. I think there is a middle ground.

  3. Mercedes, thank you for this! Content I was hoping you’d write up from your trip. Spoke with an inTech dealer this week that was at the show as well.

    I’ve been intrigued by the Cricket since they displayed one at Outdoor Retailer around 2015ish(?). They do a lot of things right.

    I’m liking what I hear about Mission Overland’s Trail Dog! I want a small, off-road (not trail) capable toy hauler for a pair of dirt bikes and other toys. Preferably with a bed inside and water, maybe even a furnace.

  4. Those laminated boards Taxa used for the kitchen, are they exterior grade? Because if not I dunno how long that interior is going to last in high humidity, never mind someone trying to clean out the inside with a hose.

  5. The price of these trailers is astounding to me. Consider the amount of content that you get in an offroad-worthy automobile or a Side-By-Side ATV and the cost/complexity of those components compared to that of an offroad trailer and it leaves me wondering where the money is going to…

        1. If you’re the sort of person who would think of building your own trailer, building things is probably something you enjoy doing, ie, a hobby.
          So the time spent will have a positive value, just not one you can price in terms of money.

    1. Honestly, camper pricing in general is a bit shocking. At the show I’d look at a small trailer, thinking that it had to be cheap. Then my mouth would drop that a 15-footer set you back $50k.

      In an upcoming article I hope to show you lovely readers what the cheaper end of the market gets you. The short version is that you can get a new, fully-featured camper for cheap. But the quality will be…something.

      1. paid $13K in 2012 for an rPod. The build quality was comically bad…to the point of finding Jose’s tape measure under the bed in the bench area where you change the valves over to bypass for winterizing. It had his name on it.

        But it’s been easy to fix, easy to modify. I still use it. Decals have faded but otherwise in pretty good shape.

      1. To be clear, the picture that you’re looking at is the underside of a Little Guy Micro Max, a teardrop that starts at $25,060.

        I’ve noticed that the cheaper trailers at the event had weird quality things going on. One trailer had cushions too small for its bench, another had its awning bolted on in a way that damaged a wall, one was already rusting only a month out of the factory, and whoever built this Little Guy just slathered on sealant everywhere.

  6. thanks Mercedes.. I’d love a rugged small camp trailer, but these aren’t that 😉
    Amused that the Mission Overland adventure trailer company is run by Mr. Boring..

    “But in a Mission Overland Summit or Approach, the cooking unit is outside, mounted to drawers. Boring tells me that the reason that you buy a trailer like this is to be outdoors, so why not cook outside, too?”
    Tell me that you don’t camp much, without telling me you don’t camp much..
    Anyone who’s spent any time at all living out of a car in campgrounds knows you need a sheltered place to cook, when the day isn’t an Instagram one. This is relatively easily solved by adding a retractable awning over the cook unit – but why isn’t that included ?

    Basically anything with ‘overland’ in its title or description is likely to be overpriced and overweight.
    Right now I have a Slumberjack RoadTarp off the back of my pickup – comfortable bed in the back of the truck, sheltered cooking area on the tailgate, place to sit out of the rain – cost $130. No compromise on the truck’s offroading capability either.

    There are kits for much less, and a million youtube videos on building your own teardrop trailer. I might well do that as a retirement project, should I live so long.

  7. Those prices seem insane to me. I have an older Lexus RX 300. Had some guys at CNC Offroad build me a custom rack for our treehouse, then had them reroute some electricity for an Australian fridge. The Baroud tent, which is amazingly nice cost like 3k, the car upgrades 2k, the fridge 400 on eBay, the car 4k from CA so no rust. total less than 10k. Plus we have the ‘car’ for regular stuff when needed. 40 to 50k for an effing trailer? I would rather take that money and go around the world birding, sleeping in lodges and hiring guides and I would still have enough left over to do another 300RX.

  8. Thanks for the review Mercedes! I love the focus you are putting on this segment. Im a current Mantis Overland owner and was closely looking at the Mission (as well as Opus 4). I had a number of reasons for going with the Mantis. The primary ones were around size, sleeping capacity, and versatility. I needed something to handle my wife, kid and giant dog. Like anything seeing these in person makes a huge difference and the Mission is just very small inside (I dont see how they can advertise it as sleeping 4!?). We can all easily hang out in the Mantis during bad weather or cold nights.

    Also the outdoor kitchen is cool but I defiantly prefer having the indoor. We always bring our camping stove and have the flexibility of cooking both inside and out, its good to have options! Speaking of options the jackknife bunkbed/couch combo is awesome, and storage space is superb. The Taxa is also dang durable and with everything exposed it makes doing any kind of repairs in the field very easy.

    Would love to see some more reviews about other campers too. Black Series, Opus, and intech all have some cool options. Hopefully that means you just keep getting free nights out in the wilderness 🙂

  9. For this kind of money, I think I would rather just buy a 4-Runner or a truck with a cap on the back and sleep in it. Do people never just sleep in their vehicles when in the back country anymore? We used to do that all the time. Maybe that’s too old school. We didn’t have $2000 worth of X-Treme Gear! from REI. My friends and I used mostly military surplus gear because it was tough and very cheap. Unless you’re camping on the slopes of K2, a discount store tent can get you through the night just fine.

  10. Holy heck those things seem pedestrian in the chassis and build compared to what we get in Oz with this sort of camper (which is a dime a dozen). The one we have in our shed runs a galvanised steel chassis with a Cruisemaster independent suspension system (dual shocks and coil springs) in a unit that’s barely 6 metres long…

  11. Outdoor kitchen is a dealbreaker for me. If I brought a camper along, I shouldn’t have to go outside in the freezing drizzle to make breakfast. The end.

    The Taxa stuff is more interesting. However, I feel like I could build the same thing in my garage for about 1/5 the price. More than that, they look like something I built in my garage. If I’m paying as much for a small trailer as I would for a nice car, I’d expect a little more polish. Not that I don’t appreciate the fix-it-yourself simplicity, but I don’t see the value.

    Basically, what I’m saying is I think there’s still room for someone to come in and really nail this segment with a definitive, market-dominating off-road camper that is rugged, lightweight, inexpensive, and better than what the average handy person could slap together at home after bingeing a dozen or so #vanlife builds. Taxa and Mission Overland are on to something, but neither one has quite put all the pieces together. It could be done, though.

    1. My family’s had a “Camprite” trailer for a while now, and I think so long as you have an awning over your head, cooking on an outdoor stove isn’t that bad at all.

      We’re getting plenty of coverage of australian cars on autopian, but what about Australian Caravans, Campers, and Motorhomes? someone get mercedes a plane ticket!

      1. I mean, I guess it depends on where and when you are camping? Here in New England it’s frequently pretty gross, cold and wet and windy all at the same time. I tent camp in that so it’s not like I’m unwilling, but in my view the whole point of bringing a camper is to not have to deal with that crap.

  12. I just feel like people aren’t even trying anymore to make a compelling product. These prices are just simply atrocious for the value premium you’re getting.
    Camping with my 94 pickup and a $3000 rooftop tent (I use a $100 Costco tent with zero issues honestly) gives me a great experience, alongside my Weber charcoal grill and minifridge. Apparently these companies want me to pay an extra $45k for the privilege of a bathroom and a built in couch (I have a $200 mobile shower that works just fine)?

    I would love a towable camping rig that makes even the remotest financial sense. I’m up to my eyeballs in diy projects and it’ll be years before I can devote one to a camper so totally down for a readymade solution, but these are ripoffs. Sure maybe I can afford one but I didn’t reach my level of financial security by being this stupid with my money.

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