If you haven’t noticed, a decent camper can cost a ton of money, often more than some houses. Even if you could afford a travel trailer, motorhome, or camper van, do you have a place to put it? If you own a crossover or SUV, I have good news. For $2,150, you can pick up the VanLab SUV Kit and turn your daily driver into a cozy weekend camper.
Something that still stuns me today is how expensive factory-built camper vans are. The cheapest Winnebago camper van is the Winnebago Solis Pocket, which sets you back at least $140,375. Airstream’s versatile Rangeline is $147,570. A “cheap” camper van is the Pleasure-Way Tofino, which still sets you back $94,250. I’ve been looking at a former three-bay firehouse for sale that’s only slightly more expensive than these vans are.
If you want to go camping and don’t want to haul around an old trailer or sleep in a tent, there is another way. You can convert your existing car!
More Camping Boxes Are Good
Camping boxes are a great solution for a number of different situations. Perhaps you can’t afford a travel trailer or motorhome or have nowhere to put it. Maybe you just want something a bit better than a tent. Or, maybe you love road trips and don’t want to throw money at hotels. Whatever the reason, buying a camping box allows you to sleep in your car with some basic amenities. Depending on how you set a camping box up, you get a bed, a stove, a sink, some furniture, and storage. You get all of that with the safety and security of sleeping in your wagon, crossover or SUV.
VanLab’s kit isn’t the cheapest camping box on the market, but it’s still pretty inexpensive and more choices are always good. In the past, we’ve featured the German $3,000 Ququq BusBox (Below), which gives small vans a bed, stove, cooler, and running water in a collapsible, but somewhat heavy 110-pound box plus a 55-pound bed.
Then there’s the 123Camp miniB from Poland. It’s a $1,333 hyper portable 62-pound camping box that turns just about any crossover or wagon into a camper with a bed, sofa, table, and chairs. The 123Camp system is interesting in itself as it’s designed to be able to be shipped as checked baggage, provided you don’t mind getting smacked with an oversize and overweight fee. The idea here is that you can fly to another country and turn your rental car into a camper.
Today’s camping box comes from VanLab, a Simi Valley, California purveyor of camper van conversion kits. The company is best known for van conversion kits done in IKEA flat-pack style. VanLab makes DIY builds a lot easier for people who aren’t already carpenters or otherwise have no idea what they’re doing.
As we pointed out in our previous coverage of VanLab, you could start with an empty van and have a largely complete camper in about a day or two. Sure, VanLab builds don’t look super pretty, but they’re functional and cheap. Until now, VanLab has served only van owners. Announced this summer, VanLab is changing that with the SUV Kit.
VanLab’s Camping Box
Much like VanLab’s van conversion kits, the VanLab camping box looks straight out of an IKEA and it’s assembled like IKEA furniture, too.
The kit is made out of 9-ply half-inch Baltic Birch plywood and VanLab says the choice of material is both for strength and to keep the weight down. Indeed, the VanLab SUV Kit weighs just 66 pounds on its own or 104 pounds with the bed. That makes the VanLab SUV Kit a bit easier to carry than a number of other camping boxes, including the aforementioned BusBox. Some people are solo campers, so it’s nice to see a unit that doesn’t necessarily call for two people for lifting.
The main box measures about 39 inches wide, about 14 inches tall, and goes about 21 inches deep. Add the folding bed frame and the kit stretches out 75.5 inches. The VanLab SUV Kit’s bed is about 51 inches wide at its widest point. VanLab says that these dimensions allow the box to fit in a large variety of SUVs and crossovers from the Honda CR-V to the Nissan Juke, Subaru Forester, Ford Explorer, and even the Hyundai Tucson. I bet these would fit in a number of wagons as well.
The core box features two slide-out drawers. On the passenger side is a full drawer that VanLab sees you using for the storage of pots and pans. From that is a slide-out board that you can use for a wash basin as well as meal prep.
On the driver side is a narrow drawer, that holds cups, spices, and utensils. Straddling both drawers is a platform for a cooking stove. Moving up, on top of the box is a hatch that pops open and reveals a space for a 30-liter top-loading cooler.
An Inexpensive Way Out Of A Tent
This is a pretty basic camping setup and if you want just the box, it’ll set you back $1,650. Note that you do not get a stove, sink, cooler, or anything like that, so you’ll have to add those yourself. If your car doesn’t have seating that converts into bedding, you’ll probably want to add in the 75-inch by 51-inch full bed, which moves the price up to $2,150.
VanLab says that this bed consists of four sections of the Baltic Birch and when not in use, folds behind your seats along with the kitchen box. If you don’t have your own bedding, VanLab can provide that as well, but it kicks the price up to $2,550.
The best part is that VanLab says its kits can be assembled with just a screwdriver and some of your time. It also doesn’t change anything about your car, so you can remove it without damage. So, it’s one of those short and gratifying DIY projects. However, if you cannot or do not want to build your own VanLab kit, the company says you can schedule a TaskRabbit handyman to build it for you.
VanLab says it’s targeting people currently sleeping in cars or in tents. A camping box like this is hardly luxury camping and it’s not as well-equipped as a travel trailer, but it certainly beats getting flooded out of your tent! I’d love to give one of these a try and see how much better sleeping in one of my wagons could be.
If you’re interested in finding out for yourself, you can take a look at the VanLab SUV Kit by clicking here. Should you order one, VanLab says the turnaround time is currently about two to four weeks.
(Images: VanLab, unless otherwise noted.)
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