A common complaint that I see regarding the state of RVs today is that most of them are just so expensive. It seems that you’ll have to spend more than the price of the average new car in America to get something of decent quality. Tack “off-road” somewhere on the trailer and the cost gets even higher. A company called Zion Off-Road wants to flip the calendar to when off-roaders didn’t have to pay a fortune for a camper. It’s trying to do that with its modular camper that starts at $12,500 and tops out at $20,942 when fully accessorized. The camper is built with some modularity so you can easily upgrade when and how you want to.
One of my favorite corners of the modern RV universe is the modular camper. The idea is simple. Normally, when you buy a camper you’re locked into whatever floorplan and options that you’ve chosen. If over time, your needs or desires change, you’re usually stuck with what you have. This also means that your camper may not be able to keep up with the advancement of camping technology. In theory, a modular camper means that your RV can adapt to a person’s ever-changing life and can stay updated with the times. Zion Off-Road’s camper recently showed up at New Atlas, but the company has been around since 2021, showing off its trailers on social media.
One Of A Number Of Modular Designs
We’ve seen a few of these ideas in action and in concept. The Happier Camper HC1 has a flexible floorplan where you drop in camper interior bits like Lego. Winnebago and Adventure Wagon have a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van with an interior on tracks, and you can even buy a VanLab flat-pack style kit to build out your own van. Of course, who can forget our Daydreaming Designer’s idea for a modular system to make converting a bus super easy? Modularity is so hot right now that you can even buy the Sea-Doo Switch, a personal watercraft pretending to be a pontoon boat with a similar Lego-style floor as the Happier Camper. I got to play with one of those and it was some of the most fun I’ve had on water.
St. George, Utah-based Zion Off-Road is entering its own interpretation of modular campers into the fray. As the company notes, if you’re looking to buy a custom off-road camper trailer today, you’ll often be looking at price tags around $30,000, $40,000, and even higher. Remember the Mission Overland Summit camper that I wrote about last year? Those have a starting price of $43,900. Over at Taxa Overland, that company will sell you a TigerMoth that starts at $25,480. Snowboard manufacturer Never Summer has a mid-century modern-style camper that retails at $24,900. ADDAX Overland will sell you a utility trailer with a tent on top for $19,995, but if you want a refrigerator and a kitchen, you’ll pay $29,995. You get the point.
Zion Off-Road wants to make the cost of an off-road camping trailer hurt a little less and it has a two-pronged approach to do it. The first is a starting price of $12,500 and the second is a mostly modular build that allows the camper’s owner to upgrade over time and at their own pace.
Zion Off-Road’s Camper
Let’s start with what you get for $12,500. The Zion Off-Road base trailer is barren. How barren? The trailer doesn’t have a battery or a mattress and the galley consists of just a couple of shelves. This might be the most empty base camper that I’ve ever written about. For your $12,500, the base trailer comes standard with a laser-cut steel frame with a 3,500-pound axle with leaf springs bolted to it. Bolted on top of all of that is a birch plywood body with aluminum skin and 1.5-inch foam insulation all around. Located at the back of the trailer is a 2-inch receiver to hang bicycles or other equipment.
In terms of off-road gear, the trailer comes with 27.1-inch all-terrain tires and the lowest ground clearance is a foot at the axle. The frame sits 17.25 inches off of the ground.
Inside is where things get really sparse. The base trailer comes with four interior lights, four galley lights, and a number of 12V power ports. Ventilation comes from a two-speed bi-directional fan. There’s a solar power connection, two plugs that connect to the inverter, and two more plugs that connect to shore power, but the former only works with the electrical box accessory, more on that later.
Should you choose to stick with the base $12,500 trailer, the power will work when you’ve plugged the 7-pin connector into your tow vehicle or when you’ve plugged into some form of shore power. There is no battery. Here’s where Zion Off-Road’s party trick comes in.
The trailer is built with upgrades in mind. So, the frame is already drilled for future additions and the company’s custom T-track outlines the camper’s exterior. This allows you to either build your own accessories and hang them on the trailer or buy accessories from Zion Off-Road at a later date. For example, if you want a Timbren axle-less trailer suspension, you can buy one and it’ll bolt right up.
If you want your camper to have some kind of off-grid power, for $1,500, Zion Off-Road will sell you its Electrical Box Package, which adds a galley-mounted electrical box with a 1,000W inverter, space for two 12V Group 31 marine deep cycle batteries, a dual-battery solar charger, fuses, additional switches, and more outlets. The wiring for all of this is already there so the box can be added later or you could just make your own if you wanted. That’s one thing that I like about this camper’s design; everything is already pre-wired so it’s plug-and-play.
Throw in an additional $700 and that nets you two roof cross bars, a battery, and two gear mounting plates that can be placed on a metal structure in front of the camper’s box. Zion Off-Road expects you to use the cross bars to carry bikes or kayaks and the mounting plates for propane tanks or fuel canisters for the tow vehicle.
You can buy all of these accessories individually from Zion Off-Road, but the company really sees you buying them in stages. I just talked about Stage 1. For $4,211, Stage 2 gets you everything in Stage 1 plus off-road fenders, 31.5-inch BFG K02 tires, two mounting plates that mount on the camper’s walls, 6 jack mounts, and an additional jack.
From there, Stage 3 and Stage 4 just add more modular exterior pieces from additional cross bars, mounting plates, and jacks, to a ladder, mattress, and a spare tire.
Stage 4, which costs $20,942 and includes all other Stages, also adds a Timbren axle-less suspension and a slide in the galley meant to fit a Yeti Tundra 45L cooler or equivalent. Apparently, the fully-loaded $20,942 Stage 4 price is $1,000 less than if you just purchased every part separately.
There’s A Catch
All of this adds to a camper that Zion Off-Road says is modular. I love the idea that the exterior of this thing can be changed easily based on what you’re looking to do with it. All of the various mounting plates and bars can be placed basically anywhere on the T-track system, making the exterior whatever you want it to be. I wish this idea applied to the interior. But aside from being able to add a bed, you’re basically stuck with what you have.
It’s also disappointing that no matter what package you choose, the galley remains empty. So, it’s up to you to figure out the kitchen, bathroom, water, and fluid storage.
Overall, I love the idea being presented here, but it seems like it could use a little more time in the oven. It’s fantastic to be able to buy a base trailer and then build it up as you can afford it. As our readers know, I’m always for cheaper ways to get into camping. I see this camper getting competition from something like the $15,000 Coleman Rubicon 1200RK. The Coleman isn’t as rugged and cannot carry nearly as much gear, but you get a bed, an air-conditioner, a heater, and a kitchen.
I see the base $12,500 version as perhaps ideal for people who already have camping gear, like my wife and I. We already have a mattress, a lithium power station, and propane accessories. All of that could be tossed right into the camper, saving some money on the front end. Though, really, this camper might be for the DIYer who doesn’t want to build the bones of their trailer, but is comfortable adding on to an existing rig.
Zion Off-Road’s camping trailer starts at 1,380 pounds before accessories and measures 12.9 feet long. The interior cabin is 6 feet, 3 inches long, and 3.6 feet tall. The total trailer height is 6.2 feet to the top of the roof fan and accessories add more height. As of right now, Zion Off-Road is taking $250 deposits. After you tell the company what you want, it’ll give you a timeline. Once you’re locked in, you pay $2,000 and then wait for your camper to be completed, which Zion Off-Road says takes eight to 10 weeks.
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Real question: do lots of people actually tow camping trailers off-road? And are those people wealthy? Since I don’t participate in the world of 4×4-ing, I am clueless, but I imagine campers like this are niche and low volume.
When I look at new campers of any type, I think of their resale value. I can’t imagine buying anything like this new. They may have money in the R&D side, but these are so cheap. I look at the wheels and tires alone, probably $150 total in both. Fenders and frame and cheap. For me, these things are worth maybe $3500.. not $12K. Leaky junk for the most part.
Apart from the value issues others have mentioned, I would be worried that getting upgrades from them would be like getting parts from Gobi Racks. In other words, waiting 6 months for that important part without any status updates, so you can’t really plan your next trip for a while.
I don’t get why all of these types of trailers don’t build out to the full width of the wheels. There is at least 2 feet of width that is just wasted, and if there’s something that you can’t get enough of in a camper… is space for things.
Good question. Rear visibility from the stock side mirrors, maybe?
shit is just too expensive. Little fucking trailers shouldn’t cost that much. Almost everything related to the RV industry is a huge rip off. I want to own some, but they are all so low quality without spending house money.
^ This right here. It is embarrassing how low the build quality is on almost all RVs, Motorhomes, and “Van life” conversions. It used to be descrete how much the profit margins are, now it’s just rubbing it in peoples faces by charging crazy high prices for shit build quality. And no… we can’t just blame inflation for the high prices on these things.
The entire industry for these, motorhomes, trailers, van conversions, etc… it’s going to go through (another) bust and consolidation cycle…soon.
As someone who used to transport class Cs, Bs, and As from Indiana to dealerships across the country and Canada, we would often have all the OG paperwork in a manila envelope. I never saw factory invoice greater than 60% of MSRP; usually closer to 50%.
Your 100k class C cost the dealer 55k.
Yep, there you have it.
I have pretty much the same complaints as everyone else here, but it’s becoming obvious that plenty of folks see value in “campers” like these (I put “campers” in quotes because this isn’t a camper, it’s a box trailer). There’s enough value for enough folks that manufacturers of these keep popping up like flies at a picnic.
I’m still a fan of Aliner campers in this price space. At least there’s a spot in the middle of the floor where an adult can stand upright!
This is a cool idea, but I’m just not seeing the value proposition at $12K – $20K, at all. Something this spartan and basic should start well below $10K. I’m aware that RVs are expensive in general these days, but you’re spending a lot of dough here for basically what amounts to a small, enclosed utility trailer with a mattress and some drawers inside. Pretty much the only thing that makes this a step above a tent is being guaranteed to be off the ground and dry in heavy rain, but that’s quite a price premium for the privilege. It may theoretically be more conducive to take off-road than a large rig, but I have serious doubts that you could do any kind of serious or technical off-roading with this thing attached.
In which case, why not just get a small basic pop-up or pull behind that likely has a kitchen, bathroom, room to stand up and move around and sleeping space for more than two people? The price difference is pretty negligible, and it’s not an extremely niche product that will likely be difficult to sell and worth a fraction of what you paid within a few years. Maybe I’m wrong and these things will fly off the shelves, but I personally just don’t get it.
I mean, a pop-up is around $20k new, and those are *not* built for off-roading.
two wrongs don’t make a right!
My point is that the comparison is flawed. Everything has gotten more expensive; in the case of things like this, significantly so. Labour, materials, R&D, property, etc.. have all skyrocketed, and niche companies are going to be more expensive still due to a lack of economies of scale.
Eh, my folks just got a brand new nice hard sided Rockwood pop-up for $15K that can sleep five and has a kitchen, toilet and shower. Still absurd compared to what prices were in the recent past, but that makes this thing look like highway robbery. I get that this camper is supposedly “purpose built for going off road” and maybe it’s not an apples to apples comparison. But no way around the fact that something this void of features shouldn’t be anywhere in this price range.
What about a utility trailer and a big tent. D links with carabineers on the floor for tie downs, you can pop the tent off and have a big “front porch” in the mornings.
About 15 years ago I bought a home made trailer. It was the back end of a 1969 Ford F-100 that had a 3500 lb axle with leaf springs and has some nice off road truck tires on it and had a tongue welded to the front. It had the original leaf springs from the Ford, which were kinda saggy so I found some replacements and bolted them in. Clearance was at least 12” and it off-roaded very well. At that point I had spent $700. I spent another $1200 on a used slide-in camper with a 3-burner stove, propane fridge, heater, table and a cab-over bed. My wife and I camped in that little thing all over Colorado for years. When we weren’t camping, I put the camper up on its stilts and voila- I had a utility trailer. So for less than a tenth of the cost of the Zion camper, I had something that was more useful, and probably more comfortable. I get that prices for things have increased over the years, but this seems ridiculously expensive for what you get (or don’t get).
Considering the amount of time I spent rebuilding portions of my brand-new Aspen Trail (a Keystone brand) travel trailer before ever taking it anywhere, I gladly would have paid a little less to build it myself; using fasteners that actually hit the studs, properly crimped butt splices, attaching things so they didn’t fall off, catching missed welds on the frame, and so on.
I like the approach, but my main problem is spending 15-20k on what is essentially a bed and set of drawers. I guess my complaint is more about teardrop trailers in general. If I am going to deal with the hassle of towing something off-road than it should give me something a roof top tent and set of drawers don’t on my car don’t. A trailer is a must if you can’t commit your interior volume to cargo – carrying more than 2 people for example – but its a teardrop that only sleeps 2 people so what do you have in your car? Seems like these are ideal for couples who must have compact dimensions but also must have hard sided walls for sleeping…and also don’t mind paying 3x as much for them.
So a box on a trailer and you buy or make all the accessories? Granted they did wire up the box