A few weeks ago, I went to the massive RV Open House in Indiana to see some of the latest and greatest in RVs. While I was there, I was disappointed not to see one of the weirder trailer companies today. Happier Camper makes vintage-style fiberglass campers with a novel modular floor. Recently, the manufacturer expanded its lineup with a trailer for businesses and this, the HC1 Studio. This trailer looks like the modular trailer that Happier Camper is known for, but finally features the all-important bathroom.
When I was at the RV Open House, one thing stuck out to me, and it’s that you don’t find a whole lot of innovation in RVs right now. Aside from projects like the Airstream eStream or small companies like Taxa, it seems that most manufacturers build some variation of a box on wheels with a place to sleep. One of the companies standing out as being different is Happier Camper. Its idea for changing the RV game isn’t self-parking or a trailer for overlanding. Instead, the Camping World-backed company offers camper buyers the ability to change their floorplan on the fly.
The Happier Camper story starts with Derek Michael. As Forbes reports, in 2009 Michael made the drop-proof iBallz case and went viral. To help sell the iBallz, Michael bought a 1960 Boler fiberglass camper to travel to conventions and shows with.
Michael reportedly fell in love with his Boler enough to buy and restore a second camper. Then, after people kept asking, he started renting the campers out. In 2014, Michael’s camper venture officially launched with a rental fleet of restored vintage fiberglass campers. Eventually, Michael got the idea that he should build his own campers, and along the way he decided to innovate with the idea of a modular layout. After three years of development, the Happier Camper was born.
When you buy a camper, you’re usually locked into whatever layout that you choose. Sure, most layouts offer some flexibility in that you can turn tables into beds or a bench into a bunk bed, but you’re largely stuck with what you bought. Happier Camper is among just a small number of companies trying to change that.
In 2015, Happier Camper launched its first trailer, the HC1.
The little 13-footer looks like a Boler and the fiberglass trailer weighs in at just 1,100 pounds. That makes it towable by just about anything with an engine. However, the real trick to the HC1 is its floor. A Happier Camper has a honeycomb fiberglass floor with square slots. This allows pre-fabricated components to snap into place, like LEGO blocks. Happier Camper calls this the Adaptiv system, and I’ve really only seen something similar with the Sea-Doo Switch Pontoon boat.
The awesome part about the Adaptiv system is that you could configure your Happier Camper to be a motorcycle trailer one day, and have it be a camper the next. Or you could arrange things to have a hybrid toy hauler and camper. Happier Camper sells modular cubes that consist of benches, countertop cubes, a kitchenette cube, a bunk bed cube, and even a toilet cube. The little HC1 costs $34,950 and it seems pretty awesome, but you may have noticed that I didn’t say that it comes with a shower.
At first, if you wanted a shower in your Happier Camper, you had to step up to the $69,950 Traveler.
That trailer weighs 1,800 pounds and is a total of 17-feet-long. It has the nifty Adaptiv system in addition to a shower and a fixed kitchen, but loses some practicality as it doesn’t have a huge door to load things through.
Splitting the difference between the two is the recently launched $49,950 HC1 Studio.
This camper brings the fixed bathroom and fixed kitchen of the Traveler to the smaller HC1. Of the three, this is my favorite. As I’ve written about with Taxa’s campers, huge opening hatches add an airy feel to a tiny camper. Plus, the HC1 Studio retains most of its modular cubes. So you can still use it for utility while also using it as a camper. Just now you don’t have to shower outside if you don’t want to.
For that $49,950 price, you get a kitchenette with a sink, two-burner stove, and fridge. You also get the bathroom unit. The shower is fed by a 17-gallon fresh tank and drains into a 17-gallon gray tank. In addition, Happier Camper says that you get these blocks:
6 Adaptiv cubes
1 Double tabletop
1 Single tabletop
Set of surrounding cushions
2 Patio bases
1 Studio floor panel
3 Floor panels with table leg holes
If you want the trailer to be better-equipped to camp off-grid, you’ll have to pay $54,950 for the Premium package, which adds a 12 volt air-conditioner and a solar panel. Somehow, the addition of the bathroom unit balloons the trailer’s weight to 1,800 pounds. That’s the same dry weight as the Traveler, which doesn’t make sense to me. Perhaps that is a typo.
This is indeed quite a lot of money for a 13-foot trailer (which gives you 10 feet of living space), but as I’ve noticed during the Open House, prices like these are pretty normal right now for a camper with decent quality or a novel feature. In a later article, I’ll show you what paying less money than this gets you.
I should also note that Happier Camper is not the only company offering modular camping solutions. ModVans wants to give you a modular interior for at least $59,121 plus the cost of a van. And VanLab has a $10,000 modular kit that turns a van into something that looks like it came from an IKEA. But if your preferred flavor of RV is a trailer, Happier Camper is in a class of its own. SylvanSport has a concept for a modular camper trailer, but after three years of development you still can’t buy one.
This is another camper that I’d love to test out. It’s about the size of my U-Haul project, but it’s not stuck in a single configuration. For some people, that alone is worth the price of admission.
Modularity is fun and I can see a few niche cases for it, like renting out your trailers as meeting spaces one day and campers the next but I don’t think the novelty is worth the price. The literal price. When you make something modular you add a lot of cost due to every surface needing to be not only finished but also have a connector, plus other minor redundancies that add up.
I was just looking at MDC campers and thinking that 45 grand is a lot for their X13 (on sale, normally 60k). But right now its 5 grand LESS than the HC1 and the X13 has:
A monstrous galvanized steel frame, bespoke long travel coil suspension with 4 shocks, electric AND manual hand brake, 16-inch wheels with off-road tires and TWO spares, electric awning, a full canvas add-on room, 300 watts solar and 300 ahr of AGM with DC/DC charge controller, etc etc. I realize that people aren’t cross-shopping an 1800 lb fiberglass retro camper to pull behind their Sienna with a 5100 lb off-road monster, but in terms of value for dollar, even just considering raw material, these modular campers don’t make a lot of sense.
I agree…..the numbers being bandied about in this article are staggering…….for what you get.
I think there is a similar one selling on Alibaba for around $10k? Been a couple months since I looked there. When saw the headline I thought it was the same one, they appear identical . . .
I know it’s comparing apples with oranges, but a nice Maverick Tremor with a Go Fast Camper is going to be roughly the same cost as the HC1, but it can be used as a daily year-round and go farther up a trail than most towed trailers. The GFC will also last forever versus most manufactured trailers these days.
Why did they name their camper hydrochloric acid?!?
I kept reading it that way too! That damn chemistry degree has warped my brain.
It’s a cool idea, but…
It only really makes sense if you’re looking at it as a camper you can take all of the furniture out of and use as a cargo trailer too. Maybe the price is justified if this is replacing two trailers.
Otherwise I don’t see the modularity getting much use. Most people are going to find a layout they like and stick with that, just like they would when shopping for a traditional trailer. The only difference here is you don’t have to make up your mind before you buy. I suppose it also lets you change your mind if you get it wrong the first time, but given that it costs as much as two more traditional trailers I’m not sure that’s actually much of a benefit.
Although…I wonder how this compares price-wise with other small toy haulers. I know those tend to be expensive too, and if you can load this up with bikes and kayaks and such for the trip to the campsite, then unload all that stuff and set up your normal interior arrangement that could make this a better proposition.
I think the only answer is that they send me one for review. 😉
The most appealing aspect for this modular concept is being able to break it down and clean all the camping dirt out of all the little nooks and crannies in this thing.
I have had one for quite a while — ours was built in 2016. The modularity is awesome. Tired of where the bed is? Move it. Want to haul cargo? Pull all the modules. Quick trip with minimal cooking? Leave the kitchen module behind. Cleaning it out? Pull the modules and hose it out. It’s light, it doesn’t rot, and that huge back hatch makes it better than a Boler (In my opinion.) Camping at the beach with the back hatch open is great, and it’s a nice space to spend a rainy day. It’s versatile enough that we’re keeping it AND have a 25 foot Airstream too. First world problems, I know 🙂
Takeaway. Buy a vintage Boler trailer and renovate it.
Why do you need a shower or a toilet? You are camping! Get a shower tent for $20, a solar shower for $5 and a shovel for $9 and you are golden. There you go saved you $20k!
By that logic why do you need a Camper? Just buy a tent.
There you go saved you $34,000!
The plural of Lego is Lego. Not Legos. Only Americans seem to call more than one Lego, Legos. Please unlearn this.
“This Retro-Style Fiberglass Camper Has A Floor Plan You Can Move Around Like Lego”.
It’d actually be “. . . Move Around Like Lego Bricks” or “. . . Like a Lego Set.”
Lego included messaging in its earlier sets to the effect of, “they’re ‘Lego bricks,’ please don’t call them ‘Legos'” out of fear the Lego trademark would be subject to genericide, and I believe the company still makes this distinction today in all of their website copy.
I thought people using a product name as a general term didn’t allow others to use it to market a similar product. Like how we all can call any tissues Kleenex but if we manufactured and sold tissues labeled Kleenex we’d be immediately sued.
now remember to remind your kid to pick up his singular lego as 3 of them stab you in the foot at that ever-so-critical 2AM bathroom break.
The more of these articles I read, and the more eye-watering prices I’m shocked by, the more I like the idea I’ve had kicking around in my head for years. Buying an all-aluminum cargo trailer, and converting it into a camper myself.
I know a lot of people that do that for motorcycle track days. They have tie downs in the floor to store their bike when in transit, then a fold down bed, roof AC unit, and maybe a sink so they don’t have to book a hotel somewhere or sleep in the vehicle.
I assume you have people doing the same for other types of track days.
There’s an entire subforum on that over here: https://www.tnttt.com/. It’s a great source of information.
I like the shape: I’m a sucker for pontoon fenders-even if they’re just sorta suggested. Anything in their literature saying what that extra bit of space is used for? Leveling jacks, maybe?
I really like this idea, and I resonate with your love of smaller campers. The problem is that prices for everything is bonkers right now. I mean, yes, I can haul this with my sedan, but it costs more than my car did!
I’m with you there. Heck, this costs about 16 times as much as the wagon that I would tow it with! Maybe I’ll buy one in 30 years when one of the doors is falling off and someone jacked up the wiring.
If you compare it in price with a smallish enclosed cargo trailer it sure makes you think, that’s lot of money for looks, furnishings and farkles.