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Jul 08, 2019
I love traveling around the United States capturing the diverse beauty of this amazing country, but expense is always an issue. It's just costs too much to stay in hotels, and even Airbnb's can really add up.
I discovered the perfect solution in the Tiny Camper Company's 6x8 Rugged Rhino mini camper, which is a comfortable place to sleep while on the road and allows for extremely easy hauling and set-up during trips dedicated to adding more amazing photos to my online gallery.
The video above is a quick walk-through of the cool little camper, detailing why it's perfect as my mobile travel photography headquarters.
So why is this little camper so perfect? I mean, the entire camper measures a scant 6 feet wide and 8 feet long, and there's no built-in toilet or kitchen. Well, the fact is that none of that is a huge deal. It's pretty much like tent camping, with some very nice added amenities.
On our first trip, we simply stayed at campgrounds with bath houses. We could shower and use the potty whenever we needed to. No big deal.
The sleeping quarters is outfitted with a folding memory foam mattress that is surprisingly comfortable. And this compartment can be air-conditioned and heated, providing restful sleep in any condition. More on the HVAC system later.
And there's a galley in the rear of the camper. We could cook in there, but we made the decision not to: We don't want the camper to smell like whatever we cook up. We use a two-burner camp stove set up outside the camper to prepare simple but hardy breakfasts and dinners. Easy peasy.
Storage is an issue; minimizing what you take is critical with this camper. We discovered some totes that fit perfectly and can be stacked four high, so we can really put a lot in the galley. We also store our camp stove, our coffee maker (yeah, I have to have THAT) and two Kysek 25L ice chests. One ice chest is used to keep food cold, while the other is dedicated to drinks; we just keep ice replenished as needed, and everything stays perfectly chilled.
A top rack allows us to put kayaks, fishing rod holders, etc., on top of the camper. The racks are rated at 300 pounds, and we plan to make good use of them.
The entire camper is covered with Rhino Lining, so it's tough as nails. So we don't have to worry about getting dings. Be sure and read on for some suggestions on colors.
An awning was offered as an upgrade, and my wife wanted it. I didn't. It looked pretty cheaply made, and I thought packing a pop-up would be better. I was wrong. I caved and paid for the little awning, and it served us so well that we plan to put a second one on the other side of the camper. I would definitely add that to any order.
Another upgrade was a torsion axle, which proved to be a great addition. This camper pulls so well, and the torsion axle keeps it from bouncing all over the place when we hit a rough spot in the road.
The sleeping compartment of the Tiny Camper Company 6x8 Rugged Rhino provides ample room for a folding mattress, and offers a comfortable place to rest.
What really makes this mini camper special is the ClimateRight 2500 HVAC system that rides on the cargo rack built into the trailer tongue. This isn't just a window unit: Those simply don't work.
Instead, the ClimateRight system is designed specifically for campers. There are two accordion vents that fit between the unit and the front of the camper, with one providing the cold/hot air and one pulling air out of the camper to provide perfect circulation.
Your read that right: The ClimateRight is both a heater and an air conditioner.
The result is the perfect solution to remain comfortable while sleeping. I highly recommend this system to anyone who purchases a mini camper.
The ClimateRight HVAC system and the internal electronics can be plugged into any 120-volt electrical system. Many campgrounds offer on-site hookups, making it very easy to just pull up and get things going.
But we stayed at two National Forest Service campgrounds that didn't have hookups at our campsites. So what then?
That's no problem: All you have to do is buy an inverter generator. The ClimateRight system can be run on one of the little 2000-watt inverter generators, but we opted for a 3500-watt inverter generator because I need to power my laptop and charge batteries while on the road. Plus, a coffee maker really pulls a lot of wattage.
Honda's inverter generators are the gold standard, but they cost an arm and a leg. A great alternative is the Harbor Freight Predators, which cost a fraction of the Hondas and work just as well. In fact, the Predator 3500 we use is actually quieter than the Honda 2000, registering about 53 decibels at about 20 feet. You can barely hear the generator humming when you're in the camper.
It's important to know campground rules, however: The two National Forest Service campgrounds at which we stayed prohibited generators between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. That can really be an issue where nights remain sweltering (say, in Louisiana), but it's not a huge problem at higher-elevation campgrounds. For instance, we spent seven days at Standing Indian Campground in North Carolina and had to use a blanket every night to stay warm, even though we couldn't run our HVAC system. This beautiful campground sits at 3,880 feet above sea level, and the highs were in the upper 70s in July, while nighttime lows dipped into the upper 50s.
But we could have run the generator all night, if we had stayed at one of the many primitive camp sites scattered throughout the national forest. And those sites (usually old hunting camp sites) are completely free. So we can set up the camper anywhere and be comfortable when we sleep, which is the only reason we need a camper. We are out and about from before sunrise until late in the evening.
The generator rides on the front rack, right next to the HVAC.
While there are many positives about the mini camper, there are some issues of which you should be aware.
First, if you are tall (say, 6 feet or more), you might want to look at one of these before you placing an order. You can almost get a queen-sized mattress in the sleeping area, but not quite. We use a folding queen mattress, and one segment has to fold up the galley partition wall to fit. That's not a problem for us: I'm just 5 foot, 5 inches, and my wife is even shorter.
Secondly, if your idea of camping is going to a campground and lounging inside all day with maximum amenities, this might not be your deal. Could you do that? Sure. But you only have a bed and some LED lights in the front compartment — and there are no bathroom facilities, refrigerator or stove.
However, if you are going to be taking in the sights, hiking, fishing and generally being outdoors all day, this is the perfect camper for you.
Thirdly, minimizing is critical. I have a habit of taking pretty much everything I think I'll need, just in case. Well, that's not really possible with this camper. You can store a lot in the galley with proper organization, but the fact is that's the only storage you have. I have a large lockable box in the bed of my truck, in which I can really pack a ton of stuff, but we found it very cumbersome to go in and out of that box every day. The answer is to take just what you need and leave everything else at home. We even plan to take just three or four changes of clothes that will be packed in small totes and added to the rest of the items stored in the galley. We can always stop at a laundry mat on extended trips.
Another caution is the color of the camper. We ordered the standard black Rhino Lining, and it looks great. But I honestly never gave much thought to the consequences of a black camper because we were getting the ClimateRight system. Man, that color was a mistake: The top of the camper gets hot enough to fry an egg (and probably the bacon to go with it); the HVAC will cool it down, but it takes a while.
I considered painting the camper top white, but my wife came up with a ingenious solution: We Velcroed two insulated silver windshield covers together and install them with more Velcro to the top of the camper while setting up camp. It's absolutely perfect, quickly reducing the temperature inside the camper and allowing the ClimateRight to do its deal without straining.
That said, I would order white Rhino Lining if I had it to do over again. You can actually get the Tiny Camper folks to do a wide variety of colors, but I think white would probably be the coolest (in terms of temperature).
The bottom line is that we love this camper and recommend it as an affordable means of traveling the country. We looked at several mini campers made by some of the larger manufacturers, and the Tiny Camper Company's offerings are much more solidly built. Instead of fiberglass and whatever that cheap-looking interior camper material is, Tiny Camper Company uses 3/4-inch plywood that provides a really solid unit. There's no insulation, but that hasn't been a problem for us, especially since we will only be inside at night.
And the Tiny Camper folks are so easy to work with. They are tiny campers themselves, so they understand the needs. They don't make hundreds of campers a year; instead, they build each one by hand and the workmanship shows. You can place an order online by putting down a deposit, and then pay the camper off over several payments. In fact, the company encourages its clients NOT to take loans out. Wow!
Tiny Camper Company mini campers also are very affordable. The base 6x8 Rugged Rhino is just $6,400. Upgrading to the torsion axle, adding the awning and the ClimateRight system brought the cost up to just shy of $7,600. Smaller campers cost even less. We looked at other minis that ran between $15,000 and $20,000. So Tiny Camper Company produces a solid camper that is affordable for almost anyone.
What about towing? Well, you don't have to have a huge tow vehicle: The 6x8 Rugged Rhino weighs just 890 pounds before loading it up. I estimate our camper weighs around 1,200 pounds completely loaded. So you can tow it with even a small truck or SUV (just be sure to check your vehicle's tow capacity).
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