17/03/2022
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How to get a campervan without buying a campervan

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With demand for campervans at an all-time high and stock levels at an all-time low, we take a look at some alternatives...

Words by Geneve Brand, Editor of Campervan magazine

Page contents

 


Campervan shortages

It’s fair to say that none of us saw the coronavirus pandemic coming and we certainly couldn’t begin to imagine what consequences it would have on the outdoor leisure industry.

My own personal experience, early doors, back in March 2020, was that I sold my own campervan for a normal price – albeit very quicky, in 24 hours! – and had expected to take delivery of my new campervan on my birthday in April, having ordered it at the end of 2019. And, although the converter had to close its doors to the public, being a relatively small firm in terms of employee numbers meant that it kept its factory open and there was no delay to the build of my campervan.

The fact that it then sat on the forecourt for the next three months without a numberplate was due to delays with the DVLA registering it – a problem suffered by many people at the time. The DVLA claimed that the delays were caused by office closures during the pandemic.

Of course, many campervan converters bulk order their panel vans from manufacturers like Volkswagen, which then arrive in a consignment from Germany, for example. That meant that many converters had already ordered and received their vans in early 2020, so we didn’t start to see a shortage of base vehicles until much later into the pandemic.

However, with so many factories closed across Europe, it stood to reason that there would be a widespread shortage of vehicles eventually. Of course, vehicles are made up of a multitude of component parts, too – many of which come from China, etc – and it’s a shortage of these essential bits like ECUs that’s the main cause of the current global shortage of new vehicles.

Naturally, with new base vehicles in short supply and in high demand, the price of secondhand vans and campervans has skyrocketed, too.


Carry on camping

It’s not just campervans that are affected, either – from motorhomes and caravans, to tents and all manner of camping accessories, everything is in high demand and short supply.

The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, most camping gear (think awnings, toilet tents, sleeping bags, torches, kitchenware, etc) is manufactured in China, and these factories were closed for quite a while, which led to an initial shortage of such items. Then, a lack of component parts, such as materials like canvas, for example, has led to a further shortage of products. At its peak of silliness in around May last year, when campsites had just opened but facilities blocks were still closed, we saw a knackered old toilet tent sell on eBay for £70!

And that brings us to the second issue, which is the volume of newcomers to the hobby of camping in general. With people not flying and holidaying abroad like they used to before the pandemic, it stands to reason that the outdoor leisure industry at home has seen a massive boom in popularity in the last couple of years.

Camping – whether in a campervan, motorhome, caravan or tent – has come to be seen as a relatively safe way of having a holiday and also spending time with friends and family.

If you’ve got your own facilities, then it’s easy to isolate; if you’re meeting up with loved ones, you can all sit outside at a socially safe distance. Camping during a pandemic is a no-brainer, isn’t it? So, what can you do if you’ve set your heart on a campervan but have found that you’ve been priced out or aren’t prepared to wait months – possibly even a year – to get one? Be it new or used.

For the same reasons, you won’t get a motorhome, either. Maybe you’ve ruled out caravans because you don’t have room for one, or you don’t fancy towing, and the idea of tent life doesn’t appeal, either.

Well, you’re certainly not alone, so it’s no surprise that alternatives such as camping boxes, which fit in the back of your car, and/or roof tents are really making a big splash.


Flatpack furniture

The new VW Caddy California

(Photo by Warners Group Publications)

 

A camping box, as it is generally known, is a unit (often removable) that fits in the back of your vehicle and these vary in complexity. Earlier this year, Volkswagen launched its Caddy California, which is essentially a car with very basic camping facilities.

The Ququq KombiBox

(Photo courtesy of Ququq)

At the back, you’ll find a box, which has two slide-out sections; the lower compartment provides storage for things like a kettle, frying pan, plates, cutlery and cups.

Above this, the second section houses a single-burner gas hob. There is no water tank or toilet, but you could easily invest in a water container and Porta Potti without breaking the bank.

Camping box units typically contain a bed, too, and the example seen in the Caddy California is quite typical. At the back of the vehicle, ahead of the kitchen pod, is a fold-out bed. This is in three sections and unfurls above the vehicle’s seats, so there’s no need to remove them and the bed can easily be put up with minimal fuss.

VW California bed

(Photo by Warners Group Publications)

It will accommodate two so, if more campers are tagging along, you could buy a cheap tent for them to sleep in, and an awning for more living space.

The attraction of a vehicle like the Caddy is that it’s an ordinary car, so you can use it for your daily duties, but having basic camping facilities on board means it doubles as a campervan for short trips away, so you don’t need to own two vehicles.

However, with a hefty price tag of around £36k, it’s yet to be seen whether these will sit about on dealer forecourts or sell like hotcakes because the Caddy California is built by Volkswagen.

Perhaps VW has already thought of that, though, because it’s just launched its ‘mobile home in a box’ (see our full news story on this earlier in this issue). In summary, it’s a range of modular units (built by Ququq, we understand) offering kitchen facilities, a water supply and a bed, which are designed to fit in the back of certain VWs.

The range-topping model is compatible with the Caravelle T5/T6/T6.1 and costs £3,340, so this could be a great option if you already own one of these vans and want to get into camping without breaking the bank.

Volkswagen is not the first brand to offer modular furniture, either. Concept Multi-Car (CMC Reimo) has offered removable kitchen units for its VW-based HemBil campervan range for a number of years, and Auto Campers has come up with many nifty and innovative designs for the Ford Transit Custom over the years. Both of these converters sell their modular units on their own, too.

The attraction of having this sort of campervan set-up is the flexibility it offers. For example, if you’ve got a work van, are relatively strong and have a garage, you can store all your modular furniture out of the way during the week, and then just fit it all in your van when you want to go camping in it.


Sleeping in your car

The Ququq BusBox

(Photo courtesy of Ququq)

But what if you haven’t got a VW T6 or Ford Transit Custom? Well, there are other options, too.

German brand, Ququq, was one of the first companies to introduce camping boxes to the UK a number of years ago and its offerings are pretty comprehensive. Its smallest box fits in vehicles like the Ford Tourneo Connect and vehicles of a similar size like the Nissan NV200 and VW Caddy. It also does a medium-sized box for vans like the Toyota Proace, a bigger box designed for the VW T6 and similar, as well as boxes that fit in the Land Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser and Mercedes G-Class.

What we really like about the Ququq camping box is its design. Essentially, it’s a trunk with a carry handle at either end and a bed attached to the top. Two people should be able to lift one into the back of their vehicle without too much trouble, and they are really user-friendly.

Like the bed in the Caddy California, these unfurl over the top of your vehicle’s seats, and the pull-out kitchen units house all the basics. With prices starting at £1,980, they offer the opportunity to try campervanning without having to splash too much cash. (The UK stockist for Ququq is South Coast Camper Conversions.)

The Egoé Nest

(Photo courtesy of Egoé)

Another brand that came to our shores more recently from the Czech Republic is Egoé Nest.

It offers a similar product range to Ququq but also makes camping boxes for even smaller vehicles, like the Dacia Duster, Škoda Fabia, Ford S-Max and BMW X5, to name just a few of the vehicles for which the Egoé Nest in compatible.

The design is very similar to the Ququq and prices are comparable, too. The UK stockist of the Egoé Nest is Dirty Weekender.


Raising the roof

Autohome roof tent for Land Rover

(Photo by Warners Group Publications)

Perhaps you’ve already got a day van, or an awning and a basic camping kitchen set-up and just need somewhere to sleep, or maybe you’re sold on the idea of a camping box but need extra berths for the kids. In which case, a roof tent could be just the solution for you.

Traditionally, these were the preserve of hardcore Land Rover goers, off-roading in some muddy outback or on an adventure trek across the Sahara to Timbuktu, perhaps. Indeed, Land Rover recently teamed up with Autohome to develop a roof tent for the new Defender 110.

Nowadays, however, there are a number of companies around offering roof tents with campervanners in mind, and it’s easy to see the appeal.

Essentially, a roof tent provides the space for extra sleeping quarters in much the same way as a pop-top roof on a campervan does, but without the commitment or investment.

If you’ve already got a van, you could have a pop-top fitted, but this is not straightforward and can be quite costly, as it involves cutting the roof off your van and replacing it with a permanent pop-top.

Instead, a roof tent fits on the top of your vehicle on a roof rack in much the same way as a roof box, and can be removed and stored in a garage when not in use. Once you’ve arrived at your campsite, they are pretty easy to deploy and access is via an external ladder.

British brand, RoofBunk, for example, makes the ‘Hard Shell Car Roof Top Tent’, which does what it says on the tin. It can be fitted to any vehicle, from a Mini through to a van or 4x4. It weighs 65kg and can be opened/closed in no time at all. You can store your bedding in it, too, and it sleeps two to three people.

Design-wise, it’s similar to a pop-top on a campervan, as it has a solid weatherproof roof with canvas sides. It costs just £1,695, too.

ADV roof tent

(Photo courtesy of ADV Roof Tents)

Another brand to consider is Bristol-based ADV Roof Tents, which offers various types of roof tents in its range. The Aero (in Lite and Luxury versions, from £1,395) pops upwards to create a box, as does the Roof Bunk model, and the Edge (in Lite and Luxury versions, from £1,750) is front hinged and, therefore, looks more like a campervan pop-top.

The Expedition (£1,295) and Adventure (£1,795), meanwhile, are canvas only, rather than having a hard top. These fold out sideways and look much more like a tent than a pop-top, and are said to be perfect for overland adventures.

TentBox is another company we’ve come across before and really liked. It also offers two types of hard-top roof tents as well as a canvas-only model that will fit to the roof rack of even the smallest of cars – the TentBox Lite, which weighs 50kg, costs £995 and comes in bright orange so you’ll never lose your camp at a festival!

Tentbox roof tent

(Photo courtesy of J4 Campers)

For something a little different, have a look at Thule’s Tepui Explorer Autana range, which combines a canvas roof tent with an awning.

It is a little dearer, with prices starting from £2,299.95, but you are getting sleeping quarters and an awning all in one. It’s also made from heavy-duty canvas so it’s suitable for year-round use.

The moral of the story is that there is no shortage of roof tents on the market for you to look at. So, as with anything, do your research and see them in the flesh at shows and at dealerships before buying one.

It’s also possible to try before you buy, as a number of hire firms, such as Bumble Campers, offer camping cars that are fitted with roof tents.


 

Contacts

Auto Campers:

auto-campers.co.uk

ADV Roof Tents:

advrooftent.co.uk

Bumble Campers:

bumblecampers.com

Egoé Nest:

egoe-nest.eu/us-en

Dirty Weekender:

dirty-weekender.com

South Coast Camper Conversions:

southcoastcamperconversions.co.uk

RoofBunk:

roofbunk.com

TentBox:

tentbox.com

Thule:

thule.com

Volkswagen Vans UK:

volkswagen-vans.co.uk


Expert Campervan advice to your door!

Campervan Magazine

Campervan is the exciting monthly magazine that will give you all the inspiration you need to explore the world in your campervan. Every issue is packed with real-life campervanning experiences, inspiring travel ideas in the UK and further afield, the best campsites to stay on, campervan road tests and reviews of the latest models, and much more!

Want to know more about Campervan magazine?

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