Expedition-style RV trailers bring a new level of comfort, functionality and durability to those who camp off the beaten path
There’s a fast-growing trend among outdoor enthusiasts to ditch conventional pop-up, hybrid and hard-sided trailers for something better suited to backcountry travel that can be towed behind Jeeps, pickups and SUVs. Expedition-style tent trailers are designed for dirt roads and four-wheel-drive trails that accommodate travel deep into deserts and mountains. Australians and South Africans have designed and refined them for decades, as have some of the more hard-core off-road adventurers in North America. They’ve garnered the attention of Millennials and Baby Boomers alike who want the freedom to roam light and small in pursuit of their favorite outdoor activities while being comfortable at camp.
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Expedition-style RV trailers ride on robust frames and axles, and their bodies can be built around utility-style open boxes or custom enclosures. Whatever the body style, they all focus on maximizing the small space to carry everything from camp stoves to fuel, water and provisions in a variety of sliding, fold-out and pop-up compartments and configurations. Yet they are light enough to be towed by most SUVs and pickups, and often run on the same size tires and wheels as the vehicles towing them, so if there’s a flat, only one spare is needed to keep going.
These trailers come equipped with a rooftop tent (RTT) or are designed to accommodate one. If an RTT is an option, it can add between $1,200 and $4,000 to the price of the trailer and provide sleeping quarters for two or more people. Most off-road trailers have other comfort options such as an awning, refrigerator, LP-gas stove, generator, solar power, hot-water heater and external shower.
There’s no shortage of expedition-style tent trailers these days. By our count, more than three dozen manufacturers offer at least one model in the United States. Most are made by North American companies, although a growing number from Australia, South Africa and Europe are finding their way here.
To show the wide variety of trailers suited for backcountry travel, we’ve highlighted 15 of them below and listed 23 additional manufacturers:
The Mother of All Bivouacs, or MOAB, as the brothers who founded Bivouac Camping Trailers (BCT) in Phoenix call their line of go-anywhere utility camping trailers, was founded in 2008. Of the six models, the lower-price-range MOAB Fort XL has an interior cargo capacity of 40.9 cubic feet and can carry canoes, kayaks or mountain bikes. The sliding system in the rear serves as the galley. The up-level MOAB Fort XL Delta includes an 18-gallon water tank with an on-demand hot-water system. With an optional Tepui RTT, it can sleep up to six people. All BCT trailers are made of powder-coated steel with torsion axles, 10-inch electric brakes and at least 17 inches of ground clearance on standard 31-inch all-terrain tires mounted on 15-inch alloy wheels.
Blue Ridge Expedition Trailers is a new company in North Carolina formed by Brian Howell, who takes great pride in crafting one expedition-style teardrop trailer at a time. The BRX1 is the company’s flagship model, designed to take on remote backcountry roads in style and comfort. Not only does the aluminum-bodied base camp come with a Dometic heating and air-conditioning system, it carries a 26-gallon undercarriage water tank, an on-demand hot-water system, and a sliding cabinet for a generator with external plugs for solar and shorepower. The interior is wood, and the galley has a stainless-steel counter and sink, along with wood cabinets. The BRX1 Pisgah Edition comes standard with a roof cargo rack to carry an optional RTT, as well as LED lighting and 32-inch all-terrain tires on steel wheels, including a spare.
Straight from the harsh and unforgiving environments of Africa and Australia, the Conqueror UEV 390 Extreme is the Swiss Army knife of off-road trailer offerings. It’s one of the smaller of the four models of self-contained expedition-style trailers Conqueror International imports through Ohio-based Conqueror North America. The UEV 390 can carry loads of gear with provisions stored behind five access doors and two more on the nose box. It comes with an L-shaped slideout kitchen at the rear, a refrigerator-freezer, a canvas tent with a drop-down room, dual battery boxes, 40-gallon freshwater tank with pump, an external shower and lots of 12-volt DC plugs and LED lights. The king-size foam mattress sleeps two. Options include on-demand hot water, a solar-charging system, 1,000-watt inverter and dual LP-gas cylinders to keep the camp kitchen functioning for weeks.
The catchy name embodies what Crawlorado Offroad is all about: custom-built trailers made for crawling and camping off-road. The man behind each trailer that leaves the Crawlorado shop in the shadow of Pikes Peak is Bob Frazee, a respected race-car fabricator. This avid four-wheeler’s expedition trailers use some of the same strong, lightweight aluminum and boxed-steel materials from his racing days. The Offroad model comes with a slideout kitchen with a stainless sink and two-burner stove, air-spring suspension, deep-cycle battery, LP-gas cylinder, 6-gallon freshwater tank with 12-volt DC electric pump and an RTT/cargo rack. The customer specifies the tire-and-wheel combo, RTT, paint color and any other options.
In 2013, Jeff Oliver created Highland Expedition Outfitters (HEO) to fill the void of off-road trailers in the eastern United States. Today, his Tennessee-built all-aluminum trailers are some of the best on the market. HEO offers two models, the T3 and T5 Expedition, the latter of which is the larger of the two and the most popular. The rugged trailer tent folds out to provide more than 200 square feet of under-cover living and sleeping space. Total dry weight of the base T5 is only 960 pounds, and the trailer sits atop a 3,500-pound Rockwell American torsion axle that gives 16 inches of ground clearance. HEO offers numerous accessories to outfit its tough trailers, including a solar-power package and electric brakes.
The Basecamp from Jackwagon Off-Road is hand-built to order in Prescott, Arizona, by off-road enthusiasts. As the company motto says, “These trailers will follow you anywhere you want to go.” The Basecamp features 48 cubic feet of lockable storage behind a trio of doors and a full-size lid to keep things safe but within easy reach. The steel frame is powder-coated, and the independent suspension runs 33-inch all-terrain tires on 16-inch steel rims to provide great ground clearance. There’s plenty of external storage for fuel cans or LP-gas cylinders, and the trailer comes with a full-size table for feeding hungry souls. Sleeping accommodations are high above the ground in a spacious Tepui Kukenam three-person RTT with an easy-access aluminum ladder. The company just introduced its Flatbed trailer to carry an ATV and an RTT on a rack above it.
From the heart of Indiana comes the heavy-duty QuickSilver Rock Climber from Livin’ Lite. Livin’ Lite is well-respected for its truck campers and travel trailers, and its ultralight off-road tent trailer is built with the same quality. The 34-inch all-terrain tires give the trailer 15 inches of ground clearance under the aluminum frame that sports a heavy-duty torsion axle protected by a steel skid plate running the full length of the trailer box. Diamond plate is used for the fenders and exterior trim, adding to the robust design. The three-person RTT, which includes a bunk mattress, is also heavy-duty with zippered windows and an aluminum floor supported by stout adjustable bed-support posts. The welded-box floor is tongue-and-groove aluminum with a linoleum covering, cabinetry is aluminum, and lighting is LED. The Rock Climber comes outfitted with 12-volt DC and 120-volt AC outlets, a 12-volt DC interior fan and light package and a dinette table. Options include electric brakes, air conditioning and an awning room.
Ashley Grimes, founder of Moby1 Expedition Trailers, incorporates elegant design and cabinetry into each of the Utah-based company’s four trailer offerings: C2, RT, XC, XTR. The Moby1 XTR is a favorite of off-road explorers with a 9-foot cabin, 5-inch-thick foam mattress, custom hardwood cabinetry, dual cabin doors, and a kitchen under the rear hatch with a slideout for the stove, fridge and sink, all riding on a trailing A-arm, independent coil-sprung suspension with a sway bar. BFGoodrich KO2 32-inch all-terrain tires are standard rolling stock, but the trailer can be upfitted with tires up to 37 inches to maximize ground clearance. The trailer comes with dual deep-cycle batteries, 120-volt AC hookup, LED lighting, a roof rack and a ladder to the spacious rooftop tent. Options abound including a tank-less instant water heater, stereo system, solar power and custom external storage boxes.
The folks at Off Grid Teardrop Trailers in Blackfalds, Alberta, have just the ticket for leaving the rat race behind, whatever the season. The company’s off-road-ready Teardrop models are fully insulated, so they’re cool in summer and warm in winter. The aluminum body of the base models rides on a steel frame (upscale versions are aluminum) with 33-inch all-terrain tires supported by Timbren 3,500-pound axles with 4 inches lift for maximum ground clearance. Interiors are warm and comforting with thick, insulated walls and birch and maple cabinetry. The rear galley has slideout storage and cubbies to make food prep easy. Off Grid builds each trailer to the customer’s needs utilizing a long list of interior and exterior options that include a built-in fridge, 24-gallon water tank, on-demand water heater, LP-gas heating, custom roof racks and Overlander RTT systems.
Opus Camper USA distributes a truly international folding tent trailer that originated in England and morphed into an even more refined off-the-grid camping accessory as the company expanded into Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and finally North America. Of the five models — Classic, Great Western, Family Pack, Luxury and Outback — the latter is the newest and the one for off-road camping. The Outback rolls on an independent torsion suspension and 30-inch off-road tires. The aluminum body is insulated with a composite interior. Camp can be set up in less than 10 minutes, placing the flip-open tent, slideout galley with four-burner stove, and twin double beds on each side of a wraparound leatherette lounge ready for use. Dual batteries provide power to the LED lighting and the water-pump system for the two 21-gallon tanks.
Oregon Trail’R (OT) is a small family-run company in Eugene, Oregon, headed by brothers Jon and Sawyer Christianson. They were born and raised in the mountains of southern Oregon, and OT’s trailers are a product of their off-roading passion. OT offers three models — DoDrop, FronTear and TerraDrop — all of which can be towed behind just about any vehicle that can be fitted with a hitch. Interiors are built of the finest quality marine-grade Baltic birch using cabinetmaking and boatbuilding techniques. Of the three, the TerraDrop is the most popular offering for the overland and off-road crowd, and comes standard with a reinforced frame, Timbren axle-less off-road suspension and all-terrain tires. It has a load of cargo space and is completely configurable to buyers’ specs with every option offered à la carte.
Since the first idea for the Patriot Campers X trailer was literally sketched in the sand on a beach in Australia, it has gained fame, winning the Australian Camper Trailer of the Year award in the soft-floor category four years in a row. The X1 Grand Tourer is the premier of the company’s four models, which are now being distributed in the USA. The wide-track, aluminum-body X1 is exceptionally strong, with pressurized air inlets and automotive rubber seals to prevent dust and grit from entering the array of sliding storage compartments. It comes with a king-size RTT that has an awning and additional drop-down room, plus a 60-quart fridge, LP-gas stove, L-shaped kitchenette and swing-out barbecue grill. Off-the-grid power comes from dual batteries and a 350-watt inverter. There’s also 37 gallons of pressurized water to take a hot shower or clean up.
Schutt Industries has mastered the art of making durable, innovative towables, so it’s no surprise that Jim Schutt’s Wisconsin-based company has a military contract to build trailers. One model, the Xventure XV-2, has been “civilianized” to give off-road adventurers comfortable nights deep in the mountains, desert or backcountry. The mid-level XV-2 Deluxe is the most popular. It is rugged and well equipped, and the sturdy aluminum frame carries a 10-year warranty. The trailer is outfitted with an on-demand hot-water system, an aluminum table with a sink, an external shower, a roll-up hard tonneau cover, LED lighting, and a torsion axle with 32-inch tires that give the trailer 18 inches of ground clearance. Options abound, including the choice of Cascadia, Eezi-Awn or James Baroud USA RTT systems to place on the elevated rack.
Launched in 2013 in central Kansas as an offshoot of Twin Oaks Industries, To Extreme Off Road specializes in the manufacturing of extreme-heavy-duty off-road utility trailers. Among those is the 72-inch Rugged ’N Ready Backwoods, a no-nonsense off-road trailer to handle the toughest trails. When paired with one of To Extreme’s RTT options, it can serve as a base camp in any environment. Offering 50 cubic feet of storage space and 20 inches of ground clearance, the trailer comes with powder-coated body panels, a 3,500-pound Timbren axle-less suspension package, premium off-road tires, an adjustable cargo-management system, a forward cargo rack, a lockable tailgate, an automotive-grade wire harness, LED lights and a receiver hitch.
Born from owner Dave Munsterman’s many off-road trips into the mountains and deserts of the Southwest and coastal Oregon, Turtleback Trailers promotes exploring roads less traveled from its base in Phoenix, Arizona. The Turtleback Long Weekender is the mid-priced of the company’s five offerings, but it doesn’t lack anything in ruggedness or amenities. The enclosed trailer has sliding compartments on the side and rear, a birch pantry and drawers in the rear galley, along with a dual-burner stove and a stainless sink and galley table. Add to that a 42-gallon freshwater tank, 12-volt DC on-demand water pump system, 6-gallon DSI water heater, external shower and more than 50 cubic feet of storage space. The optional 23 Zero RTT opens wide, comfortably sleeping two on a king-size mattress. A deep-cycle marine battery, LED lighting and 30-amp solar controller round out the basics. The Long Weekender comes with Pro Comp steel wheels wrapped with 31-inch BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires on UCF Flexiride axles with electric brakes. Options abound.
MORE EXPEDITION-STYLE TRAILERS
Adrenalin Campers | 970-275-5566 | www.adrenalincampers.com
Adventure Trailers | 877-661-8097 | www.adventuretrailers.com
Bear Trailersports | 818-727-1585 | www.beartrailersports.com
BorderLand Trailers | 801-280-4280 | www.borderlandtrailers.com
Campa | 440-823-8532 | www.campausa.com
CH Camper Company | 423-802-8647 | www.chcamper.com
Ethos Off-Road | 512-773-2019 | www.ethosoffroad.com
Extreme Teardrops | 559-323-9955 | www.extremeteardrops.com
Great Lakes Teardrops | 616-920-1639 | www.greatlakesteardrops.com
Hiker Trailer | 303-906-0224 | www.hikertrailer.net
Hillcrest Teardrop Campers | www.teardropcampers.tumblr.com
Kakadu Camping | 888-977-5252 | www.kakaducamping.com
Lead Dog Motosports | 928-208-2006 | www.leaddogmotorsports.com
Liberty Outdoors | 877-545-4897 | www.golibertyoutdoors.com
New Wave Teardrop | 229-220-5602 | www.newwaveteardrop.com
O-rama Teardrop Trailers | 360-584-9797 | www.mlwoodworks.com
Overland Trailer | 425-610-6574 | www.overlandtrailer.com
RBX Rockbox | 831-261-8189 | www.rockboxoffroad.com
Taxa Outdoors | 713-861-2540 | www.taxaoutdoors.com
Tentrax Trailers | 800-488-2022 | www.tentrax.com
TC Teardrops | 715-573-7247 | www.tcteardrops.com
Triple T RV | 469-719-8022 | www.facebook.com/tripletrv
Vintage Trailer Works | 334-798-3462 | www.vintagetrailerworksinc.com
VRV Adventure Teardrops | 501-319-3900 | www.teardropsbyvrv.com
VMI Off Road | 360-224-2109 | www.vmioffroad.com
A respected automotive and RV journalist and longtime Trailer Life contributor, Bruce W. Smith has held numerous editorial titles at automotive and boating magazines, and authored more than 1,000 articles, from tech to trailering. He considers his home state of Oregon a paradise for RVing and outdoor adventure.