Let's Go Camping! A Tour of Teardrop Trailers

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A teardrop trailer being pulled by a car

Pinterest / BMW Isetta with Teardrop Trailer

It's that time of year when people dream of hitting the road and going camping if only the rain would stop and the mosquitoes would go away. We thought about doing a roundup of some of the different ways to camp that we have shown on TreeHugger over the years and found an astonishing number of posts, probably because of our continuing obsession with small spaces, and because some of the designs are so clever. For example, take the teardrop trailer. According to one history, it was originally designed by Louis Rogers of Pasadena, California, as a "honeymoon house trailer." After the plans were published in a 1940 issue of Popular Mechanics the public went nuts for them, because they were really light and easy to tow and the aerodynamic streamlined shape reduced drag and fuel consumption; you could even get one to tow behind a tiny Isetta. "No one really knows how many 'teardrops' have been built by the 'do-it-yourself' crowd who purchased Mechanix Illustrated and other plans over the years. The design remains mighty popular around the world."

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Living Portable

credit: Mandy Lea

They are still popular, for the same reason: light and easy to tow. Photographer Mandy Lea actually lives in hers full time; Kim explains how she got started in this, when she decided to make a change in her life.

But change -- and uncertainty -- can be good. For American freelance photographer Mandy Lea, change came in the guise of a teardrop trailer that she calls her home -- a mobile place of belonging that she feels connected to as she travels the country, snapping incredible images of nature. For the last two years, she's been a full-time solo "teardropper", visiting some of the most majestic spots one could imagine.
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credit: Mandy Lea

The problem with teardrops is that the interior is really just big enough for a bed, and the kitchen is usually under a pop-up section at the rear, as shown here in Mandy Lea's. This certainly is not as convenient as a kitchen in a conventional travel trailer. However, it makes a lot of sense from an aerodynamic point of view to have it under that tail.

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credit: Chesapeake Light Craft

Mandy Lea travels in a T@G teardrop, which is mass-produced, but there are many others that are made in limited runs or even home-made. A real beauty is this one that is built like a kayak by a boatbuilder and is available as a $1,995 kit. The designer and builder explains:

Think of it as a big step up from a tent in terms of comfort and utility. But it's so compact and light that I could tow it behind my Mini Cooper. Even the smallest 'traditional' RV trailers are going to require at least a mid-sized tow vehicle, and will make a giant dent in your gas mileage.

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Hütte Hut

credit: Hutte Hut

At the other end of the scale is the Hütte Hut, a 900-pound plywood jewel that costs $63,900 or $71 per pound, $684 per square foot. The designers explain that it is not for everyone:

We wanted to create a space that would have an emotive reaction and give you a new way of thinking about the outdoors. Escapism is so appealing for everyone, but the reality is accessing that escape is hard for some people. They've never camped before.

Many were outraged by this and we did a poll about the Hütte; the majority thought it was Nüts.

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Pop-up Roof

credit: Alto/ Safari Condo

One of the problems with Teardrops is that they sacrifice space for aerodynamics. Safari Condo tries to beat the problem with a pop-up roof; when on the road it looks like a teardrop; when it is parked, it turns into a trailer with a lot of interior space.

Faced with the steady increase in the price of gasoline and the social responsibility we all share to save non-renewable fossil energy, Safari Condo wanted to design ultra-light travel trailers with the lowest possible drag coefficient. Travel trailers meeting these two criteria could then be readily towed by smaller vehicles. Even more environmentally conscious, Safari Condo also wanted its materials selection to be not only lightweight but, for the most part, recyclable.

The problem with this approach is increased complexity, with all those moving parts and joints. This adds to weight and cost, and is hard to seal.

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credit: Moby1

Now this is the Teardrop for the apocalypse, the Moby1, which is built like a tank. Not quite as aerodynamic and teardroppy as others we have shown but its heart is in the right place. According to Kim, "Moby1 aims to revive the efficient and beautiful design sensibilities of the teardrop trailer, once common during the fifties until the advent of cheap fuel and monster-sized recreational vehicles."

The Moby1 XTR is the expedition version, outfitted with custom-made components, a special coil suspension system and a strengthened frame to withstand extra wear and tear, plus an impressive range of options including running water, outdoor shower, portable toilet, solar panels and generator to enable off-grid explorations.
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Bells and Whistles

credit: Track TVAN

I am not sure that I can really call the Track Tvan a teardrop; it has the basic aerodynamic low profile shape, but it probably is really what is called a popup tent trailer. But wow, it has some serious bells and whistles. I wrote a few days after the American election:

Heading for the hills seems like a good idea these days, and the Track Tvan trailer might just be one of the nicer ways to go. There is so much to learn about tiny living from trailers, about designing things for lightness and portability, and the Tvan teaches a few really interesting lessons.
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Vintage Clothing Store

credit: Outpost

Teardrops aren't just for fun; Carolyn Fielding uses this 60s vintage teardrop as a mobile store selling vintage clothing. After meeting her a few years ago in Dorset, Ontario, I wrote:

I was captivated by the whole idea of an entrepreneurial young woman crossing the province, going from farmers's markets to fairs to flea markets to just wherever the tourists are and setting up, selling her quirky collection of vintage women's wear, living in the trailer by night and opening up the back by day. The teardrop design is actually perfectly suited to this, keeping her private space separate from the selling space that opens at the rear.
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credit: Dave Moult

And I save the best for last, Dave Moult's incredible steampunk teardrop:

Dave Moult loves natural materials that seem to be ageless, such as the look of mixed metals and the use of leather and wood. Most of the parts for the teardrop trailer have been discarded by others, or found at car-boot sales. He has found many bits on eBay too. The trailers do not cost very much in materials, but the hours soon add up: "Our current build started in August last year and has had hundreds of hours put into it so far, and we still haven’t finished."