Compact Caravans

Caravans come in many styles, shapes and sizes but have you ever wondered how compact a caravan can get? The small caravan market is intended for those wanting a caravan that’s light, has a short towing length and can be towed by soft-road vehicles and even 2WD sedans. Some manufacturers are producing some nice looking caravans of yesteryear, whilst others are jumping on the technological bandwagon and designing caravans that almost double in size when setup. This article talks about the types of caravans that can be considered as ‘compact’ and lists some of their features that make it unique.
Article By: Damian Baker
Created: February 2007
Revised: July 2007
Latest Feedback: April 2015

What is a Compact Caravan?

Since there is no clear-cut definition for a compact caravan, this article will categorise this type of caravan as a small, hard shelled caravan that is predominately towed by soft-road vehicles and even some 2WD sedans. These caravans, which in some cases are regarded as camper trailers, have a low centre of gravity with many of them sitting lower than the tow vehicle itself. This design gives less wind resistance and combined with the caravan being relatively light, provides better fuel efficiency. Another advantage of choosing a smaller caravan is that they are relatively inexpensive, therefore making them suitable for young families.

There are some compact caravans that can be parked and entered into straight away. Others that may need a few stabilising jacks pulled down before entry, and finally those that require some sort of action to extend sections out. Whatever the case is, they are designed to provide a quick setup which is usually in a matter of minutes.

Teardrop Caravans

These tiny caravans, commonly known as campers are very compact and shaped like a teardrop – hence its name. They are relatively light, weighing in at around 350kgs and are designed with a streamlined shape for easy towing. They can be towed by most vehicles, including small 4WDs, softroaders and 2WD sedans. There are even some teardrop campers that can be towed by a trike motorcycle.

Teardrop caravans were marketed here in Australia during the 1930's, 40's and 50's quite extensively and many original units are either being used actively or are under restoration. They are perfect for those who enjoy lazy camping in the outdoors with a bit of style and comfort, due to their light weight and ease of towing, their affordability and their beautiful retro looks.

Brief History

Teardrop campers were originally designed in the 1930s and became very popular in America after World War 2. During that time, a surplus of materials such as wheels from army jeeps and sheet-metal from bombers were commonly used in their construction. Decades went by with consistent popularity, until the mid 1970s saw a decline, mainly brought on by the emergence of motels, larger caravans and motorhomes.

It was not until the popularity of the internet that helped promote discussion and an exchange of plans that gave teardrops a strong resurgence. Today, the popularity has grown out of a need for a light caravan/camper that can be towed by a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle and people’s desire to enjoy the craftsmanship and style of days gone by.

Teardrop Interior

The interior of a teardrop is big enough to comfortably sleep two people. On the floor, there’s an upholstered mattress with high quality 3 inch foam and upholstered pillows to match. The roof has a vent which ensures a comfortable flow of air inside when stationary. Some of the other interior options include security doors, blinds, clothes storage and magazine cargo racks.

Teardrop Exterior

The typical teardrop caravan/camper has a shiny hard-shelled exterior that’s usually cladded with fiberglass or sheet aluminium. A lot of them have an Art Deco style appearance and come in a variety of designs and colour schemes. Teardrops usually have two lockable doors on either side to offer convenient entering or exiting. The rear hatch provides the kitchenette – which typically carries a pull-out propane or LPG stove and storage shelves for kitchen and camping equipment. Wheels are protected inside moulded fiberglass or rolled steel mud guards and options include: stone guards, stainless steel sinks, annexes, water tanks and iceboxes.

A’vans

These amazing foldable caravans are designed to be strong, yet light in weight and are suitable for those people who drive a small to medium sized tow vehicle and want a short overall towing length. The interior has been efficiently designed to maximise the living area and the simplicity of operation allows a quick and easy setup – usually within 30 seconds. Given that A’vans are designed and built with a solid construction and without canvas, they can easily be packed away in the wet. There are many different types of A’vans available with four models being suitable for this article.

Construction

A’vans use a construction technology called vacuum bonding. This construction method produces a very strong sandwich used for wall panels, which may consist of a fibreglass or aluminium exterior, 2 layer plywood interior and a Styrofoam insulation layer in-between. The chassis of the A’van is constructed using hot-dipped galvanised steel to protect from corrosive elements like rust. The interior furniture inside the A’van is constructed of solid timber.

Types of Avans

There are four main model types of A’vans currently available on the market and they each have their individual features and advantages.

Aliner

The Aliner is one of the most popular A’van models. It is a medium sized A’van with an external body length close to 3.7m. There are six floor plans available with single and double bed configurations. Some of the standard interior and exterior features include: 90 litre 3-way fridge, 63 litre water storage tank, auxiliary battery pack with charger, two 4kg gas bottles, sports wheels, electric brakes, independent suspension and gas-assisted shocks.

Sportliner

With a tare weight of around 670kgs and an external body length of just under 2.7m, the Sportliner was designed for those who want a light weight caravan with a short overall towing length. It has the same features as its larger Aline brother and has 3 floor plan layouts that are cleverly designed to maximise the living space. These layouts would suit either a single person or a couple and there are plenty of optional extras such as an air conditioner, annexe, awning and a large storage boot to name a few.

Cruiseliner/Cruiser

The largest of its class, measuring up to 4.4m is the Cruiseliner. This model features higher road clearance, a chassis upgrade and larger tyres when compared to the original Aliner. It provides more interior living space which is needed for the family traveller. The Cruiseliner comes in 7 layouts with examples such as: a kitchen with single beds, a lounge or sofa that can convert to either double beds or single beds and a dinette that can convert to a double bed. The Cruiser model is basically the same as the Cruiseliner except it is around half a metre shorter and does not include the large storage boot at the front.

Weekender

The smallest of the A’vans is the Weekender with an interior body length of only 1.9m and a tare weight of 350kgs. The Weekender is really in a class of its own because the design is unlike the other A’vans and more like a Teardrop Camper. Being relatively light in weight means it can be pretty much towed by anything with four wheels. You enter or exit the caravan by lifting the rear hatch up and it features a large 190cm x 130cm double bed with a generous under-bed storage compartment.

Kimberley Karavan

This caravan was born out of a growing need for a van to be small, light and compact, easy and quick to set up, with tough off road capabilities and energy efficient devices and power solutions for sustainability. This caravan has a hard shell roof that is designed to rise to provide more head room. It also has a compartment that contains a queen sized bed that extends out to provide even more living space. Setting up is quite easy and can be achieved in well under two minutes, which is great for those quick camp stops. This caravan gives owners the best of both worlds - with a compact design, containing all the comfort and amenities of a top class caravan - with a price to match! Inside, this caravan is completely self-sufficient with a hot water system and ceramic cook top - both powered by diesel. The overall body length and height including the wheel tracking width is very similar to a Toyota Landcruiser, which together with it's solid chassis and independent suspension really puts it in the class of true Off Road Caravans.

Little Robin Mini

The Little Robin Mini is a fantastic compact caravan which is more than ideal for small soft roaders, sedans and even front wheel drives. It weighs around 500kgs, has an external body length of 2.4m and all they have been road tested for maximum safety and durability. The Little Robin Mini is available as a standard caravan or a pop-top and an all terrain pop-top version has recently been released. This compact little caravan has five layout plans to choose from, including single beds on each of the side walls or a double bed towards the A-frame. There are plenty of features such as a 2 burner grill and range hood, a fire extinguisher, smoke detector and security door. The interior is well designed with ample storage solutions and the furnishings are colour-coordinated to your choice of upholstery and bench tops.

All Terrain Little Robin Mini

This all terrain version has a number of enhancements over the standard Little Robin Mini. It comes in 2 floor plans with the choice of having either single beds or a double bed. It has a respectful tare weight of only 680kgs, an external body length of around 2.8m and an ample 400mm ground clearance. The all terrain model features a longer draw bar for tighter turning, a fully galvanised steel chassis, Trig coupling, electric drum brakes and an independent suspension.

Other nice features include:
  • A longer draw bar to provide tighter turning

  • 2 x 4.5 kg gas bottles fitted to the A-frame

  • 15 inch light truck tyres

  • Chequer plate protection on the bottom

  • 4 large tinted galaxy windows with sun shades

More Compact Caravans

The caravans that are discussed in this article have the size, weight and features suited for this rather broad category of being 'compact'. There are however, a few other caravans that may also fall under this 'compact' category and they include the:
  • Jayco range of pop-top campers such as the Jayco Penguin and the Jayco Finch.

  • Roadstar Reo – which is a tiny hard shelled caravan designed like the retro looking teardrop campers.

  • Tvan – This is a compact high-performance off road camper trailer that deploys a tent in around 3 minutes.

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