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Modern NASA-Inspired Cricket Trailer

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Snug as a Bug

Part tent, part RV, the NASA-inspired Cricket Trailer is the go-to camper for the modern road tripper.

In early May, I headed down to Texas to report the October 2011 issue Off the Grid story about a sustainable home in Austin and then drove an hour out of the city to spend a night camping in a Cricket Trailer, a small, self-contained pop-up camper. Cricket Trailer founder and designer Garrett Finney drove from Houston, where he manufactures the trailers in a 5,000-square-foot factory, and met me at the 9E Ranch in Smithville. After orienting me to what he calls "a portable adventure living space," he took off and I spent the evening camping out and testing all the Cricket Trailer has to offer.

In 1999, architect Garrett Finney land­ed a dream job at NASA. As a habitation module designer, he mocked up rest-eat-sleep spaces for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Four years later, however, when he realized his capsule would never see the light of day, let alone the dark of space, he left NASA and turned his attention to a new venture.

Combining his small-space expertise and backpacking background, Finney designed the Cricket Trailer, a small, self-contained pop-up camper. It’s his response to bigger-is-better RV cul­-ture: “It’s not a house on wheels but a portable adventure living space,” he says. Each trailer weighs between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds and costs from $10,000 to just under $18,000 depending on how heavily it’s out­fitted. “I fabricate the shell and you make the dozen decisions that make the trailer work for you,” Finney says. Although the Cricket is earth­bound, the results are out of this world.

The trailer is Finney's response to bigger-is-better RV culture. Each one weighs between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds and costs from $10,000 to just under $18,000 depending on how heavily it's outfitted. The model I camped in came equipped with a roof rack (1) and Finney spent a fair amount of time during the photo shoot on the mountain bike that he'd brought along. All Cricket Trailers are fabricated with folded-aluminum panels (2) and feature pop-up tops (3), locking doors (4), and trailer hitches (5).
1. Roof rack
Toss a pair of skis or a couple of bikes on top and make the Cricket your weekend warrior basecamp.

2. Folded-aluminum panels
Finney fabricates the insect-like folded-aluminum shell in his 5,000-square-foot factory in Houston. “From a manufacturing perspective, folded panels make sense,” he says. “If I need to make changes, I just adjust the com­puter program and the machine cuts the new shape for me.”

3. Pop-up top
The Cricket Trailer has a stream­lined, aerody­namic silhouette when locked down for driving but pops up to provide six feet two inches of interior headspace when parked.

4. Locking doors

The side and back doors lock, providing security that a tent can’t offer.

5. Trailer hitch

Each Cricket Trailer meas­ures 15 feet long, six and a half feet wide, and six feet ten inches tall in travel mode. Finney designed the camper so that a car as small as a Subaru Out­back can haul it around. “The hope is that you al­ready own your towing vehicle,” he says.

The interior is surprisingly spacious despite being jam-packed with features, like a 43-quart-capacity fridge (6), a built-in sink with a hinged cover that folds down flush with the laminate countertop (7), power switches and outlets (8), a handheld shower and curtain (9), and a self-contained portable toilet (10).
6. Refrigerator
The 43-quart-capacity refrig­erator or freezer hums through the night but keeps your beer and brats cold for the next afternoon.

7. Sink
A 12-gallon freshwater tank feeds the built-in sink, which features a hinged cover that folds down flush with the laminate countertop. Owners can also opt for a built-in two-burner cooktop.

8. Power switches and outlet
On a full charge, the Cricket’s two 12-volt batteries will power the trailer’s fridge and lights for up to five days—longer if you add portable solar panels to your setup. The interior three-prong outlet and
a voltage converter let you charge a phone or laptop.

9. Handheld shower
Intended for rinsing off muddy feet and pets, the handheld shower works best when sprayed out the trailer’s side door (though water will flow into the floor drain if used inside). “You’re supposed to leave your house and its comforts at home,” Finney says.

10. Portable toilet

To keep Cricket owners from having to plan trips according to dump station locations, Finney outfits trailers with self-contained portable toilets when a bathroom is requested.

11. Tent enclosure

Mesh-lined window openings bring in daylight and encourage cross ventilation. For this model, Finney used remnant ripstop nylon that was originally made for Mountain Hardwear out-door gear company.

While the front, kitchen-end of the camper is all action, the back half is about rest and relaxation. The benches hide storage space beneath and, at night, become the sleeping area (14). The multiheight table (15) serves as an eating spot when in its highest position and as extra sleeping space when lowered and covered with a cushion. The table and its post can also be completly removed for additional legroom. The mesh-lined windows in the tent enclosure (11) bring in light and encourage ventilation. The LED reading lights (13) can be set to white or red (the latter keeps your eyes from dilating so you can run outside at a moment's notice and catch a glimpse of a shooting star without waiting for your eyes to adjust). The laser-cut aluminum frame (12) features circular openings that make hanging sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, and luggage as easy as stretching and hooking elastic cords into place.
12. Laser-cut aluminum frame

Circular openings in this frame make hanging sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, and luggage as easy as stretching and hooking elastic cords into place.

13. Reading lights
The LED reading lights can be set to white or red. In the dark, red light keeps your pupils from dilating, meaning you can run outside at a moment’s notice and catch a glimpse of a shooting star without waiting for your eyes to adjust.

14. 3-in-1 benches, bed, and storage

The back end of the trailer features benches that hide storage space beneath and, at night, become the sleeping area (large enough for two adults and one child—or more if you add a child loft berth).

15. Multiheight table
The removable multi­height table creates an eating spot at its highest position, extra sleeping room when lowered and covered with a cushion, and more floor space when removed. “The trailer is surprisingly big for how small it is,” Finney says. During the design stage, he built a full-scale cardboard model—a practice he picked up at NASA—to see how the spaces would work together.

Although Finney believes that when you're camping "you're supposed to leave your house and its comforts at home," the Cricket's canopy (17) lends the trailer a homey feel while providing a triangle of shade. The back pops open to provide easy access to the under-bench storage and to bring in a breeze (16).
16. Pop-open back
The back of the trailer opens up to provide easy access to the under-bench storage and bring in a breeze.

17. Canopy
The detachable canopy adds shade and a foyer.

 

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