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.
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).
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).
The handheld shower is intended for rinsing off muddy feet and pets rather than giving yourself a full-fledged scrub. Although you can use it inside the trailer (the shower curtain and floor drain will keep most of the water from splashing all over), it's best used when sprayed out the door.
In travel mode, the Cricket Trailer measures 15 feet long, six and a half feet wide, and six feet ten inches tall (ground to roof), but when the top is popped up, it provides six feet two inches of interior headspace.
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.
Finney (pictured) was in part inspired to create the Cricket Trailer so he could continue to go camping with his wife as their family grew from two to four. "You can't take your infant out into the deep wilderness," he says. "The Cricket is for people like me with kids under ten as well as 70-year-olds who want to go to national parks and need a place to pee in the night or 20- or 30-year-old hipster mountain bikers and climbers who would love to have a base camp that doesn't offend their outdoor personality."
Finney is an architect as well as a former habitation module designer at NASA, where he mocked up rest-eat-sleep spaces for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. After four years at the agency, when he realized his capsule would never see the light of day let alone the dark of space, he left and launched Cricket Trailer. He did, however, continue to employ several practices he picked up at NASA, like building full-scale cardboard models to see how well spaces would work together. While designing the Cricket Trailers, it was an invaluable tool for learning how one inch this way or that affected the experience of being in the small camper.
The front of the trailer features an aluminum bar laser cut with half of the word Taxa (the name of Cricket Trailer's parent company). The cutouts act as makeshift bottle openers. There is a learning curve, however; whereas Finney had no problem popping open cold Topo Chicos, I managed to spray myself with the carbonated water on more than one occasion.
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).
Opening and closing the pop-up top requires the release and closure of simple latch at the front of the camper. You just need to make sure all of the tent material is tucked in before you lock it down.
Hooks on the inside (like the mechanism with the red tab) latch into the camper's roof to help hold it down. Throughout the camper, small cricket images are laser-cut into the aluminum frame. The camper's name hints at its shape and is meant to conjure visions of sleeping under the stars with crickets chirping nearby.
The Cricket was easy to move throughout the 9E Ranch property. 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 trailers sport logos with the company's website address. So far it's been a great marketing strategy. Since Finney drives each completed and sold camper to its new owner, the trailers have seen many miles of American highways, and Finney regularly receives calls from people who have seen them on the road. For more information, visit crickettrailer.com.