Prius-Based Camper

I know there’s a lot of people out there that will give this one criticism, but hear me out.

I’ve been down the YouTube rabbit hole for many topics during the pandemic. One of the more popular ones that others like me have also gone into has been for campers. At a time when some may not want to fly or depend on others in their travels, a camper looks like a good option. Despite the pandemic, millennials seem to be embracing them more than previous generations. Here is a long documentary from CNBC on the rise of them in recent years:

Vans, buses, trailers, and full on campers seem to be expensive. Either you need to do a custom build, or wait due to current manufacturing constraints. However, more people are buying Priuses to do the same thing for a few reasons: a battery that can be utilized, climate control while you sleep, and low fuel consumption as you travel. The first modification requires a good base and some storage:

This guy really does it the best from what I’ve seen. He is protecting the interior while maximizing his living and storage space. From here, you can really do whatever else that you want. I’ve noticed some other key components in other videos:

  • Inverter off of the batteries to charge other devices.
  • A mini fridge that slips behind the passenger seat.
  • A cell phone booster.
  • A drying rack (rod) between the backseat suit hooks.
  • Felt or permanent vinyl window covers.
  • A slip on window bug screen for the passenger seat.
  • A solar panel either modded onto a roof rack or on some models already.
  • A trailer hitch, although not advised. For light towing or an additional storage rack.
  • A pole to mess with settings when you’re in the back seat.
  • Some kind of a half mattress, either inflatable or memory foam.

This guy went all out with many of these features, and is a popular video:

If I were to do this myself, I’d have to take the best from all videos that I’ve seen, map out how I would use the thing, and make sure to get an entire parts list going. I’m also big on cable management, so I’d have to get some elegant solutions going rather than dealing with wires everywhere like the above video.

If you think about it, the Prius is really the ultimate camper in terms of mobility. You could camp in the middle of a city in stealth mode, or in the back country knowing that you don’t have to constantly fuel up. The only issue that I can see pertains to resale, if you make permanent modifications that others would not want to buy. Then, you’re kind of screwed there. The investment side of things appears iffy.

If you look at total cost, you also have to keep in mind that these are also very reliable vehicles, so maintenance will be at a minimum. However, the base cost for a more recent Prius seems to be between $12K-$22K, depending on the mileage, year, and features.

I’m not an expert on used cars, so I can’t speak as to what makes sense here. There’s certain model years to avoid, I’ve heard. If you’re really interested in learning more, there’s at least one Subreddit called r/priusdwellers that seems to be popular, and some other forums on Google searching.

For this to fit your lifestyle needs, you’d have to make it more temporary. As in, if you like to hike or do tent camping in different parts of the US, it may work for you. In order to live and do remote work, you’d just need more space, although I ran across a video where someone was living in it full time. It doesn’t appear to be suitable for that. I would imagine if you are into climbing or cycling, this would be a no-go as well due to lack of gear storage. Stealth camper for a few weeks out of the year for 1 person? Maybe. You’d really have to justify more than that to make it cost effective. Home? 2 people? I would not count on it.

What really draws me to the concept is that this is going to be the standard for campers now. The Prius camper has your no frills components, and is fairly small. It would not be a huge leap to just get a larger hybrid car or van built with much of the same components; it doesn’t need to be much larger than the Prius. Goal Zero and Jackery battery packs exist to simply retrofit existing vehicles. There could be a balance here in newer hybrid vehicles where they offer the same value but still stay DIY.

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