Thursday, April 24, 2008

Review of the Honda ECamper Modification

We have gotten many questions, both on this blog and from people we've met in person, about how the Ursa Minor's ECamper modification works, and how well we like it. We have definitely observed many people staring at our car or driving next to it on the freeway - we assume they're trying to figure out why our Element looks a little different than other Elements.

I think it's easy for us to say first off that we love the ECamper. Putting up and taking down the ECamper is extremely easy. The top is strong and lightweight, and while the car does look slightly different, the ECamper is well integrated with the Element. We opted for the white top, as we thought if we matched the camper top to the car (darker blue) it would get too hot in the ECamper. The fabric that makes up the sides of the ECamper (when it's popped up) is thicker than tent fabric, so it stays much darker than a tent, which makes sleeping all the more comfortable. We heard that some car modifications can change the braking and/or steering of the vehicle. We did not notice any difference in the handling of the Element after getting the ECamper installed, which may be due to the lightweight materials used in its construction. We have not yet slept in the ECamper during a rainstorm, but we did take the car through a carwash, and we did not find any moisture in the ECamper afterwards.

We love the details the ECamper folks thought of:

They installed a handle and lock inside the car on the rear door. This seems unimportant until you try sleeping in the car without an interior rear handle (see our previous urban camping post). It is very annoying to crawl to the front doors when you want to get in or out. So we can easily open and shut the door from inside the car.

They installed a great LED dome light on the ceiling of the Camper, and there are also individual adjustable LED reading lights for each side, so you don't have to mess with headlamps/flashlights when you're up in the ECamper.

There is an on/off switch for the LED lights in the ECamper that has been installed in the car itself, so if you think you may have forgotten to turn off the lights, you don't need to pop the top back up to check.

At the foot of the ECamper, and around the sides and above the head section, you have the option of opening screens for ventilation, or you can unzip the sides entirely if you need to hand things up to people in the camper from outside.

We only have a few minor comments in terms of things that could be improved on the current design:

1. There is some slight additional road/wind noise from the sunroof when driving the Element now that we installed the ECamper, mostly when you have a crosswind. The panels do not fit as tightly as the sunroof panel that was there before, and some air does flow through the ECamper into the Element. In some ways this is probably a good thing, as it should keep the ECamper aired out and dry. We did drive our car on a long weekend trip with four people, and we did not have anyone in the back noticeably more cold than the front passengers, so other than some wind noise I don't think it matters.

The sleeping pad isn't super thick. Definitely more comfortable than nothing, and I'm getting more used to it each time, but it compares to a thin Thermarest. I think it's a trade-off - to keep the profile of the ECamper as slim as possible, you can't have a lot of padding. We put a camping mattress on top of the ECamper mattress, and this works pretty well.

There aren't any pockets in the sides of the ECamper (like you would normally find in a tent). It would be nice to have little pockets to keep things like glasses, chapstick, tissues etc more organized. There are cloth rings in the ECamper, so we're going to hang small organizers from the rings to help with this.

It is possible and not too difficult for one person to get up and down from the ECamper while someone else is 'sleeping,' but so far I have yet to not wake up when Cornelius has to get down in the middle of the night. However, I don't know how this could solved, so this isn't really a complaint, just a comment.

Overall, it's fantastic and we think we've left a lot of jealous people in our wake. If you decide to get yourself an ECamper (which we do recommend) get used to people checking you out when you drive down the road. While the upfront costs of purchasing the ECamper may seem expensive, we figure we only need to sleep in it about 40 times (rather than shelling out for a motel) before it starts paying for itself. 3 nights down, 37 to go.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Our new Honda Element Camper: hot or not?

We flew down to San Diego on Friday to pick up our freshly converted Honda Element from Ursa Minor Vehicles. They had the car for the last few weeks to install their ECAMPER, converting it to a camper top vehicle.

We flew down from San Francisco on the new Virgin America Airlines. Getting on the plane feels more like stepping into a trendy San Francisco bar. Pink and purple mood lighting fill the plane and trendy music beats play as you settle into your white leather seats. Virgin Atlantic planes must also be the the coolest ones at the party - our plane arrived a fashionable two hours late.

We woke up excited Saturday morning to meet up with the Ursa Minor folks to get the car. We had yet to see a picture of how the white top would look on top of our car, so we were anxious to see what it looked like. You can paint the top the same color as the car, but we kept the top white to keep it from getting hot inside. SparkleGirl3348 loved they way it looked the moment she saw it, and I keep swaying between thinking it looks cool to thinking it looks strange. It is a moot point anyways, as this car is for function, not fashion. Ursa Minor showed us how to operate the camper, and answered the few remaining questions we had. The camper is so easy to use, it takes seconds to setup and bring down. After breakfast in Old Town, a family stood around staring at us while we put the top up to show our friends and take pictures.

We left San Diego after breakfast, heading up the coast back to San Francisco. We will be testing out the camper tonight at San Simeon State Park, halfway between San Francisco and LA, and we can't wait to try sleeping in it!

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Honda Element urban camping experience

In February, some friends of mine were in town visiting from San Diego while SparkleGirl3348 was out of town. I wanted to have a few too many beers and not worry about driving home that night, so I threw a sleeping bag in the car so I could spend the night in our new Honda Element. I found a great parking spot in downtown San Francisco just a few blocks from my friend's pricey hotel room. Here is the spot I found on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

I put the passenger's side front and back seats down, making an almost flat sleeping space. The back seat rises up a small amount, which worked great as a pillow. A privacy curtain would be nice to cut down on the street lights coming in the window, but on the other hand it could bring a cop knocking on the window in the middle of the night. I pulled a beanie hat over my eyes, which was an adequate substitute. I woke up in the morning with fogged windows; the next night I solved that problem by cracking a window. In summary, the Honda Element is perfect for urban camping, especially after a few beers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dogs on Roofs

When Cornelius went to Peru 2 years ago, he took pictures of dogs on roofs for me. (I am dog crazy.) When we were going through his pictures, we also signed up for Flickr which is a great place to share and store photos. At the time, Cornelius wanted to start a Flickr group, since he's a nerd, but he couldn't think of a cool group that didn't already exist. I thought Dogs on Roofs would be a good group, so I started one with his 3 pictures. He thought dogs being on a roof would be a rare picture, how would enough other people have similar pictures? Well, now we're up over 200 pictures (posted by over 150 other users) and frankly, I think this group is great. To quote one group member: "This is the best thing to ever happen to me" - no kidding. I rock.

I plan on adding lots of pictures to this group on this trip.