After much research, discussion and existential struggle, we’ve decided to build an expedition camper, a 15-foot Bliss Mobil expedition unit affixed to a U.S. Army surplus M1078A1 LMTV truck chassis. This is Part 1 of several posts focused on the Bliss Mobil expedition camper. Before we made the purchase, we scoured their website, talked to them on the phone and ultimately our entire family visited the shop in Breda, The Netherlands. We hope to take delivery by year end (2016). Read on for more!
Why did we choose the Bliss Mobil expedition camper?
Bliss Mobil, based in Breda, The Netherlands, builds expedition campers from a shipping container template. Sizes are from 11 to 20 feet. They do not provide a truck but will custom engineer and build a sub-frame to attach the camper to your truck of choice.
The container-style twist locks make the camper easy to ship or switch to a different/newer truck. In the case of the 15-foot unit we purchased, it fits neatly in to a high-cube container. In the photos below, our camper, sub-frame and some accessories are getting loaded in to a 40 foot high-cube.
In general here’s what stands out to me with the Bliss Mobil product and company:
- Features and build quality. The campers are packed with great features designed from direct experience with adventure travel and building/piloting yachts.
- Redundant systems. Most critical systems have no single point of failure.
- Off-grid potential. Power is provided by a large 800Ah lithium ion battery pack. The battery array itself is divided in to two parallel packs in case one pack fails. The batteries are replenished by solar panels mounted on the roof (4 panels for the 15-foot camper).
- The people at Bliss Mobil. From first contact to shipping it out, it’s been a real pleasure working with them.
- Lastly, the website is professional, organized and informative.. Maybe it seems trivial since the product is really what matters but the site reflects the Bliss Mobil folks we’ve worked with.
Bliss Mobil Specs vs. Our Requirements
In the a previous post, I identified some general requirements for our expedition vehicle. This section dives a bit deeper in to each requirement and how the 15-foot camper standard stacks up. Since we haven’t yet taken delivery, this is “armchair analysis” based on information from the website, discussions with Bliss Mobil and a visit we made to the factory in Breda about a year ago.
Capable of extended off-pavement driving
If an RV isn’t designed for off-pavement it probably won’t fare well. See this Top Gear short video if you harbor any doubts – it’s hilarious and exaggerated, but it gets the general point across.
The Bliss Mobil unit construction begins with a steel frame. Then come 60mm sandwich walls with 3mm fiberglass on the outside, polyurethane insulation and 2mm fiberglass on the inside. Last, but not least, there’s a Bliss Mobil custom engineered sub-frame that connects the unit to the truck.
The sub-frame is a crucial component of overall off-pavement capability. Note the articulation allowed by the sub-frame on this MAN & Bliss Mobil combo in the photo below.
Driver & passenger comfort
Obviously the driver comfort requirement is for the truck cabin. Passengers can sit in the truck cab or in the camper unit. We’ve installed seat belts in the camper and a pass-through from the truck to the camper. Time will tell how comfortable it is for extended journeys.
Note that the pass-through is small and requires minor acrobatics to navigate – motivation to stay fit and slim! (Some day I’ll post on my obsession with bodyweight exercise – the gym is wherever you are!)
Safe, comfortable accommodations
Compared to a tent, the Bliss Mobil is Fort Knox! But beyond the fact that there’s hard walls and a locking door, here’s some other safety and security features:
- Inherent to all large/tall vehicles (i.e. larger than the average Class B or Class C RV) is the fact that the windows and doors are high off of the ground – no one can easily peek in.
- The pass-through to the truck cab allows entry and exit from the camper without exiting the camper to the outside. This is good for comfort (“I just want to crawl back there and sleep…”) to safety (“Let’s get the hell outta here now!”).
- There’s a hatch to the roof terrace above the bed which can be used in the case the door and pass-through are blocked.
- We’ve installed the optional security cameras which can be viewed on the iPad and records to a DVR. We can perform a full 360 degrees inspection of our surroundings before exiting.
- We also installed the GPS tracker option and we’ll have a separate, hand-held emergency beacon, like a SPOT messenger.
Hopefully you don’t get the idea that I’m super paranoid – I’m not, but these are nice features that we hope to rarely, if ever, need or use.
For comfort, the lounge area can seat six or so, and converts into a full-size sleeping area. Heat is covered below but there’s also a small AC (Bliss Mobil site claims 2.5kW – 8.500 Btu/h at an ambient temperature of between 2°C -and 40°C), several windows and ceiling hatches that open and inlet fans to circulate air.
The main sleeping area is full-size and requires no setup – just jump in and go to sleep. The other sleeping area requires some minimal setup to convert the lounge area to a full-size mattress.
Quick setup and teardown
It can be said of any camper/vehicle combo, I suppose, but there’s little to do except to find a place to park and then you’re ready to relax. This could be in the deep outback or a Walmart parking lot. Can’t easily pitch a tent in the latter…
Capable of long periods off grid
This is the area I believe the Bliss Mobil units really shine.
- Lithium-ion battery pack with capacity of 800 Ah or 20kW.
- Four solar panels in parallel generating 0.96kW/hour.
- Energy efficient to reduce load on the batteries.
- 475L (125 gal) fresh water tank.
- Rain water collector on the roof.
- Water filtration system to allow intake from rain collection or lake/stream.
- Many critical systems are either redundant or have easily replaceable parts – we’ll carry spares.
- To store our steaks, there’s a 40L freezer and 85L fridge. (Check out Lilys’ awesome Instagram feed for some of the delicious food she lovingly prepares.)
- Wifi was a necessary resource for our digital nomad lifestyles and was very easy to set up.
Plenty of storage
How much you need is obviously personal and subjective. Based on experience with our travels so far, we’ll have more than enough space. But as everyone knows, the more space you have, the more you’ll tend to fill it up, which is why we try to only carry what is essential.
Toilet & Shower
More photos from our in-progress build:
Heat is provided by both electric floor heating as well as a diesel powered air heater. One feature I appreciate is no reliance on propane. The sun and diesel fuel are readily available around the globe.
No RV, of any sort, will be really globally serviceable for everything. In the case of the Bliss Mobil campers for systems not fully redundant, we will carry a spare kit. Bliss Mobil has committed to be available if we get stuck and need help (presumably for a fee, once the warranty expires).
Carry rescue bike
We did order the motorcycle carrier accessory and will carry a small rescue bike.
I’ve owned many motorcycles of various sorts since a teenager in High School. For example, here’s my current BMW F800GS saddled up for a little jaunt through California, Nevada and Utah:
The BMW is way too big for the back of this unit. For the purposes of a rescue bike on our Bliss Mobil, I’ll probably go with something fairly small, like a Yamaha XT250. I want a bike Lily, who is petite, could throw a leg over if she had to.
We’ve added a few indulgent extras like the roof terrace pictured below.
And an “outdoor kitchen“.
In conclusion, Bliss Mobil 15-foot expedition camper looks perfect for us.