The Perfect Compromise
Everything you need, nothing you don’t. For overland travel that sentence is key. The balance of weight versus necessity that establishes what is or is not going to make your vehicle work for you.
A truck camper is the Swiss Army Knife of overland vehicles; a Jack-of-all-Trades but, still, master of a few. The perfect compromise. You pretty much get to have it all; stunning locations, vehicle performance, off-road ability with a comfortable on-road ride, and relatively spacious accommodations with great amenities when you arrive at your destination.
Arguably, the XPCamper V1e/Nimbl Vehicles Evolution stands alone in a crowded marketplace. There are plenty of slide-in campers including several brands with an off-road focus; Four Wheel Campers being an example. Compared to the Nimbl, none of them combines rugged off-road ability and meets the Nimbl standard of comfort. Admittedly, few of them approach a price tag that demands such stern consideration.
A Premium Package
The Nimbl V1 is a premium entity. Nimbl Vehicles purchased XPCamper some time ago and are now rolling out their Nimbl Evolution living spaces based directly on the XPCamper V1 plus some changes.
Nimbl Vehicles have employed a significantly different sales strategy to XPCamper. Mating the camper itself with a gas-powered Ford F-350 to create a muscular, purpose-built vehicle, rather than just a camper to be added to your own choice of vehicle. The camper is still available separately, for those keen to get creative with their own truck build, but the focus is on providing a crafted, all-in-one, platform. One that provides a trouble-free experience for the majority of customers who may not want to dig into the daunting variables of a separate truck build.
That said, the Nimbl Vehicles Evolution living space is essentially the same as This Big Road Trip’s XPCamper with a few changes. For this review, I will refer to the camper simply as the Nimbl V1 and the review is based on 2.5 years of full-time travel in our XPCamper road-tripping from Canada to Colombia. Below freezing to well over 100 degrees F. Camping at over 13,000 feet on volcanoes to the humidity of Central American beaches at sea level. Deserts and wetlands, wind, rain, dust storms. We haven’t had snow yet, but several owners comfortably use the XPCamper as their winter ski-bum home.
Where It Sits
One major factor in deciding on a vehicle is whether you are indoors, outdoors or someone that mixes it up? The Nimbl V1 gives you the best of both worlds, even when you are inside. Ensconced in the comfort of the camper you have a unique outdoor feel. The open plan layout, tented front area (more on that later) and a vast array of windows fill the camper with almost 360-degree views and abundant natural light. One of the unsung benefits of the camper is that it feels incredibly spacious.
The top half of the camper shell slides upwards. The press of a button on the remote key fob raising the roof in under a minute; this makes it one of the tallest campers around when parked up at your camp spot, but one of the lowest profiles when traveling. A great mix of agility and low profile on the trail, but quite cavernous when cocooned inside.
The electric lift system was a later addition to the XPCamper range, and considerably more expensive. Nimbl Vehicles has returned to the hydraulic lift system initially installed on the earlier versions of the XPCamper.
The camper build lends itself extremely well to off-road travel. There are zero stapled and no wooden framework to twist and break. A single fiberglass mold forms the entire bottom shell; one cleverly vacuum formed piece creating the dinette, kitchen work surface, the bed and the bathroom.
The same applies to the top half. There are no roof joins or side joins. It is leak-free in that regard with only a skylight and roof vents breaking the mold.
Think of a travel soap dish, the top half sliding snugly down over the bottom, that’s effectively how the top half of the camper works. After your usual pre-camper-departure cabin tidy, lowering the roof takes just 60 seconds. The low center of gravity and roofline now primed and ready for the next trail.
The roof lowering necessitates an abundance of caution prior to departure. The camper interior should ready for the roof to come down, with work surfaces cleared if you wish to avoid a mishap.
The camper sits on a stunning aluminum flatbed, exceptionally crafted. Large storage drawers mid-point and rear and a huge slide-out drawer out back, one of my favorite parts of the camper. Cook table, work table, storage tray for MaxTrax, tools, folding ladder and whatever else I have tucked away in there. A real bonus.
Four heavy-duty studs on the camper base mate with recesses in the flatbed, heavy-duty pins holding these studs in place. The camper is removable, with jack points built into the camper base; leaving you with a flatbed work truck; although for most owners, the camper is a full-time addition.
Choose any color for your Nimbl Vehicles Evolution as long as it’s white. The fiberglass finish is easy to clean and despite being on some rough trails seems to collect no more pin-stripe scratches than any other vehicle I have seen. A yearly wax brings it back to almost showroom condition, leaving only the deepest gouges from your best adventure. On that note, the camper’s fiberglass exterior is effectively the same as a boat hull and any bumps or dings are easily repaired by any marina worth its brine.
[The Camper Design: Want to know where the inspiration for this marine style design came from? The answer is astonishing. I came across Steve Kozloff’s name around the time that Nimbl took over XPCamper. I had no idea the camper was designed by the same guy who designs the Goliath Series of polar expedition yachts. Steve is back with the company and is now part-owner and re-installed as Head Designer. If you want to see his incredible yacht designs check out the Goliath Facebook Page.]
The acrylic windows are another story. The Dometic windows are known for being a bit of a scratch magnet. Elsewhere on this site is a “how-to” for removing scratches from a Dometic window. We found a piece of tarp cut slightly longer than each side window, allowed us to open the window, trap the tarp edges inside and close the window. This works really well. It’s not clear how long Dometic will be used in the Nimbl camper, as Dometic have decided to remove themselves from the RV window industry. No new windows. No spares. Stock up now.
Pop-up campers commonly have a 360-degree soft-side between the roof and the walls where the camper has been raised. The Nimbl “travel soap dish” style slides the roof down over the bottom shell. So, when it is raised, the Nimbl V1 remains hard-sided all the way around, except for the bed area over the truck. At this point there is no bottom shell or space for any upper shell to slide over it. This means the front area is tented, which also allows for ample headroom.
The tent is composed of three layers. A waterproof non-breathable skin, a thinly padded mid-layer, and a soft inner “aesthetic” breathable layer with the tent windows having gone through various configurations over time. I spoke with Nimbl and they inform me that the mid-layer is now Thinsulate and the interior layer is a non-porous breathable material similar to Gore-Tex.
Our windows are three-part. An exterior “no-see-um” proof mesh. After that, a flexible zip-up acrylic window keeps out the elements. The final “blackout” layer attaches with velcro at the top and sides and drops down when you want a view.
The tent is usually great, occasionally problematic. Keeping on top of mold issues is important, white vinegar is your friend here. Noise is also increased compared to a hard shell sleeping area. Importantly, the tent is also one of the greatest elements of the camper. Because once we find that epic camp spot the windows open to 270-degree views. The huge insect panels giving it a really open-air feel. Want to go even further? Simply unzip the tent. You are then effectively sleeping on a comfortable platform, 7 feet up in the air, right out in the open. Completely unobstructed from the outdoors. Cold is categorically not an issue thanks to the supremely capable Webasto Dual Top heater, Nimbl have since replaced the dual top with separate water and air heater, maintaining the Webasto brand for both . The outside-inside feel is usually a blessing; as with any pop-up camper, a quality set of earplugs can be a savior when it is not.
We have found the interior layout particularly good. The two most common phrases when we show people inside the camper are, “it looks way bigger on the inside that expected” and “it looks just like a boat.” The latter is due to the molded fiberglass; sleek, smooth and integrated. The deck effect tough vinyl flooring helps too, as does the wood trim.
The feeling of interior space is helped considerably by a few features.
The flatbed design reclaims the space usually stolen by the sides and wheel arches of the standard truck bed. It also facilitates the camper entrance door being on the side of the camper, which allows a large panoramic window at the rear of the camper with a surprisingly accommodating dinette. For two people this provides ample working and eating space, seating for three is moderately comfortable.
The bathroom is a clever mix of facilities and space-saving work surface. The white polished fiberglass lid/cover lifting to reveal a wooden grated floor with Thetford built-in toilet that uses a European style cassette; removed from the outside for easy disposal. Now the bathroom cover is in the vertical position, a shower curtain rail lifts to an attachment point on the ceiling, forming a cubicle in which to shower. In practice this is an area I feel needs some work, it has previously required owners to re-design the shower curtain, removing a lot of excess material in order to make showering a less “clingy” experience. The shower door is also poorly sealed, the mold at the bottom of the door is designed with a reliance on rubber seals to hold water inside. Angle the door opening in towards the shower and water would simply drain back inside. It’s a small quirk, but it leaves you scratching your head as to how the design got that far. In reality, a well-placed shower curtain literally covers up this small flaw. Overall, the bathroom space is a little slice of space-saving genius. It works incredibly well.
The final “open plan” element is the lack of upper storage. This is not missed. Three large drawers by the sink, a cutlery drawer, two large vertical storage areas next to the bathroom area and a fantastic “horizontal” clothes storage grid under the bed, as well as under-seat storage in the dinette and shoe storage by the door; all ample storage space. Want more? A series of vinyl pocket line the edge of the roof for maps, caps and other thinner items. The Nimbl Vehicles Evolution is categorically not short on storage. This leaves a single storage module attached to the roof over the sink, and the rest of the ceiling space wide open. Bright, airy, and at well over 6-feet-tall the Nimbl V1 interior really does feel gargantuan compared to some standard campers.
For a single person or a couple, this camper is incredibly roomy. After 2.5 years (including, currently, eight weeks in COVID-19 lockdown) I have never had cabin fever. Throw in an extra adult and that may change. I have known a couple, full-time, with two kids living in one of these and I would not recommend it. For one of the visitors the dinette table telescopes down, rearranging the cushions leaves even those a little over 6 feet with a full-length bed that isn’t even short on width. A precarious-looking hanging bunk used to be an option for the fearless or lightweight passenger; this hung from the ceiling over the dinette, but I am not sure whether this is still the ill-advised optional extra it once was.
I’ll keep the appliances section brief because information on these products is plentiful elsewhere. The fridge is a Dometic 12 volt, small freezer up top, plenty of fridge space below. The stovetop comes in two flavors. Choose a diesel-fueled Webasto X100 or an Induction. I am hot and cold with the induction cooktop, throw in a reasonable amount of battery amps and it’s a win. Failure to do that and you’re going to be starting the truck engine to provide the juice for your dinner (more on the batteries below). The Webasto takes a little while to warm up but is incredibly frugal. It uses hardly any amps at all and after eight weeks of lockdown cooking twice a day our 2-gallon fuel tank is still 1/4 full. I think this comes down to how you travel; moving for a reasonable amount of time every other day and/or consistent good weather then you have the power for an induction cooktop.
The preferred Nimbl V1 heating system is the Webasto Dual Top. Running on the same diesel tank that is used by our X100 stove it certainly uses more diesel, but once you get the setting just so it is quiet and efficiently heats the camper. People often ask if the tented area makes the camper cold, it categorically does not. Several owners use the V1 in ski resorts, we have been down to 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C) and actually struggled to keep the camper from getting too hot. Placement of the heater thermostat is just below where the tent fabric meets the camper. It doesn’t let in much cold air, but the little trickle that does make it through drops straight onto the thermostat, causing the heater to remain engaged even when the cabin is already toasty. Applying a rolled sweater or pile of socks to the area stops that cold air reaching the thermostat. It’s a small design niggle that should have been caught and has been, by Nimbl. The thermostat now resides on the main electric panel (seen in the above picture next to the fridge).
Solar and batteries have done us proud during our trip. Perfectly weighted for the way we travel, we hardly ever have to worry about electricity. Nimbl Vehicles has upgraded the alternator power with a DC-DC system too. Three solar panels on the roof provide 480 watts of solar. We have 600 amp hours of AGM batteries but Nimbl is now speccing lithium with 200 amp hour standard and 400 amp hour as an option. Run with the 400 amp hours and it starts to make the induction cooktop feasible.
A major screw up on early campers was the solar wiring. The 10 awg wires were simply not enough for the length of cable run from panels to the solar controller, with the cables getting dangerously hot. Once we hit Mexico this was a $1,000 solar re-wire to 8 awg, which works perfectly and also feeds a few more amps due to less resistance. On a sunny day, at altitude, with white fluffy clouds, near the equator, we can hit over 39 amps at the controller.
Our Magnum Inverter Charger is 1,000 watts. A 2,000 watt option is available. We do not use heavy demand appliances, so get nowhere near the 1,000 watt max. Unfortunately, the charger is 110 volts only. I would prefer to see a smart charger option on a global vehicle. Those traveling to Chile or Brazil, or into Europe could toast their charger by inadvertently plugging into a 220 volt socket. We now have a Meanwell Smart Charger to cover us in 220 volt countries.
Even the thirstiest owners are going to find the Nimbl V1 fulfilling their aqua needs. A massive 76 gallon (288 liters) fresh tank sits far forward in the camper just before the start of the bed, good for weight distribution. Nimbl is adding baffles to assist with water movement but I had never really found that to be an issue. We rarely fill up beyond 50 percent to keep weight down but it’s nice to have the facility to “supersize me” if you plan on extended periods off-grid.
Our water makes its way through four or five filters. A standard Camco RV filter cleans away the bulk of nasties before the water even hits our main tank. The Johnson water pump pulls water from the tank, through a mesh large particle filter and onto the main filter system. Three Doulton RF-10 cylinders: paper, carbon, ceramic provide you with super clean H2O throughout the caper, even the faucet and shower. I like the system, but the ceramic filter is aggressive and requires regular cleaning. In countries that have potable water, you can remove the ceramics filter and have water flow smoothly through. With the filter in, decent water and a decent 3M scouring pad to clean the ceramic filter ensure the water pressure is solid. A 700 milliliter flask is full of filtered water in around five seconds. Nimbl Vehicles has also added a trick 12 volt LED UV treatment system to this area.
The agony of choosing an overland vehicle is thanks, in part, to compromise. You have to; but where?
We have repeatedly discussed vehicles as we’ve cruised south. But, like many truck camper owners, it’s hard to imagine going bigger or smaller within the Americas. The key for Nimbl is the agility of the camper, the low profile and the off-road handling. Throw in the durability of a unit designed specifically for the purpose and the pride tag starts to lose any fear factor.
With Nimbl’s vehicle-based package, rather than simply a camper based business, they have placed themselves alongside some of the bigger players like EarthCruiser and Global Expedition Vehicles. The package is one unit and as such allows Nimbl to develop the whole vehicle experience, rather than leave the client to try and make it work with the vehicle they have. When viewed through this lens, the value is there, the package attractive. See the Nimbl Vehicles Evolution as a premium vehicle that retains an absolute focus on off-grid camping, eschewing some of the extravagances that would boost the price tag to those of their competitors but maintaining a high level of comfort that leaves you wanting for nothing.
Everything you need, nothing you don’t.