Tuesday, December 29, 2020

RTTC's Koala Bear: Filling an Important Niche in the Tiny Trailer Industry

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
RTTC Koala Bear on the road (Seneca Miller photo)

Sometimes a new trailer hits the camping market, and it takes a while to wrap your head around what makes the new unit unique. At least that's been my experience recently with Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers' new Koala Bear tiny trailer.

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
Still room for a critter! (Seneca Miller photo)

The Koala is the lightest and shortest trailer of the RTTC line, yet because of its configuration, it also has a foot more interior head room than the second smallest RTTC trailer, the Papa Bear. The Koala is also the lowest priced unit in the RTTC line-up, starting at $6,450 for the 2021 model. I had to mull over these differences before finally realizing what makes the Koala special is that this tiny trailer does a great job in filling the gap between a "bed on wheels" tiny trailer and a tiny trailer that includes some cabinetry or a galley. Having said that, I suppose I have some 'splaining to do, although later in the article Koala owners will do most of the explaining.

I was the proud owner of RTTC's largest trailer, the Polar Bear standy, which is still a tiny trailer but allowed my wife and me to stand in the small two-foot wide space in the trailer between the bed/dinette and the front cabinetry. What is unique about the RTTC trailer line-up is that they all have the capacity if not to stand when inside the trailer to at least sit at a dinette bench, feet on the floor, and head free and clear (although the Papa Bear may require a bit of slumping). This extra inside living space is gained by sacrificing the rear galley/storage area available with many tiny trailers. Since the RTTC line's beds are raised, though, there is a good amount of storage beneath the bed, available both from inside and from an outside side hatch. 

My trailer provided my wife and me with an introduction into the tiny trailer world for three wonderful years of camping. We learned the ropes, collected some gear, and had many great adventures while camping. In addition to that, I found an audience for my travelogues and how-to articles with this blog, interacting with both the RTTC company and with many RTTC trailer owners, along with other tiny trailer enthusiasts. What I like about the inside configuration the RTTC tiny trailer is that it creates a living space more like a house or apartment--not in size but in the fact that you can sit on a chair (or, rather, a bench) instead of just cross-legged on a bed. There is a tiny bit of space to move about, whether comfortably standing in the Polar Bear model or hunched yet upright in the Grizzly and Kodiak models. The ability to sit and move a bit more like home is especially great for folks who might find their knee and hip joints aren't as flexible or pain-free as they used to be. 

Steve Russell, one of the owners of the Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers company, describes the Koala in the following manner:
"The main difference between the Papa Bear and the Koala is that the Papa is ten feet long, and the Koala is eight feet long. Both are five feet wide, but the Papa is only four feet tall while the Koala is five feet. The Koala out-sells the Papa Bear because it is a bit lighter, more affordable, and is five feet tall. The Koala Bear is our simplest camper, yet it is built with the same quality materials that the rest of our campers are. Our customers love that the Koala Bear offers five feet of headroom while still being lightweight and affordable. Even though the Koala has fewer options compared to our other models, it has some unique ones exclusive to the Koala, such as a queen size bed that slides into a couch. Our customers love the plentiful standard features, such as the interior front shelf, Maxxair Fan, 15 amp shore power connection, electric brakes, full size spare tire, and heavy duty 3,500 lb rated axle. In addition to the standard insulation used in the ceiling of the camper, we have also added a radiant barrier for 2021 for increased R-value."

 With my experience with the largest Polar Bear model, what immediately strikes me is that the Koala floor plan eliminates the cabinetry in the front that the other models have, eliminates the dinette feature, yet still keeps the ability to sit upright on a couch  rather than the dinette benches. What is gained is that the trailer is a low-priced, lightweight, unit than still provides a minimal yet very real experience of sitting upright in a chair at home with some open space around you. The Koala is really a clever adaptation and evolution of RTTC's original concept of providing a tiny "pocket" of homelife inside a tiny trailer, and even though you can't have a fireplace in such a tiny space, you could download a fire app on your tablet and sit on the sofa and gaze into the virtual fire on the screen, the woodsy crackling and popping of the fire soothing away your urban stresses while you sip a cup of coffee, tea, or favorite brew.

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
What happens when it’s very cold out and you have the only camper big enough
for three people to sit . . . and it’s a Koala! (Jessy Stevenson photo)

Soliciting comments from Koala owners, I wondered what kind of responses I would get about this new RTTC build. One unexpected response was that a "bare bones" purchase was the go-to for a couple of buyers, that what they really liked was the basic shape and configuration of the build and its potential for owner customization. New owner Shawn Webster, having picked his unit up less than a month ago and not even having camped in it yet, has still been busy working on his new bare bones purchase. "Why I picked the Koala over the others?  Its straight walls front and back made it simpler installing my own ideas, without the wasted space of the front and rear curves, without doing significant construction.  I preferred to do a 'no-build build,' allowing me to remove bed and cabinet quickly to use as a gear/cargo hauler option." He plans to use a USGI army cot for sleeping, with lots of room underneath for cassette toilet and milk crate storage. He feels the interior will even have room for a drop down table and a chair for inclement weather.

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
Although tiny inside, beautiful innovation is possible (Jessy Stevenson photo)

Jessy Stevenson has owned her Koala for about six months, so she's had some camping experience with it. Also buying her camper as a minimal bare bones build with only an air conditioner as an option, Jessy has finished the build herself to be "the perfect one person camper." Below, she explains how it all rolled out. 
"On the street side from the back to two feet from the front is my bed, thirty inches wide. On the curbside from the door to the back is a shelving unit that contains a sink, a built-in one-burner stove, and a very important . . . coffee center. The bottom two shelves and the floor are all storage, held in place by teak poles. At the front curbside are two AGM batteries hooked to a 200 W solar panel. This runs my Alpicool, anything I need charged--lights, USB ports and 12 V outlets. The Kodiak comes with a power strip in front, two USB ports, and lights and fan that need shore power to run. I have always been a huge fan of the Benroy-shaped teardrop. The fact that I can comfortably stand with just a tilt of my head to dress and move about was a huge selling point. I do most of my cooking outside, but I do like having the little coffee area and stove for an early morning cup of coffee inside. I’m not someone who comfortably sits outside in a nightgown. I also put on a roof rack and my 6-foot ARB awning. This makes a wonderful spot to just relax out of the weather. I feel the Koala is very well-built, very solid, and very easily towed and hitched. I love my Koala."

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
A battery/refrigerator configuration (Jessy Stevenson photo)

Jessy also owns a 13-foot Scamp and says that if she had to choose between the two trailers--that would be a very difficult decision! Her enthusiasm for the Koala couldn't be restrained, though, and bubbled over into one final comment. "Please let me add one more thought. The ease of the Koala is a huge selling point. The wheelbase is far enough back that half of the time I do not even drop the back jacks. I’m a little old gray-haired lady! I can back into a site, plug-in, and if that’s all I want to do, it’s enough for me to enjoy camping. Very easy to hitch. I’ve taken it camping in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Arkansas. It’s just so easy!"

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
Well-used front space in the Koala Bear (Seneca Miller photo)

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
Hot weather camping? You bet! (Seneca Miller photo)

Another Koala owner, Seneca Miller, was also enthusiastic about how the size of the Koala makes it easy to store and to travel with. "We mainly chose this model because we have an HOA and did not want to purchase a storage unit for the camper, and the price was also a big factor. We are able to store the Koala in our single car garage." And as for travel, she mentions that when traveling with a tiny teardrop, "cozy is an understatement." Still, though, she is able to pack all she needs for the road. "It’s not for the faint of heart, but then again if you’re camping in a tiny teardrop, it will have everything you need." Seneca was able in a few words to encapsulate the tiny trailer camping experience--that humorous, love/hate experience of loving the minimalism . . . and sometimes wondering why we love it.
"Camping in the Koala has been amazing! We are able to get tons of road behind us—we were even able to cut off traffic crossing a bridge in NYC. We got ours in July 2020 and have done two big trips (from North Carolina to Maine, and North Carolina to Arizona) plus tons of small long-weekend excursions. It’s been a godsend, especially during COVID. The set up is fine—not the best, but we’ve put in some baskets and definitely have to play Tetris with the below storage space. It gets the job done. We bought an electric cooler that we plug into the camper and our truck (when we aren’t camping). We also purchased a tiny space heater for colder places. Our set up is the slatted queen bed version. We’ve used our Koala in a lot of temperature situations from snow storm in Santa Fe to the humid heat near the Crystal Coast and even the high winds of Page, Arizona. And each situation we’ve been in, it’s been cozy. We have everything we need. We even bought a pop up tent and a Luggable Loo in case we found ourselves boondocking. Overall, it’s been a very reliable tiny home for us when we can’t enjoy the outdoors due to weather."

Two owners mentioned their preference to owning a lightweight camper so that they wouldn't have to buy a new tow vehicle. Both owners also deal with some mobility issues yet found that the Koala configuration lended itself to solutions.  

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
A little Koala Bear "eye candy" (Bonnie Cunningham Wallace photo)

Bonnie Cunningham Wallace reports satisfaction with her Koala purchase. "The price was so right for us, and we were very pleased with the quality of the materials and the construction. We then had to consider if our Subaru Forester could safely tow it. I’m pleased to report that with route planning we were able to mountain camp without any problems." She and her husband have also creatively used the Koala's space for maximum benefit: "I have a condition that limits my mobility, and I manage quite well in the Koala. Everything is in arm's reach, and having the window above the outside table makes it very handy for my husband to use as our breakfast and coffee bar in the morning. We pass things back and forth through the window, and he sets his chair up and has breakfast with me while I’m still in bed. I know. I’m spoiled!!"

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
Set up for a comfortable stay (Gina Everett photo)

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
Interior--tight but put to use (Gina Everett photo)

Having only been out twice so far with their Koala, Gina Everett and her spouse have found a variety of reasons why they like RTTC's lightweight, versatile build. "The main reason I chose the Koala was so we didn’t have to get a bigger car. We tow with our 2014 CRV. We also like the five-foot height. It works well for us. My wife is handicapped and can get in and out relatively well. Having the extra height is a plus. We love our platform bed. There is plenty of storage under the bed. We shortened our bed so we could have a camp toilet in the RV, which is working out well, too. I do feel that the Koala is better suited for a single user with a single bed, but we are making it work. I would love to upgrade someday, but for now, this little Koala is perfect for our current needs. Also, the price tag was perfect, too!"

RTTC Koala Bear, a tiny camper trailer
A Koala Bear is also a snow bear! (Seneca Miller photo)

There you have it from Bear owners' mouths! Owners have found that tiny trailers are . . .  well . . . tiny trailers--but the Koala's tiny build does lend itself to innovation. Having a layout that makes it more than a bed-on-wheels, it transforms its space to a tiny, tiny home on wheels. Although giving up a rear galley, the extra space is utilized for a more comfortable interior that is tiny yet still provides comfort, even for those with some mobility issues. Lightweight, inexpensive, easily towable--the RTTC Koala Bear has found its place in the tiny trailer market, providing a secure and enjoyable means of travel without a high price tag. New owners are acting like proud parents--as well they should! Bonnie Cunningham Wallace displayed her unabashed pride best: "We named our Koala 'Kismet,' and it’s number 452. I believe it was the first one built. We love it!!"

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  1. What a great story. Still love our Grizzly but would have been comfortable with this as well.

    1. I think the Grizzly's a bit bigger, isn't it? Probably better for two campers. Nice to hear from you and wishing you a great 2021.

  2. I just purchased a koala and trying to figure out how to configure it. I want a raised 30 " platform bed to start. Can I just add a cot or have to do wooden frame anchored down? No idea how important anchoring things are or the weight distribution. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.