There are two main schools of thought when it comes to camping: the minimalist approach with a small ground tent and a few other simple necessities, and the more luxurious approach with a motorhome or travel trailer. The minimalist style offers high mobility (you can camp anywhere you can take your Jeep) but tends to be a little lacking in the comfort department. Motorhomes and travel trailers offer a lot more comfort (important for some people and their significant others) but the size of a big box on wheels means staying at or very near improved roads. There hasn't been much middle ground between the two, but Bivouac Camping Trailers is trying to change that with a well-thought-out line of small camping trailers aimed smack dab in between traditional tent camping and a big box on wheels.
Though Bivouac offers several different trailer sizes, styles, and configurations, the company's most popular is the Fort. Measuring just 10 1/2 feet long and weighing anywhere from 1,250 to 1,675 pounds (depending on how it's equipped), the Fort is compact enough for trail duty and is light enough to be easily pulled by most Jeeps. There's an entire laundry list of packages and options available, from the most basic that can be had for under $7,000 to the most deluxe model (the one we checked out) that retails north of $12,000. That second number might give some people pause, but compared to a well-optioned tent trailer, it's a pretty good value. More importantly, mainstream travel trailers are not designed for off-road use and will quickly rattle to pieces once off the pavement. The Bivouac Fort was designed from the ground up to be used where the pavement ends, which is where most of us would prefer to spend our time. Whether your style of four-wheeling involves extended overland travel or simply getting away from the crowds and campgrounds to explore more remote areas, trailers like the Fort enable you to bring more of the basic comforts of home into the backcountry.
Sleeping on the ground kind of sucks as you get older and you definitely wouldn't want to take a motorhome or traditional travel trailer down even a mild trail. The Fort is small and lightweight enough to handle moderate trail duties while enabling you to bring along a surprising number of creature comforts. It's ideally suited for long-distance overland exploring or to serve as a base camp in remote areas.
The Fort can be configured a variety of ways, one of which includes this slide-out rear galley. It has a built-in two-burner stove, sink, and storage drawer. The sink can be fed with a water bottle on a swivel rack or plumbed to an inboard 18-gallon water tank with an electric pump. The stove can be fueled with a small propane bottle or a larger 20-gallon tank mounted on the tongue. There's even an aimable LED work light.
Perhaps our favorite feature of the Fort is the swing-out rear gate, which, when locked in the open position, has two prep tables that swing up right next to the galley. It can be used as a mount for an optional barbecue grille and can also be built to carry a spare tire.
Bivouac works closely with rooftop tent manufacturer Tepui and offers a couple of different tent options for its camping trailers. The tent is mounted on screw jacks and can be raised or lowered in seconds. Inside is a bed roughly equivalent to a queen-size, and there's a built-in ladder that easily adjusts for uneven ground. Like most rooftop tents, the whole tent folds out and can be completely set up in a few minutes. A foldable four-legged table can be stored under the tent.
It sucks being cooped up in a tent during bad weather, so the optional annex helps you to stay out of the weather, as well as providing a place to change clothes or take off your muddy shoes without dragging dirt into the tent. The annex is also large enough to serve as additional sleeping quarters. An available awning provides additional shade and partial shelter over the galley.
A lot of thought went into making the best use of space on the Fort. The front includes axe and shovel mounts, while the rear has Rotopax containers for water or fuel containers. The folding table is sandwiched between the top of the trailer and the tent when stored. Everything is securely attached to the trailer so it doesn't fall off on the trail.
The Fort comes standard with 31-inch tires but can be upgraded to 33s easily (or taller tires by special order). It can also be ordered with a wheel-bolt pattern to match your vehicle, enabling you to match the wheels on your Jeep and even share spares between the Jeep and the trailer. The sturdy fenders and side steps make handy footholds for accessing the tent and other storage on the top of the trailer, while protecting it from trail damage.
Like the rest of the Fort, the tongue of the trailer can be configured several different ways. Base models have a simple diamond-plate deck, while fancier versions have a lockable storage box, a propane tank mount, and either a jerry can or a tankless water heater that feeds an outdoor shower. That's right, you or your significant other can still take a hot shower after a long day on the trail. There's also a heavy-duty tongue jack that makes it easy to disconnect from the trailer in the dirt.
The Fort looks like it's complicated to set up, but it's actually pretty easy. A couple of guys were able to completely set up the trailer in under 10 minutes during our test. The job is easily manageable with just one person and a couple more minutes.
Extra storage for camping gear is one of the biggest reasons to bring a trailer along on the trail. Depending on options, the Fort has up to 31 cubic feet of lockable storage. This is perfect for chairs, sleeping bags, and luggage, not to mention freeing up room inside the Jeep for passengers. The main compartment holds an available 18-gallon water tank at the cost of some storage space, while the tongue box usually contains the battery, inverter, and related electrical components.
Several different couplers are available from Bivouac, from the traditional tongue and ball system to the Max Coupler shown here. This unique coupler offers nearly 360 degrees of silent movement and is perfect for off-road use. Traditional military pintle-style hitches are available, but they tend to be noisy. The design of the tongue also allows the user to swap between different coupler styles, if desired.
The trailer rides on a 3,500-pound torsion solid axle with shock absorbers and brakes at each wheel. The powdercoated steel frame is fully boxed and welded, and the rest of the trailer's construction is equally as stout. Ground clearance is as good or better than the tow vehicle with the same size tires, and there's plenty of armor to keep the trailer protected from trail damage.
We took the Fort on a brief off-road excursion behind a ’12 four-door JK we borrowed from Sonoran Trails. The Jeep towed the fully loaded trailer without any struggle on the highway, and while it took a little getting used to, we were surprised at how agile the trailer was off the pavement. Though we wouldn't want to take it on any hardcore rock trails, there's no reason the Fort couldn't handle hundreds of miles in the backcountry on rough roads, while having the strength and the clearance to handle the occasional tough spot. Best of all, having someplace off the ground to sleep and all the basic amenities makes multi-day trips a whole lot more enjoyable.