Taxa Outdoors’ campers and trailers all have a similar look. They’re alien and angular, like a Lego Bionicle action figure. There’s more than a little Chinese-takeout-container influence there, too. And then, on the inside: pure spaceship.
That last one makes sense when you consider that the company’s founder and designer, Garrett Finney, used to be the senior architect at the NASA Habitability Design Center. He focused on making astronauts comfortable and productive in the cramped confines of the International Space Station. “The ISS engineers made something people could survive in. But we had to think about how you could survive well,” Finney says.
That meant addressing questions such as where would I put a picture of my family? or how do I change my clothes? without upsetting the tight balance of energy, efficiency, and resource needs that the ISS already had. And it worked. Finney’s insights helped astronauts limit stress, deal with unforeseen issues, and, ultimately, stay more productive—all things that, sure, to a slightly less life-or-death extent, also apply to camping.
When he left NASA after ten years, Finney says, “I kept thinking about interactive systems like air, water, food, and people in motion. I looked at people with really big RVs and thought, Wow, there is a real opportunity to be thoughtful about people in small spaces.” So Finney began designing a fleet of campers and trailers that could incorporate humans in the system as much as the space station did.
His first step was fitting a camper into the lives people already had, so he kept the weight under 3,020 pounds, something towable by a minivan or small RV. And he didn’t want the unexpected cost of renting a space to store it, so he made it no taller or wider than a car so it would fit in the garage. The small size came with another important benefit: “If it’s small enough to fit in a garage,” Finney says, “it’s already 80 percent of the way to being aerodynamic.”
Next, Finney focused on the trailer’s environmentally friendly construction. The Mantis, below, which was on display at this year’s RV Experience trade show, has birch shelving, not particleboard. Which means no formaldehyde. Instead of wood and insulation, its walls are made of composite aluminum filled with highly insulating expandable foam. Everything is rugged, too. The floors, the doors, the bed pads—nothing will fall apart as you rip down a bumpy dirt road. Taxa vehicles are meant to last your lifetime, then, when the day comes, “melt into the earth,” Finney says.
After that he could focus on a familiar element: habitability. With the pop-top up, there is plenty of room in the interior of the Mantis to stand and walk, and it sleeps four adults. Windows in both the vehicle and the tent walls fill the space with light and provide airflow on hot days. It holds 20 gallons of fresh water. There is an indoor shower and an outdoor shower. And behind every wall and cabinet is extra storage.
The Mantis is easy to live in, feels bigger than it is, and, when you think of a good place for something, you’ll find that Taxa thought of it first. Just like you’d want in space. Or the woods. And it’s much less of a hassle to pee.