Honda Elements are an unsuspecting yet popular option for conversion to campers. Their boxy shape, clam shell tailgates, removable back seats, and easy-to-clean surfaces make them an ideal choice for a relatively fuel-efficient small camper. Some enthusiasts opt to convert
Elements themselves, although there are several companies that offer professional conversions, pop top installations, and much more. In this article, we’ll hear from an Element camper owner about the pros and cons of the vehicle and check out a few companies that offer conversion services.
Honda Elements have many features that make them perfect for camper conversions:
- A tall, boxy shape – The square shape of an Element lends itself well to easily building out in the interior since you don’t have to navigate curves and other difficulties that you would face in other SUVs. An interior height of around 43 inches gives you relatively a lot of head room, making things like changing clothes slightly easier even if you don’t have a pop top.
- Removable back seats – The back seats fold flat, purportedly so you can sleep on them, although it’s been reported that this isn’t a very comfortable arrangement. Most people opt to remove the rear seats entirely, giving themselves a blank canvas as far as buildable space.
- Easy to clean interior – There is no carpeting anywhere in a Honda Element. Rather, the floors are coated with an all-weather rubber, which makes cleaning a breeze and eliminates most moisture concerns.
- Reverse mount side doors – The front side doors open as usual but the rear side doors are hinged on the back edge, with no bar in between the doors. This means that both sides of the Element can be fully opened up to the outdoors, making loading and unloading easier as well as just giving you a cool vantage point while you are lounging inside.
- Clamshell tailgate – The tailgate has two doors: one that opens up like a normal SUV back door, and a smaller one that folds down, giving you a nice little table space when it’s open. This also makes accessing your gear super easy.
- Reliable – The Element has one of the most dependable engines Honda has ever used. This is incredibly important now that Elements are out of production, since in order to buy an Element at all, it will have to be used. So, you can have some peace of mind even when buying an older model Element. Some Element owners report that they have over 150,000 miles on their vehicles and are still going strong.
- Optional 4WD – If you plan to take your Element camper offroading, 4WD is a good call.
- Inexpensive – Honda Elements were not all that expensive even when they were being produced, and now that all Elements are at least 9 years old (production stopped in 2011), you can get them for a bargain – often as low as $3,500.
- Fuel efficient – The 2011 Honda Element got up 20 mpg in the city and up to 25 on the highway, which is significantly better than most other types of small campers, like Ford Transit vans and so forth.
As with all micro campers, there are going to be some size-related cons to Honda Elements:
- You can’t stand up inside – That is, unless you are shorter than 43 inches or you add a pop top. This can make things like getting dressed, arranging bedding, etc. a bit difficult.
- Just a bed and not much else – There’s not room for much other than a bed inside – Especially if you have two people living out of the Element camper, essentially the entire cargo space is going to be taken up by a sleeping area that’s big enough for two. Unless, however, you opt for a pop top sleeping loft or add a roof top tent.
- Not ideal for full-timing – It’s not practical to install many amenities inside, making it less than ideal for long trips or permanent living – You would be hard-pressed to fit a toilet, sink, and kitchen facilities into an Element. However, I have seen some very creative setups by full-timers, so it’s not to say that you can’t do it!
Pop Top or Not?
There are a few options to increase your living space with a Honda Element camper. One is to add a pop top, which can be accessed through the built-in or aftermarket moonroof. The moonroof came stock only on the 4WD Elements from the model years 2003 to 2008, but since the Element stayed relatively the same throughout its production run, a factory moonroof can be added as an aftermarket part.
You will probably want to employ a professional company to install it for you though.
Another option is to add a roof top tent (RTT) to your Honda Element, which can be accessed with an exterior ladder. Whether you choose to add a RTT or a pop top, you will be able to sleep on top of the roof, thereby reserving the cargo space of the camper for storage, gear, and so forth. Some people opt to build in a small pump-operated sink and a kitchenette on slides that pulls out through the back door.
Here’s a minimalist kitchen example:
Finally, you can remain super stealthy by not adding any kind of sleeping loft. This is really only feasible with one person living or traveling in the Element, and things can get quite cramped inside with a bed space and storing all your gear.
Q&A With a DIY Honda Element Camper Owner
I spoke with Derek Wong (@elementrepublic – featured image top of post with more pics below), who owns a converted shuttle bus as well as a 2008 Honda Element that he uses for occasional camping trips. Here is what he shared about his Element camper:
How did you choose the Element over all other vehicles?
“I had a Subaru Legacy wagon before and it was great but I wanted something I was more familiar with. My friends and I’ve had Hondas and they have all been reliable and easily maintained. My other choice just didn’t have the extra space and head room that I was looking for. I needed something versatile and reliable.”
What are some pros and cons of the Element as a camper/in general?
“Pros: Comes with decent AWD system for snow or trails, spacious and removable back seats, fairly affordable, keeps its resale value, and if the motor goes out for whatever reason, they sell the Japanese replacement engines for less than $1K. The aftermarket support is also very good on those motors.
Cons: Not aerodynamic, could be better on MPG for a 4-cylinder. Needs more offroad capability, also not much undercarriage protection for clearance, rides sort of rough compared to most SUVs and trucks, cabin is noisy, when the rear seats fold down to make a bed, it’s not completely flat.”
Did you build out the inside totally custom, have it professionally done, or use a kit?
“For the camping setup, many of the owners I know have taken their rear seats out and made a frame for their bed all out of wood. They also make this tent attachment for the trunk area. And, some of them have installed solar panels on top to do off-grid camping. The interior is not carpeted so it makes cleaning easy.
I personally don’t have any bed frame in mine because I have another vehicle for that so I would just use cushions and sleeping bags. I would like to make a removable setup where I can swap in my seats when I need to.”
Is there anything else about your Element you’d like to share?
“I guess it would be awesome if they made an updated version of the Element with all those improvements. But the Element would become a cult classic. I currently do have plans to make it more offroad capable. I have an Aerogenics 2” lift spacer and upsized tires. I do want to add some skid plates, custom roof rack, steel front and rear bumpers with a swing-out bumper.”
To keep up with Derek’s adventures in his bus and Element, visit his website at projectkod.com.
Conversion and Kit Companies
Ursa Minor Vehicles
Ursa Minor Vehicles offers an ECamper, which is basically a hard shell pop top that’s installed permanently on your Element. The price ranges from $6,500 to nearly $11,000, and the package includes the pop top and installation, a 7×4-foot mattress with washable covers, and interior LED lighting.
When popped, the ECamper gives you 6.5 feet of standing room through the moonroof. It features lightweight composite construction and gas struts for easy opening and closing of the pop top, as well as Sunbrella canvas walls that are tough and breathable but still fade- and water-resistant.
With the zipper door, you can access the bed either through the moonroof or from outside the vehicle. The low profile construction of the pop top means it will not have a significant impact on your fuel economy. Zippered and screened windows allow you to enjoy a breeze while you sleep.
Fifth Element Camping
If you don’t want to fully commit your Element to being a camper, you can employ the modular and removable camper system from Fifth Element Camping.
They make four separate components that can either be used alone or all together, and you can completely convert your Element into a temporary camper for two people or back into daily driver mode in less than 10 minutes without making any permanent modifications.
The first element available from FEC is their desktop and storage cabinet module, which is $2,195. It has a total of five separate compartments to hold gear and the large central door flips down to become a desktop. This module is secured at the base with a custom bracket that works with the Element’s rear seat attachment point, and two other attachment points will hold it securely in place.
Next up is the bed and bench module, which comes in at $2,495. This provides a seating or sleeping area for two people, and you can add optional custom cushions to complete the sleeping and seating area.
FEC also offers a camp kitchen and sideboard, which includes a sink, hand pump, and dual propane burners that all pack down super small and can be used either inside or outside the Element. This component is $2,195 and makes camp cooking a breeze.
The final modular piece is the center console and trays, which can turn your driver seat into an effective office space. This part rings up at $795, although if you purchase all four modules together, you can save nearly $1,200, with the whole bundle costing $6,495.
Freeway Camper Kit
Freeway Camper Kit offers an Element camper kit that is super easy and quick to install. It is made with interlocking construction for simple no-tools-required assembly and it is compact to store when not in use.
You can choose between a few different wood finishes and select whether you want your package to include a mattress and cover or not. Prices range from about $730 to $1,300 depending on the package you select.
The kit includes a sleeping platform that has tons of storage built in underneath with compartments for gear, a cooler, a water jug, and everything else you could need.
Where To Buy a Honda Element Camper
While none of the companies listed above have a stock of Elements on hand, you can certainly buy pre-converted Elements or buy one and either do the conversion yourself or have a company modify the vehicle for you. Your best bet for a pre-converted Element will be adventure or camper forums with vehicles for sale like expeditionportal.com or places like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and so forth.
If you are simply looking for a pre-owned Honda Element, check used car dealerships as well to get a bargain on a vehicle that you can convert yourself.
Can a Honda Element pull a camper?
Yes. It is rated by the manufacturer to have a towing capacity of 1,500 pounds and a maximum tongue weight of 150 pounds. Any trailer over 1,000 pounds needs to be equipped with brakes.
Why did Honda stop making the Honda Element?
Honda stopped making the Element after the 2011 model year because of low sales, high competition both internally and externally, and a misguided attempt at marketing to 20-somethings who ultimately didn’t have money to purchase a new vehicle.
Is the Honda Element coming back into production?
Rumor has it that Honda will be re-introducing a new and arguably improved version of the Element in 2020. It may be less suited to conversion to a camper, but we’ll only know for sure when it is officially released.
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