The camping industry isn’t the first place one would look for cutting-edge design. While outdoor activities have become increasingly technology-driven in the past decade, with new materials and gadgets leading the way, the art of sleeping under canvas and trailering one’s home from place to place has always had a vaguely traditional, almost reactionary image.

In recent years, innovation has started to sprout. Airstream’s neat little Nest and Basecamp trailers build on the legacy of their iconic aluminium designs, and there have been credible camper concepts from Mini and Citroën, amongst others. Mercedes’ Marco Polo and Volkswagen’s California and new Grand California campers are sleek modern machines that are a world away from the shabby chic retro and wince-inducing soft furnishings that usually dominate the sector.

Futurelight campervan

The campervan is best described as a ‘backpack on wheels’

Now we have the Futurelight, a bold collaboration between outdoor clothing and equipment manufacturer The North Face and BMW’s Cali-based subsidiary Designworks. The latter is one of the most adept industrial design studios in the business, a major player in consultancy and also the origin of many iconic BMW Group concepts. This new venture was created to showcase The North Face’s new fabric, specially devised to be the most breathable, waterproof membrane you can buy.

It works great for ponchos, but to make a splash for tech-hungry consumers, The North Face approached Designworks to create something more substantial. The Futurelight camper is best described as a backpack on wheels, a compact trailer that fully exploits the lightness and flexibility of the material. Using a geodesic dome as a structural core, the permeable fabric is stretched across to form a shell-like shelter that, thanks to the specially developed nano-sized holes, is fully breathable while also remaining fully waterproof.

Designworks drew some inspiration from their parent company’s back catalogue, specifically the BMW GINA concept car of 2008. One of the last flourishes of head designer Chris Bangle’s iconoclastic tenure at the brand, GINA was a mutable concept car with fabric-based bodywork. The Futurelight camper isn’t quite so visionary – and The North Face is even planning on a production version later in the year – but it shows that even the most avant-garde ideas eventually find their way into the mainstream, even way out in the deepest wilderness. §