The GO is the camper answer for the Apple tech set: innovative, user friendly, beautifully designed and painfully expensive. It’s an excellent compact alternative to standard pop-up campers, with the bonus of lots of gear towing and storage versatility, though the price is almost double what we’d expect.
I spent a good hour going over all the well-engineered details that went into the GO. Like an Apple product, the GO solves issues that I didn’t even know I was going to have (airflow inside the camper to name one) when taking my family of four camping in Colorado’s Rockies Mountains. The more time spent in the GO, the more I grew to appreciate what its builders in North Carolina did.
Stuffed into the plastic hard case that serves as a roof for the GO is a customized Kelty tent. After ratcheting the four support columns on each corner up to full height then folding out the sides of the GO and locking them horizontally into place, I released the bottom of the hard case, and out tumbled the tent. I attached the corners of the tent into place, slid the poles in place and the hard work was done. The trailer’s rear gate folds down to serve as a step. Smart.
Inside, two foldable plastic platforms fit neatly into the now horizontal sides of the GO and did double duty as bench seats and sleeping areas. A table panel that seats four adults slid out of the roof.
Within the tent, the space was efficient and cozy with plenty of headroom (87-inches) to stand up. The bottom of the hard case (now vertical) served as a burly windbreak/support structure for the tent, while the roof of the hard case worked as a burly protective barrier for the tent. A mesh ceiling inside allowed hot air to escape and there was just enough mesh space for cross ventilation to pull that hot air away. Nice.
A simple vestibule kept the sun out of the tent and a sudden downpour from soaking the inside. The GO came with a canopy extension that I didn’t set up since I was only camping for a night, but it effectively doubles the amount of protected space. In exposed camping spots like the beach or desert, it’d be a godsend.
This being a tent, and not an RV, I didn’t set up my kitchen inside, but my family did use it throughout the day to escape the sun, play games without the breeze blowing their game pieces around, or grab a nap. However, no one felt compelled to hangout inside all day as they might have in an RV with a refrigerator, bathroom, kitchen, and generator to power a microwave. I saw that as a plus. The GO is, like a tent, a utilitarian place to escape the elements if necessary and sleep and nothing more.
And about that sleep: it was wonderful. Setting up the sleeping area for four involved pulling out another table-sized platform from the top, placing it alongside the detached kitchen table so they bridged the sides of the GO. This created a king-sized bed surface with weatherproof storage space beneath it. On top went four plush, 2-inch thick self-inflating air mattresses that fit neatly across the surface. The result was the most heavenly “tent” sleeping experience I’d ever had. Sleeping three feet off the ground allowed a cross breeze to flow through the tent throughout the night, and I didn’t have to worry about rolling over onto a root, rock, or other annoyance like I did when camping on the ground.
Set up at the campsite took me roughly 50 minutes and packing up the camper the next morning clocked in at about the same. I’m sure with practice, I could get that down to less than 40 minutes.
At first glance, I thought of the GO as a novel take on the pop-up camper, but after spending a weekend with it, I saw it as a super-flexible utility trailer that happens to have a tent attached to it. Seeing it as such also made it a little easier to swallow the GO’s steep price.
This opinion was mostly formed after speaking with users of pop-up campers, who enviously eyed the cargo space beneath the hard case where I’d thrown plastic tubs holding sleeping bags, pillows, the GO’s air mattresses, a full-sized cooler, and my son’s BMX bike. And all of this gear was accessible instead of locked up inside a pop-up camper or buried in the back of a truck or SUV. The extra space inside my SUV was wonderful, nothing like the overstuffed car camping experiences my family usually faces.
A hard plastic storage pod at the front has space for 9 cubic feet of gear. It also helps flow air around the trailer to boost its aerodynamic properties. But that’s just the start of this trailer’s flexibility. By raising the same four telescoping poles that create the corners of the tent, I could double the vertical cargo space of the trailer. Folding out the bed frames until they locked into place vertically turned the sides into walls. The result is enough room to haul 1,000 lbs. of furniture, a quiver of kayaks, or as shown on GO’s website, an ATV. I suspect that most GO owners will end up using the camper more often as a trailer than a camper since it negates the need to own or borrow a pick-up truck.
Beyond the utility of the Go, I was blown away by how little its svelte 840-pound aluminum frame affected the mpg of my ’95 Toyota 4Runner when towing it up and over 11,306’ Berthoud Pass. I experienced nothing more than a 1-mpg penalty. In terms of fuel economy, that beats what I experience when throwing two bikes up on a roof rack.
For reaching remote campsites, the GO’s 13 inches of ground clearance and wide and soft tires that soak up the bumps will likely handle most Forest Service roads better than your car.
How We Tested It
The Sylvan Sport GO was borrowed from an owner in Boulder, Colorado for three days. It was loaded with three bikes on the roof rack and camping gear, and then towed from Denver to Colorado’s Fraser River Valley for one night of camping at a Forest Service campground. Round-trip mileage to the campsite and back was approximately 160 miles with 10 miles of travel over graded dirt roads. Total mileage towing the GO came to 238 miles. Weather was sunny, topping 95 degrees in Denver and 80 degrees in the mountains. Camping conditions were dry with occasional early evening wind gusts.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.