Camper Trailers Tech Tips

which camper trailer do I buy?





thoughts on buying a camper trailer
choices reflect our uses

Our choices reflect our uses. We like to tour and travel with the camper trailer with our three kids. We like to go bush, we always prefer free camping and we prefer to do it “off the beaten track”. We like simple and reliable over some of the more complex creature comforts. Even now, we are pushed for storage space!

Our big five main items on our check list for choosing a trailer were:

1.strength and off road ability
2. space for storage and the whole family to sleep comfortably
3. simplicity and easy to repair
4. the ability to arrive, put the tent up and have started on the first beer within 5 minutes, then to have everything packed away and ready to drive off in less than 10 minutes
5. as much rust protection and weatherproofing we could get, a galvanised trailer, waterproofed underneath with good seals, a quality travel cover and good quality canvas.

Tent size. Although most of our nights under canvas have been in good weather, we have learnt to always assume bad weather. Bad weather has such a big impact on the amount of living space available as you can’t touch the canvas sides of the tent and when it's windy, our three kids in our twelve foot tent don’t have much spare room at all. We nearly bought a nine foot tent and are very glad we did not.

Mobility. Given we like to tour, speed of set-up or tear-down is really important. It’s got to be fast and easy because we do it just about every day. That said, one day we will set up our trailer somewhere and stay for more than a few nights so an annexe with good midgee/mozzie proofing and protection from the weather are also important.

Soft floor v hard floor. We choose a soft floor because we got about 40% more storage than a hard floor and often a lower centre of gravity too. We also prefer the most simple as possible option in almost all circumstances. With camper trailers, things will always break, sometimes rather easily. With a soft floor there is much less to break and there is much more storage room in the trailer.

Trailer finish. We chose a galvanized trailer over a painted finish for durability. We are scared of rust.

Kitchen. We really like “simple”, so we deliberately chose no sink and no fixed stove to get more bench space. This has other advantages with more flexibility when free camping. We think the Drifta trailer kitchens are really excellent but have decided its not necessary for us. We have a tailgate kitchen on our trailer and can store all of our kitchen needs in this like all of our cooking gear, except foodstuff. We don’t need to do any “setup” just open the trailer gate and its all there, right in front of you. We have a set of six small drawers and two shelves and this is enough for us. It took a long time to get the contents of our kitchen gear just right.

Trailer storage. We like a simple trailer with no extra drawers in the sides as it limits the space “underneath”. We like a large space which we can conform to fit our needs. With some of the trailers that have drawer systems running across the beam of the trailer, you are not left with any larger spaces to use at all. That said, we now have the long Drifta pull out drawer for the trailer (running parallel to the direction of travel) and it is excellent.

Water tanks are critical. Water means weight but if your tanks are well situated and low down, the weight has less impact on the ride. We normally carry a few 10 litre store bought containers for drinking and do everything else with tank water which we happily drink but its not as nice as bottled water. We have one tank and are thinking of a second. Thankfully this is quite easy to achieve with our Customline Camper Trailer.

Extra storage. The tool box on the front of the trailer is important for us, we use it a lot to store anything that we will want to use during the day such as camping chairs, chainsaw, tools etc. Weight on the front is a worry but if positioned well, its really handy.

Stone reflector. Under normal conditions a mesh stone guard is fine. On hard gravel roads, stones flying off the wheels that hit any point where the mesh covers the metal frames, will destroy the mesh i.e. where the point of impact brings the stone to hit the mesh and the metal at the same time. Elastic straps to hold the mesh on is a big advantage. Always make sure that the mesh used is not shade cloth but sturdier “truck mesh”.

Spare wheels. Ideally to match towing vehicle. We had a few occasions where a trailer wheel had been totally ruined and we had to drive carefully as we had no spare. When planning your first trip, check that you can undo the wheel nuts on your trailer as it may have a different size wheel nut to your towing vehicle. We have now spent quite a bit of money to have axles and hubs converted to match our 4WD.

Tyres. On roads up north/west where some of the shire’s cannot afford gravel, they use quartz rocks mixed with gravel instead. These quartz rocks are big and sharp and cut the sidewalls of the tyres very easily. Unless you know its happened immediately, harder than you think on heavy corrugations, it can destroy your rim very quickly. We saw that most of the guys at the tyre stores drove on B.F.Goodrich tyres which we have very happily used for five years on our Landcruiser as they have much stronger sidewall protection to counter this kind of situation. Give some thought to a tyre pressure management system TPMS that alerts you in the car when a tyre has a heat build up or a drop in pressure. The $400 you spend now can probably save you at least one $350 tyre and an expensive rim on a long trip.

Battery. It is easy to set up a 12volt battery system as you do need decent camp lights. Relying on torches or lanterns is no fun and LED lighting is much more efficient. We have a 100 amp hour Absorbent Glass Mat deep cycle battery which is totally sealed. It is charges from a Ctek 12volt DC to DC charger as we travel. As we tour around a lot, we have never found a need for solar panels as with just 12volt lighting, the 100 amp hour battery will last a few days without needing to go for a drive to charge. Its important to remember that when the trailer is being stored that you need to keep this battery charged- we use a 240v trickle charger.

Fridge. The 60 litre EverKool fridge/freezer is permanently mounted in the 4WD and does not take up other storage space in the trailer. It runs from the vehicles auxiliary battery being charged by a Ctek 12volt DC to DC charger. The shock absorbers and dust sealing on the 4WD provide a much better, cooler and operating environment.

Suspension. This is probably the one thing that seems to go really wrong with camper trailers. Again we like simple leaf springs as you can fix them on the road and parts are easy to come by. The bespoke independent suspension can leave you waiting many weeks for parts in the middle of nowhere, we have seen it a few times now. We have Al-Ko leaf springs and hubs are they have been excellent.

Weight and Height. Do everything you can to keep both down. The less you have, the better your fuel efficiency and the more money you save and the better range you will have. Some people like to save money by avoiding electric brakes. Electric brakes are mandatory on trailers weighing more than 750kg. Not having electric brakes is crazy and may give you problems with your insurance if you accidentally exceed the threshold and have an accident.

Canvas. Avoid cheap canvas, you will regret it. Apparently much of the cheap, “Made in China” stuff is really bad from a waterproofing perspective and also for all round durability. Its really important that the tent is designed to fit the trailer or vice versa as nearly right is not water and dust proof. The canvas on a trailer gets a lot of wear and tear and you need quality, durable waxed canvas. People who know a little about this say 12oz canvas is a good place to start and 15oz on the roof is a good idea too. Most experts seems to agree, Australian canvas manufacturers make a superior quality product over the imported stuff. Wax Converters or Dynaproofed canvas always seems to be very well liked. Ours is Dynaproofed and has been very reliable.

Trailer cover. The method of protecting the tent when its folded up is critical. If this fastening mechanism fails to function while on the road, your canvas could be at risk of damage or water exposure and your fuel efficiency could suffer.
We bought an extra large travel cover sometimes called a tonneau. This gave us the option to store a few items on top of the canvas, but under the cover and safe from the weather. Specifically, all of our bedding and clothes and a folding table, even a solar panel that we borrowed to test out.

We’ve seen some dodgy (and busted) zip systems that look slow and fiddly. They appear to be inflexible and from most accounts are susceptible to unexpected breakage.

Our trailer has a heavy PVC cover secured by bungy cords stretched over hooks attached to the trailer. This proves to be water and dust proof, very quick to undo and is secure. Most importantly, it's a system that is extremely unlikely to cause unrepairable breakage on the road.
Location. Consider buying from a manufacturer located near you. I've seen trailers being shipped up and down the country for warranty repairs and you can bet the purchaser had to pay freight costs. I have seen probably forty to fifty busted trailers in the last five years and nearly all were cheap imports.

Make a list. When purchasing a second hand trailer, we had a list of things we wanted. We found that once we had chosen the manufacturer we liked, finding a value for money trailer and evaluating them against each other was a lot easier, especially when shopping on Gumtree or similar. We found that the list helped us shop over the phone and saved us a few trips to view trailers that were not suitable.

We chose a quality Australian manufactured Customline Camper Trailer and are very happy with that choice. We are glad we took the time to write down exactly what we wanted to do with our trailer before we bought it. This then turned into our requirements list. It helped us avoid buying things we did not need. The one piece of advice I would offer is 'unless its critical, don’t get it'. You can always buy or install whatever later, if or when you need it. In nearly all circumstances camper trailers can be modified or added to unless you are considering a hot-dip galvanised trailer.

thanks to David Bunce for sharing his thoughts


july 2018