Few things compare to hitting the road on a 4WD adventure, knowing that you’ve got everything you need (down to the kitchen sink) right there with you. Off-road camper trailers are similar to their on-road counterparts in many ways but have some key differences that enable them to travel over rough terrain.
They incorporate a reinforced chassis that can cope with the extreme conditions that come with off-roading. And the suspension and tyres are also upgraded to allow the trailer to grip well on uneven terrain and make it easier for a four wheel drive vehicle to tow.
There's little doubt that going off-road with a camper trailer can open you up to a world of great experiences. But if you’re thinking about taking the plunge and buying your first all-terrain camper, there are a few things you should consider first.
On-road vs. off-road models
First, ask yourself whether you really need an an off-road capable camper trailer as opposed to an on-road model. To answer this question you need to think about how and where you are most likely to use your camper. Ask yourself: do I really need an off-road camper trailer? Or will a regular on-road model handle the types of terrain I want to explore?
Hard floor or soft floor
Hard floor and soft floor camper trailers are two very different breeds. A hard floor gives you many more creature comforts: the camper itself has everything you need like storage, a fridge and other appliances built in. Because of this, hard floor campers are a lot heavier than soft floors but they're set up to handle the extra weight – everything is bigger and better on a hard floor.
A soft floor camper trailer is basically a big tent in a trailer. They take longer to set up and don’t come with as many creature comforts but are a lot cheaper, lighter and often more spacious. If you're not sure whether you need a camper or can make do with a tent, have a read of Moving Up from a Tent to a Camper Trailer.
Where can an off-road camper take me that an on-road model can't?
Just about anywhere! They are designed to handle a huge range of driving conditions, so you can be confident towing your trailer over muddy, icy, rocky, and sandy terrain. The most likely obstacles facing you will be the capabilities of your towing vehicle, and your abilities as a driver.
Before you decide on a camper trailer, you need to ensure your vehicle is up to the task of towing it to the remote destinations you plan on escaping to. To determine this, you need to know the towing capacity of the vehicle (the maximum weight your vehicle can tow), and also the tow ball load specification (the amount of downwards pressure that can be applied to the rear of the tow vehicle). Both of these can be found in your vehicle’s handbook.
You’ll also need a brake controller. This is an aftermarket device that mounts to the dashboard of the vehicle and engages the camper trailer’s braking system when needed. In addition to this, you may need an Anderson plug, which is a socket that allows charge from the car battery to flow into the camper battery to charge it.
It’s harder to drive off-road with a camper
You may be used to tackling the trails in your 4WD but once you put a trailer on the back, off-roading becomes an altogether different beast.
“When you’re off-roading with a camper trailer, you're towing an extra tonne or so. You've got to be very aware of what's happening behind you: what the camper needs to do and where it needs to go in order to follow your lead vehicle. You also need to make considerations when braking, slowing down, accelerating, getting through crevices and the like.” says Linden Lawson of Austrack Campers.
Before heading off on your first expedition, it’s a good idea to do a couple of practice runs – not only ensure you are capable of towing the camper but also so you know how everything fits together before you head off into the wilderness.
Not all off-road camper trailers are created equal, and the last thing you need is for your ‘off-road’ camper to start rattling apart when you’re 100s of miles from anywhere. Here are a few things to look for:
If you’re planning on doing proper off-roading it’s recommended your camper has underbody protection. This will protect it from any rocks and the like sticking up in the track.
“If you're doing anything seriously off-road in a hard floor camper you want to have independent suspension. They travel and perform a lot better off-road with independent suspension given the weight of the trailer,” says Lawson.
“Your average soft floor camper trailer only weighs 700-800kg and even when it’s loaded, will probably be just over a tonne – so it's not like you're towing two tonnes of camper as with a hard floor. Because of this, leaf spring suspension with the right setup would be fine for a soft floor off-road camper.”
Before you buy an off-road camper trailer, it’s worth checking that the appliances that come with it are built to withstand the bumps and vibrations they’ll be subjected to on the trails. While most reputable companies will fit their campers with quality appliances, it can’t hurt to double check.
Dust and water ingress
Imagine getting to your campsite after a long drive through the bush, only to find your camper is full of dust and/or water – it’s not going to make for a great start to your holiday. Make sure your camper is fitted with seals that are up to the job. After all, you may well be towing it over deserts and through rivers.
“Our campers have a double seal vehicular dust seal on them. They are like a pinch weld seal, so as you close the door or cabin they compress the seal so that no dust or water gets in. All the latches on the doors are adjustable, so if you do find you get a bit of dust in, you can adjust the latches to pull the seal in a bit tighter to stop that from happening,” says Lawson.
Standard safety features
Driving off-road can often bring with it issues that are less likely to occur while driving on sealed roads. Many modern off-road campers come standard with electronic stability control that works to correct a swerve if you lose control by gently applying brakes to your trailer increasing drag against the towing vehicle helping it to correct and drive straight.
Many retailers will offer their own comprehensive 24-hour roadside assistance packages to their customers. So if you get stuck in the mud, aid is only a phone call away. Bear in mind though that many of the destinations you’ll be heading to won’t have mobile reception. If this is the case you may want to consider buying or hiring a satellite phone.
“If you're in the market for an off road trailer, look for strength in the construction of the camper. The finish is important too. Make sure the little bits and pieces aren't just stuck on with glue and they're actually bolted on properly with stainless steel bolts or rivets – you have to be sure you’re buying something of quality that's not going to fall apart.
“My biggest suggestion would be to jump online and read reviews from customers who have bought campers before and see what people are saying about their own campers. That'll give you a good idea of what's good and what's not,” says Lawson.
For general information on buying a camper trailer, check out our buyers guide.