When you’re a mad keen fisherman you need to ensure you have a comfortable base for those days when the fish are on the bite at a remote beach or river, and if you can’t find what you want then you need to build your own. That was the motivation for Dylan Hodges when he set out to build his smart slide-on camper.
Dylan is certainly a keen fisherman. The 35 year-old patrols the NSW north coast beaches pursuing big jewfish, the sort that can run to 25 kilos and up. He likes to live large and enjoy his days away with his partner Tracey or his mates. It seemed a natural extension of his life-long love affair with camping. “I’ve always been a camper,” he told us. “I just love it.”
But in the early days it was a simple matter of a tent or a swag, and “throw in a case of beer and I was happy.”
But as he went along he began to hanker for something a little more comfortable. His career as a rig hand on a CSG drilling rig didn’t leave him much spare time to do more than daydream about what he wanted until a work injury had him sitting at home for an extended period, and that’s when he began to apply daydreams to reality.
“I knew what I wanted,” he says, “I had it all sketched out in my head and it then just became a matter of chasing down the materials and getting things underway.”
Dylan’s camper centres on a tradies’ rear canopy. There are a number of these available on the market from a variety of manufacturers, and Dylan chose one from MRT (Mates Rates Tools). They will custom make them but he chose one off the shelf, which made it a bit cheaper and more readily available. It was constructed from aluminium, with a sturdy frame underneath and came complete with jack-off legs which permit him to easily remove it from his 2009 Triton ML 3.2 turbo-diesel.
“MRT was good to deal with, and about the only thing that I’ve found wrong with this set-up for camping is that there is a little bit of slop in the legs, so that it can appear a little bit wobbly when you’re sleeping up top. I’ve found that if I angle the legs in a little bit it is more stable but it just looks a bit odd.”
BUILDING UPON THIS FOUNDATION
To flesh out the raw checkerplate metal canopy Dylan then built a 70 x 35mm pine frame into the floor, with a marine ply floor over the top. The flooring was very carefully planned, as it was always intended to be covered in carpet, so where edges butted up against various components it was checked out so that the applied carpet would sit flush with the adjoining metal surface. Before the floor went on Dylan ran his wiring for the planned electrical appliances so that it was all hidden away inside the frame. This is no sloppy amateur job but is well finished and very professional looking.
At the rear of the canopy Dylan fitted a pair of Titan drawers that would normally find a place in the rear of a 4WD. On the passenger side a carpeted wooden box was built to house a 300Ah Giant Power AGM battery.
Adjacent to the battery box is an electronics control centre with switches for the various components on the passenger side of the canopy, plus a volt meter and a cigarette and dual USB plugs.
On the inner front wall of the rig he hung a water pump which can draw water from jerry cans sat next to the camper, but Dylan is planning to install a 100L water tank which will make things more contained.
Beside the pump is a Joolca gas instant hot water system. This exits the heat internally but it is up onto an aluminium surface and as both sides of the canopy are wide open when in use the heat build-up has proven to be minimal. The necessary gas supply is carried in a 4.5kg gas bottle which is hung in a bolt-on bracket added to the front right leg and connected for each camp set-up.
On the top of the outer front wall hangs a KickAss fold-out shower. This requires just a 10 second set-up and has been equipped with a 6L per minute shower head to prevent excess water usage. The shower unit has been strengthened by two diagonal tent poles across the front face to help in sustaining its shape in strong winds.
On the rear roof is a Kings Tourer rooftop tent with a double-sized HD foam bed. To extend the comfort factor in the tent Dylan added LED lights and USB ports. The tent came with a drop-down lower ensuite which provides a tent area but Dylan found that the zip-in vinyl floor leaked the first time he had it out in wet weather and has now simply adopted the tactic of not using the ensuite.
In front of the tent but still on the roof is a Kings roof basket. This carries a fixed 250 watt solar panel, plus the gas bottle and other minor items when travelling. That rooftop solar is accompanied by a 160 watt portable unit that he can place out on the ground to track the sun or avoid shade. Coupled to a 30 amp Victron MPPT regulator the battery has never even looked stressed in sustaining its loads.
Dylan says he purposely avoided having any connection to the vehicle’s alternator purely to be stand alone as the 250 watts of solar has always done the job just fine — along with the additional 160 watts in consecutive heavily clouded days.
At the front of the driver’s side is a slide-out bench with a two-burner-with-grill cooker with a fold-over dog-legged extension. The extension provides space for a Weber Baby Q oven and the dog-leg lowers the height so that it is more comfortable for cooking purposes. At the moment Dylan is plotting out the best method for supporting the end of the fold-over extension.
Adjacent to the cooking area is an Engel fridge/freezer on an MSA drop-down slide, with a 32in TV/DVD, stereo system, and another electrical control centre with switches for items in the area, volt meter, USB and cigarette plugs.
The GME TV antenna usually mounts to a bracket on the rear corner of the roof basket but had been extended by the addition of a tent pole for an improved signal at the remote location where we photographed it for this feature.
DON’T FORGET THE BEERS
Under the canopy’s roof on the driver’s side is a Travel Buddy 12-volt oven. Dylan’s philosophy is that you need a hot pie to go with your beer.
And in some curious way beer seems to be a major centre of this slide-on’s existence. Because standing between the fridge and the cooktop slide is a Carlton Dry beer tap which Dylan hooks up to a 50L keg — of Carlton Dry, of course — which supplies its amber contents through an insulated pipe through a folded stainless steel moulding from the far side of the canopy. The refreshments travel via a 120L esky and a 9-metre length of coiled stainless steel coil (Dylan tried 18 metres but the beer wouldn’t pour properly) within the contained ice and water to provide that right level of chill. With 118 schooners (but who’s counting!) available from a keg, fishing trips for Dylan and his mates are pretty mellow.
Over either side of the canopy when in use are the fold-up doors which each cover two LED light strips per side and a series of clamps to carry the required tent poles to complete various set-ups. Above the kitchen-side of the canopy is a 2.5 x 2.5m awning and before setting up Dylan puts down two 6 x 3m Kings flooring mesh sheets to give his campsites a clean and smart presentation.
HOW MUCH DID IT ALL COST?
Dylan has found that with the camper attached to the Triton his fuel consumption takes a nosedive, and he loses around 150km on a tank of fuel with beach driving included. At the moment the mods on the Triton include a pair of air bags to the rear suspension, a 2in Tough Dog suspension lift, a 3in turbo back exhaust, 33in mud terrain tyres, jungle flares and a 600 x 300 front mount intercooler, but coming shortly will be chassis strengthening in the rear just to be safe.
All up Dylan’s slide-on has cost him around $18,000, a not inconsiderable sum, but certainly well spent when one considers what he has built.
At the moment it weighs around 650kg and took him just on five months of work to get it where it is. He tells us he still has a few more pieces to refine and/or add so the absolute finished cost and weight — if such home-made campers can ever be considered finished — remain to be seen.
In the meantime it’s back to the beaches and the beer.