What makes us buy one camper trailer over another? And why do we buy camper trailers? These questions came to mind as I sat inside a Marlin Escape Deluxe camper at the Ocean Beach Holiday Resort at Umina, on NSW’s Central Coast.
Here I was, just an hour’s drive north of suburban Sydney, in glorious mid-winter sunshine. In front of me lay a splendid beach where young children ran up and down. The occasional paddle boarder or surfer walked past, as did older couples, hand in hand. Dogs chased seagulls on the sand and all seemed right with the world.
This was the sort of simple, get-away-from-it-all enjoyment at the core of why we go camping. It was nice to see Mother Nature doing so well. A big ball of small fish swam in the creek below us, while an eager but not very competent wading bird stalked them without success. Ducks, brush turkeys and water hens ambled through our camp site.
Steve Brettoner, the owner of Marlin Campers, standing next to me, said, “I am really glad we came here. This is just the reason why I moved to the Central Coast. You sometimes have to remind yourself of why you do this and why you go camping.”
BACK TO BASICS
I recognised all that, but the interesting question for me was why would you need to pay more than $9,990 – the price of a Marlin Escape Deluxe – for a camper trailer? If someone had forked out $100,000 for a state of the art RV and was parked next to us, would they have been any more conscious of this pristine slice of the world than we were? The Escape Deluxe had a comfortable queen sized bed, a kitchen, water and battery power: what more might we need?
Marlin Campers have been around since 2007 when the business grew out of two employees of a failed caravan outlet who had a bunch of orders for campers. One of those – Steve – now owns the whole company, and the basics tenets of his business remain largely unchanged: simple, uncomplicated campers for people who aren’t overwhelmed or don’t want to be overwhelmed by technology.
“I find most of our customers are people who are interested in the practicalities of life, not in bling,” explained Steve. “This is strongest in regional areas where we see a lot of people who understand that why you are going camping is to get away from the complexities of modern life and, aside from the geographic separation, that only requires a minimum of features.
“We sell a lot to people who don’t want to be upgrading to larger four-wheel drives, or single mums with kids who want to enjoy life and experience the outdoor world without a huge financial outlay. We sell to older couples, or young families.”
The result of that simple policy has been an offering of three models of sidefold softfloor camper trailers, all of them, in basic form without options, priced under $10,000. Steve ensures that wherever possible the components are fully sourced in Australia so that he can control the quality of what he offers while supporting local manufacturing.
Marlin Campers would have to be one of the best examples of the back-to-basics principles that drive us to use camper trailers in the first place.
However, in recent years, Steve has noticed a shift in the market. People are seeking added extras. Often they don’t know what they want, but sitting down with a potential customer and finding out what they wish to do with their camping, where they want to go, and how they holiday, gives him the capacity to recommend a level of features they might need.
“We can sell a customer everything from a boat rack to independent trailing arm suspension, but quite frankly I recommend against it,” he says.
However, there are times when a customer comes along who wants to see Birdsville or Lake Eyre, to step beyond the end of the asphalt with the confidence that such journeys aren’t going to shake their camper to bits and that, when he or she gets to that remote spot, they are equipped to camp there safely.
Steve used to offer a range of options for this – water tank, kitchen, pole carrier, front tool box, battery pack, heavier axle, better suspension – but because he found that he was selling more and more campers like that, he came up with a “burger with the lot” package that he calls the Escape Deluxe.
A SOLID FOUNDATION
This is built around what is a 6 x 4ft (1800 x 1200mm) trailer with 550mm high sides. This isn’t the largest in his range – which is a 7 x 4ft (2100 x 1200mm) size – but unless you need that extra internal room, he recommends the smaller size, as it’s more maneuverable in tight spaces and has a smaller footprint in limited space camp sites.
The larger size might better suit a family where the smaller children are to sleep inside, or where the optional zip-on children’s room is required over the second doorway on the front side of the tent.
The offroad version has a 50 x 50mm RHS chassis – a step up from the angle steel under the onroad versions of Marlin’s trailers – with a longer 1500mm 100 x 50mm drawbar. This might all seem pretty lightweight compared to other offroad spec trailers, but keep in mind the trailer weighs in with a Tare of 450kg, and with its 300kg payload it has no brakes. This is one of the principle reasons that it is deemed suitable for smaller tow vehicles. When we wanted to put it in place for our set-up I was expecting to back it in; Steve simply unhooked it and pushed it in by hand, even on a semi-sandy site.
The axle is a 40mm beam unit riding on an AL-KO five-leaf eye-to-eye rebound suspension, with new Sunraysia steel rims with All-Terrain 235/75 x 15 rubber.
Marlin has recently switched trailer manufacturers, with the new supplier offering zinc anneal steel sheet, better welding, silicone sealed seams in the box section of the trailer and other improvements that have upped the standard of all the company’s trailers.
The guards are now larger to allow for larger tyres, and there is a rear step, behind the guards. The basic offering is for a single jerry can holder and single gas bottle holder, but second offerings of either are optional.
The base model of the trailer comes with a 50mm ball coupling, as many of Marlin’s customers don’t want to be swapping over couplings on their car, but for those who want it, fully articulated offroad couplings are available, whether it be a Treg-style polyblock or a DO-35 or any other brand. The spare wheel sits on a vertical stand on the drawbar but is sadly not protected by a stoneguard in the standard presentation. This really is a must for offroad use, so would have to be added by offroad enthusiasts.
Behind the spare wheel is an aluminium storage box, with gas strut-assisted lid, and a large screw-lid poly pipe to carry awning poles. This just fits within the width of the trailer but as this is a relatively small camper it’s quite excusable.
Though not fitted to our review camper the standard inclusion is for a rear receiver for a recovery point or a bike carrier. All Marlin’s onroad models have a single stabiliser but the offroad models, including the Escape Deluxe, have two stabilisers to ensure stability on uneven surfaces.
All the chassis and body is finished in etch prime and then Charcoal hammertone paint.
HOW DO THE ESSENTIALS WEIGH UP?
The basic presentation of the Escape Deluxe has a Drifta laminated marine ply kitchen on the tailgate. This provides a simple plastic sink, space for a three-burner camp stove (not provided; the idea is that many customers have a stove of their own already), hand water pump which you simply plug in at camp, a single drawer for cutlery and some bench space for food prep.
For those seeking something more substantial there are options that can include a longer fold-over bench, a larger slide-out Drifta kitchen, or a tailgate-mounted or slide-out steel options, but these would all be heavier and eat into the camper’s load capacity if you were to try to keep it under the 750kg cut-off for an unbraked load. Adding brakes then adds to cost or complexity, with a brake controller for an electronic set-up or a noisier and sometimes fiddly inertial system.
To make the kitchen functional there is a heavy wall 60L poly water tank.
To provide for lighting, the ability to run a fridge or to recharge any of that army of lithium-driven pieces of tech, there is also an included ArkPak. This has a 300 watt inverter which will permit the running of small 240V appliances, cigarette and USB ports, and inputs for 240V power or solar power for the six-stage charger. While the unit caters for up to a 130Ah battery, Marlin does not provide one, but you can add it as an option.
“We chose the ArkPak because it’s portable and gives the owner the option of where they want to use it,” explained Steve. “If you need power inside, or at the kitchen, then that’s where you can have it. I have one and I like to take it out in my boat. It’s a practical solution to the matter at an affordable price.”
To provide night vision there is also an LED strip light.
THE CHAMBER OF CANVAS
The canvas on top is courtesy of an Oztent by Oztrail. While this tent from the Queensland company is an imported item, it provides what Steve feels is a good answer to the need at an affordable price. It’s all 12oz ripstop canvas, plus it seemed well sewn and was easy to handle.
A layer of foil insulation in the roof keeps the internal temperature to 10 degrees below the outside on hot days and retains warmth on cold days. The fold-over vinyl floor is 2400 x 2100mm and the total tent has six windows and a door. All have midge screens, and the long window opposite the entry door has a zip-in clear vinyl window. This lives under the bed but is removable as clear vinyl tends to become brittle with age. However, storing it under the bed keeps the window clear and in one piece, with minimal folds.
This means that in wet weather you can still have the one long window open to allow in light, as well as the window next to the bed which has an awning over it.
The access to the queen-sized bed is via a supplied alloy ladder and the 100mm thick HD foam mattress is quite comfortable. The outer edge of the bed has a privacy screen.
Out back there is a roomy awning, with a full set of walls and even a zip-in vinyl floor if desired. The spreader bars hook handily into external eyelets rather than internal loops which you can’t see (or find) from the outside and the whole structure went up with surprising ease.
We watched Steve, at an easy ambling pace and without any apparent effort, erect the tent and awning in a blustery afternoon sea breeze in 18 minutes all by himself. The basic tent was up and secured in five minutes. That’s not bad by any standards.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re into impressing others with your bigger and better toys then the Marlin Escape Deluxe isn’t for you. However, if you’re new to the world of camper trailers and are unsure of what you might want or need, or you are restricted by budget or available storage space, then this is a pretty good place to start. Marlin has been in business for 12 years because they do honestly try hard to meet the needs of a very significant – even if often forgotten – section of the market.
At $9,990 this camper is well priced to get you out on the tracks, plus it’s surprisingly viable and durable. Steve was telling us of two long-term customers who took an older equivalent of an Escape Deluxe out for the Big Red Bash in Birdsville recently.
You can laugh all the way to the bank over both the initial purchase price and the minimal fuel consumption en route your destination. In a Marlin Escape Deluxe, you’ll be able to pull up next to that $100,000 killer combo and happily enjoy just the same sun, sand and scenery.
Suspension Five-leaf AL-KO eye-to-eye springs
Coupling 50mm ball
Chassis 50 x 50mm
Drawbar 100 x 50mm
Body Checkerplate floor and zinc anneal sides
Wheels Six-stud steel
Tyres 235/75 x 15 all-terrain
Body size 1829 x 1219mm
Tent floor size 2100 x 2400mm
Awning size 2400 x 4229mm
Gas cylinders One 4kg ring
Water 60L poly tank plus 20 litre jerry can
Kitchen Drifta laminated ply
Battery ArkPak with no battery
PRICE AS TESTED
- Mostly Australian build
- Great intro camper
- Light weight
- Easy to use and tow
- Practical and no frills
- No stone guard
- No bedside pockets
- No zip-outs in dropwall
- Limited load capacity
CAMPER STAR RATINGS
Fit for intended purpose — 9
Innovation — 7.5
Self-sufficiency — 8.5
Quality of finish — 8
Build quality — 8.5
Offroadability — 8
Comforts — 8
Ease of use — 9
Value for money — 10
X-Factor — 9
Address 12 Dyer Crescent, West Gosford, NSW 2250
Phone 0409 887 927