It wasn’t long ago that probably around 80 per cent of camper trailers sold in Australia were sidefold softfloors. They were the basic notion of a camper trailer — a tent on a box trailer. They were simple, as people had lower expectations of the luxuries they wanted when camping, and easy to make. Virtually everyone who could weld and knew someone with a sewing machine was knocking them out at one time. Not so any more.
The venerable sidefold softfloor has all but disappeared from most manufacturers’ lineups. They say customers don’t want them anymore, that they want forwardfolds, doublefolds, or hybrids. They want bells and whistles — battery management systems, stainless steel kitchens, hot water and space heaters, ensuites, trailing arm suspensions, lithium batteries, you name it.
The king is dead, long live one of the other kings.
Except, on the NSW Central Coast, a little company called Marlin Campers has been doing nicely, churning out budget versions of those same basic campers that were rolling off production lines 15–20 years ago. They’ve captured a market that’s more into functionality than appearance. In fact, when we went to their factory in mid-September they were booked out into next year.
Marlin has adapted well to a COVID-battered world. Their customers no longer have to battle crowds at caravan and camping shows — not that anyone can, since shows have been suspended. Instead, they have a one-on-one walk-throughs of the range at the showroom or via Zoom. They do one every hour on weekends.
“We begin all our prospective client interactions with a discussion of the room they need,” said company owner Steve Brettoner. “If it’s just one person who wants somewhere portable to sleep then I recommend our Cruiser model, which is the smallest of our models, because that’s what will suit those needs best. If it’s a couple, who maybe want to be able to do a bit of light offroad travel then I recommend our mid-range Escape. If it’s a family, with kids, with more ambitious plans, then I recommend our top of the line Explorer.
“If someone comes to us who already has a lot of camping gear then we recommend a basic trailer set-up so they can keep using the gear they already have and know exactly how to use, which helps to make their trailer cheaper for them.”
THE MARLIN RANGE
All of the Marlin range starts as basic camper trailers, with just the tent on the trailer and a few concessions to possible future adaptability. The fitout from there is all optional. For a number of years Marlin sold basic trailers, but about five years ago they began offering options. They soon found some options were commonly ordered: a tailgate kitchen, 60L water tank, electrical option for battery power, a pole carrier and a front toolbox. Individually these added up to $3000 worth of extras, but Steve began packing them up as a Deluxe Kit, meaning he could buy in bulk, driving down his purchase price, causing the end price to come to $2200.
If you look at the Marlin website you’ll note three basic claims on the opening page: light weight (ranging from tare 280kg up to 450kg for the top of the line with all the bells and whistles); one-person set-up (in 3–4 minutes for the tent plus 6–7 minutes for the awning); and affordable (from $5500 up to $14,990 with the Deluxe options for the Explorer Ultimate Escape).
All of the above means there’s no need for a brake controller in your tow vehicle (saving around $400), a load capacity of 300–470kg, they’re able to be towed by virtually any car without the need for a big and thirsty 4WD, easily moved around by hand — especially in the case of the Cruiser — and no need for a special tow hitch, as the Marlins all use AL-KO hitches which work with a 50mm ball coupling.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
In a world that’s saturated with high-tech campers bristling with whizz-bangery, to some a Marlin camper might look a bit ordinary, but these aren’t campers for people out to impress onlookers. These are designed to take people to a campground with simplicity, ease and comfort at a modest price.
The basic trailer is a well-made seam-welded 6 x 4ft (1800 x 1200mm) all-Australian product — except for the Explorer which is 7 x 4ft (2130 x 1200mm) — which has been fine tuned to get you where you want to go then home again.
The chassis under the Escape and Explorer is 50 x 50mm RHS with a 100 x 50mm drawbar and there is the option of an extended 1500mm long drawbar, a good idea if there is any possibility of adding the front storage box. The basic Cruiser is a low side (400mm high) unit, which provides easier access to and exit from the bed is being lighter, but it also means less internal storage volume.
The mid-range Escape and the top of the range Explorer both have higher sides (550mm high).
All the chassis and body is finished in etch prime and then Charcoal hammertone paint. There is an option for hot dip galvanising if desired.
The Cruiser has slipper leaf springs that will get you into just about any national park and most bush camps with little care. The Escape and Explorer have five-leaf eye-to-eye AL-KO spring setups with rebound springs to control excess motion in the 40mm beam axle (39mm round on the Cruiser). Like all Marlin campers, if you have a preferred option, all the way up to trailing arm independent suspension, it can be fitted.
The wheels are Sunraysia style steel rims with new All Terrain tyres. The spare is either flat mounted on the drawbar or on a vertical post on the drawbar. A stone guard is an option.
The tents are all Oztrail products, in 12oz canvas. They have an advantage of built-in insulation between an inner ‘ceiling’ layer of canvas and the silver laminate roof, creating a notable reduction in internal heat (as much as 10 degrees) in summer and greater warmth in the cold. If there’s one thing canvas tents suffer from its poor thermal performance, and this is the best solution I’ve seen.
All camper models have walls for the front awning as options, as well as a zip-in awning floor if desired. All the tents have zip-out windows, internal blinds, midgy-proof screens, a large end window/doorway and an entry door adjacent to the kitchen. There is also an optional kids’ room which zips over the second doorway on the front of the camper.
The tent for the Explorer provides a 2800 x 2100mm internal floor space, plus the 2400 x 4229mm area under the awning. For the smaller Cruiser the tent has a1800 x 2100mm internal floor and the Escape a 2400 x 2100mm floor.
The bed is based on a queen-sized 100mm high density foam mattress and comes with an alloy access ladder which travels on top.
Internal access to the storage is available through the tailgate, or the whole under-bed baseboard which can be easily titled – courtesy of two sturdy gas struts (struts optional in the Cruiser) – even when the tent has been erected, or via a hatch in that board.
ON THE OUTSIDE
All basic options have been chosen for their capacity to simply be unboxed and not require complex fitting, which adds to time and price. Steve’s attitude is, if you don’t know whether you need an extra or not, buy the basic version of your preferred trailer and pick what you find you do need, as it can be added easily at home.
“Why pay us $800 for a tailgate kitchen, which is what it will add? See how you go and if in six months’ time you decide that you do need one then you can come back and get one. It will simply bolt on,” is his advice.
The 60L heavy wall poly water tank bolts under the back of the camper, and, even if not selected, the mounting tabs and locking filler point are on the base trailer so it’s a simple bolt-up fit at home. There is a single jerry can holder on the Escape and Explorer models, and a second holder is optional. These can give an extra 40L of water storage.
Both the Escape and Explorer models come with a holder for a 4kg gas bottle, with a second holder as an option.
The optional tailgate kitchen is a Drifta ply unit with laminate finish. It provides a manual water pump over a slide-out plastic sink, room for a two- or three-burner cooker (Steve can supply one, but said most of his customers already have one), single drawer, two shelves, fold-out end extension and a fold-down front shelf for plenty of prep or dishing up space. This can also come as unlaminated ply at a price reduction, or you can choose from other Drifta options, all the way up to a large slide-out unit with space for a fridge, end return and other fittings, or an additional slide-out storage box with outer end drawers.
Electrical power comes from an ArkPak, which is fitted with a 300W inverter to run smaller mains appliances, USB and cigarette outlets and inputs for 240V power or solar power for the six-stage charger. There is no battery in the ArkPak as supplied, but it will cater for up to a 130Ah unit, and Marlin can supply one if desired. The portability of the ArkPak makes it very useable around the camper.
An LED light strip is provided for night time lighting.
The front box is a 100 x 370 x 420mm high stainless-steel unit that makes it sturdier than the usual aluminium box. It will retain its appearance longer and is fully lockable. The pole carrier, meanwhile, is a bolt-on poly tube that goes across the drawbar behind the front box.
Both the Escape and Explorer are equipped with dual stabilisers (single stabiliser on the Cruiser), while the Cruiser and Escape come equipped with a 50mm ball coupling, and the Explorer with an AL-KO offroad coupling — in keeping with the Marlin options policy, though, any hitch that suits your desires is available.
Additionally for the Ultimate Escape, which includes all of the previously mentioned options, there is a shower and hot water option via a Country Comfort gas instant heater which hangs on a hook on the end of the storage box, and a Seaflo water pump kit. This is powered by the ArkPak, comes complete with the necessary hoses, a water filter if you want to draw from a creek or billabong, and a 17L per minute Seaflo pump, all in a neat plastic carry box.
To keep the ArkPak at its best there’s an optional 200W solar blanket.
There are no bells, no whistles, just simple practical solutions to the process of going camping in Marlin’s budget camper range. For somebody new to the world of campers, it ticks all the boxes without leaving you straining under a financial load of tens of thousands you’ll still be paying off in five years. For a single parent who has grown up around camping and wants their kids to enjoy the same thing it’s ideal. For an older couple who might struggle with bigger and heavier set-ups and with minimal finances it’s a perfect solution.
Prices start at $5500 for the basic Cruiser, $8199 for the Escape and $8899 for the Explorer, while the all-singing and dancing Explorer Ultimate Escape comes in at $14,990.
When reviewing a Marlin camper a couple of years back I suggested they should consider participating in Camper Trailer of the Year. I cautioned them against expecting a win but pointed out the publicity and credibility of being involved might bring a wider audience to a business that was largely limited to NSW.
Marlin appeared for the first time at CTOTY in 2019 and won the Budget Under $25,000 category, despite presenting a package that didn’t cost half the upper limit for the class — that alone is a measure of the worth of these little campers. If you’re limited in your budget or not interested in frills, you need to take a look.
Suspension Slipper or 5-leaf AL-KO eye-to-eye springs
Coupling 50mm ball or AL-KO offroad
Chassis 40 x 40mm or 50 x 50mm
Drawbar 100 x 50mm
Body Checkerplate floor and zinc anneal sides
Wheels 6-stud steel
Tyres 235/75 x 15 All Terrain
Body size 1830/2130 x 1830 x 400/500mm
Length 3600mm (std drawbar)
Tent floor size 2000/2100 x 1800/2400/2800mm
Gas cylinder 4kg ring
Water 60L poly tank plus 20L jerry can(s)
Kitchen Optional Drifta laminated ply
Battery ArkPak with optional battery
PRICE AS TESTED
12 Dyer Crescent, West Gosford, NSW 2250
Ph: 0409 887 927