Does a camper manufacturer set out to create the sort of camper he thinks is the best, or does he seek to offer what the buying public comes asking for? That may seem a strange question, and surely we are talking about two different versions of the same thing. However, there can be a big gap between those two options and it can be the difference between getting by and booming ahead.
Brian Johnston from Altitude Campers began to see the winds of change blowing through the market in 2016. His very successful and popular rearfold and sidefold campers continued to roll out the door at a pleasing rate, but at the shows there was an increasing number of potential customers asking to see his forwardfold models. He had to tell them he had none, and they would smile, say “Thank you,” and walk on.
He was plainly faced with a need to make a choice, as there was a clear and growing preference for the forwardfold design. If he was to sustain his market share and stay with the field, he had to consider the option of adding a forwardfold to his range. And that presented problems of its own.
Developing a brand new camper – especially where it is a completely new design to you – can be daunting, even if you have the extensive background of someone like Brian. It requires all new jigs and patterns and designs, so your production facilities have to expand significantly. That means more factory floor space, more employees, more complexity.
The most effective option for Brian was to import the core camper and add his own unique touches to it. Chinese campers have been improving dramatically in their production values in the past couple of years, and the old horror stories have mostly gone. In Brian’s own words: “They are pretty much equal to the best we see out of Australian workshops now.”
As someone who, through his Johnno’s Campers brand, was one of the core players in the Australian camper trailer market for over a decade and a stalwart of the locally-made product, it was not an easy decision to make. But there were so many compelling reasons that in the end Brian took the leap and so the Altitude Avalanche was born.
Most of these Chinese forwardfold designs come out of just a couple of factories and are built to the same core patterns, with finish details such as paint and trim the only variables. There is a need, because of our stringent gas laws, for all gas plumbing to be done here. But the trailers arrive as assembled units, ranging from fully finished ready to sell to partially complete ready for the Australian trader to add his own touches before sale.
Brian chose the latter option and, as a point of difference he figured would make his camper a standout in the crowd, he chose to install Australian-made Dynaproof canvas.
MADE FOR THE MOUNTAIN
The camper rides on a 50x50x4mm chassis and 100x50x4mm drawbar, all hot dipped galvanised. It has a trailing arm dual shock suspension with 12in electric drum brakes and six-stud 16x8in alloy rims with seven-ply 265/75 R16 Cooper rubber. Brian says he can’t match wheels to your car, but he does give you two spare wheels which travel on the rear. One of these can be swapped for an optional storage box.
The hitch is a polyblock design and Brian says he’s impressed with its strength. These days such designs seem quite dated and if you stop somewhere where the pin is under load you can have trouble getting it out.
The jockey wheel is a swing-up design that seems strong enough. A sturdy crossbar and centre member in the drawbar mount the sturdily-braced winch if you need assistance in opening the camper for use, though the large gas struts do so much of the work that you can open it by hand without much trouble. There is a matching winch at the rear for closing the camper if needed.
The ball weight is a reasonable 130kg, much lighter than in many of these designs where it can be up around 180-190kg even when empty and threatening to overload the towbar’s limits when fully loaded. This has been achieved by the kitchen being located at the back where it counterbalances the front-end loads, and a better location of the axle in relation to the camper’s construction, something now being addressed by several manufacturers.
The stoneguard has checkerplate ends with a laced netting centrepiece. I have my doubts about the roomy gaps around the lacing which, after a day along a gibber track, would leave the checkerplate behind a little worse for wear.
The Avalanche has a 1400kg Tare and a 1900kg ATM, giving it a 500kg load limit. There are holders for two jerry cans and two 4kg gas bottles – one bottle is included in the price.
There are two water tanks – 110L and 50L – with a tap at the sink and one at the front, where it can be plugged into the optional gas instant hot water service. There is also a water gauge.
Electrically, the Avalanche comes with two 100Ah AGM batteries with a base fitout of a Projecta 15A mains charger. However there are a number of options, including a 25A mains charger, a C-Tek 25A DC-DC charger or the highly recommended Redarc BMS30 battery management system which will take care of everything all in one box. The non-Redarc setups include a volt and amperage draw meter; the Redarc comes with a much more comprehensive readout.
The cabling to the Anderson plug is 8B&S, a little small but better than the frequently used 6mm. All circuits have a resettable circuit breaker and there is a 12V master switch. In all the camper has five 12V plugs plus a double USB plug at the kitchen.
There is also a 240V system with input plug, RCD and two double outlets inside.
The kitchen is a mild steel frame with a stainless steel top, a stainless steel sink, cold water tap and three-burner Thetford stovetop with a gas cut-off switch built into the glass top. There are two drawers – one for cutlery and one for deeper items, plus a pull-out shelf at the end and a gooseneck light overhead.
The whole kitchen slides very smoothly on excellent roller bearings rather than the crude steel slides that can fail after a little while.
In front of the entry door is a dual level carpet-lined pantry drawer which provides plenty of storage for food items, and pole storage above. In front of that is the roomy fan-vented fridge box capable of taking up to an 85L fridge/freezer.
On the passenger side is a large open storage box and another slide where a generator or porta-pottie could travel, plus external access to the circuit breakers and volt meter.
The body is zincanneal steel with a precisely fitted door midway along the passenger side. Inside, the body is carpet lined with a commercial vinyl floor. The seating around the interior is, as with most forward folds, largely taken up with electricals on the driver’s side and canvas on the passenger side, limiting options for carrying clothing and personal items.
The internal table can be removed for external use and lowered in height to assist in making a double bed across the back of the camper for children or guests. The bed is between a king and a queen in size, and offers 80mm HD foam. Access to the bed is via a simple fold-down step swung off the internal frame for strength.
There is a hard wire LED light strip in the ceiling but no reading or other lights. There is a stereo for your entertainment needs.
Internal finishes are in two-pack paint, as is the exterior of the camper, which provides a simple clean presentation.
Options, aside from those already mentioned, include a 160W solar panel, pop-up shower tent, boat rack and fridge.
THE CANVAS DIFFERENCE
“I just didn’t like the way the Chinese canvas sat,” said Brian Johnston of his decision to add good Aussie canvas to his new camper.
“And you had to push up all the bows and push them out every time you set up. The material just wouldn’t stand up to Australian conditions, whereas we’ve always used the Dynaproof Australian canvas and we’ve always had good results with it: it’s never failed us, it doesn’t leak.
“The guy who does our canvas is very experienced. He’s been in the industry for over 40 years and he knows what he’s doing. He’s never once had an issue with a tent that he’s made.
“When you set up our tent out you don’t have to adjust all the bows. The two front bows are fixed and the one in the back you just lift up and you’re done.
“Another thing you can’t do with a lot of the import tents is leave the awning on, whereas we’ve designed the tropical roof on these so you can. We’ve also put a wider awning on – 4000mm long by 2700mm wide, instead of 2400mm. A lot of people comment on it, and the fact that you can leave it attached when you pack up, and the tropical roof doesn’t have to be attached either during setup.”
Certainly we found the actual opening out of a forwardfold camper is generally quick enough, rotating back the boat rack (if fitted), undoing the securing latches and lifting the top and its contained bed over. The gas struts do most of the lifting work. If you’re not strong enough in the arms and shoulders the winch will add a couple of minutes to hook it up and wind it over.
The big time factor – since most of these are made in China and they just don’t seem to understand – is the complexity of spreaders and poles. I’ve seen campers with more than 40, all up, and even two experienced people from a factory taking as much as 90 minutes – and that’s just the tent, awning and shower tent, without walls and floor!
Fancy doing that at the end of a long day’s drive in drizzling rain? I don’t.
The Avalanche is pleasingly simple, with just one spreader and three poles and took all of about 10 minutes. It was doable by one person without any stress-relieving swearing or picking up bits off the ground after they’d fallen over.
The cost factor is significantly against the Australian canvas. Brian agreed, but said there were factors which countered that, including the setup time.
Brian told us the all-12oz Australian canvas with six windows with awnings and annex walls is worth close to $7000 while the Chinese version costs just $800. The passenger side, under the awning, can be rolled up for that great outdoor connection to the camper’s interior.
“We’re never going to beat the really bottom dollar campers on price,” Brian concluded. “But we stand by our campers, as we always have, and our canvas will still be going strong decades from the day you buy it. It’s like our $600 stove compared to the $50 stoves you usually get in import campers.”
THE WRAP UP
The Altitude Avalanche is very much in the trend of market tastes at the moment. It comes with the great advantage of oversight from a very experienced designer and builder of quality campers.
With a current price of $24,990, which includes a number of listed options as standard, it is a little more expensive than most of its comparable opposition, but has the advantage of quality Australian canvas and the well thought out design of its awning and supporting poles and spreaders.
If you like the idea of a forwardfold camper then you would be highly recommended to take a look at an Avalanche. You’d have rocks in your head to ignore it.
HITS AND MISSES
- Aussie canvas
- Simplified pole and spreader set
- Easy setup and pack-up
- Good build quality
- Can’t access interior without full opening
- Limited storage
- High awning makes for exposed area beneath
- Tare: 1400kg
- ATM: 1900kg
- Suspension: Trailing arm double shock
- Brakes: 12in drum
- Coupling: Polyblock
- Chassis: 50x50x4mm hot dip galvanised
- Drawbar: 100x50x4mm hot dip galvanised
- Body: Zincanneal steel
- Wheels: 16x8in alloy rims
- Tyres: 265/75R16 Coopers
- Style: Forwardfold hardfloor
PRICE AS SHOWN