Growing up I’d always been enamoured with the wide-open steppes of Mongolia. I read tales of adventurers spending days fighting the harsh mountain ranges only to find themselves confronted by endless plains, the landscape seemingly perfect, broken up only by the occasional stream rolling across the country side. It seemed other-worldly — an impossible adventure I’d never embark on myself so long as my boots remained planted on Australian soil. Yet here I am. Face-to-face with one of the most beautiful parts of Australia I’ve ever seen. I’ve spent countless weeks in the Snowy regions, but it’s typically been upside-down in a snow-filled ditch with an expensive sheet of ply strapped to my boots. I figured if I was going to lock in the hubs and explore the region it’d need to be in something a little more insulated than a typical camper or swag. As luck would have it, the guys from Ezytrail in Sydney had a demo Parkes 13 free for a few days, and I had a couple of days free. The perfect companion for an adventure through the mountains.
The Parkes 13 typifies the hybrid market. The best aspects of a camper trailer, with the best aspects of a caravan. It boasts a solid roof, a proper mattress, an internal shower and ample bench and storage space, all the while landing inside a smaller footprint than a typical forward or rear-fold camper. It’s not an uncommon design, although with Ezytrail's ethos of “Camping made ezy” my interest was piqued. Would it be an adventure companion, making short nights easier after long days, or would I be fighting it the whole time?
TIPPING THE SCALES
Hybrids blur the line between campers and caravans — that’s sort of their defining characteristics. That said, the Parkes 13 definitely falls closer to the van side of life. Especially when looking at the spec sheet. At 2.2m wide, it’s not going to find itself on any bulimic watchlists any time soon and it also puts it 230mm wider than even an LC200 LandCruiser, so tow mirrors are an absolute must have. You’ll need to eye it carefully if driving through steep rutted terrain with embankments on either side as well. Despite that, it’s not actually that long. At 5600mm from hitch to spare tyres it’s surprisingly shorter than many hard-floor campers, it actually measures a full 500mm shorter than Ezytrail's own Lincoln twin-fold designs.
But, and it is a big but, she’s no lightweight. Where the Lincoln’s larger body punches in at 1880kg empty, the Parkes 13 tips the scales 13 per cent heavier at 2140kg. Load it up and that climbs to 2700kg. It’s not enough to risk running afoul of the GCM of almost any full-size 4WD, and most tow-tugs should have enough power to muscle it around on and off the road, but it does mean you’ll need to be a little strategic with your overtaking manoeuvres. Long steep descents will test the brakes too. If you’re in the wide-open plains a typical dual cab ute won’t struggle, but if you’re heading to the hills an LC200 or similar would be the perfect companion to get the Parkes 13 moving, and slow it back down again.
If you were to tell me a caravan north of 2T was a ripper little unit offroad, I’d tell you you’ve got rocks in your head. You still might, I don’t know you that well, but the Parkes 13 proved to be far more confidence-inspiring than I ever gave it credit for. In low-speed work where momentum is on your side, the bulk of the hybrid plays to your advantage. If you’re not aiming to take off from the line like a bat out of hell, the 2140kg Tare really ain’t an issue offroad. It’s reasonably well sprung too. It runs Ezytrail's typical independent suspension under both sides with the spring rates tuned to suit the larger mass. Going through undulating terrain it doesn’t buck, wallow, or roll around like an NT croc. In fact, it performed far better offroad than it did on. There’s twin shocks on both swing arms, although like most campers the shocks are leaned back far more than optimal, probably why there’s two of them.
There are exposed hoses underneath, but they’re tucked up reasonably well, very rarely poking below the chassis rails, and when they are, you’d still have to be incredibly unlucky to catch them. But there’s plenty of unlucky people out there. Both water tanks are protected with checkerplate shrouds to fend off wayward rocks, although the grey water drain from the sink is dangling in no mans land. The McHitch coupling gives a solid connection between tow-rig and camper, and proved more than up to the task through the off-camber and articulating terrain we bounced the Parkes 13 through. It’s short overall length made it surprisingly easy to steer in and out of the snowy gum trees too, and the checkerplate sides gave us confidence that if we clipped a wayward branch it wouldn’t be a trip-ender.
Hybrids are bigger than a typical camper, they’re also heavier, and they’re definitely more expensive. But the one thing they have in their favour, they have in spades. The Parkes 13 is a damn comfortable place to rest your head for the night.
The setup is reasonably straight-forward. The roof is a simple pop-top arrangement. There’s no goofy latches on the outside you need to pop with a broom handle and your tongue poking out the side of your mouth. Just head in, pop out the pins and the whole arrangement lifts with the help of the white bars. Bam, instant head room and a solid roof over your noggin. The canvas sides proved weather tight too, with the rain coming in sideways on a night next to the Murray River and not a drop inside as evidence after the fact. It does take a little muscle to pop the roof, but unless you’re a 90-year-old and vertically challenged, you shouldn’t struggle too much.
The bedding area is a little more complicated, but no more than a typical camper setup. It’s a little like unwrapping a Glad-wrapped sandwich. Pop the spare tyres down out of the way, two clasps and the rear hatch lifts up. You’ll need to hold it with one hand while the other reaches in and slides out the two side walls till they hold the roof in place. From here you reach in fold the floor down from its vertical position, then reach in again and stand the rear wall up. It sounds complicated but is reasonably self-explanatory as you go through. There’s a few latches to make sure it’s solid through wild nights too. Once you’re inside the mattress flops over into place then you’re right to make the bed. The join is halfway through the mattress, so it’s sown into two pieces. As it’s a heavy innerspring mattress it does require a little muscle to make it happen, but it’s worth it for a great night’s sleep.
The whole setup can be done in under five minutes which puts it on comparable set-up times as most campers, but once it’s set up it’s more akin to a caravan than any camper I’ve slept in. Plenty of actual bench space, hard-doored cupboards throughout and an internal shower. There is an optional reverse cycle air-conditioner and heater available, and at a seven per cent price bump it’d well be worth the extra money.
TICKS THE BOXES
Crunch time, at $36,990 plus on-road costs the Parkes 13 ain’t cheap, so how much gear do you get? Well, a lot actually, a bloody lot. The electrical system is the huge winner. There’s three batteries hidden under the bed for a massive 300Ah of battery charge. They’re charged by an Anderson plug up front to run off the tow-tug, or can be topped up through an external 240V point. There’s multiple power outlets throughout the camper, with a 1000W pure sine wave inverter keeping your unmentionables charged. LED lighting throughout is sure to burn your retinas, and will attract roughly a billion bugs, so keep the doors and windows closed tight at night.
There’s hot water to the kitchen thanks to a 28L gas hot-water system. It also feeds into the shower in the en suite. There’s a Thetford toilet in there, but unless you’re real close with your partner it’s definitely a one-person at a time sort of arrangement. The shower and kitchen are both fed by one of the two stainless water tanks underneath. There’s 100L in the front tank, and 45L up the back both running off separate 12V pumps. Considering the extra water usage of the shower it’d be great to see additional water, or a draw-in system to allow refilling one tank from a creek, although there is plenty of jerry can storage up front.
Like it or not hybrids are taking over. With more people looking for increasingly more comfortable camping setups for extended back country trips, they just flat-out make sense. They offer similar space and comforts to a caravan, with similar size, set-up times, and weights to camper trailers. They can be beat up offroad like they owe you money, then can send you off to sleep in a bed with silk sheets under the gentle hum of an air-conditioner. Over the next year or two they’ll pop up in all sorts of price brackets, but the Parkes 13 represents serious value for money.
Sure, it’s not without flaws, ours was the demo model so could do with a few spanners run over it here and there, and the tow-ball weight was uncomfortably low, resulting in a squirrely drive down south. Although, admittedly, we had a lifted ranger without a drop hitch, so it wasn’t ideal to begin with. If you’re on the hunt for a two-up camper and not keen on fighting with canvas flaps just to find somewhere to lay your head, the Parkes 13 is well worth the money. Maybe don’t buy the demo though, I heard someone backed it into a tree.
|Suspension||Independent with twin shocks|
|Coupling||3.5T McHitch, pin style|
|Chassis||Galvanised RHS 100x50x4mm|
|Drawbar||Galvanised RHS 100x50x4mm|
|Wheel/tyre||16in allow 265/75 R16 Goodride MT|
|Style||Hybrid, rear fold|
|Box size||4930mm L x 2110mm W x 2450mm H (when set up)|
|Length||5600mm (hitch to tail lights)|
|Gas cylinders||2 x 9kg gas bottle holders (interchangeable with 4.5kg)|
|Water||1 x 100L + 1x45L with separate 12V pumps|
|Kitchen||Stainless steel slide-out|
|Battery||3 x 100Ah deep-cycle|
|Price as shown||$36,999 plus on roads|