Sorting through thousands of models on the market to find that perfect camper trailer is no easy feat, especially if you don’t know the pros and cons of each style – it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack?
Sure, you could visit a few camping shows to point you in the right direction, but it’s hard to predict how you’ll feel about a camper until you actually get out there and use it a few times for yourself!
Thousands of camper trailer owners have been caught out simply because they didn’t anticipate the downsides before laying down their hard-earned cash. On the flipside, these same owners have discovered a whole bunch of pros about their campers that fly under the radar as well.
So, how do you find a nail in a haystack? Simple, you bring a magnet! Which is why we’re giving you the tools you need to determine which type of camper trailer will suit you the best!
So sit down and relax as we bring you all the nitty gritty details you’re dying to hear about.
For pure simplicity under canvas, hard floor campers steal the show! Simply flip the top over and adjust a few poles and you’re ready for an overnight stay. Most hard floor camper trailers come complete with strut assistance to help unfold the tent, and there’s usually either a manual or electric winch to close it back up again, so setup’s not really labour intensive either. This is especially handy when pulling into camp late at night, making them perfect for longer distance touring.
HARD FLOOR CAMPERS PROS AND CONS:
SLEEPING QUARTERS AND SPACE
It rained for a day or two during our test trip and we found the internal living space was adequate but limited without the annexe. There’s roughly enough room for a small table and two chairs inside most hard floors, but floor space is usually restricted to the size of the tub itself. This makes it tight for families laying out the kids’ beds. And although many hard floors have pull-out drawers for storage under the bed, when the floor space is fully utilised, you’ll need to lift up the mattress (often with the help of gas struts) to access all your gear.
That being said, you can always set up the annexe if you’re willing to spend the time.
Access to the bed is usually from the bottom end, but at least you’re not crawling over your partner to get out of bed during the night.
- Lower bed that’s easier to access
- Super simple overnight setup
- Well-sealed against dust ingress
- Raised floor for easier cleaning
- Less loose components to store than soft floor models
- Minimal campsite preparation required
- Compact footprint when campsite space is limited
- Storage space can be limited
- Limited internal living space
- Generally heavier than soft floors with more ball weight
- Storage rack on top needs unpacking before setting up camp
SOFT FLOOR CAMPERS PROS AND CONS:
You can’t beat a soft floor for accessible storage at camp. We worked this out when all the extra camping and photography gear found its way into the soft floor’s tub. Even with the cupboard space offered in a hybrid camper, for sheer storage versatility, the soft floor wins hands down!
If you’re fully loaded, the weight sits nice and low for maximum stability on the tracks.
SETTING UP CAMP
Setting up a soft floor tent can be a challenge. To begin with, most command a fair chunk of land, especially side-folds, so you need to consider where the canvas will fall on arrival.
The campground needs to be prepared for the tent which takes time in the bush. It took us a few minutes just to clear away rocks. Next up, level ground is a dead-set must as the tent skews on rough surfaces, sometimes to the point where a corner won’t touch the ground. And if the canvas stretches too much, good luck closing the screen door flap! There’s lots of canvas to manage and pegs to plant, often making it a long, labour-intensive setup.
The increased internal living space is the payoff, which with practice, gets easier especially when everyone lends a hand! Although, it’s still not ideal if changing campsites every second afternoon!
ROOM TO MOVE
The soft floor’s internal living space is unparalleled. Tent sizes vary between manufacturers, but options are usually extensive. Some models even incorporate a king-size bed! The trailer-tub mounted mattresses are high, with access via a ladder or stairs. Getting down can be hard, especially in side-fold types with ladders which may require crawling over your sleeping partner.
For families, there’s heaps of room to roll out a mattress on the floor for the kids and, if it rains, you’ll count your lucky stars there’s enough room for the whole clan, too!
Some people forget about daily campsite maintenance. A few days on the tracks showed the soft floor attracted dirt. As the tent floor is at ground level dirt and sand is easily walked or blown in and, once inside, sweeping it over wrinkles in the canvas (and the entrance’s 3in canvas flap) is a chore. Then there’s the issue of cleaning mud, grass and condensation from the tent’s underside. Routine and a few rules keep it manageable but, make no mistake, there’s more involved with a soft floor, and if you don’t at least sweep the floor before packing it up, it’ll funnel straight into your bed!
- Offers flexible storage that’s easily accessed inside and outside
- Generally weighs less with weight distributed low
- Provides plenty of room for kids and guests
- Provides plenty of room for kids and guests
- The bed is high and usually in an east-west layout, impairing access when cohabitating
- Setting up can be time consuming
- Campsite preparation is often required, especially at a bush camp
- Requires maintenance to keep clean
ROOFTOP CAMPERS PROS AND CONS:
Another camper style that’s grown in popularity in the past five years or so is the rooftop camper trailer. They’ve traditionally been a basic, DIY-modified box trailer fitted with a rooftop tent, but these days more are available from the manufacturer, too.
They’re not for everyone, so let’s start with the basics. To set up a rooftop tent you simply unzip the cover zip and flip off the cover, before swinging the tent over and adjusting the ladder. Sounds easy right? Well, it is if you’re mobile and happy to climb on to the wheel arches to reach the covers properly. In fact, you’ll want to be fairly mobile just to climb up the ladder to get in, let alone navigate your way back down backwards.
For the adventurous person or couple, this type of camper ticks a whole lot of boxes, but the one feature it offers against all others is storage space. You’ve basically got the entire box trailer at your disposal, so if you’ve got a motorbike, canoe or just want to pile a heap of gear in for all your mates, this is the one for you! All that room doesn’t have to be left for the motorbike, either: you can use the space to fit extra upgrades like a full length slide out kitchen or a hot water system. The best part is, the available storage isn’t limited to the tub either as you can deck it out right up to the bottom of the roof topper if you want!
A TENT ON WHEELS
The tent itself is basically nothing more than a double bed. Being basically a bed on wheels leaves you with precious little internal living space, just a place to crash for night, which is fine when the weather is good, but it gets a bit cosy when it’s bucketing down. However, there are options for zip on rooms to give you that bit of extra room to get changed or at least stand up properly.
One other benefit that comes in handy is you can actually move the trailer around camp while the tent is set up by tying the ladder up off the ground. It means you can move the tent into the early morning sunshine to dry the morning dew off the canvas before you leave for an early start.
- Quick and easy setup
- Off-the-ground accommodation
- Excellent storage facilities
- Can have clearance issues
- Minimal living space
- Can be awkward to access the tent via a ladder
HYBRID CAMPERS PROS AND CONS:
Hybrid campers deliver the luxuries of a caravan to almost anywhere in Australia! To kick off our testing session, we kept a close eye on how quickly and easily each camper trailer was to set up, and the hybrid passed with flying colours. For most campers of this style, a quick overnight stay is as simple as opening the door and jumping into bed! You’re also up and off the ground, minimising campsite preparation, (although a level campsite is preferable). And, with little or no canvas to consider, calculating the required space at camp is easy.
Having a full-sized body stacks on the kilos, so hybrid campers can get a bit on the heavy side when getting off the beaten track. The extra weight impacts recovery, manoeuvrability by hand and on soft sand. They’re also top heavy, making even experienced of 4WDers pensive on off-camber angles. These campers are built pretty damn tough these days, and will pretty much go anywhere you pull them, but your 4WD will need extra attention to cope with the long-term strain.
Once built, usable storage is pretty much set in stone, which will dictate what you can and can’t bring on the trip. Built-in cupboards, lounges and beds can also encroach on the available living space with some layouts suiting your needs better than others. Some models incorporate slide-out rooms to overcome this, but this obviously affects budget and weight.
Having solid walls on a camper trailer really gives you more options. It’s a place to permanently mount accessories and there’s generally more room height-wise to support things. What do we mean by that? Well, a flatscreen TV comes in handy to watch the footy if you’ve got a decent aerial or satellite dish, which also needs somewhere to be mounted that’s out of the way. The ability to fit an air-conditioner or heater goes a long way in terms of comfort and is much more efficient with full insulated walls around you. Heck, even something as simple as bolting an electric awning to the sidewall can slash a good 10-15 minutes off your setup time, too.
- Completely lockable, so you and your gear are much more secure
- Built-in features such as lounge chairs, beds and dining tables make camping more comfortable
- Solid sidewalls can allow you to fit extra accessories such as electric awnings and LED camp lights
- Available with toilet and shower options, either built in or added on
- Generally heavier than most other camper trailer styles
- Top-heaviness can affect offroad ability
- More susceptible to damage on tight tracks
- Storage space is pre-set
Check out the full feature in issue #92 September 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.