Camper Trailer Buyer’s Guide
Choosing a camper trailer is a big investment, and with so many different types available we explain how to find one that meets your needs.
So you’re packed with your camping comforts for the trip, the car’s filled to the brim and you’re securing the hatch with occy straps, after the suspiciously soft humf when it closed. You’re not completely sure but you think you may have lost one of the kids in the back seat.
Between muffled “are we there yets,” and the incessant flapping of the sleeping bag that’s protruding from the back rear window you squeeze in the space to think: “Yes, it’s time”.
Time, that is, to upgrade to a camper trailer. But which type? Well, that will depend on who you are, who you’re travelling with, how long you camp and where you’re likely to stay.
So we’ve spelled out the differences between four major camper trailer types to help you determine what’s the best fit for your needs.
If you love camping under canvas but need more space in the tent, and somewhere safe to stash all your gear then a softfloor camper could be for you.
Generally speaking, softfloor campers consist of a 6x4ft box trailer to store your camping gear, a bed base that acts as a lid for that gear, and a large tent that’s protected by a vinyl cover when you’re out on the road. Softfloor campers will often have a toolbox and kitchen facilities as well.
Tents on softfloor campers usually fold out quite far from the long side of the trailer (the 6ft side), to provide a large, deep covered space for little ones to sleep or play in wet weather, with room spare for cots, cribs and tables. Since the tent floor rests on the ground and the bed is on top of your gear, there’s quite a hike up to the bed but some softfloor campers provide a small staircase next to the bed.
When it comes time to parking your camper at camp, you need to think about the direction the tent will face, especially since a side-fold tent requires a lot of space. Not all caravan parks can accommodate large softfloor camper trailers so you’ll need to discuss your needs when you book.
It takes a bit more time to prepare a campsite for a softfloor camper and to set up the tent compared to other types of campers because the floor rests on the ground. Those who are familiar with large tents shouldn’t have a problem though. In fact, softfloor side-fold tent designs have become much easier to set up in recent years.
The kitchen on a softfloor camper will either open flip open from the back of the trailer (this is called a ‘tailgate kitchen’) or slide out in a drawer (referred to as a ‘slide-out kitchen’).
Tailgate kitchens are straightforward, take up very little room in the main storage tub but are limited to the size of the trailer’s tailgate. Slide-out kitchens tend to consume more of the storage space and aren’t as popular even though some include more features.
Softfloor campers can perform very well in offroad situations as they usually weigh less compared to other types of camper trailers with similar features. What’s more, a lot of the weight falls close to the trailer’s axle which keeps it steady when you tow.
In fact, if your softfloor camper is equipped with the right suspension and a weight-rated boat rack, you can usually get away with hauling it with a tinny on top for less than 1.5 tonne.
Softfloor campers in a nutshell: great for lazy extended and remote riverside stays
- More site prep
- More storage facility
- Larger tent area
- Vinyl floor
- Greater distance to get into bed
- Less towing weight
FORWARD FOLD CAMPERS
If an organised living internal space is what you’re seeking as opposed to a massive increase in storage then a forward fold camper might be a better option for you.
The floor in a forward fold campers sits up from the ground. Forward folds have a large hinge at the front to open up the trailer, which reveals a bed opposite a communal space with a large u-shape lounge. As the bedroom sits above the drawbar, these campers take up very little space at camp and are easy to park.
You enter the forward fold camper via a step but there’s less of a hike to get into bed, and the living room windows provide raised views over your favourite camp. The u-shape lounge will often convert to a bed, too, which makes them suitable for families and small crowds.
Forward folds provide a bit of storage under the seats, with many travellers packing items in plastic crates and placing them on the living room camper floor during transit.
Kitchens on forward fold campers are usually split into two sections, with a fridge sliding out from the toolbox at the front, and a pantry, stove and sink sliding from a cavity under the lounge. This space works well for two but does reduce the internal storage.
Setting up the main tent of a forward fold camper is simple, but you will need to adjust at least three poles. A step ladder or shorter pole with a hook in one end will help when you’re setting up the awning, and you will probably need to adjust a few pole extensions, as the tent is high due to the raised floor.
Forward folds are heavy compared to softfloors with similar features, especially near the front where the towball is because of the hinge. Packing heavier items in the living room section will keep it stable when you’re towing, but you’ll still need a reasonably 4WD, especially if you plan to take it offroad.
Forward fold campers in a nutshell: Great for slipping into those sneaky sites with lovely elevated views
- Less canvas to set up
- Internal living room
- Limited storage space
- Heavier towball weight
- Split kitchen
- Elevated views
- Hardfloor under foot
Rearfold campers strike a nice balance between softfloor and forward fold campers. They’ve been around for a few years now, and are usually quicker to set up than softfloors and forward folds.
The tent opens out on a hinge located at the trailer’s rear, to reveal a bed that’s opposite a hard floor resting 10cm up from the ground. The main storage areas are located under the bed and front tool box.
This internal area is less furnished in a hardfloor than on a forward fold, but as the floor is close to the ground, most manufacturers will provide three entry doors inside.
Setting up a hardfloor camper is a relatively straightforward but they do prefer flat ground. Usually a hardfloor camper can stay attached to your car or 4WD if you arrive late at camp, or when you’re frequently stopping overnight on the way to destination — making them great for touring.
Kitchens on rearfold campers are usually located in a slide-out drawer near the front of the camper (from under the bed), with the fridge in the toolbox close by. Therefore, the awning is usually longer than the main tent which can increase set up time.
Like forward folds, rearfold campers can be heavy at the drawbar, but this tends to be less pronounced due to the location of the main hinge. What’s more, the position of the hinge lets manufacturers taper the trailer’s rear so you’re less likely to hit a snag off the beaten track.
Rearfolds in a nutshell: Easy long term tourers with all the pleasures of camping under canvas
- Three access doors to the tent
- Hardfloor under foot
- Easy to open
- Fast setup times
- Can usually remain attached to the rig
- Prefers flat sites
- Good departure angles
If you’re not willing to tow a full-size or pop-top caravan but enjoy the security of a lockable door, the protection of a solid (or partially solid) roof, then perhaps a hybrid camper is your rig.
Hybrid campers usually have kitchen facilities outside. Some have adjustable layouts with beds that extend beyond the external walls. Set up times vary according to the complexity of the hybrid van but they’re usually easier compared to most tent-topped campers. Try it out first before handing over your hard-earned cash, as sometimes setting up is trickier than what you’d expect.
As hybrid campers often have hard walls they tend to be well insulated making them easy to air-condition and heat, and therefore can prolong your touring season. Bathroom amenities are often fitted in hybrid campers but these conveniences come at a cost, with a higher investment up front.
Straight-walled hybrids have less moving parts to maintain and are faster to set up camp, but the view from your rear-view mirror is lost, so you’ll need to fit towing mirrors.
If you’re tall, headroom can be a issue in hybrid campers as they contain a lot of features in a small space, so it’s worth chatting to your manufacturer about your needs. The door height, bed length and table height were common places where tall travellers used to feel hemmed in, before the launch of the Loft Camper Ares.
Hybrids in a nutshell: Comfort and security with flexibility
- Available in a variety of configurations
- Usually has external kitchen facilities
- Greater security
- Improved climate control
- Access a consideration if you’re tall
- Higher purchase price