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 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 soft floor camper could be for you.
Generally speaking, soft floor 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. Soft floor campers will often have a toolbox and kitchen facilities as well.
Tents on soft floor 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 soft floor campers provide a small staircase next to the bed.
When it comes time to park 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 soft floor 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 soft floor 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, soft floor side-fold tent designs have become much easier to set up in recent years.
The kitchen on a soft floor 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.
Soft floor 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 soft floor 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 tonnes.
Softfloor campers in a nutshell: great for lazy extended and remote riverside stays
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 camper 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
Hard floor campers strike a nice balance between soft floor and forward fold campers. They’ve been around for a few years now, and are usually quicker to set up than soft floors 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 toolbox.
This internal area is less furnished in a hard floor 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 hard floor camper is relatively straightforward but they do prefer flat ground. Usually, a hard floor 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 your destination — making them great for touring.
Kitchens on hard floor 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, hard floor 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
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 upfront.
Straight-walled hybrids have fewer 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 an 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 Ares.
Hybrids in a nutshell: Comfort and security with flexibility