What to Consider When Buying Your First Camper Trailer

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30 years ago, camper trailers were somewhat rare, with tents and the occasional caravan being all the rage. Now though, things have changed considerably, and there are more camper trailers in Australia than you can poke a stick at. There’s a good reason for this – they’ve become affordable, and more and more people are seeing how much fun they can be.

If you’ve decided to upgrade from the trusty tent or swag, this article will guide you through many of the things you need to consider when buying your first camper trailer. There’s a reason so many camper trailers pop up on the market with only one or two uses. Sometimes circumstances change, but often the wrong camper trailer is purchased for the job, and that can be an expensive and painful mistake to learn.

So, what do you need to think about when buying your first camper trailer?

Hard floor camper trailer setup next to vehicle in the outdoors

A hard floor camper trailer.

What can you tow?

If you have no intention of changing your tow vehicle, this is the best place to start. Find out what your maximum towing capacity is, along with the maximum tow ball weight, GVM and GCM. If you aren’t sure about all this, take a few minutes to read the 4WD towing guide here.

There are a lot of people out there towing trailers that are not legal, and this puts the drivers (and others on the road) at considerable risk. Some camper trailers are light (around 500kg), and some are extremely heavy (around 3 tonne!).

The tow ball weight is one to pay particular attention to, as heavy tow ball weights can make life difficult when trying to stay underweight for most 4WD’s on the market.

4wd towing camper trailer on grassy terrain

Reconn R2 Hypercamper behind our Dmax.

Where do you want to take it?

The next step is to really think about where you’d like to use your camper trailer. There’s a reason so many types and duty levels exist on the market today. Some owners just want something comfortable to tow up bitumen road on the way to their regular caravan park a few times a year, and others want to hammer their trailer on the roughest 4WD tracks in Australia and be able to pull up in comfort for months on end.

Where you want to take your camper trailer ultimately determines the strength and quality that you’ll need, and like anything, how much it’s going to cost to buy.

Vehicle towing a camper trailer throughout the NT on a hot day

Travelling the NT with our camper trailer.

Budget

There are more camper trailers on the market than ever before. Last time I looked, I counted well over 100 different brands. Some are new, some have been around for a long time and every couple of months a few close down. The prices of camper trailers vary anywhere from around $5000 to $180,000 and the industry is extremely competitive.

Often the pricing reflects what you get, but not always. The take away from this point though is to set yourself a budget and don’t look at anything outside of this as it’s just too confusing. You can get yourself a good quality, second-hand, Australian made camper trailer for $10,000 – $20,000 which would tick the boxes for a lot of people. What you spend is entirely up to you, but don’t get ripped off!

Packed up Patriot Campers camper trailer parked outdoors

A Patriot camper trailer at the 4WD show.

Go to a 4WD/camping show

The easiest place to suss out a heap of camper trailers in a short period of time is the local Caravan/Camping/4WD shows. It makes things so much easier.

Setup time

Our first camper trailer was a soft floor, and we loved it. However, the setup and pack away was time consuming, difficult and ultimately affected where we would stay, and for how long. Only under extreme circumstances would we do single night stays, as it wasn’t worth the effort otherwise. You can get camper trailers that set up in under a minute with zero effort, or on the flip side of the coin, soft floor campers with extra rooms that will literally take two people an hour to set up.

Setup time might not matter if you only use it a few times a year, but if you are setting it up and packing it away every single day for weeks on end I can guarantee you it will get old, real fast.

We did 3 months in our soft floor camper trailer and had fun, but the setup and pack away was always a challenge. Since then, we’ve upgraded to a super-fast setup camper trailer which has made it very obvious for us that the old camper trailer was limiting how we travelled in a big way.

A soft-floor camper trailer setup next to 4wd at the beach

Our soft floor camper trailer near Broome.

Off-grid capacity

We live in the lucky country. Not only do we have some fantastic caravan parks, but we have world-class national parks and some of the best free or low-cost camping in the world. Where you camp is entirely up to you, but one of the major factors to consider when buying a camper trailer is how long you can survive off-grid for.

This refers to your ability to live out of your camper trailer without plugging into water, power and sewage like many do in caravan parks. For camper trailers, your water tank size, electrical system (solar and batteries), fridge size, showering facilities and toilets usually cover off-grid capacity.

If you have a large enough electrical system to run your appliances and charge them up by solar or generator each day, then your limitation is usually water supply. Some camper trailers are only really set up for a night or two away from power and water, and others can last weeks. It can be expensive modifying this, so spend some time looking into it!

Camping-at-a-Caravan-Park

Camping at a Caravan Park.

How much are you going to use the camper trailer?

If you’ve not done much camping before, and you aren’t completely obsessed with it, then really think about how much use the camper trailer is going to get. You can hire them out from lots of different places these days, and sometimes it’s a cheaper and easier alternative than buying your own and looking after it.

On the flip side, it’s also a good consideration in terms of how much you might spend, and what level of comfort you need. If it’s just for the annual holiday then you might be okay doing without some creature comforts. If you want to live in it for a year though, that’s a different kettle of fish!

Camper trailer lighting at night in Perth

Think about how much you’re going to use it.

Are you prepared to pay to keep it?

Camper trailers need space to live and require rego, maintenance and insurance. This can vary a lot depending on what state you are in and the value/age of your trailer, but they aren’t free to own. Not nearly as expensive as a boat (in general), but they can cost you a chunk of money replacing worn components and keeping it insured.

Pop-out ensuite for storage on a camper trailer

Think about the storage you will have for your gear.

Storage and payload

Our primary reason for buying a camper trailer was for the extra storage. With a new baby in tow, the amount of extra gear you need to take along for a comfortable camping trip is ridiculous, and our 4WD was already jam-packed with other gear.

Some camper trailers have very limited storage options for your gear and a fridge. Really think about where you will put your clothes, fridge, solar panels, toiletries, kitchen gear, food, kids’ gear and whatever else you carry.

Next up, have a good look at the payload. Some camper trailers have a tiny payload, which refers to the amount of weight you can legally add onto/into the trailer. This is the difference between the ATM and the tare. I’ve seen trailers with only 300kg to play with, and when you fill your LPG bottles and water tanks up you are already close to the limit. That’s without adding any extras!

Large camper trailer setup next to a 4wd in the outback

A camper trailer provides you with plenty of space.

What’s the build quality like?

Like anything, take the time to really look at the build quality. Chassis construction, suspension, canvas thickness, door and hatch seals, wiring and plumbing and overall finish is something you want to look carefully into. There are a lot of imported trailers on the market now, which are either entirely or partially made overseas and then shipped in and sold off to the local market.

Some of these are good quality, and some are terrible. The build quality needs to reflect how much you are going to use it, and where you intend on taking it. Buy the cheapest international import camper trailer and abuse it on the worst tracks in Australia and it will fall apart.

Our new Lifestyle Reconn R2 camper trailer setup at night

Our new Lifestyle Reconn 2 camper trailer.

Camper trailer types

Once you start poking around camper trailers, you’ll see there are a lot of different types. Soft floor, hard floor, rear fold, forward fold, hybrid and pop top are about the most common arrangements. That said, there are a heap of very intuitive designs out there today that grey the lines between their specific camper trailer types. They all have their own pros and cons, and you have to get what works for you.

A pop-top camper trailer setup next to vehicle outdoors

Pop top campers are super popular.

Do your own research and lots of it!

Jump on Google, and look around for reviews on what you are chasing. There’s often a lot of Facebook camper trailer groups, which are a gold mine for common problems and their solutions or modifications/upgrades. Don’t rely on the salespeople, who often leave out half of the truth to make a sale!

Internal view of a camper trailer

Take into consideration how functional it will be. 

Nothing is perfect

If it makes you feel any better, there is no perfect camper trailer. Everything you look at will result in one or more forms of compromise. It might be too heavy, too big, too expensive, too slow to set up, lacking some functionality or whatever it may be. My advice is simple; make a list of the things you must have, can do without, would like to have, and find whatever is closest to ticking the boxes you require.

Not every camper trailer is going to be liked by every prospective buyer, and that’s what makes things unique.

An Ultimate Off-Road Campers camper trailer setup outdoors

An Ultimate Off-Road Campers camper trailer.

There’s nothing wrong with second hand

There are a huge number of second-hand camper trailers on the market, ranging from single-use through to years of enjoyment. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a second hand buy, providing you know what you are getting. Our first camper trailer was second hand and we had very little issues with it.

Hire before you buy

If you are looking at new, often you can hire the unit prior to putting cash down, and it will be deducted from the purchase price. This is a clever idea, as you’ll soon know whether it suits you or not!

Two 4wds driving next to each other, each towing campers trailers at the rear

Camper trailers make for a great way to travel.

Enjoy it

When you eventually settle on a camper trailer, enjoy it. Take your time to do things slowly, as it’s an adjustment and it’s easy to forget everything that needs to be done. Enjoy the extra luxury that you have behind your tow vehicle, and create some amazing memories!

See you out there!

 

Are you thinking of upgrading your current shelter to a camper trailer? 

About the writer...

Aaron Schubert

If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.

Joined back in July, 2016

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