There was a time when Australia was a proud camper trailer building nation. When we didn’t have to write an article about Australian made camper trailers, because, apart from a few notable exceptions (mostly from South Africa), all our camper trailers were built locally. It’s really only been in the last decade that that’s changed.
Early australian camper trailers were built in response to rising fuel costs and cars with smaller capacity engines – just because you drove a Fiat 500 in 1972 didn’t mean you weren’t interested in towing a trailer on summer holidays, after all. They were mostly predecessors to the Jayco-esque camper trailers which are, in essence, just small caravans. But the first Australian camper trailer is generally considered to have been built by R.J Rankin in 1928. It was basically just a trailer with a canvas canopy over it and bed inside. Designs evolved from there, though, and Australian builders were influenced by overseas designs from Europe and the USA. Notably, one of the four RV manufacturers in Australia that are more than 50 years old is Cub Campers, which is one of the most vocal advocates of Aussie manufacturing in the sector.
Today, there’s a shrinking, but passionate number of camper trailer manufacturers operating in Australia, but because they can’t compete on price with most of the imported product from China, they compete on quality and innovation. Australian made camper trailers are, as a general rule, amongst the best on the market and often the ones setting the trends. They are roughly divided into three camps: the Jayco-esque campers, the tent-trailers, which are mostly steel trailers with a canvas tent incorporated, and hybrid camper trailers, which look a lot like small caravans or teardrops, but are made by camper trailer manufacturers and usually very handy off-road.
Aussie camper trailers are increasingly innovative, and come in all different shapes and sizes. (image credit: Brendan Batty/campertrailerreview.com.au)
By contrast, the factories in China building camper trailers for local importers continue to grow and, at the same time, quality continues to improve – driven by market demand and pressure from the Aussie builders and global markets. Every time I think I’ve got a handle on all the different camper trailer brands, I hear about another – while I was writing this, it was Hitched Campers and SUV Campers. Where 10 years ago there was almost no comparison between the quality of imported and local camper trailers, the lines are now much blurrier. Camper trailers also come in small quantities from South Africa and very small numbers from the USA.
The benefits of buying an Australian-made camper trailer go beyond the inherent quality manufacturers need to aspire to relevance in the market. Many Australian campers have innovations that no other campers have: from the literal staircase incorporated in Patriot Campers and the innovative (and patented) awning system in the Trackabout Campers to the simple genius of how Cub Campers’ forward fold camper opens and closes.
Those innovations have led to campers that are, as a rule, quick and easy to set-up and pack-up and very well suited to the Australian styles of travel, which often involves days of travel before finally setting up at a dream location.
Local builders often have more scope to customise their trailers to suit more personal needs, as they are usually built to order, rather than by the container-load months in advance. This isn’t just a boon for the end-consumer, as even importers of Chinese-built campers still find campers they’ve ordered missing features they wanted or with surprises they didn’t and so have to do some tinkering locally.
The functionality and complexity of Aussie camper trailer kitchens is one of their strong points.
Buying Australian also ensures the quality of ancillary parts are high. Items like water tanks, suspension components, tyres, bearings and electrical components have often been weak points in Chinese-built campers, but quality in these areas have been points of pride amongst the Australian industry.
Australian-built campers are usually lighter than even the best equivalents from China. Part of that is a result of better engineering from Australian manufacturers and also a local understanding that lighter campers go further off-road (assuming, of course, there’s no reduction in strength). I’ve had importers tell me that they use heavier steel in their campers just to make sure they’re as strong as Aussie ones – the weight a reasonable trade-off for warranty problems down the track.
This weight is often also continued into the tent canvas. In general, campers with Australian-made canvas use a 275gsm Wax Converters Canvas – generally considered the best canvas in the world, local bias aside – whereas most imported campers use a heavier 450gsm canvas, again to make sure there won’t be any problems with it down the track.
Of course, Australian-built campers are more expensive than imported ones, so feature for feature, you pay more. In the end, you have to be happy with that and satisfied that you aren’t just buying a list of components bolted together, but the pride and expertise of local manufacturers. These days it’s hard to find a bad Aussie camper trailer builder, but these are some of the best to buy.
07. Walkabout Campers
Cost: From $6000
Most caravanners are familiar with the Gall Boys and their wild adventures in northern Australia, but few realise one of them builds camper trailer tents from a small shed in Queensland. And they’re bloody good.
Simple, elegant and in great colours, the tents are top notch and the simple trailers are built around the corner. It’s a great, cheap option that’s all Aussie. However, Craig does only have capacity to make 45 a year, so you might have to wait a bit for yours.
06. Cub Campers Frontier
Cost: From $35,990
Although the forward-folding camper concept was invented in Australia, it took anyone here a long time to have a good crack at it.
The Cub Frontier is the only fully Australian-made forward folding camper which has the best tent set-up, plus simple and comfortable features in a light trailer. It suits travelling couples, although is one of the better forward-folds if you’re considering one for your family travels.
05. Jayco Eagle Outback
Cost: From $28,990
The Jayco range of pop-up camper trailers are conceivably the most popular in the country, especially with families. The Eagle has the best floorplan, though, with a lounge next to the larger bed so adults can retire to it for quiet conversation and port, while the kids slumber at the other end. Any of the Jayco camper range is a great family camper.
04. Track Tvan Canning
Cost: From $67,490
Still one of the most desirable camper trailers on the market, its space-age teardrop design, incredibly clever tent system and military proven suspension system are the pride of many outback travellers.
There are four models in the range, but the third-tier Canning seems the best value to me, with just the right amount of comfort, without going overboard. Suits the serious, long-term outback traveller.
03. Cub Brumby
Cub is the longest standing camper trailer builder in Australia and the Brumby is one of its most iconic models. Simple, strong, small and light-weight, it’s enduringly easy to set up and pack up with just enough comfort for two. It’s the best value, Aussie-made rear-fold on the market.
02. Trackabout Explorer
Cost: From $30,500
Trackabout has always made an honest, hard-working camper trailer, but its most recent models have been really innovative. The Explorer is the smallest walk-up camper on the market – a walk-up camper is one with a walkway inside the trailer body at the end of the bed, so there’s no ladder to climb into bed – thanks to its folding bed design. It’s also super quick to set up and has a patented awing arm system. In touring form it’s great for travellers who move often or those who want a lightweight off-road camper trailer. In basecamp form it’s ideal for small families.
01. Patriot X1
Patriot is like one of those kids at school who everyone loved and hated in equal measure because they were too good at everything.
The latest trailer, based in the top-of-the-line X1, features a hard-topped roof, soft-floor tent which sets up in an instant. I’ve used the normal soft-floor tent version, which goes up in about two minutes.
Patriots are expedition-style trailers with great storage options, an excellent kitchen and innovative features and have one a stack of awards. Perfect for anyone, because their tent options are extensive.
What do you think is the best Aussie-made camper trailer? let us know in the comments.
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