June 25, 2021

Caravan and Camping Show

So you have made the decision to upgrade your camping setup and invest in an off road camper trailer. That was the easy part, with so many manufacturers and options on the market, choosing the right camper for your situation is getting complicated.  A mistake people make is searching for that perfect setup.  The setup which will solve all your problems and not leave you wanting for anything. You can chase that unicorn as long as you want, but despite what others tell you it doesn’t exist.

Deciding to buy a camper trailer is a massive decision and one which needs to be coupled with massive research. You will be faced with a barrage of options, specifications and features (not all useful or necessary) so you need to have a plan. Having a plan will enable you to choose the right camper trailer for you and your family.  Having a plan will also help you not choose the wrong one.

Not doing your research and not having a plan will inevitably lead to getting distracted to shiny objects and trailer bling (believe me it’s a thing). It will easily side track you, because let’s be honest trailer bling is fun.  However, the prettiest trailer is not always the best.  Let me be clear, I am not advocating for ugly camper trailers. Your trailer needs to look ‘the business’ as well as being practical. All I am saying is form shouldn’t trump function.

Now let’s get into it!


For most, the deciding factor which will impact the camper trailer you end up with will be the cost. Prices range from $8k all the way up to $70k. Now, do you have to spend $70k to get the best trailer, not at all. The key is to get the most value out of whatever camper trailer you purchase and value is in the eye of the beholder. What one person thinks is important might mean nothing to another. This is why going through this process of identifying your wants and needs is so important.

Setting a budget for what you can comfortably afford is an important step in the process. How are you going to relax when camping, if you are in debt to the eyeballs because you are camping. But hey, maybe that is how you roll and that’s fine as well. Setting your spend limit will simplify your camper trailer search considerably. There is no use getting confused and overwhelmed by camper trailers which are just not in your lane.

Buying a camper trailer is like buying a car.  It is a massive investment, not only in money but in your time looking for the perfect one. Ideally, you don’t want to be flipping it every couple of years.

One last thing to consider when buying a camper trailer, is what modifications you might need for your tow vehicle. Maybe a tow bar, electric brakes, suspension upgrade. All these extras should be considered and taken into account before making your final purchase.

Your Vehicle's Capabilities

Before you go buying an off road camper trailer you should find out what the load limits of your vehicle are so you can legally tow your new purchase. There is no use buying a camper trailer and then finding out later that your vehicle can’t safely tow it, unless you want to use that as an excuse to upgrade your vehicle.

When evaluating your vehicle’s towing capabilities there are a few things which need to be considered; the GCM, GVM, maximum towing capacity of the vehicle and the maximum tow ball weight allowed. These specifications for your specific vehicle can be found in the owner's manual or from a quick google search. They are important to know as it could be the difference between rolling down the highway legal or not.

GCM (Gross Combined Mass)

The GCM is basically the total weight of your vehicle and trailer moving down the highway. For example, the Ford Ranger has a GCM of 6000kg which means the maximum weight the 4wd (GVM) and trailer (ATM) can weigh is 6000kg. It is a good idea to go to a public weighbridge, fully loaded, before your next adventure with your trailer and tow vehicle to get them individually weighed just for a bit of peace of mind.

GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass)

The GVM stands for Gross Vehicle Mass, which is the total weight your vehicle is allowed to be. Sticking with the Ford Ranger example, it has a GVM of 3200kg. This includes the vehicle unladen weight or kerb weight of 2271kg, the tow ball weight of the trailer, all attached accessories (bullbar, drawer systems, etc.), passengers, luggage, etc.

The maximum towing capacity will be defined by the manufacturer, with the Ford Ranger it is 3500kg. However, once you take into consideration the GCM and GVM the maximum towing capacity may be considerably less than what is advertised.

Tow Ball Weight

The maximum allowable tow ball weight for your vehicle is determined by the manufacturer and the type of tow bar you have installed. Usually, for the tow ball weight the industry works on 10% of the trailer weight. For the Ford Ranger this would be 10% 3500kg = 350kg. The tow ball weight should be included in the GVM. Remaining under the maximum tow ball weight for your vehicle increases the towing stability of your setup, exceeding it is illegal.

So hopefully you see how important it is to know the numbers of your vehicle and how they affect each other. If a Ford Ranger has a maximum GVM of 3200kg there is no way it can be towing a 3500kg trailer because it would exceed it's GCM of 6000kg.

Your Off Road Camper Trailer Capabilities

Knowing what your trailer is capable of will not only keep you safe but it will keep you legal as well. You should know the Tare weight, ATM, tow ball weight and allowable payload for your camper trailer before you buy it. The trailer nameplate, which can usually be found on the trailer drawbar will give you all the details you need to make an informed decision. The NSW centre for road safety has some great information about weighing your caravan and it can be found here. If you want to go deeper into the details check out the VSB1 from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

Tare Weight

The Tare weight refers to the total mass of the camper trailer with no payload, ready for service, unoccupied with all fluid reservoirs filled (fluid reservoirs does not include water tanks or waste water tanks) and all standard and optional equipment fitted by the manufacturer. Aftermarket add ons (awnings, mattresses, additional gas bottles, TV, barbeques, etc) are not included in the Tare weight and must be calculated into the payload of the trailer.

ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass)

ATM or Aggregate Trailer Mass refers to the trailer's weight when it is fully loaded and is the maximum trailer weight recommended by the manufacturer. It can be determined by weighing the trailer unhitched from the tow vehicle resting on it’s jockey wheel.

Tow Ball Weight

The tow ball weight is a critical number to know to help you tow safely. As mentioned above the industry standard is around 10% of your trailer weight. Also, keep in mind that the tow ball weight is added to your vehicle's GVM.


The payload of your trailer will determine how much gear you can take camping with you. Keep in mind if your trailer has a water tank, quite a big chunk of the payload will be eaten up by filling the tank to capacity. To determine the allowable payload for your camper trailer you need to subtract the Tare weight from the ATM. In a perfect world this would work every time, however, if you are deriving the Tare weight from the nameplate on your trailer be cautious because they are not always accurate.

The only way to know if your camper trailer has adequate payload for your setup is to know and weigh what gear you take away with you. Some camper trailers and even caravans have horrible payload kgs. So knowing these numbers should definitely be on your checklist of things to consider when buying a camper trailer.


Having ample organised storage when camping is a must. It makes the entire experience a lot more enjoyable. Having a place for everything and knowing where that place is keeps everyone relaxed and chilled. Notice how I said organised storage. Any volume of storage is great, but having organised accessible storage is the pinnacle.  It's easy to organise large spaces with storage boxes similar to the Front Runner Wolf Pack Storage Box.

Front Runner Wolf Pack Storage Box

Image Source: Front Runner

Before buying a camper trailer try to envisage how and where you are going to store your gear.
When I talk about gear I’m referring to food, clothes, camping equipment, kids toys, bikes, kayaks, surfboards, basically anything you take away with you.

Big open spaces are not necessarily very useful for organising gear but take that same big open space and section it off with dividers, crates or containers and it becomes more useful. Different types of holidays (touring or long stays) call for different types of packing and your camper trailer should be able to cater for this and be adaptable to your needs.

Suspension Setup

I will touch briefly on leaf spring v’s independent suspension setups here but there are numerous articles on the web which go into greater detail if you are interested.

Firstly, independent suspension is more expensive than leaf spring suspension. More expensive at the point of purchase and more expensive when things go wrong. There are a lot of manufacturer’s including independent suspension in their standard setups or at least offering it as an upgrade.

Off Road Camper Trailer Leaf Sping Suspension

image source: Off Road Designs

Do you need it? There are a couple of benefits in having independent suspension; better ride for the trailer and an increase in ground clearance (as there is no centre axle). Most of the time a camper trailer’s ground clearance will trump the tow vehicle’s clearance anyway, so the benefits of having even more ground clearance on your trailer is questionable.

The quality of the ride comes down to the quality of the components used. Therefore, unless quality components are used under the trailer it’s not worth ponying up the extra cash. One of the best known and most trusted independent suspension systems in Australia is made by CruiseMaster.

Off Road Camper Trailer Independent suspension

image source: cruisemaster

So my recommendation would be unless you know why you need it I wouldn’t go searching for it or buying a camper trailer simply because it has it.

Hitch Type

There aren’t too many off-road camper trailers getting around these days with a 50mm ball coupling. Over the years the coupling technology has expanded considerably and there are many more players in the game now. Players like; Hitchmaster AT35, Cruisemaster Do35, HitchEzy, Hyland Coupling, McHitch Uniglide, OzHitch and a Poly Block coupling. You will find fanboys of almost every brand and type so it comes down to personal preference. The type of hitch on the camper trailer is not a deal breaker anyway, it can always be switched out for another type whenever you like. They are just bolted on to the chassis for ease of installation.

Cruisemaster DO35 V3Plus

image source: Cruisemaster

Material Quality and Workmanship

The quality of the material and workmanship between all the trailers vary immensely. Material is easy enough to research as you only need to look at the manufacturer’s specifications to determine the quality of the products used. Workmanship however, needs to be seen in person.
How the trailer is put together and finished requires a visual inspection. Ideally, an off road camper trailer should have a hot dip galvanised chassis with a powder coated body.

The tent canvas needs to be of good quality as well.  There is only a thin bit of canvas between you and the elements so quality is a must.  In general, Australian made canvas products seem to be of a higher quality then their overseas counterparts.  Since canvas is made from cotton it insulates fairly well protecting you from the extreme temperatures of the Australian outback.

A combination which works well for camper trailers is 10oz walls & a 12oz roof.  

The Different Types of Off Road Camper Trailers

Over recent years the category of Off Road Camper Trailers has exploded with numerous variations and modifications.  Back in the day soft floor camper trailers ruled.  Now, there is a whole new beast or should I say beasts.  There are Rear Folding, Forward Folding, Dual Folding, Slide Forward Folding, Toy Haulers, Expedition Trailers, Equipment Trailers the list goes on.

The best advice I can give you is do your research.  As each one has their advantages and disadvantages.

So Many More Things to Consider

There are so many more things to consider like when choosing your off road camper trailer like;

  • Kitchen Layout
  • Electricals
  • Dust Seals
  • Water Tanks
  • Water Pumps
  • Ventilation and Window Positions
  • Zipper and Velcro Quality
  • Awnings and Enclosures
  • Ease of Setting Up
  • Where do you store the trailer?
  • How many Gas Cylinders?
  • Does it include a stone guard?

In no way is the list above exhaustive, but hopefully it gets you started in the right direction and will enable you to make an informed purchase for your next Off Road Camper Trailer.

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