Buying a Camper Trailer

For many campers the decision over the 'living quarters' poses the greatest quandary in the pre-trip planning. Other than a wide range of trailers, which can be purchased 'off the shelf' or custom-made to your specifications, there's also an emerging range of new camper options such as slide ons and roof top tents that satisfy the comfort factor with your bed ready-made and a compact living solution.

What to Look For in a Camper

Half the fun of travelling is in the pre-trip preparation. For many people the decision over the "living quarters" poses the greatest quandary. Other than a wide range of trailers, which can be purchased "off the shelf" or custom-made to your specifications, there's also an emerging range of new camper options such as slide ons and roof top tents that satisfy the comfort factor with your bed ready-made and a compact living solution. There is no fussing with setup of airbeds and sleeping bags and all your bedding is stored right where it will be used.

Problem is, what's perfect for you is not perfect for the next person and in the same breath, what's perfect for you today, may not be perfect for you tomorrow.

There are some people that are opposed to towing a trailer for an offroad trip and that's a shame, because the advantages of a camper trailer are enormous. The major arguments against towing a trailer can be overcome by making a good purchase in the first place.

Camper trailer designs are many and varied from box trailers, pop-ups, soft-floor, hard floor and rear or side opening campers. When you first start looking at trailers you can easily fall into the trap of making comparisons based on aesthetics and options, rather than checking the major components that really set trailers apart from one another.

You also need to consider your budget and your growing (or diminishing) family. Whether you buy or hire, your needs come first and the enjoyment and safety of your trip depends on a perfectly matched rig.


The quality of the chassis, in both materials and construction, is critical to the longevity of your trailer's life.

The primary concern is to have an extremely robust trailer whilst keeping an eye on the weight. Some manufacturers use box tubing, which does not allow twist. An increase in wall thickness of the tubing makes the Chassis stronger so it is not necessary to increase the size of the tubing. Other Manufacturers use high tensile steel RHS which also keeps down the weight. Also be aware that the use of zincseal or zincannel in trailers means there is less rusting and therefore longer life than can be achieved by paint alone.

A robust, heavy duty offroad trailer should have a longer draw bar than a general purpose trailer for better reversing control and negotiation of offroad terrain. In fact, a chassis will be stronger if the drawbar actually runs back and is welded to the spring hangers.

You will find that some trailer manufacturers actually have construction standards that conform to the Australian Design Rules (ADR) and Australian Standards (AS). Some might also be Quality Endorsed companies and some may offer a lifetime warranty. These marks are certainly an indication that the manufacturer places a high priority on demonstrating the quality of the materials and construction in their trailers.



Springs are critical to trailers and are often the part that fails when people take trailers into offroad situations. Because of this, it is wise to consider how you would repair or replace a broken spring on a trailer. Generally, if something is complicated or a repair could be difficult, leave it at home. This is why most trailers will be leaf-sprung. Although independent suspension is very good, it will also add more to the cost of your trailer.

Be mindful of the right springs for the right weight/use of trailer. If over-engineered, then your trailer could bounce excessively on some tracks or if too soft, will "bottom-out", potentially breaking leaves. 6-9 leaf is appropriate.

Rebound Spring

A small "w" shaped spring on top of leaf springs is called a "rebound" spring and this will reduce the bounce over corrugated roads. Use of shockers in conjunction with springs will also soften the ride, but get the angle right or they will be inefficient!

Double-Eye Spring

The use of double-eye (or eye to eye) springs is far more effective as the springs are fixed at both ends to the chassis, whereas "slipper" springs are fixed only at the front and slip through a "U" shaped bracket at the rear.

Offroad Rated

For offroad use in Australian conditions you must ensure the trailer springs are offroad quality rated with high tensile 5/8" u-bolts with fine threads and extra long nuts. They should be longer than what would be used in a general purpose trailer to provide better wheel travel.

Tailgate and Doors

Anything that opens or shuts on your trailer has to be dust and waterproof or you're in for a terrible mess when you stop to setup camp. To anyone that has ever towed any sort of camper trailer before, you will already understand this. To the novice, it is critical that you look for excellent seals on trailers doors, even for tool boxes.

Protection from Dust

Bulldust is everywhere in Australia and you really want to keep it out of your sleeping gear. Look for an automotive style rubber seal and ideally, adjustable sealing locks to allow tighter sealing with use. Doors need to be lockable (and keyed alike).

Tyres and Rims

Do not accept second rate tyres on your trailer! Although they are not driving wheels, your trailer tyres are the best storage option for spares for the vehicle, so ensure they are all the same profile, width and running on the same rims.

There is also a driving advantage if your trailer can run in the same grooves paved by your vehicle in heavy-going 4WD situations, such as sand, mud, ruts etc.



Not all canvas is the same but it all needs to be waterproofed and ideally mildew-proofed. As a minimum, the roof and over-trailer canvas needs to be heavy-duty for good waterproofing. Lighter canvas can be used in walls to make erection easier (less heavy). If choosing a soft-floor camper, check the quality of the material used for the floor. Is it waterproof? It should not be canvas. A PVC bucket floor is ideal.

Look for strong/long lasting flymesh - as some will perish with continuous folding and UV exposure. Ask if a spares kit is included for minor repairs. For extra protection you should always prepare your canvas before travelling. Setup your camper, run a wax stick along both sides of the seams and then fully wet the canvas with the hose. Allow to dry fully and then pack away. It's worth doing this once a year, or before each big trip as a preventative measure.


An awning is an essential addition to your camp to sit under, cook under and to provide shade, shelter and extended "living" space. You can add end walls for sun/wind/privacy protection or go for a fully enclosed annexe with 4 walls.

Overall, keep in mind that the more canvas sections and poles, the longer to setup/pack away your camp. The ideal scenario is to be able to setup a basic camp in around 10 - 15 minutes when you don't require the full comfort stop. This way, if you end up travelling for months you'll still be enjoying yourself, rather than finding it a chore!



The whole point of bothering to tow a camper trailer is the ease and comfort factor of having a place to sleep. Do not be tempted to skimp on the size of your mattress. If you opt for basic foam, you can cheaply replace it when it becomes saggy but the outlay on a proper sprung mattress will out-way the cost difference with longevity. Most "off the shelf" trailers will only accommodate a foam mattress so check if the travel cover is deep enough for an inner spring mattress.

Towing Hardware

To safely tow a trailer behind a 4WD in off-road conditions it is vital to use a coupling that enables almost full 360 degree turning. Snatch points at the back of the camper trailer can be quite handy in case it gets in a sticky situation. These points can be utilised when using a snatch strap & bridle for rear pulling.


Originally released in early 2002 the AT35 Coupling is now at Version Mark III and comes in a standard bolt on or a weld on version. These versions are rated are 3,500 Kg but have been tested to 9 Tonnes axial load. There is also available a 2,000 Kg over-ride version on a limited basis from time to time. The locking mechanism on the AT35 is patented and fully ADR compliant. The coupling has 70 degrees of articulation in all directions together with 360 degrees of rotation. The coupling has been fitted to all manner of caravans and camper trailers in particular. They have been used in all parts of Australia and there are tour operators for the Cape York, Kimberleys and the Gulf Country that use them as standard on their vehicles.

Camper Protection

All vehicles flick up stones (even on bitumen). When a vehicle is pulling a trailer, these stones often hit the trailer, damaging both the front of the trailer and often rebounding back to break the vehicle's rear windows.

Stone Guard

A stone deflector on a trailer is usually made up of a frame and some sort of velocity-deadening fabric (often shadecloth) that is angled towards the ground. When a stone is kicked up from the vehicle's wheels, it should deflect the stone before it hits the trailer.

Optional Add-Ons

All standard campers should include an awning, jockey wheel, mattress, stoneguard and water tank. But, with a little extra in the budget you might consider these extras in your design:


Slide-out Kitchen

These kitchens are designed to 'slide out' from the back of the tailgate of the camper trailer. Since the kitchen will take up the length of the camper trailer rather than the width, it generally takes up a large proportion of the trailer, however, this results in plenty of bench and storage space. A general guide to 'slide-out' kitchens is listed below:
  • More expensive (compared to 'swing-out' kitchens)

  • Large bench and storage area

  • Takes up a lot of space inside the camper trailer

  • Bearing slides may wear in time and/or fail especially over rough ground

  • Some designs need extra muscle to drag out of the trailer
Another option is a slide-out kitchen from the side of the camper trailer. One of the advantages of this setup is that the kitchen is close to the entrance to your camper trailer, leading to a compact and accessible camping perimeter.

Swing-out Kitchen

These kitchens, also known as a tailgate kitchen are attached to the tailgate of the camper trailer and 'swings out' when the tailgate is opened. This incorporates a much lighter and compact design and because it takes up the width of the trailer instead of the length - it takes up considerably less space inside the camper trailer. A general guide to 'swing-out' kitchens is listed below:
  • Light and compact

  • Usually quite affordable

  • Small storage area and bench space

  • Doesn't take up much floor space inside the camper trailer

  • Easy to move into position


It's best to ensure that the tailgate can be locked into an open position to prevent unexpected movement during use.

Tool Box

If the spare wheel is mounted vertically rather than lying down on the drawbar, space can be created for a bike rack or tool box. A lockable tool box where a spare gas bottle, chain saw, recovery gear or a myriad of other bits and pieces can be stored is a real bonus. Care should be taken to ensure weight on the drawbar does not exceed vehicle manufacturers specifications (and the rating of the tow hitch).

Water Tank

Don't put all your water in the one storage tank. Split your carrying capacity across at least 2 vessels, one in the vehicle and one on the trailer (especially since vehicles and trailers are often separated). Aim for 45 - 60L in the trailer. Remember, 1L of water = 1Kg of weight.

Boat Rack

Lift off and swing out boat racks are available from most trailer manufacturers to enable the boat to be included in a trip. Outboard motor holders can be attached to the draw bar to complete the package.

Even with a boat rack consider how you would go fishing if the boat is left on the rack when camp is setup and then you need to get the boat to the water.


Check out the folding boat trailers that would be ideal in this situation.

12 Volt Power

A battery box wired through the car that gets charged during travel is ideal for running 12 volt appliances (lights, fridge etc) whilst the car is stopped. Consider placement of sockets and length of leads.

Electric Brakes

Not mandatory if the gross weight of the trailer fully loaded is less than 750kg but can be very useful especially if brakes are of the type that can be manually as well as automatically applied. Around $500 extra.

Storage Solutions

A manufacturer such as Wandering Star that offers customised modifications to their existing designs might be able to ensure a storage box was sized and wired to suit your specific model of fridge.

Bike Rack

As per toolbox, if the spare wheel is mounted vertically on the drawbar, there will be room for a bike rack too.

Hire or Buy a Camper?

For some people, the investment in purchasing the trailer that suits their needs is simply too great. Another interesting point is that with such a high demand for campers, the second hand market has skyrocketed to the ridiculous point that a used trailer may cost little less than a new one! Rather than downgrade the quality of trailer you select and hence downgrade the enjoyment of your holiday, consider hiring a trailer.

Most trailer hire companies stock the popular brand names so this may also be a good opportunity to "try before you buy". Many trailer hire businesses will be able to hire you additional items such as fridges, winches, air compressors, satphones etc.

Hiring also enables you to offset the cost of buying the trailer just to make your dream trip a reality. If you know that you're only likely to go for one major trip in the next 5 years, then maybe hiring is a better option than buying.

The kid factor also comes into it. Campers are perfect for kids - providing a "living space" that they seem to need no matter where they are. However if your current plan is focussed on one major trip with no idea of what lies ahead for the future, then the kids might have outgrown travelling with you by the time you work out the next trip. When the kids are gone, your needs might be completely different so it might be better to leave building a trailer until you are sure of your needs - you will still have many years of wonderful touring ahead of you.

Approximately How Much?

Trailers range in design and construction considerably to suit the range of buyers needs and budgets with anything new from approximately $8,000 - $80,000. Hiring a trailer can cost around $300 for 1 week rental, however you get better deals for longer hire periods.

So, there are no definitive answers - you're going to have to do some homework yourself. We've given you some great tips for what to look for, but the decision making is still up to you. Good luck!

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Created: July 2008
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