Slide On: What do you want to do?
The biggest issue in the camper market is working out what do you want to do. What type of travel and camping experience are you looking for? Of course, its an obvious question. But the biggest issue is whatever you choose will be a compromise. Comfort versus agility and flexibility. And price. So, the more clarity you can have on what you want to do will help refine your options. And, as everyone is different, what may be a general guide will not necessarily apply to all.
First question is, how adventurous do you want to be and how tough does your rig need to be in terms of the extremeness you want to experience? How remote is your destination? How much comfort are you seeking and how long will each trip be.
If its remote trips, that would typically imply rough conditions. Its also means having the payload capacity to carry extra fuel, food and water between refuelling stops. If we are talking about a mid sized ute your payload is only a bit over a ton… with a GVM upgrade, typically about 1300-1500kg. We’ll discuss this later, but keep in mind that includes passengers, bull bar, tow bar, tank of fuel, etc. As such the lighter your slide-on camper the better. A slide-on such as a Jacksons Carry Me Camper or Tommy Camper are an aluminum build, designed to take it rough. Their relative light weight, ensures additional payload capacity.
The common feature with both these styles, are what can be loosely described as a bed in a box. I say loosely, because they are far more featured than that. You could describe these as a tough outback camper. The bed however is certainly far from it, both offering a generous size double or queen sized bed. Waking up in a Jackson’s bed with their unique pop top looking through their canvas mounted windows, is nothing short of panoramic.
Apart from walking into an inviting bed, these campers are optimised for the best camping experience. Jacksons rear panel of the camper folds down to create an enclosed tailgate interior space. Living is outside, typically under an awning, but it’s not hard to see how the smartly designed layout and functionality is drawn from the experience of seasoned campers.
A number of similar manufacturers offer some additional level of enclosed living. For example, these include popular makes like Wedgetail, Trayon and Travelander Campers. All these have the added all weather feature where you can live undercover and have some protection from bugs and the elements. The distinguishing feature of these is they have a flop out feature to extend the living area. The Trayon and Wedgetail’s roof hinges over to the side to form the bed. The Travelender prides itself of a remote control button that rotates the roof over to form a floor enclosed by canvas walls. The wedgetail offers a hybrid living functionality by cleverly providing access to the fridge and kitchen from both inside and out, so you can readily eat either way.
Another consideration is the orientation of the bed. The clear preference is a north south bed, meaning you access it from the end. East west beds, as in the case of the Wedgetail and Trayon, are accessed on one side, meaning one person always needs to crawl over the other to get in and out. It’s purely a personal preference, but if there’s a choice north south seems to be the overwhelming preference.
Moving up the comfort chain, are what I describe, once again in loose terms, as a live in box. These are basically small caravans without wheels on the back of ute tray. The difference is you can slide your “van” off. But it comes at a price – size. However, the liveable space inside can be surprisingly bigger than you expect. And that includes a north south bed, hot and cold water, gas heater, cook top, sink and a shower and toilet.
Typically, the walls are a fibreglass sandwich structure with a pop top roof. The Active Camper and Intrepid Camper have a standout pop top roof, where similar to the Jackson, creates a very welcoming panoramic vista from your bed. How nice is that be to wake up to. In these makes, the bed overhangs the cab leaving the space in the back tray available for living. Both Intrepid Campers and Active Campers claim their campers are very durable in rough driving conditions. Active Campers have been around a long time and have a history of customer experiences to prove it.
Another popular brand in this live in category is the Islander Camper. They offer a flat top version, which is ideal for carrying kayaks on top, or a similar shaped model like the Advantage or Intrepid. Depending on brand loyalty, the issue as to who copied whose design comes up on Social media every so often. Whatever it is, the bottom line is I think the market overall is better off for it, with what is not only a stylish and unique design but one that brings comfort to an adventure..
What these brands do is offer a light weight and an appealing design to the slide on market, offering an alternative to a caravan but with all the benefits of a slide on.
A further slide on option are the North American imports. The Norstar, Palomino and Adventurer are popular makes. Generally, they have a feel of comfort not dissimilar to a conventional motorhome. A slide out section (not to be confused with slide on!) such as a dining area slides out to add more internal room. We hired a slide on Adventurer Camper in Canada, complete with a slide out dining section, mounted on the back of a dual cab Ford 350. It was a great rig that very comfortably took us on our roadie all the way across the country.
But as an import into Australia, these come at a cost. They are considerably heavier than local makes. Unless you have a Dodge RAM, Ford F250 or light weight truck, they typically challenge the payload limits of our typical four wheel drive utes.
Also, as their designs are made for the larger American vehicles, these imports typically have a big height gap between the cab and the forward overhang of the camper, which can look a bit of a mismatch. But hey, if functionality is the key need and your vehicle can carry the extra load, you will certainly be enjoying a good level of comfort.
A very small number of Australian suppliers manufacture a slide design for the rear tub of a four wheel drive ute. Instead of sliding onto a tray, they slide inside the tub. It’s a great concept that instantly converts your everyday ute into a motor home. Because the very base of the slide on camper fits between the wheel arches, the cost of this design is less useable space. This style is more common in America and with some imports. Earthcruiser offers a light weight version of this style, but at quite a lot more expense.
It really is a no size fits all scenario. The secret is to dig deep and determine what you want to experience. For us, personally we enjoy the basic comforts of an inside loo being able to have a shower... if we choose. And though we prefer cooking and eating outdoors, the ability to prepare a meal inside when the outside elements are not so attractive is an absolute plus. We are not necessarily remote bush bashers, but rather want the ability to get off the bitumen to experience unique places that only a four wheel drive can get you there.
But if you love the idea of a more extreme adventure, where you can fit between lower hanging trees and gaps, rock, roll and shake through barely formed tracks, then one of the more rugged low profile, metal camper box is the way to go.
Bottom line: Choose your adventure... it will help narrow hour choices.