Not that long ago, a roof top tent or touring tent with a self-inflating mattress was considered the pinnacle in off-road accommodation. More recently, with the advent of camper trailer popularity, people have started expecting higher levels of comfort on their off-road journeys. But what if the idea of towing a box on wheels is as about appealing as working unpaid overtime on the weekend to you? Well, the answer is a slide-on-camper… sort of. Let me rephrase that.
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If you have a ute, and would rather help the in-laws paint their house than tow a trailer, a slide-on is the answer my friend (while providing the perfect excuse to get away from your free-time depleting extended family). Similarly, they allow you to tow a boat or bike trailer, so you’re not going to miss out on catching the big one or the ride of a lifetime because you had to bring the camper trailer along.
There are other advantages too. Trailers and tents can take a fair while to get set-up properly – and the last thing you want to be doing is wrestling with poles and guy ropes when you’ve arrived at your campsite after dark and it’s just started bucketing down. Most slide-ons will only take a few minutes from putting your vehicle in park to being ready for a good night’s sleep, and some of them don’t even require setting up at all. Throw the handbrake on, turn your engine off and simply walk around the back of your vehicle and you’re ready to enjoy being warm, dry and surrounded with more comfort than a five-star hotel.
But where do you start I hear you ask? The first point to determine is what sort of vehicle do you own or hope to own? Can you live with a single cab or must you have a dual cab to transport your tin-lids during the week; would an extra-cab foot the bill? Once the vehicle and subsequent slide on design has been decided the fun really begins. Do you want a pop-top with canvas, or are hard sides the only way? Do you need a shower and toilet, or are you just looking for somewhere to sleep after a hard day’s fishing?
The good news is that there are plenty of options on the market, so once you’ve determined what you need, and the style of camper that’s going to suit you best you’re sitting pretty.
This essential guide is here to fill in the gaps – these are the slide-on-campers available that we would happily sell our houses for.
Active Campers have been manufacturing their slide-ons since 2002 so have had plenty of time to get their product well and truly sorted. One of the big advantages of the Active Campers is that they can fit on some dual-cabs, which means you don’t have to sacrifice cabin space to be able to carry one – perfect if you’ve got a couple of kids or a four-legged mate along for the trip.
Active Campers reckon that these are built with serious touring in mind, and have successfully been taken over tracks like the Gibb River Road, up the Cape and over to Fraser Island without a worry, so they’re not exactly expecting you to be camping at the local caravan park.
With the fibreglass and canvas construction, they weigh in around the 450kg mark, which is within most utes’ GVM, which is an important consideration when selecting your camper. The opening and fold-down times are said to be within a couple of minutes too, which is always a plus in our eyes.
AUSSIE EAGLE CAMPERS
Jim, the owner of Aussie Eagle Campers, reckons that he first tackled Cape York in an old EH Holden back in the late 60s. Anyone who’s up for that probably knows what they’re talking about if you ask us. That trip inspired him to build his first pop-top camping unit and interested travellers and word of mouth encouraged Aussie Eagle to start manufacturing their slide-on campers full time. That was 18 years ago now and they’re still going strong.
While the design ain’t nothin’ fancy – basically just a big box with a pop top roof, they’re claimed to be built very rugged and capable of handling anything your 4X4 can, plus they’ve got a couple of handy design features like a hinged bed so it can be folded out of the way when it’s not in use and heavy duty door catches that can apparently handle even the worst corrugations. If you’re not looking for all the bells and whistles and you’re a firm believer of the adage “simpler is better” then this one could be right up your alley.
Ok, you could be forgiven for being a little taken aback by the appearance of this one. I mean, it does kinda look like your ute is being mounted by some sort of odd-shaped alien spacecraft, but give it a sec – it’ll grow on you. Especially once you read the specs list of the most expensive tray back camper on our list.
Let’s start with the outside, it’s all one piece fibreglass, Kevlar or carbon fibre (depending on how deep your pockets are) so it won’t leak and the thermal insulation qualities should be pretty top notch. While the ‘amorphous blob’ look may not be for everyone, it’s apparently designed that way for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. It’s big too, able to sleep up to four people and the interior appointments let you know you’re in serious glamping territory. Also, it doesn’t require any lifting or folding, so set-up time is literally nil. If that’s not enough, it also lifts itself off your ute tray using electromechanical legs via remote control. Anyway, you get the point – this ain’t no polyester dome tent.
The Cameron Campers Slide-on may look like a sort of cross-between a roof top tent and a utility tray but the manufacturers actually claim that it’s easier to set up than a hard floor camper and thanks to having no pegs, poles or guy ropes pack up is quick and easy, especially for those who may be physically limited. Also, the bed is configured so that you’re actually sleeping across your vehicle, which means you won’t have to climb over anyone if nature calls at 3am, as someone who’s copped a few knees and elbows from such efforts in the past, this is a great design feature in my book.
They’re available for single-cabs, dual-cabs and even styleside tubs which makes them pretty versatile and the extra room that’s part of the fold-out design is a good use of available space. Cameron Campers certainly stand behind their product with some pretty big claims, but they also reckon a seven year old girl can pack their product up, so it makes you wonder…
Another one of the larger ‘no set-up required’ slide-ons on our list, the Carry-Van has been dubbed “the motel room on wheels” and the Aussie made product is perfect for those that don’t mind their ute looking like it’s been cross-bred with a Winnebago. First is the slide-out sofa. Similar to larger caravans and motorhomes, the entire wall extends out over the rear of the vehicle and allows extra room inside (the lounge actually looks pretty comfy too).
There’s also the usual host of bells and whistles designed to make your camping experience as much like checking into a luxury hotel as possible. BUT, the thing we found really interesting is the patented Quick Hitch System that allows the Carry Van to be bolted onto the back of dual-cab utes. It works by slotting in an extra length of chassis and a lazy axle to take the weight of the camper. It’s all ADR approved and is totally reversible (in a claimed five minutes no less) if you want to use your dual-cab for daily driving duties. Is it cheap? No, not by a long shot, but full marks for sheer versatility.
CARRY ME CAMPERS
While this slide-on may not have much in the way of bells and whistles, and may have a few more poles and a little more set-up time, it more than makes up for it with good basic simplicity and strength. And to cap it off, they’re priced extremely well for what you get. There are several models in the range and the Carry Me Camper can be made to fit just about any ute that can handle the payload (which is almost all of them).
Due to the slightly increased set-up and pull-down times (we’re still only talking about a few minutes here remember), we reckon this one would be better for those types of trips where you pull up to one spot and camp for at least a couple of nights. With that said, we did really like the fact that with this slide-on, you don’t have to set up the tent section to access your food and fridge, so trackside cuppas are a piece of cake.
Born from the need to tow a boat yet still camp in comfort with a minimum of set-up times, the Curlew Campers are another camper that fall into the “uglier than a smashed crab, but damn functional” category. Ok, maybe that’s being unfair, their campers really do look pretty good on larger 4X4 trucks like the Iveco Daily and Isuzu NPRs, but their sheer size tends to dwarf an average 4X4 ute. And looks aside, it’s not a bad thing necessarily. There’s more creature comforts onboard than the Rolling Stones’ tour bus, and the aluminium chassis means that it’s a good bet to last over some pretty severe off-road conditions. If you were heading off on a hot lap, these’d definitely be worth a look.
Ok, this one gets an A+ for pure Aussie ingenuity. The Innovan makes better use of available space than an entire Ikea catalogue and the build quality looks pretty good too. We liked the fact that the furniture inside the Innovan is all moulded fibreglass, which is joined to the base structure to give it considerable strength while keeping things light, in fact, Innovan claim it’s stronger than a similarly built caravan made from steel.
Pneumatic rams raise the roof and there’s an option to use 12V actuators to make the whole set-up process a hands-free affair. While there’s ample storage, provision for a fridge, gas stove and a table with seating for two, one thing worth noting is that the sleeping arrangement consists of two separate half-queen single beds on either side of the van. So it’s not exactly the best thing for those who enjoy a snuggle with their other half, although whether that’s a good or bad thing will vary depending on who you ask…
Another over-the-roof style of slide-on, Lance Campers are already well established in the US as a premium brand of ute-tray accommodation and as you’d expect from a product from the land of gallon milkshakes and Cadillacs, it’s not short on creature comforts. Think stepping into an Elk Lodge with wood panelling and modern conveniences all over the place. We could definitely get used to this sort of luxury, although tracking muddy boots over the plush-pile carpet may not win you any brownie points…
One thing worth noting is that these things are designed around the American F-250 and Dodge Ram style of “truck” so make sure you get in touch with the Aussie distributor regarding GVMs and tray sizes before you buy one for your Great Wall dual-cab.
Tough, no-nonsense, and practical are words you’ll probably hear being thrown around by Metalink owners, and they’re not wrong. A relatively simple design compared to some slide-ons on our list maybe, but simple works. The pop-up roof provides a standing area at the rear of the tray for changing your clothes comfortably and the bed can easily accommodate a couple. The interior of the canopy can be configured around what you need to carry with you on your trip, and Metalink will custom build just about anything you need into it. Would we live out of it for months at a time? No. But you could tackle just about any trip in Australia in one of these for a few weeks and not be disappointed.
Millard RV are already known in caravanner circles as a reputable brand, and their pop-top slide-on is another well-appointed product. There’s option for a toilet/shower and it comes standard with a fridge, microwave and over the cab double bed. These are a relatively economical option too, which makes them very high in the bang-for-buck stakes. While not especially revolutionary, we’d be more than happy to spend a night or ten aboard one of these. If pulling up at your campsite after a long day’s dusty driving, opening the door to your camper, having a shower while your dinner cooks on the stove before jumping into a warm bed without having to set anything up doesn’t sound appealing to you, you’ve either got way more energy than we do or you’re some sort of masochist…
The Naked RV pop-top slide-ons are made with fibreglass sandwich panel construction, meaning there’s no frame which keeps the weight down and makes construction costs lower. A layer of foam core is sandwiched (hence the name) between two sheets of fibreglass which is cut to size and then glued to the other panels using modern adhesives. It’s a simple and strong design which allows a degree of flex over rough roads (a good thing) while keeping the structure pretty rigid overall.
Yeah yeah, they’re not the most pleasing to look at, sort of like a big refrigeration unit on the back of your ute, but they’re comfy and reportedly dustproof, so they’re more than up to the job. There are five different models available in three different sizes, dependent on how big your ute tray is and how much weight you can legally carry. The interior is also customisable to suit your needs and there are options of shower units, AC, electric lift-off legs and solar systems. Aussie made too which is always a big tick in our book.
The Ozcape slide-on is another one that essentially turns your ute into a caravan with an engine and four wheels, but the Aussie made camper has some undeniably trick inclusions that could turn an otherwise rained-out weekend into a peaceful and relaxing getaway. The thing we found particularly handy was the ability to lift the cushion seating from the dinette and slot them into the foot of the bed, transforming it into a truly giant sleeping area, like one you’d expect to see in a rock star’s hotel room.
There’s another handy innovation too in the form of a self-centring system that utilises alloy cones to guide the camper onto your ute tray in perfect position. Gotta love functional thinking that makes life easier!
When it comes to maximising the available space, the Quickpitch Camper is a veritable Tardis – it packs a lot into a camper that fits just about any ute configuration – single, extra or dual-cab and the unique fold-out system sets up and pulls down in under a minute. It’s another camper that utilises the twin-single bed arrangement and a full fold-out kitchen and ample drawer space for clothes, food and camping equipment. It carries no less than 3 individual patents, including ones on the kitchen and fold-out shower with inbuilt shower curtain. There’s even an inside loo for when you realise that last night’s chicken curry could’ve done with another five minutes in the camp oven.
You can even plug in things like TVs, laptops and other electrical gear so your teenagers won’t miss out on any Outback Facebook updates. While the single bed sleeping and fold-out tent option may not be for everyone, you have to appreciate the out-of-the-box engineering and sheer ability to fit 10kg of features into a 5kg bag.
We’re going to say straight up that the Rhino Camper appeals to us in a big way for no other reason than it’s simple and looks like it just works. But then again, we still like mechanically injected diesels and roll out swags so take that with a grain of salt. There’s no aged oak panelling, no air-con, no electronically activated pop-up, slide-out or flip-up roofs, just the things you need when you’re in the bush and nothing you don’t.
The manufacturer claims it’s fully dustproof, and the passenger side gullwing opens to reveal a comprehensive camp kitchen and fridge slide with a removable prep table, while the driver side opens to reveal a full double bed. If you’re travelling solo or as a couple and can do without the finer things, we reckon you could do a lot worse.
So we’ve seen campers with opening roofs, sides, and pop-tops, but this is the first on our list where the tent opens out via the tailgate. It’s actually a clever design with the tailgate folding down to provide a standing up platform in front of the bed, while the sides have storage for up to two fridges, a fold-out kitchen and plenty of storage options. Designed for single or extra-cabs only, the Tailgate Camper does rule out those with five-seater utes, but still, being completely Australian made and owned indicates it’s going to be top quality. The aluminium frame is lightweight and strong, with most units weighing in at under 400kg depending on fitted options.
THE BUSH COMPANY
The A-HA Camper from the Bush Company features another unique clamshell-style opening system that allows it to be used as an open-ended day shelter for a quick cuppa, or the ends can be zipped into place so it’s fully enclosed and you can grab a night’s sleep on the single or double beds. This one was originally designed in Africa, where they can encounter terrain similar to our Outback, and given the compact collapsed size and relatively light sub-300kg weight, it’s pretty impressive engineering if you ask us.
We’re not totally sold yet on those mattresses yet though, they seem a little thin to us. I guess that means we’ll just have to get our hands on one and find out for ourselves, right Dex?
If you’ve not heard of Travelander, you may want to check your surroundings aren’t under a rock. Arguably the most well-known of the slide-on camper manufacturers, these guys feature a side-opening tent with plenty of inbuilt bells, whistles and camp comfort. It’s also one of the easiest to open, you literally press a button and she opens and closes automatically – no lifting things like a sucker!
There’s an option of double bunks in the room area for the kids while Mum and Dad sleep on the queen bed up top. They’re available in the popular single cab arrangement or, due to popular demand, the more recent dual-cab compact range. We actually have firsthand experience with these things and they offer a lot of comfort and versatility without unduly affecting GVM or fuel economy too much.
Another side-opener, the Trayon makes good use of the available space as the double bed is actually attached to the roof, so folds out leaving the rest of the ute tray for a dinette/single bed, 110L fridge and a bunch of storage. It doesn’t feature the extra “room” of the Travelander, instead using the roof as an awning area. The two-burner stove can actually be removed from inside the camper and fired up as an outdoor barbie. One of the things we liked about the Trayon is the ability for everything to run on 12V, 240V or gas, giving a good amount of versatility for remote travel, plus it’s under 400kg and has a low profile when you’re driving, so fuel economy isn’t affected too much.
The Traytek is similar in specs and operation to the Tailgate Campers, in fact, just to muddy the waters they even call their campers ‘the Tailgater’ so be aware they’re different products when you’re doing your research. These ones extend out over the roofline a little to get some more room in the bed area. The bed itself is on gas struts so it can be lifted up to access a fair amount of storage underneath – ideal for clothes, food, misbehaving children, whatever.
There’s also a winch fitted to enable the tailgate area to be folded up which is good news for those with bad backs or who are just good old-fashioned lazy (raises hand). They actually look pretty good when folded up too.
One thing we will say about the Wedgetail is that you can tell that it has had a lot of thought put into it. Just about every storage compartment is accessible from both the inside and outside, as can the kitchen, it packs in a dinette, inner-sprung queen sized bed and a indoor toilet/shower as well as about an acre of storage room into a box that fits on the back of most single or space-cab utes. That’s impressive if you ask us.
It does take a little longer to set up than some of the other campers we’ve featured here, with owners reporting 8 minute set-up and around 10mins to pull down, but considering what you get, it may be well worth the extra time to you. There’s even the option for a diesel heater for those winter trips.
The Wombat Glide-on campers are built to order, so you know you’re getting something that’s tailored to you. Featuring the bed-over-cab design with an incorporated pop-top so you’re not hitting your melon on the roof, they’re a camper that’s really aimed at people who want a caravan, but either don’t want to tow it or would rather tow their boat/race car/bikes/mobile meth lab behind them.
The interior is largely left up to individual requirements, and can be made as plush or as hose-out as you like. Chances are though you won’t be waking up in the morning complaining of a crook back or an uneasy night’s sleep that you’d get from the uneven ground and the swag’s foam mattress like we usually do…
3 THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A SLIDE-ON CAMPER
Depending on the style of camper you go for, you could be getting something made from a combination of fibreglass, canvas, wood, alloy or even carbon fibre, so ask a lot of questions regarding the methods used, how strong it is, the weight of any canvas and how the frame goes together and are bonded with the panels. Ask your manufacturer LOTS of questions before you sign on the dotted line.
Campers are generally not light. They will have an affect on your rear suspension, load carrying and most importantly – your GVM. We cannot stress enough how important it is to stay at or below your vehicle’s rated carrying capacity. If you don’t and you come a cropper, you can forget about your insurance paying you out and in the worst case scenario, you may end up in prison. GVM upgrades are available for most 4X4 utes, so if you do need one for your chosen camper, factor it in to the cost.
This can actually have a marked effect on your fuel economy, especially at speed, so make sure you consider it before purchasing. This one is a bit of a catch-22. If you go for a cab-over style camper you’re gaining a heap of room otherwise taken up by the bed. If you go for one that’s only as big as your tray, you gain aerodynamic efficiency but lose out on the increased space – six of one, half a dozen of the other.
Words By Evan Spence