Australia's top 6 Forward Folding Camper Trailers
Forward folding camper trailers were a revelation to the camping industry when they were popularised by Market Direct Campers early in the second decade of the 2000s. The concept is far older, though, and was even patented as early as 1993.
The forward fold camper is a simple concept, and its name very descriptive of its operation. To set the camper up, you fold the trailer’s lid forwards. The upside-down lid then becomes the base of the camper’s bed and the interior of the trailer body generally features a wraparound dinette and lounge area – an internal living space with higher than normal comfort for a camper trailer product.
This is almost opposite in concept from the rear-fold camper trailer, which has a lid that folds backwards while setting up the tent. In a rear-fold camper, the bed stays in place, contained within the walls of the trailer body, while the flipped-over lid becomes the floor of the camper. Because it’s an open space, it can be used to lay out kids’ beds, store odd-and-ends or, with the help of camp chairs, offer shelter from bad weather.
The forward folding concept didn’t just pop up. Glen Hudson, a South African expat who ran Koala Campers through the 90s, imagined it in 1993. He told me: “I went down to the Sydney Show, and on our way home I was thinking about all the campers there and realised this would be the best way. We were going to Moreton Island and Fraser Island a lot and didn’t want the hassle of having to peg it out and all that for one-night stops and just decided that would be the way. So, we stopped on the way, you know where they had that big rock, and had coffee and designed it on a tissue, on one of the napkins.”
Glen was experimenting with poly-carbonate camper trailer bodies at the time, and so his first attempts at the forward fold camper were made the same way, which could have played some role in the public's initial lack of interest. Even now, plastic-bodied campers are only really made by one company – the rest prefer steel, aluminium or fibreglass-foam panels. After selling less than six forward fold campers, he shelved the concept.
He might not have been the first to come up with the concept, though. Michael Hackett, founder of Ultimate Campers, built a couple in the early 1990s, although by the time he’d come up with the Ultimate Camper in 1994, he went with a side-fold, rather than a forward fold as he didn’t want the bed section fouling on the 4WDs of the day.
In the early 2000s, a few companies had more attempts: Australian Off-Road built the Islander and sold two, and Camel Campers, run by Glen Hudson’s son, also built a few. ModCon Campers was the first to have a real good go at it, though, and since 2009 has been selling a forward-fold camper, long before they really gained momentum.
Their appeal is instantly obvious – because they have an internal living area with a lounge and table, they offer some modicum of caravan-like comfort, but in a package that’s far easier to tow around the country or down rough off-road tracks. And as Glen Hudson said, you can set them up easily on any terrain and there’s no need to peg anything down. That’s not all the forward-fold camper has going for it, though. Once set up, their footprint doesn’t expand like a rear-fold does, and the good ones have great tents that can be opened right up to bring all the best parts of the outside in. They really suit adventurous couples, because they can usually be towed anywhere, are easy to set up and pack down daily, and are comfortable enough to convince the more delicate half of a relationship that camping for long periods of time is a great idea. Practically, whenever you pack them up, all of the sand or dirt that settles on the bed falls off, so sleeping is rarely gritty. In a rear-fold, it’s the opposite – all the sand and dirt falls onto the bed.
But there are some downsides to the most common forward fold designs. The campers tend to have a heavy ball weight, as because of the location of the door on the side of the camper, the axles (or more accurately, the wheel arches) have to be set far back, so a lot of the weight is forward of the pivot. Most forward-fold campers have ball-weights heavier than 150kg, even empty, and that only rises because a lot of the storage is at the front. (It’s a problem that’s caused significant issues for some manufacturers’ drawbar integrity). They are also limited in storage space, because instead of storage they have a lounge, which is the number-one reason they don’t really suit family travel as well as other designs.
Most forward fold campers are built for off-road travel and some can be taken further than others. If you’re after a real off-road forward fold camper, you should expect it to have a coil-spring independent suspension system, a chassis specifically designed for off-road use with a draw-bar that’s one piece with the main chassis, or at least runs back to the front of the suspension arms. Expect it to be hot-dip galvanised or powder-coated (pre-fab rust-proofing like Duragal is not up to scratch). It should also have some sort of off-road hitch, standard – if it’s an option, there’s a good chance the camper’s not really an off-roader – and underneath, nothing important like plumbing or wiring should be unduly exposed to potential damage. Check reviews to see where others have taken theirs.
Today, just about every camper trailer builder has a few different forward-fold campers in the model line-up, which makes choosing hard. Here are some of the highlights of a saturated market.
06. Jayco JTrak
Cost: From $17,495
As a forward fold camper trailer, one of its most distinguishing features is that it’s Australian made and still quite cheap. Feature wise, the Jayco isn’t significantly better or worse than anything else on the market, but is set apart by its chassis, which is quite well engineered. There’s also a Jayco service centre just about anywhere, and it’s backed by a good warranty, part of the reason it makes the list. There are also four variants, from on-road to off-road abilities.
05. Signautre Campers Elite X
Cost: From $23,490
Although it can be hard to tell some of the imported forward fold campers apart, the latest Elite X is distinct. It’s got a great storage rack and locally developed independent suspension, rather than a generic system ordered from a catalogue. Although there’s only so much styling a company can do inside, the Signature looks great. Easy-to-access internal storage is always an issue in forward-folds, but the Elite X has some elegant solutions. A comfortable camper for campers who prioritise comfort.
04. Ultimate XTerran
Cost: From $59,990
Okay, so it’s technically not a forward fold, but the concept is almost identical (and it’s inventor modelled it off one back in 1994). Still one of the most iconic shapes in camper trailers, Ultimate was bailed out of administration late in 2018. The concept of internal lounge and flip-over bed has been copied by every forward fold camper trailer, though, which is something. Best for people who want caravan comfort but don’t want a caravan.
03. ModCon Quattro
Cost: From $23,490
There’s no mistaking the Quattro for another forward fold, as it’s the only one on the market with a rear entry, and it makes sense! The rear entry means you can access the camper body when it’s packed up and also use the two lounges as a pair of single beds for kids. ModCon also has the distinction of being the first Australian manufacturer to sell more than a handful of forward-fold campers, although now it has them built overseas.
02. Bluetongue Overland XF Lite
Cost: From $21,490
Bluetongue has two forward folds in its range, and this is the cheaper and more simply equipped, part of why I like it. It’s one of the lighter forward folds on the market, but still has the suite of features considered essential. I like the kitchen in this model, and the fact that it’s easier to set up than heavier options.
01. 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 it is one of the better forward folds if you’re considering one for your family travels.