The Best Camper Trailer Tents in Australia
The concept of a canvas covering over a bed in a trailer goes all the way back to 1928 in Australia (longer if you include horse-drawn, wild-west-like wagons), when R.J. Rankin developed the first commercial camper trailer and went on to establish the Carapark Caravan Company. Roger Fagan, founder of Cub Campers is credited as the first to put a folding, soft-floor tent on a trailer (in 1972) and so began one of the simplest ways to take a lot of canvas camping.
The concept has certainly evolved, and around the second decade of the 2000s, the camper trailer became incredibly popular. So much so that just about every Aussie trailer-builder started sourcing camper trailer tents and bolting them to a trailer and selling them at incredible prices. Many jumped on the bandwagon too quickly, though, and the market was flooded with cheap and poor-quality tents that just didn't cut the mustard. They leaked, tore, were hard to put up and often only got used once or twice – until the first rainy camping trip. Fortunately, the market's moved on. If you've already got a trailer and just want a tent, there's very few around that are poor quality. In fact, there's really only a few companies around that still bother.
One of the biggest benefits of applying a camper trailer tent only to your existing trailer is the cost-saving – a simple tent from a company such as Marlin Campers (who's partnered with Oztrail) at $2700, is less than half the price of most soft-floor camper trailers. And if you've already got a stack of camping gear, just buying a tent means you're not paying for extras you just don't need. Alternatively, you might already have a camper trailer but the tent's either worn out, was never good in the first place, or not big enough anymore. You can get a camper trailer tent replacement, if that's the case.
The good news is, as most 6x4, 7x5 and 8x5 high-sized box trailers and campers are built using standard-sized metal sheets, almost all of them are about the same height, and most off-the-shelf camper trailer tents will fit on and still touch the ground nicely, without any issue.
The downside is that no aftermarket tent will ever fit a trailer as well as a tent and trailer co-developed to suit each other. Some of the best soft-floor camper trailers have incredible tents engineered to open and close in specific place, wrap around certain things and drop to an exact height.
Of course, you can still get camper trailer tents custom made. Businesses like Southern Cross Canvas in Melbourne are speciality tent makers and although they don't build trailers anymore, their rear-fold, soft-floor camper that I reviewed in 2008 for a 4WD magazine is still the simplest of its kind I've ever used. (I lived for nine months in one of their single-pole touring tents, so I can certainly vouch for the quality of the company's work. Also, you've obviously seen all of those dome-style swags that everybody makes or sells nowadays? SCC did them first.)
Nick Harkins, who owns Southern Cross, told me that most people who get a tent custom made have done a lot of camping. "Generally, you will find customers after a custom-made tent are experienced camping enthusiasts. They have experienced various forms of camping ranging from swags, tents and various trailers. From that they have developed an idea what will suit their style of camping. It is a little more expensive doing so in this manner, in comparison to the off the shelf or imported options, but the customer has a tent that suits their specific requirements and have the assurances of a quality-built product with backed up warranty and after sales service."
A third option, which is popular with campers after a very simple and minimalistic experience, is to fit a roof-top tent to their trailer. Roof-top tents are little more than a bed wrapped in canvas or sandwiched between two fibreglass panels, but good ones can be set up in minutes, rarely need pegging down and are lighter than full-sized camper trailer tents. They're also easily removable. Some, like the Feldon Shelter Crows Nest Extended, even have add-on rooms in various wall heights (to suit different cars predominantly), so can be adapted easily to different trailers. As roof-tops tents can be priced anywhere between $700 and $3000, there's one to suit just about any budget.
Whichever way you choose, there are three things to consider. The first is size – you can have anything from a simple roof-top tent that's only got room for two people to lie down, all the way through to canvas mansions with three rooms and somewhere for the butler to sleep.
The second is canvas. 10 years ago, there was no question about which was better – Aussie canvas won hands down every-time. Today, Aussie canvas is still better, but it's a lot closer. You used to buy the best because the next best was below average. Now, the best and second best are further apart in price, rather than quality.
Last, and maybe most importantly, is how well it sets up. Many ‘cheap' camper trailer tents are a nightmare to set up, need to be constantly readjusted and have more poles than Ikea has Allen keys. The best tents set up in a couple of minutes – no exaggeration. If you have to adjust more than one internal tent bow, it's not worth it.
If you've got a trailer and need a tent, these are some of the best options on the market right now.
04. Southern Cross Canvas
Cost: Custom work, price on application
Overview: Southern Cross Canvas has consistently been making some of Australia's best quality tents and camper trailer tents for decades. The company exclusively uses Wax Converters Dynaproofed Canvas and can sew it in any way you like. Experts in simple setups and trendsetting ideas.
03. Feldon Shelter Crow's Nest Extended
Cost: From $2599
Overview: Feldon Shelter is a New Zealand company that only designs and sells roof-top tents. They've got a distinct curved shape and heaps of convenient features like underfloor cargo nets and shoe storage. They really suit camper intallations because the optional wall kit can be purchased in three different heights, so you don't need to mount the tent at the same level as a 4WD's roof racks to use it.
02. Marlin Campers/Oztrail
Cost: From $2700
Overview: While imported tents are typically hard to use and have complicated frames, the Oztrail tents are simple, very easy to set up and quite good quality. They come in a varitety of sizes to suit single travellers to families that obviously don't own a TV. Marlin Campers can even pair them with simple on- or off-road trailers, or find the tent that fits your existing one.
01. Walkabout Campers
Cost: From $3000
Overview: Most caravanners are familiar with the Gall Boys and their wild adventures in northern Australia, but few realise one of them builds camper trailers tents from a small shed in Queensland. And they're bloody good. Simple, elegant and in great colours, the tents are top notch and the simple trailers are built around the corner. It's a great, cheap option that's all Aussie. However, Craig does only have capacity to make 45 a year, so you might have to wait a bit for yours.