Buyer Guide RV Comparison

Why Northern Lite?

Why not an Australian made Truck Camper. There are a few but not in the same class as the North American manufacturers who have been making truck campers for many years for a lot bigger market. Sadly Australian manufacturers cannot compete as the majority of the components that go into a camper come predominantly from the USA. To make matters worse, Australian manufacturing is weighed down with rules and regulations and taxes etc making it impossible to compete with overseas manufacturers. I guess that is why there are no motor vehicles made in Australia.

We have calculated that it would more than double the cost to build a Northern Lite Australian Ultimate Camper in Australia, using all Australian components if they existed.

So why Northern Lite Campers? Well we believe they make the best quality truck campers on the market. Their finish is second to none and the components used are all top shelf. The moulded fibreglass body means they are lighter and stronger, key considerations when you intend to drag them around some of Australia’s rough roads. They are a long standing company with an impeccable reputation with a range of campers that are well suited to the Australian market.

Northern Lite campers 2 piece moulded fibreglass construction means they only have one seal where the top overlaps the bottom section. Most other truck campers are made like a box with several flat surfaces joined together. These joins or corners are the weakest point hence any flexing or movement happens at the joint. This “box” then sits on the back of your truck and you hope that these joints hold together when the road gets rough and things are moving around. Then each of these joints has two seals which must remain water tight. If you don’t check them and re seal them regularly, then water can damage the interior of your camper. It’s not hard to work out what will last the longest on the back of your truck - a “wardrobe” type camper or a fibreglass tank.

Northern Lite have been working closely with Truck Campers Australia to ensure that the Australian models are factory made to meet our requirements regarding 240 volt power and Australian gas compliance plus a range of standard inclusions we consider essential for travel in Australia.

Why Not a Pop Top?

There seems to be a misconception in Australia that if you have a pop top you will save thousands of dollars in fuel costs. It probably won’t happen unless you travel for 20 years or more. The average hard side camper is probably 30cm to 40cm higher than a similar pop top. That would normally create more wind resistance and therefore increase your fuel costs, but not by much. However the hard sided campers have a flat, smooth, sloped front which is aerodynamically superior to most pop tops which have a wind resistant join where the top pops.

If you really want to save fuel costs, take the foot off the accelerator. My wife drove back from a trip once (due to the long term effects of happy hour) and she achieved 4 litres to the 100k more economical than I had been on the same trip, yet she travelled only about 10klm per hour slower.

Another common misconception is that pop tops are much lighter. In actual fact there is little difference in weight between similar sized hard sided and pop top campers.

You have to pop the top to get into them, usually through a door more suited to short children and pets. Then you have that 30 to 40 centimetres of vinyl as a makeshift extension to your walls. This is poor insulation, summer or winter. In addition it is space that is wasted as there is no way you can use it for storage, a major consideration with truck campers.

Pop tops make it hard to have much on the roof due to the weight factor. So it is not likely you will have an air conditioner, 2 solar panels, a fan or two, wind up antenna and a skylight. Attaching an awning may also be a problem.

A shower and toilet in a pop top requires a pop top bathroom, unless you are really into the open plan living idea.

I will never be convinced that a pop top is as structurally sound as a hard side camper. If you cut the roof off something then re attach it then it must be weaker and there must be some movement in the entire unit.

The more joints you have the more leaks you will get, water and dust.  Campers flex and shake and seals break.

Apart from the that, pop tops are good.

What about Slide Outs?

When we first started looking at slide on campers in 2000 we were very interested in models that had a slide out to give more room inside. Then we discovered there were a few problems with these.  While they look good at Caravan shows where they are spread out in lots of space they don't show you the camper with the slide out slid in!  Often there is not enough room to get into the camper unless you first slide out the unit.  This is often not possible when you stop for lunch or whatever in a normal car park and even on the side of the road as the slide outs are USA models and they slide out  on our drivers side, into the traffic.The truck campers with slide out units are all substantially heavier and they use a lot of your battery power to slide in and out. There have been  problems with them in USA and this is on their Super Highways, not our Australian roads which are a bit rough till to get to some of the out of the way places then they can be worse.They have problems with leaking water and that means they would also leak dust. Like pop tops, the bit that slides out is impossible to properly insulate.You can't have an awning where the slide out goes. What you gain in interior space you lose in storage space.I found this article on the internet written by a guy called Texas Buddy. Not sure if it is true.

I once bought a saddle with a slide out.  The slide out was an outhouse.  Oh,  in the showroom the saddle looked spacious.  I bought one and they mounted it on my horse.  I headed back to the ranch, about half way home, nature called.   I pushed the button on the saddle horn and the slide out sprung open.  I climbed over in the outhouse and my damn horse fell over on its side.    

I should have bought the double slide out saddle, that way the weight would have balanced out with a slide out on each side of the saddle. If I had gotten the double slide out, I could be using the outhouse while watching the campfire burn in the other slide out.  But no, I was trying to save five dollars and I just got the saddle with the one slide out. 

I turned around and headed back to the Amarillo Trading Post to return that damn one sided slide out saddle.  They said I had used the outhouse and there was no return, but they did throw in a trailer hitch.  We tied the hitch to the horses tail and I headed back to the ranch.   

Now here is something you mentioned that they didn't tell me at the trading post,  those damn slide outs leak something fierce.  On the way home, a terrible Texas thunder storm hit and that slide out started leaking and almost drowned me and the horse.   

Next time I am buying that Northern Lite Saddle, because it has extra head room.  

Texas Buddy 

Why Buy a Slide On Truck Camper? 

The decision to buy a truck camper was based on a good amount of research and some unexpected sound thinking and logic. The following were the key factors in the decision:

Firstly we wanted just one vehicle to register, insure and maintain. The vehicle had to be a 4 wheel drive as we like to drive on beaches and occasionally up the odd goat track.

A truck camper is easily removed when not travelling. There is no registration and minimal maintenance costs, no tyres, brakes etc. The truck camper can also be removed and stored when we head up some of those out of the way places, the aforementioned goat tracks, where the camper may not be able to go and we just take the camping gear.

We wanted to be able to tow a boat (you could take a horse float, or trailer with any of your favourite toys). Not necessarily a huge boat but something big enough to for Mrs Mother to travel in waters also inhabited by crocodilian species, and therefore the fabled barramundi, probably 4.5 to 5 metres in length should do the trick, the boat that is, not the crocs.

Visiting family and friends without inconveniencing them and at the same time, having your own space. 

Unlike a motor home, when your truck gets a bit tired you can replace it with another of your choice, without having the hassle of selling a second hand motor home and then buying another at the inflated prices asked.

Apart from Cape Leveque, you can take a slide on to places that caravans and motor homes are not allowed. Also to many places that caravans and motor homes cannot go.

When we are not travelling, we have a usable vehicle. We pay 12 months insurance and rego etc, so why not use it for the full 12 months.

RV Comparison

Over the past 15 years we have spent a lot of time researching the various options in the RV industry for travelling around Australia. Truck Campers were initially last on the list to but ended up on top and by a long margin (see - “Why Buy a Truck Camper”).  

Caravan

Cost is significantly more for a van with off road ability, the best example being Bushtracker, Kunda Park, so they say. Extra registration and maintenance costs (tyres, wheel bearings, brakes etc). Fuel costs are substantially more. They are a lot harder on tyres, brakes and drive train on the tow vehicle. There are less places you can take a van compared to a truck camper. While you do have a vehicle to use when you get to where you are going, you would only have the ability to take a rooftop tinnie and not a trailer with a boat or other ‘toys’ or a horse float. And trucks hate you!

5th Wheeler

As above, with an even greater cost to buy and little or no chance of any off road ability. More room than a caravan but harder to find a place to park it. Should tow better than a caravan but only if set up properly. Need a decent sized vehicle to tow it, as you do with the larger caravans, or you end up with the tail wagging the dog. The Australian made ones I looked at were better built but expensive, while the American 5th wheelers were very nice but also expensive and needed substantial modifications to meet Australian Design Rules. And trucks hate you more!!

Motor Home 

High purchase cost and not useable as a vehicle for any other purpose. Could theoretically tow a boat but only to limited boat ramps. Depending on the size, running costs (such as fuel, maintenance and registration and insurance etc). are high. Often hard to take shopping. Can tow a small car with the larger motor homes but hard to find a park. You can get off road motor homes, at a price, but this still does not allow you to go to some of the places where a good 4wd can go with the camper removed (and I would venture even with the camper still on).

Truck Camper or Slide-On Camper?

Truck Camper is the term used predominantly in America, but also many other countries, to describe a Camper Van that sits on the back of a truck. That makes sense but for some reason here in Australia we tend to call them Slide-Ons, which is slightly weird as they don’t slide on, you have to jack them up and drive under them. When you remove them does that mean they should be called slide-offs? It would be easier, I guess to get one to slide off rather than on. We like the term Truck Camper because it aptly describes what they are.

Usually in Australia we put our truck campers on the back of a one tonne truck with a tray back. In the USA they put them on the back of a two tonne ute which they call a 3/4 tonne pickup? And they call Caravans Travel Trailers. The terminology is not as important as the reasoning behind it.

They are also called Slide-in Campers, Ute Campers, Tray Campers and a few other things. Regardless they all go on the back of a truck - it may be a small truck, like a utility, but it is still a truck. 

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