It’s no secret the most beautiful places in the world are often the most difficult to access. Unfortunately, many of these places are off limits to most camper trailers and caravans due to the risk they could break or conservation issues!
If only there was a way to keep the self contained camping unit of a camper trailer, but remove the liability a trailer creates in rough landscapes…..
Or is it slide on camper? Well, it could be either. They are both a type of ute camper. These types of camping set ups can get in places wherever your vehicle can, because they sit directly on it!
This article explains the key differences between the slide on and slide in camper, and compares how they stack up when touring in the outback. There's nothing like a good old head to head!
Finding the right option is critical in maximising your adventure experience.
A ute camper is a beautifully simple set-up for off road adventures.
Both the slide on and slide in campers consist of a self contained camping unit placed directly onto the back of a ute.
Both types of campers are made for the generalist. They combine the advantages of a camper trailer while removing off-road liability issues, meaning they will suit long or short trips in remote or non-remote areas.
They make a life of touring the backcountry a lot easier:
After half an hour setting up our camper trailer, a ute camper darts in right next to us, flips a few things and the owners were relaxing having a beer five minutes later! I was still hammering in the last pegs! - Camper Trailer Owner
Check out our recent article detailing the differences between slide ons and off road camper trailers.
Once you have made the decision to go down the ute camper path, a path of mobility and durability, it becomes a question of which type of ute camper suits your needs.
Quite simply, it all key differences stem from the foundation of the camper, and that is the mounting method. There are two primary styles of ute platform.
The first is commonly called tub or style-side or tub. The second is called tray-back or flat-deck. Which leads to the following definitions:
The answer depends on which country you’re in.
In the United States slide in campers are more popular because vehicles are bigger (i.e. Ford and General Motors pickup trucks).
There is more room to slide a camping unit into the back of the tub. In these cases, a slide in camper is often chosen due to visual appeal, because there is plenty of space.
In Australia the majority of utes are European or Japanese brands, which are smaller than American vehicles, providing less space in a tub.
As a result, many Australians prefer tray back utes, providing more versatility and functionality in the camper layout, while also improving durability in off road situations. Decisions are more often made on functionality, not aesthetics.
Purpose built slide ons optimise the space to weight ratio and are therefore the preferred option in Australia due to more rugged terrain and more severe stresses incurred while touring or overlanding over long distances.
This is not about which camper is better. It is about which camper is best fit for your purpose. The purpose being to survive all the variety of off-road adventures, and make life in remote destinations easier.
When touring in remote areas, key considerations include:
The camper’s mounting method relates to all of these things, so let’s compare the two methods below.
All vehicles have a maximum amount of weight they can safely support (i.e. the weight of the vehicle plus the weight of its payload). Manufacturers call this the gross vehicle mass (GVM).
Exceeding your vehicle's GVM can lead to vehicle damage, safety issues and can void your insurance policy. These issues become all the more serious 1000 kilometres from civilisation.
Exceeding your vehicle’s GVM is just the same as exceeding its towing capacity.
As is often the case, once you add the fuel, off-road gear, resources, humans and cargo, there isn't much available weight load left for typical European and Japanese utes!
Slide on campers: Purpose built slide ons should be made lightweight but strong, in part due to the simple way they attach to the vehicle. There is a good chance a slide on camper will safely fit within your vehicle's weight allowances.
Our recent article on slide on aluminium ute canopies provides an example of what you can expect from an ultra lightweight camper.
Slide in campers: Slide in campers are usually the heavier option. They are fine if the GVM isn’t an issue. However, if it is a concern they will most likely be unsuitable as they have a much higher center of gravity to accommodate the high walls of the tub.
And thus, more building materials are needed, adding weight. Most slide in campers in Australia exceed the GVM of your average 1-tonne ute.
Check out our guide on how to choose a slide on for an in-depth process to identify your weight allowances.
There is no greater asset in the Outback than being prepared, this includes having the right gear. Essential gear for remote travel includes:
More storage capacity equates to more space to bring essential gear, and even the nice-to-haves.
Slide on campers: The absence of wheel arches in trayback utes means slide ons can utilise more tray space which means more storage capacity and more spacious functional layouts.
Side by side, a slide on verse slide in camper of the same size will demonstrate the slide on has the more internal space and a better weight distribution as heavier items can be located further forward in the design.
Accessing gear via side compartments is also easier with no wheels arches in the way (and there is nothing more annoying than having to unload half the vehicle to get to an item).
Slide in campers: The layout is restricted by the wheel arches of a styleside tub. This restricts storage capacity, camper features and access to gear within as well as something as simple as internal space for two or more occupants.
The type of camper you choose also affects the stability of your vehicle in off road situations. This is related to the campers weight distribution, and how you pack your gear inside.
Slide on Campers: With more space available on a tray-back ute, slide ons don’t need to be built as tall as slide in campers. By allowing you to pack more gear at the tray level, it lowers the vehicle's centre of gravity, making it more stable in difficult terrain.
Slide on Campers: A slide on camper with the same internal volume as a slide on camper must be built taller, due to less available space in a ute tub. This means less weight at tray level, more weight up high, and thus more instability.
Breaking down in the bush is no one’s cup of tea. The way your camper is mounted can expose weak points in your vehicle, influencing the chance of a remote breakdown.
Some Australian roads are notorious vehicle eaters, such as the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley or the route through Cape York in Tropical Northern Queensland.
These tracks contains hundreds of kilometres of violent corrugations, bulldust holes (a hole in the track which fills with fine dust that hides the hole) and gibber (landscapes filled with pebbles the size of a fist).
Slide on campers: In trayback utes, the tray is usually fixed to the vehicle's chassis by nuts and bolts. This enables a slide on to utilise the vehicle's suspension to securely carry a load over rough terrain and the vehicle’s tray is more securely mounted to the vehicle.
Slide in campers: A styleside tub is generally attached using a thread welded to a thin piece of plate steel. When loaded with 400+ kilograms of slide in camper and tackling rough terrain, the tub fastenings can strip from the vehicle's chassis causing significant damage.
Travelling in the bush or living in remote areas can throw up all sorts of surprises. Who knows what you might need to carry on the back of your vehicle.
Slide on campers: Storage space on a tray-back ute is less restricted than a styleside tub, and thus more flexible. Many slide ons can easily slide off the tray, freeing up the flexible tray space for other uses.
This means those with slide on campers are well equipped to deal with most situations the Outback can conjure. Most trays are made from hardy materials, extruded aluminium is the prefered option for its lightweight and its resistance to scratches, dents and rust.
Slide in campers: A style-side tub can also be used for a range of situations. The range is just less than a tray-back due to it’s awkward layout of usable space plus the presence of 2pak paint means you are less inclined to utilize the load area if it means unsightly scratches or dents which can lead to rust.
Now you know the key differences between a slide on and slide in camper, you may be closer to finding your ideal option.
No, a slide on is still a viable option.
The tub can be replaced with an aluminium tray to mount a slide on so you can feel confident your rig will meet the test of the Outback. This also opens up the other advantages of a tray over a tub.
There is most likely a tray fitter in your local area right now (in Australia) that can easily remove your ute’s tub and set you up with a sturdy tray.
Check out our comprehensive guide to choosing a slide on camper that will suite your needs. There is no reason why you can’t find something that ticks every box!
These days more and more people are exploring the far reaches of the planet on four wheels. More cars on dusty tracks means more frequent and sizeable corrugations, wheel ruts, and unstable river crossings.
Add this to the already rough nature of the country, and a strong safe mobile camping set up is all the more important.
As we have demonstrated, a slide on camper has many advantages over a slide in when the going gets rough, and will give you the confidence you need in your rig when driving off road and into the never never.