How To Choose A Slide On Camper

How to choose a slide on camper feature image

More and more tracks are closing access to trailers in the Australian outback, or they are strongly discouraged by the authorities due to safety concerns, such as rollovers, axle/chassis damage, and being stranded as well as environmental damage caused by trailer towing in rough loose terrains. A slide on camper can be used to go further and do more.

What is a slide on camper - Trayon Camper in the outback - Slide on Campers

A slide on camper is the camper of choice for outback touring in Australia. If you don’t know what a slide on camper is, check out our recent article: What is a Slide on Camper?

This article highlights the key steps to consider when choosing a slide on camper for your existing 4X4 ute. In summary here are the steps on how to choose a slide on camper for a ute.

A guide to choosing a slide on camper for your 4WD Ute

  1. Estimate payload and identify your safe slide on camper weight
  2. Upgrade your vehicle to suit purpose
  3. Choose type of slide on camper
  4. Consider weight distribution of the slide on camper
  5. Consider warranty implications
  6. Identify materials and structure
  7. Make a short list and go check them out

Estimate payload and identify your safe slide on camper weight

The most crucial part of choosing a slide on camper is answering this question:

“What is the weight of the slide on camper?”

Or another way of putting it is:

“Can my ute carry it without exceeding its GVM?”

This is more important than aesthetics and features.

If you exceed your manufacturer's Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM), not only is it ILLEGAL, but it will:

  • Void your vehicle's insurance cover
  • Significantly increase risk of breaking chassis, suspension components and axles
  • Significantly increase risk of injury or worse for you, your passengers and other people on the road around you

Simply put, don’t do it. It is not worth the risk.

It is the same concept as following and adhering to your vehicle's towing capacity.

It isn’t always intuitive to know the limits of your ute, let alone understand what those limits mean practically. But it is entirely your responsibility to not exceed the limits as far as the law is concerned.

In this step, we will outline how to identify the capacity of your ute, and equip you with the knowledge to avoid exceeding your GVM. These pictures illustrate what has happened in the past:

The first consideration is to know your utes payload specifications.

What is your Ute Manufacturers Payload Specifications?

Payload specification for your ute is not always listed in the manual or on the vehicle.

But you can work it out. To do this, you will need to identify two key numbers from your vehicle's manual, often located in the glove box. (Sometimes this is listed on a plaque inside the door jam of one of the front doors). The two numbers are:

  • Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) - This is the total amount of weight your vehicle can weigh, including passengers, luggage, bull bars, winches and other accessories. (NOTE: GVM also includes the ball weight if you are towing a trailer).
  • Kerb Weight (KW) or Mass - This is the weight of an empty vehicle with a full tank of fuel and other liquids such as coolant and oils. Without any accessories like bull bars and ute tray back.

To calculate the payload capacity, you then subtract the Kerb Weight from the Gross Vehicle Mass. For the purpose of this, we will denote Payload as PL. In other words:

PL = GVM - KW

Here is an example for a 2017 Mazda BT-50 XT Dual Cab. On their website it states the GVM = 3200 kg and a KW = 1932 kg. So the PL equation would become:
PL = 3200 - 1932 = 1268

Giving a Payload of 1268 kg. So what does this mean? It simply means that the weight of all additions to the vehicle, including accessories, people, luggage, campers, tray back etc must be less than or equal to 1.268 tonne.

Giving a Payload of 1268 kg. So what does this mean? It simply means that the weight of all additions to the vehicle, including accessories, people, luggage, campers, tray back etc must be less than or equal to 1.268 tonne.

 

What is my payload? How to choose a slide on camper for your ute

Estimate how much weight you need to carry

Let us consider a real life example. Say you want to take your mates camping and fishing in your new BT-50. Before you go, you equip the vehicle with the following accessories and gear:

ItemWeight (kg)
Front bar with rock sliders and side steps110
Winch30
Snorkel, LED lights, solar panel and other electronics (amplifiers etc)15
Full Long range tank70
Alloy tray100
100L of water + tank105
Auxiliary 100A AGM battery30
Roof rack20
Under tray storage with recovery gear15
Towing a tinny in a trailer with a ball weight50
Your friend Sam, Michael and yourself240
Fridge20
Beers and food10
Stove and gas bottle11
Crockery and cutlery3
Fishing gear10
Swags and tarps40
Additional luggage10
Total889

 

Adding all of these up, you get 889 kg. That is only 379 kg shy of the total GVM of 1268 kg for the vehicle.

So, you can see that adding a slide on camper heavier than 379 kg on the back of the tray in addition to all of this gear, will easily overload the vehicle. This would void the warranty and put Sam, Michael and yourself at risk of injury or worse.

It is the same story with most 4WD utes in Australia, in fact most utes are within the 1 tonne ute category (utes that have an approximate 1 tonne payload).

campervan-festival

Don't over do it: Great camping list. Image Source 

Calculate safe slide on camper weight

When travelling in outback Australia it is NOT about maximising how much you can carry, but actually, it is about minimising how much you carry to put less strain on the vehicle's chassis, suspension, axles, drive gear and components.

When travelling in outback Australia it is NOT about maximising how much you can carry, but actually, it is about minimising how much you carry to put less strain on the vehicle's chassis, suspension, axles, drive gear and components.

You can get GVM upgrades done to most vehicles to increase payload, and if you have the budget for it, it is worth considering. We won't go into detail here, as it deserves another dedicated post.

With such little weight for a slide on camper, it is essential that you find the right balance between creature comforts and not exceeding your GVM both for your 4WD and the slide on camper.

By expanding on the example above with a Mazda BT-50. Let us revise your load to be:

ItemWeight (kg)
Front bar with rock sliders and side steps110
Winch30
Snorkel, LED lights, solar panel and other electronics (amplifiers etc)10
Full long range tank0
Alloy Tray100
100L of water + tank105
Auxiliary 100A AGM battery30
Roof rack0
Under tray storage with recovery gear15
Towing a tinny in a trailer with a ball weight50
Your friend Sam, Michael and yourself240
Fridge0
Beers and food10
Stove and gas bottle0
Crockery and cutlery3
Fishing gear10
Swags and tarps0
Additional luggage, swags and fishing gear10
Total723

 

We have made some hard calls here. You decide that if you get a slide on camper, you will already have the following inside:

  • Water tank
  • Fridge
  • Stove and gas bottle
  • Shelter, so no need for tarps or swags
  • Additional battery and electronics

You also decide, to maximise weight for the slide on the following accessories are not necessary:

  • Roof racks
  • Long range tank

This has reduced your load to 723 kg, giving you a maximum of 545kg for a slide on camper and any additional gear you want to take.

Upgrade your vehicle to suit purpose

Do you intend to go off road? If so, make sure your vehicle is fit for that purpose.

Very few of the 4X4 utes available on the market are capable of going off road from the showroom floor.

There is a reason outback Australia is commonly called Landcruiser country. That’s because the Landcruiser 70 series is the trusted platform for farmers.

However, even a stock Landcruiser 79 series isn’t without problems when going bush.

One of the biggest issues with stock utes are their factory shock absorbers. Generally built for lightweight road driving, not the Australian Outback.

Other things to consider, include:

  • Bull bar
  • GVM upgrade
  • Complete ADR approved suspension upgrade including lift
  • Underbody armour
  • Snorkle
  • Tray for slide on camper

How to choose a slide on camper - Toyota Landcruiser LC70 in action

A Note on GVM Upgrades

This is quite a complex topic and warrants another full post. Every ute has its caveats when it comes to GVM upgrades.

Some allow a second stage manufacturing upgrade, something you can order when you purchase a new vehicle before it is registered, this is regulated at the Federal level.

And some allow an aftermarket GVM upgrade, which is regulated at the state level.

Steel or Aluminum tray?

Yes, steel is stronger than aluminium. However, it’s strength gain is at a huge cost…. you guessed it, weight. Modern aluminium flat bed tray manufacturing techniques have significantly increased the strength of trays.

So there is no need to have a steel tray which eats up precious payload capacity.

Steel trays typically range between 200-300kgs. That’s a 4-5 man lift!

While aluminium trays range from 100-200kgs. So you could save around 100kg in the tray alone.

Choose type of slide on camper

There are various things to consider that are personal to you when deciding on a slide on camper. The main questions you want to ask yourself is:

  • What is my budget?
  • How often will I go camping?
  • What features do I need?
  • Where will I be travelling?

What is my budget?

New slide on campers/canopies ranges from $6000 (bare bones) to $50000+ depending on class and features and materials.

How often will I go camping?

Are you a weekend camper, or a long-term tourer? Knowing this gives you an idea of the features you require. E.g. short setup time, internal/external kitchen bench, water tanks, hot water service, Lithium or AGM battery etc.

Australian made slide on camper

 

What features do I really need?

Slide on campers are typically fitted out as a complete camper, with a fridge, gas bottle, battery, water tank, kitchen bench, bed, dining area etc.

If you already have your own gear like a fridge, water tank, cooking gear etc, you may want something bare bones that you can fit out yourself.

Or as a tradie, something multi-purpose that can be used to house your tools during the week, and camping gear on the weekend.

Vintage Luxury Camper - Majestic bus

Glamping Features: Source

Where will I be travelling?

Are you planning to travel to caravan parks or the Canning Stock route? You must match your vehicle and slide on camper to the rashest terrain you intend to traverse.

For example, some slide on campers have non-removable legs, that hang out from the wheelbase, and tend to hang low. These can be torn off or bent on off road tracks.

 

Legs that can get torn off - slide on camper

Decide on Class of Slide on camper

In our post, “what is a slide on camper” we discussed the three classes of slide on campers and their price ranges. They are:

Class 1: Slide on Canopy Camper - simple canopy with roof top tent

This is usually the lightest class of slide on camper. Depending on fit out, can range from 170 kg - 400 kg

It could be a canopy that is used during the week for work, and is easily converted into a camper for the weekend. Ideal for tradies or budget glampers who don’t want to sleep in a tent.

Typically class 1 slide on canopy campers range from AUD $6500 - $25,000 depending on materials, features and accessories required.

How to choose a slide on camper - Class 1 slide on camper - traymate campers

Class 1 Slide on camper: Traymate Camper

Class 2: Purpose Built Slide on Campers - full featured camper.

This class has all the creature comforts built in from day one. Fridge, gas bottle, cook top, kitchen bench, dining area, sink, 2-3 person accommodation, water tank, annex etc.

Typically a box design with a oyster shell that folds over the side or the rear.

Note that, partial rear folding oyster designs are more susceptible to dust penetrating the seal from the trailing wind funnel of the vehicle when travelling in the Outback.

To be used for weekend campers, but also sustain long-distance touring.

The dry weight for this class of camper across the industry ranges dramatically from around 370 kg to 1000 kg depending on manufacturer and accessories.

When you only have 545kg to play with (from the example above), extreme care must be taken when choosing this class of slide on.

It is too easy to be attracted to the bells and whistles and aesthetics. Eliminate any slide on from your list if it means you will exceed the GVM of your vehicle.

Class 2 slide on campers range in price from around AUD $30,000 - $45,000 depending on materials, features and accessories required.

Class 2 Slide on camper: Trayon camper

Class 2 Slide on camper: Trayon camper

Class 3: Cab over Slide on Camper - Full featured campers built using Caravan methodologies and generally have a hard roof structure of some sort.

When you think of a caravan, the first thing that comes to mind is definitely not lightweight. These are heavier because they are built out over the cab and commonly used methodologies and materials that are designed to be on a separate set of wheels, axles and suspension, i.e. a caravan.

So, yes this class of slide on camper is typically the heaviest. The dry weight for this class range from 420 kg - 1000 kg +. And commonly have all the creature comforts.

There are very few class 3 campers that you can carry on a 1 tonne ute without exceeding your GVM.

These are ideal for vehicles that have a payload of around 1500 kg or more, to safely allow for additional gear, people and the slide on camper. Such as Ford F250/350, Iveco Daily, Mercedes G Professional etc.

Class 3 slide on campers range from AUD $50,000 to $100,000+ depending on make and features.

There are hybrid class 2-3 campers which are still cab over, however, they usually save weight by having a pop open top and utilises a lightweight purpose built frame.

Identify how the slide on camper distributes its internal weight?

Next to the weight of a slide on, something that is less spoken about, and perhaps more important is:

“Where is the overall weight of the slide on camper situated”?

For example, if all the weight e.g. fridge, AGM batteries, pantry, gas bottle and water tank is behind the rear axle (at the rear of the slide on), you are at extreme risk of buckling or snapping the chassis, especially if your Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) is exceeded.

One of two scenarios can occur if you overload your vehicle with too much weight hanging behind the rear axle.

  • Scenario 1 Light front end
    If the chassis is strong enough, your rear axle will be used as a pivot point for the chassis, and a seesaw effect will reduce the weight over the front axle.The reason why this is a cause of concern is once your front wheels begin to raise up it begins to reduce traction, steering and braking capability. And I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a recipe of disaster!
  • Scenario 2 Broken chassis
    The name says it all, if the chassis is not strong enough, your chassis will buckle, crack or snap somewhere above or just in front of the rear axle. And if your GVM was exceeded, your insurance won't cover it. So in short, one very expensive exercise.

Here is an a graphic demonstrating the concept:

 

Infographic of Slide on camper weight distribution consideration

 

It is simple mechanics really, something we can’t escape no matter how much money we throw at it.

This is particularly important for slide on campers on dual cab utes, where the tray sits typically right above or just in front of the rear axle. It is impossible to move the load further toward the center of the wheelbase like you can with a single cab ute.

Similarly, if all the weight is on one side of the slide on camper, it will put an unnecessary load on the shock absorber, wheel and axle.

Ideally, you want the load to be as close to the center of the wheel base, both front to back and left to right.

Consider warranty implications 

We expect every product to have a warranty these days, however, some products require it more than others. Slide on campers are definitely in that category, especially in Australia.

Why is warranty so important?

Well, when you are in the Outback, travelling 1000s of kilometres of harsh off-road conditions, you, your vehicle and camper are put to the test. There is no doubt about it. Slide on campers travel further and deeper than caravans and trailers, they take a beating.

When something breaks, that could mean an end to your trip, huge delay in a nearby town, complete isolation or injury and a very costly experience.

Warranty for your slide on camper from an Australian camper manufacturer means you can easily get parts sent out to you in to a caravan park in Broome or other remote towns. You can get repairs from their closest factory or dealer.

If you buy a Chinese product to save on cost, you get no support for warranty repairs without shipping it back to China! Expensive exercise.

When touring, something will break, it is just a matter of when. You need a support team, hence a good warranty clause is a part of that team.

Look for 5-10 Year Australian structural warranty that covers you while you are off road!

Other factors to consider about choosing a manufacturer for your slide on camper include:

  • Age of manufacturer
  • Heritage of manufacturer
  • Reviews from customers
  • Talk to real people about their experiences

Australian made slide on camper

Identify materials and structure

Let’s face it, some materials are heavier than others. Some build methodologies are stronger than others.

This could be challenging to find out. But here are some basics to work out:

  • What material does the frame consist of?
  • What material does the outside shell consist of?
  • What is the most common cabinetry frame material?

If the answer to 2 is mostly fibreglass, keep in mind that it is incredibly brittle and notoriously difficult to repair. It is also hard to get fibreglass consistent over large surfaces, so it can be quite heavy.

If the answer to 1 is aluminium, how are the joins bonded? Welding aluminium can weaken its strength by approximately a third.

aluminium stress fracture

As a buyer why is this important?

Well, when you are touring or overlanding in the bush, small issues tend to become magnified by ten fold.

Corrugations, potholes, ditches, trenches, river crossings, dunes and cut outs all take their toll to your camper and vehicle.

Make a shortlist and go check them out

Okay, so we have covered quite a lot in this article. But as you can see, by following the above 6 steps, you can create a profile of a slide on camper which is safe for your 4WD Ute, and can take you where you want to go but also meets your financial requirements.

In summary:

Step 1: Estimate the payload and identify your safe slide on camper weight

We learnt how much weight you can safely carry a slide on camper without exceeding the GVM of your vehicle

Step 2: Upgrade your vehicle to suit purpose

Your vehicle is doing all the hard work, make sure it is fit for your intended purpose. Stock standard utes are not designed for off road touring. At the very least consider upgrading your shock absorbers if you plan to go off the Tarmac.

Step 3: Choose class of slide on camper

We outlined 3 classes of slide on campers, their weights and rough price ranges for each. Ultimately, if you only have 550kg left of your payload after you subtract all the gear and people, this will limit you to a class 1 and 2 slide on camper. Unless you go with a hybrid class 2-3.

If your budget is less than 25k, this means you can go for a Class 1 slide on camper. Even fit it out yourself to save some money.

Step 4: Consider weight distribution of slide on camper

Here we explored what could happen if all the weight of the camper internals (batteries, water tank, gas bottle, fridge, pantry) sits behind the rear axle. Weight must be as close to the center of the wheelbase as possible.

Step 5: Consider warranty implications

Don’t get caught out in the middle of nowhere with a broken camper and no warranty. Look for 5-10 year warranty Australian warranty that covers you off road, and will post items to you wherever you are.

Step 6: Identify materials and structure

Make sure you go with a manufacturer who prioritises minimising weight and maximising durability.

And finally, go check it out. Most Australian slide on manufactures attend caravan and camping shows around Australia regularly. Here is a list of shows coming up.

At Trayon Campers we do build lightweight slide on campers, however, this article was written with the mindset to help people navigate some of the intricate safety issues with the GVM of their vehicles. All information was well researched, we hope it is genuinely useful.

See you at a campsite soon! Travel safe!

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Image of Slide on camper - lithium battery upgrade

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