REDARC Camper Trailer of the Year 2020

Sam Richards — 7 February 2020
We list the winners, explain how the event works and explore the ins and outs of what was a fascinating 2020 competition.

At the tail-end of 2019, Camper magazine invited 13 of the best camper trailers to the Gold Coast, where they were rigorously assessed by four experienced judges over the course of a week. 

The 2020 event featured four competitive categories — under $25k, $25-50k, over $50k, and hybrids — and also invited judges to assess a class-leading Wedgetail slide-on camper. Now, the results are in. You can find them at the bottom of this article and in more detail within each of the respective reviews.

Every year, we organise our flagship event to ensure it accords with our key principles as a magazine and as a business. We invite judges and camper trailer manufacturers on the basis of their experience, qualifications and track record. We adhere to the system of having the most experienced independent reviewers assessing the best camper trailers on the marketplace. 


WHY WE HOLD THIS EVENT

The raison d’être of Camper magazine and our flagship Camper Trailer of the Year event is to provide the buying public with an accurate, authoritative, and fully independent assessment of the camper trailer options which exist for them. This guiding force is codified in how we conduct our reviews, both at the event and throughout the year.

Why? We understand the importance of independent reviews and have done since we released our very first edition of Camper back in 2009. Our readers want reviews to reflect a genuine assessment of the merits and pitfalls of the camper trailer in question, and of the market as a whole. It is our mission to provide them with that.

Each and every one of us at Camper feels a deep sense of responsibility to deliver accurate information, because we know that camper trailers are a considerable investment, and that what we report can guide buying decisions. 

We also know that, through unbiased reporting, we can contribute to the continual improvement of the industry. By keeping our reviews independent and rigorously upholding our commitment to accuracy, we can play a key role in the ongoing development of the products that are helping Aussies experience our country’s wonderful landscapes.

On top of this, we know our readers are intelligent. They can tell when someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes; they rightly lose interest straight away. As such, reporting fairly and independently is crucial to maintaining our reputation — one which we have, through persistent adherence to our principles, earned over the years.

Our policy of honesty is welcomed by a majority of camper trailer manufacturers and certainly by all of those you see here. Like us, they credit our readers and their buyers with intelligence. 

They know that, because of Camper’s hard-earned authority, a review in Camper will be taken seriously by readers.


CELEBRATING THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS

Camper trailer manufacturers attending the competition know the drill. They are aware of how we do things, so there is a degree of bravery in putting their product in front of the judges. It reflects a confidence in their product which is, by the fact of their having been invited, justified.

Because that is what the many months leading up to the REDARC Camper Trailer of the Year event are about: determining which camper trailers are eligible. Each and every finalist at Camper Trailer of the Year has been extended an invitation to the event, only after having been independently reviewed and featured in Camper during the year, or independently scrutinised and deemed suitable by one of our reviewers prior to the event. If you look through this issue and our back issues you’ll see that who is invited — and who wins — isn’t related to who does and doesn’t advertise with us.

The event is a celebration of the very best camper trailers in Australia. Of course, all celebrations require a lot of hard work and logistical acrobatics to happen at all — from location scouting, transport, and necessary gear, through to hospitality, food, and accommodation. 

We run off of a carefully considered schedule that encompasses both a location for judge assessment of camper trailers while set up, and one where the judges can tow the campers offroad. The schedule also, bang in the middle, includes a showcase on site, where the public can see for themselves what the manufacturers have to offer.

We see part of our role as helping manufacturers celebrate what they have achieved, using our skills as a content business. At the end of the event, manufacturers not only receive judges’ comments, but a suite of multimedia assets for their own use. 

On the ground, we have a team of photographers and videographers specialising in capturing camper trailers and all of their finer details, both while they are set up and while they are in motion along tracks through the Australian destination hand-picked for that year. We schedule such that we have the capacity to dedicate time to capturing the campers in all their glory.

Post-event, these photographs and videos are duly processed, put together and delivered to manufacturers, along with badges recognising their status as finalists and winners, which they can then wear proudly. As we never forget here at Camper, achievement deserves to be celebrated.


BRINGING THE EVENT TO LIFE 

An event is nothing but an idea without the people who bring it to life. To this end we would like to thank this year’s sponsors — REDARC, OutdoorX, Hema Maps and Credit One Finance — and to acknowledge and thank the teams at both BIG4 Gold Coast Holiday Park and the Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove for all their assistance in helping us put together the event.

Just like last year, it was invaluable to have REDARC supporting the event. Their presence made for a number of interesting conservations around their range of electrical products — from inverters, to brake controllers, to DC/DC and 240V chargers, to battery management systems — which are widely used in trailer manufacture and 4WD modification. As will be revealed in full force next issue, more and more manufacturers, such as Patriot and Ultimate, are collaborating with the South Aussie electrical brand to make their offerings as good as they can.

And where would we have been without Engel? Working in the 30 degree heat and 90 per cent humidity of the Gold Coast in late November worked up some of the meanest thirsts and appetites known to humankind, and to be able to rely on their 158L ice box and cooler bags to keep our food and drinks cool was a godsend.

As many will be aware we had originally intended to hold the REDARC Camper Trailer of the Year 2020 event in Port Macquarie. However, the bushfires that spread through this area last year started doing so just before the event was set to start. To determine the correct course of action, we consulted federal and state emergency services, the Port Macquarie-Hastings council and the RFS, and on the basis of their advice, we arrived at a unified decision that holding the event in Port Macquarie, at such a time, was in no one’s best interests. 

We relocated, instead, to the Gold Coast. It was a logistical move that demanded a lot of quick thinking, hard work, and understanding from all partners and participants, some of whom, from the southern states, had to travel 1,000 kilometres more than originally necessary. The fact we all managed to achieve this change of location in such a timeframe has to make us grateful that we have so many beautiful destinations here in Australia that are perfectly suited to the camping lifestyle and, therefore, this event. But we have not, for a minute, left Port Macquarie behind. 

We are thrilled to announce we’ve made a commitment to hosting the Camper Trailer of the Year 2021 event at this iconic beachside destination, from 18 to 25 November 2020. We would like to thank the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, Marketplace Events, NRMA Breakwall Holiday Park and Rydges Port Macquarie for their tireless work over the last few months. We are excited to be working together again to showcase the region and its varied natural environments.

Port Macquarie is, of course, not alone in having experienced widespread bushfires. The team at Camper are deeply saddened by the loss of human life, animals, property and environment that has occurred throughout Australia over the last few months. Our hearts go out to everyone affected and to the firefighters on the front line. We see our role in recovery as to help highlight the enduring tourism appeal of affected regions. While failing to acknowledge the impact of bushfires would be insensitive, we must remember that these regions still have inspiring tourism offerings and will in the long-term return to their full splendour, particularly if supported by tourism. Of course, safety takes first place.


THE MEANING OF SUCCESS

One of the key lessons we learned this year was that industry achievement can be packaged in an almost endless variety of ways. We saw one or more of the following styles of camper: side-fold soft-floor, pop-top hybrid, pod-style/teardrop, dual fold, forward fold with rear slide, and slide-on. A few of the camper trailers even defied categorisation. 

Such diversity, though welcome, poses challenges in staking campers against one another. Every year, we do the utmost to match campers fairly. How would a budget camper stack up against a high-end, high-spec model? Realistically our readers do not expect it to. If you are on a budget, of what relevance is a direct comparison? In the same way, a reader looking for a high-end trailer won’t gain by having it compared to a more budget-friendly option. What suits you comes down to your personal situation and so, we strive to present campers in categories that are of interest to the situation of a given demographic of the market.

Just like budgets vary, so do lifestyles. What one person is looking for in a camper will inevitably vary from what another person seeks. Because of this, a score cannot be treated as reflective of the satisfaction each and every reader would experience with that particular camper. It remains vital to consider a given camper, and all it provides, in relation to your own personal needs. 

For example, the Marlin Escape Deluxe emerged as a worthy winner in this year’s Under $25,000 category. I’ll leave the revelations of this camper’s many merits to the judges. But I will say that the victory of a particular camper, as a result of its outstanding merit, does not mean it will be better suited to each and every individual who is considering buying a camper trailer. For example, it’s not off the table that within its category the Mars Endurance may be the best suited to a traveller who enjoys long stints off the grid, just as the Lumberjack Sheoak may be the best suited to a particularly mobile traveller.

Each and every camper trailer in attendance is designed, built and equipped such that it helps Australians bring to life their very own, highly personalised dream lifestyle. The fact that it does this, not just passably, but to an exceptionally high standard, is the very reason why each and every camper trailer shown here was invited to participate. 

Camper trailers are, fundamentally, a piece of equipment that helps us achieve what we want to achieve, in life and in leisure. In our January and February issues, we celebrate the campers available in 2020 which do this best. We hope you enjoy reading the reviews, whether you’re looking to buy or are simply excited to find out about the best campers available. Don’t forget to pick up the February edition, out on Feb 20, which will feature the remaining seven reviews in the $25 to 50k, over $50k, and slide-on categories.


MEET THE JUDGES

David Cook: David is undoubtedly a familiar face. He’s been writing for Camper magazine since its inception, bringing us stories from outback destinations country-wide, penning our monthly ‘Beneath the Surface’ column, and reviewing camper trailers by the dozen. David, who turned 70 this year, is married with three kids, three grandchildren, and a dog, but before all of that, he started out in magazine publishing aged 18, as a freelance journalist and photographer. Camping has always been a huge part of his life, ever since his childhood, and he stepped up his game when he bought his first camper trailer 14 years ago. A born handyman, David knows his way around a toolbox, and he’s not afraid to bring this technical knowledge to bear upon the campers he reviews.

Scott Heiman: Scott was raised on the Mid-North Coast where the mountains meet the sea and where the state forests of the North Coast and country NSW formed his backyard. Son of a surveyor, he was pushing through the scrub before there were tracks to guide him.  Scott is now a 25 year Army veteran, former Australian Federal Police instructor and Environmental Scientist. He is a survivalist, fisherman, hunter, all-round remote area tourer and experienced 4WDer. He’s operated in every State and Territory of Australia and in the jungles of the South Pacific and South-East Asia. He is currently modifying an ex-Army Land Rover 110 6x6 Perentie as a go-anywhere family camper. Scott wears his heart on his sleeve and loves a good fire-side chat.

Kath Heiman: Kath has been regularly exploring Australia’s backroads since the late 70s when the Leyland Brothers first hit our TV screens. As a wordsmith and analyst within government for 30 years and an Army Reservist for 20, Kath’s love of writing and remote area travel collided when she became a freelance writer in the late noughties. Graduating from early years in an FJ40 Shorty and a tent, these days Kath hits the roads with a camper towed behind a Toyota Hilux and travels with her young daughter Scout and her indomitable husband Scott. Born in Scotland and having spent considerable time overseas, Kath brings a unique perspective to her observations on Australia’s Great Outdoors, as we see monthly in her ‘She’ll be Right’ column.

Tim van Duyl: Born on the Briny through sister publication Trade-a-Boat, our Managing Editor Tim came to Australia looking for land-borne adventure after conquering all he could on land and sea in his native New Zealand (while he is loath to toot his own horn, his mates know that includes some offroading that’d drop your jaw). First came caravans when he managed another one of our titles, but after finding their limits in our tight-twisty and tree-lined tracks he scaled down (or is it up?) into the camper trailer lifestyle. He has been reviewing and leading manufacturers on tours in areas as remote as Cape York and spectacular as the Ikara-Flinders Ranges for the last couple of years. When not working, you’ll find him tinkering with one of his vehicles. 


REDARC CAMPER TRAILER OF THE YEAR 2020 RESULTS

UNDER $25,000 CATEGORY

WINNER: Marlin Escape Deluxe

FINALIST: Mars Endurance

FINALIST: Lumberjack Sheoak

$25,000 TO $50,000 CATEGORY

WINNER: Bushwakka Bhoma

FINALIST: Bluewater Lachlan

FINALIST: Lumberjack Glenaire

OVER $50,000 CATEGORY

WINNER: Patriot X3

FINALIST: Ultimate GT360

FINALIST: ZONE RV Expedition Series Z-12.0

HYBRID CATEGORY

WINNER: Jawa Sirocco

FINALIST: Austrack Tanami X13

FINALIST: Swag Raptor X13 Explorer

SLIDE-ON SPECIALTY CLASS

WINNER: Wedgetail WTC 


SECONDARY AWARDS

While the title of ‘Camper Trailer of the Year’ is the most eagerly sought after, there are other ways in which campers can earn recognition. On the basis of the judges’ assessments, Camper also awards a range of subsidiary awards, which recognise campers for excellence in their own particular field. This year's subsidiary awards are as follows:

Most Innovative: ZONE RV Z-12.0 Expedition Series

Most Self Sufficient: Austrack Tanami X13

Best Build Quality: Patriot X3

Most Comfortable: Ultimate GT 360 and Wedgetail WTC Slide-on

Best Value for Money: Marlin Escape Deluxe

X-factor Award: Patriot X3

Most Family Friendly: Swag Raptor X13 Explorer

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