This is the most obvious feature and one which manufacturers spend a considerable amount of time and steel or, in some cases, aluminium on. Most box section designs feature 150x50mm (6in x 2in) RHS main rails and drawbar, with some manufacturers laminating (welding) a second rail to the first.
This arrangement does offer a great deal of strength but it also adds a great deal of weight to the caravan. Because of this, a number of manufacturers have opted to find alternative designs or ones which are either completely aluminium or a hybrid aluminium/steel construction.
For anyone contemplating an offroad caravan, ground clearance is an essential consideration. It’s not only minimum height off the ground that matters but also ensuring all vital components are strapped up out of the way.
A good rear departure angle is necessary so that the caravan can handle seriously undulating tracks without scraping the rear end.
A caravan designed for remote travel needs a decent water storage capacity and the payload to suit. Remember, 1L of water weighs 1kg. Some manufacturers offer split systems so that drinking water can be kept separate from the main tanks. This gives the option of being able to fill the general-use water tanks from more sources, with less of a worry about water quality.
Offroad water tanks are often poly moulded to give more strength and less need for protective shielding. Conventional water tanks, however, should certainly have galvanised sheeting/alloy checkerplate plate protection of some sort.
GREY WATER TANKS
Here’s something of a grey area. Literally. Most caravan manufacturers do not offer grey water tanks as a standard feature. However, some offroad van builders do, either as a standard feature or an option. Common sense might suggest that grey water would be a welcome addition to any dry region of Australia; however, there are some areas that are particularly eco sensitive and it’s better not to dump grey water. Apart from the actual weight of the tank, grey water really doesn’t add extra kilos – the theory being that when fresh water tanks are being filled, the grey water tank can be drained at an appropriate place.
Standard ball couplings are sufficient for many caravans, but for those intended for offroad touring there a number of alternatives available that offer plenty of vertical and horizontal articulation.
Any offroad caravan worth its salt will be fitted with a good offroad independent suspension system that will minimise the amount of ‘shock’ transfer from the terrain, whether it’s severe undulations or potholes, through to the body of the caravan.
Undoubtedly independent suspension is a firm favourite with offroad caravan manufacturers, the favoured style being coil springs with trailing arms and shock absorbers, such as AL-KO’s relatively new Enduro Outback, which is designed specifically for offroad vans, or its Independent Rubber Suspension setup.
All of the above are visually obvious features but there’s a bit more to it than that. A good question to ask any manufacturer is precisely how the caravan’s body is built and how much testing is done, not only on their construction but also the components and appliances they supply. A beefed-up chassis and suspension, not to mention black checkerplate, is not all that is required in caravan body construction!
Points to note are how the frame is constructed (most serious offroad manufacturers happen to use aluminium), how the cabinetry is built (screws/glue/bonding), and how the body is attached to the chassis. Different manufacturers use different methods and for those who build both on-road and offroad caravans, it’s essential to get an understanding of the difference – if there isn’t one, why not? A ‘no’ to that question is not necessarily the ‘wrong’ answer as quite a few specialists use the same technique whatever style of caravan they are building.
Purchasing an offroad caravan might sound like a great idea for exploring remote corners of Australia, but for the most part such a caravan will be heavier than one built for on-road use only. Therefore, it’s essential to have a tow vehicle that can haul that weight. It’s not silly to consider reality versus dreams but downsizing to a smaller, more manoeuvrable van might be an effective solution.
Additionally, there are a number of camper trailer manufacturers that have successfully made the transition to a ‘hybrid’ hard shell camper trailer. Often with a pop-top roof or extendible ends, these hybrids have genuine offroad ability, have most of the comforts of a full size caravan, and yet are considerably less weighty.
Wondering where to take your caravan offroading next? These four free offroad Top End camps need to be seen to be believed. Read our Top 4 Free Offroad Top End Camps