After two failed attempts, we finally made it to Port Macquarie. Seasoned Camper Trailer of the Year (CTOTY) readers will know that at the last event we had to scramble to Plan B, the Gold Coast, after bushfires ravaged the northern NSW coast. Then there was 2020, so getting to Port Mac this year was both a big win and long overdue.
Typically CTOTY happens late in the year, around November, with results out in the early part of the following year. This year was a bit different, with us on site not two weeks after yet another Melbourne lockdown in February this year. But look, none of that matters. What matters is that we again got a worthwhile contingent of entrants, great judges and a process I am confident is the best in the industry.
For those new to CTOTY, here are the basics. Every review we run in Camper has a ten-point rating system, from Value for Money, to Build Quality, Innovation and more. We’ve used these criteria for over ten years in-mag and at CTOTY since its inception in 2014. At the end of the year, we invite the campers we’ve previously tested or know to be eligible through facelifts and upgrades, to be reviewed against these same criteria again, but this time with a minimum of four experienced and vastly different judges. The reason we use four judges from different backgrounds and experiences is that we then collate the scores and bingo bango, we have winners (those with the highest scores, if that wasn’t obvious).
It is a bit of fun, a hell of a lot of hard work and easily the biggest event the company puts on. This year we had a bumper entrants list, with 21 eventually making it onsite — 21 entrants is a record and posed a major challenge for hospitality and locations, as well as ensuring we had the staff to capture the details.
WHY WE HOLD THIS EVENT
The raison d'être of Camper magazine and our flagship CTOTY event is to provide the buying public with accurate, informed, and fully independent assessments of the camper trailer options which exist for them.
Why? We understand the importance of independent reviews and have done since we released our very first edition of Camper back in 2009. You, our readers, want to know the truth. You 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.
We also know that, through accurate reporting, we can be part of the continual improvement of the industry. By reporting honestly and providing independent reviews of camper trailers, we can play our role in the continual improvement of the products that are helping Australians experience the wonderful landscapes that define this nation.
Hearteningly, our policy of honesty is welcomed by a majority of camper trailer manufacturers and certainly by all of those within these pages. Like us, they credit our readers and their buyers with intelligence. They know that, because of our reputation, the unique selling points which do earn praise from our reviewers will be taken seriously by readers.
We take it seriously too. Within our contracts are obligations of the entrants to be compliant, priced as the public will be asked to pay, and readily available for purchase in Australia. Should a camper be found to break the rules, the outcome is simple — they’ll lose any award they might have earned and it gets passed onto the next highest scoring camper. We’ll also erase the content from our systems and request the same from the manufacturer.
CELEBRATING THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS
Camper trailer manufacturers attending the competition know the drill. They are aware of our principles of independence. So there's a degree of bravery in putting their product in front of our judges. It reflects confidence in their product which is, by the fact of their having been invited, justified.
The event is a celebration of the very best camper trailers in Australia. Of course, all celebrations require a lot of background logistical work to happen at all.
For the event, we organise all hospitality for manufacturers, from food to accommodation to entertainment during downtime. We run off of a carefully considered schedule that encompasses a location for judge assessment of camper trailers while set up, to one where the judges can tow the campers offroad. Also, bang in the middle of the week, we include a showcase 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 aptitudes 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 hand-picked beforehand.
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, Hema Maps and Credit One Finance — and to acknowledge and thank the teams at both Mansfield Estate, Ingenia/BIG4 Bonny Hills, and Kelly Malpeston from Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and the team around her for all their assistance in helping us put together the event.
Just like the last few years, 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, DCDC and 240V chargers, and total vehicle management systems — which are widely used in trailer manufacture and 4WD modification.
WHAT CAN BE WON
With 21 campers, we had a real variety which allowed us to make some changes to the awards and competition. Since CTOTY’s inception, we awarded wins by price point, we had under $25k, over $100k and a few price ranges between. The reality is though, that although the price is the most important factor in final purchase intentions, the style of the camper is where buyers begin their research. By this we mean, a compact buyer is unlikely to be cross-shopping with a Hybrid or a slide-on buyer with a fold-out, so with 21 entrants, we made the call to award campers by style as well as awarding standouts in the criteria we assess them by.
This meant we had a category for Folding campers, Expedition, Hybrids, Slide-on and Compacts, with the award for Value for Money, Innovation, Build Quality, Self Sufficiency and X-factor, plus the big one, the overall winner.
Getting to the results was fairly straightforward — well it sounds like it. We had our four judges work together with the campers’ representative to uncover what stood out and give a final score out of ten for each of the ten criteria. This gave a score out of 100, which was tallied with the other judges for a total score out of 400. The highest scoring camper of each style then took home the award. For the criteria-based awards, we totalled the scores from the judges in just these criteria to find the highest score out of the possible 40.
These criteria-based awards crossed camper style, which meant the camper that won Best Value for Money was the winner out of all 21 campers, not just the campers of the same style. This made these awards particularly sought-after just like the supreme winner, which was the overall camper of the year which was the camper with the outright highest score irrespective of style.
As we could not fit all campers in this single issue, so some of the results will be seen in the next issue, but here we will recap the winners so If you don’t want spoilers, skip this bit.
Our overall winner could not have been more deserving. Ultimate has been coming to CTOTY for years and although always commendably close, had often been the bridesmaid. This year, with their 25X Anniversary Edition, they finally knocked it off, with a combined 338 out of a possible 400. Runner-up, and close with 335 from 400, was new-comer Offline with their innovative Domino. That’s right, four points out of a possible 400 was the difference, but it is always close and there are occasional ties, like we had this year in Build Quality which was tied between two stalwarts of CTOTY (and the local industry), Cub and Patriot Campers.
Offline’s Domino also took out Most Innovative as well as Hybrid of the Year, while CTOTY regular Bushwakka took out Expedition Camper of the Year and Value For Money, newcomer Offtrax took Compact of the Year, and Wedgetail Slide-on of the Year. Ultimate’s overall win was underpinned by strong showings across the board, with wins in Best Fold Out and Most X-factor.
Enjoy this issue’s reviews, look for more next issue, and head online for more images and the video work.
MEET THE JUDGES
Glenn has been camping most of his life thanks to adventurous parents, and his passion for exploring Australia never seems to wane. As a freelance travel writer, he has spent a lot of time visiting extraordinary places like the Kimberley, Pilbara, Great Victoria Desert, outback Queensland and the Victorian High Country, just to name a few. He enjoys tackling the remote Len Beadell tracks as well and travelling solo never worries him as it's part of the adventure, which means he has seen a lot of rarely seen parts of Australia. Over the past 30 years he's tackled some iconic 4WD tracks and cruised far off outback highways sometimes even towing a camper trailer or caravan.
As Editor-at-Large of Camper Australia, Glenn is helping the magazines growth while continuing with living the dream and sharing the experience.
David Cook is a photo journalist who is both a keen camper trailer user and who has worked in the magazine publishing industry for the past 53 years. He has edited five different magazine titles and for 23 years ran his own magazine publishing business, which he sold in 2002 to undertake a major change in career as the manager of a motor racing track.
In 2006 he began what he thought was going to be an early retirement, but was pestered by magazine editors to write articles on various subjects, resulting in the start of a new career as a freelance writer and photographer which has continued until today. David began writing for Camper in 2008 after meeting the then editor at a camper trailer function, and has been a regular contributor since. With a science degree as a background he writes a regular column for the magazine on the science behind the Australia we see when we go camping.
Kath’s been camping Australia’s byways and backroads since the Leyland Brothers and Harry Butler were inspiring outback travel on prime time television.
Born in Scotland, with a military background and a strategic viewpoint, Kath’s a planner who believes that great outcomes don’t happen by accident. Purchasing her own camper involved 18 months research, and road-testing several contenders, before taking the plunge.
With a camper lifestyle that incorporates both long-haul journeys and quick getaways, Kath values practicality, versatility and durability. Bringing a keen eye, a set of well-travelled boots and a lady’s sensibilities, Kath re-joins the CT judging panel this year to find out who’s been doing the hard yards to help adventurous spirits get the most from their time in the Great Outdoors.
TIM VAN DUYL
Born on the Briny through sister publication Trade-a-Boat, our Creative Director Tim came to Australia looking for land-borne adventure after conquering all he could on land and sea in his native New Zealand.
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.
Judges rate the campers against a set of strict, long-standing criteria. Aside from a few small changes in wording, tightening of criteria and (many years ago now) the addition of extra criteria to give readers a more comprehensive picture, the way reviewers have been assessing campers has remained the same since the inception of Camper magazine.
The criteria used at the REDARC Camper Trailer of the Year event are exactly the same as those used by our reviewers throughout the year in our regular Camper issues. Across ten different measures, explained in depth below, the reviewer gives a score out of ten. For the REDARC Camper Trailer of the Year competition, these scores are then added up, to form a score out of 100. All of the four judges’ scores are then added together and divided by four, to form an averaged score out of 100, which then determines the winners of each individual category.
Fit for intended purpose
- A score of 3 or under would suggest the camper is not fit for its intended purpose
- A score of 3.5–5.5 suggests the camper can do most of what it sets out to achieve, but needs refinement
- A score of 6–8 indicates the camper is capable for its intended purpose
- A score of 8.5 or more suggests the camper surpassed expectations
- A score of 3 or less suggests the camper is poorly designed and put together
- A score of 3.5–5.5 suggests a passable run-of-the-mill design that fails to excite
- A score of 6–8 suggests an excellent upgrade to a known design or style, done well
- A score of 8.5 or more is indicative of a new design that challenges and excites expectations of what a camper can be
- A score of 3 or under would suggest you wouldn't want to, or could not, live off the beaten track
- A score of 3.5–5.5 suggests room for improvement is needed but the camper is liveable away from services
- A score of 6–8 suggests the camper is not only liveable but eminently comfortable while camping offgrid
- A score of 8.5 or more is indicative of a camper that makes you feel at home, comfortable and extremely confident, while off the beaten track.
Quality of finish
- A score of 3 or less suggests major flaws throughout the tested product
- A score of 3.5–5.5 suggests the camper carrys some minor, rectifiable cosmetic flaws
- A score of 6–8 suggests a camper with an acceptable but basic finish
- A score of 8.5 or more suggests a flawless finish of an impeccable standard
- A score of 3 or less suggests the camper has major build quality issues needing immediate attention
- A score of 3.5–5.5 is suggestive of a camper with average quality needing some refinement
- A score of 6–8 suggests the camper is well made and up to expectation
- A score of 8.5 or more is reserved for campers showcasing a faultless and innovative build
- A score of 3 or less indicates the camper felt unsafe or was extremely difficult to tow
- A score of 3.5–5.5 indicates some issues during testing that need attention
- A score of 6–8 suggest the camper towed well without issue
- A score of 8.5 or more suggests the camper not only towed well but exceeded expectations, setting a new benchmark in offroad towability
- A score of 3 or less suggests the camper is missing vital components and is uncomfortable
- A score of 3.5–5.5 would suggest the camper is as comfortable as expected but misses some key components
- A score of 6–8 suggests comfort and well-appointed features
- A score of 8.5 or more suggests the camper has a level of opulence not before seen in its class
Ease of use
- A score of 3 or less suggests the camper has critical useability issues.
- A score of 3.5–5.5 suggests the layout works but has some logical flaws
- A score of 6–8 would be for campers with a comfortable, practical and easily understandable layout
- A score of 8.5 or more suggests the layout is unique, that everything works with an ease and logic beyond expectations
Value for money
- A score of 3 or less suggests your money should be spent elsewhere
- A score of 3.5–5.5 suggests the camper is price-competitive but perhaps not great value
- A score of 6–8.5 suggests the camper is fair value for money, somewhat better than its competitors
- A score of 8.5 or more suggests the camper is exceptionally priced; there few competing with it for value
- A score of 3 or less suggests the camper is completely uninspiring in all aspects
- A score of 3.5–5.5 suggests the camper has some appeal but no more than most other campers in its class
- A score of 6–8 suggests the camper as something different, interesting and appealing
- A score of 8.5 or more suggests the camper is groundbreaking, a class apart and genuinely exciting.
If you would like to learn more about how the judging works, more on the process and about previous winners and finalists from past Camper Trailer of the Year events, go to camper.hemax.com