Bigger isn’t always better. But try telling that to campers who want all the mod-cons under the sun. Sometimes it takes a clever custom manufacturer to upend the whole ‘bigger is better' paradigm by crafting a product that fits ample features into a compact package without overcrowding it.
NockAbout campers, of Slacks Creek in the outskirts of Brisbane, have achieved just that and have been offering it as an alternative to maximalism for 17 years. An offshoot of the business Dal’s Canvas, NockAbout capitalises on Dal’s 47 years of working with canvas and well-established working relationships with Aussie brands to deliver a base unit priced at $17,990.
From here, customers can tailor the package with a long list of options (including paint and canvas colour). Given this level of customisation, the NockAbout camper depicted here needn’t represent exactly what a customer would end up with — but there’s no reason that, if you like what you see, it couldn’t be identical!
The diminutive body, measuring 120cm long, 180cm wide, and 105cm tall, sits at the back of a Cruisemaster chassis of closer-to-traditional length composed of 100 x 50 x 3mm hot dip galvanised RHS. A small camper body often results in touchy reversing, but with the long drawbar separating the trailer axle from the car’s, the NockAbout will be easier to handle than some others, while still enabling the driver to back into tight driveways and campsites.
Fortunately, the drawbar is not so long that corner cutting will be pronounced or that customers will lose any confidence heading down unfamiliar tracks where a tight U-turn may become inevitable. And, with a height of about 185cm from the ground up, it should fit in all garages, even the mousehole modern property developers favour.
The trailer, as seen, had a tare of 660kg, but packages around 500kg or 600kg are available. Similarly, the ATM was listed as 950kg on the plate, but other NockAbouts permit a greater payload, with ATMs reaching 1400kg. Within these parameters the trailer will be suitable for virtually all cars that can tow.
Ball weight is quoted at 60kg. Because of the generous drawbar storage this would vary considerably based on load but, when empty, there’d be next to no strain on the car. If anything it would be overly light, allowing for minor sway. This is ameliorated by the light overall weight and by the fact there’s no real overhang behind the axle to lever the tow connection upwards.
The Cruisemaster DO35 hitch signals that NockAbout take offroad performance seriously, while the Bridgestone Dueller 245/70/R16 tyres — which can be matched to suit the vehicle’s tyres — ride independently on a Cruisemaster XT trailing arm setup. In place of the springs there are Cruisemaster-supplied airbags. The airbags are a standard feature and are a remarkable touch at this price point.
With the positioning of the axle at the back, the camper’s rear end shouldn’t contact the ground as the camper rolls onto or off of hills; and even though it looks long because of the small camper body, I doubt the drawbar would ever make much contact as the car/camper combo flexes over ‘ramps’ or crests.
Clearance is normal, with no low points. The powdercoated underside is neat, with metal facing any flick-back and cables to the electric brakes kept in check by cable ties. Because the 65L poly watertank is fixed under the drawbar and the only tap is up here too, NockAbout have been able to place the piping in the safer position of the drawbar’s verticals. The handbrake brushes lightly against this tank on either side but as the tank is stationary, there is zero compromise on safety. A second tank can be installed further back if needed.
I’ll also note that the drawbar tap is sheltered behind the step-up rail, so it won’t be hit by a rock. If the customer is seeking protection over the opening between the drawbar rails, NockAbout can supply a heavy-duty mesh screen called the ‘Rock Nocka’ which connects underneath the drawbar and acts as a safety net.
The camper’s body is zincalume down low, aluminium up high. Australian-based business 3 Metals Fabrication laser cut, CNC press and hand-weld the parts for NockAbout, who then complete assembly in-house and powdercoat panels for protection as well as appearance. Stainless steel bolts resist corrosion and nyloc nuts prevent corrugations from shaking anything loose.
INTERNAL HOLLOW STORAGE
A spare tyre travels at the rear and must be released on a swing-arm to clear space for the rear storage capsule to open. With this out of the way, the rear door drops down and is held on the horizontal by steel cable on both sides to create a flat, marine-carpeted shelf. The recess now revealed is as long as the camper and nearly full width. As we saw it, there was a 34L Engel fridge lashed onto a fridge slide on the left and wider open space on the right. NockAbout can make custom canvas bags that fit the dimensions perfectly to keep loose items together, which can be pulled forward onto the shelf where their contents are easily accessible.
On either side of the camper, a side door hinges upwards on gas struts after two T-handle locks have been disengaged. These caverns sit at the bottom of the body and are built around the wheel arches.
The passenger side hatch features the interface of the ToughPower IntelliQuip all-in-one battery management device. The front panel features a 1000W inverter capable of a 2000W peak, a screen displaying a voltmeter, present load and other information; six switches (which NockAbout have numbered for ease of identification), an overload reset switch, and multiple 12V outlets (an Anderson plug, two cig points, and a double USB slot). My only gripe is that certain items charging off the inverter’s 240V outlet wouldn’t fit inside the compartment, limiting charging potential while driving, in bad weather, or at dodgy sites where you’d prefer items locked away.
Within this same compartment the 100Ah AGM battery hides behind a panel that can be unscrewed and removed. A lead running through the door can connect to 240V with an extension for charging, but off-grid travellers are accommodated as well with DC/DC charging via a pre-installed Anderson plug on the drawbar for alternator charge and one at the rear for portable solar panel charge.
NockAbout have also included a compressor in this space. All one needs to do is attach the coiled compressor hose to the nozzle and then clip the fitting onto either tyre, or to the valves at the rear which adjust the suspension airbags. This is ten times better than hooking up to your car’s battery each time and running a long extension back. That said, if you want to pump up your car tyres using the compressor, you’ll need to grab a longer hose.
On the driver’s side hatch, the flat top of the wheel arch sports walls both sides, and this space is faced with a mesh screen that clicks on and off with press studs to enclose the contents. Behind this mesh resides snug-fit NockAbout fabric boxes. In the declivities of the wheel arch, shelving enables organisation. Both passenger and driver side compartments were fully marine-carpeted and had lights.
For those who like to stay organised, while also decorating their living space with a splash of colour, NockAbout can supply sustainably-made woven baskets. Sue placed a few around for her own photos later in the day and they filled the campsite with life. Check out their range at theenchantedbasket.com.au if campsite décor matters to you.
The small camper body can only take so much gear, but the roof rack and drawbar storage systems help expand carrying capacity. On the roof, there are two Rhino Rack crossbars which feature channels from side to side that can hold tie-down rings anywhere along their length. As we saw it, a similar system of adjustable tie-down rings runs along the edges of the flat sheet of checkerplate covering the drawbar up against the camper body. But NockAbout say this open drawbar space can be customised in many ways — they can put a motorbike rack here, or a Drifta Kitchen unit.
If the roof rack has a load which projects far on either side of the crossbars, such as a kayak, this’ll need to be removed before proceeding, as the bars invert when the tent folds over such that the load sits in the gap over the drawbar. Even if the roof load is short enough, it may not fit if the drawbar storage space has been filled. The hard part may be knowing just how much you can strap down in advance. Still, having the capacity to enable well-stocked camping trips justifies this in my mind.
Over the flat checkerplate storage space, a hollow tube is attached to the wall, to store awning poles or other long thin items. The step-up on the drawbar is covered with checkerplate on its front, top and side faces, but the sheltered back is open, and here NockAbout have placed a 4.5kg gas bottle holder where the bottle can be plugged in whilst cooking. There’s no in-built cooktop but the bottle can be used with a Weber, which could be stored in the rear compartment. NockAbout have an option for a swing-arm plate to hold this, too.
SETTING UP THE TENT
After yanking up the AL-KO handbrake and dropping the heavy-duty ARK XO 750 jockey wheel and two rear stabiliser legs, one then removes a wide panel, positioned vertically over the drawbar, by undoing two over-centre clips at the top and lifting it from the supportive channel at the bottom. Once removed, two legs fold down from this panel’s underside, transforming it into a wide prep bench for cooking. This features hooks to hang a pocket system made by Dal’s Canvas.
The next step is heading to the rear of the camper and undoing two additional over-centre clips. Now, the camper’s lid can be pushed up and over on the hinge, with the assistance of a gas strut each side. Once in place, the forward fold can be secured underneath with an over-centre latch on the step-up construction.
With the tent loosely in place, the person doing the honours climbs the evenly heighted checkerplate steps on the drawbar’s nose and goes inside. Once inside the canvas shroud, the next step is to extend the U-shaped poles holding out the canvas to the intended height, using six power grip clamps, one for each vertical of the three in-built poles.
Then, one takes long fixed-length poles that travel in the tent and uses these to prop out the window awnings each side. On both sides, two slot into a fitting on the camper body at the bottom and attach to an in-built transverse pole at the awning’s extremity with C-clips. Two others then attach at the top corners of the canvas on the door panel and clip to the transverse pole in the same way.
Campers setting up for a long stint can also zip on a gabled awning to the tent’s roof on either side, which can be fully enclosed with walls. Awnings both sides create over 20sqm of canvas floorspace. Furthermore, there’s a hollow rectangular pole that can hold in place a NockAbout-designed compact fold-out shower tent. This is fed by the drawbar tap and heated by a Joolca Hot Tap hot water system (the attachment points for hanging this are positioned on the drawbar step-up).
The campsite footprint only grows to about 4m overall and only grows wider with the shower or awnings out. The window awning does protrude past the hitch, but the length of the drawbar and the height of the awning will probably mean the camper can remained attached for set-up — at least for vehicles with side-opening boot doors and a long hitch.
What we have after set-up is a huge, spacious forward-fold tent, that in some ways resembles a rooftop tent, in that the mattress takes up the floorspace. This floorspace measures 240cm long by 170cm wide. Note that 170cm is wider than a standard queen bed, which is 153cm, and that even a ruckman can lay in it at full stretch. This tent would be a good place to sleep off a rough-and-tumble football game with its 125cm high-density foam mattress with a convoluted latex top. If that won’t do, an innerspring mattress in two parts can be arranged.
When it comes to sitting up, there’s 120cm of headroom at the end poles and 135cm in the centre. Any diminished run-off capability because of the less acute angle of the tent’s gable is compensated for by the optional, permanently attached tropical roof. Held off the tent by in-built convex bars, this roof not only ensures rain cannot pool on the canvas but also regulates the interior temperature.
The tent features quality Japanese Hiraoka screens and Aussie-made Wax Converts Billabong Canvas which weighs 370gsm after dynaproofing. The awnings extending over the rear and front-entry windows are enormous, with the poles propping them out measuring 140cm, such that both shelter the rear storage capsule and the car boot if you are able to stay attached. These, along with the filled-in side panels, enable the canvas window flaps to be left undone for airflow at night, even during squalls that could temporarily lift a smaller awning clear and surprise the occupants with a chilling spray. As the windows attach to the canvas at the bottom, not the top, they can be unzipped partway and folded over, so there can be privacy and airflow at the same time. Unless an awning has been attached on either side, the side windows will have to be closed during rain.
A cig point and double USB point supply optional 12V power upstairs. Mesh pockets hang on each end, catering to both occupants regardless of which end is used as the bedhead. LED light strips can be easily rigged up on the horizontals of the ceiling poles. I’ve found most options available to the public run off a cig point.
The mattress is slightly narrower than the interior and a bit shorter. This creates a small strip of floorspace for putting bigger items at night and allows the pillows to be stored in the tent when it is packed away, along with any bedding.
The 100cm x 85cm squared door openings make getting in and out easy, even when carrying gear. The step-up, however, will suit some more than others. Some folks will like the fact there is more foot space than ladder rungs would offer and will find it a breeze to get up, thanks to the evenly spaced steps and two grab-handles. Others may find that a separate step ladder is needed to step onto the drawbar and feel the individual steps are a bit high. It’s a question of mobility.
THE UNDERDOG TRIUMPHS
The warranty documentation online states that the chassis and suspension have a two-year warranty while the remainder is covered for 12 months. On the day, Dal and Sue said it was five years on the chassis and suspension, five on the canvas, and everything else was as per the individual manufacturers.
At present, there is a wait time of several months from time of order until NockAbout have polished the finished product. The brand has no showroom per se but do set up a display model at the factory every day and are thrilled to welcome interested parties to view it. While the business is based near Brisbane, NockAbout say that all tents are built to take their full range of accessories. For example, if a customer decides they’d like an awning after taking the camper home, the tent needn’t be modified on site — it can simply be sent out by mail.
Most customers will find themselves adding options to the $17,990 base unit, ticking items they need and leaving off those they don’t, such that they’re not paying for anything redundant to them. This ticking frenzy will boost the price but even with this factored in, the dollar figure should remain highly competitive for an Australian-made trailer.
All told, the NockAbout camper is a unit with massive appeal to the outdoorsy traveller. It’s light, calming to tow, and convenient to store, features high-quality Cruisemaster fittings as standard, offers the prerequisites for off-grid travel, and the cherry on top is its high-class tent that’s as spacious as a cathedral’s vestibule.
Tare 660kg as seen; as low as 500kg depending on customisation
ATM 950kg as plated; but as high as 1400kg
Payload Roughly 300kg to 700kg, again depending on customisation
Ball weight 60kg
Suspension Cruisemaster XT independent trailing arm suspension with airbags instead of coil springs
Brakes Electric, plus handbrake
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Chassis/Drawbar Cruisemaster hot dip galvanised chassis of 100 x 50 x 3mm RHS
Body Zincalume and aluminium
Wheel/tyre 16in Sunraysia rims with stub pattern, with Bridgestone Dueller A/T tyres, 245/70/R16 as seen
Style Forward-folding roof tent camper
Body 120cm (L) x 180cm (W) x 105cm (H)
Height 185cm from ground to top of roof rack
Tent interior 240cm (L) x 170cm (W) x 120/135cm (H)
Water 65L in poly tank, drawbar tap, Joolca 12V pump, optional Joolca HWS
Gas Holder for 4.5kg gas bottle
Kitchen None as standard but cooking table included, and Weber swing-arm and Drifta drawbar-mounted kitchen are options
Battery 100Ah AGM with ToughPower IntelliQuip battery management system featuring DC/DC and 240V charging, plus 1000W inverter
$17,990 as a base unit.
Final cost depends on options
Address Unit 2, 12 Monte Street, Slacks Creek QLD 4127
Phone 07 3208 1101