In a camping world where a decade ago there was probably only one brand of the small expedition-type camper on the market, there are now a number of them. For those who want to tackle the toughest of landscapes, travel light to minimise their footprint or suit their tow vehicle today, there is a broad choice offering everything from the budget to the highest standard of high tech, with something in there to suit just about everyone.
Sitting firmly in that budget market but with serious nod to the seekers after higher tech is the new TOYTUF TF-1 from Signature Camper Trailers, based on their Deluxe II model. This is an import camper but involves a number of inputs from the Australian side of the industry and it offers some unique variants on the theme.
These sorts of campers typically have Tare weights around 1000kg, which suits soft roaders, as well as those who are looking to haul through deep gullies, over hard terrain and up slippery slopes. That’s just where the TOYTUF TF-1 sits, at a Tare of 1040kg and with an ATM of 1650kg, there’s plenty of load capacity, while the ball weight of 100kg will sit easily with just about anyone who has had to manoeuvre any camper into tight spaces.
Like all good campers, the TF-1 sits on a solid frame, with a hot dip galvanised 100 x 50 x 4mm drawbar and chassis, the former running back to the front of the trailing arm independent suspension. The suspension has been given real Aussie credibility with a set of dual Lovells Gas Legend shocks and Lovells coils, specially designed for the TF-1. The whole suspension set-up looks a lot better than some on imports, with all welds looking solid, the metalwork tidy and the shocks upright where they’re going to be doing a decent job of damping the spring movement.
There are two readily accessible tow points at the rear, along with a bike rack receiver.
There is also the coming option of an Airbag Man air suspension with Firestone bags. The prototype has now been completed and the first units will be available very soon. This option may also become standard on a potential higher specced version of the TF-1.
The brakes are 12in electric drum — overkill on a camper of this weight — with six-stud hubs, but for those desiring a five-stud bolt pattern to match their late model Toyotas, these are an option on a 10in drum.
The wheels are zero offset 16in black alloys with 265/75-R16 mud terrain tyres.
The drawbar is equipped with the very user-friendly McHitch Uniglide 3500kg rated coupling — very easy to attach and detach from the tow vehicle — (a DO-35 is an option) with an Ark XO750 jockey wheel, a hand brake and a pressurised water tap which will do for a shower, washing your hands when you’re finished a pack-up or even washing the car or camper if needed.
The stone guard is a laced mesh with mud flaps beneath to keep rock damage to a minimum and assist in forming a very sturdy mount for the spare wheel behind. The unshielded top for the spare tyre does project well above the stone guard and would potentially provide a rebound place for stones, especially with tow vehicles with any sort of suspension lift. This whole structure has been moved forward from where it was originally located in previous models to provide space for a pair of Maxtrax MkII recovery tracks which are mounted with locking pins to the front of the storage box behind.
The front face of the forward storage box and tubs and the side mudguards are finished in a black Raptorcoat for durability.
That storage box is a good sized volume that, like all the storage spaces on the TF-1, is carpeted, with a gas strut assisted lid and is well sealed against dust. On the driver’s side end is storage for two jerry cans plus other dirty items, such as wheel ramps, while on the opposite side of the camper is a single 9kg gas bottle. Keep in mind that travelling with a single gas bottle has its risks if you aren’t into keeping a close eye on your reserves in that bottle as you don’t have a back-up in case you get caught out.
There is a handy option for a second gas outlet at the bottle for those who travel with a gas barbecue.
The jerry cans and gas bottle are not included, as is the fridge.
The body is zinc anneal steel that comes in two baked enamel colour choices — the black with silver doors that we saw or in a white body with black doors — with a series of handy storage bays on three of the four sides and four corner steps for easy access to the top of the camper. Something we really liked was that all the doors to these areas each have a stainless food grade liner on the inside. These stiffen the door, ensuring optimal dust sealing, but also enable these fold-down doors to act as handy shelves, a feature that is most welcome on the kitchen side of the camper.
There is plenty of storage, but not an excess. The space in the roof-top cage is good for things you don’t mind getting wet or dirty — firewood, ground cover, shovel, axe, awning walls, maybe a table, etc — but I wouldn’t want to be carrying anything up there in the rain, mud or dust that are always possible when offroad, so internally you have to allow for all your clothes, food and drink, cooking and eating appliances, electronics, bedding, reading matter, chairs and a myriad of other small items unless you’re happy to be carrying stuff in your car.
At the back are two shallow storage bays either side of the fridge locker. The latter has a long slide and will take up to a 75L Evakool, with plenty of room at either end for storage, which can be powered off either the provided Anderson plug or the 12V cigarette plug. The space has its own light and an unpowered but filtered vent.
Electrical and Appliances
The rear locker on the driver’s side has a vacant storage drawer at the top but mounts the standard twin 100Ah Enerdrive eLite lithium batteries at the bottom. These are all kept in order by the Enerdrive DC2DC ePower 40A Enerdrive 12V charger, which can be boosted to 50A capacity by adjusting the settings. This also handles input from the adjacent dedicated solar point.
Mains charging is taken care of via the adjacent 15A input and Enerdrive 20A ePower multi-stage charger. This has so many features it’s worth a whole article on its own, but permits up to three different charging profiles for different chemistry batteries to be running at the same time — say, the lithiums in the camper, an AGM second battery in the tow car and a wet call starting battery in the tow vehicle — and it can ‘wake up’ a sleeping lithium that’s been shut down by its own internal battery management system if approaching over-discharge.
The same locker also houses the 2000 watt pure sine wave Enerdrive inverter, mains RCD and circuit breakers, as well as two mains outlets that do not run off the inverter.
In the passenger side rear locker are a pair of speakers and the Bluetooth/CD/USB/FM radio, as well as another pair of mains electrical outlets, the water tank gauge, volt meter, a pair of 12V and USB outlets and a series of switches for the various 12V circuits in the trailer, the most significant of which is a central power switch which can shut down power to all circuits if needed.
Each corner of the camper also has its own external 12V socket for easy access to power around the camper.
There is a pair of LED light bars on each side of the camper so illumination would never be a problem. These can be operated all as one or individually, but it would be nice to have a dimmer switch on them to prevent them becoming over-bright, which most camper lights can be when camped away from other sources of light.
The middle locker on the kitchen side has the neat option of a Breville Nespresso coffee machine mounted in its own slide, complete with milk frother and a pair of dedicated mugs. That’s what we call civilized camping! This alone justifies the availability of the lithium power.
The kitchen is a 1200 x 440mm stainless steel structure with a pull-out extension. It is totally self-supporting, so needs no leg, but at 1070mm above the ground may be seen as a bit of a challenge for those with a height challenge of their own. It has no prep space other than the end shelf but the adjacent stainless steel linings of the locker doors along the camper more than compensate for that.
The tap is not plumbed for hot water — in fact there is none available on the camper — but that is not in itself a great discomfort, but the option to boil some on the stove is not made easy by the fitting of a two-burner Dometic cooktop which has very small burners. Boiling a full kettle of water on the smaller of these would be a lengthy process indeed.
The cooktop could also benefit from a wind guard as well, with nothing to shelter the flame other than the flip-up glass lid.
The kitchen does, however, have a small drainer behind the sink and a single drawer, but it’s beneath the end slide-out shelf which would probably see a bit of fiddling around, removing and then re-adding of anything on there whenever a new item was needed from the drawer.
Cooking options are extended by a Road Chef oven. This runs off 12 volts, consumes about 10A, but can cook at temperatures up to 180 degrees C and, the paperwork claims, can do everything up to roasts or other similar meals. The space behind the oven opens through to the inverter on the other side of the camper, and the oven probably needs to be segregated by some sort of barrier to prevent dramas from stored items behind touching the back of the oven, as this does get hot to touch on the outside.
There is no dedicated pantry but the shelf space below the coffee machine storage and the rear electronics control board would certainly help.
Water comes from two shielded stainless steel tanks totaling 111L, which are plumbed together and act as a single reservoir. This is easily plugged into the kitchen at set-up with a bayonet fitting, as is the gas.
The awning on the TF-1 is a dual pivot TOYTUF 270-degree Turon unit that provides quick and easy coverage. It’s rated to be free standing in winds up to 30km/h. The whole thing, which mounts on a fixed side stand, went up in just a couple of minutes, though, and it’s only a minor irritant, it would have been nice to see some dedicated tie-off points rather than simply having the straps anchored to whatever part of the camper seemed convenient. The material is a 300gsm ripstop waterproof poly cotton canvas.
For higher breeze weather, it has a drop-down adjustable pole under each aluminium radial arm (a total of six), with a foot that can be anchored to the ground with a peg so that there is no need for ropes if that is an issue for you. Each arm is 2100mm long, so the coverage, which runs from the front of the drawbar to 1600mm behind the rear of the camper (for a total of 5800mm in length and 10sqm of coverage) is pretty extensive. There is an optional three-piece wall set for the awning, which includes a draught skirt, which zips on. The centre of each span of material also has a loop to tie to a pegged rope to create a gutter in the material to enhance drainage.
All up, it was a good shelter, though we were concerned about the lack of any weather sealing between the awning itself and the body of the camper.
In a market with plenty of expedition-type campers on offer, how does the Signature TOYTUF TF-1 rate? Well, this isn’t something of the quality or sophistication of a Patriot, but it’s also about half the price, so there are compensations. The level of fitout for the asking price, as we saw it (less fridge, jerry cans and gas bottle), of $28,990 plus on-roads, is pretty good. There’s a ton of ground clearance and departure and ramp-over angles, and the whole package towed along very nicely, hardly betraying its presence on the back of our Pajero.
Warranty is two years on the tent, five years on chassis and suspension, 12 months on the rest of the core construction and manufacturers’ warranties on installed appliances.
This is an import Chinese-built camper, but if that isn’t an issue for you and you’re in the market for an expedition-style camper then I’d include the Signature TOYTUF TF-1 on my potential shopping list. The inclusion of Australian-designed suspension, hitch, electronics and some other features should smooth many concerns for some buyers and by the look of things, you’d get many years of fun out of one of these.