DAVID COOK checks out Blue Tongue Campers’ latest forward- folding hard floor camper, finding it sets a new standard for quality.
Tested: Blue Tongue Overland XF
Australia’s Outback is littered with the bones of imported camper trailers. Owners have been sold a unit for as little at $4000 described as “Full Outback Ready”.
The owners have ended up limping home with all their possessions crammed into their tow vehicle, wishing they’d done more homework before buying.
But the market has been changing rapidly and today many of the best quality components in the RV industry are sourced from China by some of the most respected brands.
The key is finding the right manufacturers and working collaboratively to ensure the highest possible standards.
This has been seen some dramatic swings in the camper trailer marketplace. What had once been ready sellers in the under $10,000 dollar market appear to be rapidly losing favour with buyers. Trailers which were once basic and uncomplicated are being bypassed in favour of well equipped and, of necessity, well engineered construction.
A perfect example is Blue Tongue’s latest model: the Overland XF. A forward fold hard floor camper, it offers a standard of construction and finish not seen in imported campers before.
All metalwork is laser cut and assembled with quality welds and fastenings. Edges are neatly finished, wiring follows accepted colour codes and standards, and comes in pre-built looms joined by multi-pin plugs, making the tracing and repair of any problems easy and professional. Detailing is excellent and the standards of fitout first-rate for the price.
A good example is the small storage box on the rear spare wheel carrier: it’s sturdily built, with a gas strut to support the lid, tough hinges, over-sized over-centre stainless latches and is fully carpet lined, even up the sides and across the underside of the lid. It’s a minor piece of equipment, but demonstrates the full care and attention to detail.
The chassis is fully hot dip galvanised, with trailing arm independent suspension, with coil springs and dual shock absorbers on each side. It’s fully toe-in and toe-out adjustable, with 2.6 tonne rated bearings, 60mm stub axles and 12in. electric drum brakes.
The wheels are high load rated alloys with six-stud LandCruiser pattern, including the spare on the swing-away rear bar, with Cooper tyres.
At the front is a mesh stone guard with chequer plate outer wings to deflect branches and any other harder items, with mud flaps beneath. Behind are two jerry can holders and two gas bottle holders suitable for 4kg bottles. Jerry cans and bottles are not supplied, but can be fitted if desired. The hitch is a 2 tonne rated Al-Ko offroad unit.
The front box stores a fridge drawer on the kitchen side, big enough to fit up to an 80L Waeco, with an electronic exhaust fan. In the storage area behind is room for poles and other longer items at the top with a handy drawer on either side of the camper for easy access to items such as a generator. On the driver’s side of the fridge box is the diesel hot water system and additional storage space. On the top of the box are tie-down points to carry additional items, such as firewood or additional canvas.
Behind the axle line is a slide-out stainless steel kitchen. It’s equipped with a three-burner Smev stove surrounded by a high wind deflector, stainless steel sink, hot and cold water mixer tap, slide-out stainless bench at the end, full sized cutlery drawer plus an additional smaller drawer adjacent and an LED gooseneck light.
Positioning the kitchen at the rear of the trailer assists in reducing ball weight, which in some versions of these forward-fold campers is forward of the access door and results in a very heavy towing weight.
The Overland is equipped with two water tanks: a 100L stainless tank for drinking and cooking purposes and a 50L tank for the shower. Each tank is equipped with its own water pump.
At the rear is a swing-away arm mounting the spare, plus the aforementioned storage box and a winch to assist in closing, though there is an option for a second spare wheel which loses you the winch, requiring manual closing of the camper.
Access to the sleeping and internal areas is achieved by undoing the four over-centre side latches. The top can be winched over via the winch mounted on the drawbar or, if you’re reasonably healthy, can be done by one person simply lifting it over using the gas strut assistance. There is no need for a rear winch at this time, as is the case with some Chinese versions.
The top of the camper body folds forward and sits on top of the front storage box, taking the main bed with it, with the tent erecting behind. The tent bows are then adjusted out, and, to tighten the roof canvas, four spreader bars inserted. It’s a little more complex than the Australian Mod Con version but simpler than some other Chinese editions.
Entry is via a door which folds down at the front of the main body and which automatically lowers steps as it drops.
The queen-sized bed has a foam mattress, for lightness in folding over, but an innerspring is optional. Straps over the bed keep the bedding in place. There is a zip-out privacy screen
At the rear, under what had been the top of the trailer, is a lounge area, with cushioned bench seating on three sides. The flooring is vinyl for easy cleaning, and there’s a handy adjustable height table which can work as an internal eating or comfort point, or it can be taken outside for eating or other purposes. This table can collapse and is then used to form the base of a double bed across the back of the camper.
There are two hard-wired LED light strips, including one above the bed head, and an additional LED light on an extension lead for use anywhere, inside or out.
Beneath the driver’s side bench are mounted the two 100Ah AGM batteries and the Ctek MXS 15A mains charger and the RCD for the 240 mains circuit. There are two 240V outlets in the lounge area, along with a 12V cigarette plug socket and two USB outlets, as well as a 12V socket adjacent to the kitchen. All the electronics are controlled from a panel on the driver’s side of the trailer, with a volt and amp meter, individual switches for each circuit, plus individual fuses, and a main 50A fuse for the Anderson plug circuit back to the car.
Behind the batteries is storage for the canvas for the awning walls and shower room. Beneath the bench seat on the kitchen side is storage for whatever items you might want to carry.
The tent is made from plain weave 450gsm (approximately 15oz, says Karl Geddes from Blue Tongue) Indian canvas, sewn in China. It appears good quality though is certainly softer than the equivalent in new Aussie canvas.
The tent has a tropical roof, and the awning can remain attached permanently, so there is no need to attach and remove it at each camp. The price includes all three walls for the gabled awning, as well as Velcro-in vinyl flooring. The awning is 10m2, or 4200 x 2400mm.
There are five windows, plus the door, all with midgy-proof screens, which can also be zipped out, and gusseted awnings over each of the outer windows. The side of the tent above the kitchen can also be unzipped and rolled up for plenty of air flow into the tent.
Additionally there is a shower room which attaches to the front of the tent, with an outlet for the hot water on the drawbar.
All up the Overland XT weighs 1390kg empty and can be loaded to 1990kg, giving a generous 600kg of additional items and material. The ball weight, when empty, is 190kg.
The forward-fold concept has sputtered along for a number of years, but has suddenly boomed in popularity in the past six months, according to Blue Tongue’s Karl Geddes and they are now outselling their rear-fold hard floors two to one.
The basic forward-fold design is pretty good, though it has its shortcomings: there is a minimum of on-board storage, a lack of access to the interior and its contents without opening the whole camper as the access door is covered by the main gas struts, any items carried above the front box must be removed to set up, and a fairly heavy ball weight. However, the construction and overall build qualities of this camper are hard to surpass.
As we saw the Overland XF it had added options of the diesel hot water service, and a boat rack with an added cage to carry firewood or other items.
As seen the price is $26,640. Find out more at bluetonguecampers.com.au