CAMPING - CAMPER TRAILERS
Chinese-made camper trailers are here to stay and it’s good to see that better-quality units are arriving on our shores. The Skamper Kamper Ranger raises the bar for lower-priced units.
Our experience is that Chinese-made products vary greatly in quality and we had the clearest possible illustration of this during a recent visit to a factory near Shanghai. At the Higer Bus factory they make thousands of buses and coaches each year.
In one section of this vast factory was a heavy curtain, separating two assembly lines: one producing domestic-market people-carriers, with bodywork constructed of sheet metal riveted or welded over square-tube framing. To prevent weld distortion of the frame, the body sides and roof were welded to the floor simultaneously by more than a dozen blokes inside the structure!
The welders all had respirators, of course, but when they all struck an arc it looked like a bomb had gone off!
On the other side of the curtain was a coach-body line for Scania’s Asia Pacific customers, where rolling chassis from Sweden were being fitted with a variety of bodies. A Swedish engineer with clipboard was busy doing quality assurance, but the fit and finish stood any scrutiny.
Higer’s Chinese bosses pointed out to me that customers can have whatever quality level they’re prepared to pay for; from basic to luxury.
The Ranger evaluation
Skamper Kampers imports four models from China. The Ranger is a soft-floor with a RRP around $7000 plus options and on-road costs. Fully optioned and insured you should still get change out of nine grand.
Having seen some less than brilliant quality coming out of China we crawled around and under the Skamper unit.
The base of any camper trailer is its chassis and the Ranger’s looked excellent: a full-length, hot-dip galvanised, 100mm x 75mm box-section frame, with ‘waisted’ sections where the chassis was bent into a drawbar profile: very similar to a boat trailer chassis. The chassis comes with a three-year warranty.
Weld quality looked fine and the spring hangers attached to load-spreading plates, not directly to the box sections.
Spring quality also seemed good, with rebound leaves and shock absorbers as standard equipment. Electric brakes were also standard. Wheels were 15-inch six-stud steel-spoke designs, shod with 235/75 radial tyres.
The coupling was a poly-block, swivelling in a cadmium-plated yoke and with Australian Standard compliance stamping.
Handbrake position was good, with a rubber grip and release button. Caravan-style wind-down stabiliser legs were fitted at the rear and the jockey wheel was a swing-up type.
Bodywork was fabricated from galvanised 2.5mm steel sheet. Standard kit included the main tub, lidded storage bin and stone guard.
The evaluation camper was fitted with two jerry-can holders and two gas-bottle holders. The evaluation unit also had an optional kitchen upgrade to stainless steel, folding kitchen extension, front storage basket and stone guard bra.
Buyers need to bring their own camping stove and there’s no room for a normal-sized fridge in this compact camper.
With an aggregate trailer mass of only 1400kg and an unladen ball weight of 60kg, a sensibly loaded Skamper Kamper Ranger can be towed by virtually anything. Also, its lightweight design allows it to be manoeuvred easily on-site.
Like all soft-floor campers the Ranger is aimed more at the family camping market, where the unit gets set up and remains so for at least a few days at a time. It’s not ideal for a quick overnight-stay setup in the same way as a hard-floor camper.
That said, the Ranger was made habitable by a couple in less than half an hour and a full setup with all walls in place took around an hour. There would be no need for guy ropes, unless the wind was blowing oysters off the rocks.
Opening the tent was made easier by gas strut assistance and we noted a zip-on canvas cover over the mattress. This cover did double duty as a modesty screen, zipping vertically inside the opened tent, with a zip-opening porthole for entry. An aluminium ladder with reasonably broad treads allowed easy bed access.
Soft-floor camper tent covers sometimes have zipper issues when dust and rain intervene, but the Ranger had Velcro over the zipper, so that should help keep grit and water out.
The inbuilt floor section dropped down from bed level, forming a draught-proof screen, with meshed openings for ventilation, if needed and for access to a jerry can and a gas bottle.
The living area had three meshed windows with zip-up canvas covers and a nice touch was clear plastic in the lower meshed sections, letting light in, but not rain splashes.
Opening the swing-away tailgate revealed a storage space and a slide-out kitchen with a drop-down door. The evaluation camper had an optional stainless steel kitchen and an optional folding table clipped to the end of the kitchen module, greatly increasing bench space.
There was a sink and pump-action tap, with a simple snap-on hose connection to an under-tub stainless steel water tank. A duplicate tap on the outside of the camper trailer provided water supply when the camper was closed – great for topping up water bottles and for cleaning up after breaking camp.
A full-size awning is standard equipment and it went up with an assembly of sturdy, galvanised steel poles and spreaders. It lined up very neatly, with little in the way of creasing.
The window-equipped walls connected by zipper and Velcro, so they also aligned well. We were very impressed with the quality look of the completed Ranger home in the bush, but we’ve heard of some issues with Chinese canvas.
We didn’t get an opportunity to check out the Ranger in off-road conditions, but its poly-block coupling and compact size should see it follow a 4WD through some tricky situations. However, the rear stabiliser legs look vulnerable to damage when negotiating steep creek banks.
The Skamper Kampers’ Ranger is a budget-priced soft-floor camper trailer that seems to offer exceptional value for money. Australian camper trailer makers may not be pleased with the Chinese invasion of their territory, but that’s the way of the modern world.
A possible upside for local camper producers is that low-priced units allow budget-conscious families to get into the camper trailer scene and as their fortunes improve they may move up to higher-specified products.