Monday, October 15

Bluetonge Campers Overland XFS Lite

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Have you ever been out on a camping trip, looking out from under the awning of your chosen camping accommodation, and thought “this just feels right”? I’ve never felt that way about a forward-fold camper trailer – I’ve always preferred the space, storage and light weight of soft-floors – but as I surveyed my surroundings during a trip away in the Blue Tongue Overland XF Lite, my perceptions changed. I could see my young family camped like this.

This is an off-road camper that Blue Tongue’s owner Karl Geddes has been planning to build for years, but only now believes he’s got right. It’s a pared-down version of the company’s hallmark forward-fold, the Overland XFS Series II, but stripped back to make it lighter, easier to use and easier to camper trailer

The ‘Lite’ in the name is not just a boast – at 1100kg, it’s actually one of the lightest forward-fold camper trailers on the market right now, either Australian-built or imported. It’s as light as the Cub Campers Frontier and roughly 300 to 400kg lighter than just about everything else. That difference is felt everywhere. There’s a huge reduction in weight on the tow ball, so there’s less impact on your vehicle’s braking and steering performance; less weight being towed, so better fuel economy; and less to haul down rough tracks, so you’ll get to camp with far less hassle. In a segment that’s easy to find great campers provided you don’t care about weight, it’s a credit to this product that it is so light but still so functional.

Weight has been shaved off in sensible areas, too. While the draw bar (the part that carries most of the weight) is still manufactured from overly strong 100x50x4mm galvanised steel, the rest of the frame is built from lighter 70x50x3mm stock. Ten-inch off-road brakes (rather than the more common 12-inch items) are appropriate on a smaller camper, as are the 15-inch alloy wheels with six-stud LandCruiser hubs, two-tonne rated wheel bearings and 225/70R R15 all-terrain tyres. There’s only the single rear-mounted spare tyre, rather than the two you’ll find on the XFS overland camper trailer

Importantly, it’s a camper capable of decent off-road jaunts. It’s fitted with independent, coil-sprung, trailing-arm suspension with dual shock absorbers and an AL-KO 360-degree off-road hitch. It’s probably not the camper you’d buy to drag to hell and back, but I’d have no hesitation towing it to Cape York. With care, it should follow you anywhere.

The extravagance of most forward-fold campers is what lends them so much weight, but the XF Lite shies away from that, focusing on the essential luxuries without going overboard. I always wonder at the need for 18kg of gas in a camper whose needs don’t extend much past cooking and heating enough water for occasional short showers. The single 4.5kg bottle behind the mesh stone guard (and not in a heavy steel boot) is far better suited to the size of the camper, and it’s roughly 15kg lighter, too. Assured that the reductions in weight will help improve fuel economy, there’s only one jerry can holder, too.

The biggest improvement in weight (if not mathematically the most significant) is the one you’ll notice every time you set up or pack up the camper trailer. So much weight has been shed from the forward folding lid, it almost does away with the need for the winch to haul it over its hinges. One person should be able to walk it over singlehandedly. Gas struts catch it once it’s over-centre, and you only really need the winch to pull it flat. Tellingly, there’s no second winch to pull it back closed, as the struts do most of the work on the way back.

The tent on the Overland XF Lite is exactly the same as the one fitted to the more premium XFS II. Unique to Blue Tongue Campers, it’s made from a 450gsm poly-cotton canvas with a tropical roof over the bed and living area. I particularly like that all of the windows have small poled annexes above them, midge-proof mesh, and zippers on every part so they can be fully opened from inside or out. The panel adjacent to the kitchen and living area rolls up completely, which opens up the two living areas. I can’t really explain why I like that so much, but I do.

The tent sets up with only a minimum of fiddling – we did it in seven minutes, which is roughly 53 minutes quicker than I can normally haul two Oztent RV-4s (my family’s go-to accommodation when we head off-road) from the roof, out of their bags and set them up with their adjoining awnings, groundsheets and wall panels. The awning takes another 10 minutes, but I’m still 45 minutes better off. One peculiarity of the camper is that it’s supplied with what seems like two of every pole needed. We discard about 20 once everything is set up, which will help save even more weight down the campe rewiew

Every piece of canvas you’ll ever need comes in the box (the massive storage one on the driver’s side that’s also useful for generators) including the annexe, all its walls and an extension that can be used as a shower tent. In total, there’s a massive 19 square metres covered by canvas once everything is set up, but its footprint has only doubled, rather than quadrupled, like rear-fold or soft-floor campers.

There was a time when the epitome of camper trailer luxury was a walk-in corridor at the end of the bed, but that’s been well and truly trounced by forward-fold campers’ lounges with dinette tables and queen-sized beds. The bed in the XF Lite is comfortable but firm, and some might prefer a mattress topper over it. Fortunately, there’s enough room to add a little softness without worrying about being able to close the lid.

I can still remember when camper trailers didn’t have kitchens, or if they did, they were a plywood bench bolted to the swing-out tailgate with space for a gas cooker and a cut-out for a plastic tub. That would be almost unthinkable these days. The stainless steel slide-out kitchen in the Blue Tongue offers a great layout, with a fold-up drying rack above the sink, hot and cold water, a three-burner gas stove with full wind-guard and a few handy little compartments underneath.

It still could be refined in a few areas; for example, you’ll always need to be careful of the wind-shield scratching the stainless-steel surface when you open it up. And although it’s very capable of supporting its own weight, there’s some sag (it is almost 2 metres long!), and the supplied telescoping legs aren’t quite strong enough to hold it level.

I particularly like that there are 12V and USB charging points (I have so many things that charge via USB – it’s getting out of hand!), as well as a reading light on a long arm that can be moved around where it’s needed.

Forward on the camper the giant fridge box, with slide, is capable of housing a 95-litre Dometic fridge or something that’s smaller than 1000x510x525mm, at least. Either side of the camper are two slide-out drawers, one of which makes a great pantry, the other ideal for miscellaneous camping gear.

The stainless steel slide-out kitchen in the Blue Tongue offers a great layout, with hot and cold water, a three-burner gas stove with full wind-guard and a few handy little compartments underneath

What really sets this camper apart from other imported campers is Blue Tongue’s commitment to using the highest quality components everywhere. Dometic supplies the stove for the kitchen, Redarc the battery management hardware, ARK the drop-down legs, Webasto, the heating and hot water units and AL-KO has its name written all over this camper. There are cheaper versions of all these things readily available to Blue Tongue, but the company chooses not to use them for a reason.

One downfall of the forward-fold camper, though, is a lack of storage space (most other campers have it under the bed), and the XF Lite doesn’t change that, unfortunately. Aside from the huge space for the fridge, the generator box and the two pantry drawers, the next biggest space is what’s under the lounges, and that’s not very accessible. These make great campers for a couple, but it’s really the one thing that precludes these from being great family campers.camper trailer storage

Which is my dilemma, because I’ve got three kids and it does just feel so right – the lounge, the kitchen, the undercover space and the decent towing weights. So, this is what I’d do – my wife and I would sleep in the camper and the three kids would sleep in an Oztent that I’d carry on my roof racks. All their toys would fit around my own on the optional boat rack and we’d all pack light – we’re camping, after all. 

Price: From $20,990, tow away. Find out more here.

This review originally appeared in issue 31 of ROAM magazine. Find out more or subscribe, here.


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