Earlier this year we found ourselves almost pulling our hair out whilst we were on the hunt for a new caravan to suit our expanding family. Our needs were quite specific and I guess we were pretty fussy too. We were upgrading our soft-floor camper trailer and we were looking for a caravan that would give us more room and a few more creature comforts but without being too heavy and one that was still more than capable of getting off the beaten track.
I guess we came to the conclusion that we would have to compromise on a few things. At first we over looked the wind-up style campers as I just didn’t think, judging by the outside appearance of them that they would have the space inside that we were wanting- until I popped my head inside one for the first time! They are remarkably deceiving.
So with this new potential option in mind we set about exploring the range of wind-up campers available on the market- we had to consider firstly, sleeping area, storage space and their off-road ability. We have plenty of gear we need to carry as we spend time travelling Australia and with the 4 of us, practical space was paramount. With a good idea of what was available via a bit of research over the internet and a bit of “sticky beaking” around campsites for a better look up close at these campers, we narrowed down our shortlist to just 2 models. After some lengthy deliberations with the better half, we both decided that the Jayco Eagle Outback offered the ideal layout and features for our family.
Woohoo! To cut a long story short we picked our new Jayco Eagle Outback up from the Jayco factory literally only days after it rolled off the production line. Ahhh- that new van smell!
Our family has been living on the road and travelling in our Jayco Eagle Outback for a few months now and so far we are thrilled with our choice. The exterior of the Eagle Outback looks tough. The current Jayco Outback colour scheme with the orange and green “splashes” adds a rugged element to the protective checker plate sides. But “Tough” doesn’t stop with just the look of it, the super strong chassis and suspension components underneath are probably over-kill for a camper of this size but I guess it’s much better than being inadequate for the job, especially if you plan on driving corrugated roads of which Australia has plenty. Extra ground clearance is achieved in the Outback range of campers with the help of an underslung axle design teamed up with 15” off-road tyres wrapped around some sexy alloy rims.
At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that these types of campers are fiddly to setup/pack up, admittedly there is a bit more to setting one up than a conventional caravan but it’s not hard. We can usually have it fully setup ready to use within 20 mins. We leave the beds made which saves a lot of time too. After unhitching, we secure the drop-down stabiliser legs and wind the top up. The beds slide out from each end and secure in place with the support bars. It’s then just a matter of popping out the canvas bed ends and latching the top half of the door into place. That’s basically it!
In complete contrast to the Eagle Outback’s tough looking exterior, the plush and vibrant interior is comparable to that of a modern full sized van. But with more room for a family! When towing, the Jayco Eagle only adds just over an 5 metres to the length of our rig but when fully setup it extends to a whopping 6.2 metres of living space incorporating a full sized queen bed over the drawbar. At the opposite end of the camper extends another bed that could easily sleep 2 adults. The best thing is that even with all that sleeping room, we still have full use of the camper’s club lounge and dinette seating. The table folds down and the club lounge can convert to a bed as well. So all up a family of 7 could sleep comfortably in one of these.
The kitchen design is very practical and is finished off in a classy wood grain laminate. I guess the only thing lacking is any overhead storage space that you would otherwise find in full sized caravans. But other storage areas within the camper more than make up for this.
At one end is a 93L Thetford 3 way fridge/freezer which so far we have mainly only used on 240v. It’s a great size for us and has very simple controls to select between 12v/240v and gas. Moving along the bench is the sink (a normal compact type caravan sink) with a hand-pump operated water outlet and a mains pressure tap. The camper came with a plastic sink insert which doubles as bench space as well as a chopping board. The stove is a Dometic 4 burner cooktop with 3 LPG burners and a single electric hotplate. Underneath the stovetop is an LPG grill which we haven’t used yet. We have been doing most of our cooking outside on the 2 burner slide-out BBQ. The outdoor BBQ stores underneath the club lounge and is accessed via an external hatch, it simply slides out and connects to the campers LPG system. That BBQ has been getting a real workout lately! One of the advantages of cooking outside on the BBQ apart from the awesome and unique BBQ flavours is the fact that the smell of the food you are cooking doesn’t linger inside the van. Plus it’s a great excuse to all sit outside as a family whilst dinner is cooking.
The power control system in the Eagle Campers are very clever, they use a specially designed “smart” charging system to maintain our 120AH house battery as well as controlling the campers 12 volt accessory wiring such as the overhead lighting and internal and external 12v power sockets.
There are plenty of 240v and 12v power outlets available throughout the camper for the laptop, chargers, iPods and gadgets alike. We additionally had our camper fitted with an extra water storage tank and a second LPG bottle in the front boot so we can now enjoy some extended remote camping. There are plenty of options available when making a purchase too such as picking your fabric colours and adding little extras to fully customise your camper.
Ok, so I’ve told you about the main features of our Jayco Eagle Outback, but how does it perform as a family camper? Well, I reckon we have used it enough by now to give a qualified opinion on this. We reckon it performs really well! I was interested to find out how well it would stand up to some strong winds and it wasn’t long till we found that out. In our second week of using the camper we were hit with some rather nasty weather, strong wind gusts and days of constant rain. The manager of the caravan park we were staying at even came to check on us at 2am as he had concerns- the winds were that bad. But- we were snug in bed, nice and dry. The canvas walls were flapping a bit in the wind and the occasional wind gust did make the camper rock a little but overall I think the Eagle did very well to cope.
The sleeping area is very roomy and the beds can hold a cuddly bloke like me quite well without any dramas. Personally I would like to have an innerspring mattress fitted for a bit more comfort, but I can look at doing that down the track. Perhaps I’m just being a bit precious?
To sum up our thoughts, we give the Jayco Eagle camper a BIG “thumbs up”. As far as a practical family camper goes, you wouldn’t want much more. The design of the kitchen is smart and incorporates an efficient use of bench space without being to “overdone”. It’s equipped enough to cook a simple family meal in and that’s all most people need, the sink could have been a little bigger but that’s not a real drama. Space is where I give the Jayco Eagle the most points though. Under every seat is storage space, under the kitchen is more storage and the new front boot design gives heaps of room for tools, ropes and extra camping gear which is something that is very important to us as travellers.
Thumbs up for:
We would like to see added:
For more information on the Jayco Eagle Outback check out www.jayco.com.au
We opted to keep things simple for our trip around Oz and of course our choice of rig had to fit our budget too. We needed to consider many things when we were choosing our vehicle. Firstly, room. It had to have enough room to store our bits and pieces, our fridge and recovery gear. Secondly, it had to be 4wd with low range, it had to be diesel (for power and economy), it had to have air con (due us travelling in the north where it gets quite warm). I also wanted a bullbar, driving lights, towbar- of course, UHF CB etc. So we set out to look for something that came close to fitting the our needs. We came across a 2003 RA Holden Rodeo, 3.0l intercooled Turbo diesel dual-cab with ARB Canopy, towbar and bull bar!. it was within the budget with enough money left over to tweak a few accessories like driving lights, CB, sat nav, car antenna and tint the windows.
We liked the look of the Rodeos and feel comfortable with the reputation of the Isuzu diesel engine. It is automatic and the LT variant, which just means it has a few extras like chrome mirrors, mag wheels, power windows etc. It was very comfy and roomy, it looked good. the only downside is it doesn’t have a lot of ground clearance and the 96kw engine is lucky to pull the skin off a christmas pudding. Our camper would be about its limit. One thing we need to compliment the car on is the fuel economy, great for a car this size and heavily loaded like we have it! Thinking back now, if we had a few more coins to spare we would have got the same car but with the newer more powerful 3.0l CRD engine. But overall we feel like we got a great deal and the trusty tug hasn’t let us down yet.
Our camper was a Marlin Camper from the Central Coast of NSW. It was originally purchased for our weekend camping trips and short holidays out bush. It was never meant to be our home for such a big adventure. Basically it is a 7×4 box trailer with high sides, 40mm square axle with eye-to-eye leaf springs (off-road upgrade), with extended drawbar. It has an OzTrail Camper 9 softfloor camper tent mounted onboard, with a basic Jerry can and gas bottle bracket on one side. It originally came with a 15cm Foam mattress but after 15 months it was due for an upgrade. We now have a full-sized queen inner-spring mattress for our comfort.
On the draw bar sits a large storage box which holds our house battery, bits and pieces, our en suite, camping ropes, pegs etc. Fishing bucket, camp shower, spare butane cans, tv antenna, tarp’s, electrical leads, wheel brace, wheel chocks, trailer lock etc. A storage box like this is a necessity!!
Also on board the draw bar is our spare wheel. Strapped to this we carry our 80cm satellite dish we use for our VAST tv reception when in remote areas. We initially didn’t have this but after so long on the road we felt we would benefit from the luxury of keeping up to date and a bit more entertainment aswell, especially for Cooper. It was a basic model camper, which kept the weight down and less things to malfunction, however since being on the road we have fitted a 60l water tank underneath with a 12v pump and dispenser out the side of the trailer. We have installed LED lighting both inside and outside of the tent and annexe aswell as a small LED night-light we switch on every night for a bit more security and lighting for the 3am call of nature.
We installed a house battery in the front storage box and 2 Anderson plug outlets from the side along with a 15amp fused cigarette lighter socket. A main power cable extends underneath to the tail gate which plugs into a small plastic power box (3 cig sockets and 2 plugs for in & out LED lights), our LED night-light wraps around this and hangs from our trailer with heavy-duty magnets. We decided this would be the better option for power as its removable and can be moved around to suit our different setup styles and power needs for each camp.