We love camping. Even when it was just Sarah and I, the thought of jumping in the 4WD and heading off to some pristine beach camp site, or remote track would have us both itching with excitement for days prior to leaving. We did 5 weeks in the Kimberley several years ago and made some of the best memories we can remember.
Now, with two young boys (3 and 1), things have changed a lot, but we still head out camping as often as possible, and we still count the days down until we leave for each trip. Sure, its not nearly as relaxing and adventurous as it used to be, but we still have a great time.
We’ve come up with a number of ways that make camping with little ones easier, which you can read here; Camping with a toddler; 35 ways to make it easier.
When Oliver came along, we made the move from an Oztent to towing a soft floor camper trailer. We knew that it just wasn’t possible to fit everything in that we needed for long term camping and a trailer would be the only option.
This was not just related to space, but also to weight. Our 80 Series Land Cruiser was already extremely heavy, and loading it up anymore was just tipping us too far over the weight scale.
The soft floor camper trailer solved all this; it had room for days, a significant payload and overall made camping much easier. We could take the porta-cot (and a second one when Cooper came along!), lots of extra water, fuel and everything else we needed for weeks on end and camp in relative comfort wherever and whenever we wanted.
We even spent 3 months travelling in the Kimberley and Northern Territory when Oliver was around 18 months. In total, we did somewhere around the 140 nights in our Expedition Deluxe camper trailer, over 3 years. Not bad at all.
The upgrade thoughts begin
Before we bought the soft floor we knew it was going to be harder work than some options out there, and that it wouldn’t be amazing in some ways, but chose to go ahead with it anyway because it was the best solution for us at that time. We had always planned to get something better in the future, and after about 40 nights in the soft floor we started looking at other options with the intention of upgrading a few years down the line.
There were lots of things that we found frustrating about the soft floor, and wanted something that would make camping easier. At the end of the day if its not enjoyable and easy, you won’t head away, and we both wanted to continue travelling.
Soft floor gripes
There were a few larger things that were annoying, or frustrating with the soft floor camper trailer:
- Time consuming and hard to set up and pack away, with a big, heavy canvas tent and a boat loader solar system.
- Difficult to access storage, and everything had to come in and out each time you set up
- Massive surface area required to set up, which made finding camp sites harder
- Packing the camper up wet meant wet bedding, and the need to set it up at home to dry, which we couldn’t easily do with a small driveway and no suitable backyard. This literally meant we didn’t camp much over the wetter months as it was just too much hassle. Not much fun when you have amazing campsites in winter, like Fonty’s Pool.
- It was not clean. If you’d been on muddy or dusty roads the cover was always filthy, and then by design the tent sits on the ground, which means you constantly have grass, mud, poop, sand and what ever else is on the ground sticking to the tent when you go to pack it away
The unexpected upgrade
Back in September 2019, we were still casually looking for an upgrade, with the intention to wait a bit longer before we committed to anything. We had been and looked at a few hybrid camper trailers, but still weren’t committed to anything. We’d been looking at hybrids for more than a year prior to this, and I’m pretty sure we looked at every single brand and model out there (online, not in person).
Initially, we ruled out the Reconn R2 as it was just too expensive, but in the end it was the only one that really ticked all the boxes we were looking for, and when one popped up only a year old second hand in Perth with the right configuration for kids (bunks and dinette) we decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. A trip to the Bank and a few hours later we walked out with a significant dent in the finances.
We now travel in our Lifestyle Reconn R2 very often, and in a few short months have done 24 nights in it, with another 24 in a row to happen very shortly (Can’t wait!).
EDIT – If you want to read how its gone after a year of use, check out the Lifestyle Reconn R2 review.
Whats the upgrade been like?
I would almost describe the upgrade as life changing. Seriously, the two trailers are chalk and cheese, and travelling with the new Reconn R2 has been absolutely amazing. When we had the soft floor we never really saw all of the downsides, and after using a hybrid for some time they become blatantly obvious.
Now, this post is not a review of the Reconn. That will come (and the trailer isn’t perfect by any means, and there are some things that I really don’t like at all). This is just our experience upgrading; what is better, what is worse and what we aren’t entirely sold on yet. I hope that this will help those who have hard floors, soft floors or forward fold camper trailers that are considering taking the plunge.
If you are in the market for a camper trailer, have a look at this; The Ultimate guide to buying a camper trailer.
The main challenge of getting a different camper trailer was finding something that ticked so many boxes. Sarah and I both had a list of things we wanted to try and get, and putting it all together into one unit was a serious challenge.
I’ve said it many times; there is no perfect setup. Everything will have its limitations, drawbacks and downsides. In the end all you can do is tick as many of the important boxes as possible, and live with the rest.
We were chasing something with a fast setup, high payload, light weight, at least 150L of water on board, a place to sit inside to eat and work out of the weather, good storage, low tow ball weight, a functional kitchen and suitable for two young kids and two adults to live in for extended periods at a time. In essence, we were after an easy camping setup that we could take anywhere we wanted to in Australia.
We also wanted something that wouldn’t matter if we had to pack it up wet. So many camper trailers result in wet bedding and interiors when you shut them up straight after some rain, or even after a mildly damp night (or you have to wait hours in the morning to dry them) and its just a pain to deal with. I was over having to try and set the camper up at home on the driveway just to let it dry out!
The plan was to get something that would be suitable for a lap around Australia in, and although you could do it in a soft floor camper trailer, or tent, its not the easiest method of travel.
For us, we concluded that you only really buy a camper trailer to sleep in, cook out of and relax around, and as long as it doesn’t fall apart, cause you grief and carries what you need then there’s no need to make it more complicated than it is.
What’s better about the Hybrid?
There’s lots of things that are better about the new Reconn R2 compared to our previous soft floor:
Much faster to setup and pack away
Possibly the most appreciated change is the setup time and ease. The soft floor could be entirely set up (excluding the annex) in about 15 to 20 minutes with one person. That included folding the boat rack out the way, pulling the tent out, putting the legs down, getting the kitchen out, connecting the gas and grey water hoses and pulling chairs out.
The new Reconn R2 can be set up in under 3 minutes, including putting the legs down. The actual camper takes about a minute to pop the roof on and open the kitchen. It truly is amazing. The setup time is only very marginally slower than a Caravan, and that’s about as good as it gets.
Everything is also ready to go; there’s no making beds, moving pillows around, pushing extensions out, setting up fly’s over canvas or what ever it might be. Don’t underestimate the importance of Camping Setup Times.
Much easier to setup and pack away
The time of setup is just one part of the equation. Ease of use has been a game changer for us. There’s no more heavy canvas to battle with, squaring the tent up, banging pegs in and struggling inside the tent with poles that constantly fall down and whack you (or your kids/wife) while you are setting it up.
There’s no climbing into a roasting hot camper and sweating while pulling poles out from under the bed, and its just a much more relaxing experience. There literally are no pegs, and no poles unless you decide to set the awning up (which is also very easy and fast)
Our Reconn R2 doesn’t have the electric actuators for the roof (which is an option), but even still the setup is to unlatch 4 over the centre latches, walk inside and use your shoulders to pop the roof. It’s literally that simple, and so much more enjoyable. I will mention that its a fair shove to get the camper roof up, but given its only for about 5 seconds its no issue at all.
The interesting thing with this is that we now have no issues stopping for one night at a time as required. With the soft floor and two young boys, we would avoid one night stays as much as possible, and on several occasions when we had to, we’d stay in a motel or cabin. The time, effort and savings just wasn’t worth it. I’m not kidding, either!
On the way to Duke of Orleans at Easter, we stayed about 3 hours away from Perth the first night to break the long drive up, and paid $70 for a small room above a pub for the family. Much nicer, and easier than struggling with the camper trailer late at night and early in the morning! Now though, we wouldn’t bother paying for accommodation, as everything can be set up and ready to use easily and quickly.
Cleaner to use
Under most circumstances the soft floor wasn’t such a problem, but if you’ve been going through bull dust, mud or other muck, setting it up was a job you did in your oldest clothes, as they would get covered by the time you finished. The actual camper stayed fairly dust free, but the cover would always be filthy and you have to man handle this around. That, and as the bottom of the tent sits on the ground you have a hard time keeping it clean when packing it all away.
Even when I tried a couple of times to stay clean, you still end up with muck all over your arms and clothes. It’s just the way it is!
Can be packed and unpacked easily
We keep the new camper on the driveway, and we can open all of the hatches easily to put clothes, food and general gear in very easily. The hatches are all at good heights, and easy to see in.
Our soft floor could sort of be packed on the driveway, but you either had to lift the entire tent up (which was difficult, and I strained my back a few times doing it) or climb into the actual trailer base from the back, where the kitchen was. Not ideal.
Now, Sarah can get things ready and duck out for 2 minutes at a time to pack them in while I’m at work, and when I get home we can hook up and go straight away.
Our new camper trailer has bucket loads of storage. The pantry behind the kitchen houses heaps of food, the storage on the side of the camper (opposite the pantry, and under our bed) is massive and then you have a full tunnel boot at the front, room inside the camper and a firewood box at the back.
Our soft floor never had any issues with storage, as it was basically an empty high side box trailer, but the Reconn still has more, and certainly far more accessible storage.
We had stacks of room inside the Soft Floor Roof. There was no issue at all to drag some camping chairs inside and sit there, but it wasn’t overly comfortable and we never had a table.
The new trailer has somewhere for us all to sit around a small table. Yes, it is poky, and not exactly luxury, but its a lot nicer than sitting on camping chairs inside your tent! This means when its feral weather we can all hide inside and eat, or even cook using a small gas burner (with plenty of air flow through the windows of course) and I can sit there and work on this blog.
A lot of these smaller campers use the kids beds as seating, or the dining area converts into a bed, which is no good as I needed to be able to work once the kids had gone to bed.
The kitchen setup is brilliant
One of the big selling points on the R2 is the kitchen. Its outdoors, its big and requires almost zero setup. It also has 4 big compartments, and 3 smaller ones to put your food. I actually built a small pantry for our previous camper trailer to keep the stables easily accessible, but this has far more room and is much easier to access.
There’s plenty of bench space, running water and a good spot to put your pots and pans. The kitchen is one of the major factors to consider when looking for a camper trailer, and we are very pleased with how the Reconn is set up.
The soft floor trailer wasn’t actually that slow to setup and pack away. It was everything else that had to be done when camping that took time, and one of those was getting clothes and gear out into the tent. With young kids you have nappies, cream, rubbish bags, wipes, and a million pieces of clothing. For 4 people, that meant 4 bags to come in and out of the trailer each time, pillows, lights etc etc.
The new trailer has space inside to put clothes and all of the other gear you need. Yes, its not a huge amount, and for long term travel you’d need to carry extra clothes elsewhere, but it makes life so much easier for general travel as you never have to take clothes bags with you!
We had around 150L of drinking water on the previous soft floor, which was more than enough. Our new trailer has 270L of water, spread over 3 tanks, which is absolutely ridiculous. It means that we can camp off grid for weeks at a time, as water is the only thing that will make you go back to civilisation.
It also means we can enjoy ourselves a bit more when having a shower, or washing dishes, or setting up a little pool for the kids to splash in. This is a game changer for us, and we can’t recommend it more.
Hot shower on board
With the soft floor, we would just chuck a stainless steel bucket on the fire (or burner) and use a 12V pump off the back of the Dmax. The new trailer has an external, permanently fixed shower/toilet tent and shower head including a hot water system inside. This is permanently plumbed, and makes having a shower a breeze.
The tent literally takes about a minute to unpack and setup, and our toilet lives inside when we are pulled up.
It has a door!
It’s not until you have young kids camping that you appreciate having a door to be able to get in and out! The noise of a zip that has to go up and around quite a long distance is easily enough to wake them, not to mention the time it takes to get in and out while the bugs and mosquitoes are hanging around.
Who would have thought a door could be so appreciated?! We didn’t, but its a great addition that we are extremely pleased about!
Of course, there’s no free lunch, and there are things that the soft floor camper trailer was better at. Eventually, you realise that you have to make a compromise one way or another, and just roll with what suits you the best. You cant have the best of both worlds. It just doesn’t exist!
You cannot beat physics. The more weight you tow, or the bigger the unit is the more fuel you will use. It’s pretty simple. The new camper trailer is a fair bit longer, but not that much taller or wider. Despite this, it is significantly heavier, and that is what really kills your fuel economy. On our 3 month trip up north we averaged 13.8L/100km with the old trailer. I reckon with the new trailer it will be somewhere around 15-16L/100km.
In the grand scheme of things this is still pretty good; if we towed a proper caravan or something bigger and heavier (like many people do) the fuel consumption would be up around the 18 – 20L/100km. This is one of the considerations you have to make; What’s the pro’s and con’s of towing?
Our previous camper trailer was just over 10 grand to buy, and we spent a couple of grand setting it up to suit us with better batteries, a freezer, solar panels, matching rims and some other bits and bobs.
Initially we had planned to spend a maximum of 30k, but couldn’t find anything even close to what we wanted in that sort of price range. We ended up paying 51k, which was a brilliant deal for a one year old trailer that was about 65k new.
As soon as you own something more expensive, the insurance is more expensive. We went from paying about $300 a year for our soft floor with Club 4×4 to $1200 a year with RAC for the new camper trailer. Such is life. To be fair, I had a couple of accidents that probably contributed to the higher cost too.
If you want to see the most remove places in Australia, you don’t take a trailer. However, some trailers will follow you wherever your 4WD will go. It does make your 4WD work harder, and any trailer reduces your accessibility. Our soft floor was nice and light, and physically small so we had much better access.
The new trailer is heavier, taller, wider and longer, and this all makes your total setup less capable. Trying to tow a two tonne trailer up a steep Sand Dune like Calcup at Yeagarup for example is probably not going to happen. However, its still far better for access than a full size caravan.
More care required
Now, I’m quietly confident you haven’t found a tree that money grows on, so like us will understand the need to be careful with your hard earned money. Just like you’d take more care of a newer 4WD, we find it imperative to look after our new camper trailer as best as possible.
That means driving differently, cleaning it better, not allowing things that are damaged to stay that way for long, not going down tracks that could cause extensive damage and in general just being careful.
I bounced our older trailer around a bit more because it was lighter, less valuable and realistically required less care factor. That’s no more; we baby our Reconn R2!
I mentioned above that extra weight isn’t a good thing for fuel, but its not good for anything. It puts more stress on your 4WD, makes it harder to get where you want to, more difficult to manoeuvre, less easy to control and the list goes on.
This trailer can weigh up to 2600kg maximum, but realistically will only be around 2000 – 2200kg when completely full and ready to roll. For what it is, that is amazing, but its still a lot of weight to pull behind you!
Heavier tow ball weight
There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to the marketing around 4WD vehicles and their towing capacities. I wrote a Simple towing guide to keep you legal, but in essence you cannot tow anywhere near what the manufacturers tell you that you can without being under extreme circumstances.
Our Dmax was built a couple of years ago, and we are happy with it. We could change a few things, but we are limited by towing capacity and tow ball weight more than your bog stock Ute rolling off the factory floor.
Beyond that, I didn’t want anything with a heavy ball weight as you risk bending chassis and put huge stress on things when off road. Our previous camper trailer had a maximum tow ball weight of about 100kg, when really loaded up.
The new one pretty much has that as a minimum, and it goes up to around 160kg depending on how we load it.
Why didn’t we just get a full size van?
Once you are at camp, a full size van is the ultimate arrangement. However, you often can’t take a full size van to the camps we like to go either due to physical size, or their weight. Beyond this, a proper off road van (which is often not actually designed for anything more than a gravel road) weighs too much for us to legally tow in terms of GVM, GCM and rear axle weight.
Then, there’s the price; unless you buy a very old off road full size van you are going to be starting at around 65-70k, going upwards. We already spent far more than we originally intended to, and wouldn’t have wanted to go further. This does us just fine.
Beyond that, our driveway is a tiny bit over 6 metres. When we back the new Reconn in, with about 100mm clearance from the garage eves we have the DO35 hitch about 50mm off the road. It literally edges over the bricks onto the curbing on our driveway. Anything bigger simply wouldn’t fit at home, and that in itself rules anything else out as they are always significantly larger.
Are we happy with the Lifestyle Reconn R2?
Overall, absolutely. We’ve only done short trips with it so far, but have nearly a month away in it shortly, and afterwards will do a full review of what’s awesome, and what’s not good. This trailer is as perfect as we could get for what we need. It might not suit your requirements, but for the adventurous family its perfect.
What do you travel in? Are you thinking about changing?