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Will An Off-Road Trailer Work For Me?

Written and Permission Granted by Kurt Williams of Cruiser Outfitters

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Needles District of Canyonlands

Similar to my Roof Top Tent overview, I hope to explore the thought process and logic behind an off-road trailer and specifically help those on the fence decide if they really need a trailer. Let me preface this by saying my experience with off-road trailers doesn't hold a candle to many out there that have been hauling off-road trailers around in the wilds of this world for decades. I have been fortunate to venture over parts of Utah, Colorado and Nevada with my trailer in tow for the last five years, my opinions are based on those experiences.
First, lets define the type of trailer we are talking about. My reference relates to off-road trailers designed to be towed by your 4x4 to remote places not possible with a standard utility trailer. Because of that they will likely have tires at or near the size of your vehicle. They will have hitches that don't inhibit motion or articulation, and are generally built to make your camping and travel experience more comfortable by allowing you to haul more gear. I am not referring to a tent trailer, whereas they can be beefed up for towing into the back country, my dialogue is more aimed at home built or commercially built trailers similar to the popular military surplus M416 or the modern Adventure Trailers offerings. In my opinion if the trailer couldn't be cleanly pulled through a trail such as Mineral Basin or even something a tad more difficult like Rattlesnake with no damage and minimal added effort, it can't really be considered an off-road trailer. On the same note I don't think it warrants the definition of an off-road trailer under the broader terms of 'overland' or 'expedition' use if it isn't highway friendly and capable of being towed at speed limits and for long distances with little encumbrance on the tow rig. The specs and benefits of the numerous different options on the market range that I have no intention of covering the product selection with this article so much as the need and uses of such trailers.

My involvement in trailers started in 2000. I was building my second Land Cruiser and had stumbled across a pile of Australian 4x4 Magazines that the owner of the old Cruiser Outfitters had in the office. Keep in mind the Aussie's are and have been building vehicles similar to the current 'overland' & 'expedition' trends we are seeing here in the US since vehicles first came about in their country, to them its not a new trend and surely isn't the novelty we've seen it become in our market today. In those magazines were pictures and advertisements of dedicated off-road trailers. Amenities ranging from sinks and stoves to tents and fridges. I must admit my needs at the time surely didn't warrant such a device so I was as guilty of the 'novelty' train of thought as any other. What it did do was start me thinking about how I would want to build a trailer. We had an old FJ40 tub kicking around and all the frames and axles I could possible want, being a single college student pretty much dictated I would build my own and at the time I was beyond excited to do so. I fabricated the front tub enclosure and mounted it to the back half of an old FJ55 frame, still running the Land Cruiser axle underneath. I bent the frame in front to create a tongue and later towed it home where it would sit for several years while I collected parts and brainstormed build plans. I won't detail my build as many of you remember it as it really was inspired and documented here on RME. (Click here for a series of articles I wrote on my build up) What I will detail is how my needs made the use of the trailer a reality and my current thoughts on off-road trailers in general.

My FJ40 was finished and I was soon dating the gal that is now my wife. Camping for a day or two was easy enough out of the back of the Land Cruiser but after a few long weekend camp trips we were soon feeling beyond cramped with the space and amenities available. I was faced with simple choices, come up with a different rig or finish off my trailer that I had always envisioned solving this problem. Finish the trailer it was. As detailed by my build articles I tried to envision every scenario that was cumbersome or inconvenient on a trip and design it into the trailer. Lack of storage, power, water, spare fuel, etc... all the things you typically think of when you consider a trailer right? I built many of these factors into my trailer and it really has worked out great for me. At the time I was super busy with school and still trying to head to the hills as much as possible, it was nice to just 'hitch up and go', leave everything but food in the trailer so getting out of town is less of a production.

Fast forward 5 years and I've really bounced around with the trailer. First, I am a big fan of the multiple vehicle setup, that is to say I think that it is impossible to build one vehicle to adequately cover the different types of off-roading I like to enjoy, in fact I think it would take a half dozen different builds but my budget and space don't allow so I'll digress there. When building my FJ40 I wanted it to work for the majority of the off-road travel I enjoyed, be it a Pritchett Canyon trip or a several hundred mile trip around the Great Salt Lake. Given the varied needs, the trailer was a natural fit. In the more recent years I've built a couple of Tacomas to serve as my long range camping vehicles when the miles will exceed the difficult trail opportunities. So with my current vehicle situation its likely that I would have never built a trailer, not that I couldn't have put it to good use on occasion, just that it would not have been a priority. Likewise if my chosen platform were larger, say an 80 Series or an XJ Jeep I don't think I would need the trailer either, with discretionary packing and well thought out gear it could be done sans trailer. That said even behind my double cab Tacoma the trailer get used, add a couple of passengers or our 100 lb German Shepherd and the cab of the truck is stuffed, the bed full so along comes the trailer. In the case of the Tacoma do I use it because I really need it or use it because its just easier? Likely more of the latter.

Now to the real question at hand, do you need one?

Lets start with a quick run down of the basic pros and cons. They are in no particular order; users will weight them differently based on their personal and family travel needs.

  • Added space. Bring more things and have less stuff in the cab. Allows for less discriminative packing and more comfortable things to be brought along.
  • Set & Forget. Leave the trailer loaded and accessorized with your standard gear. All you have to do is add food, water and fuel and your off.
  • Fast camp setup. The trailer prevents you from having to partially unload your vehicle, particularly when paired with a RTT.
  • Make an ideal platform for a RTT, low height and you can leave your tent set up at a basecamp while you are off exploring.
  • Ideal for a base camp setting. You can leave your trailer and gear secure at camp while off in the vehicle.
  • Ability to be towed behind different rigs, buy a new rig and you don't have to swap everything, share it between friends or family.
  • Cost and storage, simply put. Lets face it, you won't ever use it as much as you would like and when its not in use its sitting on the side of your house taking up space. A setup off-road trailer can cost anywhere from $1000-$10k+, not a small investment given the numbers of times they usually get used.
  • A literal boat anchor on the trail. You grow used to it being back there but without fail it will limit your travels to some degree and make you think a little harder about where you are going to turn around, where you are going to park and how you are going to maneuver through a tight section.
  • Must have vehicle capable of towing. Some vehicles are not up to the task of moving themselves with big tires let alone a trailer in tow. While they can be built rather lightweight (well under 1000 lbs for example) its still going to slow you down and impact your fuel economy.
  • Complexity. There is a lot to be said for just getting out there in a simple fashion. While it is nice to have the room to bring the kitchen sink this can lead to a backwards direction in which you over-complicate camp and take so much time setting up everything you bring that you defeat the purpose.
  • Size issues. Even for a large family with a smaller vehicle, the trailer might not be enough. Time for two rigs.
  • Added maintenance. While there is relatively low upkeep compared to a vehicle, you will need to need to keep an eye on bushings, bearings, gaskets, etc.
So you decide, is a trailer really for you? Will it really make your camping experiences any better or worse? Will it slow you down in a fast moving group or leave you seeking an alternate route? Do yourself a favor and write your own pros and cons list, you might be surprised how easy it is to fill the cons list while really struggling to justify the pros. I know I often have doubts myself. Not so much doubts when I am using it but doubts the other 350 days a year when it sits. This past summer I gave it a bunch of thought as I embarked with a passenger on a 4 day 300+ mile self supported trip through the desert in my FJ40. Not only did I leave the trailer behind but I left home all modern camping amenities such as my Freezer-Fridge and roof top tent. While the event (RelicRun.com) mandated the old-school simplistic approach I had the time of my life, one of the funner trips I have been on. It was simple, it was low-key and the Cruiser was packed tight to the ceiling. Our food was warm on the last day and a handful of rigs in our group ran out of gas. All part of the adventure I suppose. However if we would have had a 3rd passenger or my dog, it never would have happened, the trailer would have been an absolute necessity. So for my needs, the trailer is here to stay, but I will be the last person to recommend them as a 'standard' need as they just are not. Good luck with your decision!

Common commercially available Off-Road Trailer Brands:
3 Dog Camping
Adventure Trailers
Afrispoor Trailers
Bundu Trailers
Bushman Trailers
Bushwakka Trailers
Campa Trailers
Conqueror Trailers
Haul Tent Trailers
Jurgens Trailers
King Kampers
Merlin Trailers
Moby1 Trailers
Offroad International Trailers
Pikes Peak Trailers
Track Trailer
Offroad Trailerz
Outlander Trailers
Offroad Trailers
Rough Rider Trailer
Rugged Gear Trailers
Sierra 4x4 Trailers
Tentrax Trailers
(these are just the common names, there are literally dozens of other smaller, re-badged or our out of business manufactures/brands not to mention the countless custom built units. Some of these are not available in the US but I've added them just to show you some of the options)

Pics of some of the popular models to get your minds thinking Posted Image

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Adventure Trailers Chaser model

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Adventure Trailers Teardrop model

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Bushman Trailers

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Campa ATT

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Kimberley Kamper

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(all photos courtesy of manufactures websites)

Some pictures of my Trail-Trailer in use

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Blue Notch on Lake Powell

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Crossing the Fremont River

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Homestead in Nevada

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Tushar Mountains

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Hole in the Rock Trail


There are probably a lot of trailer vendors out there but check out Manley Trailers. They look really well made and you can find them at www.manleyorv.com. They have an option for all U.S. made trailers.