A tray-back camper can transform your workhouse into a weekend warrior. We sent Glenn Torrens to look at the Active Ute-back campers make plenty of sense. They allow plenty of agility when off-roading and, if you're nervous about towing, well, they provide similar creature comforts to a caravan just without the, um, caravan. Sure they're not as roomy as a 'van and wouldn't do for a holidaying family, but they're not bad for singles or couples who spend more time outside than in.
On the downside - hardly - is the need for a suitable ute to slide underneath it, which means you won't be shouting yourself a new Mercedes tow car with your Lotto winnings. As with any other camping-under-canvas situation; things can be a wee bit chilly in winter but if you're a true traveller, you'll easily deal with that.
The Active is built in Corindi Beach, just north of beautiful Coffs Harbour, NSW. Typically, Active (which specialises in this one product) makes no more than one of its units per week so owning an Active is a bit of an exclusive club.
The Active uses trusted marine technology to give a good compromise between workability and weight - 450kg - within the scope of all popular pickups. The walls and floor of the unit are marine-spec timber edged with extruded, welded aluminium between the roof and walls. Alloy rails stretch forward over the vehicle cab to support the bed area. The foam-cored fibreglass roof rises on two gas struts and is made in one piece. No roof joins reduces the potential for leaks.
The dimpled fibreglass skin is attractive, scratch-resistant (important for more extreme off-road terrain where 'bush racing stripes' are a problem), waterproof and just about dustproof. Active's Lars Zehnder says, hand-on-heart that customers can expect more dust inside the vehicle underneath than the camper.
Stainless steel is used for all bolts and fittings, plus items such as the towel rails. That's good thinking. The Active features very nice cloth work, too. The acrylic-backed canvas is 100 percent waterproof and usually used in yacht canopies. Active claims it's a better product than canvas and can be packed wet without the risk of the furniture or bedding getting soaked. When in camp, ventilation and vision is through midge proof screens behind zip-down panels on all sides of the canopy.
One 120AH AGM house battery is provided standard (charged from the vehicle or the standard 240V charger) and the layout provides room for another. There's room for two spare wheels, too, as long as they are close to standard showroom size. The optional ($2K) solar power package uses high-tech plastic Unisolar panels; amorphous flexible laminate. The panels are laid out as two long strips so you can carry a surf-board without affecting power generation.
We didn't attempt to remove the unit, but installing the four jacks to drive the vehicle from under the unit takes 20 minutes, according to Active. So you can dump your tools and be ready for a weekend in the bush before Friday afternoon traffic jams get too thick. It fits into most underground car parks, too, making on-the-road shopping a little easier. Ready for travel, the Active sits 1.3m above the vehicle tray and depending on the vehicle, it's typically 2.25m high overall.
Setting the Active up takes around 40 seconds. With all the windows open, being inside the Active is like relaxing on a great big verandah. Just terrific. I'm sitting here right now on a glorious north coast NSW morning, hot cuppa in hand, doing my best to ignore the appreciative - sometimes envious - looks from fellow travellers at Corindi Beach Caravan Park. Packing up takes around three minutes - the difference being the need to poke the flexible sides into place - and the optional awning ($390) can be installed on either side.
The kitchen area is at the rear of the unit, with the two-burner Smev stove (fed from a 4kg bottle) on the right and a small sink on the left as you enter. The small fridge (Isotherm, made in Italy) in installed under the sink. The drawers are durable and roll on proper slides.
Bench space is tight, but a pull-out table is mounted dead-ahead, with generous seating. There's little chance of four people ever being in the Active at any one time, so the happy travelling honeymooners or 'lifestylers' have plenty of space either side of the table.
Despite the forward fall of the ceiling, there is plenty of room. The mattress is a queen-sized four-inch foam jobbie (100mm) with zip-off covers and, like all sensibly designed units, your bedding can be left in place with the lid down. Two reading lights are installed and it's possible to sit upright on the edge of the bed to pull on your boots.
Overall, the workmanship is terrific. The timber finish looks great now, and as Active points out, it's easy to refinish/restore in the future. On the road, the unit is tight and rattle-free. You hardly know it's there and the glass half-door allows the driver to see rearwards when on-road. However, that's a bit of a privacy compromise when in tourist parks. No matter - simply drape a towel from the handy towel rail. Like most, you will be dressing yourself from a rucksack or bag, rather than a wardrobe - there aren't any. You don't live in one of these, you camp in it.
There are few downers: it would be nice if the screens could be offered with clears, for those occasional blustery rainy days when you wish to be inside, but don't want to feel cooped up. The 240V power point is at floor level - it would be more useful at bench height for making toast. Finally, while setting up in the dark, I fumed at not having an exterior light or two - but as Lars rightly pointed out, his idea is better: The external 12V socket allows you to place a light wherever you like. D'oh!
The Active covers the necessities of bush trekking in a roomy, comfortable package. The plus list is topped off by durable construction that looks like it will last forever. If a ute-back camper is 'your thing', the Active is a very appealing unit.
|Star rating||3 stars|
The 240V at floor level
|Country of manufacture||Australia|
Two-burner Smev stove
|Tare weight||450 kg|