Updated: Sep 11
A trailer capable of off-road travel is a huge advantage for overlanding. These are the design features the PERFECT off-road camping trailer must have:
Learn why a rooftop tent is better when NOT installed on your vehicle!
Rooftop tents provide comfortable camping options for on and off-road adventurers. You get off the ground at the most scenic destinations. You never deal with roots or rocks under your mattress. You never worry about rain soaking your sleeping bag. You can set up your tent and pack your camp in minutes and be on the road.
The obvious mounting choice for your “Roof Top Tent” is a rack on the vehicle. (Note that most factory roof racks are not rated for larger RTT’s.) Many campers quickly run out of room for belongings, camping gear and food inside the vehicle. Most rooftop tent owners complain about the loss of gas mileage with the bulky RTT on the roof. Likewise, offroad performance is negatively affected by the tall, top-heavy rooftop tent.
Of course, not all vehicles are equipped with roof racks. Soft top owners would need to install a cage to support a RTT. Many “luxury” 4x4 owners don’t want a roof rack, either. And then there are the adventurers who already have their roof full of kayaks, paddleboards, or cargo boxes.
For all these reasons – and more – many RTT owners “graduate” to a trailer for camping. A trailer solves the problem of transporting all the equipment required for rooftop tent camping to your destination. You can easily pack all your camping gear and often carry bikes, kayaks, a canoe, or other sporting equipment.
Your camping trailer provides the option to leave your rooftop tent set-up whenever you want to leave the campsite. You can tackle more challenging trails than you would attempt with a top-heavy rooftop tent attached. You don’t need to repack your camp when you hit the trail, head into town, or visit the local attractions. And you don’t risk losing your campsite in popular designated camping areas.
What should you look for in an overlanding trailer?
“Overlanding” is defined by campsites beyond the pavement. Travel beyond the pavement (that is, off-road travel - not rock crawling, but rough roads and 4x4 trails) is tough on vehicles AND trailers. First, you need to focus on durability. An overlanding camping trailer requires beefier design and construction than your typical “lumberyard” trailer. Go to the local “big box” store and examine the utility trailers on display. You will find that the small trailers are constructed from light gauge angle iron. Many have tiny 8- inch or 12-inch wheels and little ground clearance. You will also notice that most of the new trailers are rusting while still sitting on the paved lot because they only have a thin coat of paint over bare steel.
A trailer capable of following your 4x4 on bumpy roads and rocky trails needs to be constructed from heavy steel TUBING. Structural tubing is exponentially stronger than angle iron. An overlanding trailer also needs to be 100% welded construction. Some inexpensive trailers on the market are sold as “ready-to-assemble” kits. No bolt-together lightweight trailer will withstand the stresses of twisting and vibration under load on rough trails.
A proper off-road trailer needs a longer tongue than the typical highway utility trailer. An extended tongue maximizes the maneuverability of the tow vehicle on rough trails. It also helps to eliminate damage to the tow vehicle from jackknifing and makes backing easier.
In addition, the best design for an overlanding trailer requires an articulating hitch. The conventional ball hitch is designed for flat streets and highways. It was never intended for off-road use where the tow vehicle and trailer may be in opposite planes as you maneuver over ruts, sidehills, and rocks – all while towing a load or fighting gravity up and down slopes.
Ball hitches allow limited movement only because the coupler fits loosely, resulting in thunks, jerks, and constant rattles. They are designed for only slight variations in side-to-side or vertical angles. When you exceed these slight angles, the hitch can bind and bend the trailer tongue. The trailer tongue can twist, essentially becoming a torsion spring. This tension when combined with the trailer springs plus exaggerated by the top-heavy trailer can flip the trailer and/or disconnect from the ball!
When choosing an overland camping trailer, you must demand an articulating hitch which is engineered to provide 360 degrees of rotation, 3 axis movement, and overbuilt to handle abuse under load. Again, you could modify a stock trailer with a longer and heavier tongue that includes an articulating hitch – or you could invest in a trailer specifically designed for overlanding.
Don’t be this guy! (See the full video by Venture2ROAM at https://youtu.be/37XJGHmDU_k)
You must also insist on heavy-duty construction of the rooftop tent rack. Most people only consider whether the rack will support the weight of the RTT and occupants in their ideal campsite. But the MORE important consideration is whether the rack will support the raised weight of the rooftop tent at highway speeds – and if you need to slam on the brakes. In addition, will the rack support the stress of supporting the elevated weight on trails where the trailer is constantly being jolted by ruts and rocks, twisting from side to side. These “dynamic” forces are much greater than the non-moving “static” load ratings. Your RTT rack needs to be built with the same welded construction as the trailer.
Finally, the perfect overlanding camping trailer must deliver a stable and level rooftop tent foundation. After hours of rough travel, you can’t settle for a sloping bed! It can be a real hassle to attempt to level your vehicle. It is much easier to level a trailer. The overlanding trailer requires stable jacks that compensate for sloped campsites. These stabilizers must be rock solid so that every movement up in the elevated tent (and the effects of the wind) isn’t magnified to disrupt your partner.
I KNOW what I need. Why can’t I FIND my perfect overlanding trailer?
I graduated to a larger, heavier rooftop tent. I made up my mind to install this RTT on an overlanding trailer to match my planned routes and destinations. But where is the ideal overlanding trailer that matches my needs?
I looked for several years. I looked at utility trailer brands at stores and online. Nothing matched my requirements. Some were too small and lightweight and would never stand up to the abuse of overlanding. I already had a heavy-duty 5-foot x 10-foot utility trailer with a 3,500-pound axle – but this was much too heavy as the base for my 150-pound rooftop tent.
Yes, you could take the kit trailer to a shop and have the joints welded, then primed and repainted. You could swap out the axle and wheels, then have a longer tongue built. But it would still be a lightweight trailer that would fail at the most inconvenient time and place. OR - you could buy a trailer DESIGNED for overlanding.
Then - I also found several “expedition” custom trailers that blew my mind. Some had options for heated running water. Some had elaborate compartments for optional $1,000 refrigerators. Others looked like they were designed to be towed by HUMVEEs or airdropped from C130’s. ALL had price tags from $15,000 to $25,000, or more! For a rooftop tent camping trailer? Seriously – before you even buy gas, burgers, or insurance for the beast? I don’t have an armed services budget. No one should need to finance a trailer to go camping for free on BLM or National Forest lands!!!
My quest lasted for years until I was introduced to a custom trailer builder who ALSO enjoyed economical camping and overlanding with his family. Mike from Twain Trailers was willing and able to build an off-road capable, overlanding trailer that is Durable, Customizable, and Affordable. I not only bought a Twain Overlanding Trailer, but I have also teamed up with Mike to offer this same trailer SOLUTION to my followers from coast-to-coast. Watch for PACKAGE SPECIAL PRICING on rooftop tents, mattresses, heaters, and more!
In the next article, I will detail all of the engineering and build details which make the Twain Overlanding Trailer not only the BEST option for camping but also the most VERSATILE trailer for hauling around your home or job site.
However, if your style is more "Overlanding Lite", then a heavy-duty overlanding trailer with 1,500-pounds of weight capacity, 15-inch tires, and an off-road articulating hitch may be overkill! If you overland in an all-wheel drive vehicle and never negotiate technical trails that require 4WD Low, the the Overlanding Lite Camping Trailer may be a better choice. See the related article: CLICK HERE.