6000 miles, five weeks, 10 states, and one province. Those are the parameters in which we thoroughly utilized the Kakadu Bushranger tent trailer. In that June and July of 2011 conditions ranged from camping in the snow at temperatures close to freezing, to 40 degrees Celsius in the Nevada desert. Following is our dual-perspective review of the Kakadu Bushranger based on that trip. Marianne will give you her views on the tent trailer as a parent needing to manage a campsite that is packed and moved every day. Ray will comment on some of the technical aspects of the trailer.
I am a mom to 3 boys (ages 8, 9, and 11) and human to 2 German Shepherds so I am not just used to roughhousing, I expect it as par for the course. When it comes to products I use, I expect that they will work well and I have little time and patience for things that are poorly made or designed. My husband, Ray, and I have been overlanding with our boys since our youngest was 2. We cut our teeth in the Malaysian jungles where a campsite is a myth. We camped wherever we could find enough space between the trees to stake a tent. And the question each night was at which end would we place our heads. Not too difficult a question to answer since the gradient made it obvious. So we are used to camping in surroundings that are far from ideal.
Before using the Kakadu Bushranger trailer, we had never used a tent trailer. We had only tent camped. Our first tent was one we bought 2 days before our first family camping trip. We bought it at the Singapore version of Walmart, thinking of it as disposable. It was a simple nylon 8-man dome that cost about $50. It was always our intention to replace it with a “good” tent, but 3 years later when we moved to North America we were still using the same tent we had bought in a hurry. Whilst it was far from perfect, it held up amazingly well in the thick and sticky red clay that so defines the Malaysian rainforest and kept us relatively dry in the torrential rain that is part and parcel of living on a peninsula so close to the equator.
We did finally upgrade our tent. After much research we chose a Springbar, so that is what the Kakadu is up against. How can I talk about our Springbar without waxing lyrical? Every time I use the Springbar I am so happy we made the decision and forked out the money to buy it. I love the simplicity of the design, the sturdiness of the construction, and oh, all that space. Never mind that we get some eye rolling and comments like, “brought your hotel room with you, eh?” from our fellow campers. A Springbar tent is like a Dyson vacuum, so well thought out and well made that it leaves the user satisfied every time. As you can see, the Kakadu was in an uphill battle before we even set out.
I’ll be honest with you, the only reason I was willing to use the Kakadu is because I didn’t want to be packing and unpacking bedding every day. If it weren’t for that I would have happily gone on our trip with our Springbar. Given the number of hours we spent on the road on some days, the Kakadu ended up being a godsend.
I liked the Kakadu trailer for 3 main reasons. It is:
There was more than ample space for all 5 of us plus one German shepherd. The Kakadu tent trailer has sleeping space on 2 levels. The upper level is big enough for a queen-sized mattress plus – about half a foot all around the mattress. That extra space was great for the little stuff our family tends to have around our bed like books, flashlights, water bottles, and all the paraphernalia that comes out of our pockets before we go to bed. On the ground level we had 3 extra large Thermarest mattresses, a dog blanket for our shepherd, and space for a very large Rubbermaid tub stuffed with clothes. In the daytime there was enough room for the boys and I to comfortably sprawl on the ground level for card games with our shepherd in tow.
The Kakadu tent is easy to set up. We collected the tent 3 days before our trip and set it up for the first time in our front yard. We set up the entire tent plus the fully enclosed (including walls and a floor) portico. After some debating, we decided that unless we were going to be in one spot for a long while and we really needed it, we wouldn’t bother to set up the portico, but we would bring the fabric and poles for it along just in case. Like I said, we are well used to less than ideal conditions while camping. We have cooked and eaten in the rain, snow, bugs, and heat and very little bothers us enough for us to set up more than what we really need. There was just one occasion where I thought having the fully sealable portico would have been nice. That was when we camped beside a mosquito-infested lake in Montana. We cooked outdoors but when it came to eating it was so bad that we took refuge in the tent itself. In the morning we got up, put the boys into the Rover, packed as quickly as we could, and left. And really packing could be done very quickly – maybe 15 minutes from the time the kids woke up to the time we were on the road. Setting up the tent at night was also very quick, although ideally it is best when you have two adults working together. There were many nights where we set up the tent trailer at around midnight. It wasn’t a problem. By day 1 Ray and I had already established our roles when it came to setting up the tent. We worked together unwrapping and opening the tent. The set-up inside was divided into Ray handling what was on the ground while I managed what was on the upper-level. I also appreciated how much space there was to store our bedding in the tent itself. Hence, we did not have to fold, roll, or pack away our bedding everyday. As I mentioned earlier this was the main attraction for me. I don’t mind setting up tent, but it is the packing away of bedding that I dislike doing on a daily basis.
Every morning, we simply left on or tossed onto the upper level:
- The queen-sized mattress
- Our 3 extra-large Thermarest mattresses
- 5 full-sized pillows
- 5 full-sized sleeping bags
- Several additional blankets and fleece throws
- The total bedding was probably 10 inches thick and we could have had double that amount with no issue.
The final reason why I like the Kakadu tent is peculiar perhaps to me. I like the way it folds when it is packed away and it is for this reason that I think it is well designed. It folds away neatly. You know it is easy to fold a flat rectangular sheet of fabric. Anyone who folds a flat bed-sheet knows that. But think of folding a fitted sheet. It takes more effort, but I still like to fold it such that it looks just like a folded flat sheet when I am done – no lumps, nothing sticking out of the small rectangle that it should be.
When packing away a tent or in this case, tent trailer, I like it as evenly packed and as rectangular as possible and the Kakadu succeeds in this respect. Indeed, my husband did say that Matt from Kakadu told him not to worry about how it was folded, as everything would fit easily (it did). Most of the time my husband would not let me indulge in neat folding, but it was nice to be able to sneak a neat fold in every now and then. Also the knowledge that it could be done (having attempted it on more than one occasion when Ray wasn’t in such a hurry) was comforting.
Yet even on the days when we were rushed by mosquitos or rain showers, and simply balled everything up and tossed the cover over it, not once did we have to struggle with zipping the cover on. This may seem like a small thing, but one thing I don’t like about packing things for camping, especially the bedding, is the having to stuff it into a small space or things that only fit in a particular way. With the Kakadu this was never a problem. No matter how much we piled on the upper level it was always easy to zip on the cover. In fact, we could certainly have left more bedding in there and it still would not have been an effort to zip the tent trailer up. And with the cinch-straps the cover was always tight and snug when we drove away.
There were 2 things that bothered me about Kakadu.
One was the fact that I had difficulty zipping and unzipping the door with one hand. Very often I only had one hand available and found it quite frustrating that I needed to use 2 hands to get the door open. It is not an issue of quality or design, but rather it was because we never had the chance to set the tent up as it was meant to be. Every tent, as you know, needs to be stretched out taut for the door zips to function properly. Due to the slight “pyramid” shape of the Kakadu, the corners need to be under tension for the canvas to hang as intended. If they simply hang straight down there will be folds in the fabric. If you can stake-out the corners as intended this works very well. If, however, you are unable to stake-out the corners it is hard to achieve the needed tension in the canvas. For much of our trip we were camping in state parks on dedicated campsites. Most state campsites have a paved section for a truck or RV to park and a grass or dirt pad for a tent. Usually there is a concrete curb or barrier to prevent driving onto the grass where tents are supposed to be set-up. The Kakadu is a hybrid: the trailer is on wheels so it must stay on the pad, yet the tent opens sideways and is intended to be staked-down. This was not too difficult to overcome. Ray was able to configure the extra poles for the Portico as an internal frame to support the tent without staking it. Matt of Kakadu says that he uses jerry cans at the corners inside the tent in place of stakes. However, with the tent base not tightly stretched out there are folds in the fabric, resulting in needing 2 hands to work the zips. Inconvenient for me, but if you were a parent with an infant or toddler this would become a bigger problem.
The other thing that I struggled with is the storage layout. The storage area itself is spacious. We fitted an unbelievable amount of stuff in it, but it has only one access door on the rear when the tent is closed up. (When the tent is setup you can access the storage contents by lifting up the upper mattress and using a trap door.) So if you are on the road and want to get something from the trailer (for example, you stop by a lake and need to get some water toys that you didn’t expect to need that day) you hope what you need is packed at the rear of the trailer. If it has been packed near the front (as it invariably is) you would need to take out everything between that item and the door and then wriggle into the storage space to extract what you need. Matt from Kakadu says you can configure the inside to suit your needs via a drawer system or having more doors for easier access. So while that is an additional cost option, I highly recommend it.
As Marianne pointed out, we usually strive for a pretty simple set-up when we camp. Our Family Springbar canvas tent is spacious and keeps us dry in any weather, but it is heavy and takes up a lot of space in the Rover. When on solo trips I either sleep inside the truck, or if I need to carry a lot of gear I sleep in a Nemo Tenshi on the roof rack. The downside of tenting is always the time it takes to set up the bedding, which usually seems to take twice as long as setting up the actual tent. So I was also looking forward to leaving the bedding set-up in the Kakadu.
The other reason I was looking forward to trying the Kakadu was because with the dog in the back of the Rover I was going to be bringing a trailer anyways for all our gear, so it would be great to have storage and sleeping combined in a single unit.
My 3 main areas of interest are:
First off, the whole unit was impressively put together. The trailer itself is solid steel with a heavy-duty Axle and full-sized tires on 15-inch rims. The trailer is painted inside and out with a high-quality finish. The rear-door-latches are the folding-pin style usually seen on the tailgates of old Series Land Rovers. They are rugged, simple, and lockable. The rear door itself was also steel with a set of strong side-hinges. You can order a tailgate-style rear if you prefer, as the door itself is almost 4 feet wide and therefore you can’t open it fully if you are backed into a snug spot. We also found it inconvenient to walk around the opened door in some tight campsites so we’d probably opt for the tailgate style.
The tent itself is mounted to a plywood base that is in turn bolted to the top of the trailer. This means that it is very easy to remove the tent and use the trailer as a simple steel utility-trailer for the rest of the year when you are not camping. To aid in drainage when used as a utility trailer, the tub has small gaps along its length where the floor meets the sides, only 1 or 2mm wide, to allow water to drain out, but small enough to prevent mud and rainwater entering when driving. Indeed, we found that it stayed dry inside even when driving for 12 hours through torrential rain. But the gaps did allow dust to enter. On some legs of our journey we were on dusty gravel roads for 8-10 hours at a stretch. In the evening on those days we would open the trailer storage and find all the tubs inside coated with a layer of fine dust. The tent itself has a dust cover under its waterproof cover, so the inside of the tent remained dust-free. And since our gear was in tubs and totes, dust wasn’t an issue for us either, but if you wanted to put drawers into the trailer and pack your gear into open compartments, then you would want to seal the gaps first.
The painted steel was nice when we picked up the trailer, but by the end of our trip it was quite chipped by stones tossed up by the truck. To be fair, we were running 35-inch mud terrains on this trip, that toss a lot of stones and we have no mud flaps on our truck (they keep getting torn off). Therefore, any trailer behind our truck will get hammered, as we drive at speed on gravel roads. We were using the regular Kakadu trailer not the off-road model. I believe aluminum checker-plate is an option on the off-road models. I would recommend it on the front-facing surfaces of the trailer if you were intending to spend much time with the Kakadu on gravel roads.
The tent construction was very impressive. Used to the Springbar we are no strangers to a heavy canvas tent, but the Kakadu canvas felt much heavier than the Springbar canvas. This meant that I had no qualms about tying a rope to one of the securing rings on the side or top of the tent and pulling it very tight. It also meant that I had no concerns about ripping or damage in heavy wind.
The windows were mostly mesh (heavy with a tight-weave to keep no-see-ums out) except for the long end-window, which was a thick, flexible plastic, similar to what you might get on convertible car rear-windows. The end-window design was one of the few design issues I had. All the other windows had a canvas flap that was attached at the top of the window and had a slight overlap of the bottom to keep rain from entering. The end-window had the canvas flap attached at the bottom and zipped UP. At the top of the window there was a small overlapping flap for rain protection, but during a heavy rainfall some water still found its way in, dripping onto the bedding under the window. Matt from Kakadu acknowledged this and said that they would be changing the design on future models.
Initially we were hoping to test the off-road version of the trailer, but that unit was sold just before our trip so Matt offered the standard model for our test. Since we were planning to stick mainly to the highway and state campgrounds we felt this would be fine. Plans always change though, and we ended up taking a few long gravel roads as “shortcuts”. The trailer handled the dips and bumps of the washboard roads at 50+ mph with no incident, other than the numerous rock-chips in the painted finish. One day we had planned to camp at a lakeside state campground in Northern California. After a long drive we arrived to find that the campground was closed for renovation. The Parks service was putting new picnic tables in (at all 300 sites, simultaneously) so the whole campground was closed. With three tired, hungry kids and no other options presenting themselves, I decided to explore a small dirt track that I saw heading up a mountainside. The road was bumpy, steep, and washed-out in some spots, but at the top we found the nicest campsite of our trip: a little clearing on the top of the hill with a view of the valley to the east of us and the lake to the west.
There is no way I would have tried to take a regular travel-trailer up that road, but the Kakadu with its simple steel-box design handled it with ease. I imagine that with the off-road version with its 360-degree coupler and larger tires I would not hesitate to take it on the roughest of trails.
Like I said at the beginning, I was looking forward to the convenience of not having to setup and pack away bedding every single day of the trip. For the most part, the Kakadu delivers on that expectation. While we did have to pick up the bedding and mattresses from the lower level each day, we didn’t have to squeeze the air out of mattresses, roll and pack the sleeping bags, or put the pillows away. We simply grabbed everything on the lower level, tossed it onto the upper bunk, and closed the tent. The act of closing the tent itself was simple and straight forward, but was definitely easier with two people than one. I closed it on my own a few times, and while it wasn’t physically difficult, it did require running from side to side a few times to get it folded straight. Practice makes perfect though and I watched Matt from Kakadu fold it up and pack it away himself in less than 5 minutes, seemingly with no running about.
The zip-on cover is thick and durable with heavy metal zippers and a Velcro zipper-flap to keep out the rain and dust. The light tan color got dirty very easily. But being waterproof it also seemed to clean up with relative ease.
The cover also had tension-straps secured to the trailer via simple steel D-rings, similar to the rings you use on a motorbike helmet strap. I liked these a lot because they were impossible to jam or break and if you ever lost or damaged one, any strap would make a suitable replacement – a bit of string would do for a suitable field-repair. The straps also allowed you to ensure the cover was snug and wouldn’t flap at highway speeds, regardless of how much or little bedding you had piled inside the tent.
So overall what did I think of the Kakadu?
The construction was rock-solid. I would have no hesitation putting my gear in one of these and taking it anywhere. The setup was not as easy as I would have liked. If I were camping in a big field for more than one night, this would be my first choice for sure. For camping in a small-site or on a concrete pad, and trips where you move every day, I would probably opt for a different choice. However, given our total trailer needs (fits a family of five plus two big dogs, must be quick to set-up every day, can carry a ton of gear, is easy to tow on or off-road, can be converted to carry dirt-bikes and household items when staying closer to home) I don’t think there are many options that have the flexibility of the Kakadu.