‘BIG LAP’ CARAVAN

How to buy a

(and five models that might fit the bill)

Planning on finally doing that Big Lap? You’ll need a caravan that’s up to the task. Here’s what to look for in a long-term touring caravan, plus a few great options to get you started

WORDS EMMA RYAN, IMAGES VARIOUS

When it comes to buying a caravan, how you plan to use it should always frame your selection criteria. If the idea is to take it away for a few weeks a year during the school holidays and on weekends, you’ll have a different set of criteria than if you’re looking for a long-term tourer that you’re going to live out of for a year or more during your much anticipated Big Lap.

There’s a lot you can put up with during a week-long trip that becomes unacceptable when the caravan is your home for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, a good long-term touring caravan will offer the following...

GUIDE Buying right – Part 1

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RELIABLE ELECTRICAL SET-UP
To power your van’s fridge, lights, water pump and other devices when you’re off grid you’ll need an electrical set-up that won’t let you down. That means decent battery capacity (lithium is best for performance and weight saving), an appropriately sized battery charger (15-25% of the battery capacity), an Anderson plug to charge the batteries from your car while towing, and roof-mounted and/or portable folding solar panels to replenish your batteries at camp.

An inverter is a good inclusion, too, in order to run 240V appliances such a coffee machine or blender and charge computer and camera batteries.

CAPACITY FOR SELF-SUFFICIENCY
When you’re touring the country, you’ll doubtlessly be spending many nights ‘off the grid’ at free or national park campsites where there is no mains power or water. And with the price of caravan park sites soaring as high as $50/night (and beyond), chances are you’ll avoid them as much as possible to stick to your touring budget. Your van will, therefore, need to be able to sustain you when you’re away from mains power and water.

PLENTY OF PAYLOAD
Your caravan’s ‘payload’ refers to the amount of weight it can legally carry. To calculate payload, subtract the van’s Tare or ‘dry’ weight from its ATM weight. Whatever remains is how much weight you can load into the van, including the filling of water tanks. There are lots of vans on the market that look great on paper – loads of accessories, massive water capacity, heaps of storage compartments – but once you put 200-litres of water in the tanks, equating to 200kg, you might find you have very little allowable weight remaining for the rest of your gear. And it stands to reason you’ll have a fair bit of gear when you’re planning to live out of a van for months or even years at a time.

GREY WATER STORAGE
Most bush and free campsites across the country will only allow caravans that have the ability to store their own grey water, which is to say used water that drains from the van’s sinks and shower. You’ll ideally want to be able to collect a few days’ worth of grey water before you need to find somewhere to safely and legally dump it. Click here to find out why it’s important to collect grey water, and how to safely dispose of it.

LARGE FRESH WATER CAPACITY
Look for a caravan that has at least 200-litres of fresh water capacity, ideally over multiple tanks as an insurance policy against potential damage to a tank. With that in mind, water tanks should be protected; either positioned high in the van’s undercarriage and shrouded in steel or tucked safely within the body of the van. Some high-end caravans have the capacity to draw water from an external source like a river or jerry cans, often bypassing the tanks and feeding straight to the shower.

ALL TERRAIN SUSPENSION
To get to some of the best destinations in Australia, you’ll need to traverse the odd dirt road – sometimes hundreds of kilometres of it. Even if you don’t plan to tour off-road as such, it’s a good idea to buy a van with at least semi-off-road suspension for those instances where you need to travel on unsealed roads to get to the best campsites or secret swimming holes. Believe me, they’ll pop up. You’ve travelled all that way, it’d be a shame to miss out on the best bits because your caravan isn’t up to task.

“When you’re only going away for a weekend or a week, there are lots of things you can live without”

LOTS OF STORAGE SPACE
When you’re only going away for a weekend or a week, there are lots of things you can live without packing into your van. And while your aim should always be to take as few items as possible, the reality is you’ll need to lug around more stuff when you’re living out of a caravan. A van that’s well-suited to long-term touring will offer plenty of useable storage space, both internally for clothing, kitchen and bathroom items, and externally for hardware and camping gear. Vans that have a dedicated barbecue or generator hatch get a big tick, too.

OVERALL WEIGHT
Like most aspects of caravanning, finding a suitable long-term touring van is all about balance. Namely, striking a balance between strength and storage capacity, and weight. You’ll need to consider how much your tow vehicle can legally haul, and how it performs when it reaches the pointy end of its maximum allowable limit. Generally speaking, the lighter the van, the easier and safer it is to tow. Some manufacturers put a lot of time and money into getting the balance right between functionality, strength and weight. Those are the ones you’ll want to be looking at – if it’s within your budget.

PREMIUM CONSTRUCTION
Living out of a caravan for months at a time places the van under a lot of stress, both during towing (especially off-road) and day-to-day wear and tear. It’s therefore important to know how the van is constructed, and that it’s durable enough to be up to the task of long-term use. Look for a manufacturer with high production values emphasising strength, weight reduction and insulation. Aftersales service is important if anything should go wrong, so check the manufacturer has an adequate warranty policy that’ll cover you wherever you happen to be touring – and always read the fine print. Click here to read more about this.

GUIDE Buying right – Part 1

‘BIG LAP’ CARAVAN

How to buy a

(and five caravans that might fit the bill)

Planning on finally doing that Big Lap? You’ll need a caravan that’s up to the task. Here’s what to look for in a long-term touring caravan, plus a few great options to get you started

WORDS EMMA RYAN, IMAGES VARIOUS

When it comes to buying a caravan, how you plan to use it should always frame your selection criteria. If the idea is to take it away for a few weeks a year during the school holidays and on weekends, you’ll have a different set of criteria than if you’re looking for a long-term tourer that you’re going to live out of for a year or more during your much anticipated Big Lap.

There’s a lot you can put up with during a week-long trip that becomes unacceptable when the caravan is your home for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, a good long-term touring caravan will offer the following...

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

CAPACITY FOR 
SELF-SUFFICIENCY
When you’re touring the country, you’ll doubtlessly be spending many nights ‘off the grid’ at free or national park campsites where there is no mains power or water. And with the price of caravan park sites soaring as high as $50/night, chances are you’ll avoid them as much as possible to stick to your touring budget. Your van will, therefore, need to be able to sustain you when you’re away from mains power and water.

RELIABLE ELECTRICAL SET-UP
To power your van’s fridge, lights, water pump and other devices when you’re off grid you’ll need an electrical set-up that won’t let you down. That means decent battery capacity (lithium is best for performance and weight saving), an appropriately sized battery charger (15-25% of the battery capacity), an Anderson plug to charge the batteries from your car while towing, and roof-mounted and/or portable folding solar panels to replenish your batteries at camp.

An inverter is a good inclusion, too, in order to run 240V appliances such a coffee machine or blender and charge computer and camera batteries.

LARGE FRESH WATER CAPACITY
Look for a caravan that has at least 200-litres of fresh water capacity, ideally over multiple tanks as an insurance policy against potential damage to a tank. With that in mind, water tanks should be protected; either positioned high in the van’s undercarriage and shrouded in steel or tucked safely within the body of the van. Some high-end caravans have the capacity to draw water from an external source like a river or jerry cans, often bypassing the tanks and feeding straight to the shower.

GREY WATER STORAGE
Most bush and free campsites across the country will only allow caravans that have the ability to store their own grey water, which is to say used water that drains from the van’s sinks and shower. You’ll ideally want to be able to collect a few days’ worth of grey water before you need to find somewhere to safely and legally dump it. Click here to find out why it’s important to collect grey water, and how to safely dispose of it.

PLENTY OF PAYLOAD
Your caravan’s ‘payload’ refers to the amount of weight it can legally carry. To calculate payload, subtract the van’s Tare or ‘dry’ weight from its ATM weight. Whatever remains is how much weight you can load into the van, including the filling of water tanks. There are lots of vans on the market that look great on paper – loads of accessories, massive water capacity, heaps of storage compartments – but once you put 200-litres of water in the tanks, equating to 200kg, you might find you have very little allowable weight remaining for the rest of your gear. And it stands to reason you’ll have a fair bit of gear when you’re planning to live out of a van for months or even years at a time.

LOTS OF STORAGE SPACE
When you’re only going away for a weekend or a week, there are lots of things you can live without packing into your van. And while your aim should always be to take as few items as possible, the reality is you’ll need to lug around more stuff when you’re living out of a caravan. A van that’s well-suited to long-term touring will offer plenty of useable storage space, both internally for clothing, kitchen and bathroom items, and externally for hardware and camping gear. Vans that have a dedicated barbecue or generator hatch get a big tick, too.

“When you’re only going away for a weekend or a week, there are lots of things you can live without”

ALL TERRAIN SUSPENSION
To get to some of the best destinations in Australia, you’ll need to traverse the odd dirt road – sometimes hundreds of kilometres of it. Even if you don’t plan to tour off-road as such, it’s a good idea to buy a van with at least semi-off-road suspension for those instances where you need to travel on unsealed roads to get to the best campsites or secret swimming holes. Believe me, they’ll pop up. You’ve travelled all that way, it’d be a shame to miss out on the best bits because your caravan isn’t up to task.

PREMIUM CONSTRUCTION
Living out of a caravan for months at a time places the van under a lot of stress, both during towing (especially off-road) and day-to-day wear and tear. It’s therefore important to know how the van is constructed, and that it’s durable enough to be up to the task of long-term use. Look for a manufacturer with high production values emphasising strength, weight reduction and insulation. Aftersales service is important if anything should go wrong, so check the manufacturer has an adequate warranty policy that’ll cover you wherever you happen to be touring – and always read the fine print. Click here to read more about this.

OVERALL WEIGHT
Like most aspects of caravanning, finding a suitable long-term touring van is all about balance. Namely, striking a balance between strength and storage capacity, and weight. You’ll need to consider how much your tow vehicle can legally haul, and how it performs when it reaches the pointy end of its maximum allowable limit. Generally speaking, the lighter the van, the easier and safer it is to tow. Some manufacturers put a lot of time and money into getting the balance right between functionality, strength and weight. Those are the ones you’ll want to be looking at – if it’s within your budget.

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