Northstar Offroada 8
Some people like the benefits of an RV and a 4WD, but don't want to drag a caravan or trailer along behind them. If you don't have a lazy couple of hundred grand for an off-road motorhome, the best bang for your buck is in a slide-on camper.
In a competitive market, the $30K milestone is a hurdle many manufacturers try to stay under in an attempt to attract buyers. As such, there is a lot on offer in the region of $29,000 as they try to present the most attractive package they can on a tight budget.
Northstar has been making slideon campers in the USA for 50 years. Australian units are made on a dedicated production line for transport here. Northstar's agent here is Freedom Offroad, which is celebrating with a list of inclusions above its standard equipment.
Both the Willett family that have run Northstar in the States for three generations, and every employee here at Freedom, travel and live in the slide-ons by choice over any other form of RV. This has given them first-hand knowledge of design aspects that have made their way into subsequent models.
Space is at a premium in slide-ons, but with a lot of practice, they have worked out the best way to pack a surprising number of features inside. There's a good kitchen, with two- or three-burner stove, sink and a 110L fridge, which is about half the size you might have at home so you're able to stock plenty of supplies.
The beds have genuine innerspring mattresses and the cab-over beds have storage underneath. For those that feel the cold, there is the option of a diesel heater.
Off-road driving requires a 4WD's chassis to flex, so an important part of Northstar's five-year structural warranty is its genuine sprung tie-down system. These come as manual turnbuckles or quick-release.
The Offroada 8 is intended for the 4WDer that wants the reality of a shower and toilet. Slide-ons also allow you to tow something else, such as a boat, which can't be easily launched by a motorhome.
There is a strong movement in free camping towards 'Take out what you take in', particularly in national parks. Unfortunately, compliance for this isn't enforced, but Northstar units do comply with CMCA standards.
Waste water is plumbed to a 35L grey water tank and a Thetford cassette stores the black water. For your safety, it is fitted with an exhaust fan with a thermostat and a carbon monoxide detector in case the stove is on too long.
The main benefit of decking your 4WD with a slide-on is having the vehicle on its own when you need it. This slide-on has four mechanical Happijac wind-up jacks to lift it free to stand on its own (most need some sort of underfloor support when freestanding).
The standard jacks can be upgraded anytime by adding the electric motor head, which operates by remote control with all up, all down and individual controls. For off-road independence, there is a sizeable 78L freshwater tank and either a 4kg or 9kg gas bottle.
There are many different 4WDs on the market that can take a slideon camper. The unit shown here is called an Offroad 8 because the floor is 8ft long, but the cabover height and width can be varied to suit most utes, tray-back or uteback, including Japanese models like the HiLux, Navara and BT-50 as well as Aussie brutes, Holden and Ford. It also fits full-sizers like the LandCruiser and Patrol.
The basic package comes with pretty much everything you need as standard, and you can extend outside with the option of side or rear awnings and even a full annex.
For greater off-road ability, Northstar fits a lot of its slide-ons with low-profile pop-top roofs. This one is raised with a mechanical wind-up, using a proven torsion bar-assist system rather than the old-style gas struts or scissors, which are heavy, harder to operate, and prone to failure over time.
Protection from the cold and elements is important in a compact structure, so the walls, roof, and even the floor are all insulated using snug foam blocks. The pop-top can also come with an 'Alpine liner' guaranteed to keep out the cold, and there's even an insulated window option.
Northstar designs its slide-ons with the thinking that someone might want to live and travel in them for about a year. Extended camping means different things to different people in terms of entertainment required. Pretty much anything is possible, with options of TVs with built-in DVD player, radio/CD player, wind-up antennas or even an Alden satellite system (Freedom Off-road is the preferred fitting agent for this).
Before choosing a slide-on camper, it is important to find the mix of essentials and accessories that will suit you and make it one of the most liberating ways to travel.
If you have a 4WD and would like to travel some of Australia's infamous trails, such as the Canning Stock Route, your best option is with a properly self-contained slide-on. They offer the convenience of camp-anywhere travel while allowing the 4WD to find places not possible with a trailer.
A basic slide-on can be made very simple, and you can spend the same again fitting it with all of the necessities for living in the great outdoors – when comparing campers, be aware of what is included for the purchase price. The Offroada 8 comes with a big list of inclusions, and is possibly the only poptop camper on the market with a shower and toilet.
Experience is likely more important in slide-on construction than any other RV, as such a fine balance exists between space and appointment. Better models also take into consideration weight distribution (something you'll appreciate negotiating uneven trails) and structural design that will work with the vehicle, rather than inhibit it.
The walls of this unit are timber framed for rigidity with flex, and the outer skin is fibreglass-coated lauan (medium-density plywood) to withstand overgrown paths. The floor is also a solid one-piece ply (not cheap chipboard) for strength and damp resistance. The cabinets even use aircraft overhead locker catches.
MAKE/MODEL: Northstar Offroada 8
EXTERNAL BODY LENGTH: 8ft (2.4m) – cab-over height and width can be varied to suit all Japanese cab heights and most utes
EXTERNAL WIDTH: Fits between all wheel arches
VIN TARE WEIGHT: 795kg
RRP: $29,990 (Sydney) – includes everything but dealer freight where relevant
FOR MORE INFORMATION
CONTACT PERSON: Ian Swallow
COMPANY NAME: Freedom Off-road
ADDRESS: Lot 6 Lemko Pl, Penrith, NSW 2750
PHONE: (02) 4722 3144
UNIQUE SELLING POINTS
•SELF-CONTAINED ADDITION TO A 4WD
•FIVE-YEAR STRUCTURAL WARRANTY
•WORLD-FAMOUS BUILD EXPERIENCE
•HIGH LEVEL OF APPOINTMENT
•LOW-COST METHOD OF TRAVELLING
Please note that current prices may vary from this review. Please confirm with the manufacturer.