Does this budget Chinese import stack up?
Review: Balance Compact Mini Off-road Camper
When you have a small budget in mind for an off-road camper that has some bells and whistles, a long search is required indeed. Clair and Amanda searched for months to find one that ticked the boxes. They finally stumbled across Balance Trailers in Kilsyth, Victoria. Fully imported from China and haggled down to a bargain $12,500 on road, the true test would be if the unit could handle the Victorian High Country.
With an overall length of a mere 3,500mm, this is one short camper trailer. It is however exactly what Clair and Amanda were looking for. They wanted something that fit the profile of their tow vehicle; that was light and nimble; and off-road capable. But even with a drawbar measuring in at 1,500mm, there were still issues with water erosion humps that did in fact damage the jockey wheel.
The bonus with this style of camper is the amount of storage space. The front toolbox offers plenty of room for a generator or hot water unit and the tubs next door are perfect for an 8kg LPG bottle on either side. With such a short drawbar, and the front section full, there were concerns about the tow ball weight… it was over 200kg when checked at a weighbridge.
There is a fridge slide that can fit up to a 75-litre Waeco. There’s an included stainless steel kitchen with an $800 option for a three-burner SMEV stove and sink with water tap. Clair and Amanda prefer a portable cooking option so at this stage they’ve left it as a solid unit with a small utensils drawer. When fully extended, a support should be included to assist in holding the weight.
Each side of the camper has a drop-down door. The doors come complete with chains to keep them flat when opened. Inside the cavity on the passenger side there’s a couple of shelves and a slide-out drawer perfect for pots and pans. The driver’s side has a shelf unit and a large void that can all be accessed with the tent erected, so it’s ideal for clothes (or in this case, a TV). When open, the doors work well as bench space for prepping meals or placing a portable stove.
The nerve centre is nice and neat with all the fuses and switches for power, two 12V points, a 12V USB point, a water level indicator (which wasn’t working and the label was peeling off), and a volt meter. It also houses a 50A breaker for the Anderson plug connection on the drawbar. Since purchase, Clair has added an 8-stage 240V battery charger and Projecta DCDC charger to handle the Anderson plug input when driving and solar charging when stationary. A single 100Ah AGM battery is included; however it is difficult to access in its hiding place in the rear boot section.
The rear of the camper is nicely dressed with a spare wheel carrier and single jerry can holder on a sturdy frame. There is also a recovery hook. Once open, there’s access to a comprehensive space for the storage of larger items and a couple of slide-out drawers. Now, these optional drawers ($600) could be deeper as the ‘box’ that holds them is a lot higher than the drawers. My concern would be items being thrown about in rough terrain and ending up in a position that would jam the drawers when trying to open them. The driver’s side also has a cupboard with a single shelf that houses a 2,000W inverter and dual GPO as well as two 12V points and a 12V USB point. Beneath is a slide-out shelf that fits a Porta Potti perfectly. This section can also be accessed when the tent is erected.
The soft-floor rooftop tent is constructed of 400gsm smooth weave canvas (14-ounce) and sealed roof seams; but it leaks even after seasoning. The unit comes complete with the main tent and a fully-enclosed annexe that provides loads of floor space. The main tent is easy to erect and once the floor is pegged it is a simple matter of extending two poles above the bed then extending two poles and adding two legs to hold up the end wall.
A queen-size foam mattress graces the sleeping section that is accessed via an extension ladder. A fold-up safety barrier is included to prevent falling from the bed during the night. There is enough room when packing up to allow foryou’re the bedding to remain on the bed.
There are a number of LED light strips located throughout the camper box, but Clair has had to install four more to provide better lights at night… especially inside the tent section.
The steel chassis hosts the fully-enclosed and fully-welded body, constructed with powder-coated 2mm steel. The independent trailing arm suspension with dual gas shockers and coil springs tackled the High Country terrain with ease and the 10-inch electric brakes helped with slowing the camper down on the steep slopes. There were issues with the Polyblock coupling, but that was more to do with the receiver. It has since been replaced with a 2.0-tonne McHitch Automatic Coupler. The 100L stainless steel water tank sits in front of the wheels, adding to the tow ball weight. It is plumbed via a 12V pump to the front of the camper. Heavy-duty adjustable drop-down stabiliser legs sit on each corner providing easy levelling.
SET-UP AND PULL DOWN
Set-up is rather simple, especially with two people. Within 15 minutes you can be sitting back relaxing under the shade of the awning. Well, that is possible now. The original awning was painful to set up so it was replaced immediately with a Howling Moon 270-degree Swing Awn. Pull down is just the reverse of set-up and you can be ready to hit the road within a few minutes.
This is a fully-imported Chinese camper trailer – which is obvious in the finishes. It’s also very cheap for this style of camper, so you get what you pay for. It certainly tows well; it’s nimble and robust and can get into tight places. The tent is easy to set up and pull down but the major weakness is the crappy canvas that allows water ingress much too readily.
There is so much storage space, there would be a temptation to fill the camper up and turn it into an anchor behind your vehicle… so you would need to be very wise in your packing methodology. Another major problem is the ball weight. The design of the trailer makes it very difficult to relocate where the heavy items sit. Fuel, water and LPG all sit in front of the wheels (and being only 3,500mm long, the options are limited).
This camper trailer ticked a lot of the boxes for Clair and Amanda, but they have spent at least a couple of grand replacing the awning, hitch and jockey wheel and adding a battery charger, DCDC unit and LED lighting. There is still the issue with the canvas that needs to be decided upon, as the tent doesn’t appear capable of standing up to harsh Australian conditions.