As most off-road and overland enthusiasts know, specially built camper trailers designed to go off grid have become increasingly popular over the past few years.
Off-road trailers come in many shapes, sizes, and price points, and they’re built to handle the rigors of rough trails that take you deep into the wilderness while providing creature comforts that make any overland excursion a whole lot more enjoyable.
For the past several years, we’ve had a few different Patriot Campers trailers that we’ve taken off-road and across the country on numerous journeys, and we’ve discovered that an overland trailer is a very valuable piece of gear; one I’m not sure I could live without. We’ve also learned a lot about the pros and cons of owning an off-road camper trailer, and key features that are crucial to its capability and durability.
Buying a trailer for your travels is a big decision and there are lots of things to consider before shelling out your hard-earned cash for one. To help, we wanted to share our thoughts about all the advantages, disadvantages, and things to look for if you’re in the market for an off-road trailer for your adventures.
ADVANTAGES OF OWNING AN OFF-ROAD TRAILER
There are lots of things we love about owning an off-road trailer—including the ability to camp along the edge of a remote canyon and watch a spectacular sunrise—so here are all the reasons why you may want to buy an off-road trailer.
Trailer Storage Means You're Always Ready for Adventure
When you own an off-road trailer, you can keep it stocked and ready to go, which makes trip planning—or even spontaneous trips—a whole lot easier. In our experience, off-road trailers have plenty of room for storing all the gear and equipment you could possibly need, and then some. You won’t have to load and unload your vehicle before and after every camping trip because it all stays in your trailer, ready for your next adventure.
It is so convenient to get to camp, open up your trailer, and have everything you need right there. You don’t have to dig through boxes and bags to find lanterns, chairs, and cooking gear—everything is in its designated place. Something else we love is that there’s no more forgetting anything just because you didn’t remember to grab it from the back of the top shelf of that cabinet in your garage.
Plug & Play Kitchen
One of the biggest advantages of owning an overland trailer is having a kitchen stocked and ready with all of your favorite cooking gear and equipment. From basic amenities like running water and utensils, to luxury items like an Omnia stovetop oven or a blender, a trailer’s storage allows you to have the camp kitchen of your dreams wherever you are, which makes cooking and eating in the great outdoors a piece of cake!
With most off-road trailers, there’s a place for a refrigerator (typically larger than what you would bring in your vehicle) so there’s plenty of room for fresh foods to keep you eating well, whether it’s for the weekend or a week. Most trailers also hold a lot more water than you’d typically carry in your rig, which is a bonus. Our Patriot Campers X1 trailer holds 40 gallons of water, which means we have plenty for drinking, cleaning dishes, and washing up.
When you have a trailer, you can also leave your pantry items and non-perishables in your kitchen, which is another added convenience, ensuring you’re always ready to hit the road and making it less likely you’ll leave behind a vital ingredient. Just add fresh food and water and you’re ready for adventure!
Probably the number one reason most folks get a trailer for off-roading and overlanding is the added comfort. We get that most people associate camping with roughing it. But seriously? There’s no reason getting out and enjoying nature means you have to be uncomfortable.
A trailer has ample storage space, giving you the option of bringing as many comfort items as you want when you head off grid. This also allows you to tailor your gear to fit your plans and lifestyle. Planning to do a lot of relaxing? Go ahead and bring your hammock…it’ll fit. Are you the parents of an infant? No worries…there’s room for a portable playpen and extra diapers.
One of the biggest comforts a trailer adds is a place to sleep that’s off the ground and out of the elements. The standard choices among the different models of trailers are usually either a compartment in the trailer or a rooftop tent. (Note, some trailers provide a space for a rooftop tent but not the tent itself, so that may be an added expense.)
Both options allow for a comfy mattress, and you can even add memory foam like we have for an even better night’s sleep. When it comes to getting out of the elements—particularly the wind, rain, or snow—a trailer that has a hard-walled sleeping space will definitely keep you feeling snug and safe.
Many trailers also have a hot water heater which, in our opinion, is absolutely amazing. Whether you’re taking a camp shower or just doing dishes, having hot water at camp makes life on the trail so much nicer.
Depending on the trailer, there are loads of amenities you can pick and choose from to amp up your comfort level, everything from heaters and air conditioners, to slide out showers and barbecue grills.
Another great thing about having a trailer is that we can set up a base camp and free ourselves to move about in just our Jeep. If we’re at a beautiful, remote, dispersed camping site, and there are plenty of trails in the vicinity, we don’t have to pack up camp and move every day. We can just disconnect, lock up the trailer, and head out to explore.
Great for Families
When you’re venturing out into the wild with your family, especially with younger kids, having a trailer can make life more enjoyable for everyone. In addition to a safe and secure place to sleep, you’ll have room for all the extra gear and food that you'll need when traveling with family, especially when you have more than one child.
When packing for an off-road camping trip, space is already going to be tight in your vehicle. And when you throw in clothes and camping gear for four or more people, it can be pretty easy to exceed your vehicle’s gross weight, especially if you’ve built it out for overlanding.
But when you bring a trailer along on your family's off-grid camping expeditions, you can shift all that gear to the trailer, leaving space in the backseat for your kiddos to spread out a little so you—hopefully—won’t have to listen to “he’s touching me” for mile after very long mile.
And, depending on the amount of storage your trailer has, you should have plenty of additional room for things like a privacy tent, portable toilet, board games, and whatever else will make your camping trip the best ever.
Less Weight & Fewer Modifications for Your Vehicle
Having a trailer for your camping adventures also means you don’t have to transform your rig into an overland beast by adding extra gear and equipment for camping. Things like a rooftop tent, an awning, a power management system, and built-in storage and shelving systems, all of which can be hefty in terms of weight and cost.
Each of these modifications add weight to your rig, and a rooftop tent in particular shifts your vehicle’s center of gravity up, all of which can make you far less nimble off-road and limits your ability to hit some hardcore trails.
And if you’re rig also happens to be your daily driver? Well, a big, heavy modified vehicle is going to be inefficient and uncomfortable driving to and from work, squeezing into parking garages, dropping the kids off at football practice, and…well, you get the picture.
With a trailer to help shoulder the burden of all the gear and equipment you need for overlanding, you can leave your vehicle pretty clean and operating just the way it should.
DISADVANTAGES OF OWNING AN OFF-ROAD TRAILER
While we love having all the comforts and conveniences of a trailer for our off-road and overland adventures, there are a few downsides that you should be aware of, so here are a few reasons you might not want to buy a trailer.
Four-wheel drive, off-road vehicles are not known for their fuel efficiency. The same is true for an off-road trailer because it is definitely not going to enhance your miles per gallon (MPG).
We’ve towed our trailers with a Jeep Wrangler (four- and two-door), a Gladiator, and a Bronco, and the results are all the same…towing reduces your MPG, which reduces your off-road range. (In our experience, MPG is reduced by about 3-4 gallons.)
So, if fuel prices are a factor for you, this is definitely something to ponder.
But, as we’ve already mentioned, one of the advantages of owning a trailer is having additional storage space and you can carry extra fuel. We usually carry about 10 gallons of additional fuel, and when we’re traveling in a convoy, we can also bring even more so everyone doesn’t have carry jerrycans and rotopaXes filled with fuel on their vehicles.
Additional Maintenance & Wear and Tear
Off-road rigs and overland trailers are built for tackling rough trails and obstacles, and they’re designed to be rugged and durable. But no matter how well made they are, driving off-road will take its toll over time.
Towing a trailer down washboard roads and over obstacles increases the stress on both your vehicle’s and the trailer’s suspension and it contributes to the wear on all of your tires. Eventually, things are going to wear out or break and need to be repaired or replaced.
That’s why regular maintenance to stay on top of what’s wearing and tearing is critical to your safety and the longevity of your vehicle and trailer. And the time and money you are already spending doing maintenance and repairs for your rig will increase when you own an off-road trailer.
Before and after every off-road trip or long adventure, you will need to inspect both your vehicle and trailer to ensure they’re in trail-worthy condition. And over time, you will end up replacing tires and shocks, as well as repairing and replacing a slew of other parts.
No one buys off-road vehicle expecting it to drive like a Maserati. And when towing an off-road camper trailer, your pace is going to even slower. We’ve learned that a trip which would have taken us six hours in just our Jeep, will likely take us six and a half hours when we’re towing our trailer. And that’s just road miles.
When we’re on a trail, we move even slower because we take our time going over rough terrain to avoid excess jostling and causing damage to the trailer and our vehicle.
Planning trips with an off-road trailer means you’ll need to factor in your slower speed when working out your time and distance to your destinations.
Increased Turning RadiusAnother disadvantage of towing an overland trailer is that your turning radius increases quite a bit and turning around is going to require extra space—something not always easy to find when you’re out on the trail.
With a trailer, you’ll have a third axle and a third set of tires to worry about, which means you really need to think ahead and factor this in when you’re planning your routes and trails.
When you’re out exploring, you really need to make sure you know what lies ahead because if you end up having to turn around on a mountain or a very tight trail, it can be extremely challenging.
Finding parking can be another downside to towing a trailer. When you’re en route to a trail and you need to stop for gas, groceries, or just grab a quick bite, you aren’t going to snag just any old parking spot…you’ll have to find one large enough to accommodate your vehicle and the trailer. It can be done, but it’s not always easy.
8 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN LOOKING TO BUY AN OFF-ROAD TRAILER
Now that you know some of the pros and cons to owning an off-road trailer, here are some of things you may want to give some thought to if you’re thinking about buying one.
The cost of an overland trailer is probably one of the biggest considerations you’ll have when deciding if buying one is right for you. There are plenty of trailers out there at a variety of different price points, and the higher the price tag, the more options you’ll have versus a trailer that’s more budget minded.
Personal experience has made us firm believers in “you get what you pay for” and with a premium trailer, you’re not only going to get more amenities, you’re also going to get a quality build that’s very capable off-road.
While still not cheap, another option that could save you money is building a trailer yourself, if you’re a DIY kind of person. There are plenty of folks out there who have done so and there are lots of resources online to help you. If you go with this option, you get to have the fun of designing and fabricating a trailer as well as the joy of knowing you made it with your own two hands.
There are also other costs that you need think about, including insurance and registration. Insurance is a recurring monthly cost and registration an annual one, so don’t forget to include those amounts when budgeting for your trailer.
One final thought about the cost. Off-road trailers are not cheap—we had a little sticker shock the first time we looked at one. If you are going to get your money’s worth, you really need to ask yourself how often you’ll be using it. If you are like us and you’ll use your trailer several times a month, often for multi-day or weeks-long trips, then buying a trailer is worth every penny. But, if you’re only going to use a trailer a few times a year, it might not be worth the investment.
Something else to think about is storage. As in, do you have a place to store your trailer? Will it fit in your garage? Do you have a side yard where you could keep it?
We’re fortunate because our Patriot Campers trailers have all fit in our garage, otherwise, we would have had to find a place and pay a monthly storage fee.
Trailers come in all shapes and sizes so when you’re deciding on which trailer is best for you, thinking about where you are going to store it is definitely something to factor in.
Brakes and Brake Controller
Two other things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about buying an off-road trailer are brakes and a brake controller—more specifically, does your vehicle have a brake controller and does the trailer have brakes?
Most vehicles don’t come with a brake controller, although some do. And while most trailers come with brakes, not all of them do. But having brakes on your off-road trailer (and being able to use them) is extremely beneficial when you’re towing over obstacles and navigating downhill.
Our Patriot Campers trailers have all had brakes, but our off-road vehicles did not come with brake controllers so we've installed a REDARC brake controller on our Jeep Wrangler 392.
Another consideration is the quality of the trailer itself—the material used in its fabrication and how well it was built. An off-road trailer is going to take a beating and you want one that was made to take it.
You want to look for a chassis that was made to be strong and durable, a lightweight body, high ground clearance, and a good departure angle.
Our Patriot Campers X3 trailer is a great example of a quality build. The chassis is made of hot dipped galvanized steel and the platform is a fusion of steel and marine-grade aluminum that’s strong without being excessively heavy. The trailer’s shell is made from aluminum and it blends with the chassis, a monocoque design, which keeps it lightweight and sturdy.
Additionally, our X3 has 19.6 inches of ground clearance and a 40-degree departure angle, which are great for getting over obstacles when we’re off-roading—and we’ve been on some pretty rough and rugged trails.
Fully Articulating Hitch
A standard ball and hitch will get the job done if you’re towing an off-road trailer on some easy dirt roads, but if you’re towing it on some rough terrain and navigating obstacles, a fully articulating hitch is a must.
With a hitch that can rotate 360 degrees, your vehicle can angle in one direction as it comes off an obstacle while your trailer can angle in the opposite direction as it’s still going over the obstacle without any problems. If you just have a standard hitch in the same circumstances, you run the risk of rolling your vehicle, your trailer, or both.
Our trailer has a fully articulating and when we’re hitting some gnarly trails, the trailer just follows ourJeep perfectly. We think all off-road trailers should have this type of hitch.
It’s important to make sure an off-road trailer has independent suspension because this will help keep it stable and level when you’re navigating through rough terrain and over obstacles, unlike a solid axle trailer that is going to bounce around and flex more when the trail gets tricky.
The width of an off-road trailer is another important consideration. You don’t want it too narrow or too wide, you want it just right.
When a trailer is too narrow, it ends up being top heavy and taller than your vehicle, and you run the risk of it tipping over. When a trailer is quite a bit wider than your vehicle, you have to to worry whether your trailer can make it through a tight trail or obstacle, even though your rig made it just fine.
But, when your trailer is the same width as your vehicle, or just slightly more narrow, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that if your rig can make it through, your trailer can too.
The weight of your off-road trailer is something else you should take into account when you’re deciding what trailer would be right for you.
A big, heavy steel trailer might be very durable, but once you fill up its storage compartments with all your gear, and add food and water, this behemoth is going to put a lot of strain on your vehicle when maneuvering over challenging obstacles and climbing up steep grades.
A lightweight trailer is going to make your engine much happier when going up hill and it’s going to be a lot more nimble at navigating those obstacles.
IS AN OFF-ROAD TRAILER RIGHT FOR YOU?
Whether or not an off-road trailer is going to be right for you is something only you can decide. But I hope that by sharing our thoughts about the advantages, disadvantages, and a few other things to think about, we’ve given you some food for thought as you’re making that decision.
The following videos highlight what it's like owning and towing an off-road trailer on your overland adventures.