A few years ago my grandfather went shopping for a new wristwatch. Everybody knew about it soon enough.
“What’s the deal with watches nowadays?” he yelled, one afternoon, putting down his tea so he could wave his hands more freely. “What are these know-it-all, show-off watchmakers trying to achieve? I don’t need my watch to tell me how far I’ve walked, to call my kids or to show me emails. I just need it to tell me the time.”
My old man’s man hit upon a fundamental design principle that day. To properly serve customers, a product needs to have clarity of purpose. To that end, it needs to keep things simple. Too many features and all of a sudden you have an unruly Frankenstein’s monster.
While testing out a Jayco J-Pod Outback in the Victorian High Country recently, I was reminded of this memory. This camper certainly has a clear purpose – to enable couples on a budget to venture out through the rough stuff to beautiful destinations. And its simple design serves this purpose to a tee. My grandfather would’ve liked it.
TO WHERE YOU’D RATHER BE
With a Tare of 921kg and ATM of 1221kg on the J-Pod we tested, most SUVs equipped with a towbar could handle this camper. Bigger SUVs with towing capacities of 2000kg will leave plenty of wriggle room; but even smaller soft roaders, such as CX-5 (1800kg) or the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser 4x4 (1500kg), can cope with ease.
I barely felt the thing while towing in an Isuzu D-Max. We took it from Melbourne along the Princess Highway to Traralgon, then onto Jamieson via plenty of offroad detours. Most tracks this day were easy, aside from a moderately deep river crossing at Coopers Creek with a riverbed of loose, football-sized rocks. The final day we headed up the 1200m Mt Terrible via Newman’s Track. This became rather steep, muddy, narrow and winding.
The light weight of the camper allowed the electric brakes to feel smooth and natural. There was no sense of tugging backward when braking or pushing forward upon release. We could gain momentum quickly and maintain it uphill; and restart, with relative ease, when forced to stop mid-slope. The camper’s small dimensions mean you are unlikely to suffer any scratches or worse damage from overhangs and nasty projections.
Our review J-Pod Outback was equipped with a Trigg Bros polyblock hitch rated to an ample 3000kg. The articulation this offered over a standard ball coupling absorbed the shocks, and kept the motion steady and the trailer planted firmly when rounding sharp bends and driving on uneven terrain.
Underneath, Jayco’s own JTECH 2.0 Independent Coil suspension performed honourably. The independence of both tyres smoothed the ride up in the driver’s seat when going over washouts and potholes. This suspension has one shock absorber per side, not your commonly seen ‘twins’ — but this one shock is amped up, so the ride was as smooth as with other serious offroad RVs.
Powder-coating of the over-drawbar storage and a checkerplate bottom quarter protect the J-Pod Outback from scratches and denting. GT Radial Adventuro A/T II tyres on 15in 235/75/R15 wheels decorate the axle, with a spare lodged underneath at the back. The water tank is shielded underneath and no vulnerable wiring is exposed.
LIKE A TEARDROP, BUT NOT
Over the drawbar you’ve got a jerry can holder; behind this, a storage compartment the width of the camper. Inside there’s a division down the middle. On one side are one or two 9kg gas bottles (depending on whether you option up). These are always plugged in, saving you from hauling them and hooking up every time. On the other side there’s open space for firewood or similar.
This over-drawbar storage is set against the bottom quarter of checkerplate, itself set over insulated grey fibreglass walls. From the top of the checkerplate over the drawbar the camper slants backward in a steady curve to level out on the roof. Flexing over the slant is a 150W flexi solar panel. Up top, the roof-rack. It’s just a few bars in either direction but it allows users to bring along a few bigger toys. It is a tad hard to access; we had to stand on the tyres when loading up.
On the passenger side, we find the kitchen slide. Closest to the camper body, there’s a sink with a hot and cold water tap fed by a 12V Shurflo water pump. As there is no need for a grey water tank, water drains out the bottom when you take out the plug. Unfold a lid on the end of the slide to reveal a Dometic two-burner. This lid now acts as bench space, slightly lower down. Two nearby gas bayonets are handy to feed these amenities. Around the driver’s side, there’s another storage compartment which is a continuation of the recess the kitchen slide fits into.
Back on the passenger’s side we have a 2.1m Bushranger awning. Setup is refreshingly simple, if old-school. Unzip, unfold the stashed legs, adjust their length, add the additional legs and tie-down guy ropes. The awning doesn’t cover the kitchen slide-out and would struggle in heavy wind, but on a calm day, it’s ideal for a relaxing arvo.
One of the greatest joys of the J-Pod Outback is its simple setup. You could literally pull up at camp, undo the door’s two latches and hop in for a night’s sleep. For a more extended stay you can unhitch, take the winding pole from inside, position the stabiliser legs, and set up the awning. If you want you can add on the included tent rear extension, which means you can leave the back lid up and extend your living space — and privacy — that little bit more.
CUES FROM THE CAMPERVAN
The entry door takes up the entire back end. Release two latches and pull on the handle, and the door rises on gas struts outwards to reveal the interior. It reminds of me of a campervan; it’s all one living space, of a rectangular shape, with a prominent mattress.
There is no step for getting inside. I’m 6ft and, as my notes tell me, “the camper’s floor comes up to the bottom of my pockets”. I found entry easy, but some — such as my aforementioned grandfather — may find it challenging.
To the left is a 12V 45L Sphere fridge/freezer. The fridge is secured using tie-down points; there are eight on the floor in front of the bed. You would never use all eight when set up, as you need this space to access the bed, but they’re handy for transit. Opposite the fridge, on the right, is a fixed cabinet with three drawers of different sizes. On its side there’s a 12V cigarette inlet, the isolator switch, a few light switches and a Furrion bluetooth speaker dock. On top there’s a free, flat space with two powerpoints.
On both sides there’s a long horizontal cabinet running below the ceiling. Each side has three separate sections for storage, with gear held in with protruding edges and flexible netting. There’s an LED light on the ceiling above the camper’s floor, turned on and off by an attached switch. The light does a great job at illuminating everything, but we found the bulb broken after offroading. A simple fix, fortunately.
Then there is the north-south double innerspring mattress taking up the width of the interior. Again there is no step. Down both sides, around the hip-height of sleepers, are windows with blinds and flyscreens. A Sirocco II fan fixed on the high cabinet on the driver’s side amplifies the airflow.
Near both sleeping heads are springy magazine holders with two pockets. While the passenger side of the mattress is set against the camper’s wall, the driver’s side is separated by a small strip with scooped-out retainers for valuables, approximately below the window. On both sides of the bed there are powerpoints, a 12V plug for charging, and a blue light on a flexible neck for night-time tinkering.
You basically have the whole space underneath the bed for storing your gear. The space is only slightly eaten into by the wheel arches, battery, BMS, Shurflo pump, jack and drop-down stabiliser leg winder. Two large provided containers, with lids, help you to organise gear. I’d use one of these for food, perhaps the other for clothes.
How long could you stay off-grid with the J-Pod? You can carry up to 18kg of gas. With that, you should have no trouble powering your cooktop and tap water heating for a long time. You can carry 82L of water in the tank. Without a toilet or shower, this litreage would last a couple about 10 days to a fortnight, if both were using three to four litres a day for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Power is the biggest off-grid vulnerability of the J-Pod Outback. Its 100Ah battery is chargeable by the mounted 150W of solar and through mains power. If you were off-grid, solar would carry the full burden; meaning that, in overcast conditions, power demands (in particular those of the fridge-freezer) could run the battery down in less than a week.
Remember, though, that the J-Pod Outback is oriented to weekenders and to working couples escaping for short stints. Or even for those who don’t mind the comforts of a tourist park (you’ll need a shower at one point!). That makes the 100Ah cap somewhat irrelevant.
That isn’t to say off-grid enthusiasts can’t take a J-Pod Outback and trick it up. This camper comes with a BMPRO J35 battery management system – a versatile powerhouse capable of charging much more than 100Ah of juice. This BMS is like a tiger, crouching in the weeds, ready to ambush a bigger or additional battery and Anderson plug charging.
THE BOTTOM LINE
All in all, the Jayco J-Pod Outback is lightweight and offroad-capable, with the necessary amount of comforts for those getaways to the outback. Add to this the amount of dealers and service agents Jayco has around the country, plus its two-year manufacturing warranty and five-year structural warranty, and you have a pretty little picture.
I see the J-Pod Outback as being ideal for couples, aged from 18 to 55. Their favoured holiday is a several-day getaway – perhaps a weekend or, when they’re lucky, a week. They’re adventurous, active, and love the natural wonders of Australia, but they’re not too touchy about returning to civilisation to revitalise.
They like to challenge themselves and their SUV or 4WD on offroad tracks and are glad to have a nimble camper that can follow them around. Their focus is ultimately on their holiday and their experience, not their tech. Having a setup that demands little of their savings or effort is exactly what they need.
WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS
Overall length: 4.405m
External body length: 2.85m
External body width: 1.86m
Travel height: 2.27m (7ft 5in)
Internal height: 1.29m (4ft 3in)
Ball weight: 133kg
Frame and cladding: Jayco Tough Frame
Chassis: Hot dipped galvanised
Suspension: JTECH 2.0 Independent Coil
Coupling: Trigg Bros polyblock hitch rated to 3000kg
Wheels: 15in 235/75/R15, GT Radial Adventuro A/T II
Water: 82L tank with guard
Battery: 12V 100Ah Battery, BMPRO J35 Battery Management System
Solar: 150W Flexi-Panel mounted on roof
Gas: 1 x 9kg gas bottle (2 is optional)
Sway control: No
Kitchen: Slide-out with Dometic two-burner, sink with hot/cold, working bench, 2 nearby gas bayonets
Cooking: Dometic two-burner
Fridge: 12V 45L Sphere fridge/freezer
Washing Machine: None
Hot water: None
Second 9kg gas bottle
PRICE AS SHOWN
Jayco Australia. Phone 1300 JAYCO RV