When considering true offroad caravan, weight is an important issue. Generally speaking most serious offroad vans have a Tare in excess of 2500kg and require a large 4WD to tow. That puts some caravanners off the thought of travelling offroad.
Ralf Brosch, who runs a company called Free Spirit Caravans and has had experience building offroad caravans for other manufacturers, has given the weight matter some consideration and spent the last 18 months developing his lighter-weight range of caravans.
He told CW, “In our own way we’d like to reduce the carbon footprint yet still allow people to fully explore this country.” To do that, he continued, “we’ve designed our range of caravans that can be towed by four or six-cylinder-powered tow vehicles if needed.”
He started with the chassis. It’s aluminium and, according to Ralf, built with both strength and lightness in mind. There are not too many caravan manufacturers who use aluminium for their chassis but the team at Free Spirit are quite experienced in working with aluminium and do their own welding. The only ‘part’ of the chassis not aluminium is the Vehicle Components independent suspension complete with coil springs, trailing arms and shock absorbers, plus the Hitchmaster DO 35 coupling. Both are bolted to the chassis.
While on the topic of this van’s underside, we should point out that the water tanks are made from polyethylene, which is known for its toughness.
Naturally, aluminium is also the material of choice for both the caravan frame and the external cladding, and in keeping with the alloy theme, it is also used for the cabinetry framing to ensure strength and light weight.
Our review rig was a very new 4.85m (16ft – external body length) Aussie Adventurer. Its relatively short length (compared to many contemporary vans) is a factor in keeping the weight down but it’s also a help for the offroad enthusiast who wants to keep grounding the van to a minimum; the chamfered rear helps in that too.
I borrowed a LandCruiser tow vehicle from 4WD Megastores, Maroochydore, for a bit of bouncing around on rough roads and the Aussie Adventurer proved up to the task. Its short length was certainly an asset through the dips and undulations that we encountered and it proved to be a very towable van indeed.
In other areas the Aussie Adventurer is quite conventional. It has Seitz hopper windows, a Camec triple locker door, Fiamma F45 awning, Dometic roof-mounted air-conditioner, front storage compartment and two spare wheels plus a 9kg gas cylinder on the front drawbar.
Stepping inside – which is something of a step, it has to be said – the layout is quite simple with none of the aluminium framework in evidence (unless you look under the bed or in a cupboard, that is). The light-hued timber finish looks quite standard and the multiple windows offer good natural light and ventilation, the latter aided by a Four Seasons hatch and air-conditioner.
An east-west bed is fitted under the front offside window. The rest of the wall is filled with a wardrobe, cabinet with fridge and microwave plus a corner bathroom. Across the rear wall is a kitchen cabinet, leaving the nearside wall space for table and chairs.
The dining/lounging area can be built with a more conventional L-shaped bench seat and freestanding table if so desired, but the layout with single chairs and table offers a slightly more spacious arrangement in a smaller van, albeit at the cost of under-seat storage. Above the table are two lockers, on the rear end of which are mounted the solar panel/12V control switch for the two 150W solar panels, and the AM/FM radio/CD player.
KITCHEN AND BATHROOM
Catering is certainly not going to be a problem, with the kitchen bench having a two-burner cooktop and stainless steel sink with drainer. Under-bench storage consists of two drawers and three cupboards, while above are three overhead lockers. Lighting is quite generous with both a ceiling and under-locker fluorescent light.
As noted earlier, the fridge and microwave are located on the other side of the bathroom, with the fridge being mounted at cupboard height off the floor; that means the microwave is high too. Alongside the fridge is also a full-height, slide-out pantry.
The moulded bathroom has a conventional Thetford cassette toilet, variable height flex hose shower and vanity cabinet with cupboard and sink. However, it also has a moulded-in shaving cabinet with much deeper than usual shelves. Ventilation is handled by both a roof hatch and small window.
A little unusually, the double bed sits across the front of the van. This means there’s limited walk-around space but it also reduces considerably the area required for the bedroom. The right-hand sleeper gets a bedside cabinet but the other person has to make do with a waist-high cabinet at the end of the bed. Halogen reading lights are fitted to either side of the bed, and the flatscreen TV mounted on the side of the wardrobe can sort of be seen from the bed (very close up) and much more easily from the dining table chairs.
Windows all round give good cross-flow ventilation on warm nights. Lifting the bed reveals an aluminium (what else?) framed bed base and a substantive storage area. The battery and charger occupy a little of the area but there is good access otherwise, not only from the inside but from external bin doors on both sides. A large wardrobe between the fridge and the bed provides hanging space and three good-size drawers.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you are looking for an offroad van, then the Free Spirit Aussie Adventurer should certainly be on your list of prospects. There are larger vans available in the Free Spirit range but the Adventurer should not be discounted.
FREE SPIRIT AUSSIE ADVENTURER
Overall length: 6.85m (22ft 6in)
External length: 4.85m (16ft)
External width: 2.3m (7ft 7in)
Internal height: 1.95m (6ft 5in)
Nameplate ATM: 2000kg
Nameplate Tare: 1580kg
Suspension: Independent coil spring
Hitch: Hitchmaster DO 35
Lighting: 12V fluorescent/LED
Gas: 1 x 9kg
Fresh water: 2 x 95L
Price as shown: $90,600 (on road, Qld)