BORN IN BATTLE

BORN IN BATTLE DOES MILITARY PRECISION TRANSLATE TO COMFORTABLE CAMPING? AN OFF-ROAD TORTURE TEST WILL FIND THAT OUT.

WORDS & PHOTOS DAN EVERETT

LIKE IT or not, camper-trailers are a mind-bogglingly large part of the 4x4 landscape, and weíre bloody glad for it. While Facebook experts stand on their soap boxes, emanating a highpitched shriek about the virtues of simple camping, families all the country are hitching up their home-away-from-home and travelling to corners of Australia far beyond the reach of social media and the self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the outdoors. Progress for the sake of progress isnít always good; but progress to make the great outdoors more accessible? Now that we can get behind.

The catch, and thereís always a catch, is that while nearly all camper-trailers will make camp itself more comfortable, many fall apart as soon as the track of a lifetime becomes little more than a freshly-graded fire trail. At what point does a camper-trailer stop being something that enhances your off-road escapades and start becoming something that hinders them?

It was this thought floating through our minds as we lined the Conqueror UEV-490 up against rock ledge after rock ledge, mud hole after mud hole and, the biggest torture test imaginable, a pair of children. Would it leave us high and dry when the track turns tough?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

EYEING off the UEV-490ís olive drabadorned flanks itís easy to write it off as just another faux-tactical marketing gimmick. But youíd be wrong. Tactically wrong. While olive drab is the war paint of choice for suburban Rangers adorned with fibreglass and Nike bum bags, the Conqueror has earned its stripes. Hailing from the Ďmeaner-than-my-ex-missusí streets of South Africa, Conqueror has been piecing together off-road trailers for the SA military for the best part of three decades. Those military underpinnings shine through despite years of polish to make its camper line civilian friendly, and we use the term polish metaphorically; you wonít find a single panel on the Conqueror range with shine.

A CLOSER LOOK REVEALS HOW MUCH ĎMILITARY TOUGHí DESIGN PRINCIPLE HAS GONE INTO THE LINE-UP

A CLOSER LOOK

01 MILITARY STEP

The military feel goes right down to sideaccess steps. By the way, theyíre not bulletproof ... we checked.

02 LIGHT íEM UP

No need for mains or generators, with the rooftop solar panels keeping the lights on and the fridge cool.

03 FORK íNí KNIFE

The UEV-490 not only comes with a cutlery drawer, it comes with cutlery for the entire family, too.

04 COMBO COOKER

The self-contained kitchen box means everything is within easy reach ... and we mean everything.

05 SINKING FEELING

Domestic bliss with twin wash basins as well as separate hot and cold mixer taps. Oh, the luxury.

On closer inspection it starts becoming clear just how much that Ďmilitary toughí design principle has gone into the line-up. Where many other campers are zapped together in whatever cheapest method the factory concocted, the UEV-490 is a jigsaw puzzle of lightweight panels glued and riveted to the frame to keep weight down and allow just enough flex in the body so it wonít shake itself to pieces on outback corrugations. Conqueror tells us the panel construction is modular, allowing individual panels to be replaced if damaged rather than writing the camper off. It declined our offer to damage the sides in the interest of science, though. Some people, right?

Prodding further into the camper solidifies those first thoughts. The doors are bunker strong, with heavyduty hinges bracing one side of the door, while the other is internally lockable should you find your campground under siege by rebel factions.

If youíre starting to build a picture of clever design features mixed with the rugged simplicity of military equipment, youíre on the right track. Imagine a Humvee with a fold-down coffee maker in the gun turret and youíll be right at home.

THE SETUP

ALL THE shine and polish in the world is irrelevant in a camper if it requires a troop of Russian contortionists to set up, and to that end the UEV-490 is a bit of a mixed bag. Let us explain.

If you pull up to camp and itís pouring rain, the set-up time is approximately three seconds. Just enough time to open the door, get in and shut the door. Thereís nothing else that needs to be done to jump in for the night on the main bed.

Need more head room? You donít even need to leave the camper. A simple swing bar unlocks and pushes up for an extra foot of space.

The awning is one of the simplest in camper-trailer-land, too. A batwing arrangement provides coverage front to rear, with most of the poles swinging into place. Two people could easily set the awning up in less than two minutes.

So where does it go south? Itís not so much that things are complicated to do Ė the exact opposite, actually. Things are incredibly simple to set up, but theyíre physically demanding. Those oh-so-cool, kick-into-place stabiliser legs? They require you to jump under the camper and sit down; something that might not be appealing in the cold, the rain, or the mud.

DESPITE LOOKING TOP HEAVY, ITíS INCREDIBLY WELL-BALANCED AND SUREFOOTED

The front bed is another physically involved job, too. Youíll need to climb up on top of the camperís front storage box to retrieve the poles that hold the tent in place. Youíll also need to put your body weight against the hatch to get the locks open. Then head back inside to unfold the mattress into place. Complicated? Hell no. Itís doable in just a few minutes, but youíll be working for it.

LIVEABILITY AND STORAGE

LOGIC dictates the longer you head bush for, the more stuff youíll need to carry. Rather than using this as an excuse to cram more junk into every nook and cranny, the Conqueror thinks a little outside the box. Ironic, considering thatís essentially what it is.

Starting from the rear itís obvious how much thought has gone into each and every aspect to not necessarily make it prettier, but more user-friendly. That single spare tyre? Not only does it sit out of the way on the rear, it also serves as a mount for a barbecue plate should you find yourself remote and fresh out of gas. Directly above is a clever rack designed for lugging firewood back to camp and, with the included tie-down points, can be used for just about anything you donít want stinking up the interior.

Moving down the flanks and the standout is the pantry. A few pop locks and youíve got access to a prep table, three deep shelves and a plethora of canvas pockets perfect for stowing food items. Simple enough? It would be, if the pantry wasnít also accessible from inside the camper. No more midnight runs in the rain just to grab a packet of chips.

That inside/outside idea has spread to the fridge, too. It both pulls out on the combined fridge/kitchen slide but is also accessible through a hatch under the frontmost bed. Those canvas pockets are used extensively throughout the interior, too, with inbuilt cupboards lining the walls in every direction.

After any more than a few minutes with the UEV-490 itís immediately clear youíre meant to live outside the camper, too, not just inside it. The driverís side wall is a de facto bathroom, complete with its own awning and canvas walls. It encompasses the hot and cold shower, water heater, and even a pullout washtub with space for toiletries.

Along the passengerís side is the meals/ prep area. The kitchen stows plates, cutlery, cups and even wine glasses in specially made slots so youíre not lugging around busted Tupperware containers full of mismatched forks. Hey, you canít expect the Saffas to head bush without matching cutlery, right?

In full-blown camping mode youíve got a few different internal sleeping options. The main bed is a quasi-king arrangement configured by dropping the internal dining table down between the two bunk-style beds. Itís a straightforward affair, but despite the nearly 2000mm of width, tall people will quickly run out of leg room. The two outside bunks have an overall length of 2000mm, but with a shelf above thereís no room for your feet in the last 400mm. In the middle, a notch in the end leaves the overall length there around 250mm short. At six-feet tall, we couldnít lie straight in any position.

The second foldout bed didnít fare much better. Despite its comfortable mattress the overall length of the bed is just 1670mm, leaving almost half our legs hanging off the bed. Admittedly you can lie on an angle, but it does seem like an odd oversight in an otherwise well-thought-out package.

OFF-ROAD CREDENTIALS

YOU DONíT buy a 79 Series for cruising through suburbia, and you donít buy a Conqueror to punt down to your local campgrounds. So, how does it hold up when the going gets tough?

The first thing that stood out is just how incredibly stable it is. Despite looking top heavy, itís incredibly well-balanced and surefooted, in part due to its lightweight construction (around 1500kg empty) but also due to the trick suspension arrangement. Like most modern campers the UEV-490 runs an independent suspension arrangement. Unlike most modern campers, itís good. The suspension mounts are integrated high up into the frame, minimising potential anchor points, and the control arms are beefy plate steel rather than box section Ė with added reinforcements to stop deflection in the arms Ė and include clever features like suspension-limiting straps to control travel, rather than letting the shock top out. The spindles are replaceable if you happen to break one, and the springs and shocks are name-brand items. But that doesnít help with the feeling of stability; that comes from the swaybar, the only one of its kind weíve encountered in a camper trailer. It helps keep the camper level on- and off-road, and it stops the weightshifting taller campers and caravans can give in off-camber situations.

The underside is rust-resistant and will hold up to years of abuse. The raw hot-dip-galvanised finish wonít chip or crack like a powdercoated or painted finish would, and thereís an impressive departure angle with more hot-dip-galvanized plate steel protecting the camperís flanks; although, we did manage to rip off a mudflap. Sorry, Conqueror.

SELF SUFFICIENCY

MAKE no mistake, while the UEV-490 is more than capable of climbing up and down rock ledges all day, where it excels is in the far reaches of the Australian outback, far from civilisation, and even farther from a developed campsite.

Keeping the lights on and fridge running is 210amp/h worth of power split between dual AGM batteries. Theyíre controlled through the internal switch panel and fed through either the 15A 240V charger if youíre near mains power, or through the Anderson plug up front; although, youíd be wise to fit a charger on the tow tugís electrical system to isolate it. The electrical system powers the extensive LED lighting (inside and out), the twin fans inside, and multiple ciggie and USB power outlets throughout. Options are available to deck the camper out with up to 320W of solar power, additional batteries and 240V inverters.

On the rear of the camper is no less than 135 litres of water split between two food-grade plastic water tanks with a further 40 litres of storage possible in the two jerrycan holders. Water capacity is 175 litres and gives you fresh drinking water, as well as feeding the two basins and shower head via the gas hot-water systems. Twin 4kg gas bottles provide plenty of fuel for the water system and the two-burner Dometic stove-top. A water filtration system is available as an optional accessory and allows you to refill your water tanks from any nearby stream.

DOES IT CUT THE MUSTARD?

THEREíS no such thing as the wrong camper, only the wrong owner. With that in mind there are plenty of wrong owners for the UEV-490. If youíre physically frail, on a low-budget, or after an easy weekend camper, youíre not going to use it to its fullest potential.

If, however, youíre after something more, the UEV-490 might be the best piece of adventure equipment you ever buy. It has an ability to traverse almost any terrain; itís light enough to not act like too much of an anchor off road; and it even has enough remote touring cred to last as long as your food supplies do. The UEV-490 might just be the excuse youíve been looking for to disappear past the black stump for a month at a time.