Adventure Special, part 2: Happy Campers

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24 May 2024
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3 ways to camp: Dormobile, roof tent and pop-up : credit: © Keiran Hammond
Which adventure set-up is best for you, and what should you take with you on trips? We asked Defender Campers, who run three very different vehicle set-ups, for their views. They also recommended some of their favourite camping kit

Like anything in life, experience counts for a lot. You can research, read, scour the internet in search of answers to questions on any subject, but nothing beats getting out there and doing whatever it is you want to be good at for yourself, learning and honing along the way. This is exactly why we got in touch with the guys at Defender Campers for a run-down on what type of sleeping arrangement might be best for you when planning to go on an adventure – the company’s fleet of Land Rovers has been fine-tuned for use by anyone to jump in and enjoy with as little fuss as possible, from complete camping novices to those who spend almost every weekend out exploring somewhere new.

Defender Campers has all the bases covered

​​​​​​While they’re all Td5-powered Defender 110s, each of Defender Campers’ three vehicles is a base for a different type of camper. We’ll start by exploring exactly what each of them offers, how the sleeping system works, and what lends them to be most suitable for different types of trips. If you’re still wanting more reassurance after reading this guide, you’re in luck – all of Defender Campers’ 110s are available for hire, so you can experience all the mod-cons for yourself. We’ll also look at the kit that the company lends out with all of its vehicles, carefully hand-selected over years of adventure travel.

 

DORMOBILE
Carries 5, Sleeps 4, Best for UK adventures

Side awning transforms into a room with zip-on sides and groundsheet

First up is the affectionately-named Blue Belle, a 1999 Defender Td5 hard top which has undergone a Dormobile conversion. Dormobile, a name synonymous with camping and Land Rovers, first started converting them in the late 1950s and is still operating today in the New Forest. The number of Land Rover Dormobiles that have survived and are still being enjoyed by their owners is testament to the quality of the conversions, and Blue Belle is no exception.

​​​​​​Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Dormobile is the side-hinged roof, which opens up to reveal a bed platform that sleeps two people. The bed base can be moved around, giving plenty of standing space inside the cabin, and the sofa in the back of the loadspace also flattens down to create an additional bed, giving sleeping space for a further two people.

Low profile when packed down

A night heater, something that’s become somewhat of an essential in Land Rover camper builds, keeps the living area warm on cool nights, and the dual gas stove and sink that are built into the kitchen worktop opposite the sofa bed provide useful food preparation space.

To provide extra living space outside the Land Rover, this 110 is decked out with both a rear and side awning, with the latter able to be transformed into a proper room thanks to zip-on sides and a groundsheet. Creature comforts also extend to a 7-litre fridge to keep provisions cool, an in-built hot shower, and plenty of internal and external lighting and charging sockets.

Short rack overhangs windscreen for carrying extra gear

Because of the pop-up roof’s construction it can’t support a traditional roof rack, so there is a short rack that overhangs the 110’s windscreen for carrying extra gear, with the option of an extra Thule roof box for covered storage if needed.

 

ROOF TENT
Carries 5, Sleeps 4, Best for family trips

Probably the Defender with the most commonly seen sleeping set-up in the UK, this Alveston Red 110 – known to the Defender Campers guys as Cherry Belle – sports a standard body but with a roof rack and hard-shell tent added. The only five-door station wagon of the three, this 110 is able to carry five passengers in its forward-facing seats, making it ideal for families with younger kids.

270-degree batwing awning creates huge covered outdoor area

Due to the layout, focus is shifted slightly from built-in appliances to more adaptable cooking and living arrangements; for instance, the fold-down table on the taildoor that houses the single-burner stove, rather than having a dedicated built-in hob inside the body that would eat into precious space.

There’s no lack of amenities with this camper build

Perhaps the thing that makes this Defender stand out from most other roof tent-equipped Land Rovers that you might come across is the size of the tent. It’s an iKamper Skycamp 2.0 and it’s a proper five-berther, folding out to almost double the floor space from its footprint on the roof rack, whereas most tents on the market only sleep two or three people. This is another reason it’s perfect for families of four or five.

A proven overlander from various previous jaunts across Europe, there’s no lack of amenities. The station wagon has a 40-litre on-board water tank with filter and pump, fridge-freezer, both leisure batteries and caravan-style electrical hook-up, a 270-degree batwing awning with attachable sides for a huge outside area and plenty of lighting.

Obviously, despite a modest footprint on the roof rack relative to the size it folds out to, the five-person roof tent does dominate the rack and there’s very little room for anything else, so the storage drawer and open space behind the second-row seats is best reserved for luggage rather than relying on external storage.

 

POP-TOP
Carries 3, Sleeps 3, Best for long-distance travel

Beefed-up overland set-up

A veteran of the Sahara, this 110 hard top, known to her friends as Silver Belle (for obvious reasons), is set up for both leisure camping and serious overland travel. While it can’t carry or sleep as many as its stablemates, Silver has travelled to Africa on more than one occasion and sports a few upgrades over the other two that make it more than up to the job of more remote living –  all-terrain tyres, upgraded suspension, winch, solar power and built-in storage lockers to name but a few.

Pop-up utilises entire roof length for more space

Unlike the Dormobile’s side-hinged roof section, the entire roof of this 110 is raised from standard, and hinges at the front edge to reveal an extendable double bed. This provides a mount for the solar panel, so you can keep the leisure batteries topped up when not plugged in to a hook-up and means you get a proper full-size bed, with further sleeping for one on the sofa in the loadspace.

Being a similar layout to the Dormobile, cooking and cleaning are taken care of in the load area and a 35-litre fridge keeps supplies fresh. This Defender also has interior blinds for extra privacy and so you can enjoy a cheeky lay-in past sunrise, should all that epic adventuring take it out of you.

Quick and easy set-up is the key

Two full-length awnings extend from the side and rear for shelter from the rain or sun, and there’s plenty of internal cargo space when travelling – the third passenger can use the front centre seat rather than having to join all the gear in the back. This particular pop-top-equipped 110 doesn’t have a roof rack fitted, but most pop-tops are designed to be used in conjunction with popular brands of roof rack for even more carrying capacity.

Now you've chosen your set-up, what about the gear you'll need to enjoy it...

 

Top kit from the experts

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All of Defender Campers’ vehicles are designed to be set up from driving to camping modes in under five minutes. From pulling up at your favourite camping spot to sitting with your beer or G&T under the stars, with your bed ready and the fire lit. No messing around with fiddly gear and wrestling with flimsy tents, just well-designed, well-engineered, easy-to-use kit. The team’s camping gear is tried over the years, and they only recommend what they know lasts. Here are some of their favourites.

 

Front Runner Camp Kitchen Utensil Set
£65, frontrunneroutfitters.com

“We love the Front Runner kitchen utensil set; in our opinion it’s one of the best on the market. It is perfect for overland camping as it packs all of the essential utensils needed for your adventure and wraps up into a compact bag that keeps everything stowed away in one place. The cutlery that is included as standard is good quality – no flimsy camping cutlery in sight. Unroll the bag, hang it from a roof rack, a door or a tree, and cook away.”

 

Snow Peak Fireplace Starter Set
£284, uk.snowpeak.com

“No camping trip is complete without sitting out under the stars with the crackling of burning wood and smell of toasting marshmallows. We love this Snowpeak firepit as space saving is vital when off adventuring and this firepit folds up flat and has its own carry bag. The aluminium pit heats quickly and distributes the heat well to keep you toasty.”

 

Outwell Feast Set

£51.99, outwell.com

“A great stacking pan set which saves space – a necessity for any overland or wild camper. They are non-stick and heavy-duty yet lightweight. For our campers they have also stood the test of time with countless camping trips and barely a scratch to the non-stick. They’re really easy to clean up afterwards, too.”

 

Front Runner Wolf boxes
£56, frontrunneroutfitters.com

“These tough, stackable boxes are great for storing all our camping equipment that we send out on our rentals. They are a perfect size, incredibly durable, stackable and can even double up as an extra camp seat. The newer version of these handy boxes is the Wolf Pack Pro, which can be customised with a higher lid and other accessories.”

 

iKamper Skycamp 2.0 roof tent
From £3000, ikamper.uk.com

“A roof tent is a must, especially travelling as a family. We love this roof tent for our customers as it is super quick and easy, up and ready in two minutes. It will comfortably sleep a family of four with room to spare and the added bonus of a sky view window which gives extra light and allows you to see the stars at night. We also have an iKamper annexe room which gives us extra storage space, as well as keeping warm and dry when accessing the roof tent.”

 

ARB Delux Awning Room
£315.52, arb4x4.co.uk

“This awning room is a great addition to our Dormobile camper. The awning room attaches to our ARB awning and it is quick and easy to set up and gives extra storage space. If you are camping as a large family, it can even be used as an extra bedroom, creating a two-bed set-up. On cold, wet days it is fantastic for having that extra space for games to entertain the younger adventurers.”

ARB Touring Camp Chair
£86, tuff-trek.com

“These camp chairs have extra padding on the seat and backrest and are also slightly wider than the average camping chair which makes them super-comfy. There is a small detachable table on the armrest which is perfect for your campfire drink. They too have lasted the test of time over all our many rentals.

 

Rhino Rack Batwing Awning
£722, rhinorack.com

“The batwing is an amazing awning that covers a huge area, creating a dry outdoor space to sit under. As with all our kit, it is easy to use and can be up in under two minutes. The wrap-around design covers the side of the vehicle and the back door and is easily stowed away on the side of the Land Rover. With the optional sides/doors, you have a big entertaining space and shelter from the elements.”

 

About Defender Campers

Dan and Leanne own and operate Defender Campers, based in Devon. They live and breathe camping, both in the UK and further afield, and have just returned from a trip to Norway.

“The idea started with the silver pop-top, and it’s just grown from there,” explains Dan. “We’re now looking at taking on a fourth 110, this time an ambulance-body. It’s the variety of experience that gets people excited I think; we love to see how enthusiastic people are to get out and explore in the Defenders, whether they’re used to Land Rovers or have never driven one before. The people that book the campers are so diverse, no two the same. We’ve had everyone from Hollywood directors to three generations of family including a 92-year-old who loved the vehicle and the holiday. Some like to stay in the West Country; Cornwall is really popular for the surfing. Others go elsewhere in the UK, and some have gone right into Europe.

We’ve had return customers that are now on their sixth or seventh trip with our Land Rovers; the vehicles are all so different and all have their own stories. We had two couples take them out last year that have now bought their own Defenders, one of whom is shipping it to the USA to drive from Canada to Tierra Del Fuego over three years whilst working on the road.”

Like the sound of trying a Defender out for yourself, or testing out a camper to get inspiration for your own build? Get in touch with the guys here: Defendercampers.com, [email protected], 07375 904455, @defender.campers.

 

See all other five parts of our Adventure Special here.

 

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