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Simpler. Better. Faster

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Words Meghan Spilsbury Photography Meghan Spilsbury and Mark Samuel

 

Metalian Mini off-road trailer

Incredibly light, spacious and easy to handle, the new Metalian Mini is the ideal choice for anyone looking for a stress-free set-up, even if you arrive at camp only minutes before dark, or just as it’s about to pour. This solidly built two-person trailer is a simple and sturdy option for anyone looking for camping convenience.

Having worked at Caravan & Outdoor Life magazine for several months now, my editor and publisher decided it was time to take me out of the pre-owned caravan and tent review paddling pool, and throw me head first into the deep end of my first off-road trailer test.

All I can say is, I must’ve had the camping angels watching over me for this one, as I was given one of the easiest, lightest and most womanfriendly trailers to put through its paces – and believe me, the Metalian Mini was perfect for me in every way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that bigger isn’t often better when it comes to trailer and tent sizes, especially when you have more than two in your camping entourage, but for me, devoid of water wings and armbands – or a trusty muscleman, for that matter – the Mini was ideal!

Okay, that’s not entirely true, as my editor Mark Samuel did join me on the trip, but only as driver. (My code B licence restricts my towing to trailers with a maximum GVM of 750 kg,1250 kg and a standard 1.6-ton braked axle. A code EB licence, which nowadays requires you take an additional driver’s test, allows you to tow much heavier braked trailers and caravans.)

Oh so easy
One thing I noticed while manipulating the trailer around the parking area, even before hitch-up, was just how light it was. The Mini, with its tare of 360 kg, including all the bells and whistles, is extraordinarily light to push around, and to tow.

It’s braked, which is standard for trailers with a GVM over 750 kg, and this one, being rated to 1250 kg, cleverly boasts shock absorbers, an asset if you plan on venturing off-road frequently.Carrying the same design signature as its big brother, the Metalian Maxi, the Mini is just 150 mm lower, limiting the trailer height to 1380 mm, and making the body 550 mm shorter, with a box body size of 1550 mm. The overall length, from the coupling to the back, is a diminutive 2940 mm, excluding brackets and extras fitted to the rear to carry jerrycans and a swing-out spare wheel bracket.

Customisable
Like all Metalian trailers, this particular Mini was customised, which explains the silver colour and jeep rims, ordered to match the owner’s tow vehicle. This unit was still work in progress on the day of our departure, so the electrical system had not yet been installed. The team at Metalian are more than happy to assist and advise clients on which system to choose when considering their personal needs and what their new trailer will be used for. In keeping with its simple, workable design, the Mini is fitted with a Knott coupling, which is lighter than the Bradley coupler used on some of the bigger Metalian models. The handbrake is not your typical ratchet system unit; instead, with a little bit of effort, it’s simply moved either up or down, engaging when pulled upwards.

When you look a little deeper into the skeleton of the Mini, it’s obvious that it doesn’t rest on a traditional chassis, but instead has two longitudinal mild steel angle-iron bearers onto which the axle, leaf springs and shocks are fitted; they are hot-dipped galvanised and black-sprayed. The construction of the trailer is in 3CR12 (a chromium-containing corrosion-resistant steel), which is seam-sealed and powder-coated; it includes 304-grade stainless steel hinges, escutcheons and container-type locking bars. Two 75-litre water tanks with filters, pump, tap and gravity tap can be added, and an optional underbody polyurethane coating is available.

Practical
Taking a walk around the neat little unit before setting up at our campsite, I couldn’t help admiring the practical ingenuity that went into this Mini’s design. The roofrack near the front serves as a great loading zone, ideal for wood and other bulky items. The only complication comes in when you have to remove these items before setting up your tent. This is because in order to fold the rooftop tent forward when setting it up, you need to move the roofrack out of the way. This is achieved in quite an innovative way: by unlatching the rack on both sides and folding it forward on its hinges, tucking it neatly away into the space between the trailer body and the separate nose cone. The catch is that having to remove bulky items first can be a bit of a time-consuming hassle, especially if you’re facing a heavy downpour, or simply want to get the tent up as quickly as you can.

The treadplate covering the nose of the trailer is added protection when charging down dirt roads with loose gravel, but beware of touching the black-plated areas after several hours in the sun, as this material can retain enough heat to scorch skin. The bulbous design of the doors adds more packing space to the interior as compared to a standard flat-fitting door, and the rubber seals on all hatches offer protection against dust and water ingression. All the front edges and vulnerable areas are protected with the aforementioned black treadplate. Again, just mind those fingers on a sunny day.

From a woman’s point of view – and I can speak only from my own experience – simpler is always better when you’re shopping for camping equipment, whether it’s a gas burner, a tent, a heater or even the essential table and chairs. And for me, simplicity was the Mini’s strongest selling point: from the well-thought-out storage space to the user-friendly stainless steel handles on the latches (often a sore point, literally, for women, when dust creeps into the mechanism, causing the latch to stiffen and become almost impossible to open), to the compact design that incorporates your essential jerrycans, to the useful drawer system accessed via the trailer’s rear door (for all those odds and ends that you think you can’t go without).

With a Mini behind you, venturing off without a man will never seem so straightforward. And the best part is, it’s user-friendly: you don’t have to spend hours working out how to erect your tent or open the kitchen; it’s all there and ready to use, as is. With several manufacturers looking at producing lower-height tents, there are now several different rooftop tents that can be fitted on the Mini. The Tentco Junior, which is modified by Ultimate Overland, is deemed the best choice by Heinz Modricky, owner of Metalian, though he adds that tent manufacturer Camp Cover will look at a trailer-top tent tent, and a rooftop tent obviously works well, as that was the kind fitted to our test Mini. Accessing the spacious two-man tent is made easy with a retractable ladder that clips into place on the nose of the trailer, extending up to the entrance of the tent. The tent can be opened up in a matter of minutes, and is held in place by several steel poles which clip into designated holes on the sides of the trailer. For its size there’s ample space inside the tent for two people to sleep comfortably, though things may become a little cramped if you aren’t selective about what you insist on having with you at night. The Mini’s compact kitchen left little to be desired: the front door was built to accommodate the National Luna 52-litre Weekender (385 x 506 x 710 mm), while the drop-down kitchen side door included a Dometic gas stove with glass cover, which gives you an additional working surface when the stove isn’t being used. There’s plenty of storage space in the kitchen area, perfect for a few pots, pans and, of course, the indispensible coffee plunger. The storage compartments are compatible with standard plastic container sizes, available countrywide from Mambo’s Plastics Warehouse.

Off-road
Testing the trailer on the Leopard Trail 4×4 route proved easier than anticipated. We started the trail on an almost dry riverbed at the base of a fairly steep hill; manoeuvring the Mini with our towcar, a Chevrolet Trailblazer, seemed almost too easy. The Mini dutifully went where it was told, with its lightweight body leaving almost no tracks at all. After gracefully emerging from the riverbed, we decided to brave a fairly steep decline that was followed almost immediately by a fractionally steeper incline. We figured that because we were towing such a light unit with a vehicle that boasts low-range and respectable torque, this was the perfect time to test the departure angle of the Metalian Mini. It’s not something that most trailer owners are too concerned about, but those who plan on tackling dongas and deep ditches will find this information hugely valuable. Trailblazer and Mini both conquered the challenging angles with ease. The Mini’s impressive departure angle is thanks to the positioning of the wheels, which are quite far back. This, combined with the trailer height and weight, made it extremely manoeuvrable behind the Trailblazer.

Verdict
The Metalian Mini compares favourably with other similarly sized trailers in most respects – and dominates in many, from a functionality perspective. In each design feature, function and form blend together like a well-mixed smoothie, delivering a robust off-road trailer that’s simple to tow, easy to position, a cinch to set up and take down, especially if you’re travelling alone or with just one other person, and looks really good too!

What the owner went for

In the process of getting to know why Chris Cannon, the owner of the Metalian Mini that was our test unit, opted for the features on his trailer, we found out that this outdoor enthusiast has an eye for detail, and that a versatile and professionally built offroad trailer was exactly what he’d been looking for.

Caravan & Outdoor Life: You are a former Springbok angler and avid outdoor enthusiast. Why did you go the route of an off-road trailer rather than a fully kitted caravan or offroad motorhome, or conventional tent camping?

Chris Cannon: I’ve fished competitively in rock and surf competitions since the early 1970s. I represented Natal and Zululand for many years, and in 1994 I was selected for an international competition in Namibia. Being an outdoor person and nature enthusiast, I’ve spent a lot of time camping, fishing and birding in the remote areas of Zululand and southern Mozambique. The progression from ground camping to trailer-top camping was a natural one when we decided to do a trip into Moremi and Chobe in Botswana, as it’s a safer and more comfortable option. The off-road trailer is also more versatile than a fully fitted caravan or off-road motorhome, and it suits my out-of-the-way holiday destinations.

COL: What made you opt for Metalian when it came to choosing your off-road trailer?

CC: My family and Heinz Modricky’s did a camping trip together into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, southern Namibia and the Richtersveld a couple of years ago, and a fair amount of time was spent discussing the respective merits of, and viewing, the various off-road camper trailers. It was here that the idea of the Metalian trailer was born. Our combined ideas were well engineered by Heinz and his team, and the design makes for a good-looking, rugged and well-balanced trailer.

COL: Once you had decided on the Metalian brand, what made you decide on the most compact unit, the Mini?

CC: I didn’t want a trailer that I could only use with a big 4×4 tow vehicle. I can tow the Metalian Mini behind my VW Caddy 1.9-litre turbo-diesel, when I’m not going off-road. And then, when the going gets tough, I can also tow it with my Jeep Wrangler and our Jeep Laredo. In my Mini I have my water tanks, my spare fuel tanks and packing volume that accommodates everything that I would pack into a Metalian Maxi. COL: The team at Metalian pride themselves on customising their trailers to suit their clients’ needs. What motivated you to choose the fixtures and features in your trailer?

CC: I think customising a trailer is a very personal thing, and this was a time-consuming exercise. However, the Metalian team have experience of what should go where, and you can be assured of craftsmanship to the finest detail when you purchase a trailer from Heinz. Metalian are always interested in the client’s ideas: they were most accommodating when the fitting was done to my specs.

COL: Having used the trailer for a while, would you change anything about it to make your camping experience better?

CC: Changes to any trailer continue as long as new ideas and innovations develop, but for now I think I have a winning combination.

COL: The trailer’s wheels and body colour have been matched to your towcar. What vehicle do you use to tow your Mini, and how does the overall combination perform, both onand off-road?

CC: Yes, the silver, grey and black trims match my shortwheelbase Jeep Wrangler. The tow vehicle and trailer make a very balanced, powerful and neat unit. The wheels on the trailer match those of the tow vehicle so that they are interchangeable should the need arise. The trailer wheels track with the tow vehicle and give the trailer the same ground clearance as that of the Jeep.

COL: Do you have any major trips with the Metalian planned? What are some of your favourite destinations to visit in southern Africa?

CC: No major trips are planned for now, as I need to do some nottoo- far-from-home shakedown camping weekends to ensure that I have everything in its place and working to my satisfaction. The next long trip will probably be into the more northern coastal regions of Namibia. As far as favourite places are concerned I’m not the kind of camper who always likes returning to the same destination, as there are so many places that I still need to discover in southern Africa. However, I rate the Richtersveld, Mozambique and the Wild Coast highly.

COL: As an experienced camper, do you have any advice for someone who’s looking to purchase an off-road trailer?

CC: The off-road trailer has got to be balanced with the towing vehicle; it must not feel as if the tail is wagging the dog. The convenience of putting up and folding away just the sleeping area above the trailer is very important to me for the onenight stayovers while en route; I don’t want to have to worry with tent poles, stays and pegs. At best have trailer wheels the same as those of your towing vehicle; they may be needed as extra spares in emergencies. The trailer wheels must track with the tow vehicle in the case of softsand travel. Everything in the trailer must be easily accessible. I’m not the tidiest of people, but the fact that everything has a place of its own in this compact trailer makes it easier to keep tidy and to know exactly where everything is. It’s essential for a trailer to be dustproofed and waterproofed.

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