Little budget-priced, soft-floor camper is perfect for beach adventures
Soft-floor campers are the entry-level option for many younger travellers and families into outdoors living.
Priced from $5000 up, they’re replacing tents because they come with more features and allow more gear to be carried, while still easily towed by smaller cars and SUVs.
The main growth in this area has been off-road models, with their ability to get off the beaten track as well as offer some sustainability off-the-grid.
Made For The Beach
Priced at $16,990, the Chinese-built and fully imported Stoney Creek Nugget is typical of this budget breed: keenly priced, light weight yet ruggedly built and fitted with all the basics for a few days away from civilization.
However, unlike the Stoney Creek SC-FF6 we’ve previously reviewed and that’s purpose-built to take a large family, the little Nugget is really a couple’s camper, unless you have the time and energy to erect the awning and annexe walls supplied with the unit (more on that later).
There are two versions of the Nugget: the RT which comes with a roof-top tent, and the SF (Soft Floor) reviewed here, which has a big double bed high off the ground, with an attached tent that folds out to the rear to form a small, enclosed ‘soft floor’ living area or change room.
Either way, you get a really light and tough little camper with a narrow footprint that followed our Isuzu MU-X tow vehicle obediently throughout our two-day bush-and-beach test. With a 955kg Tare weight and 1400kg ATM, it was an ideal choice for beach driving, where you want minimal weight to drag over potentially soft sand and avoid getting bogged. The ‘box’ trailer dimensions also allowed easy access to some tight camping spots close to the shore.
With its compact dimensions in transit, the Nugget shares a similar ‘less is more’ approach with the well-regarded Patriot camper. However, at around half the price or less, you can’t expect the equipment levels of the Gold Coast-built Patriot.
That said, those stepping up from tent camping should be more than happy, with a mesh stone shield, off-road block hitch (a D0-35 was fitted to the review camper), slide-out kitchen, 9kg gas bottle, jerry cans, 100 litre stainless water tank, and twin battery system among the standard kit.
It also provides the basics for a trip to the Cape or Flinders Ranges, with a hot dipped gal chassis, heavy duty 14oz canvas, independent trailing arm coil suspension with a single shock per wheel, 12in electric brakes, 16in alloy wheels with mud-terrain tyres, and two recovery shackles at the rear.
As well as the stone shield, jerries and gas bottle, the short drawbar holds the spare tyre, and a toolbox for the awning, annexe and other small items.
Also fitted externally is a gas bayonet, near the slide-out stainless steel kitchen, which includes a two-burner gas cooktop with glass lid, sink with 12V powered tap and a slide-out bench for food prep.
There are no cutlery drawers but a number of small external lockers, some with drawers, as well as a shelf above the kitchen cavity will swallow smaller pots, pans, as well as eating and cooking utensils. Also is in this region is a hot water connection (for the optional hot water unit), and 12V socket.
The offside opens up further storage possibilities including a closed space behind the kitchen, a locker with slide-out drawer and another one containing electrical equipment including the two AGM batteries, 12V/USB sockets and an optional CTEK M300 charger.
Fiddly But Quick
Setting up is reasonably easy. Unstrapping the eight tie-downs and unzipping the plastic canvas protector is a bit fiddly, and some muscle is required to adjust the built-in tent frame and slide-out poles inside to tension the canvas – there are eight in total, not including two shorter supports at the top of the bed.
Depending on whether you unhitch and wind down the four corner stabilisers, it takes 10 minutes or less to set up for basic, two-person camping, so it’s great for quick, overnight stops.
Pack down isn’t bad either, although shorter folk might need a step ladder to close the ‘lid’ solo. We never set up the awning or annexe, so can’t tell you whether that’s an easy job. However, we can tell you the awning poles stored in a bag under the camper cover are very heavy – we’d be prepared to pay a few extra bucks for some lighter alloy versions.
There should also be enough room under the cover when travelling to store things like chairs and tables, that otherwise won’t fit inside the camper.
Sleeping On The Sand
We spent two very noisy nights in the Nugget – one just metres from crashing waves at Teewah Beach on Queensland's Cooloola Coast, and another windy, showery night at Inskip Point. Obviously, the stunning locations made up for any loss of sleep, but less excusable is the standard king-sized mattress in the Nugget, which is quite thin and hard – great for dodgy backs, but not as relaxing as a thicker foam or even coil spring mattress would be.
We can’t complain about the number of windows and doors – all with mesh or see-through plastic and most with flaps on both sides – which meant we could be fully immersed in the beach camping experience one minute, and zipped up nice and snug when the weather hit the next...
There’s good headroom above the bed and standing up in the ‘living’ area, but the lightweight portable ladder used to climb into bed, has to be removed to access the slide-out fridge when camping. There are two storage pouches for phones and wallets at the foot of the bed, but no internal lighting -- only a bright LED strip light over the outside kitchen.
Decent Build Quality
While overall canvas quality was good, and we had no problems with the ‘SBS’ branded zips, the strong coastal winds did manage to uproot the tent section (we really needed sand pegs rather than the supplied skinny metal ones). The built-in tropical roof made of flimsy polyester material also flapped noisily in the wind on the second night.
Otherwise, fit, finish and general operation of this budget camper impressed, from the smooth hammertone finish on the body to the quality door latches and hinges. Again, some cost cutting's evident in the cheap carpet lining the lockers, but the bucket-style floor seemed sturdy and was easy to sweep all the sand it collected.
Our review camper was fitted with a number of options include a 60 litre Evakool fridge/freezer, portable gas hot water system, 240V Ctek charger and Cruisemaster DO-35 hitch but even with a few extras fitted the Nugget shouldn’t set you back much more than $20,000.
Light, compact, user-friendly and suitably equipped, the Nugget proved the ideal choice for our beach camping adventure. We also had along for the trip a bigger and better equipped off-road camper, but most preferred the Nugget for its easy towing and simple, fuss-free operation.
With just a few minor tweaks, such as lighter awning poles and less flappy tropical roof, the Nugget could make the perfect, budget camper for couples or young families with a thirst for adventure.
Stoney Creek Nugget - SF
Travel length: 4250mm
Body length: 1850mm
External width: 1800mm
Travel height: 1600mm
Tare weight: 955kg
Chassis: hot-dipped galvanized
Suspension: independent trailing arm with coils, shocks
Tent: 14oz canvas with SBS zips
Wheels: 16in alloy, Goodride Radial 265/75 MT tyres
Hitch: Treg off-road
Brakes: 12in electric
Battery: 2 x 100Ah
Kitchen: external slide-out, two-burner cooker
Options fitted: DO35 hitch, battery charger, 60L fridge, gas hot water system
Price: from $16,990
Supplied by: Stoney Creek Campers, Bundamba, Qld