High-tech camping becomes the latest luxury experience

Hot shower and a well frothed latte? Camping used to mean grabbing the swag and billy and heading bush but a growing number of Aussies are dropping big bucks to ensure their back-to-basics adventures are high on comfort.

Investing in top-end trailers and premium gear and gadgets can make roughing it a more expensive proposition than apartment and resort holidays. The Palazzo Superior by Marchi Mobile, for example, is a roving palace that starts at a price of $4 million dollars.

It's a price for luxury that IT business owner Dean Robertson, who spends around 30 days a year on outback and beach expeditions, is familiar with.

Custom comforts

Everything but the kitchen sink is loaded into the family's latest camper, a locally built Goldstream pop-top, bought second hand a couple of years ago for $37,000.

Robertson's complement of equipment includes a shower, chemical toilet, 80-litre Waeco fridge, 120-watt solar panel and camping batteries and a set of walkie talkies which help him keep tabs on his children whilst in camp.

Dinner is more likely to be a roast under the stars than a pan of singed sausages, courtesy of the Weber barbecue which comes on every trip.

Tech essentials

Next on Robertson's shopping list is a personal locator beacon – an emergency beacon which gives off GPS coordinates. "Just in case we do have an accident and [we'd] teach the kids to activate it, so if the worse comes to the worst… again, that's not an absolute necessity," he says.

It'll join an array of kit which collectively represents a significant financial outlay but one that's difficult to avoid if you want to enjoy, rather than endure, your time in nature, Robertson believes.

The price of freedom

"Camping's not cheap – it's so much cheaper to stay in a hotel," he says.

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"We're doing it for the freedom of the escape, the seclusion and also we do it with our kids now, the adventure of getting to an off-beat place. It's not about going somewhere with a poolside bar and having a beige holiday, relaxing for a couple of hours and then you get bored.

"Camping, you can't get bored because you're out in nature – it's a never ending playground. We're prepared to pay for good quality equipment to get access to that… It's not about doing it with the bare minimum and making yourself frustrated and thinking, 'I hate camping'.

"[You] make one good solid investment – it'll last you a lifetime."

Lighter loads

Sydney communications executive Perry Manross and his wife Kathryn Sams travel somewhat lighter, with a Ford Everest 4WD and four-person tent.

"We pass rigs that put ours to shame, rigs with roof racks and shovels on the side and portable showers," Manross says.

"I think it's a bit superfluous but you see a lot of people with them."

Updating the basics

While the pair are happy to do without some of the frills, they say a decent fridge and the batteries to power it, are a must. Their own rig also includes outdoor sleeping hammocks, collapsible bowls and a thunder jacket for canine travelling companions Rexx and Weezel.

"We don't necessarily need those but we get 'em – we're kind of suckers for our kelpies," Manross says.

Luxuries on the road

Lachlan Adams is the founder of My Generator, an online retailer of premium recreational and camping equipment.

The site's top sellers include the Waeco CFX 95, a 95-litre, portable fridge freezer with WiFi technology which can be controlled via smartphone. It retails for around $1500.

Adams says he's struggled to meet demand for rooftop air conditioners and fridges over the summer holidays, as the concept of roughing it continues to lose its shine.

High end demands

"We know people want to stay comfortable and replicate their mod cons from home and take them away when they go to remote locations," Adams says.

Many are happy to pay substantial sums to ensure their sojourns under-the-stars are a little bit more five star.

"When we first started we had some of the cheaper stuff on [the site] but in our experience people were really trending towards buying quality," Adams says.

"It's not just technological products, they just want their creature comforts a little more…  They don't use a billy any more to boil their tea when they're going caravaning or camping, they'll take a kettle and other home appliances… these extra things are coming along with people."

Creature comforts

Premium equipment store Rays has observed a similar trend.

"It's all about enjoying creature comforts in a way that doesn't compromise the authenticity of the outdoor experience," according to a company spokesperson.

Latest nice-to-haves include light hammocks and tree tents – a North American trend that's expected to gain traction, as Aussies clock the benefits of sleeping off the ground and away from snakes, insects and other nocturnal visitors – and portable coffee making equipment for those who prefer a barista-style brew to billy tea.

Lightweight solar panels are also in demand, as campers pension off noisy generators, extension cords and adaptors and turn to renewable energy sources to power essential and luxury gadgets.

Are you a bare bones camper or prefer to rough it in style? Share your experience in the comments.

Check out the gallery above for the essentials you need to upgrade your camping experience.

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