Equipped with a rooftop tent and all the essentials, Turtleback’s adventuresome 11½-foot trailer takes the roads less traveled
On a typical road map of Oregon, the area between highways 20, 126 and 242 is a green-shaded blank spot shaped like the Bermuda Triangle. No towns. No roads. But the fine detail of a U.S. Forest Service map shows dozens of dirt roads spider-webbing through the vastness where the Deschutes National Forest butts up against the Willamette National Forest about 20 miles west of the little town of Sisters.
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These are the types of roads that attract owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles seeking out-of-the-way places to explore and camp. They are also the perfect setting to test the 2018 Expedition from Turtleback Trailers, a high-clearance tent trailer designed for off-the-grid camping. We loaded up the trailer, hitched it to a 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and set up the nav system to get us on Oregon Forest Service Road 2076.
Built for Exploring
The Expedition is the flagship and most popular model of Phoenix-based Turtleback’s four off-road trailer offerings, and it’s designed and outfitted to make backcountry and desert dry camping quite pleasurable.
“A Turtleback trailer makes it simple,” says the company’s owner, Dave Munsterman. “Keep it stocked with nonperishable foods and water, then just add clothes and some fresh food, and you’re ready for the next adventure.”
Turtlebacks are built tough. The frame is 2×3-inch box-steel welded to a 4×7-foot box formed from 18-gauge steel. The box is divided by a sturdy Baltic birch panel, the rear half of which carries the built-in galley, 12-volt DC water pump, 42-gallon freshwater tank and 6-gallon DSI water heater.
The front half has a spacious storage compartment complete with a weather-sealed and locking access door on each side, which made it easy to stow bulky items such as campfire wood. A little 50-quart ARB fridge-freezer plugs into one of the dual 120-volt AC receptacles on the divider wall that are powered by a 1,000-watt Xantrex inverter. On top of the roof is a steel-rack system tied directly into the frame for the optional rooftop tent (RTT).
There’s also a pair of additional storage boxes, one on each side, for gear and provisions. The one on the driver’s side is 45 inches long with a strut-assisted flip-up lid, and it’s where we stored the tent and awning poles, wheel chocks and camp shovel. In the 25-inch-long streetside box, with a nice flip-down door, we kept bottles of water and a few canned goods.
Up front, atop the trailer’s A-frame, is a triangular 48×32-inch nose box made from the same material as the main body, with gas struts, a stainless-steel locking-latch system and automotive-style weather stripping to seal out dust and water. Inside is the power-
distribution system, with a Group 24 AGM deep-cycle battery, a battery-disconnect and fuse block, a 6-amp marine battery charger, the inverter and a 30-amp digital solar controller for an optional flexible solar panel. There’s also plenty of space left over for tools, tow straps, a small chainsaw and a 5-gallon jerrycan, which is what we stored.
The Expedition has a built-in lift point at each corner to accommodate a jack. The chassis is hot-dip galvanized, and it, along with the fenders, rear bumper, storage-compartment floors and steps, is coated with spray-on-type truck-bed-liner material to make it as durable as possible for off-road use.
The trailer is carried by a 3,500-pound Flexiride torsion-style axle running Pro Comp 16-inch wheels wrapped with 32-inch 265/75R BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM2s. This combination places more than 18 inches of space between the reinforced-steel bottom of the trailer and terra firma. The Expedition also comes with a matching wheel and spare on the heavy-duty swing-away tire carrier, which has a stainless-steel fold-down table on the backside.
A Better Basecamp
When the tire carrier is swung into the locked-open position, the rear door can be opened in the opposite direction to access the smartly designed galley area. Turtleback used Baltic birch to construct the pantry shelf on the back of the door, the drawers that serve as the base for the gas stove and the stainless-steel sink, and the pull-out shelf above them. The Cook Partner two-burner LP-gas stove (a $600 upgrade) is easy to use, and the 18-inch width fits a couple of typical household pots and pans.
We liked the automatic LP-gas shutoff to prevent accidentally setting the top shelf on fire when the stove is in its open position. There’s a handy reset switch on the wall behind the stove to resume the gas feed, which was used a lot until we learned to keep items that would be needed during cooking in a lower drawer or on the pantry shelf.
The trailer comes plumbed with hot and cold water, and cleanups are a cinch with the deep, stainless-steel sink. The faucet lies flat when the glass top is placed on the sink for a work space. It takes just a couple minutes for the hot-water tank to supply steaming water to the faucet or the external shower at the back of the trailer.
A Load of Options
An RTT is an option on most off-road-trailer packages, and the Expedition is no exception. The test trailer was equipped with a 23 Zero RTT on the rack, providing spacious sleeping accommodations for two. The self-supporting RTT flips open in seconds, with no tent poles required. It’s a comfortable space with a king-size closed-cell foam mattress, screened windows around the sides and two large, screened “skylights” in the roof.
We didn’t get a chance to view the stars, as it rained one night and temps were in the low 40s the next with a stiff breeze. But those conditions did show us how well the 23 Zero is constructed and made us happy the trailer was also equipped with Turtleback’s Essentials Bundle ($2,029), which includes the OzTent Foxwing swing-out awning.
The four-panel Foxwing spreads out 270 degrees around the side and rear of the trailer like a fan. It takes seconds to deploy and just a couple minutes to put down the ground anchors and aluminum poles that support the aluminum awning arms.
Turtle in Tow
Pulling the Expedition behind the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk was dramaless. The Expedition weighs 1,550 pounds dry, and with the freshwater tank, water-heater and LP-gas cylinder filled, and the tent and awning on board, it tipped the scales at a mere 2,470 pounds, well below the 295-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 Trailhawk’s towing capacity of up to 6,200 pounds.
Two reasons the trailer tows well on-road and off are the Max Coupler swivel hitch (included in the options bundle) and the torsion axle that allow a moderate amount of trailer movement and independent wheel travel. The Expedition does a nice job on rough terrain, and with the trailer’s 18-inch ground clearance, the tow vehicle will hit bottom long before the trailer.
Along with the light trailer weight, hitch weight is only about 150 pounds loaded. That means it’s easy for two people to spin the trailer around if necessary. The short wheelbase allowed it to follow closely in the Jeep’s tire tracks, so it’s right at home on narrow dirt roads and easy to maneuver in tight camping spots.
With an as-tested price of $26,380, the Turtleback Expedition is positioned in the upper-middle price point among nicely equipped off-road trailers. For those who love the solitude and adventure that remote camping brings, it’s a trailer worthy of serious consideration.
Turtleback Trailers | 855-732-2383 | www.turtlebacktrailers.com
A respected automotive and RV journalist and longtime Trailer Life contributor, Bruce W. Smith has held numerous editorial titles at automotive and boating magazines, and authored more than 1,000 articles, from tech to trailering. He considers his home state of Oregon a paradise for RVing and outdoor adventure.