Ridgelines of Moab
The annual Moab Jeep Safari in Utah, USA is world renowned for its epic scenery, difficult trails and insane Jeeps. So when you’ve built an offroad camper trailer empire in Australia and you’re ready to take the next step, this is the perfect place to show the world what your overlanding products can do.
Patriot Campers was born out of necessity. As cliche as it sounds it started as a sketch in the sand on Stradbroke Island off the Eastern coast of Australia in 2012 after Justin Montesalvo and his family were traveling with a less than perfect camper trailer. It just didn’t do what they needed it to do.
“I remember thinking, Justin doesn’t know when to quit,” Justin’s wife Sarah recalls, “He’s going to drag this trailer wherever he wants it to go and if it can’t keep up we’ll be leaving it in the dunes.
“When he explained his vision of the ultimate offroad camper trailer I immediately thought, ‘the wives and girlfriends are gonna love this! They’ll feel safe!’”, she laughed.
At the time Justin owned and operated a sheet metal and laser cutting business in Brisbane, Queensland but he’d always been a designer at heart.
“Design has always been my forte, and I’ll never settle for second best. I knew I could build a camper trailer that would go wherever I wanted.” Justin remembers.
In 2012 the first camper trailer was hand built. Justin still has that camper trailer sitting in his factory on the Gold Coast.
“Yeah, I’ve still got it. The thing is heavy! It’s steel and has surface rust on the chassis, but it still looks almost identical to the brand new models rolling off the production line. The first design of the X1 was definitely a ‘hole in one’.”
Justin’s business Patriot Campers entered the first model into the annual Camper Trailer of the Year event and won. It was unlike anything the judges had seen and blew everyone away. Patriot Campers have entered the same competition, with an updated model, every year since. They’ve won it every year since.
Dan Everett from Camper Trailer Australia, the company that hosts Camper Trailer of the Year, says “They’re in the manufacturing game, that’s their thing. They’re always looking at reinventing everything constantly. If Justin invented the world’s best camper trailer, he’d be back the next day figuring out how to make it better. And that continues through to everything that they do.”
In 2016 Justin and Sarah Montesalvo visited the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas, Nevada and they noticed a shift in trend.
“There wasn’t all those supercars and low-riders that I’d been seeing the last few times I’d come over to SEMA. It was all about the big, lifted trucks.” Justin says.
“I knew that the next step for Patriot would be the United States.”
In 2017 Patriot Campers appointed a distributor in Oklahoma, USA and started sending container loads of Patriot Campers to the USA. Like the Australian market, the Americans were in love!
Matt Green from Exploration Outfitters in Oklahoma remembers the first time he spoke to Justin.
“I sent a message actually through Facebook about maybe meeting at Overland Expo and talking about what the potential was for US distribution and so on and so forth. But they got busy and we got busy and it took some time to actually lock anything down.”
Justin and Sarah attended Overland East with no USA distribution. They were there by themselves, just like it was when they started Patriot Campers four years earlier.
“We got approached by a lot of dealers over that show, people who were interested. And obviously Patriot Campers being the brand that it is. The number one priority was to find someone who fit the culture. You know, someone who fit in with our family values and how we wanted our brand represented in a brand new market,” Justin says.
“I think that’s where Matt really stood out against anybody else that we spoke to. He’s got a young family. He’s a similar age to Sarah and I. Obviously very driven.
“I went over to his booth and saw the product that he was building there and it was all very high quality.”
2017 was the year things really kicked off for Patriot Campers in the USA and Justin and Sarah took their whole family, some friends and a camera crew with them to the Moab Jeep Safari in Utah. They were filming episodes for their TV show called Patriot Games that airs nationally.
Patriot Games is a marketing exercise that turned into a whirlwind success story and now airs to millions every year.
“We took with us three Jeep Wranglers, one of which was donated by the guys at TJM USA. We were towing two X1s and an X2 and it was really the first time I got to see how our trailers would handle the incredible American terrain.” says Justin.
The Moab landscape in Utah is harsh, dry and rocky. It’s freezing cold at night and blistering hot during the day. When you breathe the air feels heavy.
“Sometimes it looks and feels like you’re at home in Australia. Other times it feels like you’re on another planet, like Mars or something!”
In Australia the overlanding vehicle of choice is a Toyota Land Cruiser, but they don’t have too many of them in the United States. A motley crew of imports and ultra-expensive ‘70s era restorations make up the small population of a 4WD car that is driven by many in Australia.
“Diesel powered cars are virtually non-existent in the States.” Justin states, “For me, you need that torque and power from a V8 diesel engine to four wheel drive like I do. But here in the States the car of choice is a petrol-powered Wrangler.”
Jeeps don’t have a great reputation in Australia, but this trip to Moab certainly changed Justin’s mind.
“These little Jeeps are gnarly!”, Justin exclaims as he slowly rock climbs through the dusty trails of the Moab desert.
The Patriot Campers range of camper trailers are known for being lightweight, compact and quick to setup. This is partly why Patriot Campers has been so successful.
“When the X1 first came onto the market camper trailers were long, low and large. We completely changed the shape and we definitely changed the game.” Justin says.
Towing behind the lesser-powered Jeep Wranglers proved to be no problem at all due to the camper trailers superlight weight and independent Cruisemaster suspension. But with towability on their side, and the at the wheel of the tried and tested Jeep Wrangler Justin was about to put the three camper trailers to the ultimate test.
Hell’s Revenge is one of the gnarliest and scariest trails in the world. It’s a ridgeline that spans kilometres and the trail itself is barely wide enough to walk along, let alone drive a car over. The Patriot Campers crew were about to tow their world-famous camper trailers over it.
A local onlooker tries to stop the convoy as they approach the first climb, “Stop! I would recommend that. There’s some spots in there that are very hairy!”
“I still get nervous with things like this, especially with the kids in the car.” Justin recalls.
As they ascend the first climb Justin tells his son Ashton, “If we’re gonna roll, dude, hold onto that bar or cross your arms like you’re in a race car.”
The Jeeps slowly climb their way up the narrow ridgeline. Onlookers gather as the convoy creep along the trail. The landscape in Moab is truly incredible, but Justin’s too busy trying not to slip to admire the view.
“The worst thing is that if we place a wheel wrong, or we slip and that trailer goes, we’re going with it!” Justin says to Ashton.
“Heading up to that ridgeline was absolutely intense. It’s the only way into the track and you really don’t realise until you get up there just how narrow it is.” Justin remembers.
The in-car camera captures the moment that Justin realises that he might be in trouble.
“Are we pickin’ a wheel up?” he asks Ashton who looks like he’s on a roller coaster.
Justin stops the car and reaches for the two-way radio. Justin’s brother Jamie’s in the car behind him and he can see what’s about to happen.
“Oi, how’s that trailer look mate. Honestly if that trailer goes dude we’re goin’ off this bank ay. I’m dead set serious man, I’m really scared.”
Jamie remembers the tone in Justin’s voice, “We’ve done a lot of dumb stuff in the past together and when his voice hits that tone, I know he needs some help.”
Jamie jumps out of his car where Justin’s other son Christian is in the Passenger seat. He asks him to stay in the car, and not to touch anything.
Jamie rushes to the rear of Justin’s trailer and starts guiding him back to safety, but Justin wants his son out of the car.
“Yeah mate, I want to get Ashton out of this car, dude.”
Jamie knows things aren’t right so he comes around to Justin’s window and reassures him.
“Alright mate, if you back it up, you’re pretty safe. If you back it up just a bit and then come up on that side of the ridge you won’t be as articulated as much.” Jamie tells Justin.
Justin replies with, “Mate if that trailer kicks off, we’re goin’ with it.”
Ashton gets out of the car safely, but Justin and Jamie begin to guide the Jeep and the trailer back to a safe line.
Jamie’s always been Justin’s spotter and “winchman”. Justin trusts him with his life. Tackling the insane Hell’s Revenge looks like it’s one of those moments where he needs a calm voice to guide him along the ridge.
“I wasn’t worried about the performance of the car or even the camper trailer, I was more worried about me picking the wrong line. You have to take a different line when you’re towing to when you’re just driving a car.” Justin recalls.
Jamie heads around to the rear of the Jeep and notices that the trailer drawbar is dragging along the trail. The ridgeline is so narrow, sharp and pointy that even though the tyres are touching, the centre of the car and trailer are dragging.
Jamie guides Justin over the two-way, “The tow hitch is what’s been holding you up mate. It’s just been riding because you weren’t on your suspension.”
Justin and Jamie slowly guide the trailer and the Jeep backwards. Obviously Justin knows how to reverse a trailer, but up here it’s slow going to keep everyone safe.
The sun is getting lower as the afternoon drags along and the sweat is pouring down Justin’s brow. Jamie has been guiding Justin back into the right line of the trail to keep the camper trailer and the Jeep from slipping over the edge.
After 15 minutes of adjusting, reversing and rock-crawling Justin and Jamie finally get the vehicle into the right line.
“Yeah ok, that feels good man. Now I’m feelin’ a little bit better!” Justin exclaims.
“When you put yourself in those situations you’ve gotta rely on the guys that are around ya. And there’s no way I would’ve continued along that trail if Jamie and Matty weren’t there to spot me.” Justin recounts.
As the convoy continue along Hell’s Revenge it occurs to Justin that this might be the first time a trailer has ever been up there.
“If this doesn’t make you feel like you’re alive, dude, I don’t know what would!” Justin says to Ashton.
“Do you reckon this is the first time a trailer has ever been up here?”
After nearly 7 miles of crawling along Hell’s Revenge Justin and the convoy have conquered one of the most narrow and dangerous trails in the world. And they’ve done it towing camper trailers.
“When I first sketched that X1 into the sand I knew exactly how it was going to look if I built it. It was going to be short with a wide track, independent suspension and really, really light.” Justin says.
“The Patriot Campers mission statement is to ‘innovate the way the world explores’ and I think conquering a trail like Hell’s Revenge in Moab, USA is definitely living up to that statement.”
Patriot Campers have recently launched into Europe and are available now through Outback Adventure Gear in Germany.