Well, It’s done!
Here’s the intro to this story. Over the years I’ve had four pickup truck campers. Two hard side and two soft side.
My first “Soft Side” was really a “Soft Everything”! COX Campers made a small pop-up that fit in mini pickup trucks. Just like this but no chassis and wheels etc. I had it in a 1972 Datsun pickup.
Next was more conventional campers
A few years ago my wife decided to join me in a sport called “Cowboy Action Shooting”…..At most events, boondock camping is allowed. I used my popup camper for a number of years and it was great. But my wife wouldn’t step a foot into one of these pickup truck campers!
So I bought a Forest River 19RR Toy Hauler trailer, with a full bathroom, with a bathtub (required), queen size bed and a nice kitchen/living area……This worked out great when she traveled with me.
But was much more than I needed when traveling alone. I wanted something smaller and that got considerably better gas mileage. That I could go down a dirt road to see where it led. To easily stop for the night in a rest stop and not take up a truckers spot.
I decided to try a “Roof Top Tent”. Small. light, easy to store and much easier to travel with. I spent a month in Australia a few years ago and it seemed every other car had one on the roof! They finally made it to America!
I went through two of them. Even built a trailer to carry them so I could pull it with my Toyota Venza. Interestingly, the Venza when towing the trailer got 17mpg…..The exact same gas mileage I obtained when pulling it with a RAM 2500 with 6.4L Hemi!…So that was a bust. Might as will use the truck with much more storage capacity….I sold the trailer but kept the tent.
I mounted the RTT on my trucks cap
This worked out pretty good, but being way up on the trucks cap, it was a total bear to close up and tuck everything inside. Especially if it was raining or even worse, snowing! And it added about two negative MPG.
I sold it!
So the search for a more bettah RTT went on
This led me to the FALCON RTT. A hard shell wedge type RTT. In a word, FANTASTIC!
Extreme low profile. About 2 mpg better than the Smittybilt RTT. MUCH,MUCH easier to deploy and more importantly, close up.
This FALCON would have been great to simply camp in. But my campers are a “Means to an End”….I rarely just go camping. I use them for events…Cowboy action, motorcycle events, racing, fishing, hunting….And that means lots of “stuff” and inclement weather. If the weather is great, a RTT is wonderful. But if the weather is bad…It’s a mess. With this Falcon RTT, you basically only sleep and relax in it. Everything else, from dressing, to cooking, to doing dodo is done outside.
So I wanted to go back to some kind of pickup truck bed camper.
I sold the Falcon
Here’s what I wanted.
LIGHT WEIGHT for best gas mileage
NARROW to easily take off road and get through rather tight trails
NOT TOO TALL for clearance on trails
COOKING, TOILET, SLEEPING, DRESSING, TV WATCHING inside
This lead me to LANCE 815 and a few other narrower, lighter weight, pickup truck campers. But everyone I looked at was well over $10K or in terrible condition or just too far away to make a buying decision. I still have a VERY hard time understanding why a simple box with no axles, brakes, hitch heavy steel frame could possibly cost $30,000 to $45,000 and up. Boggles my mind!
I stumbled upon a TRUCK “CAP” CAMPING forum and realized that is EXACTLY what I was looking for! A CAP mounts to the trucks bed rails, Leaving the whole bed of the truck exposed to your fit-out imagination.
The truck cap I currently owned wouldn’t work as it had integrated tool boxes on both sides and left very little room inside and very low headspace. Might as well keep the FALCON.
A few camper caps popped up on CraigsList and FaceBook Marketplace, but I was alway too late. These things sell extremely well. And lightning fast.
A few weeks ago I woke early and immediately went on FB Marketplace and there was the exact Truck Cap Camper I was looking for, posted just a few minutes before, and only a few hours away in New Hampshire…..I called, made a deal, and bought it for $1000!
It was a total blank canvas. Had nothing built out inside….But most important, it had great “bones” and zero leaks!
This CAP had that front overhang called “Grandma’s Attic” for extra storage and maybe just a bit more aerodynamic. And very clever DIY camper jacks made from trailer tongue jacks. YANKEE INGINUITY
It also had the much wanted rear lift gate feature. Remove the interior and load an ATV, Snowmobile, etc
With a MAN DOOR also
So we strapped it down to my truck and off I went
But time is of the essence. I’m leaving on an 11,000 mile, cross country, three month trip in four weeks! Gotta get working. I’m retired and worked seven days a week for four weeks to get this interior livable.
All construction was 2×2 studs and 3/8″ plywood. I could have use 5mm or 1/4″ plywood, and cut a bit of weight, but using only four sheets of plywood for the entire build, the weight difference was only a few pounds.
And at the time 3/8″ was cheaper……This was a budget build.
I’ll spare you the actual details of the build itself and just show you the finished product.
First I needed a bed..Twin size, not a cot size.
And it needed to fold to give me some aisle space
With lots of storage under
BTW, Everything was covered with three rolls of thin carpet that I bought at Lowes for $27 a roll. Why carpet? I don’t have to wait for it to dry like paint, it insulates a bit. Covers MANY woodworking sins. And I think it looks Classy! I did not glue it. A thousand staples later
Next was a water tank. 30 gallons
This is plumbed into a simple 12V water pump with a 5 gallon GI can for grey water waste. Easy to dump
A counter was fabricated with a 15″ x 15″ BAR sink and faucet. Countertop is laminate flooring
BUT, as you can see, that faucet was for a much deeper sink. Not gonna work!
A different faucet was ordered
The front of this cabinet was closed off with a couple doors and the water tank covered. And a bed side table top fabricated.
All the wood trim is South American Mahogany deck boards from Home Depot. The absolute best value in a cabinet hardwood anywhere! At the time of this writing a 3.5″ X 8′ X 3/4″ was under $20!
The ICECO 12V refrigerator was mounted on a couple of inexpensive bottom mount slides. Not very heavy duty, but thin enough for what I needed. I had to add a small handle on the front of the frig to help it over the carpet.
Bungee cords were used extensively to hold things in place while traveling
Above the frig, I fabricated a couple of rails and pop riveted some angle aluminum to the sides of my old Coleman propane stove. Easy storage. Remove it and place on countertop for use.
A porta potty was given space in a little cubby with a flip up lid
And VERY important!
Above the “Mens Room” is the TV and an electrical out let from the inverter. This outlet powers the TV with attached Roku and the greatest thing for RVers, the T-Mobile Home Internet Gateway. For $50 a month you have high speed internet, with 5G where available to stream TV, YouTube, Internet access, etc. I’ve used it all over the country and it works fantastic!
The small access door is ventilation for the propane WAVE 6 heater and a pass through for a propane hose to the stove with the 5 pound tank outside.
On the opposite side is the power station.
I’ll be doing a full write-up on this on this web site.
But as you can see, there is 400w of solar on the roof, 2S-2P configuration, to an EP Ever solar 40 amp charge controller. And a Renogy 40amp DC to DC charger to charge the batteries from the trucks alternator. The panel down below offers various 12v and USB connections and switches for lights, interior and exterior and to turn the USB outlets on and off. Below that is the temperature control unit for my DIY battery heaters. Can’t charge lithium batteries below 32 degrees. When traveling with DC to DC charger doing its work, batteries must remain above 32F. You can read all about this system here
The batteries are in an insulated box under the foot of the bed. With the inverter mounted outside it for proper ventilation.
Under the Electric panel is storage for a 20# propane tank. Totally enclosed and vented on the bottom and sides to the outside.
The WAVE 6 catalytic propane heater is mounted on a TV swing arm from Harbor Freight. Since these heaters can be mounted with zero clearance on the back, a piece of plywood is mounted to the arm and the heater to the plywood
That about sums up the interior. Simple, but comfortable.
I built a medicine cabinet, installed paper towel holder, Mini blinds, Stick On Subway Tile, made up some window insulators and added hooks to hang things here and there
This is next to the bed. Power switch for water pump, USB outlet, Inverter 120V AC outlet
A quick exterior Walk Around
The camper is 9’6″ off the ground, 6’3″ wide outside / 6′ wide inside, and the bed length is 8’4″
Weight empty is 600 pounds…..I estimate I’ve added 300-400 pounds, excluding water, propane, food, etc
The top has a rack to carry the four solar panels
Since the truck bed is only 6’6″ and this cap is meant for an 8′ bed, I had to remove the tailgate and extend it. Simple plywood covered with aluminum diamond plate from used truck cross boxes.
The space under the rear overhand is occupied by a truck box I found on Amazon that was a perfect size. I welded up a rack that goes into the receiver hitch for easy removal. Dirty, things will reside in here. Tools, chocks, levelers, hose, etc
The ladder is one of the coolest things. A painters step ladder was completely disassembled and reconfigured to clip on to the back of the camper. I toss it inside while traveling.
Since it overhangs the truck a bit, it might be hard to see the off side directional light (for all of you in Rhode Island…The Blinka), so I installed LED signals
License plate illumination
Rear Flood Lights that I have had hanging around for over 25 years! Back in my Off Road days. And a rear view camera to a screen in the truck cab
That about sums it up! A real fun, rewarding project!
Hope you enjoyed the adventure!
UPDATE…February 3, 2024…I’m currently on a 11,000 mile cross country tour and a few things need to be modified.
First is the removable ladder. Total pain to remove, store, strap down, unstrap, install…..Nope, mod needed. While staying at Hidden Valley RV resort, and having time between Quail hunts, I went to the hardware store and modified the ladder to simply swing up for storage/travel….Simply secured with a bungee cord.
Next was relocation of the propane stove. With it mounted above the refrigerator, anytime I wanted to access the contents, I had to slid out the refrigerator. With the stove removed, I can access most of the refrigerator without sliding it out. Stove was moved to the side of the storage box and secured with bungee
Lastly, I needed more accessible storage. A small shelf was installed above the “kitchen” window and a larger shelf to hold some bins with a flip up lip secured with bungee cords was installed over the window of the “bedroom”
be sure to check out other RV, Boating, Shooting, Machine Shop articles on this web page
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