Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

The Other End of the Spectrum

Stock shot liberated from The Four Wheel camper website. I doubt that they will mind. They'd probably prefer me to use a half-dozen more.

Stock shot liberated from The Four Wheel camper website. I doubt that they will mind. They’d probably prefer me to use a half-dozen more.

In the first part of this series, I pulled out a partial laundry list of traveling issues presented by the travel trailer Defiant, a tired 1994 Gulf Stream Innsbruck 26-footer. While evaluating what to do to make my travels less of of a physical ordeal, less stressful, and better able to place a living space in the most desirable (to me) locations, I had to mull over more questions about myself than about technical RV rig choices. After all, any given rig can be vouched for as being “better”, but better for whom? RV Spartans follow one rigid ideology, while “he who dies with the most toys wins” RVers follow another. Regardless of the pressures either way, it’s your life, your wallet, and your rig, and you’re the one who’s going to have to live with it. No one will be apologizing for steering you the wrong way for you.

So, the questions returned to the basic starting point. What did I want to be able to do that I’m not doing now? Since I am already on the road, what did I want to be able to stop doing?

The stopping part was easy. Hauling around the uber-comfortable Defiant dictates a certain mode of living. I wanted to stop gazing into the side mirror to filter passing Interstate traffic for semis, which requires counter-steering when they pass the trailer. You don’t want to be caught by surprise. Stop monitoring trailer side tilt in the rear view mirror, to try to catch a low or blown trailer tire (aftermarket pressure monitors generally do not cover the high pressures needed). Stop operating the tow vehicle at its maximum GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) over long distances, which is aggravated by the high tongue weight. Stop having to lift heavy solar panels to hang them up or take them down, since it’s more of an effort each year. Stop obsessively monitoring local weather forecasts for possible high winds. Stop monitoring how the solar panels, tie-downs and anchor stakes are reacting to current wind speed and direction. Stop having to pass by interesting features or downtown areas. Stop having to anticipate and prearrange detours around twisty “no truck” areas on state highways. Stop having to guess how accessible or suitable unfamiliar campsites might be to the Defiant’s peculiar limitations.

The Defiant's 780-watt solar systems are remarkably effective, but like its wastewater system, can get a little too "user interactive".

Near the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Defiant’s 780-watt solar systems are remarkably effective, but like its wastewater system, can get a little too “user interactive” at times.

What would I like to be able to do that I am not doing now? Travel in a rig little bigger than the Ford itself, in order to allow normal driving, almost-normal parking, normal street access, and the ability to get to and stay in virtually any campsite that allows vehicular camping. Be able to camp on slopes that are limited by my own comfort level, rather than the functional requirements of a propane-operated fridge/freezer. Be able to follow moderately difficult trails that potentially offer unique and secluded campsites. Limit the packing and unpacking regimen to items that will stay inside the rig (minimal Murphy’s Closet effect). Be able to avoid campsites already populated with campers having running generators, barking dogs, outdoor speakers and people talking loudly late at night. Be able to avoid campsites next to dusty, heavily-trafficked main trails. Be able to decamp and move during an unexpected weather event. Be able to camp in moderately colder weather than the Defiant can support, at least without a vulnerability to plumbing/hose damage. Store supplies and articles sufficient for the time spent on tour. Have a passive solar system that operates without any attention 24/365, during both travel and camping.

Took 4WD to get me to camping spots up here, and it was not exactly crowded. The Defiant is down there somewhere.

Took 4WD to get me to camping spots up here, and it was not exactly crowded. The Defiant is down there somewhere.

There is also the question of specifically maintaining certain characteristics, things that any replacement or supplementary rig should share with the best features of the Defiant, if possible. First would be the ability to maintain at least a minimally functional solar power for all systems in shade or sustained heavy overcast. Maintain a daily battery pack discharge that usually stays at 25% or less. Maintain the fully self-contained characteristic of the Defiant in order to be able to leave nothing more than a tire print at any campsite. Hold to an “interior living space” orientation as much as possible, so that poor weather does not have any affect on food choice and preparation, sleeping, research, blogging, watching movies, reading, etc (no cold dark caves, waiting for the weather to pass). Keep the ability to carry the Evelo e-bike along. Maintain decent ventilation for warm weather use. Maintain access to a full working studio for at least part of the year. (Yep, that’s more task-efficient, more relaxing for me, and gives me a sense of continuity with what I’ve been doing nearly all my life.) Maintain the ability to boondock (without moving) for as long as is practicable, with five to seven days as the goal. Minimize the need to lift/tote any heavy freshwater or waste containers, or anything else. Lastly, all electrical and propane systems must not pose any undue safety hazard in how they do their jobs.

That's the Defiant's Command Center, with reference shelves directly behind the chair. With a big iMac, subwoofer, printer/scanner, a dedicated film scanner, external DVD drive and HDD drive bays, it makes a nice place to stop fighting marginal equipment and get to work.

That’s the Defiant’s Command Center, with reference shelves directly behind the chair. With a big iMac, subwoofer, printer/scanner, a dedicated film scanner, external DVD drive and HDD drive bays, it makes a nice place to stop fighting marginal equipment and get to work.

True, I had to reevaluate the gamut of RV rig styles from end to end. Finances ruled out the majority, and weight plenty more, while an inability (and unwillingness) to attempt to fabricate or finish out the construction of one in the field ruled out the rest. That time is past. Now that I’m retired and supposedly able to just sit around on my keister all day contemplating the Big Questions, I’ve got long-awaited projects that will never see the first day’s start, let alone the light of day. Tools are the other part of it. Many of the proper tools to finish out the interior of something are one-time-only outlays which can have no purpose later but to serve as ballast, and rather expensive ballast at that.

My original Plan A had been to buy an 18′ cargo trailer and finish the interior in a feature-laden and space-efficient way, yet using real residential furniture instead of the marginally-comfortable faux furniture that lives aboard RVs. Example: folding lawn chairs. That inexpensive, sack-like bundle of rods and poly fabric that folds so compactly for storage may as well stay in storage, for me. Slouching into one invariably turns me into a knuckle-dragger in just a few minutes, and the painful effects last quite awhile. That’s why I pack a vintage webbed aluminum-frame folding chair. It isn’t the nostalgia factor. But now, the original cargo trailer approach is even less do-able than it was before. The practical issues involved in building one out now are even less possible than they were before.

Here's an interesting converted cargo trailer. That green thing at right is a generator. The flooded battery is out with the solar panel, there's a plumbing vent at the roof corner, and a Blue Boy waste tank is underneath.

Here’s an interesting converted cargo trailer. That green thing at right is a generator. The flooded battery is out with the solar panel, there’s a plumbing vent at the roof corner, and a Blue Boy waste tank is underneath.

Among the options to consider was the one most obvious: why not simply replace the sagging Defiant with a modern, modestly-sized travel trailer or a converted cargo trailer? After all, any travel trailer made more recently than the turn of the century has much better ground clearance, less weight, higher tank capacities, and a “light on its feet” behavior. The Defiant II?

There is no doubt that replacing the Defiant with a more modest, more trail-able travel trailer would be superior on many major counts, if only at the cost of my current 200 square feet of space. The main issue however is that a smaller, more adaptable TT or cargo trailer makes for only a slight improvement in getting my sole residence out across low-traction conditions and up rocky climbs to the places where I crave to camp. For the sacrifices in space, comfort and storage, the basic mobile physics do not change nearly enough for me. It’s a sensible and practical approach that for me is also a logistical failure. It’s not as important to know what everyone else likes and swears by, as it is to know yourself. That’s why the range of RV types exist. Preferences vary.

The Defiant in New Mexico for an overnight on-route to Illinois. Lucky thing that sand was packed hard!

The Defiant in New Mexico for a $10 overnight on-route to Illinois. Lucky thing that sand was packed hard!

Yet, the only rig directions that would begin to satisfy that “out there” lust for solitude and adventurous access happen to be so constricted for space that they do not qualify as sanity-enhancing places to live full-time, and the ways to help them better do that negatively impact their basic reason for being – high mobility.

Think “truck campers”, the type which slides living space into the bed area of a pickup truck. Even Truck Camper Magazine, that breathy online proponent of truck campers of every stripe, does not consider truck campers to be workable permanent, full-time residences. I haven’t been in this game very long, but I am not personally aware of anyone who has lived in a truck camper full-time (by pure choice) for much more than three years without either adding provision for space/storage, without nurturing an oncoming return “home” because it was just an expedition of sorts, or without swapping or altering rigs to expand space for a time. Bottom line: sooner or later, it’s either gone or no longer running solo.

Sure, there are plenty of people who praise the virtues of living inside even a truck bed cap or shell, the truck camper’s primitive cousin and the equivalent of a hard-sided tent, but I personally know of no one who stays in one long-term by choice. They simply tend to have no other financial options, and are making the best of it with what they have, and I’m all for that. Live your dream, as best you can.

Just for reference, this is a shell, (an oversized bed cap). They are very inexpensive, have a wood finish on the inside, and are wood-framed construction. You add what you want inside. (There is nothing below the bed rail.)

Just for reference, this is a shell, (an oversized bed cap). They are very inexpensive, have a wood finish on the inside, and are wood-framed construction. You add what you want inside. (There is nothing below the bed rail.)

At their best, truck campers are fine temporary accommodations. I suspect that the personal suitability test for any rig, large or small, would be to offer a true full-timer a gift certificate for any other rig type of their own choosing, no charge. Any change from what they have now indicates a course correction, something that was left wanting in what they started with. In that way, the Defiant is perfect – except it lacks a cargo-lifting helicopter to get it to the campsites I want it to be in for part of the year, which would also let me drive to all those touristy little stops along the way to the next airdrop. So, course correction needed, and one that’s more practical and affordable than a helicopter.

Towing a trailer (or better, a boat) in back of a truck camper is certainly no sin, but it dulls its exploratory benefits in what I want to do. Towing a trailer to haul “stuff” or expand living space not only reimposes the terrain limitations of a TT, but also imposes logistical limitations on where and when the trailer can be stored and used. Regardless of routes and explorations, the presence or absence of a trailer becomes dictated not by when it would be most handy to have, but where it is stored and left unavailable. The return route must always be to wherever it was last stored, in an accessible season. In trade for extra fuel mileage and less wear and tear from not hauling it, the gain in living accommodations is certainly there, but is far from spectacular.

Now, lots and lots of RVers take this two-piece approach and love it. They relegate the use of a trailer to a sort of seasonal “home area” approach, a kind of settling in after a summer (or winter) of touring. It works for them. That’s similar to what I’d like, but with a much bigger shift in accommodations. For me, having lived in a semi-mobile luxo-tub, it would not be enough to change from a cramped rough country-oriented explorer to the same with a small cargo trailer pasted on. Not enough changes and, since I am not an outdoorsy person, such a limitation has much more impact on me than it does on someone who only uses the truck camper for sleeping and bad weather. Could I deal with it? Sure. Would I prefer such a minimal improvement? No. As you can tell from the above few paragraphs, I’m dealing here with personal values and observations, not universal generalities that apply or should apply to everyone.

i see quite a few of this type of rig out West: truck camper and horse trailer. Campin' & ridin'.

I see quite a few of this type of rig out West: truck camper and horse trailer, albeit in more modest forms. A’ campin’ & a’ ridin’. The older and simpler “real world” combos actually have much more charm and appeal.

The difficulty with truck campers as living quarters is based upon their limited space, obviously. Boost that space or add the amenities, and weight quickly goes up to where the vehicle underneath is struggling to support it, and the terrain that it can cover becomes increasingly limited. The other difficulty with weight is that it shortens service life. Use a vehicle at its full rated limit, and the stress will take its toll on an assortment of components. Their lifespan will be “acceptable”, but far from great. Minimize weight, and many of those “heavy duty” components can last an inordinate amount of miles. The effect mimics over-engineering. Exceed the weight limit and, even if you bolster up a sagging suspension to compensate, you’ll either be in the shop or hunting down a replacement vehicle much sooner than you could be. For many people, this too is not a problem. For me, it is.

This Eagle Cap Triple Slide 1200 weighs 4,738 pounds before you add 550 pounds of water or fill the propane tank or closet. They recommend a "1-ton dually truck or larger". Not what you might envision for tough access areas.

This Eagle Cap model 1165 Triple Slide weighs 4,751 pounds(!) before you add 500 pounds of water or fill the propane tank or closet. They recommend a “1-ton dually truck or larger”. Not what you might envision for tough access areas, and this isn’t their largest model!

The Mighty Furd, as optioned, is rated at “only” 2,460 pounds (approx.) load capacity due to the extra weight of its 4WD system and diesel engine. The 4WD system decreases payload by about 260 pounds, and the elaborate turbo-diesel engine lowers it by an additional 380 pounds. Further, like other pickups, it has much lower specs for a slide-in camper, assuming that the truck is optioned for one. Mine is not. In my case, that would have been 1,640 pounds of camper. Some of that lesser weight is assumed to be 900 pounds of passengers and their garbage, and some is the effect of controlling a camper with the usual high center of gravity, which is what the missing camper option takes care of. Adding the camper and the passengers together pops the total back up to the cargo capacity.

Once you look at the fully-loaded “wet” weight of many truck campers and the shifted center of gravity, things get out of hand pretty quickly. While it is true that the only mechanical or structural difference between an F-250 and an F-350 appears to be a set of overload springs and a much higher load limit, added weight still has its effect, albeit in a much more limited way. That explains why F-250s statistically last longer than F-350s: the weaker springs limit the load capacity and effectively under-stresses most of the remaining components. They were effectively over-engineered for their weight limit and, in 2008, this helped make the Ford F-250 diesel somewhat more expensive than the equivalent 2500 Chevy or GMC, and much more expensive than the Dodge Ram 2500 of the same year. Adding overload springs or air bags to the Mighty Furd and then pumping up cargo weight likely pushes component lifespan back down into “normal” range, and poses issues with insurance liability should an accident occur – any vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating is legally determined by its original configuration and the GVWR sticker on its doorpost, not by the modifications made to it by its owner.

This more modest big Lance is a lot lighter than the Eagle Cap, and at least they don't pretend that no stabilization is needed.

This more modest big Lance is a lot lighter than the Eagle Cap, and at least they don’t pretend that no stabilization is needed.

The weight issue is not just the suspension’s problem. Truck campers are sometimes anchored to the truck’s bed at its side rails, something which truck beds are not really designed to deal with. Fortunately, all of the dead weight rests on the bed floor, with the frame directly underneath. The recent drive for lower costs and greater compliance with CAFE fuel mileage standards has lead to thinner, lighter bed constructions. As a result, the camper’s constant tipping in rough off-road conditions causes bed flex, which can have the effect of making the tail wag the dog. Camper designs which bolt to the bed floor can even promote stress cracking around the attachment points, making the camper even more wobbly. The only real solution is to instead anchor the camper with chains that run down to specialty steel arms securely attached to the truck’s frame. Apart from the camper’s dead weight, this approach largely takes the bed structure itself out of the picture. The arms themselves may flex a bit, but unlike the sheetmetal bed walls, they are designed for it.

Okaaaay! This truck camper raises a lot of questions, questions mainly about the psychological status of its owner.

Okaaaay! This “truck camper” raises a lot of questions, questions mainly about the psychological status of its owner. Notice the two straps that keep it from teeter-tottering down to the ground. The overworked trailer axle that remains doesn’t help much, and is literally dragged sideways on turns. The craving to “have it all” does not always turn out well.

The other issue with truck camper space is…space. Eighty square feet more or less is not much of a living space, which explains why they are they are generally considered to be the most space-efficient rig type available. There’s too little space to waste any of it.

So-called hard-sided truck campers are the standard, ranging from modest little boxes to behemoths that not only hang well off the back of the bed, but offer multiple slides that expand interior room. Materials and constructions vary, water and waste tank sizes (when present) vary, and so do weights. It’s very easy to exceed the weight ratings of even a 3/4-ton truck with one. Their advantage: permanent storage space. Their height allows high-mounted interior cabinets to surround the roof perimeter, making it relatively easy to bring pretty much everything along that one might need. Designs vary so wildly that it is difficult to generalize about hard-sided truck campers, except to say that, if you can stand the weight and crimp in mobility, there is little limit to the conveniences that are available. Hard-sided truck campers are the most popular form by far, because there is some design variation for every preference, and they can easily get most folks where they want to go. Many versions also make great cold weather rigs, and they can mount air conditioning units on their roofs.

This modest Northstar represents the functional core of hard-side truck campers.

This modest Northstar represents the functional core of hard-side truck campers. They are very livable, and will get you where you want to go.

Interior of the Lance 830, which will never look this neat and "House Beautiful" once it's sold.

Interior of the Lance 830, which will never look this neat and “House Beautiful” once it’s sold and in use.

Much less common are pop-up truck campers, which are similar in appearance but have a much lower roofline. In order to fully use them, the roof needs to be raised to full height when setting up camp. The resulting sidewall gap is spanned with a type of flexible poly canvas. This allows the roof to be lowered when not in use, lowering the center of gravity and lowering air resistance when traveling. In general, this translates to improvements in vehicle handling both on the highway and in the rough stuff. It also improves access through spaces that would interfere with a tall camper. There are drawbacks aplenty, in that available storage space is much less than in a hard-side truck camper, amenities like showers are much harder to implement in a usable way, there usually isn’t enough vertical space to build in a hanging clothes closet, a rooftop A/C is not possible, the fabric portion is a very poor insulator and may either radiate heat inside or drip with condensation, moving the vehicle means packing loose articles away to lower the roof again, and the entry door is inconveniently low, since it cannot extend into the canvas area. Finally, the side fabric should never be stowed wet for any significant length of time. It needs to be thoroughly dried first in circulating air. These are strong drawbacks, and they explain why pop-ups are purchased in lesser numbers. There have been concerns expressed about the lifespan of the flexible wall fabric in full-time exposure to sun and heat, but kept reasonably clean, today’s examples can easily clear 10-15 years. Current replacement costs done at the factory run about $1,000.

It’s also worth noting that the longer the pop-up, the more amenities that can be accommodated, and the more its off-roading abilities are compromised. Apart from lesser highway air drag, it’s advantages over a hard-side camper begin to be outweighed by its comparative drawbacks, and it can make less and less sense as a choice. It all depends upon how much its remaining strengths are actually needed.

Here's my own shot of a Four Wheel Granby on display.

Here’s my own shot of a Four Wheel Grandby pop-up on display.

But, my thought train chugs along like this: I would like both ends of the span. I want to spend considerable time each year living in my present level of “luxury”, living comfortably, staying planted, pursuing my personal interests and projects, and enjoying the good life, so to speak. Yet I also want to “see the USA”: enjoy true solitude, see the vistas and the features, camp based more on opportunity than schedule, pull over to explore the many areas otherwise inaccessible to me – plus the few old downtown sections populated more with inter-generational family businesses than national franchise chains, explore historic highways and the vestiges of the towns they linked, and feed my urges to explore seldom-seen trails.

For us more mature users, that low door height is okay to get into, but awkward to back out of. It's not practical to try to walk out and down facing front.

For us more mature users, that low door height is okay to get into, but awkward to back out of. It’s not practical to try to exit it walking forward. Four Wheel had a thick foam pad taped to the door header, just as a precaution for the unpracticed!

My thinking is that this Jekyll/Hyde span of wants cannot be addressed by a single, compromise rig that handles neither extreme well. It became apparent that it might be best approached by continuing to enjoy the end of the spectrum that I already have – the Defiant – and supplementing it with its antimatter opposite. Basically, the theory is that you enjoy the convenience for part of the year and eventually start pining to get out there and start touring, and then after you’ve OD’d on experiencing the spectacular for the remainder, you look forward to getting “home”, with all of its space and conveniences. That antimatter opposite quickly settled on being a truck camper of some type. As I researched the market and noodled over it for ages, I began to sense that hard-side truck campers which would fill the bill and not compromise the Ford’s weight and off-road clearance compromises were pretty damned Spartan. That’s okay, but the smaller and more stripped you get in a hard-side, the more the pop-up’s few virtues begin a siren call to take advantage of them in order to get to the types of campsites that I want so badly to pursue.

Pop-ups aren't just handy for clearing trees and rugged trails. This is Downtown Billings, Montana in 2009. That's a low-height hard-side that got wiped off.

This is one vacation this family won’t forget! Pop-ups aren’t just handy for clearing low trees and rugged trails. This is downtown Billings, Montana in 2009. That’s a low-height hard-side that got wiped off. Even many pop-up installations won’t clear 8 feet. The Mighty Furd 4×4 with a Four Wheel Granby pop-up will, by the specs, shave under with only 3 inches to spare!

Let’s face it, the 156″ wheelbase Ford F-250 is no overland explorer. It weighs literally twice as much as the commonly-used “adventure” rigs, is too wide to hazard narrow ledges or Jeep trails, and is vulnerable to grounding out at center, among other things. Ground clearance is merely okay, and there are no rock shields underneath to protect its vitals. Four wheeling is not really a safe solo enterprise, and the more capable the rig, the more stranded you can get yourself. However, the Ford’s job will not be to get me 70 miles from nowhere. It’s job will be to get me to a campsite inaccessible to 90%+ of campers, yet within practical reach of supply sources. The national forest trails alone offer a surprising number of such places, all approved for camping but effectively inaccessible to even many larger truck campers. All they require is a rig just nimble enough to get there. Obviously the Mighty Furd is not in any way nimble, but it is built specifically to carry heavy cargo over difficult terrain, such as construction sites and ranches. It will do. The trick is to not compromise it further, with undue weight placed high, or rear overhang to drag the ground even sooner than it already does. Keep it light, keep it in the bed, and since the Ford’s highway fuel mileage is very sensitive to air drag rather than weight, keep it low. I have 4,000 miles to cover every time I head for Illinois to abuse the young’uns. Fuel mileage matters.

The upper end of pop-ups, a Hallmark K2 in travel mode.

The upper end of pop-ups, a Hallmark K2 in travel mode.

I figured that if I’m going to have to live without all the space and amenities, I may as well do it in a way that also makes it easier and less stressful to get to where I want to go. There needs to be something in trade for a lack. In other words, make it pay. If I have to live my version of Spartan for say, seven or eight months a year, then my priority becomes to make it worthwhile: get what few amenities I can, make the limited space work hard, and sacrifice the losses in such a way that rough-country performance is optimized. All I have to do is look at what “essentials” that rig doesn’t provide, and see if I can work around them in an acceptable way. That’s “acceptable”, not “great”. All other priority goes toward not compromising the off-road performance that will get me to my dream camps.

An Outfitter, ready to use.

An Outfitter, ready to use.

There are quite a few manufacturers of pop-up truck campers. Not including custom builders such as Phoenix Pop Ups, there are only two major manufacturers of rough-trail slide-in compact pop-ups, Four Wheel and ATC, or All Terrain Campers. I could include Hallmark’s superb smaller Ute model here, which overhangs the rear yet stays high off the ground, but their base model is way, way over my financial head, and wet weight is higher. Same for the Alaskan, which is unique in that it is a hard-side pop-up: the roof half sleeves down over the sidewalls like the lid of a box.

Say, isn't camping fun? This Alaskan is the bee's knees for cold weather, since it maintains full insulation all around, as well as keeps scrounging bears from getting too curious.

Say, isn’t camping fun? This Alaskan is the bee’s knees for cold weather, since it maintains full insulation all around, and it keeps scrounging bears from getting too curious about what’s in the “tent”. Electro-hydraulic lifts raise and lower the upper section.

Four Wheel and ATC are minimalist-oriented rigs, with “shell models” or bare boxes being the most affordable and popular versions for each. The buyers use them as-is, or build in what they want themselves. Four Wheel was started in the early 70s, while ATC began as a result of a later ownership change at Four Wheel. If I got this right, the son of the guy who began Four Wheel struck out on his own after the company was sold. His familiarity with the design resulted in a near-duplicate product. In my view, ATC’s less expensive product represents a better deal. It’s built to hold up, and will do so. Production is low enough that ATC is a quasi-custom builder as well. However, its floorplan lineup is more limited, and its general design features and materials lag years behind those of Four Wheel. If you don’t care however, it’s not a problem and it saves money.

Over the decades, Four Wheel has basically looked at what customers brought back for repairs and rebuilds, have complained about in the field, or have modified and improved upon. Knowing that their niche market is largely word-of-mouth, they paid attention. The long string of subtle construction and materials changes that have resulted are oriented toward product durability and functionality in its core market, rough terrain off-roading. Most buyers use small 1/2-ton trucks as carrying platforms (because of their better suitability to rough conditions), so when some improvement adds a few pounds, Four Wheel begins mulling over where compensating weight might be removed – without sacrificing durability. Four Wheel is the only camper manufacturer I know of that publishes model base weights, and then separate weights for every option they offer.

This Phoenix pop-up owner is taking advantage of its compact size, though it sure helps to have a spotter outside just to avoid wiping a mirror or getting creeped out by that drop-off!

This Phoenix pop-up owner is taking advantage of its compact size, though it sure helps to have a spotter outside just to avoid wiping a mirror or getting creeped out by that drop-off! Here, a full-size Ford is a bit of a big boy for this kind of thing. Adventure!

Outside of the need to get out into areas where big and heavy truck campers cannot go or will not withstand for long, the numerous functional compromises made by pop-ups to be able to succeed as a camper make it far from a slam-dunk choice, and the larger the pop-up, the more debatable the decision. The smaller, lighter and more able to withstand twist and shock loads that a truck camper is, the more straightforward that decision becomes – if those are traits that you require. Most campers understandably do not have much need for them. I do – the Ford’s long frame does indeed flex, and its optional suspension is brutally stiff and harsh at both ends. Whatever is in the bed will take a pounding, like it or not.

This is where a light, compact pop-up lets you discard that bottle of animal tranquilizers. I see plenty of this type of "unchallenging" trail that can still cause plenty of anxiety and risk for a bigger rig. Low weight and center of gravity suddenly trump creature comforts.

This is where a light, compact pop-up lets you discard that bottle of animal tranquilizers. I see plenty of this type of “unchallenging” trail that can still cause plenty of anxiety and risk for a tall, high-CG rig. Low weight and center of gravity suddenly trump creature comforts in priority.

What most campers do have a need for is modest trail abilities and underfloor holding tanks for wastewater. Neither Four Wheel nor ATC offer waste holding tanks nor, with one exception, a toilet or indoor shower. That’s your problem, because it would push the design toward big and heavy in a niche that demands tough and light. You want a toilet, you get yourself a porta-potty and stow it aboard. You want a shower, you get yourself a solar-heated water bag, or heat a pot of water on a stove, or order the optional propane water heater and outside shower fixture, or look for a coin-op shower in town or in an RV park or camp.

Straddling a deep groove to avoid tipping to the side is not always possible, and your average stock 4x4 is suddenly back to two-wheel drive. Aside from washboard, this twist is what helps kill truck campers.

Straddling a deep groove to avoid tipping to the side is not always possible, and your average stock 4×4 is suddenly back to two-wheel drive. Along with washboard, this twist is what helps kill truck campers before their time.

Greywater, the waste from a sink, is ported to the outside of the Four Wheel’s camper wall, and it’s up to you to attach a hose and capture it in a container for proper disposal. That’s probably the true test of any professed love of nature, since not that many areas permit simply dumping it onto the ground. In trade for all these inconveniences, you get the ability to see grandeur that is not often seen, and perhaps to flash your nearest neighbor while you shower outside. Hopefully, they are just far enough away that you cannot hear them laughing and pointing, or see them clearly enough to make out that they are leaning forward to vomit. In such a case, they either move, or a new portable shower tent mysteriously shows up at your door. With an outside shower, the more solitude, the better for everyone concerned.

Both brands use fully welded aluminum tube construction to combat the stresses of being bolted down to a flexing truck bed. Wood actually has better resistance to fatigue cracking, but the joints are the problem. They eventually work their way loose, and the only way to prevent it is to throw money at it in the design stage, let it take up additional space with bracing, or both. As a practical matter, a welded aluminum structure will far outlast wood in this application. Although Four Wheel offers a more “modern” fiberglass exterior wall surface option, the original thin aluminum slat wall is better able to withstand twisting forces in the long run – the fiberglass sheet is unable to move with the frame that it is tied to. It cannot stretch or compress along its length or height.

This guy's cheating, with tall tires and plenty of suspension lift, and a short wheelbase. Some people REALLY get out there.

This guy’s cheating, with tall tires, plenty of suspension lift, and a short wheelbase. Some people REALLY get out there.

What I decided was that, given a suitable pop-up, I’d plant the Defiant in an affordable full-hookup RV park and stay there from November 1 through at least March 15, when the heat starts in. Then leave it there, and use the pop-up truck camper to travel and tour the rest of the year until returning to the resplendent luxury of the Defiant. That’s the core of it. It’s an alternation of feast and mild famine, and I think it will work for me. Take advantage of the core strengths of each.

It is technically possible to simply alternate the use of the Defiant from boondocking into cheap local storage, saving the cost of the RV park. With an LTVA seasonal pass, that’s much cheaper overall than an RV park, but installing any kind of camper into the truck bed requires that the Tankmin go away, and the viability of the Defiant for boondocking is heavily dependent on the Tankmin. Dismounting the camper to put it into storage and shoving the 100-pound Tankmin back into the bed to bolt it down does not appeal, mainly since this process must be reversed a few months later. Likewise, the Defiant’s solar system has only a limited value in a full-hookup park, and cannot safely be left deployed over the hot summer while the park is closed. It must be stowed when not in use, and hefting those big panels is one of the things that I will not be able to continue doing, period. Their sheer size and weight make them highly undesirable atop a hard-side truck camper, and unworkable atop a pop-up. Believe you me, I looked at every way I could think of to reuse them as oversized ground panels that would store somewhere, or side-mounted panels that could articulate out into the sun. In the end, no soap.

Equally serious for the outback is an AEV Jeep Brute "pickup" with a stubby Four Wheel pop-up in its newfound bed.

Equally serious for the outback is an AEV Jeep Brute “pickup” with a stubby Four Wheel pop-up camper in its newfound bed.

Likewise, shuffling the Defiant’s solar charge controller and 60-pound batteries back and forth between the two rigs twice a year had a similar lack of appeal. Inconvenience is fine until it escalates into being a serious PITA ordeal. Nope. Permanently transfer as many batteries as practical into the pop-up. That may require only two of my existing 104Ah AGMs. Why use more? That only adds weight, albeit very low-placed weight quite far forward.

But, being a recovering packrat, three facts occurred to me. First, I have five of these things that are already paid for at about $290 a pop. Second, they will not respond well to unmaintained storage for seven-month periods, particularly in high heat. Third, service life is directly affected by depth of discharge. Install two, pull them down to 50% capacity daily, and they can be expected to last for a tad over 1,000 cycles (just over 3 years). Given their cost, that’s not a great deal. Install four or even all five of them instead (somehow), and dropping the depth of discharge to 20-25% boosts the expected cycles to anywhere between 2,000-2,800 (5.5-7.5 years). Chopping discharge to just 10% pumps the number to just over 5,000 cycles (close to 14 years). They could well outlast me! Reaching for the latter is not impossible, since the main drain, the compressor fridge/freezer, will be switched off all the winter months. The Aurora e-bike’s battery charger will be similarly plugged into shore power that season.

The extra weight of all those batteries, about 240-300 pounds total, would normally be an absurd addition to consider, and they steal interior storage space. What partially offsets it is that they are all placed just a couple of inches off the bed, with all but one cell positioned far forward. Plus, the Mighty Furd does not react much at all to such added weight, especially forward weight. What it cares about is air drag. Something to think about before writing off added battery capacity.

Driver's side of a Granby Side Dinette on display. Some of that cabinetry is occupied by appliances, propane bottles, and electronic controls.

Driver’s side of a Granby Side Dinette on display. Some of that cabinetry is occupied by appliances, propane bottles, plumbing, and electronic controls.

Something else to think about is lightweight solar panels for the roof. The weight of a framed and insulated 81″x 144″ roof is considerable, and lifting it is made easier by the use of counterspung lift panels and pneumatic lifts (like those used in your car’s hatchback). Tossing a pile of 20-40 pound panels on top makes lifting your problem, and warping the relatively unsupported flat roof a likely issue. More batteries below require more wattage above, particularly since roof-mounted lightweight panels suffer more from the heat of the roof itself, and can’t be tilted to catch the sun more effectively. Fortunately, the inefficiency of a truly low winter sun will not be a factor – the truck camper will not be in use then. Lightweight solar panels are relatively expensive, so that makes throwing on more to recharge the extra “free” batteries and boost their lifespan not quite so simple, since more battery capacity requires more solar panel wattage to charge it, and that’s a lot of pocket money on the roof. Hmmm.

Lastly (for this post) is that “indoor-oriented person” issue. In a compact pop-up, the trick here is to maximize both usable storage and functional features within its ridiculously small space. Outdoorsy people do this by doing everything needed outside, with camping equipment. This works for them, and it’s cheap. After all, the camper does little more than serve as a sleeping and storage space, with occasional duty as a hidey-hole in bad weather. When the time comes to move, then the stove, propane canister, wash tubs and water jugs, storage bins, and all camping accouterments are stuffed back inside the camper, never to be opened until it all comes spilling out at the next campsite.

The right side of the Side Dinette shows the, ugh, side dinette, small table with space for a 2.5-gallon portable toilet underneath, and a vestigial storage cabinet at the rear. (The bed is forward and high.)

The right side of the Side Dinette model shows the, uhhh, side dinette, small table with space for a 2.5-gallon portable toilet underneath, and a vestigial storage cabinet at the rear. (The bed is forward and high, over the truck’s cab.)

There’s just no way around it: just as I had space shock in moving from house to TT, I’ll experience round two in the trauma of bunking into a pop-up for months at a time. To minimize this, I’m getting Four Wheel’s 8-foot Granby model, fitted with a front dinette. For just one person, a four-place dining table with bench seats would appear to be a waste, compared with their two-place Side Dinette model (as shown in the photos). What I’d missed was that the front-to-back aisle in the side dinette is partially wasted as far as usable space goes, and the total enclosed storage of the Front Dinette model is a bit larger overall. With just one person onboard, the opportunities to add storage bins here and there become considerable. With a propane stove, sink, furnace and electric compressor fridge being built in, it may be small, but it can still be dwelt in comfortably in any weather – for reasonable periods. It puts a definite crimp on having multiple hobbies and interests, but that’s what the Defiant is for.

As with most everything else, the devil is in the details. As with anything else, usage and modifications must balance so that no strengths are badly compromised from the “improvement”. If you want to live in it for extended periods of time as an escaped suburbanite on tour rather than as a camping enthusiast, some deviations from standard camping procedure – what it’s built for – will be needed. I’ve hinted at just a few in this post, and will be boring you to tears in later posts with all manner of arcane trivia as I seek to field-convert a Four Wheel Grandby into…The Intrepid.

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40 thoughts on “The Other End of the Spectrum

  1. Ooooh, fun stuff, really enjoying this post. I’m typing my responses bit by bit as I read your post.

    1. Is that a saguaro? They have them in WY?
    2. Your “want to stop doing” and “want to do/have” closely resemble mine, thus my fascination with this post.
    3. If you’re full-timing, why are you storing the TT? Never mind, now I see what you mean.
    4. (insert belly laugh here re: the DIY have-it-all rig, oh, hahahahahaa. However, I must admit I love the many louvered windows.)
    5. O for the love of god, there you go, making me rethink my whole plan. Holy shmokes. First I need to find a way to test drive a trailer on the kinds of trails you (and I) are interested in. Maybe I can make it work…
    6. “…thin aluminum slat wall is better able to withstand twisting forces…” This is why I love you, Doug. You do the heavy lifting, information-wise. And then you share!
    7. I will be living in my rig year-round, so it’s that much harder for me to figure it all out.
    8. At least I can get by on 100 watts solar, I think. 🙂
    9. I wonder how many amps that elec. compressor fridge uses.
    10. The Intrepid! Love it.

    • Yes, it’s fun – if you’re not the one stepping up to the plate.

      That high shot is on the northern fringes of Wickenberg, AZ, one of my fav towns. I wouldn’t know a saguaro from a jar of applesauce, but it’s a cactus! None here, that’s for sure!

      All that four-wheeling you did in your misspent youth is working against you here, and my post isn’t helping. But it does help you to envision the difference between a high clearance road and one that will require 4WD here and there to get you through. Given a reasonably modern small TT, a high clearance trail is no sweat, uphill or down dale. You might have to stay planted longer than planned for mud to dry, but even a 2WD tow vehicle will do. Your checkered history of 4-wheeling and its joys is what is knocking your plans awry, tempting you to sacrifice everyday comfort for adventure and extreme solitude. Such rigs do exist, but not for us mortals. Thus your dilemma.

      If you envision climbing steep, rocky inclines, fording brief stretches of deep loose sand or gravel, or winding along narrow ridge trails – basically those places where you’d need to engage 4WD-low – a trailer of any type is going to work against you. Considering that you will be living full-time in a single rig, you’d need to scale down your expectations one way or the other. The closest I can see you coming is to match a 4WD tow vehicle with a high, smallish TT. You park it at an acceptable spot (and high clearance allows you plenty), and unhitch to tour the areas where the trailer would pose a problem. Day trips. A truck camper plus cargo trailer might be livable for you, but there will still be instances where you regret the loss of maneuverability – or the sacrifice of living space. Nobody said this process would be easy. I’m basically cheating: for the time being, I can afford to take my ying/yang dual-rig approach. If and when the time approaches where I have to consolidate rigs, I’ll have a choice to make based on past experience. You don’t have that luxury.

      By memory, an Engel averages 2.1 amps (about 27 watts) over a 24-hour period. Maybe 3.6 in hot climates. That’s not much, but it adds up over a full day to 50 amps, and the fridge tends to screw up the recharge on marginal systems – those that have a 100-watt panel driving a 100Ah battery. You really need at least 200Ah of battery capacity and 200-300 watts of panel – but that’s strictly my jaded opinion. 100 watts of panel will do you fine for very modest use, but you’ll have to take the compressor fridge or any other cooler off your “one day” list. Part of the problem is that you can only use half the battery’s rated capacity without damaging it, and even then, it won’t live very long. You can read up on that by searching the blog for “solar”.

      • My brother will let me borrow his 12″ work trailer to get a feel for how it handles on dirt rough enough to keep out the big rigs, but not 4×4-rough. We shall see…though I have to admit that a small (18-22′) class C is suddenly back as a distinct possibility.

        • Fridge–wow, 50 amps…I prefer the 3-way fridge, that way I can get by with 100w solar for my very few electricity needs. (water pump, mini desk top pc, lights, and recharging the phone and Kindle…what am I forgetting?)

          I know leveling is crucial while running the fridge on propane…but isn’t that relatively easy to achieve with slanted boards for levelers? Or some other method? (The things I don’t know…)

          • I’m suspicious of the “mini desk top pc” since I don’t know just what that is, but the real story is marked on its plug-in power supply. Your daily runtime may be quite limited, but if you can live with that, you’ll be fine. Replacing all light bulbs with LEDs would be significant power savings unless you turn in pretty early by habit. That’s pricey, but they pull quite a bit of power if capacity is limited.

            To level, I’ve used assorted lengths of 2x6s stacked to make steps. Their good part is that each step is pretty level, so they don’t pressure the trailer to roll down a slope. If your leveling device creates a slope for your tire, you’d better have a pretty trusty wheel chock or wheel locking device to counter it when you unhitch. It not only needs to hold against the spacer’s slope, but any additional wind forces acting on the trailer. The downside of stacked boards is that the lowest one can crack or split on rocks (with a heavy trailer), and the space needed to store them.
            The Camco 44573 Tri-Leveler is touted on some sites as the bee’s knees, but I do not recommend it for an unhitched trailer. It looks like a stepped leveler, but is not when used with larger tire diameters. Using a conventional wedge with it can be problematic. They are too long to combine a pair on one side of a tandem axle trailer. 3-7/8″ max lift. About $15 each, 3,500 lbs capacity on smooth ground, one year warranty.
            I use an Andersen Wheel Chock and Leveler, which is also a sloped wedge. But it’s curved and angles up like a rocking chair as the tire goes on up. An included wedge is then placed underneath, and you’re both level and chocked in one shot. Like the Camco, it can take some getting used to since many vehicles have enough slop in their drivetrains that they’ll move an inch lower on the ramp when you slam it in park to get out and look, but hey. Two can be used on one side of most tandem axle trailers, but not all, if the wheels are located too close together. Some people trim some of the nose off to make them fit. You can of course just leave by driving over the chock, but the official way is to go further up the ramp slightly to take the weight off the wedge, and pull the wedge out before descending. 4″ max lift. About $40, 30,000 lbs capacity on smooth ground, lifetime warranty against breakage. Andersen says they have replaced 5 over the life of this product so far, which certainly means raising one hellavan RV on a protruding edged rock.

            I’d start with boards and the cheapest wheel chocks I could find that won’t simply skid across the board. They need to tend to get pinched under the tire to hold position. Then with some experience on your surfaces with your rig, you can decide you’re there, or pick and buy the “final solution” for you. Costs more this way overall, but probably less up front.

        • That’s good news, Dawn! High-clearance trails will tend to wipe away the 40′ motorhome crowd, but many big 5th-wheel owners have the clearance to be quite adventurous! If you have any appropriate campsite trails around you, that test haul may help you decide just how much solitude you may have available with a more comfortable rig that’s easier to live with. If you’re content enough with the types of sites you can make it to, then your dilemma is simplified.

          • There are tons of such trails around here, it’s a boondocker’s paradise. I’ll keep you posted. I’m feeling a bit skittish and uncertain about the choices I have to make. I’d really prefer to have a truck/<14' TT, but only if it works well off road for me. The test drive will tell me something. A small class c is my second choice–it'll be great on moderately rough roads. FYI, in the past I tended to drive further up sketchy trails than "normal folk," but I don't want to do that any more. I'll be alone, and with limited funds, so I need to be smarter and more careful in future.

            • Good info about the leveling and securing! I’ve never pulled a trailer :/

            • Looks like your brother’s trailer will tell the tale for you, then. But I do have to say, having that test as your first-time towing experience will tend to pre-load it with “Ooo, I don’t like that”, especially having to back up to turn around. But still, you’ll get some wild sense driving in headfirst. And yep, running solo with a trailer or tubby/heavy rig of any type makes it advisable to crank back on reckless abandon, though I suspect that you still might not get off at the “normal folk” bus stop on any given trail. 😉

  2. jr cline on said:

    It gets complicated. I’m not sure this class A is my final RV, but I’ll be in it a couple more years.

  3. I will be looking forward to this series of posts!! Your reasoning is very similar to mine for criteria that the nimble vehicle must fulfill. I am saving up for a Fleet myself. I can’t wait to see how you trick out your FWC for living in for months on end. Your real life electric bike chronicles have been very educational.

    • You’re very kind, Ming. Sorry to hear that your reasoning is as flawed as mine! 😉 Short-bed models dominate in sales, so you may have a fighting chance to pick up a used Fleet that’s still in great shape. As with the Aurora e-bike, my live-in suburbanite orientation and penchant to avoid “doing it right” when it costs too much money will steer many of the mods away from what a serious camper or “overlander” would do. But, since my reasoning and motivations will accompany the plans, you’ll be able to more easily separate the nice approaches from the discards. I intend to first lay out the intended changes to the basic platform prior to delivery, and then once implemented, you’ll see what worked out okay and what stuck me with shortcomings that I did or didn’t anticipate. Should be interesting, and will put that BS 90’s business motto to the test: “There are no problems, there are only challenges.” There will be no deep mods – nearly all will be nothing that can’t be done with a wrench, drill, screwdriver, cursing, and a measure of panicked desperation.

  4. Thoughts I had while reading…

    Solar you don’t have to mess with is good, if you park in the trees for shade you lose that.

    Boondocking has been limited (for me) until the tanks are full.

    I have 2 of the folding aluminum web chairs in my van, they are real chairs. I buy them at Walmart for about $10 ea

    There are parks that will not allow a rig that is not fully self contained.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks, Rob! Good thoughts, all.

      Taking the Defiant’s system as target to approach, it can fully recharge in tree shade or heavy overcast – what I lose is the ability to pound it with big-wattage devices while it’s recharging, like firing up the office or charging the e-bike. For the sake of the batteries, it’s best to wait. I’ll get into the Intrepid’s solar later, but it will do its best to duplicate the Defiant’s panel-watts/battery-capacity ratio, though it will take a significant hit from keeping the panels horizontal, as well as dropping output because of an inability to self-cool. If I’m willing to sacrifice some storage space, keeping the same “office pack” size will shrug off the much lower equipment current draws and speed up recharge in bad conditions. I’m basically going to give it a year’s trial as-is and see just how it does. If worst comes to worst, I can rewire a rear external solar port that comes on the camper, strip off a roof panel or two, and put up with stowing ground panel(s) that can be placed out in the sun to help. Not my first preference, so the trial will be everything. As the Grinch said in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “That’s what these tests are for!”

      The Defiant too is limited by its waste tank sizes. If all goes according to plan, the Intrepid will tend to be limited more by its freshwater supply. I’ll have to forget about those three-week stays and revert to 5-7 days, but since I live on a fresh produce-heavy diet by choice, that and the small fridge will limit me to that time period anyway. Since the Intrepid is much more touring-oriented anyhow, there will not be the arduous encamping and decamping process that the Defiant demands. No point in staying put for very long if the goal is to see more of what’s out there.

      Thanks for the heads-up on the chairs! I have yet to see any true duplicates, but there do appear to be plenty of steel-framed fabric chairs that would do the same job. I’ve re-webbed my chair once already, and suspect it may not withstand another, so hope is good.

      Yep, there are plenty of places I can’t stay. LTVAs would restrict me to toilet areas. From what I can tell, Yellowstone does not allow pop-up truck campers due to its marauding bears. A few commercial RV parks will not allow weekly or monthly stays with truck campers at all. Then again, those parks don’t want the aged Defiant there, either. Still, the ratio of places I can stay with the pop-up vs the ratio with the Defiant is a huge flip-flop. If I can’t get to it, I can’t stay, and in that regard, the Intrepid wins hands-down. So, I’m okay with the self-contained restrictions in some areas. There are plenty of great places remaining for me.

      Thank you!

    • Hi Rob, yes, I was thinking that was the case–taht some parks allow only self-contained rvs. When brings this question to mind: Do they allow tent camping? I bet they do, and tents are not self-contained. Everybody poops. Thoughts?

  5. Well you certainly have thought of all eventualities. I also enjoyed your posts about the e-bike. I have a camper van so weight is a big consideration and I really don’t want to tow so an e-bike sounds like a perfect solution. I’m sold.

    With a year under my belt, RV parks are less appealing and better solar is required. I have the Renogy 100 watt suitcase and it is great but I need more and don’t have roof space so will be looking out to hear your solutions on the Intrepid.

    • Thank you for commenting, Lynn. I had considered a scooter or small motorcycle as well, but they require the same attention as any gasoline-powered gizmo, and would not help me at all with my need for an enjoyable form of controlled exercise – except if I run out of gas. They are heavy enough that you probably won’t be able to heft an e-bike around like a regular bike, but I place and remove mine from the bike carrier one wheel at a time, making it easy. I’d urge that you pay as much attention to the carrier choice as the bike choice, since few carriers are rated for e-bikes. I like to assume that you’ve already perused the Pack Mule page here (not for the mods, but just for general info).

      Happy rig relationship birthday, by the way! Although I do appreciate the convenience of full hookups in RV parks and the ability to run A/C when visiting family in muggy heat, something in my head just fails to click at the basic concept of being content by essentially taking a rig cross-country from one RV parking lot to the next. It’s kind of an “is that all there is?” feeling, and then I look at the receipt totals and shake. I get it, but looking at rows of other RVs just doesn’t do it for me when I could be experiencing the unique land around me. But I digress.

      I regret to tell you that the upcoming Intrepid’s roof is a big, flat expanse loused up only by two vents and a solar outlet port. Based on the info I have, I can pack 600 watts of lightweight semi-flexible panels up there if I have to. If your van has one of those sculptured fiberglass high-tops on it, you’re right about the chances of finding decent mounting areas up there. And not having a permanent roof mount means no charge while driving. I’d also be loathe to start drilling holes to mount side-hanging panels as I did on the Enterprise AKA Defiant. In a permanent mount, they’d likely create a massive blind spot, too. At first blush, I think I’d look into a couple-three panels you could lay on the ground and then store away inside, conventional or lightweight semi-flexible. Wired in series, with an MPPT solar charge controller to avoid most wire resistance losses or having to use massive cable sizes. Then again, you do have to consider throwing them back inside if you’re not going to be around to keep tabs on them. Unisolar made true flexible solar cells in 18-foot peel-and-stick rolls that some people just lay out on the ground, but they don’t output very much considering their sheer size, and some variants are 24V nominal, absolutely requiring an MPPT controller. I’d even consider another suitcase like you already have, if Renogy says that two or three units can be connected to the same battery(s), but the cost per watt is out of sight!

      I suspect the only value of the Intrepid’s build for you will be the basics of how the panels were chosen, how they work out, how they are wired and to what, and why. You may not be able to locate them in the same place, but will get a feel for handling (before installation) and any liabilities I detect.

      • There is something to be said for dragging your RV to a totally different place & putting it in an RV park. You’re still in your house but it’s in a new & different location & you are free to explore the area & leave the AC on all you want.

        A solar panel idea I saw, two panels attached with a hinge. A DIY suite case panel that’s 200w+, might be hard to find a place to store a 5′ long suitcase…. but it you can’t put it on the roof.
        There are assorted roof rack options that might work for the fiberglass roof, they do the for Westy poptop. From tall gutter mounted brackets to fake gutter mounts attached to the sides of the fiberglass top.

        • Roof rack! Now, there’s something to Google. Excellent suggestion, Rob!

          For a halfway crafty person (or a desperate enough uncrafty one), a couple of 100 (or 150-watt for the young and strong) framed solar panels might be not too big & heavy to deal with once folded, as you say. The hinging together cuts the odds of handling damage, and adding a lightweight back to each frame would clinch it. Cheaper per watt than lightweight panels.

          As for RV parks and myself, I can handle annual or seasonal rates, but can’t possibly hack the daily, weekly or monthly costs of touring with an RV from park to park. That’s for people with earned income or a serious pension, etc. Aside from that though, I wouldn’t do it if I could afford it. Maybe its just not immersive enough for me. I’d rather camp in those tour areas than drive through and return to the RV park. That view that I post now and then out my dinette window or office window would be much different, and I’d be hearing constantly yapping dogs instead of occasional coyotes. Example: In the 20 minutes it took me to fill the Tankmin’s freshwater section at the local RV park day before yesterday, there was no interruption in the barking 100 feet away. I’d rather move to a cooler elevation than run the A/C, too. Aside from that cost, it’s loud. At least mine is. But most people are much more socially-oriented than I am, and they view packing in and meeting new friends as a boon over and above the driving around to see the sights. It’s great for them, but it’s just not something that I can relate to. My goal was to escape suburbia and more of the same. In no way am I living some kind of adventurous life, but looking out the window right now at sunset, or simply stepping out onto unfamiliar dirt in the morning, it’s a mini-rush. Perhaps not for someone else.

      • Thanks for all that info. The Renogy does come with an MPPT controller and I thought of just keeping them lined up on the ground but as you say moving them in and out might be a pain. It might be my only option as I do have a fibreglass top with an antennae and air vent in the way. I am learning at this point so all information is good information.

  6. Hey Doug, what you need is a diesel professionally converted school bus. It’s got room galore, super ground clearance, great towing ability. Tons of room for solar on the roof. Seen a lot of them on the horse camping trail rides. Personally my lil ole F 150 gas burner, it has a 8 foot bed, 4wd, every towing hauling option available and a super heavy suspension. Probably higher towing and hauling specs than a 3/4 F 250. You see its a 2007, they only made these super dupper F150 those 2 years of 3006 n 2007. Anyway it will pull the hinges off he!! It pulls a 24 ft camper stuffed full with a cap on the bed stacked full. Plus total rock hounding rocks of about a 1000 pounds. No I am not one of those crazy fools running around overloaded, I am well within my specs. I also put my.pickup slide in self contained camper on it and tow a 2 horse trailer with two horses. No strain at all. This year I am bringing my Paint trail riding horse with me to Quartzsite. You can camp with a horse on BLM.

    Think about the bus, they are out there if you look around. We have farmers here that convert school buses to live bed bottom tobacco haulers. Those buses are hard to get stuck in sand or mud!

    Bill n Sadie plus Mic

    • Well Bill, much as I like various buses converted to RV use, I must admit that using a school bus as an explorer on 4×4 trails did not occur to me. Unfortunately, I am already financially committed at this point and cannot reconsider. Lost opportunity, I’m sure.

      As for your F-150, if you’re weighed in as within your specs for GVWR, GCWR, trailer GVWR and tongue weight limits with your type of hitch, you are good to go, arn’tcha? Optioned-up F-150s are pretty stout and a very good value for the money. Towing/hauling specs per model year are easily checked out online, and I think you’re within reach for cargo load but a little optimistic on towing versus the F-250. You appear to be limited to a 10,500-pound trailer as long as you have a required 4.10 axle, or 9,500 without. The 2008 F-250’s hitch receiver limits it to 12,500 pounds, or 15,700 using a fifth wheel. Most likely, the difference is a drivetrain designed to take 650 foot-pounds of torque.
      How’s that speed control working for you, hauling up and down those mountain passes on the Interstate with the TT and those rocks? 🙂

  7. Welcome to the Truck Camper world, I will be anxious to see what mods you make.
    I have already duplicated your Defiant solar ‘setup’ , with an option of placing the panels out in the sun when I am parked in the shade.

    • Thanks David, great to be here! I’m afraid that as a serious restorer and modder, the mods to the Intrepid will be a bit of a snoozer for you. Few in number, and pretty much bolt-on, stick on. But, they may amuse, as you watch the mod train derail on something I overlooked! Keep reading, as I may need you to bail me out at some point or other.

  8. My hard side camper came with a queen bed in the cab-over. I replaced it with a memory foam twin and fit 3 35 gallon Sterlite tubs (the kind with the snappable cover tops) in the area the other half of the queen used to occupy. It increased my interior storage by at least 30%.

    Glad to see you modify my truck camper suggestion to your own needs!


    • That’s the beauty of a hard-side – the ability to dump stuff onto the bed area and leave it there! Not quite that easy in a pop-up, but I suppose if you’re willing to toss the bins on the floor up onto the bed when setting up camp, you now have an aisle and seats, huh?

      John, I took your truck camper suggestion so much to heart that I delayed my order two weeks and then finally followed through a week before you wrote it to me! 😉 As I told reader David with his Armadillo TC, I guess great minds do think alike. That must be it.

  9. Linda Sand on said:

    20 gallon fresh water but nothing about gray water. Where does the sink drain to?

    • That’s the “Adventure” part, Linda!! It doesn’t! Seriously, the sink drain leads to an external garden hose fitting port on the outside of the camper’s sidewall. Common practice is to set out a jug or bucket under that port and attach a short length of hose to drain. Where allowed, it can be run to ground. Naturally, my plans will not be to follow common practice, as I can only rarely leave well enough alone.

  10. Paul k on said:

    I think your very detailed research produced a winner with the Granby pop-up choice! Will you still be able to set up a computer work station? Will you be able to shower inside? I’m glad to see the Aurora has been working out well for you. I’m really enjoying mine. I’ve upgraded the brakes to Avid BB-7’s and fabricated a mounting bracket in order to mount a really nice double-leg center stand. Best wishes to you for safe and enjoyable travel. Take care.
    Paul K

    • Thanks very much for chiming in, Paul. If you have the energy, then I have to ask: why the brake upgrade, and how’s it working out? I’m not a big fan of the stock kickstand due to limited reach on a top-heavy bike, but let me know how that double-leg works out, and whether it has a chance off-pavement.

      As for the Granby, apart from sitting crossways along a bench seat with a laptop, the dinette table is about it for a workstation. It’s a far cry from the Defiant’s full studio conversion. But it should work, if I can get my feet up for periods. The laptop will also have to do double duty as the movie player, since jamming the Defiant’s 28″ flatscreen TV in there is not going to work – unless maybe it can do double duty as the dinette table top! An inside shower is actually an option for the Granby, but I did not include it on my order. It’s very clever, but out of my financial grasp and I’m not sure I’d want to live with it long-term. So in those times that I don’t have access to some camp or public coin-op shower, all the world shall revel in my glory.

      • Paul Kastriades on said:

        There were 2 main reasons for my decision to upgrade the disc brakes: 1.Where I ride, there are some really steep, fast downgrades with lots of curves. The BB-7’s have much bigger brake pads. I like all the non-fading brake power I can get! 2. The BB-7’s have adjuster wheels for each brake pad. Makes proper pad adjustment a snap. The double-leg center-stand (Pletscher ESGE) solidly supports the Aurora on dirt trails as well as on the hard. Much better in the wind too. In addition, when on the stand, the bike can be tilted fwd to raise the rear wheel high enough for removal. No need to lay the bike down or somehow flip it over to fix a flat. I’d send you some photos (I found a really nice hitch-mount carrier also!) if I knew how to attach them. Hope we run into each other some day!
        Paul K

        • Should you find yourself in a position where you wish to shower in the woods whilst concealing your glory, try a sunshower with a tarp rigged around it, perhaps hanging from an obliging tree. They work great.

          • Thank you, Dawn. Yep, those are very popular, as are rigged-up shower curtains. Privacy is about the only shower-related loose end I’ve left open, which is why I joked about it. But it’s not for lack of options to choose from. Trees are usually not available where I boondock, and lifting a full bag overhead isn’t primo either. A rope over a limb works, but well, I’d prefer not to rope-burn bark or snap branches off. From what I’ve picked up from others using the SunShower, it heats water very well, works decently as a shower head, and doesn’t last all that long. It’s a fine, inexpensive camping solution, but for long-term frequent use, it leaves something to be desired. I’ll post about the alternative approach I’ll be taking before too long.

        • If they’re a direct bolt-in, I’ll have to keep that in mind as an option for the future. This 2-1/2 mile-long runaway downhill has me wondering, and my simple trail exploration uses a lot of brake, but they haven’t changed much since my first readjust at about 1,200 miles.

          The Pletscher sounds especially nice since decently cleaning or lubing the chain on a NuVinci-equipped one requires getting the rear wheel off the ground at the least, and preferably pedaling. I have to hang it on an old bike rack on the rear of the TT, which doesn’t work all that well.

          Though a kickstand adapter in metal is out of my reach these days, seeing what you made and how it works out would be inspirational. If you would, just email what you’d like to strollingamok at gmail dot com. Actually, both of those improvements would be worthwhile to post as an article, since I can’t be the only Aurora owner to be un-enthralled at its kickstand, and many owners seem to be in chilly, hilly Colorado. If you’re interested, just either write up how-what-when-where-why, with any photos, or just flub out what you would want other owners to know about either/both mods, and I can write it up. Technically, your last comment here will very nearly do as a core of info, but I think you’d have more to say once you started looking over your pictures. I mean, what made you decide to have a go with replacing the kickstand at all? – Especially one which “does not fit”? If you have no interest in my posting your pics, that’s fine. I’d still like to see them if you can email them over.

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