State of the Intrepid – Camper Bed Mounts
“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is a saying that also applies to truck camper mounts. The camper does not wedge tightly into the truck bed, but has plenty of clearance. It’s then effectively strapped down tight to the flat bed surface. In the case of Four Wheel campers, the goal is to keep it pulled fully forward so that slamming on the brakes affects nothing, and keep it centered and otherwise down tight so it can’t shift around. Fortunately for me, the Mighty Furd is wearing a Line-X urethane bed coating that has a rough surface which helps friction. The camper is pretty easy to slip-n-slide on painted metal, but mine took three guys and an incline to coax it to move when it had to be reset in the bed. I recommend any such urethane spray, or a much less expensive full-width rubber mat on the floor only. Plastic bed liners should not be used.
I had some early problems with the camper shifting in the bed, with damage to one adjuster hook caused by slack and the momentum of rocking on a particularly nasty trail. The adjusters were intentionally not locked during the initial installation (to make my own first retensioning go easier), and may have backed off sooner than I anticipated. A free reset and reinstallation did the trick, and the issue has not come up again – though I am now careful to go easy on rocky paths that will cause a rocking motion from side to side. This is much less of an issue with 1/2-ton pickups, where the suspension is not stiff enough to “force” the camper to rock faster than it naturally would and put the camper into launch mode.
I mentioned this difficulty to FWC owner Tom Hanagan at the recent Overland Expo West, and he unhurriedly took the time to explain the brand’s mounting system, and the necessity of checking the mount tension frequently during the first year or so of use. The goal is to keep all of the mounts tight – not so tight that the camper’s structure is overstressed, but tight enough to keep a stout tension. It’s not that the adjusters change by themselves, but that the truck bed’s sheet metal deforms over time until it finally takes a set and bends no further. This deformation is very slight, but is enough to remove proper tension. Allowed to go too loose, the mounts will allow the camper to rock on bad trails, and the resulting rocking momentum of its weight can damage the tensioners, at best. At worst, poor adjustment either way can deform both the bed and the camper structure.
Design-wise, I consider FWC’s mounting system to be a practical and workable approach that suits its niche. The emphasis on mounts and mount adjustment is more due to intended usage than on deficiencies in design: the overall camper’s design is heavily biased toward rough off-road use, and its owners tend to do just that to a greater degree than with heavier, more convenience-oriented truck campers. Other mounting systems could theoretically be grafted in, but I personally wouldn’t advise it because of where stresses are placed and for the ground clearance problems they promote. Stick with the factory setup, recheck the mounts during the first year of use, and enjoy the simplicity and low cost. In my case I need to avoid gung-ho charges on turf that is just as punishing on me and the truck as it is on the camper. That’s not much of an imposition. Sure, all truck campers need mounts checked now and then just for safety’s sake, but since FWC owners are more likely to pound the crap out of their beloved campers, it’s correspondingly more important for them.
For me, the good news is that the F-250’s bed does not appear to deform as much as the common installation in 1/2-ton imports. So far, it doesn’t seem to deform at all, actually. The bad news is that the F-250’s high-rate springs impose a violence that exaggerates rocking forces and makes monitoring mount adjustment just as important as with any other installation. So I may not find the tensioners to need frequent resets, but must still stay on top of checking them in order to avoid too much play and the resulting problems caused by violent rocking and the general punishment imposed by 3/4-ton springs. I’ll be periodically checking mount tension for the life of the combo as a precaution, which is normally not needed. I would expect the aluminum beds in the 2015 F-150 and 2017 Super Dutys to deform more normally and need periodic readjustments for the first year.
A “loose” camper develops one hell of a lot more force on the mounts than a tightly-secured one does. This is not helped by the 75 pounds of solar panels that I’ve mounted to the Grandby’s roof. Checking mount tension is not particularly inconvenient, since all four mounts are accessible through small doors in the camper’s interior. The official regimen is to loosen each, then retighten by hand before adding 1/2-turn with a tool such as a screwdriver, for leverage. Then tighten the locknut. Done. The lazy-butt way is to reach in, grab the adjuster firmly, and try to force it to twist slightly. If it refuses to pivot even a little, the mount is still tight and can be left alone – but if one of the four does allow any movement at all, it’s best to loosen and reset all four by the book, assuming nothing. This lazy-butt method I mention is my own concoction, not what should be done.
I realize that this post is only of interest if you actually acquire a Four Wheel camper and in particular install it in a 3/4-ton truck, but hey, it has to be part of this series on the Intrepid in order to make it complete! Install it in an upgraded Toyota or 1/2-ton, and you can worry less about going too fast on bad trails and more about keeping up with the bed deformation in the first year. The need for checking tension doesn’t change, but only the reasons behind why you should.
“Adjustable-length gizmo”, a turnbuckle maybe?
Thanks Rob, it is undeniably a turnbuckle, and a stout one. I just forgot the name as I was writing. My alternate was “thingy”.
An adjustable-length gizmo. Is a much more descriptive term then just a turnbuckle
Well, maybe it has more glitz, Joe, like automotive repair technician is to mechanic. A turnbuckle is what you had on your wood-framed screen door. This is a high strength helically-threaded tensioning device. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
“thingy” becomes a very versatile word as one gets older. “whatshis/hername” gets a lot of mileage too.
I could see this fitness to be problematic if one is to routinely remove the camper once at a camping location. I’m thinking all I have to do is back up carefully, refit any attachments, and off I go. Not so?
Dang, Jim, I forgot to mention this way of camping! It has been done with the FWC but is not common, as far as I can tell. To drop it requires removing the turnbuckles (easy), using the four extending jacks to raise it off the truck bed floor, and pulling forward a couple feet to unplug the power cord. Then pull forward to clear. Thing is, FWC campers must have the floor supported in order to be able to walk around inside. For shows, the factory uses two plywood pieces cut so that they can be combined to form an X, and the camper rests on their crossed upper edges. The jacks are left extended to ensure stability. Breaking camp is the reverse, obviously, and each of the mounts is re-tensioned. The jacks come with a power drill attachment to speed things up. I don’t see drop & go as an option for the Intrepid since I’ve loaded some 245 pounds of AGMs on the floor inside the seat benches, which means unloading them before I can even jack up the camper.
Considering the FWC’s relatively light weight and minimal impact on fuel mileage and four-wheeling (0-0.5 MPG drop in my case and much improved rear tire traction), the ease of breaking camp, and the limited freshwater supply and lack of holding tanks, I can see why dropping the FWC camper is not done much. To my way of thinking, most drops are done when the truck camper (or TT, like the Mighty Defiant) is a substantial imposition to the truck and makes frequent trips to town, sightseeing and dump stations a big nuisance compared to running bare. It’s worth the hassle of dismounting and remounting it. With the FWC, maybe not so much. The hassle factor of demounting/remounting is probably about the same, but the difference or net gain of running bare is pretty slim. You obviously have much experience in leaving a truck camper stationary and are much more familiar with the benefits of that style of truck camping. If I were to stay all winter with it in an LTVA or RV park, I’d consider dropping it just to save the effort of clearing counters and dropping the top every time I wanted to go somewhere with the truck, but that’s about it. Since the FWC can be dropped but is not really intended for that style of camping, I think I’d consider gravitating toward the lightest hardside I could find and not try to go quite so deep onto bad turf. The FWC seems more suited to touring with week-long stays way out there, and minimal side trips. If you’re a camper that prefers to plant longer and make lots of side trips here and there every day or every other day, there might be better options if you don’t like breaking camp for every trip out. Basically, if you’re not going to push the envelope of where a truck camper can go, then you needn’t live with the design compromises that it takes to do that. Just don’t overload whatever platform you install it on. I suspect other readers may have better-suited truck camper examples, if they happen to notice this and are willing to volunteer them.