Monday, June 11, 2012

Our new camper!

Well, after over a year of research and looking for used campers, some false starts and quite a bit of learning from the WTW and ExPo forums, we are finally the happy owners of a new camper built for us by the good guys at All Terrain Campers. ATC was great to work with and delivered the camper at the agreed upon time and price. Post purchase support has been great too. We picked it up in Sacramento and enjoyed a nice initial shakedown trip on the way home.

Here is a link to a post about things we've done to the camper during the first year of ownership: )

Here is a link to a post on the truck and camper weight:

Here is a link to a post on the second battery installation:

Here are the basics:

Some background:

My wife and I are recently retired. We have always been campers with most of our travels based on a canoe as our mode of transport (we do live in Minnesota after all). We have spent most of our camping time in the BWCA wilderness or on rivers. With retirement, we wanted to expand our horizons. We wanted to treat the truck like our canoe and use it to go places most people don’t.

 We chose a Toyota Tacoma Access cab with the Off-Road TRD package for its reliability, off-road capability and smaller size. The access cab provides room for the dog and the long bed with a shorter wheelbase. The truck is stock with the rear suspension TSB upgrade and D-rated truck tires. We are used to carrying everything we need in our canoe so we are comfortable with spartan arrangements and weight limits. We like to cook outdoors and spend most of our time outside when we are camping. The camper is a place to carry our gear, hang out in comfort when the weather is bad and to get a good night’s sleep.

Storage compartment on driver's side.

We settled on ATC because their quality is good and they were willing to make some changes to their design to make it work better for us. We wanted a basic shell with a few options. The primary change we made was in dimensions. We made the camper narrower and shorter to fit the truck better. We reduced the height of the lower part of the camper to make the cab-over gap less and increased the height of the pop-up to make up for the lost height.

Propane cabinet on passenger's side.

We added an exterior storage compartment for truck related gear like leveling blocks, tiedowns, tools, compressor and recovery equipment.

I wanted the weight forward and low as much as possible so we planned for the propane and storage to be in the front. We wanted the propane on the passenger side to be convenient for cooking.

In the back seat, I removed the jump seats and made a padded platform for the dog. Sometimes we carry a Front Runner foot-well water tank. When the tank is installed, we just use a sheet of thin plywood over the tank for the platform. We made a cushioned pad over that and put a rug on that.

I built a platform for Rocky after removing the jump seats.
There is room under the platform for storage.

Platform made out of plywood and covered with carpet.
Footwell water tank.

Plywood over the tank.
A pad and a rug over the plywood. Pillows keep Rocky away from the doors where his feet can slip down. He likes to rest his head on them.

I installed the auxiliary battery in the engine compartment to keep the weight forward and to make maintenance and charging easy. I used the IBS system which was easy and works well.

Auxiliary battery.
IBS battery management system.
Water tank under the dog platform.

Simple interior.

Inside, we have a storage bench and window on each side. This arrangement gives us plenty of space to relax at night or in bad weather, even with the bed extended. Under the bench at the rear, the furnace is on the driver’s side and a space to store a porta-pottie is on the passenger’s side. My plan is to design some shelves that will live under the bench cushions and be able to be easily installed above the benches to serve as work counters if we want to cook inside or do other work that requires a work surface. The refrigerator will be mounted on the floor under the cab-forward window between the cabinets. If necessary it will be possible to sleep in the lower section with the top down by using the shelves for a platform between the benches with foot space over the fridge.

We have all LED lights, four 12-volt outlets and a shore power connection with one outlet. I have a battery charger wired into the camper that can use shore power to charge the battery. We had the camper wired for solar but don’t anticipate installing that until we are sure we need it. I installed a 120v outlet in the cab to run the computer and other gadgets wired to the built-in inverter (we use the computer with Mac GPS Pro for navigation in the back country and a Garmin for road navigation). I plan to make an access port to reach the outlet in the truck bed from the camper for the same purpose.

I made a computer desk out of a cutting board.
120 volts for the computer.

Other options include fuel can carriers, Yakima tracks, the arctic pack, jacks, fantastic fans and LED floodlights. We also got the motion detector Star Light that I learned about on WTW (shout out to Overland Hadley for all the information he has posted and to many others as well for their ideas that I have liberally and gratefully used).

Our trip home took us through Nevada, Salt Lake City, Wyoming, the Bighorns and South Dakota. We had some nice camp sites and some good back road exploring. The truck performed great with the camper on and loaded with gear and passengers. There is still excess capacity in the suspension. I was thinking I would have to upgrade the springs but so far I am thinking we are good with what we have- the benefit of traveling light.

Some random pics:

San Francisco- driving and parking in the city is easy- one of the reasons we wanted a small truck.

Rocky's first visit to the ocean (Morro Bay)- he took a big gulp of seawater like he does in the lakes at home- got a big surprise!

Rye Patch Reservoir in Nevada
The road to nowhere.

Crazy Woman Canyon Road

Crazy Woman Canyon Road in the Bighorns. It got cold there- 42 degrees in the camper in the morning. There was still snow in the campground. Brilliant me forgot to fill the propane tank before we left so we couldn't use the furnace. We were fine in our sleeping bags but the dog got cold as he has already lost his winter coat. We left a day sooner than planned to get some propane. Kind of a bummer because the area was pretty nice and we wanted to take a hike into the Cloud Peak wilderness. Oh well- always leave something for next time.

Bear Butte in South Dakota

All the comforts of home...

 Sunset at Lake Louise in South Dakota

Thanks for reading. We look forward to many years of travels with our camper.


  1. Nice rig! Saw your post on WTW.

  2. I have just recently found your blog. My husband and I are also recently retired and are just getting started. We want to travel with our dog , but have had lots of advice regarding National Parks and the fact they don't accept pets. Can you comment on your experience? When you go for hikes, do you take Rocky? Thanks

  3. Hi Sherry, thanks for checking out our blog. Unfortunately, for the most part, National Parks are not very dog friendly in our experience. Most parks allow dogs in campgrounds and elsewhere on a limited basis and you can see many of the attractions by leaving your dog in the vehicle for short periods. This of course does not work when the weather is warm. We have used a variety of work-arounds, from trading off staying with the dog, to doing hikes early in the day when it is cool. There are often dog boarding facilities near the parks- something to check out. We have not done this yet, but I can see doing it at some point. There is lots of information online. Search in conjunction with the park you are planning to visit. We love taking our dog along and find plenty of places other than National Parks where we can hike with him. Good luck and have fun camping!

  4. When you say you removed the jump seat in the Tacoma-does that mean that you removed both the bottom and the seat asks if the rear seat or just the bottom? Not being familiar I can not for sure tell if what I am looking at are the seat backs or what is behind the seat backs post removal thx for your assistance-Reggie (the hubby of Sherry
    who asked the question above)

  5. I removed the seats and the headrests. I left the seat back which is the finish cover for the metal wall of the cab.

  6. Crazy Woman Caynon drive is very nice, have been there every year the past 4. If you are ever back there and want a break from the camper try one of the Forest Service Cabins in the BigHorns outside of Buffalo...secluded, quiet, cheap.

    1. We enjoyed Crazy Woman Canyon and Bighorns quite a lot. Cabins sound great. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Hey there,

    I've been reading through your posts. Thank you so much for all of the great information and fun stories!

    Your camper and truck are beautiful. This is essentially the exact setup I've been looking for. What kind of MPG do you find yourself getting on the road? Do you think you will ever considering selling your rig in the future?

    Thank you :)

    1. Thanks for your comments. We like the setup too!

      As for mpg, we usually get between 16-17 mpg but it can vary quite a bit depending on terrain, wind and speed. Driving slower has a huge positive impact on mpg. I think our best has been 20-21 mpg. Overall, mpg is not as good as I wish but we can live with it.

      I don't imagine we will sell the truck and camper anytime soon. We like it quite a lot.