Our Tiny Home – Four Wheel Camper
Most couples our age have purchased a first home and spend their weekends browsing Lowe’s and Home Depot for the latest and greatest HGTV projects. We, on the other hand, purchased a four wheel camper (popup camper) that has the the square footage of a large rubbermaid storage bin. We still visit home improvement stores, but wander about with an odd list of tasks to complete. “Can we use a weed sprayer as a shower?” “What kind of screen will keep out the Tarantula Hawks in Mexico??”
Surprisingly, we found an endless list of projects for such a tiny space and decided that our lack of experience wouldn’t stop us from performing tasks usually fit for qualified electricians and the like. As usual, we read a bunch of forums, watched a bunch of YouTube videos and then tried our luck with the type of overzealous confidence that usually results in Pinterest-fails..
Four Wheel Camper – Maintenance
If you’re lucky enough to find a used four wheel popup camper for sale, you may want to spruce it up a bit. I still haven’t decided whether building out a new popup camper shell or restoring and improving an older version is more work. Here’s some of the restoration and mods we completed prior to moving into our Hawk Four Wheel Camper full time. After two+ years on the road we still love it!
Preparing ‘our new home’ for life on the road was tedious with a perfectionist behind the wheel. We managed to remove every damn screw in our truck camper and re-caulk each one. In addition, we removed and re-caulked all of the seams, holes and anything that ‘didn’t look right’. And of course we had to do it on some of the hottest, most humid days of the year! As much as I complain I’m sure I’ll be thanking him when we don’t have water dripping on our heads in the middle of the night.
303 Aerospace Protectant:
It’s says ‘Aerospace‘ so it’s gotta be good, right? We first heard of this product on the WanderTheWest forums and it’s proved to be a valuable investment. It protects the vinyl on our popup camper from sun damage, cracking and fading.
Paint Underside of Camper:
Repainted the plywood underside of the four wheel camper with a fresh coat.
Trim Bottom Edges & Rubber Mat:
Campers for trucks / slide-in campers take a lot of abuse on the road so a rubber mat helps to absorb the shocks and keep it in place. In addition, our hawk four wheel camper is a tight fit in the Tundra and loading can be precarious. We added heavy duty trim to the bottom corner edges of the camper to protect the wood during loading and unloading.
4 Wheel Camper – Interior Mods
The 4 wheel camper icebox cabinet had a teeny-tiny drawer that didn’t begin to utilize the actual available space. To maximize our storage we converted the space above the fridge into a locking flip-top cabinet.
With 1,000+ projects to complete before departure, I decided to craft a cork board for our four wheel camper. Josh wasn’t happy at first, but later realized it’s awesome and serves a purpose! The cork board covers the hole left by the old drawer on the flip top. I knew drinking all that wine would pay off…
To help insulate the truck camper we purchased and cut Reflectix to fit each of the windows. It’s about $25/roll and can be purchased at any home improvement store. It is easily removable but we tend to leave it in the windows to add a little pizzazz and deter would be thieves. We also lined/insulated some of the exterior access panels and the back of cabinets with Reflectix.
Our 4 wheel camper came stock with the type of laminate flooring you had in your first college apartment so we decided to cover it with a rubber bottomed utility rug/carpet. We traced the floor and cut it to size. The rug fits our four wheel camper perfectly, provides insulation and can be easily removed and shaken out.
Cell phones, laptops, Ipods, Ipads, fans, etc. etc. etc. The 1 existing outlet wasn’t cutting it so we wired and installed a couple more below the thermostat and monitors in our four wheel camper. UPADTE: We installed *these* but we’d suggest installing *these* instead. The Blue Sea version uses better wire/connections and provides stronger amperage.
12v Fridge Install: Isotherm Cruise EL 65 w/ Smart Controller
A fridge for my beer and wine. 🙂 yippee!
UPDATE: When used in conjunction with solar charging, the smart controller tends to get “confused” and go into cold storage mode a little too often. This creates fluctuations in the internal temperature and inconsistent draw. Very high altitude also seems to affect these units (12,000ft +). Since we are often above 12K ft and use solar almost exclusively for power we have turned all the dip switches to the off “0” position. This has provided a more consistent/low draw for us. We still recommend this fridge as it is one of the most efficient front loaders on the market and has handled overlanding in the sweltering heat of Central America as well as freezing temperatures and camping at 16,000+ ft in South America.
You pay more up front but the cost savings and efficiency of LED lights are definitely worth it when running on solar.
Warm White LED – Roof Fixtures *Link* (We prefer these vs. bright white).
Install Screen Door Bar:
It’s a simple yet handy add-on and makes closing and opening the door easy-peasy.
Plastic Edging on Cabinets:
Camp set-up and take down was causing wear and tear on the cabinet edging. Plastic trim/edging has helped to prevent chips and cracks.
Trace / Label Camper Wiring:
Lots of wiring in our tiny four wheel camper so we needed to figure out where it all went.
Install CO / Propane Detector:
Replaced the outdated CO detector with a new, combined Propane/CO Detector. Safety first kids!
UPDATE: Above 14,000 ft + cold temperatures the CO detector goes off occasionally when we are sleeping. At normal altitude this never occurs.
Repaint Old Hardware:
All those hours of HGTV paid off. We made a few cosmetic improvements to the 2005 four wheel camper.
Paper Towel Holder:
A simple bungee and two mini D-rings installed under the floating cabinet makes for a great paper towel holder. Tip – smash the internal circular roll and use a clothes pin to help with unrolling while driving.
Install Trimetric Battery Monitor System:
The Trimetric measures the power going in and out of our house batteries by reading the flow across a shunt we installed…yep..it’s magic. It’s been great for tracking our solar system, alternator charging, and the draw from each appliance.
Rubber Padding Around Door Frame:
We can’t afford to lose any more brain cells. The more rubber padding the better.
We’ll encounter some very questionable water along the way. Actually, there’s no question about it…some of the water will be straight garbage. We expect to be able to purchase purified drinking water in most areas but also wanted to hold a larger supply of safe water in our 21 gallon built in tank. To accomplish this we will be using the super-chlorination method. Basically, we add chlorine bleach to our water tank to kill the buggers that wanna turn our insides out. The water is then pumped through the Everpure system to remove contaminants and the chlorine.
UPDATE: We have replaced the filters once per year. Two years through Mexico, Central & South America so far with no issues. Highly Recommended. Replacement Canisters *Link*
4 Wheel Camper – Exterior Mods
As mentioned above, we cleaned the trim, replaced screws, re-painted and re-caulked EVERYTHING in addition to:
Solar System Install:
We installed two Renogy 100 watt panels flexible on the roof and a Bogart SC-2030 charge controller inside the camper. These work in conjunction with the trimetric battery monitor to supply our batteries with the proper bulk, absortion, float and finish charges. The flexible panels (4 lbs each) are slightly less efficient than rigid glass panels but the weight savings and low profile were more important. Gotta love having power in the middle of nowhere!
UPDATE: The two flexible panels died within six months. Renogy replaced both under warranty and had great customer service but it was a royal pain in the arse to get the glued down panels off. The two new 100w rigid panels are a bit more efficient and have held up to low branches and a lot of rough road. We still believe the use of the Trimetric TM2030 monitor + the SC-2030 charge controller to be one of the best options. Being able to calibrate our charge voltages/intervals according to the battery manufacturers specs and having a finish stage has really helped with battery longevity.
Foam Pipe Insulation:
We glued foam pipe insulation to the underside of the camper where the overhang meets the truck bed rails. This helps prevent dirt and water from getting down in the crevices, and reduces/slows any camper sway.
The Super Springs, Bilstein shocks and bigger tires added a couple inches to the height of the Tundra. We purchased a WeatherTech hitch step so I can still get in and out of the house after a glass of wine or two. UPDATE – Broke the step clean off doing some off-roading in Cotopaxi National Park – Ecuador. Hoping to have a local shop weld us something new.
In an effort to improve gas mileage and reduce wind resistance and buffeting we installed a ‘half rack’ Yakima roof rack and 50″ Wind Faring. Instead of paying for the entire roof rack system the half rack is 1 cross bar and 2 Q towers to attach a wind fairing. It took some finagling to get the fit and wind noise under control but so far so good!
ARB Awning Install:
We permanently affixed an ARB awning to the four wheel camper. It provides great shade and extends our living space.
Installation – We used a combination of stainless bolts (2) and stainless self tapping screws (10). We drilled two larger holes through both faces of the ARB mounting rail. Then we held the awning in place and marked to drill for these bolts into the camper. Used stainless bolts with neoprene washers (ARB frame side) and large flat washers with nylock nuts (inside the camper.) The flat washers & nuts are hidden within the floating wood cabinet we have in the camper.
We also pre-drilled pilot holes into the ARB mounting rail for the self tapping screws and staggered their placement a bit to avoid creating a weak/break line. In addition, we used 3M 4000 to glue the mounting rail to the camper and also seal the edges and side rail openings. We also mounted our awning slightly lower than others so we didn’t need to relocate the roof latch. We’ve met others that have used more screws and no bolts.
Access Panel Screen:
The access panels provide access to the turnbuckles and mounting points. For additional/constant airflow we covered a picture frame in No-See-Um netting and affixed it to the access panel. This blocks even the smallest bugs while allowing fresh air to enter the camper from within the truck bed.
Truck to Camper Wiring:
Replaced the old camper plug and installed larger gauge wire and a new plug to receive charging from the truck alternator. We used 6 Gauge marine grade wire from West Marine and an Anderson Style Connector.
Reinforced Mounting Points:
The camper is mounted to the truck bed via four turnbuckles which attach to heavy duty eye-nuts located on the camper overhangs. We replaced the original hardware with grade 8 bolts and added steel backing plates to spread out the force.
Our used Four Wheel Camper came with one Optima AGM battery (Bluetop – group 34) After a month of camping we figured we needed a bit more than 55 amp hours so we ordered another from Amazon. The battery arrived with some damage to the casing and when we tried to return it, they gave us a full refund and told us to dispose of it. Instead we slapped that sucker in the camper next to his buddy. It’s working so far but we’ll keep an eye on it. UPDATE: Still working perfect after 2 years on the road.
Yah, we know. Not the most exciting blog post you’ve ever read, but hopefully this information is useful to somebody out there. These type of posts were like gold when we were initially researching for our trip so feel free to ask us any questions if you’re gearing up for a trip of your own.