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.
Everpure Water Filtration System:
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.
Yakima 50″ Wind Fairing:
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.
Thank you for the new post! Eagerly awaiting part 3. I am in planning stages now as I am just 650 days from freedom and a full pension at 55. My bride has signed on for a truck camping life following retirement and is looking forward to it as well. A new or newish FWC figures prominently in our plans and we are now waiting for the perfect one to come along.
Safe and Happy Journeys!
I think you’re gonna love the tuck camping life. I know we are! With a full pension funding your adventures your options will be endless. Best of luck searching for your FWC. If you haven’t already, check out http://www.wanderthewest.com/forum/ It’s a great community with tons of info on truck campers and exploring. Expedition Portal and Truck Camper Magazine are great too.
Wow, the “bionic camper;” did it cost $6 million? A lot of work, but I know you are enjoying it now!
we found a Groupon so it was only $3 Million.
How did your fix the arb awning to the camper? Did you bolt through? If yes, how? I have a similar camper and awning.
We used a combination of bolts (2) and 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 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.
Useful information. I travel North America full time in an RV – it’s endless the stuff you can do to these things!!
Thanks John! Yes, so true. Maybe we’ll see you on the road one day. Safe Travels!
Nice work on the many mods to your camper.
You may want to read about the Carbon Monoxide/Propane detector. It is not the CO2 that you mention but CO. Your CO2 exhalation is not what the detector is capable of measuring. Carbon Monoxide is from incomplete combustion of a burning hydrocarbon such as propane. A large burner flame against a large cold pot bottom creates the most CO. Running the fan on exhaust while cooking and allowing air to enter from a lower region moves the products of combustion outside effectively.
Also, propane is a heavy gas relative to air and tends to start “puddling” on the floor before building up to higher levels. Propane detectors should be placed low near the floor.
Thanks Dennis. You’re totally right! We’ve updated the post.
Really like what you have done to your camper. I have an Eagle on a Tacoma and just purchased an ARB awning to mount like yours. Could you elaborate a little more on how you did the self-tapping screws. I can’t figure out how you aligned them from the awning into the camper or did you drill from the camper into the awning.
Hi Dave. Our self tapping screws are from the outside (awning side) going into the camper wall. It was a bit tricky because the awning has to be out/deployed to access the inside of the mounting rail. First we pre-drilled holes through both sides the hollow awning rail with a drill bit slightly smaller than the diameter of the screws. Then with the awning still out (awkward) we held up the rail & bag to a pre-marked spot on the camper and used self-tapping screws through the pre-drilled holes and into the side of the camper. We did not pre-drill holes into the camper itself and the self-tapping screws went in easily. We also used a dab of the 3M 4000 and small split-lock washers on each screw to help with vibration. Both the bolts and screws are round head so they don’t rub the awning material. Hope this helps!
Thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly. Your explanation really helps a lot.
Installing it deployed must have been fun. I’ll definitely get help.
If you don’t mind one more question what size bolts and screws did you use.
Unfortunately, I looked back through all my prep/supply notes and couldn’t find a reference to the sizes we used. We are also away from the camper at the moment. If I remember correctly I measured the width of the ARB mounting rail and then estimated the width of the camper skin/insulation/frame, and used that combination to determine how long the screws should be without piercing the interior of the camper. I added the width of the floating cabinet wall to choose an appropriate bolt length. I chose screw/bolt diameters sufficient for strength but not too large. Sorry that I don’t have the actual sizing we used.
Did you paint the roof of your camper if so what paint and Method Did you use?
We scrubbed the roof really well with dish soap to remove any oils and then spray painted with glossy white Rustoleum (oil-based enamel) paint. I believe I put on about 3 light coats letting each dry in between applications.
Good info. My wife and I retired and we’re pulling a 23’ travel trailer and we are now in the process of buying a four wheel hawk Shell Model.so we will be adding a lot to make it home on the road.
I was wondering with all the add ons you did what is the weight of your camper? And how close are you to your payload rating?
How does your truck handle with the camper ?
Hi Anthony. I don’t know the weight of the camper itself but we were weighed before taking a ferry in Mexico and were right at our GVWR. This was FULLY loaded with extra crap we ended up ditching, full propane, gas, water and beer of course. So I don’t believe we were ever over GVWR during the trip. We made it a point to keep our setup light and decided against a lot of heavier add-ons like steel bumpers, a winch and rock sliders. The upgraded Bilstein shocks and Super Springs also kept the rear stable. Overall the rig performed perfectly south of the border and I’d choose the same setup to do it again. In the U.S. however, the Tundra’s 4.7 is under-powered above 65 mph w/ the camper on.