The caveat to FLATbeds is they generally either limit all the uptravel of your suspension, and/or they mount the camper 4-5" higher (altering center of gravity and offroad performance) tremendously, to get the clearance for the tires.
I knew there had to be a way to keep the camper at close to stock height, and allow full suspension articulation, to be able to take it on the trails I enjoy.
Lots of truck camper folks just stick to fireroad stuff, which is of course perfectly fine, so generally speaking, off the shelf flat beds are fine for many users.
I'm an idiot that likes to go places I probably shouldn't with such a big camper, but......
I contacted my friend Ian at: https://www.wheeleveryweekend.com/and told him my idea.
Being the crazy talented off road fabricator that he is, he immediately came up with some great ideas on how to make this happen.
The first step was to remove my camper and stock bed to see what we were working with and how to proceed. That is kind of an ordeal in itself.
I was a bit hesitant to do that so close to my departure date for my arctic circle trip, but figured getting this completed would make the trip that much more enjoyable so i said "Send It" and we began.
Criteria was keeping the camper as low as possible, and retaining full suspension articulation. Its not complete yet, but it appears he nailed it and the camper may even sit a tad lower than it was.
Below are various stage of the design and build.
When I first got the truck, I installed a simple fiberglass shell and sleeping platform, and although that worked, the more i started doing longer trips, the more I wanted comfort, and better protection from the elements.
I wanted something i could keep loaded, ready to go, had minimal setup/break down time, and that provided protection in all weather extremes.
There's several options for this, but the important caveat was it had to also be able to survive off roading and the trails i like to travel on.
After extensive research, and attending one of their rallys and checking out every single model they make in every size, i decided on a Four Wheel Camper.
They've been around since 1972 and have a cult like following for their durability and long lasting construction.
They come in a ton of different sizes and configuration to fit various needs.
I went back and forth about 50x whether i wanted a shell model (blank canvas to build out myself) or a loaded model with all the bells and whistles.
In the end, I decided I've spent enough time working on things, building things, and such, it was time to just enjoy it.
I ordered a Hawk Front Dinette Model from Rocky Mountain Four Wheel Campers in Colorado with a few custom tweaks and add ons. Chris was amazing, and i was able to pick it up at the factory in Woodland CA.
I've had it a little more than a year, have spent close to 75 nights in it already, and can't even express how happy i am with it.
Sets up and breaks down faster than a ground tent, and more comfortable than my first apartment. Anyone on the fence about a truck camper, I strongly recommend checking out FWC.
I have taken it on many trails in Moab, and the ones I've done before i had it, and I barely know it's there. Then when i get to camp, I pop it up, and have every ammentity i could need, in the middle of no where. Fridge, stove, sink, hot water shower, full size queen bed, and 110V power.
After the sliders were the skid plates. Not many companies offer skid plates for the Tundra, but RCI Offroad, makes some top notch bombproof ones that cover almost the entire under carriage, Love these things, and they've already been "field tested"!
Obviously the camper, bumper, winch, etc... added a bunch of weight.
To compensate for this, I installed the following:
I chose the Tundra as my platform for this build, because of the obvious Toyota Reliability, but also for its size, and ability to lay everything out safely, out of the way, and to sleep in it comfortably. If you're going to be spending a lot of time in something, why not have it comfortable?
This build was done with over 20 years of back country exploring and finding out what works, what doesn't, what is needed, and what is a waste. No attention to detail was overlooked. Each and every mod was done with a reason to improve the platforms usage and reliability.
I believe in buying the best, buying it once policy. If you cheap out on your build, it will almost definitely bite you in the ass later down the road probably leaving you stranded in the middle of no where! "An ounce of prevention saves a pound of headache."
I went through a couple iterations of this build, and now have it where I believe is the most ideal setup for MY needs. I knew my long term goals and planned accordingly.
3 things I knew right off of the bat would be must haves and stay with me throughout the different variations were a large auxiliary batter for accessories, a fridge, and a power inverter.
Again, if you spend the money up front, you will save money down the road "upgrading."
Less than a week after buying the truck from the dealer i removed the rear seats, and started on the auxiliary battery install.
There are lots of options on how to install a second battery. I went with the Power Gate Isolator due to its tried and true reputation being used in military aircraft and vehicles around the world. That and they are local and made right here in San Diego. They are very simple to install, and even have a function where you can connect the batteries via a button on the dash to self jump start yourself in the event your main battery is dead.
If you're going to ask me for dual battery advice, don't even bother if you're using a low end isolator. I've seen enough of them fail, i don't want to be involved with it. This is your vehicles heart and soul, this is the last place you should be cheaping out. The entire system was custom wired by myself using 2 gauge Ancor Marine grade cables and shrink wrap. So far, its been flawless for 80k miles! Do it right, do it once!
Useful Links and Links To Parts I've Used
I was looking for a way to get some external storage and came across a truck Juniper Overland (link to their website below) Built and immediately determined, that was perfect for my needs!
They took a customers F250 with a slide in camper (same model as mine) and put it on a flatbed, and had custom boxes made to fill in the gaps.
In MY opinion, and for MY needs, this is the absolute perfect setup for me. Ample easily accessible storage!!
Here are 2 pics of their build of that project (photos are theirs)
Another very crucial part of any build is increasing the fuel range. The Tundra comes with a stock horribly small 26 gallon fuel tank for a range of about 240 miles. Due to my strong disliking of jerry cans and the dangers they present, i opted to install the 46 gallon replacement tank from Transfer flow! My range is now almost 500 miles on a single fill up! a VERY useful mod! Especially on the Tundra, which is famous for its horrible MPG's.
Custom Utility Storage Bed
After the base / frame, the dual tire swing out, and box support structures were added and some finishing touches were added.
The rear bumper wasn't at all what I had envisioned, but I absolutely love the way it turned out.
Next was the Armor. I've been a Slee Offroad customer over 10 years and have had nothing but amazing results with their armor. The slider choice to use them was a no brainer. They look like simple side steps, but these things are stout!
Quick Test Fit
OFF TO POWDERCOAT
I bought this truck new in 2014, and had been waiting eagerly for ARB to release their winch bumper for it. There's several options for the Tundra for front bumpers.
HOWEVER, the ARB one is the ONLY one certified to work properly with the stock airbags. Having a fused C6/C7 this was crucial for me. I broke my neck once in a car accidents where the airbags saved my life. I wasn't going to bolt something onto my truck that didn't retain the airbag functionality. A lot of folks overlook this aspects of their builds, for each is own, but its a dangerous risk. I do a ton of night driving, so i also added a set of Baja Design's LP9 auxiliary lights to the bumper. For Recovery Duties I installed the Warn Xeon 10k winch with synthetic line and a Factor55 ultra hook.
I opted to run the factory steel wheels for simplicity sake and ease of finding spares and such.
For tires use the E-rated Nitto Terra Grappler G2s and are on my second set. I love these tires and they are the only all terrains with a 50k mileage warranty! They provide a great ride, and stand up to a hell of a lot of abuse!
2014 Toyota Tundra 4x4 Double Cab
Back Country Exploration Camp Rig
My biggest passion is exploring the outdoors, whether on a bike, or in a truck, I just love being outside. I very much enjoy camping, primarily in hard to get to, less populated places.
I like to MOVE when i am traveling/exploring. I am not into the whole get to camp, setup awnings, RTTs, annexes, and ridiculously elaborate kitchen setups, and similar and stay put all weekend. I want to be able to pack up and move in minutes, not hours. The goal is to explore. If i wanted to sit around, i would stay at home and invite my buddies over.
I decided to build up my Tundra to get me to those hard to get places, and have a completely self contained traveling and functional home away from home.
A lot of folks nowadays seem to be building "Everything including the kitchen sink" rigs and throwing around the "Overland" or "Expedition" buzzwoods like they are traveling the world. When in reality, they are just going a few hours away from home, and basically bringing their entire house with them. That's not for me, nor is this build! :)
I strongly believe in almost every single word of this article and highly recommend anyone prepping for offroad adventure read this:
Many folks go to a basecamp, setup huge elaborate kitchens, awnings with spare rooms, etc... This not only takes hours to setup and take down, it also makes you stuck at camp unable to go explore on a whim if you so desire. I do this to explore and find new things. Sitting around camp is cool and fun when the time is right, but generally, i like to be on the move. Nothing wrong with sitting around camp and relaxing all weekend, but generally, that't not for me.
My mindset has been, and always will be the old K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple Stupid. The more things you add, the more things can potentially cause you problems!
This is MY VERSION of what I believe to be the ideal rig for exploring, back country off the grid camping in comfort. As few moving parts as possible, and most importantly, SIMPLE AND FUNCTIONAL!
I will start with the build list and links first, and then detail the whys and hows later on with pics.
I've done 98% of this myself, but for the few things I either can't handle, or don't have the tools, i bring it to Ray Frey Auto Center in San Diego off of Convoy. Miles is the man there, and one of the only people i let touch my rig:
For those that know me from the Expedition Portal as "Boston Mangler" (OG Member #183) you've probably read my dual battery or electric locker installs. That attention to detail is also being used on this build
My following builds that have been covered in Toyota Trails Magazine include:
1999 UZJ100 LandCruiser
1996 FZJ80 Land Cruiser
1997 FZJ80 Land Cruiser
1985 FJ60 Land Cruiser
1976 FJ40 Land Cruiser
1973 FJ40 Land Cruiser
And of course, The 1993 FZJ80 Land Cruiser Baja 1000 race truck.
I'm am often asked for advice on builds and when i try to give my two cents, folks argue about current trends and do the exact opposite. I call these folks "AskHoles" Hahahaha
Some recent "Trends" seem to be taking off like wildfire, and I'm 100% convinced it is for image, and looks more than functionality. People more concerned about impressing their social media followers than having a functional rig.
DONT TAKE THIS THE WRONG WAY: I am 110% all for being prepped and ready for anything, but it pains me to see people dumping $1000 of dollars into unneeded stuff to their rigs to give the "overland" image before they even have a GPS, or an emergency beacon such as the DeLorme inReach, or similar. Come on people. Put down the smart phones, and use some common sense. Your Smartphone should NOT be your lifeline! Folks generally realize this the first time they are stuck in the middle of no where without service and can't ask for help on the gram.
ROOFTOP TENTS: Everyone and their mother has a roof top tent now. In MY OPINION, these are over glorified, over complicated, and MOST DEFINITELY overpriced for what they are. But the market wants them so they are there. The downsides are much more than the upsides. I've had 2 different Eezi-Awn roof tents back in the day when they were first in the US. They take up a lot of valuable real estate. They rob the vehicle of at least 2mpgs (calculated this on 2 different trucks). They are heavy as hell, and totally screw up the vehicles center of gravity for any type of legit off-roading. Packing them up after or during a heavy rain is a freaking nightmare! Yeah, they look cool, if you're into that type of thing, but for all the downsides, i'll pass.
SHORT BEDS: Not a clue why this is all the rage, but majority of the "Overlanding" crowd seems to gravitate to short bed pick ups for their foundations. Then adding lots of stuff on top of it to sleep and such. Start with at least a 6ft bed, and you'll have a comfortable place to sleep right of the bat. Putting your gear, tools etc inside of the bed versus on top of it lowers your center of gravity and improves handling.
GROSS OVERLOADING (and not compensating for it): Even back in the day this was a bizarre trend. Much more so now. Folks going a little mini 3 day trips packing like they are going on a year long African safari. 5 jerry cans of fuel (even though ample gas stations around), 10 gallons of water, etc.... The list could go on for paragraphs. Folks don't realize, each and every item they bolt or strap to their truck is adding weight. Adding weight is in turn, hurting MPGs, making the vehicle harder to get unstuck, and causing more wear and tear on the chasis when actually off-road. Not to mention, all these folks with jerry cans, and other misc farkles bolted all over their truck don't realize they are all projectiles in the event of a roll over. Do you seriously want a fuel can on your roof if you roll over? No need for it! Again, messing with the center of gravity. This can be addressed with proper suspension and drivetrain upgrades, but rarely is. Keep a close eye on your weight and compensate accordingly. 95% of the time, off the shelf components won't cut it.
OVER COMPLICATED and PROBLEMATIC SUSPENSION: One of the biggest advancements since i used to follow this stuff online years ago is all this long travel suspension now. In my last 5 trips, 3 of them have included rolling up to someone broken down with a busted spindle or heim joint on their $5-6k suspension setups, thinking they are Ivan Stewart.
For bombproof reliability and functionality, again, KEEP IT SIMPLE. Old Man Emu suspension has been on all of my trucks, even the race truck, and for those that know me, you know i'm not easy on my stuff. Not one single issue ever, in over 60k dirt miles! Stay away from those fancy bypass shocks and long travel stuff if you're going into the back county!
Now On Instagram!
or.... click the link below:
I added the biggest baddest auxillary battery available with the Odyssey PC 2150. This runs both the fridge and the 2000 watt inverter flawlessy. The inverter is a Xantrex ProSINE 2000 watt, capable of running pretty much anything you could possibly need or want on the trail or at camp!
I found a very slick and OEM looking dual battery gauge from Australia that fits right into the stock opening. I've checked the values with a multimeter and they are spot on!
For the fridge, i went with the ARB 65qt. I have used ARB fridges in 4 other builds, and they are amazingly efficient and durable. A 12v vehicle fridge is also get what you pay for item.
The cheaper units aren't very efficient and consume a ton of precious battery power. Always check the current draw specs when shopping for a fridge. ARB, Engel, and Norcold use the same compressors, and are all great options. Some of the cheaper ones use up to 4x the amount of battery power.
Although I absolutely love the camper, one of the problems I ran into with it was storage. Not the lack of persay, more the accessibility of it.
The camper offers ample storage, but it comes with several downsides.
All of the camper storage is internal. Meaning, you have to open and go inside the camper to get anything. There is no external storage. This became increasingly annoying the more I used it, portable toilet, camp chairs, recovery gear, leveling blocks, etc..
All stuff that gets dirty and then putting it back in the camper in turn gets the camper dirty to the point it requires almost constant cleaning. Although it sounds petty, the least amount of house type chores I have to do on the road the better! Ha!
There are two styles of Four Wheel Campers. The "slide in" style (what i have) that is designed to be used in a normal pickup truck bed, and a "flatbed" style that is made to be used on a flatbed, or a "tray"
Both have their pros and cons. I'll let whoever is reading this, do their own research and assesment of why, as its mostly personal preference / personal needs stuff.