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Truck Camper Round-Up

February 24, 2004
Filed under Feature Stories

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The truck camper market certainly isn’t what it used to be, and that’s probably a good thing. While the number of manufacturers has certainly dwindled in recent years, those who are left certainly aren’t lacking in ideas. It wasn’t long ago when the thought of an onboard slide-out was akin to crazy talk. Now entire walls are moving in and out. More than a few manufacturers unveiled their 2004 offerings exclaiming that they were no longer building units without them. Can double slide-outs in truck campers be far behind

Models with basement storage are everywhere, too, while aluminum construction is going high tech. Perhaps one day we’ll remember how they all used to build with wood and have a good chuckle. And what about the choices of onboard equipment found in truck campers now? Is it just me, or does it seem that the list of standards and options has become almost endless?

I guess truck campers are no longer just for solo, outdoor-adventurer types, particularly when you can now get a queen-size inner-spring mattress and a good-sized, flat-screen TV with a DVD player onboard. We rounded up a selection of our favorites from some top truck camper manufacturers. These examples are typical of the still utilitarian, but amenity-filled products available on dealer lots for 2004

CABIN A TRUCK CABIN FREEDOM
With the larger of the two models tipping the scales at only 500 pounds, the unit is undeniably lightweight. The Freedom was created to fit everything from compact to full-size truck beds. The camper even lowers for transit, resulting in a low profile of just under 30 inches in height, and company literature promises a setup time of less than 30 seconds. If there is such a thing as an aerodynamic truck camper, this is it. The price tag still can’t be beat, considering that the most expensive Freedom model still comes in at less than $5000

Furthermore, its disposition, lightweight and streamlined, should only continue to spare sorrow at the fuel pump as well. True, the interior is rather Spartan, with a 30×76-inch, L-shaped sofa/sleeper dominating the A-frame interior. Insulated walls, a trio of tinted windows, and tracked curtains are standard but not much else. Obviously, Cabin A is of the less-is-more school of thought, embracing a philosophy of letting customers customize their units from a decent list of options that range from air conditioning to a cassette toilet to a choice of refrigerators

Floor lengths: 6’ 5”
Dry weights: 450 or 500 lbs.
Interior heights: 8’ or 8’2”
MSRP: $4165 to $4584
Cabin A; 724/423-7440;
aliner.com

FLEETWOOD ELKHORN
Whereas truck campers were once built with the lone outdoorsman in mind, today the builders design and market these vehicles as yet another starter choice for the small family. As such, a greater emphasis on comfort and livability is now plainly evident. Fleetwood’s 11J Elkhorn model is indicative of the direction of the 21st-century truck camper.

Naturally, it possesses a dinette slide-out and a full bathroom, located in the front. The galley delivers more than just the cooking basics, with a double-door (three-way) refrigerator, double sink, three-burner range, and pantry, all standard. And depending on one’s willingness to snuggle, the unit boasts sleeping for up to four. The roof is rubber (EPDM), and the siding is fiberglass.

Once upon a time, storage was reserved to what travelers could squeeze in a drawer here or a compartment there. This dated thinking is now just that, as witnessed by the 11J’s aforementioned pantry, four wardrobe closets, pair of hampers, and — drum roll, please — basement storage complete with slide-out compartments. Other niceties include mini-blinds, exterior shower (believe me, you won’t want to be dragging mud inside this unit), 20,000-BTU furnace, 60-gallon LP tank, cabover reading lights, and an aluminum bumper complete with fold-down steps. Assuming the 11J doesn’t fit the bill, Fleetwood offers six other Elkhorn floor plans, as well as others in their Elkhorn LT and Elkhorn Trophy lineups

Floor lengths: 8’ 7” to 11’ 7”
Dry weights: 2262 to 3236 lbs.
Interior heights: 6’ 7” or 6’ 9”
MSRP: $9600 to $18,800
Fleetwood RV; 800/444-4905;
fleetwoodrv.com

LANCE SLIDE-OUT 1161
From the largest-selling builder of truck campers comes something a little different — a side-door entry model. It, of course, also offers a slide-out dinette, too, but that’s just about standard these days. The model 1161 truck camper from Lance is the company’s most spacious offering, with a dry bath, huge galley (includes three-way refrigerator, three-burner high-output range, microwave oven and double white sinks) and a driver’s side slide-out. A Lance exclusive is the luxurious leather-like, wrap-around, U-shaped sofa bed that can be ordered as an option to fill the slide-out.

Wood-framed, topped with a one-piece sheet of aluminum, and sided with Filon fiberglass exterior walls, the Lance 1161 offers a long list of standard equipment. Niceties such as an insulated holding tank cover, dual LPG tanks with automatic changeover, in-line water filter, six-gallon auto-relight hot water heater, forced-air furnace with auto ignition and thermostat, and a 45-amp converter are included.

If you’re going to camp in cold weather a lot, you can order the All Weather Package. This option group includes a front cabover storm window, insulated escape hatch, roof vent and bathroom skylight covers, additional cabover insulation, insulated battery and LPG tank compartments, a water heater bypass/winterizing valve system, and ducted heat to the holding tanks.

The real big news from Lance, though, is its “Project X” (as we’ve dubbed it) camper. We got to see the prototype behind a black curtain (we practically had to be finger printed, and an FBI report run before admission). All we can say at this time is that truck camper fans will be happily surprised at the new direction Lance is going with its next generation of products for 2005. We should be able to offer a complete test and review sometime this summer

Floor length: 11’ 11
Dry weight: 3495 lbs.
Interior height: 6’ 10”
MSRP: $22,239
Lance Camper Mfg. Corp.; 661/949-3322;
lancecamper.com

LAREDO SC
Northstar is a family- owned and -operated business located in the Heartland of America (Cedar Falls, Iowa); and it builds a variety of truck campers (pop-ups as well as solid-wall) for all sizes of pickups. One of the company’s hard-sided campers that recently caught our attention is the Northstar Laredo SC. It’s narrow, light and self-contained. With an overall body width of 7 feet, weighing under 1800 pounds and stocked with valuable standard equipment, this unit is perfect for the outdoorsman who doesn’t want to overload his light-duty truck and wishes to save capacity for towing a fishing boat.

Construction is premium plywood and pine boards for floors, walls and cabinets. The joints are glued, stapled and then screwed together. Corners are wrapped in galvanized steel. Styrofoam insulation is cut and hand-fitted into the voids for superior insulation.

The Laredo SC model comes equipped standard with a 4-cubic-foot, three-way refrigerator; 16,000-BTU auto-ignition furnace; three-burner stovetop; 30-gallon fresh water tank; interior shower with cassette toilet; 32-amp converter with charger; 20-pound LPG tank; walk-on, rubber-topped roof; innerspring mattress; and interior and exterior 110-volt outlets.

However, there are some options that really make the Northstar hard-walled camper a standout. Chief among them is the insulated window package that gets you a one-piece pane filled with argon gas. Thermal conduction is cut to a minimum in extreme hot or cold temperatures, the special windows have built-in screens and shades, and they can be opened fully for maximum airflow. You can also order your Laredo SC with options such as an outside shower, heated water tank, microwave oven, roof AC, side and rear awnings, an extended cabover with side cabinets, insulated cabover windows and fiberglass sidewalls.

Floor length: 8’ 4”
Dry weight: 1710 lbs.
Interior height: 6’ 4”
MSRP: $11,795
Northstar; 319/233-3461;
northstarcampers.com

ARCTIC FOX (NORTHWOOD)
When the Arctic Fox truck camper debuted four years ago, the notion of slide-outs in a truck camper was still slightly radical. Today, slide-outs are a mainstay on each and every model they make, now propelling the entire curbside wall — and dinette, galley and wardrobe — out into the world. In fact, slide-outs are so standardized throughout the company brand that it is currently readying a wave of new floor plans without a single slide-out. How’s that for retro.

Extended roominess aside, it’s the Arctic Fox’s four-season, go-anywhere disposition that the company continues to champion. Obviously, you can’t have a name like Arctic Fox and shy away from cold climes and off-the-track diversions. As such, the camper is prepped for any occasion. Beefed-up holding tanks (46-gallon fresh, 35 gray, and 40 black on most models), heated basements, 3-inch foam roof insulation, freeze-resistant water lines, and 20,000-BTU furnaces were added so the camper can hold its own when the going gets rough.

Intriguing options include satellite dish, CD player, air conditioner, storm windows, Onan generator, 50- or 100-watt solar panels, and electric camper jacks. The Arctic Fox’s biggest coup for 2004 is the added interior height carved out of the bedroom. Engineers sank the cabover portion slightly in order to add 2 more inches of clearance, which may not sound like much until you actually bunk there for a night. The exterior graphics also are new, as is the LP connection that runs to the outside of the camper. What for, you ask? For the optional RVQ grill, of course. Remember, we’re roughin’ it here, people.

Floor lengths: 8’ 6” to 11’ 5”
Dry weights: 2887 to 3243 lbs.
Interior heights: 6’8”
MSRP: $20,322 to $25,932
Northwood Manufacturing; 800/RON-NASH;
nashtraveltrailers.com

STARCRAFT PINE MOUNTAIN
Given that Starcraft RV just started building truck campers again, the venerable manufacturer now invites consumers to see its softer side. The result is the new Pine Mountain lineup and its six models for 2004. Built for the warm-weather traveler, the Pine Mountain is an airy mix of Aqualon-7 tent fabric and screened windows and door, which guarantee you’ll never miss a single summer breeze. Filon sidewalls and fiberglass roof create the unit’s foundation. (Don’t worry, the unit zips up and the 18,000-BTU furnace stands ready if those breezes should be of the more chilly variety). The company’s exclusive E-Z lifter system minimizes the pains of setting up the camper for occupancy, particularly since the crank operation is performed from the outside rather than squirming about the interior.

Common among the six floor plans is a small galley (three-burner stove, sink, three-way refrigerator), cabover bed, table, and generous storage. The variables are your choice of a U-shaped lounge, gaucho or sofa. The Starmate model is the lone standout in terms of offering a full wet bath.

Floor lengths: 6’ 8” to 9’ 3”
Dry weights: 1201 to 1695 lbs.
Interior heights: 6’ 6”
MSRP: $6317 to $8364
Starcraft RV; 800/945-4787;
starcraftrv.com

WESTERN RV ALPENLITE LIMITED SERIES
After hearing a particularly rousing solo from his drummer, Vegas lore has it that Frank Sinatra turned to the audience and said, “There’s something to be said for sticking with a thing.” After 32 years of Alpenlite designs, Western RV should fetch similar kudos, particularly when one notes the venerable truck camper’s eight varied models with their welded aluminum frames, booth-style dinettes/sleepers, and 60×80-inch beds.

Three floor plans offer a slide-out, which unveils an additional 32-cubic feet of found space. Looking at this year’s new additions, it appears the Yakima, Washington, manufacturer isn’t done yet. Two new floor plans, both designed for short truck beds, include the 9-foot Sarasota 930 (complete with basement storage, wardrobe closets, and Flexsteel roll-over lounge with — gasp! — a footrest) and the 9-foot Sarasota 935, a similar floorplan only with a facing dinette slide-out room.

Designers hope the three new interior designs and Western Maple stained wood help create a lighter, homier feel onboard. Karadon solid surface countertops and sink covers are now standard issue. Cabinetry hardware has gone the route of a stained nickel finish. An optional skylight can be yours in any of the Alpenlite’s four dry bath models; a dinette skylight is offered in two other models.

Floor lengths: 8’ 6” to 11’ 4”
Dry weights: 2104 to 3363 lbs.
Interior heights: 6’ 6” or 6’ 8”
MSRP: $16,281 to $22,591
Western RV; 800/777-4133;
wrv.com

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