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Alaskan Camper 10′ Non-Cabover

January 6, 2004
Filed under RV & Trailer Reviews, Trailer Reviews

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This is my second Alaskan camper and I really like the fold-down design. With the camper top up (my old Alaskan had a hand crank; the new one is electric), I have full-standing headroom.(I like to stand up in the morning to put my pants on.) With it down, I can park my truck and camper in the carport at home. There is no need to rent storage space in some distant yard.

Although I ordered my Alaskan built specifically for my needs (I usually camp and travel alone or with just one friend), the company builds campers that are suitable for family use, too. Alaskan Camper builds to order only. This provides each Alaskan customer the option to design the interior to best suit his or her needs. I took advantage of that and am pleased with the results.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

I chose the Alaskan Camper 10′ Non-Cabover design for its simplicity, ease of use and better wind resistance. The cabover models increase sleeping accommodations but add little to storage and require additional set-up once the campground is reached. Since I tend not to stay in one place for very long, ease of set-up and preparation for travel are of primary importance.

I didn’t, however, go overboard on accessories. Those options considered mandatory were the Rieco-Titan jacks ($475) and Happijac tiedowns and turnbuckles ($265). Convenience options added were the Norcold 3-cubic-foot refrigerator upgrade at $375 (standard is a 2-cubic-foot Dometic), the wiring and roof support ($125) for an air conditioner to be added later, and a hot-water heater ($295).

The optional water heater that Alaskan offers is a Precision Temp unit that quickly heats water on demand. It’s a great unit, but a tad expensive for my tastes at $795. I opted for a 6-gallon Atwood water heater at less than half the cost. As it keeps water hot even when it is not needed, it probably uses a bit more propane but it also has the advantage of adding to the capacity of the camper’s 27-gallon water supply.

I didn’t order the Thetford Cassette toilet ($555) either, substituting a Thetford Marine Sanitation Device ($185) toilet instead. The marine unit can be used as a self-contained portable head or hooked to an external pump-out fitting, depending on need.

The toilet facilities in an Alaskan are self-contained, and the camper does not have a holding tank for gray water. Dishwater is collected in a separate 5-gallon jug and properly disposed of as required. It was necessary to fabricate an extended bumper sturdy enough for a heavy-duty trailer hitch — this extended bumper will provide support for a gray-water tank in the future for use when camping in the boonies where proper disposal facilities are not available.

Passing on the folding-step option ($195) offered by Alaskan, I instead fabricated a mount for a set of wider steps. It attaches to the extended bumper, slides out of the way for travel and is easy to remove.

SIMPLE SYSTEMS

There are a few 110-volt outlets for use when campground power is available, and an inverter helps keep the batteries fully charged so that the 12-volt lights continue burning brightly. There is no high-pressure hookup to the city water system. You fill the tank and then use the 12-volt pump for running water, eliminating high-pressure plumbing problems and the need for one-way valves.

If the pump fails or the battery runs down, you can still get water out of the system easily through the drain valve at the rear of the camper. I didn’t need or order any sophisticated electrical options; however, I did upgrade the battery from a Series 24 to a pair of Series 27 deep cycle batteries ($125).

FLOOR PLANNING

For the interior arrangement, I chose the side-dinette model because it offered the widest bed. The bed is just fine for one, but a bit cozy for two. The convertible dinette seats have genuine springs, not just upholstered foam rubber pads, and are as comfortable as your sofa at home. The metal-framed seat folds down like a sofa bed to form a bunk. There is storage below and behind the dinette area. The dinette table is small but more than adequate for two, and three could be accommodated in a pinch.

Eliminating the hanging locker on the curbside enlarged the head. I then added a hanging locker at the streetside rear; and to preserve counter space in the galley, opted for a two-burner stove instead of the three-burner unit that took up twice as much counter space. Nearly every RV I have owned has had an oven under the stove, but I never used it. Thus, I gladly noted the additional storage space that replaces an under-the-counter oven on this unit.

One mistake I did make in designing the floor plan was the location of the hot-water heater. I ordered it recessed into the hanging locker— where it takes up too much space. It should have been under the stovetop where some under-counter storage would be lost but the utility of the hanging locker would be much improved. Moving the water heater may be one of my upcoming projects.

ALASKAN TOUGH

Truck campers by Alaskan Campers are known for their utility and durability. Construction is not high-tech, but it is substantial. For an indication of their staying power, visit the classified section of the company’s website (alaskancamper.com) and check out the 20- and 30-year old units that are still in service.

Micro-lam construction highlights the Alaskan — fifteen layers are used to create a truss. Corner joints in the wood framing are reinforced with aluminum angle brackets. The top portion of the camper uses a single sheet of aluminum to reduce the possibility of leaks. Two-inches of sprayed-in urethane foam insulation fill the voids in the framing and add rigidity to the structure. Cabinetry is screwed and glued into place, not stapled, and the finish on the interior panels is Wilsonart resin-impregnated wood — a hard and durable surface.

The fit and finish detailing is Plain-Jane, but well done. There is no fancy scrolling in the woodwork and no attempt to hide hardware. Where a screw does the job better than glue, the screw head is exposed. And the electrical power cord from the bottom section of the camper to the top half is covered in an exposed (and easily serviceable) wiring boot.

Alaskan Campers are designed for extreme weather conditions. Water lines are visible in the head and some storage areas, but won’t freeze in cold weather if the furnace is on. I have had the camper in some cold, high-desert nights with temperatures dropping into the mid-20s. The furnace is a 16,000-BTU forced-air Hydroflame. It may be overkill for the small camper, but takes the chill off a cold interior in a matter of seconds. The camper stays plenty warm and the heater doesn’t cycle on and off very much — an indication to me of the effectiveness of the Alaskan’s insulation.

The 10-foot Alaskan is not a lightweight. Dry weight is listed at 1549 pounds. My unit, loaded and ready for the road, tips the scales at 2080 pounds. Add 300 to 400 more pounds for driver and passenger and you are going to crowd the limits of a 3/4-ton truck. Those who would carry this camper on a full-time basis should probably consider a 1-ton pickup truck. The weight of the camper will greatly improve the ride of a 1-ton pickup; and with the Alaskan camper’s low profile, road manners will be excellent.

The Alaskan fits my lifestyle. I have no beef with those who choose to camp in motorhomes or travel trailers — each serves its owner’s purpose — but for getting away at a moment’s notice, it is hard to beat the truck camper.

RIDE-RITE

The 10-foot Alaskan Camper is not a lightweight. It dropped the rear of my 3/4-ton Ford Super Duty approximately 3 inches. It wasn’t sitting on the overload springs but it wasn’t far off, either. One answer is to beef up the leaf spring suspension with additional leafs, but I wanted to preserve the truck’s unloaded ride quality, too. An adjustable air ride suspension seemed to be the best answer. I chose the Ride-Rite Kit from Firestone Industrial Products Company (800/888-0650; ride-rite.com).

The kit consisted of two air springs, the mounting hardware and brackets, and the necessary
tubing and connectors to inflate the air springs from the air hose at your local gas station. I also installed an Air Command inflation kit featuring an air pump, reservoir tank, a dual gauge, and dual control valves for independent control of inflation pressures from the cab. The Air Command system also came with a hose to inflate tires and toys. I located the connector for this behind the fuel fill door to keep it reasonably clean and away from the elements.

Basic hand tools and an electric drill are all that are needed for installation. A word of warning: If your drill bits come from the local five-and-dime, you should consider purchasing some high-quality bits as you will be drilling holes in the frame, and the steel is hard. I would suggest a center punch and a 3/16-inch drill bit to make pilot holes. Installation is not difficult but it is time-consuming, so allow an entire day. You will also be wrestling with heavy tires and wheels; therefore, having adequate jack stands is mandatory for safety.

The logical place to install the pump is under the hood but no matter what location you select, it should be reasonably protected from the elements. The underhood space on my diesel truck is rather cramped, and I couldn’t find a good installation spot. I custom-fabricated an “L” bracket and bolted the pump to the truck frame just behind the cab. To protect the pump from the elements, I enclosed the pump and bracket in a Rubbermaid plastic container with a snap-on lid and drilled a few holes in the container. This allows it to disperse heat, and made it easy to route the tubing and electrical wiring. Be sure to put a hole at the lowest point to allow any water that gets in to drain out.

I mounted the reservoir to a crossmember on the truck bed and the gauge and valve bracket under the dashboard in the cab. Then, after routing the tubing under the doorsills and into the cab behind the kick panel on each side, I used silicone sealant to protect the tubing where it went through the metal. Tubing connections couldn’t be easier. Simply trim the tubing to length using a sharp knife and a square cut, then push the end into the fitting.

Installing the air springs’ upper brackets requires the most caution. Make your measurements carefully and double check. Alignment does not need to be perfect but the closer the better.

The instructions are universal and apply to a wide variety of vehicles with hints for specific vehicles. Lay everything out in advance and measure before you start to drill. Center punch your holes to prevent the drill bit from wandering and drill a pilot hole first. There is more leeway in installing the lower brackets as they sit on top of the leaf springs and various shims are provided to achieve the proper alignment.

With the tubing connected to the air springs, it was time to wire the pump. Our advice: Select a positive lead that goes on and off with the key switch. The pump has a pressure switch that shuts off at 100 psi, but if you wire directly to the battery and the system develops a leak, the pump will try to maintain pressure until the battery is dead. My Ford has the factory-installed trailer wiring. The heavy positive lead at the plug is controlled by a solenoid under the hood. It is hot only when the key is on and this is where I wired the pump. The other wiring required is the lighting for the gauge in the cab. Fiddling under the dashboard isn’t much fun, either; but the wiring harness for the electric brake controller, also supplied by the factory, has both a ground lead and a lead for illumination.

The truck and camper now levels with about 40 psi in the air springs with far less jounce on freeway tar strips. The ride gets firmer as inflation pressures are increased. With separate control for each air spring, it is now possible to make minor adjustments to level the camper when it is parked on an uneven surface. And as every RV camper knows, a level refrigerator means more ice cubes for refreshments at the end of the day.

Alaskan Camper 10′ Non-Cabover

Base Price: $18,645
Price as Tested: $20,490
Overall Length: 10’
Overall Width: 7’ 6”
Overall Height (top down): 7’ 10”
Interior height (top up): 6’ 3”
Dry Weight (mfr. spec.): 1549 lbs.
Wet Weight (public scale): 2080 lbs.
Fresh Water: 27 gals.
Sleeping Capacity: 2 persons

Major Standard Features:
Two-cubic-foot Dometic refrigerator, 16,000-BTU Hydroflame forced-air heater, low-pressure water system, stainless steel sink, power converter.

Major Optional Features:
Hot-water heater, 3-cubic-foot Norcold refrigerator, dual batteries, Thetford cassette toilet, outside shower, air conditioner pre-wire, Rieco-Titan jackstands, Happijac turnbuckles and tiedowns.

Manufacturer
Alaskan Campers, Inc.
420 NE Alaskan Way
Chehalis, WA 98532
360/748-6494
alaskancamper.com

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