Choosing an Adventure Vehicle Part I: A Tour with Four Wheel Pop-up Campers

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A happy soul enjoys this middle-of-nowhere sunrise and a cup of coffee with his Toyota Tundra and Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper

"Got a Minute to Talk Trucks?"

I got a call yesterday from my friend Bill who's looking down the barrel of a minor dilemma.

He has a family and he has a hankering to get outside with them - a daughter and a wife. Let me quote Bill: "Camping is a pain." There, there, buddy. God, he's so right.

The epicenter of his dilemma is the vehicle; he lives in Colorado where he has immediate access to beautiful backroads, most of which are rough, rugged, or remote. So what should he be looking at for a solid vehicle to take him and the family to gorgeous settings?  Something that can handle the roads, have the utmost reliability, bomb down the highway reasonably, and make a wife happy, keep a daughter safe, and manage all the gear needed to camp, eat, and entertain themselves.

And what about "fit in at the elementary school's pick up and drop off?"

Assuming we're talking about a vehicle that also has to serve the mid-week details of commuting to work, taking the kids to school, and hitting the drive through for a locally-crafted café mocha, the choices get boiled down to three categories, according to me (budget is not a consideration just yet):

  • Turnkey Expedition vehicle such as Sportsmobile or EarthRoamer - an ideal situation for camping, in my opinion, because of the hard walls, kick-back space inside (including a couch), and beautiful galley.  This is as close as you can get to the comfort of an RV in a vehicle destined for long, primitive, remote roads.  But way too much vehicle to be using during the week; although you'd be one cool dad picking up your daughter from marching band practice in a Sportsmobile....(the other problem is that these vehicles will rarely fit the budget and overlall needs of a young working-class family)
  • SUV, mid-size truck, or Jeep with a roof top tent, or towing an off-highway trailer (notably an Adventure Trailer) - a simple and popular solution.  The great benefit is that you don't look weird living in the suburbs; practical vehicle for the most part, considering the current "green" trends.
  • A full-size truck, or a four-door mid-size with a long bed, outfitted with a camper - let's look at the Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers

I'm Not Delusional

Here's the truth about us sensible parents: we won't compromise our family budget or day-to-day vehicle needs for our adventure-travel vehicle.  On a whole this vehicle is going to have to navigate backroads and school parking lots.  That's the reality.  Eliminate the turnkey expedition vehicles from the list.

What's next? SUV, truck or Jeep thing with a roof top tent (RTT).  Bill replied to this notion with, "No matter how you slice it though, a roof top tent is still a tent."

But I had to correct him. "A roof top tent is more than a tent; it's a bed with a mattress.  With any type of ground tent, you still have to figure out a bed for everybody.  We looked at the large ground tents like the Oz Tent with its front porch, a place to hang out during the day in the shade and with stand up room.  But no matter how we sliced it, it was just a tent.  We'd still have to bring matresses or cots with sleeping bags.  And a roof top tent has both shelter and bed."

He still wasn't crazy about the idea, and I don't blame him.  A snazzy tent/bed RTT doesn't solve all the issues, and arguably adds more.  Seriously, 150 lbs on top of your roof.

And Bill's not into a trailer, either.  "We've got a lot of shelf roads up here, and I just don't want to get caught in the situation where I'd have to back up a shelf road with a trailer behind me."

Well, okay.  I don't exactly see that as a deal-killer.  But he's not comfortable with a trailer, which is fair.  So let's check out the last option: a truck with a camper.  In general, we're talking about a nice living space, a bed, and a galley; some storage space included. Notwithstanding a bare-bones camper such as a FlipPac, which has a bed but no creature comforts like a kitchen.

So, Let's Take a Look Inside a Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper

This is a prototype model for an extra snazzy camper - it's a large unit that was attached to a Toyota Tundra.  You can see it sports some classy features, but all Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers dance around the same theme:

  • Sink
  • Two burner stove
  • Fridge
  • Eating table
  • Cushioned seating
  • Queen size bed (depending on the size of the camper
  • Hot water shower
  • and a number of creature comforts

What's in these pictures is a top of the line version, but you can score a new Four Wheel Camper for a mid-size truck in the neighborhood of $12k.  The pictures are one thing.  Watch out when you step inside one of these campers (which you can do at sportsman's shows around the country), because you'll immediately cast your imagination to a little nook next to a river, under some trees and sunshine, watching your kids chase butterflies and caterpillars.

They're obviously a great place to escape the elements and camp in style no matter the weather conditions. But the list of benefits goes on for awhile:

  • Less than 60 seconds to set-up.  So simple, that you can do it with a baby on your hip
  • Incredibly lightweight requiring few to no costly modifications to the truck
  • Park in a normal parking space, no problem at the bank or McD's drive-thru, lower profile than an SUV with a roof top tent
  • Highly customizable.  each model is available as a bare bones shell bed & walls only, for $6500.
  • Warmth, comfort, privacy, durability & security wherever you go
  • Low center of gravity and flexy-frame designed with off-road use in mind.
  • No significant additional registration or insurance costs required unlike a RV or trailer. a FWC can be added to some truck policies for as little as $20 a year
  • Retain the usefulness of a pick-up during the week if needed with the easy on & off system
  • Leaving the majority of the camping gear in the camper for quick escapes from town on Friday night
  • Furnace
  • In business since '72, retaining a high resale value if plans don't work out or times get tight. highly desireable niche campers.
  • Sold in Iceland and driven across Siberia.  They can handle the front range of Colorado winters
  • Able to carry bikes, kayaks, canoes, skis, cargo boxes, etc. on the roof, enhancing the outdoor experience

I hear that a budget line called the Classic series with a lower trim level for each model, will be debuting any day now at a lower price point.  A Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper just might be perfect for a traveling family.

EDIT: February 12, 2010 These pictures come from K.C. O'Connor, the marketing rep for FWC:

Disclosure: I did not receive payment of any kind (product, discount, cash, or otherwise) from the manufacturer, distributor, or any firm for this review.

This series, Choosing and Adventure Vehicle, is a whimsical, if not admiring, look at the four-wheeled contraptions any family has to choose from that helps get the clan from Point A to Point B. Always factual to the details of the vehicle, but also adorned with hyperbole and whimsy out of affection for the subject matter. See the other articles in this series:


Jonathan Donnaway
+2 / 0
# Jonathan Donnaway 2010-02-12 11:51
Great breakdown of the thought process those of us with families go through. As an owner of a Jeep pulling an off-road trailer(unfortu nately not an adventuretraile r) I am currently lusting after a full size pickup with a four wheel camper.
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Mark W. Ingalls
+3 / 0
# Mark W. Ingalls 2010-02-12 15:24
...and don't forget they have welded aluminum frames that do not rot, so you can buy a used one and fix it up yourself.

Very good resale value makes it a low-risk idea...
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Mark Stephens
+2 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2010-02-12 16:07
Quoting Mark W. Ingalls:
Very good resale value makes it a low-risk idea...


And we may as well point out that one can find a used FWC at wanderthewest.c om:
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