Monday, November 16, 2009

Our First Camper



Update October 2013 - BIG NEWS! We are getting a new All Terrain Camper! Here is a link to information on Wander the West:

We Are Getting a New Camper!

Update November 2013 - BIG NEWS! Our current camper has already found a new home!

I added an update below - May 2013

We have always been hikers, backpackers, back country skiers, and mountaineers. That remains our focus. Car camping or the social aspect of campgrounds or large groups holds no interest for us. Getting to a trailhead or end of the road is the start of our adventure. We seek out places far from any sights or sounds of modern man. Quiet, solitude, and the natural processes of untrammeled wilderness feed our souls and refresh us.

Our current camper accommodations are a tool that we use and enjoy.

We first saw a Four Wheel Camper at a nearby lake. It was a base camp for a float tubing fly fisher. Later we saw one in a grocery store parking lot. The owner was kind enough to give us a quick tour. We thought it was a great idea, a relatively light weight pop up camper with an aluminum frame. The amenities were spartan compared to how some Americans look at "camping" needs, but just right for us. We started looking around and doing our homework.

One website that was a huge source of information was Wander the West. We found the people who posted and shared information helpful, respectful, just nice people.

We started watching craigslist, looking for a possible deal on a used camper. We discovered the good ones go quickly. They have a very good resale demand.

Then we heard about All Terrain Campers in Sacramento California. This is a small company started by craftsmen who were once associated with the original Four Wheel Camper Company. I cannot say enough about the service, helpful advise, and quality of these folks' work. They have a wealth of knowledge about these campers.

If we hadn't found a good deal on craigslist, we would be proud owners of an All Terrain Camper. Actually with all the help they gave us on renovating and remodeling the camper we bought, we feel that we are.

In August of 2009 we brought home a used 1994 Four Wheel Camper Ranger II model.

It was in fairly decent shape and definitely worth what we paid. But, as we dug into it, and also inspired by some of the modifications we saw people on Wander the West had done, we figured now was the time to make it the way we wanted.

We gutted the sucker.

We pulled out the sink, stove, and cabinet style 3 way refrigerator. Then the cabinets went.

We had the guys at All Terrain replace the sideliner (tent) material, repair a couple of problems with the roof, and replace one of the inside roof lifting panels.

We then replaced all the cabinets with our own design, got a new countertop and table top made, and ordered a new SMEV sink and propane stove. We also redid all of the wiring, plumbing, and propane lines.

It was a learning experience but also rewarding. It has the added benefit of us actually knowing where everything is and being confident about taking on repairs down the road.

And, I again thank the guys at All Terrain Campers for helping with information and needed materials.

By the middle of Fall 2009, our camper was about ready.

There are some luxuries that we like, such as the nice stove and sink, but we also like to be simple with one item doing more than one job such as no cushions because our pillows work just fine. Also this is a small camper with limited storage space so out went the refrigerator - that uses energy on the road - and that space went to storage. Our old reliable Coleman ice chest sits on the floor under the cab window.

There have been a few changes and improvements that we have made over the last couple of years. We are contemplating a couple more. But, our priority is using our camper, not working on it.

We have been really pleased with how our truck and camper have served us. I believe that is reflected in the wonderful adventures we have enjoyed.

Update May 2013
After getting an incredible amount of use out of our camper, we have made a few improvements. We built our own "Arctic Pack" liner for the inside of the vinyl sideliner material. This adds a dead air space that helps hold in heat in the winter and keep out heat in the summer. It also helps with condensation on the inside of the vinyl. I posted how we did it on the Wander the West forum. You can find it by clicking here - Arctic Pack  
After using our old Coleman ice chest successfully, we did find a couple of downsides. We found it increasingly harder to find block ice (especially in Death Valley, of all places!) when our frozen water jugs melted. A bag of ice cubes only lasts a day. This was problematic for planning our longer trips. We decided to go with a high efficient/low amp draw 12V portable refrigerator. The good ones are expensive but worth it. The issue is battery drain, you want one that uses only a small amount of power. We went with a 51 liter chest style refrigerator with a danfoss compressor from Truckfridge. This is an Indel B refrigerator. It sits on the floor in the same place our old Coleman did.
Since we were dependent on our camper battery for food storage - the new refrigerator - we went with a larger amp hour deep cycle battery. We started with a 55 amp hour blue top optima. We replaced it with a 100 amp hour die hard platinum deep cycle. Buy Sears batteries when you find them on sale, and they usually go on sale.
We added a 100 watt solar panel to the roof and installed a simple solar charging system. It is light weight and has worked well keeping our new battery fully charged. Here is a link to how I did the wiring - Wiring For a Solar Panel Roof Mount.
For leveling out the truck suspension with the weight of the camper, we initially went with airbags. These can be filled separately to raise the height and adjust for uneven weighting side to side. These campers tend to have most the weight on the driver's side and that is also were the truck's gas tank is located. Concerned about possible failure of this system in the remote and rugged areas we visit, we decided to go with a new custom set of progressive rear leaf springs made by Deaver Springs. The truck preforms very well on rough roads and we have a great deal of confidence in its ability to get us to the start of our adventures.

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