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Camper Shells: Educate Me
Old 01-21-2014, 11:43 AM   #1
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Camper Shells: Educate Me

Daughter Jenny is moving to Denver, so we'll probably drive out there next summer.

I had the idea that it would be fun to put a camper shell on the back of our Toyota Tacoma, and drive out in that. I realize that my enthusiasm for this is idea is the fun of building a cozy and comfortable bed + cupboards, etc. Something like this:



or this:



So tell me what I should look for in a camper shell. Is it legal to sleep back there when someone else is driving?

And I know that some of you are saying "Al, I thought you gave up on camping!"

True, and we haven't camped for years (here's why). But maybe it would be a little better with the camper shell idea?
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Old 01-21-2014, 11:56 AM   #2
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Be careful about sleeping back there when driving!

I still remember the story published more than 10 years ago of a couple letting 3 or 4 grandchildren sleeping back there. Upon arrival, they found all of the kids dead from carbon monoxide poisoning.
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Old 01-21-2014, 01:53 PM   #3
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I have a camper shell on my F-150 8' bed pickup. In California the truck can then be registered as a non-commercial 'car' (lower fee).
Instead of modifying the shell for camping, I built a small custom trailer that opens to the front and the back for easy access. I carry my bikes + camping gear in the trailer and sleep in the padded/carpeted truck bed on 1 1/2" thermarest mattresses. Very comfy. DW and I have traveled like this for months at a time.
This setup leaves the truck in a more useful state when I am not using it for travel.
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Old 01-21-2014, 03:44 PM   #4
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In addition to the carbon monoxide risk some states do make it illegal to ride in the back of a pickup, camper shell or not. There is good reason for that. Automotive engineers have put much effort into protecting the passengers. The back of a pickup is for cargo, not people.

In an accident they will not fare well.
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Old 01-21-2014, 06:08 PM   #5
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.......... Automotive engineers have put much effort into protecting the passengers...........
That's right and here is an example, the infamous Subaru Brat.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg brat.jpg (10.1 KB, 173 views)
File Type: jpg brat2.jpg (27.3 KB, 169 views)
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Old 01-21-2014, 07:46 PM   #6
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That's right and here is an example, the infamous Subaru Brat.
Fun fact: The two extra seats in the back were put there so Subaru could avoid the 25% tariff on importation of light trucks. The two extra seats made it a "passenger vehicle".

Al, I'm not sure sleeping back there while someone else was driving would be great from a safety perspective. Once stopped, it would probably be more comfortable than a tent, but still no toilet, no place to make a sandwich, very little headroom, etc. It might be okay for a night, but on night two I'd want to sleep in a real bed, take a shower, etc.

If you want a project, how about a little teardrop trailer? Very cool. Little air resistance so they tow like a dream, and light enough so a big truck isn't needed to pull it. There are several good web sites on them, and many designs make use of a cheap Harbor Freight flat-bed trailer as the main chassis, you just add the rest. Storage in the back (bikes?) as well as a small camp stove, camp sink, and icechest. Customize as you see fit--maybe fit a removable awning over the door, a solar panel on top to power lights, a small fan, to keep a computer charged up, etc. Some have a little outside shower (with curtain, heat the water with the camp stove) and a port-a-potty. This would be years of fun building/tinkering.

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Old 01-21-2014, 08:30 PM   #7
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Al, I would not plan on sleeping in the back while in motion. Almost certainly illegal and definitely deadly in a crash.

There are oh-so-many ways to do this, from completely minimalist to the full monty. I am lazy, so I have a travel trailer (all the amenities except privacy for a family of 4 plus 2 dogs in a 16 by 7 foot box), but lots of people have done this sort of thing in a truck cap, econoline van and even minivans. Google is definitely your friend. Google "vandwellers" for lots of ideas and examples. The people here are (to put it bluntly) batshit crazy, but this dude did the minimalist back of the truck thing pretty well: Jobless and living in my truck... (with Pics))
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Old 01-21-2014, 08:39 PM   #8
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We did two pickup remodels for dogs to travel with us. Mainly plywood covered with carpet remodeling. Those backs with their wheel well curves are not designed to be thermally or acoustically insulated. It is a big problem keeping dogs from turning into popsicles when traveling in winter weather. Almost impossible to get any heat back there. The shells are very poor insulators, too. Hard to keep cool in the summer.
Now that we are older and softer, we caved and let the dogs in the cab with us.
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Old 01-21-2014, 08:42 PM   #9
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Now that we are older and softer, we caved and let the dogs in the cab with us.
Heh, the Plott hound sits up front between DW and I and the beagle has the misfortune of sitting in the back between the kids. Makes things kind of hairy, but its fun.
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Old 01-21-2014, 08:49 PM   #10
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T-Al, considering that you've been willing to loosen the purse strings lately, I have 3 words for you:

FOUR ... STAR... HOTELS.

Lena will thank you. And actually, it would probably be cheaper anyhow.

And a +1000 to the others on not riding back there. Considering what a conservative, thoughtful guy you are, I'm always amazed at the risks you seem willing to take when it comes to vehicles.

I read your blog, and that is exactly why I don't do that type of camping (and can't understand why others do, but to each their own). I don't think a camper shell will provide much protection from the issues you raised there.

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Old 01-21-2014, 09:26 PM   #11
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Our kids use a Casita Camper pulled behind their Tacoma. They had a modified Honda Element with a pop-up camper. They found that it was too much of a hassle to break camp when they wanted to go to the store or other site seeing. I think they paid about $11,000. You can buy a lot of Motel 6 for that, but then they like the camping lifestyle.

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Old 01-21-2014, 10:03 PM   #12
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T-Al, considering that you've been willing to loosen the purse strings lately, I have 3 words for you:

FOUR ... STAR... HOTELS.

Lena will thank you. And actually, it would probably be cheaper anyhow.



-ERD50
I would agree but maybe three star hotels at four star Al would go in shock . Seriously Al , You are 60 .This kind of camping was fun at twenty or maybe thirty but you are 60 .This was the year you were going to go crazy because of your health care savings . So go for it ! Lena deserves to have a nice room at night after traveling .Think of another project !
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Old 01-21-2014, 11:03 PM   #13
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Our kids use a Casita Camper pulled behind their Tacoma. They had a modified Honda Element with a pop-up camper. They found that it was too much of a hassle to break camp when they wanted to go to the store or other site seeing. I think they paid about $11,000. You can buy a lot of Motel 6 for that, but then they like the camping lifestyle.
There's no Motel 6 in Yellowstone Park, or any National Park for that matter.
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Old 01-21-2014, 11:08 PM   #14
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I would think that a good truck camper might be a better alternative. You could probably pick up a good used one on craigslist.
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Old 01-21-2014, 11:21 PM   #15
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The high-end truck camper is really nice and rivals the smaller motorhome in comfort. It can run more than $10K used.

However, it is too heavy for a Tacoma, and some would need a 1-ton truck with rear dually wheels.
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Old 01-21-2014, 11:26 PM   #16
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Another good alternative would be to rehab houses for wages or profit, and buy plane tickets when you want to visit DD.

You think of the strangest things.

Ha
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Old 01-22-2014, 07:16 AM   #17
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I say go for it. It would be a fun project and you won't spend much. Not being able to stand up is a bit of a hassle, which is the major downside of the tear drop trailers. Many small trailer owners (like the Casita shown above) use a 10x10 screened canopy to augment the living space. You can pick one up for a little over $150.



Definitely wouldn't ride back there.
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Old 01-22-2014, 08:40 AM   #18
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I am 6'2" and can stand sup in DS's Casita. Have to watch my head going in and outt but inside it is fine. His is a Casita 16. I think
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Old 01-22-2014, 08:46 AM   #19
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I am 6'2" and can stand sup in DS's Casita. Have to watch my head going in and outt but inside it is fine. His is a Casita 16. I think
Yes, most fiberglass camper trailers are near or over 6 feet inside. Only an issue in tear drops.
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Old 01-22-2014, 08:51 AM   #20
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Google "vandwellers" for lots of ideas and examples. The people here are (to put it bluntly) batshit crazy, but this dude did the minimalist back of the truck thing pretty well: Jobless and living in my truck... (with Pics))
I gotta admit, I love reading these things! I especially like seeing the school bus conversions, in their various forms. I'd never full-time in anything like that, but I can appreciate the lifestyle. And that these dudes are NEVER getting a date.
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