About to buy a flatbed FWC Hawk/Norweld rig -- need advice on off-road capability? Concerned with height and rollover due to COG

dstefan

Active member
At 68 and 6'3" with some manageable back/neck issues, my perfectly built '09 Tacoma for tent camping and pretty serious off-road is just too small/uncomfortable. And, we want out of the dust, wind, rain, and cold sometimes (do a lot of shoulder season outings, usually) for longer trips, and Phoenix heat in the summer! Two years of research later -- from off-road trailers, through Four Wheel Campers on an F250 (including visiting the factory and showroom) -- we ordered an OVRLND pop-up camper shell for a planned Tundra, as the optimum weight/size/capability combo. Can have it in January, or back out for a $500 deposit loss.

Flatbed Hawk's were always attractive, but seemed too difficult to create and too expensive. We thought about several rigs, but rejected them due to diesel (asthma, cost/weight) and/or size. We passed on a nice flatbed FWC Hawk/Norweld tray on a Power Wagon in September due to the size issues, but kept going back to the posting. We're now 90% ready to buy it -- have had it mechanically checked and extensive conversations and research, and it's a great rig, but the nagging question is: the high VERTICAL center of gravity, not fore and aft placement. Also NOT payload (it's a '12 PW with HD aftermarket leaf springs, airbags, a stock 1800 lb payload, and can handle the weight)! I get all the pros and cons to payload, stickers, and GVWR.

My wife and I come from many years off-road, some in jeeps, some in mid-size trucks, but never full-size, and going some difficult places (eg, around Phoenix which can be challenging, Elephant Hill and many other places in the southwest). I know I can't take this rig some of these spots, but I know it can do White Rim, Anza Borrego, or some of the other places in the Southwest we love and want to revisit more comfortably (but certainly NOT E. Hill!). Thing is we don't want to buy a fancy truck RV, that's going to be unsafe or too white knuckle in some mildly off camber trails.

The challenge is the rig has a Norweld tray with the drawer, which is great, but really puts the flatbed Hawk high up (bottom of the camper starts about 6-7" below the door handles. The current owner, mainly uses it in Anza Borrego and in Baja, and I know it's quite capable, but he isn't familiar with the trails we do. I know the Power Wagon can go just about anywhere we would want to itself, but I'm still a bit hinkey about the high vertical COG of the camper on the Norweld tray throwing things off too much, or limiting where we're willing to try going. I'm willing to be stuck, but not rolled over!

I know I can set up a DC Tundra with a light weight shell pop-up to actually be somewhat more capable, with lower COG, and the process of doing that plus building out the OVERLAND with a newer Tundra will be in the same ballpark cost-wise. Thing is, it's a ton of work and time to get the camper shell where we'd want it, so the turnkey rig is highly attractive. We're going to meet the owner halfway and drive the flatbed rig this weekend, but won't really be able to assess the off-camber handling. I'd like to bring it home to Phoenix, but would love to hear some other folks experiences before we drive it.

So, can anyone give me an informed opinion on the vertical COG issue with with a flatbed camper and how it affects off-road handling?
 
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AbleGuy

A Son of the Purple Sage
this link on COG measurements might be little helpful:


If I understand it correctly, one of the more challenging issues you might have when off-roading with a camper set too far back from the truck’s COG is the lesser control of steering if your front tires are up-weighted by the too far back COG. When you hit deep ruts or sudden bumps, the bounce from dropping into those can lift your front up a bit and you can lose some accuracy of steering (or FWD) control.
 
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dstefan

Active member
Thanks AbleGuy - I appreciate it. I went back and edited as I didn't make it clear enough in my original question it's the vertical COG and the side to side "tippy" factor I'm concerned with. The camper and flatbed are very well situated fore and aft. Much more rollover concerned than loss of front traction/handling . . .
 

PJorgen

Desert Dweller
My opinion is that you should avoid rolling over if at all possible. Not sure what opinions you were looking for beyond that.

If you want factual information there are a number of websites and videos that explain how to determine COG and critical roll over angle. It’s a bit of a process that requires wheel scales and careful measurements but is otherwise not too difficult. Knowing the critical angle and having an inclinometer on your dashboard will help keep you upright.

I have a FWC on a standard pickup so the COG is lower than your rig. Through trial and error I’ve found that about a 25 degree side slope is all the pucker factor I can handle but the truck is stable at that angle. Of course many roll overs are caused by a sudden upset as opposed to just being on a side slope. Not sure how to avoid that aside from being aware and careful.
 

dstefan

Active member
My opinion is that you should avoid rolling over if at all possible. Not sure what opinions you were looking for beyond that.
I agree!

Thanks, the rest of your post is the kinda thing I'm looking for. I’ll search around for that critical rollover angle info. I've never had a thing on my truck higher than my hard tonneau cover, except 2 MaxTracs, so just trying to gauge what I'm in for. Big change for me.
 

kmacafee

Adventurer
I have a Bundutec Odyssey popup atop an Aluma Line flat bed with a full length drawer underneath riding on a Ram 3500 . It's definitely high but I've covered a lot of ground and the COG has never been an issue. Lots of time in Anza Borrego, the Bradshaw Trail, Joshua Tree etc. You definitely need to pick your line and there are places I won't go but its a great rig.
 

dstefan

Active member
Thanks Kmacafee. We like all those places too. Saw in your profile you had a Tacoma+FWC — how was was the transition to a bigger rig off-road? Did you find where you could go more or less limiting than you you had anticipated?
 

LandCruiserPhil

Expedition Leader
Angle has not been a limiting factor for my travel in a full size FWC. The concern for me with higher COG is the weight transfer, it's what gets you in trouble. For most your butt meter will cover any static angle in a full size. For me, I go for control by speed and enjoy the rise in heart rate.:)

Keeping all the wheels on the ground off road is important for safety. Your PW set up has arguably some of the best articulation of any full size set up making that alone a big plus in a safe full size.
 
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zoomad75

Observer
Having a canoe up on top of the camper did not help the COG on that F150.

I was concerned with COG during the rebuilding stage of my FWC Blazer camper. I did everything I could to keep the weight down as low as I could get it. The ancient 3-way RV fridge that was above the bed rail got tossed and a 50qt ARB is on the floor. I pulled the old 2 burner stove, sink and water storage as it was all above the bed rail. The only heavy item that stayed in a stock location was the propane tank since it had it's own enclosure in the back corner. The cabinet now holds totes with light gear and food/snacks that don't have to be in the fridge.

Factor in 4" of lift, 35" tires with the camper and my Blazer looks like it could tip over on a slight side hill. But in all reality, the combination does very well off-road. It's not overly tippy compared to how it felt with the same lift/tires prior to the camper going on. I'm cautious on side slopes and know where my uncomfortable point is even though I can't put a number on in in degrees.

One good example was taking it on the Hell's Revenge trail in Moab last year. I was out there for Blazer Bash with a bunch of other Blazer and GM truck guys. Most were very nervous seeing my rig and fully expected to see it on it's side. But it wheeled over the trail like a champ, solid and stabil. There's a couple of good side slope sections and really steep acent sections and decent sections. My truck didn't behave like it was going to flop on it's side at any part.
 

rruff

Explorer
The challenge is the rig has a Norweld tray with the drawer, which is great, but really puts the flatbed Hawk high up (bottom of the camper starts about 6-7" below the door handles.
In static conditions the rollover point is pretty easy to determine... it's where a vertical line from the outside tires passes through the COG. For instance, if your COG is 40" off the ground and your tires are 80" wide, then you hit this point on a 45 deg side slope.

I don't know how high the COG of just the truck is, but it's probably less than 40"...? Anyway the question is, how much the camper increases it... and the answer is not much. If the truck already weighs 7,000 lb, adding a 1,500 lb camper with a COG that's a bit higher won't do much.

I'll take a WAG on some numbers. Say the truck and tray is 7,000 lb with a 40" COG, and the camper (wet) is 1,500 lb with a 65" COG. Combined COG is 44.4". This drops the critical angle for rollover from 45 deg to 42 deg.
 

calicamper

Expedition Leader
Another option is to get smarter about your more extreme trail use how often do you do these? Once a yr? Or 10x a yr? Once a yr? rent a side by side the savings in rig damage or rig build cost to do once a yr trail makes up for the rental cost easily, not to mention reduced highway comfort or stability/mileage running heavy 4x4 stuff on your travel rig.

If you do these more challenging trails a bunch? Maybe switch up the plan? Tow a nice travel trailer, and have the tow rig set to do trails in light weight mode.
I will say one thing the best selling 1/2 ton pickups are light years safer and more crash worthy than any of the midsized stuff. They also handle and ride dramatically better than the mid sized stuff.
 
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tacollie

Glamper
It looks like the F150 slid when he dropped a wheel off the trail. That would be bad in a lot of vehicles.

We switched from a mid size to a full size with a FWC 18 months ago. It's an adjustment but it has suprised me how capable it is. We will be stepping up to a 3/4 ton with a tray in the next 6 months of I can find a truck. Used truck inventory is down right now.
 

kmacafee

Adventurer
Thanks Kmacafee. We like all those places too. Saw in your profile you had a Tacoma+FWC — how was was the transition to a bigger rig off-road? Did you find where you could go more or less limiting than you you had anticipated?
It was a bit of a transition, especially when navigating thru tight spaces and driving on city streets. I don't regret the change and the camper is so much more comfortable for 2 people and a dog than the FWC was. It really doesn't feel any more limiting -- at my age, I'm more cautious than I was back in the day anyway and while I am willing to take risks, I still need to get the rig and myself home safely.
 

dstefan

Active member
Thanks all for the feedback — very useful, and helps allay my concerns. I‘m a pretty cautious driver, and my wife is a great spotter, so theres that. I also, won’t be putting weight up high, other than the two rigid solar panels already mounted, and may move some stuff around to get weight lower too.

I'm more cautious than I was back in the day anyway and while I am willing to take risks, I still need to get the rig and myself home safely.
Think this is the main principle whether its a Tacoma or an Earth Cruiser!
 
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