Budget Friendly approach to "weekender" overlanding rig...


I have mentioned my thoughts on building a slide in truck camper for overlanding for my 2004 F150 4x4.

That is a long term goal kind of thing, and may actually God willing end up on a different truck / chassis as I despise the 5.4L 3V Triton this truck has. However, that engine is being gone through by a Ford Specialist I know that is one of the few out there that "bulletproofs" the 5.4 3V with upgraded hardware and machining that Ford goofed on in production... So lets go with the truck...

2004 F150 XLT 5.4L Supercab 6.5 foot bed.
Rancho 2.5" quicklift with Moog ball joints, and Moog HD front coils.
Go Rhino winch bumper / brush guard.
Engo E9000 winch.
Pro Comp stainless 130 w off road lights. (need to upgrade to LEDs).
17x9 wheels with 35x12.50/17 Hercules Trail Diggers all the way around including spare.
4.10 gears

So there is a reason I don't want to scrap this truck and start over...

To do the "camper conversion" of sorts, I sourced up a used Leer 122 from Craiglist for $300.00. This topper has the carpet kit, and interior lighting that taps into the trailer light harness.

I haven't gone beyond putting the topper on it yet, but the plan is...

#1. Lay out the bed dimensions in Sketchup so I can plan spaces appropriately and...
#2. Build a bed platform out of 2x4s and 2x2s for the frame, and 3/4" ground contact plywood covered with rat fur carpeting, and piano hinges to allow access through the top to storage underneath.
#3. The mattress will be an RV short queen as it is all that can fit the 6.5 foot bed, trifold memory foam 10" thick. My wife and I have tested one and can both sleep on it well...
#4. In bed storage will be laid out like so.
- Front of bed against the cab, across the bed 4 @ Reliance AquaTainer 7 gallon fresh water containers.
- Section compartmented off for jumper box battery, and CPAP, with penetration for hose to run through.
- 27 gallon tote (all the totes are 27 gallon) housing entire camp kitchen excluding the Coleman Pack Away folding camp kitchen, 2 burner propane stove, and the 12" dutch oven and kitchen smalls stowed in the dutch oven and bag.
- Tote with propane appliances. This will house 2 burner propane stove, propane heater (Portable Buddy) , propane lantern, distribution tree, and related hoses.
- Coleman PackAway camp kitchen.
- Quick Chair camp chairs x2.
- Milk crate with 20lb propane cylinder.
- Ozark Trail 9x13 screen house for kitchen.
- Cabelas Deluxe Shower Shelter for privy.
- 5 gallon flushing portable Toilet.
- 2 gallon bucket for water, and Zodi propane shower. This has been modded with extra hose to allow the zodi to be set up on the distribution tree if we chose to. Failing that, we use it with a 1lb proapne bottle.
- 12" Dutch oven in DO bag, and packed with kitchen smalls.
- Weber Smokey Joe in a carry bag, with small chimney starter, 2 loads of charcoal, a lighter and a Sunday paper.
- Bucket of charcoal
- Home made truck cap end tent to enclose the space with the tailgate down, and the cap hatch open. This will provide a door and a penetration for a small window unit AC.

On the hitch haul box...
- Harbor Freight Talgator 900w generator.
- Gallon gas can with gas / oil mix.
- 2 @ 5 gallon gas cans, regular unleaded.
- 5K BTU mechanical window unit AC.
- Foam floor pads that I set up as a noise break / quiet box for the generator.

I know I am forgetting something, but at least for now, that is the idea of what I am working toward. God, my health, and budget willing, I will get there.


If you don't already own the 900w 2-stroke Harbor Freight generator, consider a 1000w Sortsman inverter generator. I paid $139 @ Home Depot. No oil:gas to mix, MUCH quieter, better reliability, not sure if it's lighter but it's only 19 lbs so certainly not heavy. Runs my 5k BTU AC like a dream and can't be heard over the AC's fan.


If you don't already own the 900w 2-stroke Harbor Freight generator, consider a 1000w Sortsman inverter generator. I paid $139 @ Home Depot. No oil:gas to mix, MUCH quieter, better reliability, not sure if it's lighter but it's only 19 lbs so certainly not heavy. Runs my 5k BTU AC like a dream and can't be heard over the AC's fan.
I already own the Tailgator, and yeah, I should have gotten the Sportsman instead.

I am selling off some unused gear that I no longer can use, or don't want to use, and plan on using the money to grab one of them, and will likely just use the Tailgator for emergency uses. I.E. hurricane hits, I can use the tailgator to power my fridge. If the Energy Guide is correct, 338kwh annual use, divided by 365 to get use by day, and divide that by 24, we get .038... kwh used, or 38 watts / hr used. The Sportsman then can be used to run, more efficiently, a window unit AC to keep us cool, again should the need arise...

My design IS changing over time as I work out the needs and available space, materials, and skills...

I have narrowed down the requirements to this...

#1. Rugged enough to handle off road use. Not rock crawling, but logging roads, beaches, and fire break roads type stuff.
#2. Queen size bed that can be folded to a sofa. Planning on doing this croswise accross the bed of the truck, NOT doing a cabover for sleeping... To picutre this, imagine a queen size futon set accross the bed rails of the truck, with the back against the back window of the cab. Assuming 1.5" foam, and another .25" that means 3.5" thick walls, If I allow 80.5" for the bed and SOME gap to keep the bed from scraping the walls during setup / takedown, that would mean we have a total of 84" width above the bedrails of the truck to work with. The space beneath the folding bed will be storage.
#3. Ability to securely hold small air conditioner (Cheap 5K BTU mechanical unit) on the back wall. With this space, and 1.5" foam insualtion walls, even with the truck bed only being insulated by a bedrug, and windows potentially uninsulated, that should be WAY more than enough for such a small space.
#4. Lightweight. Absolute maximum weight of 600lbs, including the AC, and the mattress for the bed.
#5. Full standing height for me at 6'. Preferrably at least 6" headroom.
#6. Having a dedicated space to be able to use the port o potty in the camper if need be.
#7. Having a fold down counter to do food prep / cooking if need be.
#8. Basic electrical for lighting (LED) charging ports, to power the AC, and potentially a TV / Computer monitor. on a swivel mount. I've got a 32" TV that uses a 12v DC transformer, I have a spare transformer pigtail for it and am going to try to see if it actually works on 12V DC. If that pans out, I am going to set this up on a swivel mount in the camper. with one of those square digital antennas and joined to my phone hotspot for smart features... I want a bigger display than my laptop can provide...

We've been on camping trips that started out great, and due to extreme weather unexpectedly moving in on us, we got driven into the truck, or had to hide in an empty cabin while the lightning passed. While I am not designing this thing for long term lodging, living IN as it were, I am trying to design it to live OUT of. As in provide a place to sleep, get dressed and go out and go about our day. However I want the ability to transform spaces so that I can use my Coleman stove, or take a shower, or take a bio break as it were, inside the camper if I have to because of a big Texas thunderstorm hits us out of the blue.


Progress has been made, to a certain extent Due to the locations we want to travel to, propane was going to be problematic, and I have an ethical issue with the 16.4oz disposable propane cylinders since nobody will recycle them for safety reasons... Totally understandable but that leaves me with liquid fuel appliances, or biomass burners, which can't be used all the time, however so far, I have scrounged up the following materials for the build / and to dress it out...

Coleman 424 dual fuel stove, and 425 white gas stove. I have enough experience with these to know the 425 can run on regular unleaded gas, just run a touch of fuel injector cleaner with it and periodically clean the generator, which is good advice for the 424 anyway...

4 @ Coleman 285 dual fuel lanterns. 2 in cases, 2 I am building cases for. I will be using cedar fence pickets and that pink packaging foam for the cases. Probably finish the wood out in primer, then Krylon hunter green to look more "Coleman".

Coleman 518B 3000 BTU catalytic heater.

Zodi battery powered shower with 12V adapter. More on that later.

Various camp cookware, including stainless steel and cast iron. Fairly complete cookware / prepware ready to go and organized.

iRegro wood gasifier stove for when I can cook with wood, why not?

8 @ Coleman Adjustable tent poles, 4 @ 10' joints of 3/4 EMT conduit, 4 sets of bimini top hinges, and 8 3/4" EMT conduit clamps. 2 9' 6" x 7' steel tarps, 1/2" grommets and installation tool, fender washers, and rivets. This is for the @evldave designed awnings.

Queen size 8" thick memory foam futon mattress, that futon in the game room is going to miss it...

4 @ 7 gallon Reliance Aqua Tainer water tanks for fresh water. 2 @ Coghlans 5 gallon flexible water carriers for gray water.

Jaxpety 5 gallon flushing portable toilet.

3/4" Aracuo plywood.

1/4" Aracuo plywood.

2x2 stock.

2x4 stock.

I am still gathering the foam, and fiberglass or PMF materials. I will be testing PMF against regular fiberglass. I suspect I want regular fiberglass...


Some changes have come my way due to wanting to get out there sooner, and coming up with some ideas...

The foamie build is not being scrubbed, just delayed, and may end up on a different truck down the road. For now here is what we are doing...

My goals should be met-ish. My biggest goals and absolute must haves are that I can fit an RV short queen mattress which happens to be the size of a queen air mattress, have functional air conditioning, have power for CPAP, have enough headroom to sit on the end of the bed, and have plenty of uninterrupted storage space under the bed to haul my gear.

My idea here is to use what I have to the best of my ability to be able to get going to the off grid destinations.

So what is it that I have that can be pressed into service?

2004 Ford F150 Supercab 4x4, with Rancho Quicklift struts and Moog HD srpings. 35x12.50/17 Hercules Trail Diggers, downsizing to 305/70R17 (33x12.50/17) BFGoodrich All Terrains.
Leer Hi Top camper shell Craigslist find for $200.00, Duplicolor epoxy primer, Ford Arizona Beige paint, and clear coat to PTM the topper.
Roller bed frame I salvaged from my neighbors recycling as they managed to bend one of the rails. I got it straightened and reinforced.
Couple of sheets of 3/4" cabinet grade plywood.
Several 7' 6" x9' 4" silver poly tarps.
3/4" EMT conduit
8 @ Coleman telescoping poles.
RV short queen memory foam mattress
Jaxpety 5 gallon flush toilet.
4 @ 7 gallon Aquatainers
2 @ 5 gallon flexible water carriers.
Home made heat exchanger with Zodi battery shower.
All the camp kitchen utensils and supplies you could want.
12V jump / power pack to run my CPAP.
5K BTU Window air conditioner.
HF Tailgator generator
Coleman stove, lanterns, and heater.
Heavy ripstop nylon taffeta material.
Rolls of reflectix and Velcro.

So simple idea here. Paint the cap to match the truck.

Use one of the tarps to ceate a "tent" of sorts to cover and allow access to the bed of the truck with the tailgate and hatch open. Use nylon taffeta to create an "AC Boot" of sorts to weather proof it in case of rain etc...

Using PVC pipe, create a stand that will hold the AC up against an open side window of the camper shell, use
Size up black iron pipe legs for the bed frame, with floor flanges to allow the lowest point of the bed frame, legs not included, to be no lower than 18". This allows me about 1.3" clearance for the toilet which is the ltallest item in the inventory.

Using the plywood, size it up so I have 3 panels 60" wide, 3 panels 24", and 2 panels 1" to get the total of 74" of the short queen mattress since it folds. Use Piano hinges to allow large panels to hinge up as access panels. And add mattress to top of platform.

Set up enclosure just under bed by head to hold jump pack and CPAP, allowing hose to come through.

Make curtains for windows. We do want some privacy after all. Make them on / off arrangements insulated with the reflectix.

Make @evldave style awnings over both sides of camper shell to provide outdoor living / cooking / relaxation space.

I realize this won't allow for much, if any room inside the camper itself for things like cooking, but the space is intended for 2 people, and there really isn't a lot of room in there. I can if pressed, use my Coleman backpacking stove to do a simple heat up of a meal if need be.

Of course I will still be using the folding camp kitchen, camp chairs, privy shelter etc... But going this way, gives me absolute minimum expenditure to be able to just get out there and going soonest possible.

I am not talking about extreme environments either, but rather just off the beaten path sort of stuff. Padre Island National Seashore, Guadalupe Mountains, etc.... come to mind. Again nothing seriously wild, just off grid enough to buy us some solitude and an opportunity to enjoy a more natural environment...

I've also got the 2x2 and 2x4 stock as well as the 1/4" plywood. I am considering making a chuck box for the kitchen gear and omitting the PackAWay kitchen, while providing better storage...
Last edited:


Okay so as we churn along with the build / rebuild here is the status so far.

#1. I am not sure if I mentioned it, but this truck has a failed engine. The 5.4L 3V is known for oil delivery problems and variable timing system issues, all of which my truck suffered. I followed the factory recommended oil change intervalis like a fool and now have tarry black goop under my valve covers. So first things first, engine pulled and we are doing a basic teardown and inspection. Can this 5.4L 3v be saved with a Motorcraft kit with the redesigned cam phasers and tensioners, and the Melling oil pump? My BIL and his mechanics think it is a good possibility but they are checking the tolerances and will let me know.
#2. Being a 2004, the vacuum actuator and solenoid are bad, which leaves the truck in 4wd mode all the time. So fix that...
#3. Replace the battery with a new AGM.
#4. To lighten the load on the front end, swap out the steel winch cable for synthetic winch rope.
#5. Sourced up a roller bed frame, and lumber for the bed base. Not sure the roller frame will be used. I think I want a bed base that can be divided into top accessible storage compartments so I can keep water storage from sliding around etc...
#6. I have used the Tailgator several times now to recharge my jumper pack box that I run my CPAP off of. It works, but I think I hate it. Actually, I kind of know I hate it. The 2 stroke smokes and stinks to high ehaven when it first starts up, and it's obnoxiously loud. If I could be certain it would suffice, I would seriously consider a 100w solar kit. Per the manual my CPAP averages 20w draw with 35w peak (lacks a humdifier, peak is on ramp up time). I can manage a battery, trickle charger and 12V power port pretty easy...


So as I have mentioned in other areas, I have been contemplating a fridge for this rig, but something I am thinking here, for right or wrong.

#1. I am not going to take a 16 year old light duty pickup truck accross the world, especially since parts and repairs aren't likely to be available.
#2. I still for now work full time, so I will be adventuring primarily on weekends, with occasional longer trips cross country. Most notably from coastal Texas, to the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, possibly as far north and British Columbia, and the as far south as Guadalajara. We will not be away from civilization, at least small civilization where we can obtain supplies including ice, for more than 5 days in a row.

With those thoughts firmly in mind, and a reasonably amount of square waterproof storage containers, I am leaning VERY heavily toward using one of two possible coolers, a Coleman Extreme 50qt with an updated / expanding foam filled lid. OR an Igloo 5 day rolling 60qt cooler. In all honesty, the Igloo keeps ice frozen / food cold longer under hotter conditions. We have had it hold ice for a solid 5 days in Texas summers as long as we keep it out of direct sunlight. Honestly before foam filling the lid on the Coleman, 3 days was the max, I need to test it now...

So with that in mind, we now have food stoarage more or less managed. HOWEVER I have some big, furry concerns. Most notably bears and other wildlife.

I know the Yeti is a great cooler, and there are lots of copycats out there. Now there is no way I am going to pay Yeti money for their coolers, but I would consider something like the Lifetime 55qt or the 77qt High Performance coolers. The higher capacity of hte 77qt is nice, but I'm not sure I need one that big. The reviews say it will hold ice 9 days in 90 degree temps, so that fits the bill for me for sure. I would have to work the height issue to verify. My camper design puts the bed, over the top of the bed rails on the truck, so I think it is good height wise. I think the '04 F150 bed is something like 21.5" deep...

I need to work some with the 3D modeling software to get sizes right, but I am thinking under the bed, cooler, and 2 storage foot lockers, One footlocker for kitchen, and appliance stuff like lanterns, the other for personal items, clothes etc... A smaller box will hold dry goods, and the port o potty will travel toward the back of the truck bed on / near the tailgate.
Last edited: