Camper Shells: your experiences and suggestions


Expedition Leader
I don't think we have a dedicated thread about camper shells for pick-ups . . . so here we go. Anyway I'm considering a shell now. So I want to hear about your experiences; the shells you've used (or have), what you like/dislike about your units, etc.

Here's our truck now:

Originally, I avoided a shell for the Eezi-Awn tent for the sake of aerodynamics and center of gravity. Now I'm thinking about getting a shell, installing the Eezi-Awn to the top, creating a sleeping platform inside the shell for the kid(s), and having a little more cargo space.

I'd like a good shell, a quality shell. I want to bleed once. It also needs to accept load bars on top and handle the weight of the tent while on the trail, and the weight of us inside it at camp. So....
  1. Which shell do you have, or have you owned?
  2. What do you like about it?
  3. What do you dislike about it?
Perhaps keep this limited to the basic shell, rather than discussing FWCs, Wildernest, etc.


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I've had both a commercial Gemtop steel shell with side and rear doors and currently a Snugtop with side and rear doors.

I liked the Gemtop as it was designed to carry a load such as ladders, conduit etc. I used to carry 15 gallons of fuel, a highlift and my 14' Sunfish sailboat on the rack that I built fir it. I bought second hand, it was upside down, filled with trash in this guys backyard and came complete with its' own hornets nest. The inside of the roof had been spayed with a foam insulation, it kept conditions reasonable inside. It was a little noisier because it set up about 6" higher than the cab. I really liked that there was no glass...out of sight...out of mind. The hardware was like the beefy T-handles we use at AT.

The Snugtop I have now is a bit sexier as it has some nice contours to it. I have carried heavy loads on it such as fuel, RTT and even my Hobie 14. It does however tend to splay out at the rear door under load making closing of the rear door sometimes difficult. I think the coolest thing about it though is that I paid extra to have the inside of it flocked and velcro sticks handily to it. I don't think the hardware is as secure as the Gemtop was and since it has a glass window in the back, I have to keep a better eye on my gear.

The reason I don't have a Gemtop anymore is that it got munched in an accident and because I bought it used, there was not enough in the policy to replace it.


I have Leer 100R on my Titan. It came with the truck, so I didn't have much choice. I like it though, it's covered inside and seems solid and doesn't move much when I took the truck offroad. It attaches to the Utilitrack, which seems stronger than the usual C-clamps.



I had an ARE fiberglass shell on my Tacoma. Two options I would consider a must would be the Yakima or Thule tracks pre-installed and the win-door side windows. The tracks make it easy to add load bars and the win-doors just make life easy when it comes to accessing items in the bed. The heaviest thing we ever carried on the roof was our canoe and that is less then 100 pounds, so I can't really speak for the load capacity, but I do know the ARE had a "honey-comb" ceiling that was supposed to add to it's strength.

Clearly the best part is the extra security and the weather proofiness (yep, making up's Friday and the beer is cold). The ease of adding load bars is also a very nice plus.

Things I did not like, I felt like it really cut down on the rearward visibility. It's not awful and you figure it out quick. With an open bed, you have one pane of tinted glass to look through when using the rear view. When I added my shell, it went to three panes. You do get used to it, and when you have an 18 wheeler or a big full size on your rear bumper, their head lights are not nearly as distracting. I also really liked having an open bed before I added the shell. I know I probably could have removed the bed, but it didn't look like it would be real easy. And this doesn't matter much, but I always liked the look of the truck better without the shell. I will also add that my Tacoma drove like crap once the shell was installed with the stock TRD suspension. It made the truck lean hard going around corners and really made the back end handle weird, kind of hard to describe. The OME suspension fixed that.

Overall, I thought the ARE was pretty well made. The fiberglass didn't have any flaws and it was a perfect match color wise to my truck (white...not that hard to match I guess). There were a few things that I thought was a little cheesy, like the frame around the win-doors, but I never had any problems with anything on the camper.

I'm in a similar cross roads as you are with my Frontier. I saw a picture of a crew-cab with a camper shell on it yesterday and I HATED how it looked! Even my wife said it didn't look good. We're talking about a FWC instead...


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Travelmore said:
elcoyote do you have any photos of your set up? I have an MJ that I am thinking of putting a top on.
Here you go


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I have an cab high ARE fiberglass shell on my Pickup, it is the premium series. The cap is just over 10 years old and holding up well.
The fact that is has been on a 1 ton Dually running empty most of the time and driven in salt every winter says alot. Everthing works just as delivered in 97' and looks almost new, the cap has also been taken on and off repeatedly each year.

I wanted a Leer as I thought they were the best, but the paint match guarantee and warranty swayed me from the hard to get along with Leer dealer here. My father-in-law (a long time Leer fan) could not get a paint match on his new Leer cap. His local ARE dealer took care of him, now he is on his second one.....


Appalachian Ridgerunner
I have a Leer on my Ram, it's about 10 yrs old and has been on three different trucks. It's held up well for the most part though I did have to reseal the windows this fall and had to reinforce the rear window frame also. I have a like/dislike relationship with this topper. For traveling it's nice to have a secure bed and the extra room to store stuff in, but like Dave said, it does cut down on the visibility. As soon as the snow starts falling around here the windows get all mucked up and there is no visibility at all, same for dusty road travel.

I have the Yakima racks on mine and though I'm usually hauling just the canoe, last fall I went to VA to chink a log home there and had over 300lbs of scaffolding boards and ladders on top with no problems. Also the top is on the heavy side, so I need to get someone to help set it on, it's abit to heavy for my wife to help. I usually run it starting in the spring, mainly for hauling ladders for work, and then take it off in late fall and mount my tonneau cover in the winter. I did build a rack the same height as the top of the pickup bed rails so that the topper can be slid directly of the truck and onto the rack; mush easier to handle and I can do it on my own.


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Bella PSD

I would go for ARE. I have had several tops including Leer and by far the best has been ARE. The Leer I had almost lost its back window on the road, the side work windows had locks that did not work, and it had fiberglass cracks. It was only 2 months old. Leer would not refund my money, just said they would repair it. And that would take 6 weeks!! Sold it for a loss ($750) and went out and got an ARE. It is true on the strength of the roof on an ARE (honeycomb). The ARE’s I have owned both had roof rack that were not for looks. Lots of stuff up there. The new Leer I sold would creek and snap if you tried to put weight on the roof. The ARE is solid. Click on my link below to see the ARE cap with a makeshift RTT on a roof rack and also a 35” spare tire up top.



ExPo Original
articulate said:
Now I'm thinking about getting a shell, installing the Eezi-Awn to the top, creating a sleeping platform inside the shell for the kid(s)...

Plural? Something you want to share with the group? :peepwall:

I've used ARE's, Raider's and Snugtop's. Never had any real problems with any of them. The Raider had similar features and options as the Snugtop but at a better price point. The ARE, I didn't have for very long but the build quality was there.

FWIW, I had thought at one point about getting an ARE fiberglass commercial topper with a passenger side flip-up "windoor" and enclosed storage shelves on the drivers side (where you can't really see out of anyway) with access from the outside. They can include a roof rack tracks to support (I'm guessing...) an RTT as well.

:lurk: :lurk:


Wiffleball Batter
Shells? I LOVE shells!

Ah, a subject on which I feel chatty! Hope you don't mind if I go on a bit...:D

Okay, I've owned 4 pickups in my life and all of them had shells on them. 1 of them had 2 different shells so that's 5 shells on 4 trucks. I've had just about every one of the major shell types, except that I've never had a "soft" shell (and I don't consider tonneau covers to be shells, though some might consider them such.)

My first truck (Shell01) was an 85 Toyota 4x4, reg cab. I wanted a shell both for camping and to be able to secure stuff in the truck. I ended up getting one from the dealer and paying way too much for it (around $2k in 1985!) but hey, I was young and dumb....Shell was a Glasstite fiberglass model. It was way overbuilt (which I learned later when I rolled the truck) and was a high-rise model. Pluses: Besides the obvious (place to camp in inclement weather, way to lock up stuff) it was a good looking shell that matched the lines of my truck. Minuses: Door was heavy, awkward and I wonder if it would have eventually gotten damaged or worn out if I'd kept the truck long enough. It did survive rollovers, not once but twice and didn't have any major damage (no broken glass, for example.)

Second truck (shell02): I was stationed in Germany from 1987 to 1989, and didn't want/need a vehicle. When I transferred back to the states in July of 89 I knew I'd need transportation. But since, at that time, I wasn't planning on staying in past my 4 year hitch, I didn't want to spend a lot of money, either. So, I got something reliable and simple: A 2wd 1984 Mazda B2000 pickup with a carbureted 2l engine and a 5 speed. Regular cab, no AC, no stereo, no power anything, just a simple truck. It had about 35,000 miles on it and cost me around $3600 out the door. I was headed to Fort Lewis, WA (near Tacoma) and knew I would need a way to keep my stuff secure, plus, to me a truck isn't complete without a shell. So, in keeping with the "theme" of the truck (i.e., simple and cheap), I went to the local topper dealer and got the cheapest, simplest shell they had: A Gemtop Aluminum/wood frame shell for around $250. It was ugly as hell and didn't exactly fit (there was a hideous gap between the cab and the shell) but it was secure and functional. I kept that shell for about the next year and it served me well. Pluses: CHEAP! And simple. Minuses: LOTS! The inside of the shell became home to condensed moisture during Western Washington's famous rainy season. It was ugly and noisy. Difficult to camp in because of the aforementioned condensation which caused water to drip on me when I tried to sleep in it. Almost ruined some of the tools I had in there. That shell definitely fit into the category of "better than nothing - but not much better." FWIW it probably would have been a perfectly acceptable shell in a dry climate but for Washington it really didn't work.

In 1990 I decided to "re-up" for another 6 years and got a nice bonus from the Army. I used part of the bonus to pay off the rest of what I owed on the truck and the rest to put a new shell on it (shell03). Even back in 1990 a fiberglass shell was around $800, but I wanted something better. I went to the canopy shop in Spanaway ("Canopy" being what they called a camper shell in the NW) and they showed me an alternative: The thermoplastic shell. This looks similar to a fiberglass shell from the outside but is made up of a much thinner thermoplastic material (around here they typically wear the Brahma name but you can see others as well.) Biggest selling point of this shell was its price: Color matched to the truck it was around $400. I bought that and also the first carpet kit I'd ever gotten in a truck and that was how I camped out for the next year or so that I owned the truck. Pluses: Cheap, good looking. Minuses: FLIMSY! It is rare to find one of these that hasn't cracked in several places, usually in the space between the side window and the bed rail. You don't see too many of these around anymore and for good reason: They're junk. Cannot support any significant weight. Will crack and look like hell. Probably not very sturdy (though I wouldn't want to find out the hard way.)

In 1992, after a tour in Korea, I traded in the Mazda on a Mitsubishi Montero, so I was off trucks for a while. Then, in 1999, out of the Army and back in school, I decided I needed a new vehicle so I sold the Monty and bought a 2wd Ford Ranger, Extra-cab (shell04) figuring that I didn't really need 4wd because I still had several years of school ahead of me and wasn't going to be doing much off-road traveling. This time I was smart about my shell and didn't get it from a dealer - I shopped around in Denver. There, at Suburban Toppers, I found an awesome shell: A Raven fiberglass high-rise model. The only options I went with were the inside light, the long windows (standard model had two short windows on each side) and a sliding front window. It was gorgeously color matched to my hunter-green truck (which is the only vehicle I've ever owned where I got to pick the color) and it had a thick carpeted lining. I also ordered a carpet kit so I could use it as a camper. I owned that truck for almost 4 years and 93,000 miles and I camped out in it a lot. It was a perfect "road trip" vehicle. In May of 2002 I camped out on the north shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Some time in the night a fierce storm came blew in, pelting the area with heavy rain and high winds. If I'd been in a tent I would have been miserable, even if my tent stayed up (which it probably wouldn't have.) But in my truck I stayed warm and dry and the wind just rocked me to sleep. Next morning I hopped out, picked up some of my gear that had been blown around, took a whiz, and then hopped back into the truck and drove off. Great experience! Pluses: Very sturdy, well made, very roomy with the high rise, absolutely waterproof, gorgeous! Minuses: The only ones I can think of are the expense (about $1100 in 1999, they're up to around $1600 now) and quite heavy, although I can't be sure because I never tried to take it off.

Last photo shows the cavernous interior of my "hard tent" with the carpet kit in "sleeping" configuration.

Sold that truck in 2003 for a Subaru Outback, which was fun but after just a few years I was missing having a truck. Then, last year, I traded the Subie in for a 2004 Tacoma (shell05). The truck originally had an open bed and a tool box, but I wanted a shell so I sold the toolbox on CL and the next day bought a used cab-high shell, also off CL. The shell is a forest green Leer, I think the model is the 100LE. It only cost me $150 because the 1-piece rear glass was broken off. So, after calling around, I ordered a new rear glass door. Cost for the new door was around $210, with the installation charge waived because they took so long to do it. Pluses: Inexpensive (for me: These things cost around $1400 new) fairly sturdy and adequate for my needs. Carpeted liner means sticking on curtains with vel-cro is easy, also keeps it from getting condensation on the inside. Light weight (the seller and I had no problem putting it on my truck. Weight is maybe 125 lbs.) Minuses: This is probably the 3rd or 4th Tacoma that this shell has been on and it's showing its age. Lots of cracking especially around where the door attaches. Door seal is not 100% watertight. And even though it looks good, I hate the all-glass door, not only does it not seal completely, but if it breaks it's another $200+ repair job, whereas my Raven had a flat, metal-framed rear door that wasn't as pretty but a hell of a lot more rugged and cheaper to replace. Cab-high height was also a problem when camping with the GF this summer - she fellt like the top of the shell was only an inch above our faces, not comfortable! In many ways this is like the aluminum shell I got in 1989 in the sense that it's "good enough" especially considering the money I paid for it.

As for having a shell in general, honestly I don't see how so many people get along without them. Especially if you travel a lot it's just so nice to have that big, secure, lockable area in the back. And if you camp out, it's just great having a "hard tent" that doesn't need any setting up when you get to a campsite late at night. It's also immune to critters and to weather. About the only drawbacks to the shell are the obvious ones: Not being able to carry a motorcycle or other large items (though my Leer will come off in 10 minutes with a 1/2" socket and two people to lift it), the loss of visibility (which I don't notice because I'm so used to using my mirrors) and the weight (which is really negligible on a 4,000lb truck.)

So as you can see, I'm a big fan of shells. Especially on an "expedition" vehicle I think they just make sense.

Incidentally, contrary to popular myth, I've never noticed any change in MPG due to having a shell. I've also never noticed any significant increase or decrease in noise, but then again most of my trucks have been pretty noisy so I probably wouldn't notice.

So there's my $0.02 on shells. Take it for what it's worth!
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I have wondered why some of you guys don't use shells with all of the equipment you carry. Easy way to keep dust and grime off equipment...and keep off unwanted hands.

I had a SnugTop (still have it) on mine before the Wildernest. If I was going to do it a again, It would be a GemTop or a Leer with a toolbox at least on one side. The tool box toppers just make a lot of sense to me. Especially for an "Expedition Rig"


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Rendezvous Conspiracy
Articulate- I think switching to the shell is a great idea.

You could permanently mount your water system, an aux battery, compressor, etc. below a sleeping platform and still have plenty of room on top for groceries or Home Depot runs when in Daily Driver mode.

This is my Vista brand shell w/platform. Very happy with it:


Active member
I own a ARE....I love it! Only wish i had the pop-up windows on the sides....Other than that...It is worth the $$$$$!


If you are talking about kid(s).....might want to think about up grading that Eezi-Awn of yours and put it on your new AT trailer and just put a shell on your rig and be done!

Kid(s)=More stuff!!!!!!!

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RTT on top of the shell is a great idea. I didn't go that way because it would not fit in my garage.:oops:

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