New Camper Build - THE OVERL[h]ANDER

msiminoff

Active member
OverlHanderPlate.jpg
Intro:
Our 2004 Alpenlite Saratoga 935 truck camper has been an amazing home on the road and it has taken us from the California redwoods to Key West FL, Acadia Nat' Park in Maine, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Seattle WA, and just about everywhere in-between. We're now making plans for a few more extended family trips (Alaska & Tierra Del Fuego are on the short list) while our kids are still young and interested to travel with mom & dad.... So, after 12-1/2 years on traveling in a TC, this adventure-family of 4 has decided that it's time to upgrade our accommodations.
Siminoff-family.jpg

The die is cast; We're putting a Total Composites box on our trusty Ram 3500. I'll share more info and photos here as the build progresses.
Cheers!
-Mark
 
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msiminoff

Active member
History:
We've spend hundreds of nights on the road with little kids in a tiny box, but the kids aren't so little any more. Also, I am at the point where I'm 100% DONE converting the dinette and folding down a bunk-bed 2x/day! It's time for a new camper. We long-ago decided that we want to stick with a 4-door 4x4 pickup chassis, and initially the hope was to move up to a pre-built expedition vehicle on a 450/550 series truck (e.g. EarthRoamer, Bahn CamperWorks, an Adventure Truck from GXV, or maybe something from XP-Camper). In our search we have spoken with everybody we could find that builds or owns expedition vehicles (& RV's), attended several Overland Expo's, read all of the forums, and we even made the trek out to Dacono to visit ER... but we haven't been able to find anything that offers every-thing we want; A four-person, small-ish, ultra-reliable, 4-season camper with all the comforts of home (plumbing, electrical, communications, HVAC system, etc), storage for our stuff, and most importantly dedicated beds for the kids. Also, we're interested in being not-too-flashy because we are going to be traveling through Central and South America... so a rig that looks more like "box-truck " and less like "million-dollar-RV" is fine with us.

Finally, after a couple years of planning and dreaming, we reached the conclusion that in order to get what we want we'll need to build a custom camper. One of the most significant a-ha moments came while chatting with Dave Harriton from AEV at Overland Expo West (May 2019). I was all set to order-up one of AEV's amazing Ram conversions when Dave asked me about the current truck. I told him about my '05 Ram and Dave (while standing in front of his gorgeous JK mounted "Outpost II") responded with "you may already have the right truck, IF you can build a light enough camper for it". Hmmmm!!! I thought, maybe I do?!

My next chat at OX-W '19 was with Andreas Schwall from Total Composites. He and I had spoken several times over the years, mostly through private message here on Expedition Portal. I knew that their camper boxes were lightweight, well insulated, and highly customizable. Our brief talk and tour of the Schwall family camper reinforced my expectations and a subsequent visit to the Total Composites office in Victoria, BC (July 2019) confirmed that a clever floorplan in one of their boxes was what we wanted.

-Mark
 
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msiminoff

Active member
Truck and Camper:
We have a 2005 (3rd gen' Dodge) Ram 3500, 4x4, SRW, Quad-cab, short-bed, 24V 5.9L Cummins turbo diesel. The list of upgrades is fairly extensive: Dynatrac ball joints & Free-Spin hubs, 4.10 gears w/ARB air-lockers front & rear, Goerend 48RE transmission (billet shafts throughout, triple disc torque converter), PacBrake PXRB exhaust brake, on-board air (for airbags, exhaust brake, horn, & tire fills), 180A alternator from DC Power Engineering, Vision Type 81 19.5” wheels, Bridgestone M729F (245/70-19.5) tires, Thuren track bar & tie-rod end, 2008 Ram steering linkage, Roadmaster anti-sway bar, yadda-yadda.

One of the greatest things about my truck (nicknamed "All-Mighty") is the strong & super-reliable Cummins motor. Also because it's an '05 it doesn't have a DPF or require DEF. However, there are two significant challenges; 1) It's a 1-ton chassis which means in order to stay anywhere near GVWR, the camper, subframe, and all the internals need to be light... super-light. 2) The stock wheelbase is/was 140.5" which doesn't allow for much more than a ~9' camper floor. Fortunately, a visit to Brian at Custom Solutions (aka: stretchmytruck.com) in Salt Lake City corrected that and the Ram is now sporting a more appropriate 173.4" wheelbase.
Stretch1.JPG

Stretch2.jpg

To properly support and isolate the Total Composites box, an aluminum subframe is being designed and fabricated by the engineering wizards at Durrance Design. It's a 3-point mount with a unique system to distribute loads across the full length of the truck's frame rails while still allowing for plenty of articulation as the frame flexes. The subframe will also support the aluminum side-boxes.
CamperPreview2DJPG2.jpg
The order for the Total Composites panels was placed on Nov 27th and the panels were delivered on Jan 29th. Fabrication of the camper box is set to start in mid February. The design is basically a flat-bed cabover (N-S queen) camper with a 12' long floor. The side walls are 50mm thick and the floor, ceiling, and rear wall are 84mm thick. It will have a rear entry door which is (IMHO) one of the most unique features of the camper; A Tern Overland Wildlands door mounted inside a set of French doors from AJR Marine. This will provide the security of a triple-locking expedition door or, when the conditions allow, a 72" wide-open window to the outside world. The windows, compartment doors, and roof hatch are from Tern Overland too. Of course there will also be a pass-through from the camper to the truck.

IMG_4755.jpg
Fabrication of rear French door assembly.
 
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msiminoff

Active member
Systems:
For electrical, I've selected two 200A/h LifePO4 batteries from LifeBlue and I left an open space for a 3rd battery in the unlikely event that 400A/h (5.2kWh) isn't enough. I chose these batteries based on their size, reasonable cost, excellent build quality, and the fact that they have Bluetooth integrated into the BMS in each enclosure... there's a handy LifeBlue app so I can monitor each battery (& cell) individually if I ever need to. There's 940 Watts (4 x 235W) of Sharp solar panels going up on the roof which will feed the batteries through a Victron SmartSolar MPPT 150/85-Tr. The inverter/charger is a Victron MultiPlus 12/3000/120-50 120V, and for charging from the alternator while driving I'm using a Victron Orion-Tr Smart 12/12-30 DC-DC Charger. All that stuff was purchased from the helpful folks at AM Solar. There's no plan for an onboard generator... other than the solar and alternator.

For systems monitoring I have selected a Simarine Pico display as well several of as their modules (SC501, ST107, SCQ25, & SCQ25T). This will track battery SOC, detailed power generation/consumption, tank levels (fresh, grey, & LPG sensors are from Safiery), temperatures (indoor, outdoor, fridge, freezer, hot water, & batt'), as well as remote monitoring and some handy programmable alarm functions.
Simarine1.jpg

For cabin heating I'm using a Planar diesel furnace with an analog thermostatic controller. Cooling is via a 6000Btu window air conditioner. In my preliminary A/C test I measured ~425W draw (31A @13.7Vdc. Mfr's claimed EER is 12.1). So as long as there is sun on the panels the solar should have no problem keeping up. For ventilation there will be a pair of MaxxFan Deluxe vent/fans.

Hot water is from a Elgena Nautic Compact Air water boiler that is heated by the diesel furnace and/or integrated 120V/500W & 12V/150W electric heating elements.

Siminoff_H2Oheater1.jpg Siminoff_H2Oheater2.jpg Siminoff_H2Oheater3.jpg

There will be a 32"x32" wet shower/bath with a small sink, and the toilet is an AirHead poop-dryer :ROFLMAO:. I am trying to figure out a simple urinal setup for us guys (standing up at the AirHead is a no-no). The fresh water tank is 50 gallons (420lbs whew! I suspect I may not ever fill it) and the grey tank is 25 gal. Drinking water filtration is through particulate & carbon block filters, and a UV sterilizer.

In the galley, there will be a full size sink, convection/microwave, 2-burner LP cooktop, single burner induction cooktop, and a LP wall-oven. I'm still undecided about which fridge/freezer to get, but it'll be an upright 12V Danfoss compressor type... maybe Isotherm or Vitrifrigo.

On-edit: Changed name and hyperlink to the correct Victron Orion DC-DC charger
 
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billiebob

Well-known member
most importantly dedicated beds for the kids. Also, we're interested in being not-too-flashy because we are going to be traveling through Central and South America.
Definitely following. I've hit a few of the places you have been too but not the Michigan Penninsula nor anywhere on the east coast. I agree fully, even inNorth America I hate the look at me syndrome with $10K hanging off the outside saying steal me.

Years ago I ran a bar and booked in bands. One band had a old International 5 ton with a "MrChristie Biscuits" van body. No one ever tried to steal it. Plain Jane, everything inside out of sight, make it look commercial.

I really want to see how you fit the kids beds/bunks. Very cool that you are keeping the old Dodge as a base.
 
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1000arms

Well-known member

DiploStrat

Expedition Leader
Looks like fun., FWIW:

-- A 6k BTU window shaker will work, but you will need to watch venting the condenser side. Options include leaving the roof open (cover with a solar panel), a fan (power loss) and simply leaving the condenser outside of the box (harder to mount). The other issue is assuring a downward slope so that condensate drains outside the camper rather than inside. All of these can be done, but may take a bit more work than you expect. And failing to vent the condenser will burn up air conditioners very fast.

-- I have gone through two Dometic refrigerators with the Danfoss/Secop set up. Gave up and went back to NovaKool as I had on my previous camper. Same compressor/controller, but both NovaKools worked perfectly. So I would vote for NovaKool.

As always, good luck and free advice is worth what you paid for it! ;)
 

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msiminoff

Active member
Much bigger than you are doing, but you night find SHACHAGRA interesting.
"Much bigger" is an understatement! 🤪 I have been following the Shagachara adventure for quite a while and I LOVE what they have built, but it definitely isn't the right kind of rig for us.
I should add that we're not currently roadschooling then kids... although we have in the past and will again once the new camper is done. You can read about some of our past adventures in this TCM article.

One thing Shachagra did that I really liked was they built a physical mock-up of their camper before they started construction. We did a similar thing in our living room with foam-core board, but ours was 1:1 scale. We also installed the AirHead in our master bath and used it for a month instead of our flush toilet to make sure we'd be happy living with a a separating/composting toilet.
Mockup.jpg

Looks like fun., FWIW: A 6k BTU window shaker will work, but you will need to watch venting the condenser side.
I designed an aluminum tray to mount the A/C. It allows the integrated fan to circulate outside air through the condenser and keeps the the A/C unit safely inside the camper and also ensures that the condensate drains outside.

I really want to see how you fit the kids beds/bunks.
Images of the the bunk bed concept in the section views below. The lower bunk also doubles as a couch (upper bunk folds down to make the rear cushion.

-Mark
CutawayLeft.JPG CutawayRight.JPG RearViewClosed.JPG RearViewOpen.JPG
 
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