off-roading with hard side camper

montypower

Adventure Time!
Off road capability has more to do with how you load whatever camper you have and how the base truck is setup.

It's not necessarily true that a hard side camper is worse off road. I've owned a FWC and now a hard side camper. Popup campers have heavy roof sections (as they need to raise/lower) but they sit about 18" shorter collapsed. The width is the same so navigating either camper through trees is going to get interesting. We carry an electric pole saw to help as needed.

Our 4WC had 2 paddle boards on the roof (think increased height, wind drag and weight) and glass solar panels (think weight). New hard side camper has flexible solar (crazy light), no ac, no additional weight up high... plus added weight down low (paddle boards in drawer under camper, 40 gallon h2o tank on the floor, batteries on the floor, etc...

The COG on the current camper is ~ 24" which is comparable to many popups. So the biggest obstacle is the additional ~ 18" of height.

Pop Up Pros:
Lower height is good for 1-2 mpg (depending on travel speed)
Could be easier to get through trees (depending on what you put on the roof)
Less weight (depending)

Hard Side Pros:
Better comfort: Massively better insulation in cold/hot weather. No comparison!
Quiet: So much less noise! Think rain, wind, outside noises
Faster: No setup or tear down. Much more enjoyable for lunch stops
Removable: Electric jacks and ability to live on off the truck. Frees truck for hard core trails.
Stealth: Camp incognito. Easy to do - no need to crawl around like pop tops trying to camp stealth mode. :)

It's crazy how many pop up campers had racks and crap on the roof. Talk about negating any advantage of the pop up! For weekend trips or occasional use... pop top may be nice (easier to store). But for 1+ week trip no comparison! Hard top for win.
 

Regcabguy

Expedition Leader
I've driven into a couple of spots in Baja about 2-3 hrs to get in there offroad.
My friend's F-350 and a hardsided couldn't begin to keep up with me.
Stock suspension each truck. That's not to say that the Ford with Deavers,fore and aft wouldn't do much better but the leverage of the hardsided over the suspension is much greater than with a Northstar in my case.
Strong side winds are another issue. We were on I-15 south of Vegas and the wind coming off the dry lake to the east was crazy. The srw trucks with hardsided campers were in the right lane going maybe 50mph with their hazard lights on. I was white knuckling it but maintaining speed. The champ was a dually F-350 with a darn big hardsided camper. Solid handling.
That being said after 20 yrs in a popup I'd probably have a hardsided camper if I had a place to store it. My driveway would be too ghetto.
As you said pluses and minuses in everything.
 

Mundo4x4Casa

West slope, N. Ser. Nev.
Using a truck camper off road has to do with two basic issues:
1. The COMPETENCE, TALENT, and EXPERIENCE of the owner/operator to build the truck and camper lashup to trump the circumstances encountered. If any one of these is missing, you may not have the great experience you wanted, until an eventual period of adjustment is reached.

The best ones have a lot of off road experience in a rock crawler or jeep (note the small j) and the personally building of same. There is a short list of folks in this category.
My favorite buddy to travel with two TC's in tandem is my Brother John Reynolds (JR) who won the first King of the Hammers rock race in CA, and the 2003 Top Truck Challenge. He bought a used legendary stock sleeper, 1999 Ford F-250/ZF-6/IH 7.3 diesel/camper package LB with a palatial 2002-9.5 OUTFITTER!.
It's now his only 4WD.
His superior skill completely outweighs any equipment deficit, off-road.
His rig is in the up position in the Black Hills a couple weeks ago.
thumb_DSCN2860_1024.jpg


The big difference here is he knows when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em and can fix literally anything....on the trail.

2. The AGE of said owner/operator. My 1st pop-up was a two room Coleman 8 x12 canvas tent weighing 78 pounds dry. After that came a series of backpacking tents including a one pole job called the Pyramid that weighed one pound. It was retired after a couple nights in the single digits and a blizzard. Then we slept in the back of my FJ-55 that I had a sailmaker make a boot (like a 19th century stagecoach) that snapped over the opening with the tailgate down.
thumb_Toytrlr74_1024.jpg


So, time marches on and 1.3 million miles; 13, 4WD's later, and 20 years ago we bought a new 2001 Dodge Cummins HO/NV5600/ SB to flat tow our 4.88 geared rock crawler to the trail head. Then we bought a car trailer and did a SOA on it to tow behind the RAM.

thumb_DSCN1856_1024.jpg
Then we thought it would be good to be able to camp at the trailhead and bought a used (3 times) 1998 Lance Lite 165-s hardside camper for $6500, cash. We loved that rig and used it hundreds of nights all over the west from AK to Mex, even after we sold the rock crawler. It was the narrowest, lightest, and least tall of all the self contained hardsides of the time and weighed 1842 pounds, wet as it had no frills, oven, AC,; pretty much the stripped model. It was off-roaded hard for 18 years.
#6-Goler Wash Death Valley.JPG

Then we suddenly got old.
This is the result of an overnight blizzard across from the Grand Tetons on September 7th.

thumb_DSCN2822_1024.jpg
Age has a way of pointing you in a direction of reasonable comfort when the temp outside your camper is minus 2f, and the wind is blowing 60 mph.
When you are young it's just another memorable life experience. Later, you don't care to experience that all night shiver again.
We sold the Lance last year a bought its replacement, a 2020 Northstar Laredo SC which has the same basic footprint but a few hundred pounds heavier- and a lot more upgrades that through experience we wanted. It is built like a tank.


So, off-roading with a hardside can be done. To what degree has all to do with your pain threshold, trail savvy, and the two items above.
Jeff Reynolds, aka jefe.
 
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montypower

Adventure Time!
What is really interesting to me is the height difference between the Flatbed FWC and NS Liberty assuming same base truck. You're talking around 12-14". It's really minimal. I'll be sharing some of our adventures and push the limits a bit. I do agree that capability is partly truck/camper and mostly driver ability.
 

Mundo4x4Casa

West slope, N. Ser. Nev.
Monty, do you have the Ford Tremor Gas? Jeanie wants one. She is not enamoured with the 6 speed manual and rattle of the Cummins any more.
jefe
 

montypower

Adventure Time!
Monty, do you have the Ford Tremor Gas? Jeanie wants one. She is not enamoured with the 6 speed manual and rattle of the Cummins any more.
jefe
We have the F250 XL Extended Cab Short Bed - 6.2L Gas. I'd recommend ordering one custom... It took 3-4 months to build but got lots of cool cheap options: Aux switches, 4.30 gears, rear locker, vinyl seats, vinyl floor and a few others. Really cheap options to add to base truck. Just under $40k all in. Really simple to fit 37" tires. And 40s are not out of range with changing bump stops and trimming.

Tremor requires XLT trim, crew cab and 7.3L gas. We already had the longer CC 160" wheelbase and it wasn't great. The 148" is much better. Plus, I like buying old motors like the 6.2L that's been proven for the past decade. Can't beat the axle set... High Pinion D60 w/ manual hubs and Sterling 10.5". OX air locker works great up front.

-Peter
 

rruff

Explorer
We have the F250 XL Extended Cab Short Bed - 6.2L Gas. I'd recommend ordering one custom... It took 3-4 months to build but got lots of cool cheap options: Aux switches, 4.30 gears, rear locker, vinyl seats, vinyl floor and a few others.
I hope I'm not going to wish I'd gotten an F250 rather than the Tundra. ;) Lower gears available, locker, boxed frame, and much higher payload are the main benefits I see. The camper I'm building will be big, but light and aero (relatively) but there is no way I'll make GVWR loaded up. I'm optimistic on staying below the axle ratings...

Since you've had both, could you give your comparison thoughts?
 

montypower

Adventure Time!
I loved the Tundra. It worked well with Ko2 Tires, Deaver Springs, Icon Shocks, Timbren Bump Stops, Sway Bar... But you'll easily exceed the GVWR. The rated curb weight isn't realistic. Just adding fluids and passengers and weight capacity drops fast. We kept under GAWR and it did fine. Extremely reliable for the 50k miles I had it. Turning radius is fantastic! Big Toyota and Tundra fan. Just not the designed for heavy weight.

I kept stock tire size to save regear costs on the Tundra (and reliability and mpg). Where the F250 can be optioned with lower gears (basically perfect ratio for 37s). So it's just easier. The axles are beefy. 37s are nothing for it. 40s are within range. Where 35s are big for the Tundra.

Would I build another Tundra? Doubt it. Super Duty is just a better platform. It's really setup to handle large tires, weight, ground clearance and accessories with limited modifications. So much easier and less costly. Love the Auxiliary switches. No carpet. D60. Factory 4.30 gears. Rear locker. Just to name a few.

Will you be happy? I think either can work... just depends on your expectations, needs and willingness to modify. Key with enjoying the Tundra is to keep within the "reliability range". Think small suspension lift (2-3") and stockish size tires (maybe slightly plus size). Otherwise you loose what makes Toyota great (reliability and durability).
 
also consider the width and turning radius. If I had a full size truck I would have had to turn back many times where my Taco fit. And even with a midsize truck, a regular cap has a tighter turning radius than a crew or double cab. I chose the Crew cab as a reasonable compromise.
 

rruff

Explorer
Will you be happy? I think either can work... just depends on your expectations, needs and willingness to modify.
Based on past experience, I think my expectations will be low. ;) My last camper was nearly as big and was mounted on a '84 2wd, which had bigger tires (~10%), stock gearing, an additional leaf (not enough), and cheap shocks. My low gear was slipping the clutch. I was always bouncing the undercarraige off rocks, and it was a mass of dents. I lived in that truck for 13 years and beat the crap out of it. So ya I'm a little biased in favor of Toyotas. The Tundra will be much more capable, and it's literally >2x the weight and >3x the power, so I think it will be "adequate" at least... certainly better than the setup on the '84!

YTruck02.jpg
 

montypower

Adventure Time!
also consider the width and turning radius. If I had a full size truck I would have had to turn back many times where my Taco fit. And even with a midsize truck, a regular cap has a tighter turning radius than a crew or double cab. I chose the Crew cab as a reasonable compromise.
The modern Tacoma is not small... It's the same size as the Gen1 Tundra! And you're only talking 5" less than the Super Duty. There are some trails where body clearance may only be a couple inches on each side... but not many roads leading to destinations. Destinations is the purpose of travel (especially with a camper) in my opinion.

In the past, I've hated Full Size trucks on trails mostly due to the owners. But realistically, if a modern 4WD can fit a skilled driver can get a Super Duty through most areas. It costs much less money to build a Super Duty than any Toyota. You need to regear Toyotas with 33-35s. Super Duty can take 37s with factory optioned 4.30s. Axles are way overkill in comparison. Tons more power. Payload. And nearly the same cost (we were less than $40k custom ordered).

Toyota has the overland scene popularity and cool factor. But really not much more. And the fuel mileage sucks when they are modified. Now, if Toyota brought back a proper "compact" truck... I'd be on board.

Tacoma Extended/Crew Short Bed = 40ft
Tacoma Crew Long Bed = 44ft
Tundra DC/CrewMax Short = 44ft (best of any full size truck)
Tundra DC Long = 49ft

* Ford F250 4x4 Extended 6.75ft Bed= 49ft
Ford F250 4x4 Crew 6.75ft Bed = 53ft (our 2019 was this configuration)

Ford F250 4x4 Standard 8ft Bed = 47ft
Ford F250 4x4 Extended 8ft Bed = 54ft
Ford F250 4x4 Crew 8ft Bed = 58ft

Here's where it gets interesting... Step up to the F450 / F550 for Super Dana 60 Axle (tight turning)
Ford F450 4x4 Standard 8ft Bed = 47ft
Ford F450 4x4 Crew 8ft Bed = 50ft
 

deserteagle56

Adventurer
Then we suddenly got old.
Age has a way of pointing you in a direction of reasonable comfort when the temp outside your camper is minus 2f, and the wind is blowing 60 mph.
Jeff Reynolds, aka jefe.
Funny how that works! 50 years ago a bedroll strapped to the back of my dirt bike was my camping setup and I was happy with it. If I were to try that today I'd need help to get out of the bedroll the next morning. So now I'm in a Bigfoot camper- my retirement home. And the Bigfoot is on a 2005 Dodge/Cummins with a 6 speed manual that I got cheap with only 55,000 miles on it because the guy's wife hated that manual tranny/Cummins combo.

It's all about compromises. You give up some agility with a hard-side camper on a truck but at the same time gain a lot of comfort/utility. Each has to decide for himself what's important. What's most important is to have enough truck under the camper. I also have a heavy-duty F150 but I would never consider hauling even a light cabover on it - too much of a pucker factor when on an off-camber trail.
 
The modern Tacoma is not small... It's the same size as the Gen1 Tundra! And you're only talking 5" less than the Super Duty. There are some trails where body clearance may only be a couple inches on each side... but not many roads leading to destinations. Destinations is the purpose of travel (especially with a camper) in my opinion.

In the past, I've hated Full Size trucks on trails mostly due to the owners. But realistically, if a modern 4WD can fit a skilled driver can get a Super Duty through most areas. It costs much less money to build a Super Duty than any Toyota. You need to regear Toyotas with 33-35s. Super Duty can take 37s with factory optioned 4.30s. Axles are way overkill in comparison. Tons more power. Payload. And nearly the same cost (we were less than $40k custom ordered).

Toyota has the overland scene popularity and cool factor. But really not much more. And the fuel mileage sucks when they are modified. Now, if Toyota brought back a proper "compact" truck... I'd be on board.

Tacoma Extended/Crew Short Bed = 40ft
Tacoma Crew Long Bed = 44ft
Tundra DC/CrewMax Short = 44ft (best of any full size truck)
Tundra DC Long = 49ft

* Ford F250 4x4 Extended 6.75ft Bed= 49ft
Ford F250 4x4 Crew 6.75ft Bed = 53ft (our 2019 was this configuration)

Ford F250 4x4 Standard 8ft Bed = 47ft
Ford F250 4x4 Extended 8ft Bed = 54ft
Ford F250 4x4 Crew 8ft Bed = 58ft

Here's where it gets interesting... Step up to the F450 / F550 for Super Dana 60 Axle (tight turning)
Ford F450 4x4 Standard 8ft Bed = 47ft
Ford F450 4x4 Crew 8ft Bed = 50ft
I guess we all have our biases. Those differences may be small to you but are huge to me.
 

montypower

Adventure Time!
My preference is small. But it's not practical hauling a camper. And the wife and I leave for months at a time... so comfort matters. The Super Duty won't be a "dedicated trail rig" and we've been debating a SxS for ninja off road fun.

I just sold my 1998 Tacoma on 37s. It was great for exploring tight spaces and rock crawling.... That's the proper size for a "compact" truck. I'd be in line to buy the Suzuki Jimny. Light and small is great. My point is the current generation Tacoma is neither light nor small. It's awkwardly large with small capacity. They are cool trucks just not great at anything. The current Jeep JL and Gladiator are also bloated and far from small or light.

I'm a huge Toyota fan... easily have owned over 20 of them. Most recent ones were: 2016 Tundra, 1998 Tacoma, 1998 Rav4 2dr, 1999 Rav4, 2010 Tundra, 2013 Tacoma... Love the older generation late 90s era the best.

The once massive size difference between "full size" and "compact" continues to narrow.
 
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