Remodeling A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper

Remodeling A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper

In February 2018 I was drinking a bottle of wine in New Zealand when I found a 2002 Toyota Tacoma on Craigslist in Colorado. A few hours later my brother drove across Denver, bought the truck, and I flew home to pick it up. In November 2018 I was drinking cheap beer in an apartment on the coast in Spain when I found a 1989 SunLite slide-in pop-up truck camper on Craigslist in New York. I called the owners, asked them to hold it for me, and booked a flight home to pick it up. That’s how I ended up spending a frigid winter in Indiana, remodeling a slide-in pop-up truck camper.

Note to self: For my next international trip, block Craigslist from my web browser…

Living In A Toyota Tacoma Truck Camper

I landed in the United States, disassembled the truck canopy home that I lived in over the summer, drove straight to Rochester and bought the camper, crashed my buddy’s wedding, and after an epic weekend with my RAAM friends, made the long drive back to Indiana to start the camper renovation project.

Editor’s Note: If you don’t like reading, you can skip the story and watch the truck & camper tour film on YouTube HERE. Or, scroll through the photos of remodeling a slide-in pop-up truck camper and play the video from the bottom of the page!

Toyota Tacoma and Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper

Once in Indiana I set to work in the unheated warehouse of my Uncle’s wood shop. I wasn’t too worried, I’d watched plenty of renovation shows on HGTV and figured the entire project would take about 5 weeks. I’d be able to spend the Christmas holiday with my family, and then take my new slide-in pop-up truck camper home out west and start adventuring.

I was ooooohhhhhh sooooo wrong.

Remodeling A Slide-In Pop-Pup Truck Camper

Luckily, I had help. My step-dad Tom who helped me build my Tacoma home the year before was ready and willing to dive into this camper remodel project. If he knew how much work it would turn out to be he might have decided against it, but we started by removing pretty much everything and getting the camper down to bare bones for rebuilding.

Before Interior Photos

BEFORE - Interior of a slide in pop up truck camper - SunLite
BEFORE - Slide in pop up truck camper - SunLite

The HGTV fixer upper shows make demo day look fast and fun, but in reality, removing all the components and planning the rebuild took much much longer than anticipated. Most of the stock components would end up being reused, but we wanted to replace the utility lines, move a few parts, and add some new accessories to update the living space.

Remodeling the interior of a slide in pop up truck camper

The rear mounted A/C unit needed to go, as I rarely plug into shore power. Once it was gone we constructed a wall where the hole had been cut, re-skined the camper with aluminum siding, and sealed the outer trim before painting.

Replacing the wall of a slide-in pop-up truck camper

Inside Tom built a custom cabinet at the rear of the couch to specifically hold my pots and pans, and I sanded and primed the walls and cabinets, painstakingly installed a peel-and-stick faux tile backsplash in the kitchen, replaced the 12 gallon water tank with a custom molded 22 gallon tank, ran new propane and water lines, and rewired the electrical, adding a new inverter for onboard power.

Remodeling a Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper

One of the most stressful projects was redoing the copper propane lines to install an inline water heater on the rear of the camper for outdoor hot showers. I did a lot of testing and checking for gas leaks and was pleasantly surprised when the propane system worked and nothing exploded!

Remodeling A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper Utilities

We mounted two 160 watt solar panels on the roof, I stripped the decals from the aluminum siding, coated the camper with several gallons of roll on Herculiner bed-liner, painted the accessory panels, installed hasp padlocks on the utility doors and mounted 5 flood lights on the roof for security. We also added custom steel weather strips and locking doors to the sides of the truck bed and rear end that would seal the bed once the camper was installed, making the bed access storage weather-tight and secure. I also installed a battery isolater and connected the camper to the truck’s electrical system.

Remodeling a Pop Up Truck Camper - Electric

Ultimately, the entire remodel took nearly 5 months, a little longer than my anticipated 5 weeks, and there were ups and downs… lots of downs. It was the first winter that I’d spent in Indiana since moving to California 12 years prior, and the few days of -40° F with the windchill were Fahrenheitingly cold. I regularly spent $25 a day on kerosene to heat the warehouse and after months of challenges, I was absolutely ready to get out west for sunshine, warmth, and wilderness camping.

Remodeling a Toyota Tacoma Truck Camper

As the project wrapped up as the last few parts were reinstalled, the list of to-do’s got smaller, and I started to feel excited again. I spent the final few days working inside the heated wood shop, attaching the camper to the truck through custom mounting brackets, plugging everything in, and making sure it all worked.

Remodeling A Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper Chris Tarzan Clemens

My mom helped by sewing a custom couch cushion and some really awesome window curtains and accent pieces. I pulled up the old linoleum floor and replaced it with a vinyl peel-and-stick floor. The only thing left to do was move all of my stuff into my new home on wheels!

Remodeling A Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper - Floor

And with that, I was finally ready to hit the road. I tightened the camper tie downs, checked the air pressure in the Firestone air bags (those would be replaced soon with a custom rear suspension), and drove to the scales to check my overall weight. The Tacoma had gained a lot of pounds over the winter in Indiana (I might have too, due to mom’s delicious Midwest home cooking!), and though the rig was heavy, it felt good to be out on the open road. I thanked my family for all of their help, aimed west to test out my new rig in Utah, then a quick stop in Southern California before heading to Alaska for a summer under the midnight sun!

Terk The Truck Camper

A huge thank you to my step-dad Tom for helping me with this truck camper renovation! I’d like to promise that I won’t do that to us again, but, I know myself too well…

Tom and Chris and the Camper

Interior After Photos

Remodeling a SunLite Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper - After Renovation - Chris Tarzan Clemens
Remodeling a SunLite Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper - After Renovation - Chris Tarzan Clemens
Remodeling a SunLite Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper - After Renovation - Chris Tarzan Clemens
Remodeling a SunLite Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper - After Renovation - Chris Tarzan Clemens
Remodeling a SunLite Slide In Pop Up Truck Camper - After Renovation - Chris Tarzan Clemens

Remodeling A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper Film


  1. Hi – I really enjoy your posts and I am hoping to duplicate part of your trip this summer if things level out. I am wondering I am in the middle of remodeling a pop up camper and I think I will be about 400 lbs over my max payload, I am hoping that by changing the tires and adding air shocks I will be ok. How close were you to your max payload and what did you do to compensate for the weight? Thanks

    1. Hi James, I just sent you an email about the custom suspension work on the truck. Thanks!

  2. Hey Chris Awesome build, I have an 88 Sunlite but it appears that my dinette only has one pole support, also interested in your suspension set up.Thanks!

    1. That’s great! I’m actually thinking about redesigning my table, but I’m not sure yet. For the suspension, I really had no idea what to do, but I took the truck to a suspension shop in Phoenix, on more stock work they use manufactured leaf springs, but for my special project, and the fact that half of the camper’s weight seems to be on the driver’s side, they custom arched leaf spring packs, even adding 1 additional leaf on the driver’s side to carry the extra weight. All in all I think it cost me $1,000 and it was no big deal for them. I hope that helps!

  3. Hey Chris! I love your blog and find it so helpful for the remodeling I’m about to do on our 2000 Sun Lite camper! Thanks for being so awesome!
    Also, I’m curious what kind of cord you used for the wrap around the top to make sure the pop up portion closes inside when bringing it down? Thanks!

    1. Hi Sami, thank you! I bought a long bungee cord from Amazon, I forget the size, but it goes all the way around the canvas and I tied knots around carabiners and when I’m ready to lower the top I clip them together and the cord puts pressure on all corners and sides. Once I raise the top I un-clip them and the cord hangs loose around the canvas until I’m ready to lower to roof again. I hope this helps!

        1. Awesome! If you have any questions about what to do, or more, what not to do, just send me a message! Cheers!

  4. Hey Chris,

    I am looking at getting very similar set up. Is this an 8′ sunlite camper or is there a shorter version that you purchased?

    Also do you know the length of your Tacoma bed?

    Awesome build, thanks for the info!

    1. I would also like to know what work you did to the suspension and if you had any issues with payload capacity on the Gen 1 Tacoma.

      1. I went to a shop and they arched custom leaf packs. Before that I just had an add-a-leaf and the Firestone Ride-Rite air suspension, but that wasn’t enough to carry the extra weight. With the custom leaf packs the back-end is more ridged and the truck feels more stable. It’s heavy for sure, but now it feels better!

    2. I think I’m is the SunLite SkyHawk, a bit more narrow to fit into a pickup truck’s wheelbase, and shorter. My Tacoma’s bed is 6 feet, and the camper hangs about a foot or a bit more over the tailgate. Thanks!

  5. Hey love the camper! I have an 89 Sunline and I’ve done many of the same things and just found your build today. How did you make the covers for the openings on the side of the truck bed? Much more secure storage!

    1. That’s great! For the openings between the truck bed and camper we had the local Amish shop bend and weld metal sheets that we screwed to the bedrails, went straight up to the level of the bottom of the camper, and bent inward toward the center. On top I put foam strips as a weather seal and lowered the camper onto them. At the back my step-dad tacked together more bent metal pieces and we essentially built door frames for the stock swinging doors that came on the camper and put hasp locks on them. It was a lot of custom work, and trial and error, but great to have more “weather-proof” and locking storage!

  6. Hi Chris, great post and great work! I love the paint job, no idea why they are all white. I have a white FWC that looks so out of place on my black truck! Are you happy with the paint job and has it stood the test of time? Thanks!

    1. Thanks James! Unfortunately I’ve been out of the country since December 2019, so I haven’t seen the camper in some time. I did my own roll on bedliner, and before mounting the camper on the truck I needed to replace a fitting on the bottom of the camper, where it sets inside the truck bed. When I removed the fitting it peeled back a big circle of the bedliner material, about an 8 inch circle, as it hadn’t cured to the camper wall. I tried following all the best advice I could find preparing the sides and applying the bedliner. I do have to say that in the summer driving up to the top of Alaska and back I really don’t have any problems. I could see a few cracks forming around fittings and corners, but it seemed to be doing okay. I’m not sure if I’d do the roll on bedliner again, or maybe have it sprayed on by a professional, or, if I get down into Mexico maybe I’ll have the siding stripped and painted in hopes of getting a better coating. I hope that helps!

  7. Hello Chris,

    Thank you for sharing your camper build experience. I just bought a 2007 model which is in excellent shape.
    I am not happy with the table and just wondering if you went ahead with redesigning and building a replacement.
    How/where in the electrical system did you connect you solar panel wiring?
    I look forward to your reply and comments.
    Best regards from the headwaters of the Columbia River.

    1. Thanks John, that sounds like a great camper!

      I have not yet changed the table, but I’m considering it. I think my first change would be to try to redesign the table to be used as a table as well as an extension to the width of the couch and used as a lower bed. I secured the slide out couch when I added the cabinet in the back, so there is no longer a lower bed. I don’t mind the single stand table, it’s very sturdy, but I was looking into marine style setups to see if I could get something more maneuverable, but I think I’d probably stick with the single stand and make a taller and shorter post in an attempt to also use it as a bed.

      The previous owner had installed the solar panels and control charger. I moved it under the step near the truck bed access door panel where I store the battery. The panels are mounted on the roof and I drilled 1 hole in the side of the roof for the cables to run to the rear corner where I snuck them through a gap in the fabric around the lifting frame. From there I ran them along the ceiling and then down the canvas and through a cabinet to the charge controller under the step.

      I hope that helps!

  8. Thanks for the “marine “ idea for the table. I’ll look there for ideas. I’ll check with the “solar folks” to come with the proper connections. I like how you threaded the wires and do the same.

    Cheers John

  9. Hey man this rig is dope! I have a 03′ Tacoma with a Hallmark La Veda popup camper and I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from your build. What material did you use for the flooring and countertop?

    1. Thanks! The flooring is peel and stick fake wood floors from Lowe’s and the countertop is the original surface from the camper. Cheers!

  10. Hi Chris- I have a 2000 sunlite eagle camper I am remodeling after using it regularly for 5 years. How did you you mount the solar and do the roof rack? is that custom? Also, what is your experience with the propane heater and how big a battery to have to keep it running all night? Lastly, any recomendations for re-coating the roof? I was thinking to use flex seal, but some folks say that doesnt last.

    1. Hey Craig! The owner before me had mounted the solar panels with 2×4’s that sat across the roof and were attached to the stock original aluminum tube roof rack. To save weight I got rid of the 2x4s and used some plastic footers with glue that was highly recommended on RV websites. It worked, but this year I could see that a few of the footers had broken free from the roof, so I ran 4 aluminum bars across the roof, attaching them to the original roof rack and the solar panels to keep them in position. I’m about to hit the road again and see how they work.

      For the battery, I don’t remember the size I have, it was maybe $80 or $100 from Rural King and I’ve found that even if I run the propane heater fan all night it still seems to have enough juice in the batteries in the morning. It’s been a while since I’ve done it, but I’ll be using it this week as I cross the Midwest in the winter to find warmer weather.

      For the roof I went to and RV parts store and bought a gallon of roll-on Rubber Roof Coating from Heng’s Industries. It seems to have held up pretty well as just a coating, I didn’t have any real issues with sealing the roof, so I basically just painted over it.

      Hope that all helps!!

  11. Hi Chris,

    What tie downs are you using or what are those black items near the trunbuckles? Also, where did you get the aluminum siding from??

    1. Hey Lonnie, I typically keep my water from freezing by avoiding cold weather, ha! But, if it’s going to be near freezing I’ll drain my tanks and the water heater and just use a few gallon jugs of water that I can keep warm in the cab of the truck. I’m not much for cold weather, so I don’t worry about winter camping too much.

      I use the Basic SpringLoad turnbuckles from TorkLift. They’re attache to custom mounting brackets we installed. On the front the lower tie down is part of the welded on rock bars and in the rear we welded steel arms that extend from and are connected to the towing hitch.

      The aluminum siding is the original siding, except for the rear that had a hole cut in it. We went to an RV parts store and bought a sheet of siding that pretty much matched. Then I prepped it and applied a few gallons of the roll on bedliner from Herculiner.

      I hope that helps! Cheers!

  12. Hey Chris!

    2007 Sun-Lite Skyhawk SB here.

    When you did your reno, did you ever come across the the attachment rings on the inside of the camper? One of mine pulls out of the camper about 1/4″ when I tighten down my tiedowns to the Torklift attachment. The tiedown still get tight though. I wanted to check it from the inside to see why it was pulling out a bit, but it seems to be in the wall somewhere. I cannot find it other side the the attachment rings from the inside of the camper. It is the front driver side ring near the propane locker. Second question, do you know what the insulation situation is on the lower half of the camper? I know the upper part has insulation but I’m wondering about the lower half that sits in the bed. That part of my camper is noticeably cooler than the rest of the camper. Third question, are you still using your propane heater or have you switched it over to something else? I’m thinking of swapping mine for a 2kw diesel heater and mounting the 10L tank out the outside in the bed area. I’m getting tired of the morning condensation in colder climates.


    1. Hey Spencer, lots of good questions!
      1 – Yeah, I think the tiedown ring on the front driver side might be under the propane locker, at least mine was. We took the propane locker out to do some work, so it was easy to get to, and it was either than one or the other driver’s side tiedown ring that was angled a bit that we remounted with a larger washer or a larger piece of metal as a washer to spread out the pressure. So far they’ve been doing well for me.
      2 – I’m not sure on the lower half, you’re right though I’ve been camping in colder weather a lot recently and the lower part of the inside of the camper gets COLD! I don’t think mine has any insulation under the floor so next time I take the camper out that might be a project.
      3 – I’m still using the stock propane heater. I’ve had it worked on a few times and again it’s not running on autocycle. Well, it runs but the pilot light goes out and blows cold air. I might try to fix it again, although my real preference would be to drive to warmer weather and skip using the heater all together!
      I hope that helps! Cheers

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