I’ve been living in vehicles since 2014, starting in a Honda Element, upgrading to an ’85 VW Westy, moving into an off-road equipped Toyota Tacoma, and recently adding the luxurious comfort of a truck camper. I spent 5 months remodeling the camper, and now that it’s done, I’m happy to be living full time in a slide-in pop-up truck camper.
Terk the Truck Camper is a 2002 Toyota Tacoma (with plenty of modifications) and a 1989 SunLite SkyHawk camper (with way too many renovations). After living in a two-wheel drive van for 3 years I was bored with crisscrossing North America on paved roads and wanted an adventure rig that was off-road ready. While the Tacoma was a no brainier, the truck camper was a bit of an afterthought, and if I could do it all over again, I’d probably start with a bigger truck. But alas, I already owned Terk, so I made it work!
Living Full Time In A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper Film
First I’ll do a quick tour of the inside of the camper living space, and then a walk around of the truck and a detailed list of components, including modifications, utility systems, and more. If you’re interested in seeing the renovation process click here, or if you’d rather read entertaining stories about adventuring while living in a slide-in pop-up truck camper check out my recent blog posts here. If you’re ready to tour my home on wheels, scroll down and cue the MTV Cribs intro!
Welcome to my home! You’re currently in my living room, which is also my kitchen, bedroom, closet, storage, and pretty much anything else you can think of, all in the space of a pickup truck bed. The tour shouldn’t take long, so let’s go!
The couch used to pull out to a second lower bed, but I needed more storage so we secured it in place and my step-dad Tom built a custom cabinet at the rear of the camper that holds my pots, pans, kitchen items, and serves as a pantry for dry goods. My mom sewed a custom couch cushion cover and made awesome curtains and accent pieces with colorful southwest themed fabric. Tom used oak plywood to replace the step and cabinet tops, though we left the counter top and table original. I went overboard and added stained wood trim to the windows, door, and baseboards, a direct result of watching too much HGTV.
The photos above and below show the lower access doors to the truck bed storage, where I keep shoes, tents, tools, a shovel and hatchet, packraft & paddles, the camper lift jacks, and other miscellaneous items. The bed storage can also be accessed from outside, more on that later. I pulled up the original 1980’s linoleum and replaced it with a vinyl peel and stick faux wood floor.
My kitchen is on the driver’s side of the camper and includes a 3 burner propane stove, a sink with hot and cold water and a pull out sprayer, and a 3-way Dometic refrigerator (with the map of the Americas) that runs off propane or electric. There is a small propane heater in the cabinet near the door that cranks out heat (when it’s working) and 2 drawers for storage including utensils, plates, bowls, cups, koozies, and other odds and ends. The solar charge controller and shore power control box are located under the sink, and I installed a PBR bottle opener, which seems a bit silly because I mostly buy cans. I added a vinyl peel-and-stick faux tile backsplash and stained wood trim to give it that “this should be in a magazine” look. Again… too much HGTV…
In the front of the camper next to the refrigerator is a small cabinet (in the picture above the door is ajar, who staged this photo shoot!?) which holds the inverter, fuses, and other electrical components. Next to it are my 3 wall outlets for 12V, 110, and shore power. There is a window to the truck cab that does not work as a crawl-through as the opening is too small, but do note the stained wood trim pieces! Below the window is the step to the bed, and inside the step is the 22 gallon water tank, pump, and storage for cleaning supplies. The other cabinet near the couch holds anything I might need during the day because when the top is down accessing the majority of my storage under the bed requires raising the roof. The “daily access storage” typically includes my rain jacket and cold weather layers, running clothes, hammock, personal items and bathroom bag, and anything else I can’t find a space for.
The bed over the truck cab is spacious, and the windows offer incredible airflow at night. I still use the original mattress and don’t mind sleeping on hard surfaces. Maybe someday I’ll upgrade to fancy memory foam, but I doubt it. Of course, no space is complete without hanging a string of Tibetan prayer flags for a splash of color and that “I’m a cool hippie” look.
The bed platform is on hinges and when the top is popped the storage can be accessed. This is essentially my closet and includes clothes, various outdoor layers, towels, and most of my important documents and valuables because even if someone is able to thwart the hasp locks and break into the camper they won’t be able to access this area unless they lift the roof, and I hide the crank handle when I’m not using it. Okay, so I actually put the handle in the kitchen drawer, which makes it pretty easy to find, but, if someone did try to crank the roof up they’ll be hit with a surprise, quite literally, as the handle has a tenancy to shimmy it’s way out of the assembly, resulting with the roof crashing down, the ultimate theft deterrent. Good luck!
The rest of my storage is behind the truck seats in the extended cab and is where I have more tools, recovery gear, camping gear (since I’m technically always camping, isn’t it all camping gear?), hats, a cooler, camp chairs, a yoga mat (mostly for truck maintenance), and more, all organized in plastic bins and a shelving unit from Walmart.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much what it’s like living full time in a slide-in pop-up truck camper, at least on the inside. Now onto the truck build and a detailed list of everything that makes up my home on wheels. Fair warning, I’m about to geek out on truck stuff…
Truck: Terk is a 2002 Toyota Tacoma with 240,000 miles+ on him (gasp!). He runs well, I do as much preventative maintenance as I can, and I have my fingers crossed that we’ll hit the million mile mark!
Camper: The camper is a 1989 SunLite Skyhawk, the smaller model built to slide between the wheel wells of a mid-sized pickup, which is somewhat hard to find.
Suspension: The truck started with a 2.5″ Bilstein lift.
Air Springs: I installed Firestone Ride-Rite air bags to help carry the camper, but it’s so heavy it bent the top brackets, even denting the truck frame, see “suspension revisited” below. The Ride-Rites are still on the truck, now with Daystar air bag cradles, but I really only use them to occasionally level the rig at camp.
Suspension Revisited: In order to safely carry the camper, I had custom leaf packs arched and installed. They leveled the camper, making the driver’s side pack stiffer to carry the extra weight of the kitchen on that side, and the ride and handling improvements, both on and off road, were a game changer.
Front Bumper: The first thing I did was install an ARB Bull Bar. I wanted to add front end protection, a winch mount, and let’s be real, it looks damn cool.
Fog Lights: I installed KC HiLiTES on the ARB bumper, partly so I can see better at night, mostly because they sing about KC’s a lot in country songs. (Sorry, not sorry.)
Off Road Jack: We custom mounted a Hi-Lift Jack on the bull bar, in case (read as “for when”) I get myself stuck.
Snorkel: I added a Safari Snorkel, also from ARB, mostly because it looked cool, but I actually used it in Alaska when I crossed a river that was much deeper than expected. Additionally, I replaced the OEM air filter with a K&N premium washable air filter.
Light Bar: I attached a cheap LED light bar from Amazon to the Yakima roof rack that I installed by drilling holes directly through the roof of the truck cab. I know, I wish I hadn’t done that either, but here’s why I did…
Towing Mirrors: I started with clip-on towing mirrors, but they sucked, and they fell off, so I went back to Google and learned that with a little cutting and drilling, you can install full size towing mirrors from a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500 on the first gen Tacoma. I opted for power mirrors, and without wiring diagrams I blew up one motor (luckily it was in the old mirror) before getting the connections right.
Wheels/Rims: I swapped the stock rims to Pro Comp 69 Series Vintage wheels. I considered steel rims, but went with alloy to save weight since I was adding pounds virtually everywhere else.
Tires: I started with set of 4 BFG KO2 load range D tires, but when I added the extra weight of the camper I sold them with only 10K miles and bought 5 brand new 265/75R16 BFG KO2 load range E tires (and another wheel) and started a 5 tire rotation. In order to fit the spare 32″ off road tire under the truck bed I had a customer fab shop chop and re-weld the spare tire mounting bracket.
Rock Sliders: I also wanted rock sliders, mostly for the rugged look, but the online options were expensive. My step-brother and step-dad custom cut steel tubes and welded them straight to the truck frame, and it only cost me a case of cheap beer!
Tie Downs: I used Torklift Basic SpringLoad turnbuckles to secure the camper to the truck via mounts on the rock sliders in the front (see “welded straight to the frame” above) and to custom welded extensions from the towing hitch in the rear.
Camper Exterior: I stripped the old decals from the aluminum sides, prepped the surface, and rolled on several gallons of gray Herculiner bed liner. I wouldn’t suggest this, as I’ve already had large patches peel off, lucky so far only from inside the truck bed area. I also took off all of the utility panels, painted them with rattle can spray, and reinstalled them.
Security Locks: I installed hasps and padlocks on all of the utility doors and access points, including the water inlet, water heater, propane box (I later learned this is actually illegal), storage access, jerry can mount, and rear door.
Solar: We mounted two 160 watt solar panels to the roof using drill free solar panel mounts, basically plastic feet and glue. It seemed a little scary, so we added aluminum bars across the top, which probably doesn’t do much, but made me feel better. We ran the cables in through the side of the roof to a Sunforce charge controller under the sink.
Roof Rack: The camper already had the roof rack when I bought it. I’m not sure if it came from the factory, or was added later, and the aluminum tubes are thin and wouldn’t hold much weight, but they act as a pseudo brush guard for the solar panels
Security Lights: I rigged 5 LED flood lights around the roof of the camper, so if I ever wake up hearing something in the middle of the night I can flip a switch and illuminate my surroundings.
Canvas Tension Line: Lowering the roof while attempting to keep the canvas from getting pinched was a nightmare, so I bought a bungee line and carabiners and when I lower the top I clip the carabiners together to add tension to the canvas so that all corners are pulled inside. In the photo above the tension is released and the bungee line is slack. In the photo below the carabiners are clasped and tension is added to the canvas.
Rear Bumper: If I was going to have a rugged front bumper and rock sliders, it only made sense to have a gnarly rear bumper. My step-brother and step-dad went to work again, cutting and welding a 6″ steel tube to brackets and adding recovery points. I used a plasma cutter to make holes for flood lights, and the whole thing was eventually professionally powder coated when my rattle can paint job started corroding after a few short weeks.
Rear Step: The camper came with an old set of steel hitch steps. We chopped off one of the steps, flipped the other over, and re-welded it to the mount to improve my exit angle.
Water Heater: The black box on the driver’s side rear wall was custom fabricated by an Amish workshop to cover the Camplux tankless propane water heater. I mounted it to the back of the camper for outdoor showers and ran a water line back inside to the sink for hot water.
Fuel Jerry Can: I attached a 5 gallon NATO steel jerry can and mounting bracket from AT Overland for extra fuel capacity.
Truck Bed Enclosure: Fabricated by the Amish and my step-dad, we added steel weather strips along the bed rails (in the photo below the foam sealing tape is falling out) and steel cabinets with locking doors on the rear so that once the camper is installed the truck bed storage is weather proof and accessible from inside and outside the camper. I added taillights to the cabinet doors (brakes & turn signals) for better visibility and as a preventative measure to try to avoid paying bribes to overzealous law enforcement along the Pan-American Highway.
Electric: The solar charge controller feeds power to an AGM deep cycle battery that is stored in the truck bed. The wiring passes through breakers, a bus bar, and connects to a Xantrex inverter for onboard power. I also added a battery isolator, linking the system to my starter battery for backup power. I installed new wall outlets inside the camper for shore, 110 inverter, and 12V power, all with USB charging ports.
Water: I replaced the stock 12 gallon water tank with a custom injection molded 22 gallon tank and a new Surflo electric pump. The water lines were replaced with PEX tubes, SharkBite fittings, and shut off valves.
Propane: I replaced the copper propane lines making my own connections from the source to the refrigerator, stove, and water heater. So far we haven’t blown up…
Fan: The previous owner installed a 12V electric Fan-Tastic roof vent fan.
Lights: The previous owner added 3 additional ceiling mounted LED lights connected to the 12V system.
And with that, I think I’m done! That was a fairly exhaustive list of everything that went into making this my home on wheels. If you’d like to see the renovation process click here, or if you have specific questions about the truck, camper, or build, or living full time in a slide-in pop-up truck camper, contact me here. I may not be able to tell you what to do with your own truck camper setup, but I’m pretty sure I can tell you what not to do!
Living Full Time In A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper Video: Click Here