| |

Living Full Time In A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper

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!

Couch inside the pop up truck camper.

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.

Kitchen in the truck camper.

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…

Bed in the truck camper.

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.

Storage in the truck camper.

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…

Chris Tarzan Clemens Truck Life.

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.

Winch: I went with a Smittybilt XRC 9.5 winch and a synthetic line. A WARN would have been nice, but was a bit more cash.

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.

Side view of truck life camper

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 panels on truck camper roof.

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 of truck camper popped up.

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.

Truck camper storage.

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.

Truck camper inside living space.

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


  1. I just discovered your blog, and I couldn’t help but notice you hiked the AT. Do you think thru hiking was a catalyst for vehicle living? I thru hiked the AT in 2014, and afterwards I started sleeping in my car at trailheads. This sparked my dream of vehicle living, and I was wondering if the same kind of thing happened to you.

    1. Hey! Yup, I totally agree. When I finished the AT in 2012 I was daydreaming of owning less, living in a vehicle, and traveling more. It took a few years to get it all arranged, figure out income, and move into my vehicle, but in 2015 I hit the road and haven’t looked back! Cheers!

      1. Hey
        I have a 2001 sunlight much like yours. 200w solar w 2 deep cycles and 2000w inverter. I am doing a lot of similar mods. My 1st question is how do I hook inverter to existing stock converter? Mine converter doesn’t charge 12v but does provide 110v ac & 12v dc and has an available breaker. I would like to have stock system wired so I can flip a breaker and run stock a/c outlets and fridge off of solar and inverter. I have 2001 GMC Sierra 1500 w 2500HD springs and a 5’x5’ custom built rack for tow hitch to act as a porch and to haul my quad with me. Almost ready to tour western US states. Single 59 male w 2 yorkies. I also live in it full time and have just endured a bitter cold winter in Arizona mountains with temps consistently below 20*
        I also have water heater and outdoor shower questions

        1. That sounds like a pretty nice setup! For my solar power and inverter I wired them so they are not part of the stock converter. I still have the stock converter, but I hardly use it as I’m rarely on shore power. My setup takes the solar power to the charge controller, and from there it goes to my deep cycle batteries and then to the inverter. From the inverter I wired a 2nd wall outlet that I can plug things into when the inverter is on. There is still another wall outlet that is connected to the stock converter, but since I’m not on shore power it rarely works. Let me know if that makes sense and if you have more questions feel free to email me at chrisjclemens@gmail.com Thanks!

  2. This is awesome! I stumbled upon this page from a friend’s fb page. We all went to BSU together and I loved see your video with the Indiana BSU license plate and the Ball U flag!! Your truck camper is pretty sweet!

    1. Ha, thank you! Yup, those were some good times at Ball State and I enjoy representing BSU wherever I go! Chirp Chirp!

      1. I recently purchased the same model camper.Once on the bed I had to use a wood pallet to give it clearance in order to avoid damage to the top of the truck right under the camper bed.camper sits on a dodge 1500. Currently strapped down with ratchet tie downs connected to the frame.i believe camper is suited for a smaller truck.

        1. That’s awesome! Yeah, they are such great little campers, I kinda wish I had mine on a full size truck!

  3. Pingback: Living Full Time In A Slide-In Pop-Up Truck Camper – OkRoam
  4. Pingback: Which is the best vanlife vehicle for you? • Mark the Green Van
  5. Pingback: Which is the best van life vehicle for you? • Mark the Green Van
  6. I love the rig. I just picked up a Sunlite Eagle and found your blog looking for information about it. A trick we figured out to help with the canvas is close the door and windows and put the fan on max out. It sucks the canvas in as you lower the roof. We haven’t used the fridge yet as it seems burn more juice than the truck generates, and we don’t want to arrive 50 miles from the nearest outlet with a dead battery. How long does your propane last running the fridge?

    1. Thanks! I tried the fan trick as well, but I didn’t learn about it until after I’d been using the bungee cord for a few months, and after trying the fan a few times I just went back to the bungee cord, ha! I think I refill the propane every few weeks. For the Alaska trip I was driving enough that most days the fridge was running off electric, but at night I’d switch it over to propane. Every week or two though I’d refill the propane while rolling through a town, I didn’t want to run out and need the heater at night!

  7. We put your video on our tv so we could really enjoy your video. I am buying a Tacoma TRD off road and want to get a pop up camper also. I am not handy. If you where going to buy a new pop up camper for your truck. Which one would you buy. Thanks

    1. Thank you for the message! If I was buying new, I’d probably go with a Four Wheel Camper (https://fourwheelcampers.com/). They are light, well designed, and have a great reputation. They were too expensive for me, but especially if you’re putting it on a Tacoma you really want it to be light. I’m waaaayyy over payload capacity on my truck, and the more research I did the more I realized it’s really hard to stay under payload, so I think the weight of the camper has to be one of the most important features. Good luck!

  8. Hey Chris, I just found you video and loved it. I’ll check out the rest of your videos as soon as I can. Man, you are talking to someone who has been down the same road. I’ve got a 2002 tacoma 4×4 with a 4wheel camper on it, all bought in 02. I’ve got about 300K miles on it now and still going strong. Twice a year I go from Baja where I live most of the time to British Columbia going from surf break to surf break. I’m an artist/surfing photographer (www.travelswithshadow.us) and have been on or in the ocean all my 78 years. Life is good and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Hope to see you on the road some day, Mike

    1. That’s great!! I love it! I’m also dreaming of Baja, hopefully this winter borders will reopen enough for some travel, I’m ready for adventure! Thanks for the message, maybe I’ll find you somewhere on the road out on the west coast!

  9. You talk about rebuilding the suspension and denting the truck due to the weight of the camper.

    Trucks should never be loaded past their max load capacity.

    We’re you about to stay under the capacity of the truck or did you exceed it? If you exceeded it are you worried that your insurance won’t cover any expenses if you get an accident?

    1. I would prefer to have not gone over GVWR on the Tacoma, but I didn’t fully understand everything until the project was nearly complete. I understand the implications of being over GVWR, but I’ve also been around the world and witnessed Toyota Hilux pickups carrying loads WAY beyond their capacity and so far my truck has carried the camper well. Thank you!

    1. Hey Bill, I don’t have a bathroom in the camper, most days I’m heading into town to do a bit of work from coffee shops or other public wifi, or I’m traveling to a new destination, so I mostly use public restrooms. But, if I need a toilet in the wilderness I have a shovel. Thanks!

  10. Hey Chris, I have a similar pop-up camper as you and am considering going full time now that all my school is online. However, I’m worried about being able to safely camp with the pop-up. I will be attending college remotely so will need to be somewhere close to a city with service to use my hot spot during the week and I was wondering if you ever had any issues with the police when camping since you can’t really stealth camp with the pop-up.

  11. What a cool truck! I also have a Tacoma first gen and I have just bought a camper but I need to renovate it before I can use it. Do you know the width of your camper?
    Those mirrors where genius. Thanks for the tips, I am going to add many of those features you have added.

    1. Thanks, that’s great! I’m not sure the width, I know I had to find a silde in that was narrow enough for my wheel wells, but, I think the overall width might be the same as slide ins for full size trucks? I started with the clip on mirrors, but, adding the Dodge Ram mirrors was a game changer. Send me a message if you have any questions along the way!

  12. You seem to be leaving the tailgate on. I am curious as to why. Surely you’d like the weight savings with it off, so, probably there is a reason you keep it on. Is it needed to support the slide in camper overhang (which looks like not that much) or some other reason. (Seat, work platform/table, ?..)

    1. I’ve thought about taking it off to save weight, or even build out a storage container under the camper and above the hitch step, but so far I’ve just left it on. It isn’t really supporting much weight, but, it is serving as the base of the locking side storage boxes along the camper in the truck bed, so if I removed the tailgate I’d still need to add something as a base, and that’s why I figured another long narrow storage box would be perfect. Maybe someday!

  13. Did you add new coils to the front as well? The Bilstein 5125 look like they hold up well. If you did replace the OEM coils can you tell me what model number you went with in the front?
    You did a good job with your rig btw. Have a good day!

  14. Hey Chris! Not sure if you’ll still read these comments, but I’ve got a super similar StarCraft camper that I bought last fall and I’m getting it ready to put on the truck for the summer. Mine has the same jack mounts as yours (and only 3) and no other anchor points for tie downs. I’m looking at installing eye bolts to attach the tie downs to – I’m wondering if you made that mod to your camper as well or if it came like that, and is there a steel plate to distribute the pull force?

    1. Hey Ty, thanks for the comment. I like the StarCrafts too! When I picked min up it had the 3 leg mounts and 4 eye bolt tie down points that looked to be stock. When we renovated the setup we did check the tie down points, they each had I think a large metal washer on the inside of the camper to disperse the weight, but one was angled a bit so we backed it out and added a larger washer to help spread the weight even more. I’m sure there might be a blog or tutorial on how to add or update the tie down points for these campers? Good luck!

      1. Thanks so much for the quick reply! Surprisingly I haven’t been able to find much info on it, but I think it should be pretty straightforward. Just trying to get an idea of what other campers using the eye bolt setups have going on before I start drilling holes!

        1. Yup, good call. If I remember correct it is just the eye bolt with a washer and nut on the inside. I think the one we fixed we took a square piece of metal larger than the washer and used it instead to help spread the weight.

  15. Hi Chris! Just found you while searching for winch’s. Awesome rig. I pretty much have your set up. 2000 Tacoma TRD and a FWC pop up fleet. The Tacoma I bought new and I can’t part with it. For obvious reason. And the camper I bought new in 2017. I’m about to install a ARB bumper and winch. Your set up that is. So my question is are you happy with your smittybilt. You have the XRC GEN 3. Have you been stuck where it has pulled you out without any issues?

    1. Hey Frank, that sounds awesome! I’ve not needed to use my winch yet, my first setup on the Tacoma was just a camper sell and I lived in the truck bed. That setup was lighter and more nimble and I tried more off roading and got closer to needing to use the winch. With the current slide in truck camper, as well as the ARB bumper, rock sliders and steel rear bumper I installed, the entire rig is so heavy that I don’t do nearly as much serious off roading and haven’t needed the winch yet. BUT, it does make me feel better to have it just in case! Cheers!

  16. Hey I couldn’t help but like the color of the camper. Do you remember what paint you used, I have a camper similar and would love to paint it that color

    1. Yup! Some people say if you have an electric fan you can turn it on, close all the windows and door, and as you lower the top the canvas will be pulled in. I’ve found it doesn’t work that great with mine so I bought a long bungee line (either quarter or half inch I thick I think) and a few carabiners from Amazon and I ran the line around the canvas. When the top is up I loosen the bungee and when I’m ready to lower the roof I clip the carabiners tighter together so there is pressure pulling in. As the roof goes down it’s all pulled inside. I do get some wear on the canvas and will be adding some patches to make it more durable where the bungee rubs on it, but so far it works really well! Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *