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How one couple turned their pickup truck into an DIY camper

  • Courtney and Riley Casey couldn’t find a camper that fit all their needs as an adventurous couple.
  • Due to their experience in metal fabrication, they built their own using their 4×4 pickup truck.
  • They told us all the steps it took to create the perfect fully-loaded DIY truck camper.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Courtney Casey: That was that first big step, was removing the bed of the truck. And that was when it sunk in for both of us that we’re doing this, because a truck without the bed on is not very useful anymore until you finish the project.

I think for us, our desire to travel is what fueled the build of the camper. Especially, we knew we wanted to do a lot of winter travel, and there’s just not a lot of RVs that are built for cold weather, where everything still works, like the shower and the toilet. We’ve had a lot of slide-in truck campers, where you leave the truck bed, but you compromise a lot of space by doing that. And so we knew that we wanted a camper that mounted directly to the frame of the truck.

The sub-frame of the camper is also aluminum. So it started with just square tubing, kind of starting with a very simple frame and then mounting that and then building off of that.

Riley Casey: Initially, I thought we were actually going to build it all out of fiberglass. Frankly, I didn’t know very much about building out of fiberglass or composites, but we did know a lot about fabrication and working with aluminum. And so Courtney’s kind of like, “Well, why don’t we build it the way that we know how to build things?”

You know, from there it’s like, well, we didn’t want it to just look like this box. We wanted it to look cool. We wanted it to look factory-built, intentional. And so trying to play with designs of, how do we make it look like that? And so we knew that we were going to need a metal brake, some way to bend metal. We found one used on Craigslist nearby, like, that day.

Courtney: Most of the camper is built out of just large flat sheets of aluminum, and we needed to be able to cut them precisely and then bend them precisely. So we already owned a computer-controlled plasma table. What that is, is you can go into the computer and you can design the shape that you want to be cut. And then you send that out to this table, and there’s actually a computer that’s running it to cut the shapes.

Riley: And I sort of made a combination of other people’s ideas into our own composite panel of aluminum, foam core, and then plywood on the inside.

Courtney: Which, those were materials that we could get at our local building supply store and our local metal yard, so it was nothing special order. A couple things that we had to take in consideration when we were mounting the camper is that we wanted it removable, but we also wanted to be able to easily go from the camper into the cab of the truck.

Riley: But we didn’t want to cut the back of the truck out, so we actually just removed the glass back window and made a relatively small pass-through in that back-window space. And then it also allowed us to make a special place that’s only for our dogs. We took the backseat of the truck out entirely, built the dogs a special bed with storage underneath.

Courtney: We call it “the dog bucket,” and they love it in there, which is nice, because they kind of have their own comfortable space that’s always dedicated for them. So, of our $20,000 budget for building the camper, a significant portion of that went to our electrical system.

Riley: You know, there’s a big 3,000-watt inverter, 300 amp-hours of lithium batteries, 300 watts of solar on the roof, and then we also have DC-DC charging, so whenever we drive the truck we also charge our battery bank. And so the reason we went with this huge electrical system is that it allows us to be fully self-contained, fully off-grid. We can park, we can camp for extended amounts of time wherever we want without having to worry about where we’re going to plug in or where we’re going to charge.

Courtney: We started documenting the build, and it was just maybe for friends and family to follow along. And pretty quickly, strangers were watching our videos and commenting and invested in this journey. And I think it kind of inspired both of us of, like, maybe we don’t need to get this done quite as soon and maybe we could squeeze a little more out of the budget. And so things like, definitely the hidden staircase. That was because we realized we could make a whole video about just our hidden staircase.

Riley: So, features like the bike storage and the hidden staircase and the big ski locker on the back, those were ideas that sort of evolved as time went on and we started getting to know the camper better, thinking about how we were going to use it, getting excited about about using those features on a trip and being able to share them on our YouTube channel.

Courtney: Yeah, and the staircase and the deck have been amazing, like winter, mud, the dogs, the outdoor shower, where you can stand on the deck. I’m so glad that we took the time to do those things. I think the sliding fridge was probably one of the more difficult interior components. I think probably the shower wet bath was the most difficult component because it needed to be 100% water-tight. And so most RVs are a single molded plastic piece, but we didn’t have the tools or the skills to make something like that.

Riley: So we made this sort of stainless steel and waterproof flooring. We had to make our own shower pan because there weren’t any shower pans that were the right size. We had to get all the plumbing to get in there somehow with the showerhead and the toilet. And there was just a lot of different pieces that all had to come together into the bathroom.

Courtney: One of the non-negotiables in the camper was a king-size bed. And so a king mattress was kind of going to fit, but it needed some shaping for the round nose of the camper and those his-and-hers cabinets we have up there. And so I’ve cut up mattresses before to fit in a van we had. I make a little cut, and I learned that an electric turkey-carver knife works super well on foam. So it was a bit terrifying to take our brand-new mattress and uncover it and cut it up, but we did, and it fit, so.

Riley: We love it. It’s been a game-changer for traveling. The ability to… we can crush road miles. We can drive for a long, long time, because it’s so comfortable to drive. We have all our stuff with us. We can stop and make lunch.

Courtney: And with the dogs, traveling with the dogs is so much easier now. And they love the camper, which I think is part of why we love it so much. But I could never imagine not having it now, or I could never imagine going back to just a store-bought one, because this is so tailored to us.

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