build a truck camper cheap

Why spend thousands on an RV, when you can learn to Build Your Own Truck Bed Camper!

If you have some basic construction and carpentry skills, you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn just how easy and totally inexpensive it can be to slap together your own simple pickup truck camper from hardly more than a small bundle of 2x4s, some plywood, a bucket of screws, and some paint. Bolt it all onto your truck bed, and depending on your design choices, you could conceivably have an actual working "RV" for less than $200.

build a truck camper welcome

Seriously, it doesn't have to be difficult!

It naturally seems like there must be something special about building an RV, but if you really think about it, a "mobile home" is really nothing more than a very tiny house -- And in this case, it happens to be sitting in the bed of your truck. Constructing one is actually a lot like making a shed.

Depending on your design decisions, it may be even easier, or a lot more complicated -- And that's entirely your choice!

You'll probably want your little "truck bed shed" to be light-weight, and it should be built to withstand high winds and mild earthquakes... both depending on how you prefer your driving experience. ­čÖé The best thing is.. It's entirely up to you.

For myself, the pop-up slide-in camper I'm aiming to build for my 2003 short-bed Tacoma Prerunner, is going to be doing a lot of off-roading to fossil digs and rockhounding sites. I'd like it to stay light on the tires, but $1000+ in aluminum framing is completely out of the question. Fortunately, since I don't intend to fill it with much in terms of built-in furniture and a humongous water tank, I can afford to use some heavier-than-typical construction. Hence, I'll be making mine from cheap and super-sturdy 2x4s. Like I said -- It's a truck bed shed!


Listen To My "Radio Show" Episode:
How To Build A Truck Camper For Dirt Cheap

Looking To Make Your Own Truck Camper?

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Find out how I built my own truck camper for my Tacoma Prerunner in just 2 days for under $250. (Click below to open the link in a new tab.)
Mobile Rik's DIY Truck Camper Plans.

pop up slide in truck camper

Of all the RV/camper designs, my favorite is the Pop-Up Slide-In Truck Camper -- Particularly the "Four Wheel Camper" style, which you can recognize by their fine-feathered code names like Hawk, Eagle, Raven, Finch, etc.

Here's why I like 'em:

  • Off-Road Capability -- By putting a slide-in camper on an off-road truck, you can access more remote areas than you ever could with a traditional small-wheeled vehicle.
  • Fuel Efficiency - The low profile saves tons of gas by virtue of its reduced frontal area -- which is the largest contributor to wind resistance -- and the greatly reduced weight, by virtue of having the top half made of tent material.
  • Flexibility - If you occasionally need to use your truck for hauling, you can just remove the camper until you need it.

Off-road readiness is important to me, because my main motivation for the nomadic lifestyle -- beyond my monastic drive to "live simply" -- is digging for fossils, gold, and gemstones. i.e. I'm a rockhound. I drive a Toyota Tacoma Prerunner, and I want to be able to get to those remote sites, "drop anchor" and spend a few days or weeks exploring the territory and digging.

And though I don't spend that many days driving, the distance between sites is significant enough that I do find myself on fast country roads and freeways where wind resistance becomes a serious factor.

So the pop-top design is a really clever way to not only keep the frontal area down for the drive, but also keep the center of gravity low for off-road stability. For my purposes, the combination is tough to beat.

I've figured out that there are quite a few companies who will custom-build these pop-up slide-in campers. The aluminum frame campers are pretty impressively sturdy for their weight -- I've seen photos of their pop-up campers with a dozen people standing on the roof.

But the really big variable in my opinion is the interior design. Some companies do a much better job at efficiently fitting the essentials into that little space. The most impressive I've seen is Phoenix Camper's PULSE SC design that incorporates both a toilet and shower into a 6'x5' floor plan. They do it by combining them into one unit, as a sit-down shower.

(I've included a video of the PULSE SC design on another post Phoenix PULSE SC - A Truck Camper With A Bathroom.)

Here's a quote from an interview with the designer:

I had a Tacoma customer who wanted a fully self contained camper. He only had a six-foot bed, did not want the camper to go beyond the tail lights of the truck, but he did want hot water, shower, cassette toilet, kitchen cabinets, and all of the other amenities that people often want including a refrigerator, jacks, converter, stove, and two separate beds. He wanted a camper where three adults could sleep and still have a restroom.

As cool as the newer "cutting edge" designs are, the standard features are┬áplenty nice in their own right. Check out this video from Rollin' On TV.

Collectively, I refer to this style of┬ápop-up as the "Four-Wheel Campers" (4WC) designs, because of the company that popularized this style of slide-in pop-up truck camper in the 1970's. Along with many look-alikes (at least from the outside), there seem to be around a dozen or so (?) companies selling the 4WC brand, which are typically named after birds depending on the size, ex. Finch, Raven, Hawk, Eagle, etc., along with the Grandby for full-size trucks. I love studying photos and videos of them for ideas for my own homemade┬átruck camper, which is modeled after this design.