The Phoenix Camper
Wow this thing has totally changed our lives!!
Meg and I were originally die hard tent campers, but after traveling all over the US and Mexico living out of a Subaru and popping up a tent every night, we knew that this trip needed to be different!
We wanted something we could cook in, sleep in, stand in and hang out in during inclement weather. We basically wanted a place to call home on the road that felt comfortable and safe, yet not too big as to inhibit our travels. We decided we wanted a pop up camper because it is more aerodynamic, less top heavy and generally lighter weight. Light weight equals less abuse on the vehicle and the ability to explore more aggressive terrain. The pop up allows room when camping but the ability to fold it down when driving for increased gas mileage, which will be one of our greatest costs on the trip.
We spent about one year researching small slide in pop-up campers that would fit our Toyota Tacoma truck. In total we found that there were only about 4 brands out there that made campers to fit this size truck. In researching these brands we realized that two of them made their campers out wood and in our opinion wood was simply not strong enough to withstand the severe abuse it would receive over our year plus journey. So this narrowed it down to 2 companies. When evaluating these options we based our choice simply on comfort and storage ability. Which camper would be best for two people (one of which is a women) to actually live in for an extended period of time? The answer… Phoenix pop-up Campers.
During our investigation and while traveling through Silverton Co, we happened to see a Phoenix camper on a Tacoma and asked the owners if we could take a look. The owners, a retired couple, had spent nearly 3 years traveling to and from Alaska with their camper and couldn’t say enough good things about it. It was love at first sight and we knew right away this is what we wanted. Now we just had to find one that we could actually afford, which to us meant used. I scanned the internet daily and nothing ever came. Turns out, people do not sell these things; they pass them down to their kids. With our departure date quickly approaching and still no camper we were getting desperate. We sent out an email to Phoenix, told them about our trip and our dilemna. The very next day I received a message from Rob and Cari, the owners… “Meg we just hit the jack pot!!!” We were getting the mega hook up, a custom built pop-up with all the gadgets we desired.
Phoenix, a family owned business based out of Denver, has been building campers since the 70s. Needless to say they have it dialed. Visiting their shop where they construct the custom campers from the creation of the welded aluminum frame all the way to the finishing details, like curtains, that make a camper a home was amazing. With all their campers built by hand, each one leaves the shop a little different than the next depending on the customer’s needs or wants. While we were there they even had a lifted CJ 5 with a pop up camper in the facility, [drool] talk about go anywhere camping!
For our own custom made camper, Meg and I came up with a nice little wish list, but we were undoubtedly novices in the camper world, so talking to Rob with his 20 plus years experience in the industry helped us to pull together our camper details nicely. In 4 months we would be driving away with a custom made camper.
Here is our camper package.
- Large solar panel, this thing is a super thin profile about the thickness of a piece of
cardboard. It is essential for any long term camping electrical needs. It charges the battery really fast and allows you to be self sufficient in the backcountry.
- Heavy duty deep cycle battery. Combined with the solar panel we have not drained this sucker yet.
- Heater, kept me toasty during a weeklong ice climbing trip in Montana.
- Refrigerator. The fridge runs off electric and propane. We primarily run it on propane and it keeps the food cold even with 90 plus temps outside. The fridge is a must if you don’t plan on shopping every single day [think extended backcountry travel]. Plus there is nothing better than getting to the beach after a long day of hectic driving and grabbing an ice cold beer out of the truck to enjoy.
- 3 burner stove
- Double sink with hand pump and electric pump.
- 12 gallon water tank, last us about 3 days.
- 5 gallon propane tank which lasts us about a month.
- 2 rear mounted Hella lights. One light is wired up so it comes on automatically when you put the truck in reverse. The other light is wired to a switch in the camper, super useful to see what that bump in the night is. We feel far safer leaving the camper for midnight pee sessions with this super bright light.
- Awning. We didn’t even request this but phoenix threw it on any way. It is amazing
and we would have suffered many hot shade-less days on the beach without it. It helps keep the camper far cooler as well. It is our outdoor living room, dining room and bar. Your neighbors will be jealous!
- Fantastic fan. This is a roof mounted fan that keeps the camper surprisingly cool day and night, extremely necessary if you plan on living comfortably in the heat.
- Extra, double fold out bed. This bed is for when we are trying to keep a low profile. It allows us to sleep in the camper without it popped up. Good for super secret pirate camping.
- Rear lockable access doors to the truck bed. The high lift jack, table, chairs and shovel live here.
- Queen size bed. Its more comfortable than my bed at home.
- Storage under the bed. Phoenix campers convinced me that we needed this and I am
so glad I listened to them. This extra storage is the key to living comfortably with two people in this camper. It’s our dresser, library, clothes hamper and miscellaneous storage. It adds a lot of storage for its seemingly small size and this is one of the things that sets this camper apart from others.
- Roof rack with ladder. It’s where the surf boards live.
- Auxiliary gas can mount. Another custom fabrication by Phoenix campers
- Aerodynamic front profile [nose cone] and cab bubble. The cab bubble is an inflatable cushion that is wedged between the top of the cab and the sleeper. It keeps the wind noise and drag down. We have been really surprised by how quite the camper is during travel and we can still hit 80 no problem. Plus we are averaging 17.5 mpg [with conservative driving] which is not to bad for a four wheel drive home on wheels.
- 8 way camper tie down system. This keeps the camper attached to the truck and has not failed us yet. It is a system of heavy duty ratchet straps that are connected in the bed of the truck. [out of view and out of the wind] With over 4000 miles of rough driving we have had no issues of camper movement.
Home sweet Home
Other than a few womanly touches in the kitchen [spice racks, dish racks, tooth brush holder ] we had to make no modifications to the camper for our journey. It was made custom for us to be exactly what we needed and nothing more; a simple lightweight, comfortable, rugged and secure home to live in while we drive through 16 countries, over terrible roads, for a year or more. Job well done Phoenix!!
What kind of gas mileage are you getting with your truck/camper outfit over the long haul?
Hey Martin, typically on paved roads going about 55mph we get 18 per gallon, on rough dirt roads we get about 15.
We are also looking at slide in campers for our Toyota Tacoma, and are having trouble finding ones that fit. What were the other companies that made campers to fit the Tacoma? Also, did yours have a toilet/shower?