If you’re thinking about buying a pop-up truck camper, you probably fall into one of two groups. Either you’re looking to upgrade after camping in tents or you’re looking to downsize after owning something larger. Whatever the reason, buying a pop-up truck camper is a great move. Not only is it cheaper, more aerodynamic, and more fuel-efficient than a hard-side truck camper, but it also weighs less, handles better off-road, and is easier to store. What’s more, the pop-up’s compact size and low center of gravity means that you can take it to places where most hard-side truck campers can’t. Sure there are negatives associated with a small pop-up—its compact size, lack of amenities, and the need to raise the roof to effectively use it immediately come to mind—but the pros of having a small pop-up truck camper far outweigh the cons.
Several companies make truck campers light enough and small enough to fit in the bed of a half-ton short-bed pickup truck. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the constraints associated with fitting on a half-ton also means that getting a camper with a full wet-bath isn’t going to happen. You might be able to get either a cassette toilet or an indoor shower, but the pickings are slim if you want to get both. With a few exceptions, a porta pottie and an outdoor shower will be the most you can hope for. The same applies to having a gray water holding tank. Some pop-ups have them, some pop-ups don’t. In general, amenities are lacking in a small pop-up. That might work for some truck camper aficionados looking for a more minimalist approach to camping and overlanding, but it won’t work for all, which is why some decide to buy a larger truck so that a larger pop-up or hard-side can be purchased instead.
As you probably know, the process of picking a truck camper can be difficult. Numerous decisions need to be made. If you’ve already decided to go with a pop-up, good for you. You’ve made it past the first hurdle. The biggest hurdle is deciding on which camper to get. With so many great companies and truck camper models to choose from picking one can be extremely difficult. That’s the purpose of this article. We’ve ranked the top eight pop-up truck campers for the half-ton, short-bed pickup truck and provided some important specifications and characteristics about each to help you make a better, more informed decision. So without further adieu, let’s look at Truck Camper Adventure’s top eight.
1. Hallmark Milner 6.5
When it comes to overall quality, capacities, features, and storage nothing beats a Hallmark truck camper. Weighing 1,212 pounds, the Milner 6.5 is constructed of a durable yet attractive molded fiberglass composite exterior frame topped with a low-maintenance, one-piece molded composite roof. Standard features of the Milner include a 60×80-inch east-west bed with under bed storage; a large, 30-gallon fresh water tank; molded one-piece counter tops; exclusive big view double windows; a three-way 3.8-cubic foot refrigerator; a 5-gallon propane tank; attractive overhead cabinets with Tambour doors; and a battery compartment large enough to hold two 6 volt golf cart batteries. The list of options Hallmark offers is just as impressive and includes a 12 gallon gray tank, a 5 gallon black tank, a porta pottie, a north-south bed, a shower pan for indoor showers, a 4.2-cubic foot compressor refrigerator, and a Zamp 160-watt solar suitcase. Hallmark even gives you options on the look of the interior cabinetry. All of their campers come standard with Oak or Amber Bamboo cabinets. Cherry, Blond Bamboo, Maple, and Hickory cabinetry are also available for an additional $1,200. Coosa composite cabinetry is available for an additional $2,000 if it’s wanted. Better yet, Hallmark campers come with a 5-year structural warranty, one of the best in the entire industry. The Milner 6.5 lists for $26,900.
2. Four Wheel Camper Hawk
With a floor length of 6.5 feet and a dry weight of only 1,075 pounds, the Four Wheel Camper Hawk is a perfect match for today’s half-ton pickup. The Hawk features a 20 gallon fresh water tank, a fully equipped kitchenette, an east-west queen bed, a three-way 1.7-cubic foot reefer, and attractive yet durable interior woodwork. Customers can choose from one of three floorplans when ordering a Hawk—a rollover side couch, side dinette, or a front dinette. For those want a more amenities, a cassette toilet and an outside shower can both be added as options. Interested in extending your time off-grid? Four Wheel Campers has that covered, too, by offering a 160 watt roof-mounted solar system, a dual battery setup, an 85-liter DC compressor refrigerator, and two 10-pound propane tanks. Four Wheel Campers uses a proprietary tie-down system consisting of four, zinc-coated eye bolts reinforced with steel backing plates that are mounted to the bed of the pickup. The advantage of having a hidden system like this is that it not only presents a clean look on the outside of the camper, but it also works great for driving off-road. The Hawk lists for only $17,395, but don’t let the price fool you. This rugged, well-made camper can take you almost anywhere you want, and with its welded aluminum frame and aluminum exterior, it will last for decades.
3. Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5
At 850 pounds, the Caribou Lite 6.5 is the lightest, lowest profile camper in the Outfitter Manufacturing catalog. The construction of this well-equipped camper consists of vacuum bonded composite walls, a full walk-on roof, and a fully welded, boxed aluminum frame. The Caribou Lite is insulated to the hilt with Owen Corning block foam insulation in the hard walls, and Weblon 3-layer insulation in the soft walls. One feature that really stands out is the full-size cabover bed that pulls out into a full-size queen. Highlights of the Caribou Lite include a 24-gallon fresh water tank, 5-gallon propane tank, a 1.9-cubic foot 3-way refrigerator, a Progressive Dynamics 45-amp converter/charger with the three-stage Charge Wizard, a torsion assisted lift system, a 16,000 BTU furnace, a 3-burner cooktop, attractive birch interior doors and cabinets, and solar reflective windows. Notable options of the Caribou Lite 6.5 include a 5-gallon cassette toilet, an outside shower, a 3.8-cubic foot Tundra DC compressor fridge, a 95 watt solar power system, a King Dome satellite dish, a Yakima roof rack, and an air conditioner. A fantastic little camper that can be fully used off the truck. Comes with a LIFETIME structural warranty, the best warranty in the entire industry. The Caribou Lite 6.5 sells for only $16,720, one of the lowest priced campers in this list.
4. Bundutec Sable
Rory Willett, the owner of the BundutecUSA, likes his campers to stand out in a crowd and this one does. The standard color of the Sable is an attractive gray—not your standard, everyday white—and features contrasting black trim and black accents on the exterior. The camper is skinned with a smooth .040-inch aluminum that not only looks great, but also holds up better than standard fiberglass siding. Another thing that I really like about the Sable is the amount of cabover storage it offers—there isn’t another half-ton pop-up that rivals it. Standard features of this rugged, wood-framed, 1,400-pound camper include a north-south 56×74-inch mattress with lift up under bed storage, a 20-gallon fresh water tank, an exterior shower, a Norcold 1.6 cubic foot chest refrigerator, a stainless steel sink, and window and door screens fine enough to keep out annoying “no-see-ums” bugs. A plethora of options are offered by Bundutec. Three worth noting are a Zamp 160 watt solar power system, a porta pottie, and the revolutionary Truma Combi water heater furnace that not only saves on weight and space, but is also whisper quiet when in operation. The list price for the Sable is only $16,411, a real bargain when you consider all that you get for the money.
5. Alaskan 6.5 Cabover
The only “solid wall” camper on our list, the Alaskan 6.5, debuted in 2015 and has been a steady seller for the company ever since. Like all Alaskan campers, this model features a patented pop-up design that’s totally unique. Unlike the traditional pop-up, which has soft sides, the pop-top on an Alaskan camper is solid with a hydraulic mechanism that raises and lowers the entire top of the camper. If you’ve never seen the interior of an Alaskan camper, you’re in for a treat. Inside you’ll find a gorgeous leather dinette, a wood-paneled ceiling, and attractive maple cabinets throughout. In this particular model, you’ll also find a generous amount of counter space and copious amounts of overhead storage. Standard items in this wood-framed, 1,390-pound camper include a 15-gallon fresh water holding tank, a three-way 2.5-cubic foot refrigerator, a 5-gallon propane tank, Hehr windows, and a full-length door that requires no stooping when entering or exiting. One group-24 battery comes standard, but as many as two can be added as an option. Other options include a Thetford C-200 swivel cassette toilet, a Zamp 160 watt solar power system, a 4-gallon water heater, a Suburban 20,000 BTU furnace, and LED lighting. Overall, an excellent camper. Another thing worth noting is that Alaskan Campers has been making pop-up truck campers since 1953, making it the oldest truck camper company in America. The list price for the Alaskan 6.5 is $29,039.
6. EarthCruiser GZL-400
Based on a French design called the Gazelle, the GZL-400 is a brand-new offering from the good folks at Earthcruiser. This modern, aerodynamic camper is constructed of a lightweight, molded fiberglass, and features a pop-top that lifts only in the rear of the camper. Earthcruiser designers were able to get the dry weight of this diminutive camper down to a very manageable 1,200 pounds, which even when fully loaded, still puts it within the payload ratings of most half-ton trucks. Highlights include an en-suite shower, a portable toilet, a large dinette with bench storage, a 1.5 cubic foot Isotherm compressor refrigerator, a 2.6-gallon water heater, Dometic Seitz windows, and a fold-out 80×60-inch queen size bed. Holding tank sizes for the GZL-400 are surprisingly large, with a 22-gallon fresh water tank, and a 9-gallon gray water holding tank. Those interested in having solar power will particularly like the thin-film, 200-watt Zamp solar power system molded into the truck camper’s fiberglass roof. The only real knock against the GZL-400 is the smallish interior—the floor length is only 5.3 feet—but putting the shower pan in the entryway is a clever way to save on space. The GZL-400 lists for about $36,000.
7. Northstar 650
The Northstar 650 is a terrific, little camper. It fits perfectly on standard short-bed and mini-short-bed trucks and features attractive half-wraps on the rear. In spite of its compact size, this rugged, 1,405-pound camper is still loaded with an impressive list of standard features, including a large, 30-gallon fresh water tank, an east-west 60×80-inch queen size bed with under bed storage, a 3.7-cubic foot 3-way refrigerator, a 5 gallon horizontal propane tank, a comfortable 6-inch “Suresleep” memory foam mattress, and one of my favorite truck camper options, the Lagun swing-away table system. The long list of options for the Northstar 650, includes a 7.5-gallon gray water tank, a Thetford cassette toilet, a north-south bed, an outdoor shower, a Girard tankless water heater, a Dometic DC compressor refrigerator, and a Zamp 160-watt solar power system. If you like to camp in the winter, I highly recommend ordering Northstar’s optional “Sub Zero Package,” which includes an “insulated tent,” an insulated dinette window, and foil-faced wall insulation. Overall, a great little camper that can take a beating. The only real negative is the dated Oak interior—an interior facelift is badly needed in all Northstar campers. The list price for the Northstar 650 is a very affordable $18,890.
8. Palomino Real Lite SS-1605
Bringing up the rear is a relatively-new offering, Forest River RV’s Palomino SS-1605. Forrest River calls this line of pop-up campers “Real-Lite,” but at 1,614 pounds, this camper is anything but. The Real-Lite construction features aluminum framing, a hi-gloss gel coat fiberglass exterior, available in either grey or white, high density block foam insulation, and a heated insulated basement. The 8-foot floor plan offers an east-west 60×80-inch queen-size bed, a large U-shaped dinette and a small kitchenette with a three-way 3-cubic foot refrigerator in the front, and two large storage closets in the rear. Unfortunately, this camper neither has a wet-bath nor a grey water holding tank, but it does have a small compartment where a porta pottie can be stored, a 16-gallon fresh water holding tank, a 20-pound propane tank, and an on-demand tankless water heater. It also has a few other goodies not typically found in a truck camper like an exterior battery charge station and a push-pull battery disconnect switch by the door. Popular options include a porta pottie, a 9,200 btu low-profile air conditioner, an entry step, and a wireless remote for the Rieco Titan Roof Lift system for the pop-top. A mediocre offering from a mediocre company, the camper is appropriately priced at $12,878.
Before you buy a pop-up truck camper, make sure you have the right truck to haul it. When it comes to hauling a truck camper, the payload rating of your truck is the most important number you need to know. For half-ton trucks, this rating can be less than 1,000 pounds or as high as 3,200. This means your camper, plus passengers and gear, must be below this number. Determining your truck’s payload rating is easy. It can be found either on a driver side door pillar sticker or can be determined by taking the truck to the scales and subtracting the weight of the truck from the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The payload certification form in the truck’s glovebox will have this information, too, but it will also say something to the effect that hauling a slide-in truck camper is NOT recommended. You can ignore that recommendation, especially if you’re planning on getting a lightweight pop-up. As long as you stay within the payload rating and GVWR of your truck, you’ll be safe, but you’ll probably need to upgrade your tires to get the weight-bearing capacity that you need. For a half-ton, that usually means upgrading the OEM passenger-rated tires that came with your truck to a good light truck tire with a load range D minimum.
Interested in a hard-side truck camper for your half-ton truck instead? Then you’ll want to check out our top eight ranked here.