Interested in full-timing in a truck camper? More and more people are doing it though the reasons for doing it differ greatly from person to person. Some do it to get away and see the world, while others do it simply to save money. Retired fire fighter Kirk Harris did it because he loves the outdoors. The versatile truck camper, more than any other type of RV, allows him to enjoy the outdoors fully. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Kirk at his current location in Austin, Nevada to answer a few questions about boondocking and the truck camper way of life.
Thanks, Kirk, for taking the time to talk to us. How long did you serve in the Fire Service and where exactly did you serve?
Kirk Harris: I retired May 2016 after 34 years. I’m grateful to have a retirement pension that allows me to enjoy this lifestyle without working. One of the aspects of my job was working on an Incident Management Team that would be sent out to Manage large wildland fires. Basically if you drew a line from Montana to Texas I had the opportunity to see some amazing country including parts of Alaska. One of my bucket list items is to travel back and revisit these places and see how they look now and explore the areas.
How long have you been full-timing in your truck camper now?
Kirk Harris: I started full-timing on November 1, 2017. I was initially hesitant moving from a 1,200 square foot home to 144 square foot truck camper. Prior to actually going full-time, I took it on several short trips to make sure it would work out. Here I am, 15 months later, still enjoying the lifestyle.
Tell us about your little travel companion, Pinky. What breed is she and how old is she?
Kirk Harris: Pinky is a 7-pound chihuahua and is four years old. I rescued her, or she rescued me, when she was 10 months old. It’s fun having her with me to share in the experience.
Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
Kirk Harris: Sure, It’s a 2016 Arctic Fox 811 short-bed model. When I started looking at truck campers, I wanted one that had the capacities (propane, water, black and gray tanks) to allow me to stay out for several days. I was also looking for one that had both solar, an onboard generator, and was four season capable. The Arctic Fox 811 fit the bill.
Why did you decide on a truck camper to full-time in?
Kirk Harris: That’s a good question, Mike. Prior to going full-time in my truck camper I considered travel trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes. Having owned a 21-foot bumper pulled toy-hauler for several years prior, I found trying to stay at some U.S. Forest Service, BLM and state park campgrounds, were limited do to site lengths. Another issue was when I’d take my kids camping and boating at one of the lakes near our home, I was having to tow the camp trailer out and then make a return trip for the boat if I couldn’t find someone to bring it out for me. I find the truck camper to be very versatile in that you can tow behind it, leave it loaded or unload it at a campsite and use the truck alone. Most of the time I am pulling a cargo trailer with a ATV and some camping gear inside, but if I just want to travel with the truck camper alone, I leave the cargo trailer with someone I know or at a storage yard. Basically, a truck camper fits my lifestyle better than all the other options and I’m very happy with my decision to live full-time in a truck camper.
What modifications, if any, have you made to your camper?
Kirk Harris: As of now, none. I am, however, looking at several in the near future. The dinette is a sore subject with me literally, I’ve been looking at different options to make this area more comfortable. One option I’ve been considering is replacing the benches and table with a jack-knife couch. I’d also like to install the StableCamper product to reduce motion while the camper is off the truck.
How do you like your camper? What are your favorite features?
Kirk Harris: It’s been a great setup for me so far. My favorite features would be that it has a good amount of storage on the interior. Also it has two 7 gallon propane tanks, a 50 gallon water tank, and is four-season rated, all great features for extended stays while boondocking.
Do you use solar power or a generator to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?
Kirk Harris: The camper came equipped with a 2,500 watt propane onboard generator and a 100 watt solar panel on the roof. I also have an 80 watt portable solar panel that I direct towards the sun. I primarily use solar to recharge my two 105 amp hour AGM batteries. I don’t have a big need for power so it keeps up pretty good unless it cloudy all day then I’ll top the batteries off with the generator.
Can you tell us about more about your truck? Are you over or under your truck’s GVWR with your Arctic Fox camper?
Kirk Harris: My truck is a 2012 Ram 3500 DRW 4×4, it has the 6.7L Cummins diesel paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission and exhaust brake. The GVWR is 12,300 pounds with a Payload capacity of 4,700 pounds. My Arctic Fox 811 has a tagged dry weight of 3,300 pounds. The combined weight wet (diesel fuel, propane, water and gear) is approximately 12,000 pounds, added me, Pinky and the cargo trailers hitch weight, it’s probably a little over the GVWR.
Did you need to make any modifications to your truck’s suspension?
Kirk Harris: I purchased the truck used from a gentleman that used it to pull a fifth wheel toyhauler. He add air springs to the rear suspension and I do use these to help level the load. I added Torklift Stable Load spring pads so the helper springs would activate sooner. I’m considering adding a Hellwig Big Wig rear sway bar to see if this helps reduce some sway when windy. Other than that, the truck handles the load of the camper and cargo trailer quite well.
Do you have any regrets in any of your choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Kirk Harris: The only regret I have as far as the truck camper is concerned, is that I should have gone with the non-slide model like the Arctic Fox 865. My reasoning on this is, it has the same capacities as the Arctic Fox 811, but weighs less because it doesn’t have the slide-out. Also, in regards to the slide-out, there would be no maintenance issues and no cold air intrusion on the hard sided Arctic Fox 865 as is with the Arctic Fox 811.
What is your favorite truck or truck camper mod or piece of gear that you take with you?
Kirk Harris: Does my Polaris General UTV count as gear? If so, that has been my favorite thing to have with me these days. I primarily boondock on public land (USFS, BLM) and it allows me to go out and explore places that I could not otherwise get to with my truck camper. I also carry light weight camping gear with me because I like to get away from the camper at times and tent camp in remote places.
Have you made any mistakes relating truck camper life or use of your truck camper that would be of help to our readers?
Kirk Harris: I’d have to say the biggest mistake was when I purchased my truck camper. I initially started with a 2006 Ram 3500 short-bed SRW truck with a GVWR of 9,900 pounds. I thought I had done enough research in regards to whether it would be a good match for the Arctic Fox 811 and not be over the GVWR. I also contacted Northwood Manufacturing and Nelsons RV Sales and they both advised me that, indeed it was, and that the Arctic Fox 811 was designed to be used on a 3/4-ton truck. Given this information I went ahead with the purchase. After picking up the camper and having it mounted to my 2006 Ram in Boise, Idaho, I returned to my home in Carson City, Nevada. During the drive home I noticed that the camper felt heavy and at times the truck uneasy to drive and this was at its dry weight. To make a long story short, I purchased several items to help increase the rear suspension capability, but it still didn’t feel right. Thus the purchase of the newer dual rear wheel truck, made a world of difference in how it handles now. With what I know now, I would have allowed for 1,500 to 2,000 pounds wet weight. This might seem like a large margin, but by the time you add up the “wet weight” it’s pretty close. I also feel, the RV industry should be more responsible in educating the consumer instead of just making the sale. Lastly, every RV should be weighed individually upon completion with factory added options.
We agree. What has been your biggest challenge full-timing in your truck camper?
Kirk Harris: I think the biggest challenge is when the weather is bad. there have been a few occasions when it has rained or snowed all day and even a couple of days at a time. Being in a small space like this can get uncomfortable and I have to find things to do to move around, like cleaning house. There’s a saying among those who RV full-time “the outdoors is your living room” and nobody likes a cold or wet living room.
Do you have any tips on how to stay organized?
Kirk Harris: When I made the jump to go full-time I did what seems like most people I’ve talked with have done, pack too much stuff into a tiny space. Needless to say, it was as unorganized as you can get and found out quickly that I needed to down size more and get things organized. First area organized was the wet bath. I added “Command Strip” Hooks for towels and Shower caddy’s to hold items that would not fit in the medicine cabinet. The next area was the cabover storage and closets, if I didn’t wear it or use it got boxed up and put into storage. The closets in the Arctic Fox 811 are too small to use standard size clothes hangers, but I was able to find some that worked at Bed Bath and Beyond and now can utilize the hanging space better. For my socks, underwear, T-shirts and other loose items, I found cloth organizer bins that fit inside the storage space alongside the bed. The kitchen area was last, seemed like there was enough cups, plates and utensils for 10 people. Since it’s only me and my dog, I reduced these items to two servings and use paper plates, bowls and plastic utensils for when there’s company.
How long do you typically stay in any one location?
Kirk Harris: Since I primarily disperse camp (boondock/dry camp), Once I find an area that I like, I will generally stay for seven to 14 days. I realized early on that the more you move, the more it cost in regards to fuel. I like to take time and explore the areas near where I’m camping. Because I like to stay in remote places, I will top off my water, propane and food supplies before heading out. And for those wondering or worried about connectivity, I use the Garmin InReach Satellite Messenger to keep in contact with family if I don’t have cell service.
What kind of mileage are you getting with your rig?
Kirk Harris: The truck pretty much averages 10 mpg hauling the camper and pulling the cargo trailer. obviously this is dependent on factor like weather, terrain and speed. For instance, when I was traveling to Southwest Arizona in December, I was blessed with a tail wind and was getting at times 14 mpg. Change that up to a head wind and I’m lucky to get 8 mpg. But because I have less travel days by staying at places longer, I don’t worry much about mpg as this keeps the overall fuel cost down.
You’ve boondocked in a lot of cool places. How do you find them? Word of mouth? Google Earth? Instagram?
Kirk Harris: I learned about dispersed camping at an early age, my father had a truck camper and our family would take it on long vacations every summer. I remember watching him as he studied maps to find places to camp as we traveled, many of the places we’d stay were primitive campsites along forest roads with the occasional payed campground in the mix. to answer your question, I use several ways to find good boondocking locations these days. A good map is hard to beat, I prefer USFS/BLM District maps as they have good information in regards to roads and campgrounds. DeLorme state atlas maps are a great overview map, they show topography, back roads, recreation sites and have GPS grids to help in planning. Of course when you start buying maps, they tend to add up and take up space. A few years ago while working on a large wildland fire, I was introduced to the “Avenza Maps” App, I have it on my iPad and iPhone. Now instead of having stacks of maps taking up space, they are all downloaded. Google Earth is a great app for doing a “fly over” before heading out, although if it’s a forested area, you might not always see good camping spots. Social media and word of mouth are both great ways to find cool campsites. Often times I’ll meet people who I’m camped near and we’ll share places where we’ve camped. I also follow several people on Instagram and FaceBook who boondock and share locations. A little trick I learned recently, is to put a drop pin on Google maps of places to go. Websites and Apps I like to use are campendium.com, freecampsites.net, “Allstays” App, “onX hunt” App and “Avenza Maps” App.
What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Kirk Harris: Currently I am running the Toyo M-55 tires, they are commercial grade with an aggressive tread. They happen to be the same tire used on our wildland fire engines, while I was still working, so I’m familiar with how well they performed off-road carrying heavy weight. And considering I like to find boondocking locations away from paved roads, I wanted a tire I knew I could trust. As for inflation values, I typically inflate the rears to 80 psi and the fronts to 75 psi when the camper is loaded. When unloaded for an extended period, I’ll inflate to the recommended pressure shown on the driver side door pillar, rears 65 psi and fronts 70 psi.
Have you done any off-roading with your truck camper rig? If, yes, tell us about a few.
Kirk Harris: In the Terms of “off-roading”, nothing to gnarly, because the Arctic Fox 811 is a heavy camper and sits fairly tall at 12 feet 6 inches. I stick mainly to improved dirt and well-traveled two-track roads. Also, when pulling the cargo trailer, the total length of my setup is 42 feet. If there is any question in my mind about a dirt road, I’ll scout it out first either on foot or with my Polaris General side x side to be on the safe side. My home state of Nevada offers many great off-road destinations for exploring old mining towns and sonic places to camp away from the crowds. I tend to gravitate towards the Eastern Sierras, Northeastern and Central Nevada.
What emergency prep gear do you typically take with you?
Kirk Harris: with out a doubt, the Garmin InReach Satellite Messenger is my number one piece of emergency prep gear. It’s not only great for emergencies but very useful for communicating with people through texting when no cell service is available. Also, while working in the fire service, I’ve responded to a couple backcountry emergencies where in the information given to use was invaluable in helping us access the incident in a timely manner. You can never go wrong with a good first aid kit, I personally have a couple. The first aid kit I keep in my truck has enough supplies for several uses including trauma and I have two smaller personal first aid kits from my hiking pack and ATV. Some additional gear I bring along includes fire extinguishers, shovel, axe, fire starter, signal mirror and dehydrated food.
What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?
Kirk Harris: Thankfully there have only been a couple so far. Once I was driving and encounter high cross winds that nearly took me off the roadway. I decided from then on that I’d be more aware of the weather forecast prior to driving especially in regards to the wind. the other occasion was when I drove down a two-track dirt road and it turned into a narrow trail on the side of a hill. The scary part was trying to back down the road with the cargo trailer and not go off the edge, let’s just say there were several unmentionable words said and a lot of moving forwards and backwards to keep everything in line with the trail, thus the reason I get out and scout roads I’m unsure of. A little bit of advise—if a dirt road looks like it hasn’t been traveled much there a good reason for it.
Haha, that’s good advise. Have you had any notable run-ins with wildlife?
Kirk Harris: On a couple of occasions while camping along the Eastern Sierras, black bears have wandered through my campsite. Once while camping in central Nevada a pack of coyotes were howling only a few yards from us. And most recently while camped by Alamo Lake in Arizona, a wild burro decided to use the one of the jack stand as an itching post. This event shook the camper a bit as it was off the truck at the time. I practice keeping a clean camp, which helps keep wildlife away. Pinky and I have also run across these same animals while out hiking, we just keep a safe distance away from them and hopefully never happen upon surprise.
Tell us about some of your favorite places you’ve visited so far?
Kirk Harris: Great Basin National Park in Nevada, I like the remoteness of it and there’s a lot of dispersed camping outside of the park. The Lehman caves and bristlecone pines are the main attractions, but there’s also great hiking and lots of wildlife to view. YellowPine Idaho while the harmonica/music festival is happening, a remote little town that puts on a fun event. Lots of good camping and plenty of places to explore like the East fork of the Salmon River that runs by the town and the old mining town of Stibnite. My favorite trip to date was not with my truck camper, but on my Triumph Tiger 800 Adventure Bike. That trip was the Alaska Highway, I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning on going again with my truck camper, staying longer and exploring more places along the way.
What foods do you like to eat as a full-timer?
Kirk Harris: If you open my refrigerator, you’ll find eggs, bacon, sausage, salami, steaks, burger and bratwurst as the main ingredients to most of the meals I make. Throw in some cheese, cream, cheese, canned mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, green beans, BBQ beans, wild rice, corn beef hash and/or tortilla shells and you got the makings for a few different meals. of course an assortment of condiments help too. And in all honesty, my favorite meal of the day is breakfast, so I tend to buy more of those item over anything else.
Do you have a website and/or social media channels that our readers can follow?
Kirk Harris: I post all of my travel pictures on Instagram @thewanderingtruckcabin anyone is welcome to follow my adventures there.
Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Kirk Harris: I’ve been known to wet a fishing line or two, the hard part is catching one, seems they’re not so eager to become dinner. Pinky and I enjoy going for hikes in the morning and evening when it’s not to hot, and there’s usually more wildlife out during these times to view. I drag a bicycle around with me for trail riding, nothing to crazy though I’m getting old. I’m currently looking for a good inflatable kayak to float around lakes and rivers in. Is soaking in natural hot springs considered a hobby? If yes, then include that too.
Wondering if I could bother you to comment on using a short bed camper on a long bed truck?
You seem to like it better than that camper on a short bed srw truck, but any negatives?
I have a short bed camper on a short bed truck, but thinking of a new truck and getting a long bed would give more options for the future. And, it would be nice to have the extra exterior storage space.
Thanks for you time.
Terrific story, you have thought things out and planned well…..I have a TC and a Honda side by side and a trailer to haul it on…..but in the past I have flat towed a Jeep Wrangler and found that the Jeep is more suited for what I do in the backcountry and in the city. Kayaking will open up a new and wonderful world for the both of you and as you know in Alaska you can dump and fill your tanks when you stop for gas…..so you never have to stay in a campground if you don’t want too….I don’t want to… and the Milepost identifies all the dispersed sites to boondock at….. In Alaska they have a great expression …” I hope to see you down the trail “