We recently received this question regarding the long-term viability of wood-framed campers as opposed to campers constructed of aluminum and fiberglass.
Since you’ve owned at least two wood-framed campers, how do you feel about their long-term viability? I’m aware of the moisture prevention issue, but was wondering about the overall quality in general compared to aluminum frames. Previously, I had asked you about your new Roadrunner and then contacted BundutecUSA. I’m impressed with that unit, but need something larger. I’m researching the Rugged Mountain Granite 11RL. We’re more conventional travelers/campers due to age and progressing physical limitations, so such a unit is more in keeping with our lifestyle. Anyway, any words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated.
This is a great question that I get asked from time to time. As Mark stated, our last two campers, a Northstar Laredo and Bundutec Roadrunner, were constructed of wood. But our first truck camper, a Wolf Creek 850, was framed in aluminum, so we’ve had experience with both. We haven’t owned a fiberglass camper yet, but we’re sure that will happen at some point as we’re a fan of that material as well. All construction methods have their pros and cons. Wood actually has several benefits that often get overlooked, one of the biggest being that it insulates better, meaning wood doesn’t form condensation as much as aluminum and fiberglass. Wood also reduces the expansion and contraction in changes in temperature from hot to cold.
Wood campers have other benefits too. They’re cheaper to make—thus making them easier on the wallet—easier to build, and easier to repair should any issues arise. Case in point. On our last camper, the front passenger-side jack hit a large rock while we were driving on the White Rim Trail in Utah (this happened one day before shooting this famous video). The damage was pretty extensive. Repairing this damage would have been a nightmare with fiberglass or aluminum, but not with wood. We were as good as new within a few days. I was able to make all of the repairs myself.
Of course, the number one culprit with wood is the neglected leak. Yes, wood can get wet, dry out, and be as strong as before. However, allowing a leak to continue unabated is a death sentence for wood as it would be for any RV. That is why it is so important to do roof inspections regularly. If a unit is subjected to a neglected leak resulting in water damage or even a break due to an accident, the skin can easily be removed, and the damaged section repaired much easier when constructed of wood compared to aluminum and fiberglass.
Another con of wood is weight. In general, wood framed campers are heavier, but the structural benefits of wood more than make up for the weight that you would save when using aluminum. The point is, wood has numerous benefits. Most of our homes are built of it. Still, being weight conscience is very important to every truck camper owner. You need to be aware of what you are hauling, where the center of gravity is, and how to load the camper. This is also why staying below or as close to the GVWR of your truck is so important.
Today, several companies still frame their campers out of wood with Bundutec, Northstar, Alaskan, Rugged Ridge, Capri, and the new kid on the block, Kingstar, being the most prominent examples. Most of these companies have been in business for years, Alaskan since the 1953. If wood is as bad as some ill-informed people believe, they wouldn’t make them out of that material anymore.
So what’s the bottom line? Wood works. Water is the enemy of any camper regardless of how it’s constructed. Periodic inspections of all seams and roof caulking is critical to maintaining the watertight integrity of any camper. We’ve seen water damage in both aluminum and fiberglass campers and it isn’t pretty. The point is that all campers have roof vents, windows, and other penetrations that rely on caulking and other sealants to keep water out. All of these must be checked periodically. A tell-tale sign of a leak is usually cracked caulking and must be corrected right away.