The Toyota Tacoma has proven to be, without a doubt, a very popular platform not only for truck toppers and small truck campers, but also DIY builders. In this week’ feature article, we shine the spotlight on a special DIY build by Barrett Rogers who built a hard-top pop-up truck camper with a hybrid tip-out for his 2005 Toyota Tacoma. The results are inspiring. To learn more about his exciting build, we spoke with Barrett.
Thanks, Barrett, for talking with us. Why did you decide to build a DIY truck camper?
Barrett Rogers: I think everyone who wants a hard-side camper or an off-grid, off-road camper in general can agree that the pricing isn’t really attainable for all of us—I think this is always the reason for building your own camper.
We also wanted a tip-out space to expand the square footage inside. Also, we like the outdoors and camping but there’s been a lot of times when the weather didn’t cooperate. The FlipPac got way cramped on days like that so we wanted more space. We also camp mainly as a getaway—this doesn’t mean we want to rough it every time, nor do we want to stink and be dirty, if anyone has contacts you know how bad they suck when camping my (my wife wears contacts). Basically, we wanted almost a hotel/motel, but mobile so our view could change when we wanted. I work a lot when camping, and my new job will require more work when camping—graphic design and industrial design—so a nice spot to work inside sometimes. with less glare, and a more comfortable spot for laptop usage is important as well.
What is this FlipPac that you mentioned? We’re not familiar with it.
Barrett Rogers: They were one of the earliest roof top tents. Some models were made in late 90s, I think. Mine got beat to death before I had it and I made it last a few years before it died. They were made by FRP and discontinued in 2015. AT Overland bought the rights and made a different version with a smaller flip-out bed. The bed in this camper is above the cab of the truck. The standing room is 7 to 6 feet high. They’re cool, but I like hard-sides now. I’m getting too old for tents.
We like your DIY tip-out “hybrid” feature. Can you tell us more about it and how it works?
Barrett Rogers: The folding annex, er, bedroom, surprisingly, folds out easier than the FlipPac roof flipped-up. I made supports for the bedroom out of fiberglass garden tool handles (I think a shovel and a hoe) that slide into t-slots in the bed bottom then insert into spots I welded into the flatbed frame.
So, after the roof actuators raise the lid of the camper and release the side (and door), the bed box folds down towards me (this boxes in the mattress on three sides, and the long wall that folds down covers it) and I insert the poles into their slots in the flatbed base and wall of the bedroom as I let it down, the long wall flips up and the side walls hinge out from that and attach to the side of the camper.
The roof over that bed area is a camping tarp (ripstop nylon) that is VHB taped to an aluminum frame on the one side that attaches to the outside long wall via 1/4-20 threaded rod with T-track knobs and threaded inserts that are in the camper wall. This takes about a minute to attach—the other end of the tarp is permanently attached to the camper side of the folding annex. I have 1-inch-thick foam wrapped in that same camping tarp that unfolds and is slipped into place under the roof tarp for insulation and rigidity, so it can hold snow. It’s held up with aluminum angle.
When we had the FlipPac (RIP FlipPac) the dogs had many issues either getting into the camper and/or getting into the bed that was above the cab. They could never figure out the blocks I made for storage that doubled as steps and they would fall all over the place about killing themselves. The bedroom off to the side is bench height and makes a nice space for them to chill in if we’re inside, and is also easier for them to get into.
Is your camper a flatbed or a chassis-mount?
Barrett Rogers: It sits on a flatbed, which in and of itself was an adventure building. I made it too short at first then had to cut it off and weld 3 inches to each leg that attached to the frame. Also, for the initial build of the platform, I used flux core and it basically was too hot and bent the flat part of the flatbed, I was able to compensate when putting the camper on so it’s ok—only things I’d notice I imagine. I wanted the option to put it on a trailer later if the desire to tow it behind my car arose.
Tell us a little bit about how the camper is constructed? How long did it take?
Barrett Rogers: I started in March and we first went out in August. It’s not complete, as I just planned the shell and started fast, so we could maybe camp in it this year—the interior is nowhere near done. Each wall has a 1.5-inch wide skeletal structure that is comprised of two 1/2-inch layers of plywood laminated together (each skeleton layer was pieced together a little differently so the seam wasn’t all in one place).
One-inch pink foam insulation fills the voids of the skeleton. This construction is then laminated on both sides with 5mm under layment (this stuff is awful for using on a finished product and I knew it going into it but with monetary limits I had to settle and deal with the issues later). The pieces were all cut out at work—I can just put a 4×8-foot sheet of plywood on the 400 watt laser and cut away. The front and rear walls are all screwed and glued to the side panels (the skin on the front and rear panels overlap the thickness of the wall and makes a much larger glue surface—three and a 1/2-inch screws go into each face of the corner—two directions) the side walls of the camper are also held in place by the bench supports and kitchen counter end walls. I saved a lot of weight by doing the skeleton. I’d like to have done it in fiberglass, maybe next time.
We like your tip-out entry stairs. How is that mechanism constructed?
Barrett Rogers: I actually got the idea from Rossmonster Overland’s Baja—though mine is a much lower budget version. I made the stairs on a pivot type hinge at the top (a zinc rod goes through the entire width of the stairs with bronze bushings on either end, the void was filled with epoxy, that rod locks into a steel support screwed into the camper entry—hard to explain but the picture kind of helps.
They just swing down by their own weight, which is less than 15 pounds, and are supported when in the lowered position by two removable supports that go on the bumper, inside is a pulley that pulls it up and a latch to lock it from inside—this will change, I’m sure, as time goes on—evolution happens on projects like these. The dogs have a much easier time getting into the camper with these stairs then whatever we figured out for each trip when we had the FlipPac—if you haven’t figured it out… it’s all about the dogs.
What are the tank capacities of the camper?
Barrett Rogers: We have two 5-pound propane tanks (water heater and indoor stove) and a 16 gallon water tank—this is usually filled with Longmont, Colorado water, which I’m fairly certain just comes from the pool at the local YMCA. So, then we have water bricks for drinking water that we get free from crystal spring a few towns over, these equal about 16 gallons (they also fill the foot space of the rear passenger area in the truck where I did a DIY seat delete and storage. We also have 20L of kerosene (for the propane heater), and many 1-pound propane bottles for the outdoor kitchen setup in the large drawer built into the flatbed
How large is the battery bank in your camper? Does it have an inverter?
Barrett Rogers: We have two 100 amp hour Renogy AGM batteries and a 1,000 watt inverter. The inverter is only used for charging my computer and our coffee mugs (yes coffee is that important). Everything else is 12 volt.
How durable is the roof? How much weight can it support?
Barrett Rogers: I didn’t plan on it holding more than solar and the fan, but I was up there this week doing some fixes of trail damage and it held me with no weird noises, but I certainly don’t want to do that often, maybe something lighter.
How large is the solar power system in your camper? Can roof racks be installed on the roof?
Barrett Rogers: The solar is two 100 watt monos that are stuck down with VHB tape charging 200 amp hour of battery storage via 30 amp controller. I could install roof rack, but I don’t know that I’d want much up there—maybe a paddleboard or two. I plan on putting a pioneer rack on the truck for the spare and gas tank(s), since there’s room enough, so maybe a roof rack for kayak and SUP is in the future.
How is the camper heated and cooled? Does it come with an induction cooktop?
Barrett Rogers: I installed a diesel heater a few weeks ago—works amazing and they’re very cheap. I use Kleen kerosene in it, obviously, not diesel. We do not have cooling other than the MAXX fan. the entire camper has 1-inch of foam insulation, so it’s pretty nice, even in the sun.
I didn’t do induction cooktop after reading a bit more into optimal power for a two top 1,800 watt induction burner. It was more than I have, let’s just say that. Another upgrade I’m sure will happen in the future is a lithium battery setup.
How many people can the camper sleep?
Barrett Rogers: It sleeps two people and two dogs. I’m sure I could have designed for more, but there was no need. If I get lucky and someone wants to make this camper a thing, then it’ll definitely have variants to the sleeping arrangements.
How much does the camper weigh?
Barrett Rogers: About 1,000 pounds with batteries, but no water in the tank (so maybe a little over 900 pounds). The truck handles the weight incredibly well just by adding the Firestone air suspension to the rear along with the add a leaf and shackle flip that was already there. The front suspension is Old Man Emu Nitro with heavy springs, it was overkill before with an aluminum bumper, but now to counter that weight in back its good I didn’t change it yet.
Can you tell us about the bathroom and toilet?
Not much to tell here. We use a Luggable Loo and we use the shower curtain area as a bathroom sometimes, that there shovel strapped to the driver’s side fender digs the main bathrooms we use really. We’re usually far enough out.
What things make your camper different from others that can be purchased?
Barrett Rogers: Well, including the truck ($5,000 from a very generous and gracious friend), and some mods to said truck ($2000), plus the camper, I’m about $14,000 in. I’d say it’s about $200,000 difference from others that can be purchased, and while it’s rough it still has hot water, cook top, heat, running water in general and does everything we need. We can stay remote as long as we want (well as long as we bring extra water for the tank). We made our Starlink mobile so I can work from literally anywhere we usually camp. The folding room I’ve not seen on any overland rigs either.
Does your camper have any features that you’re particularly proud of?
Barrett Rogers: The fold-out room and the fact that that little room doesn’t leak when it rains. Though I’m about to plan on building a new iteration of the roof and side walls of that area that will be easier to set up.
I also like how my lid raises at an angle. I had to put drawer slides in to prevent it from bending the 12 volt actuator arms. The brackets I made for the actuators, are designed so that they each hold two in case I decide the make a fiberglass roof with more support to hold things and there’s more weight. I can add another actuator to each corner. I despise how flat the front of the camper is and I’ll make it a bit more interesting next time I make one.
Can you tell us about your truck and what you did to it to haul your truck camper?
Barrett Rogers: The truck is a “rattle can tan,” 2005 tacoma TRD sport. Besides adding the new flatbed that I built, it has an Aluminess front bumper, a custom rear bumper, Walker Evans forged wheels with KO2 all-terrain tires (likely will go back to destination MT2). I’ve had it for a a bit, so a few things were already done to the suspension as well—Old Man Emu nitrocharger shocks with OME 886 heavy-duty springs up front (purchased before the aluminum bumper), with JBA upper control arms, and CVJ Reman front CV axles with red boot. In the rear, I have an add-a-leaf with a shackle flip kit and Bilstein 5125s shocks. I added Firestone Ride Rite with spring spacers to the back. These airbags are amazing and are the only reason my Tacoma can handle the weight. The rear seat delete DIY that doubles as an absurd amount of storage inside. And I put in Audi seats because Toyota seats absolutely suck. I’m fairly certain they’re not aware of anything called “ergonomics.” Next up, I’m doing a front brake upgrade and fix my battery isolator, so I can use that again. She’s a beater, not a pretty girl at all, but we love her and she keeps us out of trouble.
Where have you taken your rig so far? What plans do you have for the future?
Barrett Rogers: So far we’ve taken two trips in it. The first in just the shell with no amenities like water or heat on buffalo pass, which was an easy off road trail. Then the second trip was up to Kite Lake for one night and a hike, then we planned on staying three nights in a spot not far from there on another lake, but that lake had been emptied, so we started driving aimlessly from there, until we saw a “national forest entrance” and came upon Brown’s Pass. There was nothing in any of our off road books about it, so we asked a guy with a dirt bike if there was anything out there and he replied that there was a bunch to explore and to go for it. I’m pretty sure he overlooked the fact that we’re 9 feet tall, because that trail was so tight that the sides were gouged and scratched and sticks were poking out of the front of the lid when we got out of the trail—the switchbacks had us at absurd angles I did NOT think this camper and truck could handle, but she handled it well. We only saw dirt bikes and UTVs on that trail, I wouldn’t advise anyone with a camper larger than a GFC to go down that trail, but if you have something that small, DEFINITELY GO FIND THAT TRAIL. we got out alive and decided not to camp there. We found seclusion on a mellow Weston Pass offshoot that got us pretty remote and away from anyone.
Do you have any plans to build more or as a business?
Barrett Rogers: Not really, but if someone wants to pay to start a business building them, I have a CAD version that’s more refined and sources for parts and molds and would be into it, and building more one-offs could also be an option if the right offer came around but it would have to be for much more than I spent haha – for now I think I am just a one off DIY truck camper guy. Or maybe I can clean the DIY version of the plans up and let people download them.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your camper and your plans for the future?
Barrett Rogers: I think once I get to the inside and get more done, and maybe once the bedroom roof is redone I’ll have more. Plans for now are to get out there as much as possible. The next big project I do will be to do aluminum siding all over. The next small project will likely be the secondary (interior) door.
What kind of advice do you have for other contemplating a DIY truck camper build?
Barrett Rogers: While it seems expensive when you do it, just keep in mind what they cost from the companies we love to watch. Spend the extra to get the better part, it’ll be worth it in the long run and still less than a quarter of what you’d pay for a new manufactured camper in the end—and research all your parts and accessories.
Even if you’ve never made anything or designed anything, go for it, anyone can do anything. Also the overland community is just that, a community, they’re all eager to help, so speak up if you’re hesitating, someone will have a good direction for you to start in.
Follow Barrett Rogers on Instagram to see additional upgrades and to learn more about his amazing DIY rig.