In this week’s feature article, we shine the spotlight on another DIY build, this time by the talented Ben Bloom who built a Redwood “Road Boat” Truck Topper for his 2017 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. The results of his nautical camper are inspiring. To learn more about this exciting DIY truck topper camper shell build, we spoke with Ben.
Thanks for talking with us about your camper. First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Ben Bloom: I’m always excited to talk to truck campers owners! Born and raised in Northern California, I’ve been enamored with the notion of having a home on wheels since childhood. In elementary school I started begging my grandpa to take me to RV dealerships and campsites to check out all the various mobile homes, and still feel the spark whenever I see something cool on the road.
What do you do for a living?
Ben Bloom: Lately, I’ve been doing a variety of different types of work, most of which involve building. I’ve been excited about working with tree house builders, and am converting a sprinter van and working part time in a wood shop making furniture.
Why did you decide to build a truck topper rather than buy one?
Ben Bloom: There were honestly lots of reasons why I opted to build the camper. After owning a few manufactured shells, I built a smaller wooden shell and found I much preferred the feeling of being inside a handmade wooden structure as opposed to fiberglass or aluminum. I also just hate how boring most newer vehicles are these days and wanted to do something that would add a little character to the truck. I feel that these days we so often prioritize practicality and cost over beauty and I wish there was more enthusiasm for building unique stuff!. Mainly though, I just love building things and felt inspired, so I went for it!
Was there any existing camper that provided inspiration for your build?
Ben Bloom: When I was living in Santa Cruz, California I’d often see all these sweet, old ramshackle home-built campers rolling around and parked out at the coast. I’d say inspiration for this camper came from that general atmosphere combined with the work of some artists in the San Francisco Bay Area who build rolling homes with a lot of creativity and refinement.
How was your topper constructed? Is there anything notable about the build that makes it unique?
Ben Bloom: I built campers before this one that were a little meatier and probably overbuilt, which meant they were relatively heavy. I wanted to keep the weight as low as possible on this one since it was going to be on a mid size truck and used as my daily driver. The redwood tongue-and-groove boards were milled to less than half an inch thick to shave off a few pounds, and I covered the exterior with two layers of fiberglass for strength and waterproofing. I also felt my previous camper had looked a little boxy, so I built the roof with a slight arch which gives the interior a nice, old timey feel.
What are your favorite features of the topper?
Ben Bloom: A clear favorite feature of mine would have to be the bronze portholes. They were salvaged from an old wooden boat in Sausalito and to me this feels like an appropriate second life for them. I also love the copper roof. I think it looks great with the redwood and is starting to develop a nice patina.
The portholes look great. Does your topper have a bathroom, toilet, or a shower?
Ben Bloom: None of the above! Due to the size and intended use of the shell, I decided that I didn’t need any of those things. For part-time living, I felt it was a worthy sacrifice in the interest of keeping things simple and light.
How does the bed deploy for nighttime use?
Ben Bloom: The bed platform is modular and can easily come in and out of the camper when needed. I leave it in whenever I’m planning on sleeping in the camper, and take it out when I’m hauling surfboards or lumber.
Does your camper have an electrical system?
Ben Bloom: All battery powered lights and chargers! Same sentiment as the plumbing, simple and light are right for this setup. I have some string lights and a propane heater if it ever gets really cold.
What truck do you use to haul your camper? Are you under or over the truck’s GVWR/payload?
Ben Bloom: My truck is a stock 2017 Toyota Tacoma and the camper weighs around 450 pounds, well under the truck’s payload. Fully loaded I can still manage to get 24 mpg on the highway if I’m at the speed limit and keeping a light foot. I installed medium load SumoSprings in the rear, most of the time driving I barely notice the shell.
Do you have any regrets in the build? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Ben Bloom: Nothing too glaring comes to mind. I wish I had used an inlay style hinge for the back doors, and if I could go back I’d probably look into framing the camper with mahogany instead of redwood just for a little extra strength. But so far, no problems!
What is the longest amount of time you spent in your camper?
Ben Bloom: Probably a few weeks or so. So far the best uses for the truck topper have been camping, road trips, and having a comfortable place to sleep when traveling for work.
What wheel and tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Ben Bloom: Since the camper is so light, I’m using stock size wheels and tires and the standard pressure have been working great. Tires are all-terrains, Wildpeak A/T3s.
It sure looks cool. What kind of places are you planning to visit in your rig?
Ben Bloom: I’ve taken the camper all around the west coast so far, multiple trips to Washington state and Southern California. One of the best things about this setup is that it’s really nimble off-road, so I’ve been able to take it to all kinds of beautiful remote campsites and have a comfortable, little base camp.
Do you have any advice for those who are considering a truck camper build of their own?
Ben Bloom: Like most things worth doing, a project like building a truck topper camper can be a ton of work and frustrating at times. Having technical plans is helpful as long as you don’t take them too seriously. Most decisions when designing and building any camper are a matter of compromise, so consider what you’re really going to be using it for. And don’t be afraid to start! Every time I get into the bed after a long day on the road I feel so glad I decided to go for it.