Exploring ‘Free’ in a Bundutec Camper

Jack and Darcie Peeler are avid truck camper enthusiasts with a love for the outdoors. Jack grew up in Jasper, Arkansas, served in the US Army for three years, attended college at the University of Nevada Reno, then served in the Nevada Highway Patrol for 25 years, retiring as a Lieutenant. Darcie was born and raised in Minden, Nevada. She attended college in Los Angeles and worked as a Surgical Technologist for over 20 years in Carson City and Reno, Nevada. The two met on a blind date in 1993, re-connected in 1995, and got married in 1998. The couple have been devoted explorers from the beginning, spending several years exploring backcountry roads all over the western US in Jeeps and trucks, including several truck campers.

TCA: Thanks, Jack, for taking the time to talk to us. How long have you been retired and how long have you been living in your truck camper?

Jack: We both retired in December 2018. We sold our house and most of our other possessions and have been living in it on and off since that time. We are using Darcie’s parent’s house in Minden, Nevada as our “home base” and have used that when we need to return for personal reasons or if there are necessary truck/camper repairs/improvements.

TCA: What make and model of truck camper do you own and why did you choose it?

Jack: We own a Bundutec Free. We picked it up from Bundutec factory in September 2018.  This is our fourth truck camper. We started out with a 2002 F-350, CrewCab, 7.3L, 6-speed, long-bed and 2002 Lance 1010 cabover. We drove that combo all over the west, mid-west, Baja, to Prudhoe Bay and back. We probably put 50,000 miles on that truck combo. Our biggest issue was how “top-heavy” it felt on rough roads. We had the “camper package” and air bags, but everything else was stock. We found that trying to take that combo off-road was not very comfortable. We decided to down-size as we found that we weren’t using the camper and it sat for over a year unused.

We had always admired the Four Wheel Campers and even got close to purchasing a used one in 2000. We passed as it wasn’t the right one for us. I purchased my current 2007 Chevrolet 2500HD truck in 2010 and began the search for a Four Wheel Camper. We found a very lightly used Hawk shell model in Las Vegas and purchased that. We built interior cabinets for it and drove it all over the western US from Mississippi west as well as Canada. It saw a lot of backcountry use and it had the battle scars to prove it. We decided that we missed some of the comforts of our Lance and started looking for a short-bed, hard-side camper for some of our less hardcore travels.  We found a 2006 Sun-Lite 8-foot model. It was a good price and it too saw a lot of miles and dirt roads all over the western US and Canada. Let’s just say that it didn’t have the quality of our Lance, but it was at least much lighter in weight.

As you can tell, we wanted our cake and wanted to eat it too. We knew what we liked and what we didn’t.

Delivery day at the Bundutec factory in Raymond, Iowa.
Boondocking along the Snake River, Idaho.
Boondocking along Big Bend’s Black Gap Road with the Quick EnSuite Outdoor Shower deployed.
Padre Island, Texas

TCA: Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?

Jack: It’s a 2018 BundutecUSA Free tray model. We chose it as Rory Willett and Jenn Crook were willing to work with us to make/build the camper that we wanted. We had met them at 2017 Overland Expo West and reached out to them afterward. We originally wanted to build our own chassis-mounted camper. We even built full-size mockups of the interior in our dining room to get a feel for the layout, which made us realize what and how we wanted everything placed. Unfortunately, due to a shoulder injury that required surgery and a year-long recovery, we realized that building our own camper wasn’t the smart thing to do. We reached out to other builders with our plan, but the quotes were around $70,000, which was just too much for our budget and knowing how we were going to treat it, it just didn’t make sense.

We chose that model as it was the right length (8-foot floor) and Rory was willing to adjust the design somewhat to our wants/needs. It doesn’t match our personal design, but we realized that we could spend a lot of time and money chasing perfection or compromise and get our camper sooner and for cheaper.

TCA: What mods have you made to your flatbed Free truck camper?

Jack: We provided Rory with a 200 amp hour lithium battery, we had him up the fresh water capacity to 50 gallons and add a water filter that filters down to .05 microns and uses a UV light to kill any microbes. It has two 20-pound propane tanks and we had him build around our Waeco 50L chest refrigerator. The interior shower is mounted as low as possible and uses a sump pump to get the water into the grey tank.  We use a Wrappon Green toilet so there isn’t a black water or cassette tank to empty. We have the Truma Combi water and air heater for our domestic water and camper heat. The camper battery is charged via a battery isolator under the hood that is attached directly to the alternator. Once the truck batteries are charged, it automatically switches over to the camper battery and charges that to full capacity.  Everything is ran with 0-gauge wiring.

We started out with a portable cook stove but realized that it wasn’t such a good idea, so we installed a Dometic two-burner counter top mounted stove. We have played with the “arctic pac” insulation and are on our second revision. Our first consisted of adding a second layer of insulation to Bundutec’s artic pac. Our second version, which we are still in the middle of, consists of us attaching the “improved” artic pac directly to the outer/main soft top material. We removed the doors covering the refrigerator and the shower/toilet area as we found that they were in the way for normal use and it saved us roughly 75-pounds of weight. Our final modifications have been to change out the regular RV style showers (in and out) with Bullfinch showers. They are much better quality and are much easier to modulate the temperature with.

TCA: How do you like your camper? What are your favorite features?

Jack: As stated earlier, we really wanted to build our own design, but now that we have lived/used ours, we really do like it.  It has already taken an incredible amount of abuse over the last year and roughly 30,000 miles that we have put on it.  I have had to replace one screw that backed out of the taillight after completing the El Camino del Diablo. That has been the extent of needed repairs.  We had an electrical issue early on that challenged us and Bundutec, but once the problem was located and corrected, it’s been trouble free.

Our favorite feature is a toss-up between the room we gained with a flatbed and our Truma Combi.

TCA: Can you tell us about your flatbed and some of its features?

Jack: The flatbed was built by Alum-Line in Iowa.  My truck was originally a short-bed (6.5-foot) truck, which worked perfectly for most of the time that we used it. We knew that we wanted a little more room since the plan was to live/travel in the camper full time. I removed the bed and took the rear frame from another truck and added 17.5 inches to the rear of my truck, which gave me an 8-foot bed. I spoke with Alum-Line about what I had done and they were willing to build a bed to fit my modified frame. I had them add the tool boxes on all four corners and taper the rear boxes to preserve my departure angle. Before mounting the camper, I had the top of the bed Line-X’d to help reduce any wear and tear that the camper might have on the bed floor.

TCA: Do you use solar power or a generator to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?

Jack: We have 340 watts of Zamp solar panels mounted on the roof. We also have a 180 watt remote panel that we can plug in when needed.  Generally, if we are struggling to keep the battery charged due to clouds or rain, I start the truck and charge everything that way. I have the truck set up so that I can up the idle speed from the stock 650 rpm to 850, 1200, or 1500 rpm so it will charge everything up pretty fast.

TCA: Can you tell us about more about your truck? Are you over or under your truck’s GVWR?

Jack: My truck is a 2007 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD Classic. It’s the last year of the modern diesels that is free from any kind of exhaust re-gen or DEF injection. We wanted a truck that could burn any normal diesel fuel without issue. It has the Duramax engine and Allison six-speed transmission. The PCM has been programmed by Kennedy Diesel to their 40 horsepower “tow/haul” tune. This puts the engine at 400 hp and a very clean burning program with low EGT’s.  Plus he adjusted for the gear ratio and tire sizing. I replaced the stock 26-gallon fuel tank with an Aero-Tank 52-gallon tank. I have a York onboard engine driven air compressor with a 2.5-gallon tank mounted under the bed area. There are air chucks ran to the left rear box and the front bumper. It is strong enough to run air tools. We removed the rear seat and built a box in its place that stores extra parts and tools. On top of the box we mounted our 40L Waeco chest refrigerator that we use to store extra food and use it as a freezer. We also built an “attic” in the rear upper cab portion to store our backpacks and extra coats. I built a tablet mount that attaches to the passenger seat and supports our tablet that we use for navigation. It also holds our Garmin InReach. We have a Buckstop bumper up front with a Warn 12k winch.

Our stock GVWR is 9,200 pounds and yeah, like most truck campers we are in excess of that. We are well under our gross axle weight ratings (GAWR) though and I have modified the suspension, brakes, rims, and tires to handle the increase in the weight. Fully loaded out in preparation for our journey south, we ran it across the scales to see where we were. The total weight of our entire rig is 12,240 pounds. The front weighs 5,640 pounds (GAWR 6,500 pounds), the rear 6,600 pounds (GAWR 10,000 pounds). The truck handles the weight really well even on the roughest of roads and conditions.

Black Gap Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Boondocking along the infamous El Camino Del Diablo, Arizona
Baja, Mexico
Sweetwater Range, Mount Patterson, California

TCA: Did you need to make any modifications to your truck’s suspension?

Jack: That’s a biggie to say the least. One of the major changes was to remove the IFS and replace it with a straight axle. We cut out all of the front suspension and fabricated a radius arm straight axle swap using a 2007 F350 Dana 60 front axle. We re-geared both axles to 4.56 and added an Eaton E-Locker to the front axle. I am still using the stock G80 in the rear. The front has 3-inch King Coilovers.  The rear uses 2008 3500 rear springs with three additional springs added by John’s Spring Service in Reno. Because the weight doesn’t change and the camper doesn’t come off, I wanted the reliability of leaf springs in lieu of using a supplemental system such as air bags or other overloads. I am using 2-inch remote reservoir Fox shocks in the rear with compression adjustment.

TCA: Do you have any regrets in any of your choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?

Jack: It’s hard to build something to this level without regrets; however, the rig has been very good to us.  We still wish that we could have built our chassis mounted camper as we still like the layout that we designed.

TCA: What is your favorite truck or truck camper mod or piece of gear that you take with you?

Jack: One of our favorite to this day with everything else we have done is our 52-gallon fuel tank. That has given us the range we need to get into the backcountry comfortably and it’s an everyday benefit.

TCA: Have you made any mistakes relating truck camper life or use of your truck camper that would be of help to our readers?

Jack: Probably the only mistake would be taking the truck/camper up to the summit of Mount Patterson in the Sierras. We were climbing a shelf road and hit a washout, which of course leaned the truck into the downhill side. That was pretty scary. We attached a safety strap to my friend just in case. The truck actually negotiated it without help, but it was the only time I’ve had my wife get out in case it went over. So, while I have put this truck in a lot of places that it probably shouldn’t have been, that is the one mistake that stands out.

TCA: Where are you now and how long have you been gone?

Jack: We are actually back in Nevada for the holidays and to make the aforementioned changes to the camper. We have been on the road on and off for the last year.

TCA: What is the longest amount of time you spent in your camper?

Jack: Our longest time straight has been approximately two months.

TCA: Where are you been in your truck camper?

Jack: We have been in the following states: Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, and Utah. We been into Baja, Mexico as well as mainland Mexico. We are heading back into Baja in February and our plan is to head into Canada and Alaska in the summer.

TCA: Do you have any tips on how you keep your camper organized?

Jack: Sure! One of our biggest attributes is that we are both minimalists and really don’t like clutter. We are also big fans of soft bags and storage boxes that we use in the under bed storage area. We also put everything back where we found it and try to tell each other where something is so that hopefully one of us will remember when the time comes.  We have made some adjustments to our load out as well.  Initially, we were planning on driving to South America, but we have ran into some personal issues and other problems that have sidelined that plan for now and because of that, we were able to offload a lot of things that we felt we would have trouble sourcing south of the border.

TCA: What kind of mileage are you getting with your setup?

Jack: When traveling on the freeway at 70 mph, which is our usual top speed, it usually averages around 12 mpg.

TCA: You’ve boondocked in a lot of cool places. How do you find them? Word of mouth? Google Earth? Instagram?

Jack: We try as that is what we really enjoy about traveling. We try and avoid RV campgrounds if at all possible. We only use them if we need to do laundry and top off our fresh water tank. Our main go to for finding places is the iOverlander app. There is a tremendous amount of information and resources in that app. We are also map geeks and prefer to have paper maps of entire states especially Benchmark Topo maps. We typically will look at an area that we are interested in and head that direction usually without a hard target. We tend to find roads that look interesting and then keep our eyes out for interesting places to camp and explore.

TCA: What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?

Jack: I am currently on my second set of Cooper Discoverer AT3-XLT 285/75R18 all-terrain tires mounted on factory Ford forged aluminum rims that I had powder coated black. I had approximately 25,000 miles on my first set and the only reason I changed them out was that we were heading south of the border and I wanted to start with a fresh set. I have been very happy with these tires and chose them due to the narrow width, but high aspect ratio for a 35-inch tire with a very high load rating.

My tire pressures vary with the terrain and because I have an onboard air compressor, I tend to adjust them often. For US highways: 70 psi front, 80 psi rear; Mexican/Baja highways: 50-55 psi front 60-65 psi rear; backcountry dirt roads: 35-40 psi front, 45-50 psi rear; harder/rougher roads or sand: 20-25 psi front , 30-35 psi rear. That is part of the reason I chose the Cooper tires. Because of the high load rating, I can run lower tire pressures and still support the load.

TCA: They’re great tires. We have them on our rig, too. It looks like you’ve done a lot of off-roading in your rig. Where have you been?

Jack: We’ve been off-roading and rockcrawling for years and exploring has been a huge part of our life.  Since getting everything dialed in, we have driven it on beach sand and Lost Coast road in California, some hard mountain passes and remote dirt roads to the beach in Baja, traveled on dirt from Washington to Idaho, The Macruder Corridor connecting Elk City, Idaho to Darby, Montana, which is 113 miles of backcountry travel. We’ve also been on numerous backcountry roads in north and eastern Nevada around Jarbidge and the Egan Mountains; Diamond Creek Road, Arizona; Mount Patterson, California and surrounding areas around Bishop, California; Big Bend National Park, Texas; Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona and of course the El Camino del Diablo in Arizona.

Edgar Mountains, Eastern Nevada
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Black Gap Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

TCA: What emergency prep gear do you typically take with you?

Jack: I probably go overboard in my preparations, but again based on my experience(s) I tend to go well prepared as it is usually just the two of us. I started by always staying on top of or ahead of any maintenance that the truck might need. Before starting out, I had the entire cooling system (hoses, radiator, water pump) overhauled to prevent some unexpected problem far off of the beaten path. I replaced the alternator and starter preemptively as well. I also included any spare parts that I felt might be needed and might be hard to source. Additionally, I took the time to put a tool on most every component of the truck to ensure that I had that tool if needed. I also carry tow straps, traction mats, and various other recovery gear. I also carry a Ready Welder and a couple of pieces of steel for any emergency repairs.

We also have a Garmin InReach so that if something goes wrong that we can’t address; we have a way to reach out for help or if there is a problem at home, our friends and family have a way to reach us. We tend to find ourselves out of cell coverage quite often.

TCA: What foods do you like to eat as a full-timers?

Jack: Probably as most have learned when living in a cabover camper, your resources (water) is at a premium. When we first started out, we thought we would be cooking just like we did at home and my wife is a bit of a gourmet when cooking. We soon realized that we had neither the room (stove top is only two burners) nor dishes for her usual meals. Not to mention the cleanup. We are still finding our way, but have learned to simplify our meals and eat healthy as well. We tend to have some kind of vegetable and protein for our meals.

TCA: Do you have a website and/or social media channels that our readers can follow?

Jack: We don’t have a website, but we do post on Instagram as jackndarcie.

TCA: Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?

Jack: We always try to add a hike to our travels if we can in the areas we find ourselves in. Our other hobby, and it’s a big part of why we travel, is to explore the next dirt road, the next mountain range, or find that secluded area or beach site.

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About Mello Mike 511 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently rolls in a 2013 Ram 3500 and a 2021 solar powered Bundutec Roadrunner truck camper. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side.

2 Comments

  1. Mike, another really good interview with Jack and Darcie. I’m thinking they are idols in the remote truck camping fraternity. They are doing what many of us convicted, retired, still in the game, truck camper peeps , deep down, want to do: in essence, living the dream. It is with a smile i followed Jack’s journey with the truck build. My old buddy, Whazoo has the same truck and went through the same steps to upgrade all the weaker points of the best year ( early 2007) for a GM/Duramax/Allison.

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