Looking for some inspiration for a one-of-a-kind, chassis-mounted truck camper? Then you’ll love this custom rig built built by our friends at Phoenix Pop Up Campers. Affectionately called Crazy Build, this pop-up truck camper, owned by Chris and Carissa Hluchan, provides all the proof you need that you don’t need to spend $500,000 to build a great looking, custom truck camper rig. To learn more about how he designed and built it, Chris was kind of enough to answer a few questions.
TCA: Thanks, for taking the time to talk with us. First tell us a little about yourselves? Where do you live and what do you do for a living?
Chris Hluchan: We are Chris and Carissa Hluchan (aka @naviation_errors on Instagram). We live in Arvada, Colorado. I’m a software engineer and Carissa is an ophthalmic photographer. When we’re not working, we’re out on trips rock climbing, hiking or splitboarding. Carissa has already been to the top of all the 14ers in Colorado and we’re working on bigger and more technical climbs and skis each year. We have a dog named Suggen and a cat named Kenosha.
TCA: We love your rig. What inspired you to build it? Was it simply to save money or was it just the challenge? What are you calling it?
Chris Hluchan: Through the years I’ve spent so much time outside and on the road that it really helps having a live-in vehicle set up that can still drive on jeep trails to some extent. I spent years just using a car and a tent, and one year I managed to get stuck overnight trying to drive a old Honda Civic on 4×4 roads on a climbing trip. That next year, I got my first truck and camper set up.
My previous truck and camper was a 1995 Northstar pop-up camper on a 2001 Chevy Silverado k1500. Both were found separately on Craigslist. Between the truck, the camper and all the repairs and upgrades (which I did by following along on YouTube) the combined cost was about $6,000 USD. That truck and camper served me well for many years and it was definitely a money-saver. That camper was more than enough room for me and my cat, but when I met my wife and her 70-pound husky, the space started to feel a little more tight. The dog took up the entire floor of the camper by himself!
Carissa and I started talking about what all we would do differently if we got the chance to build some crazy thing from scratch. We thought that it might be something that we could maybe do someday … maybe. One day I started doing sketches just for fun of different floor plans and started researching camper companies. One day we went to an RV dealer and toured different trailers and campers to get inspiration for our crazy build idea-thing. We kept referring to it as “our crazy build” and eventually just “crazy build.” It was “crazy” because we thought it wouldn’t actually happen at first. By the time we made it a reality we had called it the Crazy Build so many times that the name had stuck.
TCA: Let’s start with the truck? What is the make and model and what are the truck’s specs?
Chris Hluchan: The truck is a 2007 Ford F-450 60CA SuperCab with 4×4. We upped in size to the F-450 not only because we wanted to be well under the payload capacity for the truck, but also because the Dana Super60 front Axle has an awesome turning radius and the wider track supports the wider camper width that we wanted.
TCA: What upgrades, if any, were made to the truck’s suspension to carry your camper?
Chris Hluchan: The F-450 has more than enough payload capacity to carry the weight of our camper, so we didn’t have to do anything there; however we did have to make some changes to accommodate the bigger tires. A lot of metal was cut away from the front and we ended up needing a 4-inch lift to keep a decent amount of travel and still clear the front fenders with the steering locked out. We added a steering damper as well to improve the driving and it handles well. The rear suspension still has the stock leaf springs lifting up on 4-inch blocks. We might upgrade the rear suspension some day for a smoother ride but we haven’t done this yet.
TCA: What other upgrades were made to the truck?
Chris Hluchan: I had done a lot of work on my old Silverado myself, but that was working with off the shelf components just following along with YouTube and I’m definitely not and expert mechanic, so I partnered with Dusty Dog Garage in Englewood, Colorado for this project since there were definitely a lot of challenges with the custom nature of this project.
The truck we got was originally a flatbed used as a construction truck and it needed a lot of updating and repairs. We replaced nearly everything under the hood and took the opportunity to upgrade many of the stock components to Bullet Proof ones. The Powerstroke 6.0L has a bit of a reputation for EGR cooler problems so “bullet proofing” was a must. The truck had a broken front axle so we replaced that with a re-manufactured one from an F-550. The first few months of the project were just putting this truck back into service and making it reliable. We replaced the EGR cooler, the oil cooler, the radiator, hoses, coolant reservoir, water pump, turbo, and a bunch of other things. At this point, we’ve replaced just about everything under the hood. The truck is pretty solid now.
The most extreme upgrade done was the single rear wheel conversion which required cutting away a lot of metal and doing a 4-inch lift. The 2007 F-450 doesn’t have many options for a 4-inch lift kit out of the box so some of these parts were custom machined out of aluminum. Dusty Dog Garage had it up on a forklift to check the clearance of the front tires in different positions. I had originally wanted to do a 2.5-inch lift but it was just rubbing too much so we ended up going up to 4 inches.
In the winter time, we are often camped in the mountains where temperatures can drop to -10 degrees F or even -20 degrees F which can make starting the diesel truck a bit problematic so we added an Eberspacher circulating coolant heater which can bring the oil and coolant up to 140 degrees F on a schedule. We never had the truck actually gell up to the point where we couldn’t start it, but it’s nice to be able to just turn the key and drive away sometimes without the 15 minute process to get the engine started in the cold.
We also added an Insight CTS2 monitoring system for the truck, a TPMS for the tires with pressure, treadlife and temperature, an RVS 360 camera system, soundproofing and upgraded seats.
TCA: Are the engine and transmission stock?
Chris Hluchan: The engine may have been replaced by a previous owner, but we were unable to verify this or at what mileage it would have been replaced at. One of the down sides of getting an old truck with a complicated history I guess. The engine and transmission are in great shape and it had new fuel injectors put in by the previous owner. The truck had about 174,000 miles when I bought it.
TCA: Can you tell us more about the EarthRoamer-size wheels and tires? They look pretty rad.
Chris Hluchan: Our truck was converted to a single rear wheel using DBL Design 20×10 wheels with internal double beadlocks. We are currently using Continental MPT-81 tires in 335/80R20 which is about 40.5 inches tall. These tires can easily support the weight of the rig at highway speed and they can be aired down, but they are heavy. They have a max speed of 68mph but we’ve found that driving 65 saves a lot of fuel anyway so the 68 mph speed limit hasn’t been an issue for us. The truck rides much better with the MPT-81s compared to the 19.5s that it came with originally and, unlike the 19.5s, they can be aired down safely.
TCA: Let’s now talk about your camper. How did you design it?
Chris Hluchan: Initially, I started by making a to-scale drawing of the floor plan of our old camper on graph paper and thinking about where space was lost, or which parts of it had features that we weren’t really using. My wife (at the time, she was my girlfriend) and I went to an RV dealer on a rainy day and started talking about various things we liked or didn’t like about these other floorplans. At the time it was just a fun exercise and we didn’t think we were close actually building, but we eventually became more and more excited by the idea and decided to start putting money away for it. I definitely wanted to go with a chassis mounted truck camper rather than a slide in or flat bed because I could make use of the space around the frame and add a pass through to the truck. I drew many different floor plans on graph paper and watched them each fall apart for one reason or another until it started to take shape into the final design.
It was really important to us to try to maximize the living space, but we wanted to be able to fit in a single parking space and still have a decent enough turning radius to stay out of trouble. We also wanted to be able to sit at the table with the top down so we could eat lunch without having to pop the top up. In the end, our design had a width of 90 inches, overall length of 21.5 feet, and a height (not including the antenna) of about 9.5 feet with the top down.
We needed a different truck for this project. Our old Silverado was maxed out in weight and the transfer case was on its last leg. Initially when we first started thinking about this project I was leaning towards a Chevy 2500 Silverado, but we decided that a F-450 had a better turning radius and could better accommodate a wider camper. I managed to find one really cheap, but it needed a lot of work so we started on the truck first. I wanted to keep the payload capacity of the F-450 but I really didn’t want a dually, so this was when I first started working with David from Dusty Dog Garage on the SRW conversion. I spent a lot of time talking with them about different options with SRW conversion in terms of wheel size, type and manufacturers. We were looking into 19.5s, 22.5, 20x10s and 20×11 and I decided to go with 20×10 DBL Design and MPT-81s because they’re street legal and slightly narrower than some of the other MPT SRW conversion wheels out there. This heavily influenced the camper design because the giant, size-40 MPT tires would need wheel wells in the floor.
I started talking with Rob and Cari from Phoenix Pop Up on the camper design while researching camper manufacturers. During this time I got to take a tour of their factory and start getting quotes. They brought up some issues with the floor plan that I hadn’t considered so the design went through more revisions. At this point I was incorporating the sizes of the exact model appliances that were going in. Once I decided to go with Phoenix I put down a deposit. We scheduled a build several months out to give me enough time to get the truck restored and converted to SRW.
TCA: How is the camper constructed? How much does it weigh?
Chris Hluchan: The camper box itself is made of a tubular aluminum frame. They pump an insulation foam into the tubular aluminum and use insulation panels between the frame posts. They use insulation inside the walls of the frame and the outside paneling is an insulated panel with fiberglass adhered to it and all materials in the frame are hydrophobic. The walls are about 1.5 inches thick in total. The body of the camper is on a sub frame with a front pivot that allows the truck frame to articulate independently of the camper.
Our camper is a pop-up with an electric lift system. The soft pop-up walls are made from two sheets of vinyl with double-bubble Reflectix inside. We had them add Velcro to the soft sided panels so that we can stick on an additional layer of insulation as needed. We’re able to keep the camper warm in the extreme cold without this extra layer, but it does help us reduce the amount of propane required to do so. This winter we only had the extra panels on there for the coldest month.
The actual construction of the camper took place between from June to October of 2019 and I frequently visited the factory to talk through different elements of the construction while it was going on and there were some changes that happened along the way. This was one of my favorite things about working with Phoenix Pop Up Campers.
The overall weight of the truck, giant heavy tires and camper together with the water tanks full and gear and everything in there is about 12,500 pounds. The camper by itself weighs about 3,300 pounds dry.
TCA: Is the roof constructed the same exact way?
Chris Hluchan: The roof is made of the same material as the walls with the main difference being that the surface of the top is one big aluminum sheet rather than fiberglass. We have collapsible ladder rungs that lead to the roof so that I can get up there and shovel-off the solar panels. We also have a fan and an egress skylight on the roof.
TCA: The floorplan looks very functional? Is there enough room for the kiddies? Can you tell us about some of its features?
Chris Hluchan: We designed the floor plan to feel very open and to where we can walk around just a little bit. Oftentimes in the winter the sun goes down very early and it gets well below 0 degrees F, so we do spend a lot of time inside the camper. Our drinking water tank is inside the camper with an air gap between the tank and walls to make sure it doesn’t freeze in the winter. We did the same thing with our batteries to keep them functioning in extremely cold conditions.
Cooking was definitely a priority in the design. My wife and I both love to cook, especially while we’re traveling. In Crazy Build, we maximized the amount of counter space by using an under the counter fridge and by having our shower fold up into another counter top. The big counters also contribute to the open feel of the camper. The dinette is designed primarily to be used by just me and my wife, but we do have a table leaf extension for when we have friends over.
Our dual propane tanks are mostly under the floor along the side of the frame which saved us a lot of space. They do come through the floor about 2 inches but this is hidden by the cabinets so you don’t see it. We have storage underneath our mattress, cubbies that run along each side of the bed, and an overhead storage compartment above the stove so we have a lot of interior storage space beyond just the cabinets. On the outside of our camper, we have four Soley external storage compartments and two compartments that can be accessed both inside and outside.
There’s plenty of room in our floor plan to have a doggie bed and still be able to walk around. The cat has a litter box inside one of the dinette benches. Both seem much happier with the extra space compared to our old camper.
TCA: What are the specs of the camper?
Chris Hluchan: We have a unique set up here. We have two freshwater tanks, a 16-gallon tank for drinking water and a 40-gallon shower tank. There are no grey water or blackwater tanks. It has a 6,000 kilowatt/hr battery bank, a 640 watt solar array, two 20-pound propane tanks with an automatic switchover, a 20,000 BTU forced air furnace, and a 5,000 BTU wall mounted air conditioner.
TCA: Is the camper equipped with a cassette toilet or a standard flush toilet? Does it have an indoor shower?
Chris Hluchan: Both our toilet and shower systems are a little bit unique. It’s rare that we stay at RV parks or areas that have dump stations, and we just don’t like dealing with black water so we use a dry system. We have a toilet that uses compostable liner bags with “poo powder,” which works for both solid and liquid waste. Our camper has an exterior trash compartment which we can access from the inside to deposit waste and access from the outside to dispose of it. We were using this toilet system in our old camper as well and it works really well for us.
The indoor shower is a recirculating shower system with a tankless hot water heater that heats with propane. This system has taken a lot of tweaking to get it functioning exactly right, but it’s working great at this point. The recirculating shower system doesn’t require a grey water tank and because we’re pumping hot water back into the system, the hot water heater doesn’t have to work quite as hard. While off-grid, my wife and I can each take a full length hot shower every night if we want to without running out of hot water. Our shower folds down into a countertop when not in use and it doubles as our bathroom. Being able to take a long hot shower after a big alpine epic is really nice!
To make this work, we have a Flojet Water Pump which pumps water from the storage tank to the hot water heater and through a typical residential shower head. The drain is hooked up to another Flojet motor that pumps water into a series of water filters and then back into the holding tank. We have a 100 mesh garden filter, then a 10×2.5-inch filter housing with a 20 micron pleated surface filter, then three 10×4.5-inch “big blue” housings with a 5 micron pleated surface filter, a 5 micron solid carbon block filter, and a 0.5 micron solid carbon block filter. We can also have a UVC sterilizer for the holding tank just in case. Carissa and I ran 15 showers with soap through and tested the water with a drinking water analysis kit and found that it was still clean enough to pass as drinking water (but we don’t drink it). Our shower system is completely separate from our drinking water system and they don’t share any plumbing. We also have a separate water filter for the drinking water.
TCA: Can you tell us about the camper’s heating and cooking systems? Does anything run on diesel?
Chris Hluchan: Our heating and cooking systems all run on propane. We didn’t want to go with diesel appliances because it’s easier to find parts and replacement parts for propane RV appliances (at least in North America). That and there really weren’t many choices in diesel powered ovens. We absolutely had to have an oven, and the Dometic one we picked is really nice. The propane appliances just feel a little bit more like residential appliances. We have two grill-sized 20-pound propane tanks since they can be exchanged or refilled. It’s nice having the option of exchanging a tank at a gas station during odd hours. Our propane compartment is under the floor along the frame and holds both tanks plus a little bit of storage space.
TCA: Tell us about the electrical system design.
Chris Hluchan: We have two large 8D sized AGM batteries wired together in parallel and most of our electrical appliances are on a 12 volt DC system with a 40 amp MPPT charge controller. There’s a 6,000 watt inverter which runs the air conditioner and a bunch of wall outlets. We have a solar array which is four 160 watt Renogy solar panels and we can also charge the camper batteries by driving the truck, or plugging into shore power. I’d like to upgrade our power storage to lithium some day, but it was a little too pricey to do up front. The batteries are inside the insulated portion of the camper so they perform well year round.
TCA: How much did you spend on the entire build, truck and camper?
Chris Hluchan: We spent about $125,000 on the whole thing, including the truck, SRW conversion, bulletproofing, new seats, Phoenix camper, solar, etc. It took about a year and half to build before we were able to start using it consistently.
TCA: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the truck and camper?
Chris Hluchan: We’re very happy with it. It has enabled us to go on many amazing trips this year. Rock climbing and snowboarding have us traveling all over the place and we love the flexibility that Crazy Build allows for us.