Home Forums Truck Camper Adventure Forum How I got to "minimal."

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    • #14271
      Don Nelson

      When I retired in San Diego about seven years ago, I envisioned a lot of travel and positioned myself up here in South Dakota, where my kids in NYC and Los Angeles would be about equidistant and the rest of my family, scattered through Minnesota and Wyoming, would be one day away. I bought an old Jeep for exploring the Black Hills and a short-bed RAM 1500 for road trips. Those trips took me through beautiful places without motel rooms.

      Back in the Marines, I’d lived in tents about half the time and was pretty comfortable. What seemed right for retirement was a truck-borne tent that didn’t need to be erected and broken down all the time. So it was time to go shopping.

      First I looked A.R.E. and Caravan toppers for the short-bed, thinking of dirtbagging like the rock-climbers and surfers. But I’m big, old, and have a dog, so a pickup cap wasn’t enough. Then I looked at some pop-ups. That was about as large as I’d be able to handle on the trails and non-trails. Very tempting, but there was still the minor hassle of set-up and takedown, and my goal was zero hassles, being lazy and all.

      I’d seen a few of these in the parking lots at local rodeos…


      …and decided to take a closer look, though not so close as to annoy the bull riders.

      The Capri website gave me more info, including an endless list of options. They’re built to order, weigh nothing, and for me, who really wants to live outside and just sleep inside, they appeared to fill the bill.

      While doing the pondering and driving around last December, the dog and I saw a standard cab one-ton ’16 4×4 RAM Tradesman on the Toyota lot and stopped to take a look. I’m still not sure what the deal really was, but it was priced 25% off MSR, never registered, with 200 miles on the odo. The guy came out to pitch it and I ended up trading both the Wrangler and half-ton in. And now I had an off-road worthy base for the portable motel room. And I called Capri.

      They were great, of course. Everyone involved with truck camping seems to be. A few weeks later, I ordered this minimal camper with a narrower-than-standard bed, a propane catalytic heater and a Fan-tastic Fan™. And snap-in curtains to insulate the single-pane sliding windows. For the next three weeks, Capri sent me snapshots of my camper being built showing details of the wood frame, the insulation, wiring, etc. Three weeks after I placed the order, they called my down to Texas to pick it up.


      I haven’t had it long, but have used it casually in the mountains of Wyoming (in winter), in a Walmart lot all last week, and in a few national grasslands, and I’m learning a lot. Cold weather is easy – I don’t think it’s been above freezing any of those nights. Logistics is sorting out quickly. It stays on the truck, now my only vehicle, all the time ready to go with zero notice.

      So for now the minimal approach works for me. That’s not to say it’s all I’ll ever want, but it gives me a place to sleep, wherever we go.

      (Questions and comments are encouraged. I’m a truck camper newbie, but a lifetime outdoorsman and a veteran 4×4 rock-crawler.)

    • #14273
      Mello Mike

      Thanks, Don. That was an enjoyable read and thanks for your service. Capri campers are pretty cool. For those unfamiliar with the brand, can you tell us more about the interior like where you sleep and what features it has? How much does the camper weigh fully loaded with your gear?

    • #14276
      Don Nelson

      Tried to post again, but it won’t take. Can a post be too long?

    • #14277
      Don Nelson

      Happy to, Mike.

      Capri has been building the same two designs since 1969, the “Cowboy,” like mine, and the “Retreat,” a cabover. I’m told that construction methods and materials have improved a lot since then, and having seen an older, still in use, camper, can confirm the new interior materials are better. Construction is wood-frame with several choices of interior simulated wood paneling plus genuine aromatic cedar. The outside skin is the quilted aluminum you see above, again with a limitless choice of color combos. Between those are two inches of fiberglass insulation.

      Each basic design can be built to various heights and lengths and can accomodate cooktops, sinks, fridges, a/c and most options available in bigger campers, except heads, and in the case of the “Cowboy,” an inside shower (due to the inside height of 5′ – an outside shower is offered). They are custom built to order. For example, I asked that the back wall be reinforced in order to mount a gas can.


      Later I decided against carrying the generator, but might still mount the can.

      The inside is cozy. OK, snug.


      The Capri website has better pictures, but they cheat a bit with ultra-wide angle lenses. Even so, my first experience inside when picking up the camper found it surprisingly roomy – especially if one thinks of it as a hard-sided tent.

      The standard E-W bed is 48″ x 80″. I chose 39″x 80″, or “Twin XL” to get the additional 9″ of floor length for the dog bed. The side benches are handy, as standing completely upright isn’t gonna happen in the “Cowboy.” I’m also not happy with how I’ve organized the underbed storage yet.

      Capri estimates the dry weight of a bare “Cowboy” at 750lbs. I haven’t weighed it myself, but with a payload capacity of 3700lbs, it’s not critical. I suppose my regular load amounts to a couple hundred pounds total.

      Capri is a small shop in Bluff Dale, TX, in the hill country. The owners, father and son, are very easy to work with, very flexible and just good folks. When I pointed out that their option price for the Fan-tastic Fan™ installed was lower than I could buy the uninstalled fan for on Amazon, they just shrugged. I spent a lot of time quizzing the foreman on construction methods and was impressed by his candor and knowledge. They really are handmade.

      “Confirmation bias” is the tendency of a person who’s made a decision to defend it against all criticism. I picked the “Cowboy” and remain happy with the choice, but won’t ever say it’s the right one for everyone. It’s good for me and the dog so far though.

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