We love truck campers here at Truck Camper Adventure. One of the best places to view the 4×4 variety is at the Overland Expo West. By far, the best truck camper rig on display at this year’s show was Hallmark RV’s showcase rig, a 2018 Hallmark Milner 6.5 mounted on a 2018 Ford F-350 4×4. In fact, we liked this rig so much, we gave it one of our highest rankings. As you can see, this isn’t your typical F-350 pickup. This Ford got a complete, $66,000 wide-body makeover, courtesy of DEFCO Trucks. Why go to the trouble of building a “Raptor on steroids” when you can purchase a turn-key, F-150 Raptor for less money? One reason—payload. The standard Ford Raptor lacks it in a big way with a maximum payload rating of only 1,200 pounds. Not so with a Ford F-350 4×4. This fully decked out F-350 SuperCrew SRW model with the 6.7L PowerStoke turbo diesel offers a payload of 4,000 pounds. Not only that, but this DEFCO Ford F-350 conversion, with its numerous upgrades, is just as capable off-road as a regular F-150 Raptor.
How did DEFCO get involved with Hallmark in this impressive, Overland Expo build? “In January, we were contacted by Andy Ward of Hallmark Campers who wanted something different,” explained Doug Paddock, owner of DEFCO trucks. “He wanted something fresh, something functional, something new for the overland market. We discussed many options. He desired a big-tire truck that could traverse many types of terrain, yet be compliant enough to drive every day. The truck works flawlessly as witnessed by Andy’s recent trip to Moab. One of Andy’s concerns was the ability to drive it every day, his exact quote to me was that, ‘this is the only truck I’ve ever built that I didn’t want to sell a week after I got it. I love driving it every day.'”
What exactly makes this Ford F-350 conversion, affectionately called The Yeti, so special? Quite a bit. Aside from the new fiberglass fenders, bedsides and matching fiberglass hood, the truck also got a new grille, custom front and rear aluminum bumpers, a heavy-duty Warn 16,500-pound winch, and a set of custom machined, 20×14-inch Weld XT wheels with Continental MPT81 43-inch mud-terrain tires. To ensure the drivetrain is up to snuff, DEFCO reinforced the front Dana Super 60 and Sterling 10.5-inch rear differential with custom gussets and bracing and re-geared both axles to a 4.30 final drive ratio using the factory electric locker. For the suspension, the truck got a pair of King 3-inch triple bypass, remote reservoir shocks paired with a King 3-inch remote reservoir coilovers in front, while the rear got a pair of King 2.5-inch external reservoir shocks, a proprietary floating rear airbag package—designed with the help of Matt Ward at Hallmark—and a custom set of leaf springs from Atlas Suspension. A lot more was done to this truck in what DEFCO officially calls its BA350 Stage 1.5 Overland Edition package, but you get the picture. All told, these upgrades provide the truck with an impressive 12 inches of travel in front and 15 inches in the rear.
“The rear suspension was a completely new design for us,” Doug explained. “We knew Andy was going to haul a camper as well as other items with the truck, yet still drive his kids to school and everyday when not utilizing the camper. So it had to function like a normal pickup truck Monday through Friday, but be a trail monster Saturday and Sunday. We used a special rated Atlas leaf spring, removed the factory lift blocks, and utilized our drop shackle design with a floating airbag from Firestone. While the floating airbag system is not new to the off-road market, we’ve never seen it used on a one-time pick up. The beauty of the floating airbag is its ability to help Andy haul the heaviest loads, while still allowing the rear axle to articulate off-road.”
Matt Ward, Hallmark’s Director of Sales and Marketing, provided his perspective on the floating air bag system installed in the DEFCO truck. “I use air bag cradles from Daystar on all my trucks,” he said. “I ran them on my 2007 Dodge 1500, the 2015 GMC 2500, and now on my 2018 Toyota Tundra. They are not for everybody. They work well but they require attention and can wear your air bags prematurely. They work great off-road and keep the air bags from limiting your axle travel. This keeps your tires on the ground more often, which keeps you moving. It was important for us that we had this feature on the DEFCO truck. The truck has a rear locker (which spools the axle), so if one tire lifts you still have traction, but from a stability stand point we want as many tires on the ground as possible. The air bag cradle system allows for this and DEFCO was able to give us that feature.”
As for the pop-up truck camper, it’s a winner. Introduced in 1969, the Hallmark Milner 6.5 has stood the test of time as a consistent seller for the company. In fact, we currently have the venerable camper ranked as one of our top pop-ups for half-ton trucks. This particular Milner, as built for the Expo, weighs about 1,300 pounds dry and a little over 2,100 pounds fully loaded, a minuscule load for a Ford F-350. The 6-foot 6-inch floorplan features an optional north-south 76×80-inch California king-size bed with under bed storage, a large kitchen, attractive overhead cabinets with roll-up Tambour doors, and a large U-shaped dinette. Unfortunately, the Milner’s floorplan doesn’t include a wetbath, but the camper does come with a porta pottie and an outdoor shower. Standard features of this low-profile pop-up include a 30-gallon fresh water holding tank, molded one-piece counter tops, big view double windows, a 4-gallon DSI water heater, a 20-pound horizontal propane tank, a dual battery compartment, and a Lagun swing-away table for the dinette.
One of the great things about the Hallmark Milner 6.5, is that it’s well-built and made to go off-road. The exterior of this lightweight, low profile camper is only 64 inches high with the top down, is only 83 inches wide, and mounts with zero overhang on a short-bed truck, perfect for tackling rugged, narrow, heavily-forested roads. The interior of the camper is a spacious 6 feet 6 inches tall with the pop-up fully extended and 5 feet high with the top down. The camper is constructed of durable fiberglass composite frame and a one-piece molded fiberglass composite roof. Like a fiberglass boat, the molded fiberglass composite exterior frame provides the structure and superior durability needed to excel in rugged, off-road environments. The gel-coated composite wall panels of each Hallmark camper consists of a fiberglass sandwich with structural end grain balsa wood core. This is the same technique and material employed by many luxury yachts, military aircraft, and high-speed trains.
For this build, Hallmark went all-out by incorporating numerous upgrades, including state-of-the-art technology. One of the best of these is the new Ride Controller bluetooth switching system. All interior and exterior lights as well as the furnace and fridge operations can be controlled either with the Ride Controller smart phone app or from their normal locations inside the camper. Hallmark also installed a custom bunk bed system, which maximizes sleeping space in the camper for up to three adults and two children. Very few hard-side campers being built today can sleep that many people, let alone a pop-up. Additional upgrades in this “Overland Expo special” include custom two-toned bamboo cabinets, a Nova Kool 4.2-cubic foot compressor refrigerator, a Dometic two-burner glass lid cooktop, a Ravati stainless steel kitchen sink, custom vinyl flooring, a Carefree 8-foot side awning, grey interior walls, an AUXBEAM rear LED flood light, a 19-inch 12 volt TV/DVD for rainy days, and a MaxxAir Fan in the cabover.
As you’d expect, Hallmark outfitted this Milner with some impressive electrical upgrades as well. These options include a Battle Born 100 amp hour lithium-ion battery, a 400 watt pure sine wave inverter, a Progressive Dynamics “Mighty Mini” Lithium 4000 Series 45 amp Power Center, a terrific upgrade that not only provides faster battery charging, but also protects from overcharging, and a Zamp 200 watt solar power system. How well does the solar power system work with the new lithium-ion battery? “We actually didn’t even bother to plug the camper into the truck,” Matt said. “The solar system easily was able to keep up with the fridge and other power needs due to the low resistance and easy charging of the lithium battery. Lithium power is sitting where LED lights were a few years ago. It’s on the brink of becoming the norm and will change the RV/overlanding world forever.”
And speaking of options, Hallmark specializes in offering the most comprehensive list of options in the industry. These include a 12-gallon grey water holding tank, a Laveo dry flush toilet, an electric power roof lift, a side-rear Fox Wing awning, three powerful solar power options, and several inverters of various sizes, including a beefy 2,000 watt pure sine wave model with a 60 amp battery charger. Attractive oak cabinets come standard in every Hallmark camper, but Cherry, Bamboo, and Walnut cabinets can also be ordered for an additional $1,200 if the customer wants. Rugged Coosa composite cabinetry is also available for an additional $2,000. Hallmark customers can even choose their interior cabinetry support material—wood, aluminum, or Coosa composite and their own interior fabrics (dinette cushions, mattress, window valances, polar window covers, and other interior fabric accents). When it comes to this level of customization, no, is usually the answer you’ll get with most truck camper companies, but not at Hallmark. This level of customization is standard fare for the Lupton, Colorado-based company.
Why did Hallmark RV choose to go with a Milner 6.5 for this impressive build and not another model like the company’s best-selling K2? “We wanted to show something a little different on Andy’s new Super Raptor at the Expo,” Matt said. “We also wanted a little camper that can sleep five people, two adults and three kids. We usually get to use a camper after the Expo and this is the one we choose to outfit, show and use. I also used this camper on my Toyota Tundra for our vacation in August. I have basically three adults and two kids to sleep as my 16-year-old is taller than I am now. We all had a nice comfy place to stretch out and stay dry. Camped at 9,000 feet and experienced a nice hail storm which put holes on the awning. For the most part we were protected and had a great time. My truck has some nice hail damage on the hood, but the camper saved most of the metal and came out completely unscathed.”
Truck Camper Adventure gives this ambitious build two hearty thumbs-up! We particularly like the electrical upgrades to the camper, which not only improves the rig’s ability to stay off-grid, but also saves on weight. We also love the “Heavy-Duty Raptor” approach in building out the rig. We’re particularly glad Hallmark went with an F-350—rather than just “getting by” with a regular F-150 Raptor—and love the size-43, military-grade tires installed on the truck. DEFCO claims that a BA-350 drives more like a car than a truck. That’s hard to believe with a truck sporting massive mud-terrain tires, but the folks at Hallmark say that it’s true. We’ll take their word for it.
If you’re interested in seeing a DEFCO truck in person, you’re in luck. DEFCO will have a BA350 on display at SEMA in Las Vegas Oct 28 – Nov 2. As of this writing, Hallmark still isn’t sure if they’ll be able to make the show, but we hope they do. It will be fun seeing this rig again at a major exposition. If you’re already sold and interested in building a Milner 6.5 like this one, it will cost you a cool $40,000 out the door. DEFCO’s cost to upgrade a Ford F-250 or F-350 to this level will set you back another $66,000. Expensive? Yes, but still a lot less than a $500,000 EarthRoamer. Plus, you can take it to a lot more places.