Looking for a custom, elite-quality truck camper that rivals the quality and appearance of an EarthRoamer? Then look no further than Bahn Camper Works. Founded in 2017, the Oregon-based manufacture builds one of the best truck campers in the business. Sure, you’ll pay more, but when you buy a camper from Bahn Camper Works, you’re getting a camper built with the quality and attention to detail of a high-end yacht. The company’s latest camper is probably its most impressive. Simply called “Flatbed 11,” this drool-worthy camper, painted a matching Ford Stone Grey, is mounted on a 2018 Ford F-350 chassis outfitted with a Highway Products flatbed tray and a Buckstop winch bumper. Last week we were able to talk to Ryan Bahn, CEO and designer of the company, about this special camper and what went into building it.
Thanks, Ryan, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us about your new truck camper.
Ryan: Hi, Mike. I’m happy to finally be able to chat with you.
Before we get into the details of this camper, can you explain to our readers how you got started in the business?
Ryan: Sure! I grew up traveling the country living out of the bed of pick up with a canopy. I was mostly whitewater kayaking but skiing and mountain biking a bit as well. Because of some of the remote locations I preferred to have 4WD so a van was out of the question. As I got older and had kids, I realized I needed more space for everyone to be happy and comfortable, so I started shopping for a truck camper. I was fairly disappointed with the commercially available campers due to the poor construction, the overall weight, and the out-of-date style and layouts. I have a background in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on composited fabrication, so I decided I would build one for myself. As I got started I got a lot of attention from friends and all the van-lifers around here, so I did some market research and decided there was a need for what I was building.
Tell us a little about your campers. How did the basic concept and design start?
Ryan: When I started, I put all my energy into the shell design and manufacturing process. I knew I wanted it to be fiberglass and seamless and as light as possible. I knew I was going to be building it so I want to minimize the amount of secondary processes and finishing (i.e. sanding, cutting, grinding fiberglass). Once I had the overall shape and process dialed-in, I added some flexibility to the mold so that we could offer more than one size, as well as flatbed and slide in models.
Does Bahn Camper Works sell only custom made campers?
Ryan: We sell custom campers and just the shell to individuals or van builders. On a rare occasion we will build a spec camper if we are between orders.
What makes your campers different from other campers and truck camper rigs in the market?
Ryan: To be perfectly honest, everything. There isn’t another company in the camper world building the shell the way we do, not even EarthRoamer. We also offer complete customization of the camper including length, width, window and door location, and window and door type. The interior is a blank canvas and can have any layout as well as any esthetic theme the client wants. In addition we offer vehicle customization and build for all trucks that meet the required payload capacity.
What does this camper sell for as built? What is the total price for everything including the tray and truck?
Ryan: I’m sorry, but we won’t comment on pricing of individual builds to respect our client’s privacy. With our custom units we bill at time and material plus 15 percent just like custom home builders. We provide a line-by-line estimate to our potential clients and try our absolute hardest to be as transparent as possible about our pricing. When people call us and want a full kitchen and wet-bath custom unit, they should expect pricing to start at $350,000 without the truck.
Could this camper have been built as a chassis-mounted camper?
Ryan: Yes. We have built “permanently” mounted campers and use the flatbed as the sub-frame, we can also build a custom sub-frame if requested, but have not come across that yet.
What is the total weight of the camper and total weight of the entire rig?
Ryan: This camper came in at about 3,500 pounds wet. The total rig weighed in at about 13,750 pounds fully loaded (14,000 pound GVWR), honestly a little heavier than we wanted, but the stainless shower and wood stove definitely added some weight!
Were any modifications made to the truck’s suspension to haul this camper?
Ryan: Just a few. We installed an Icon 4.5-inch Stage 2 lift and AirLift airbags with an AccuAir on-board air leveling system with “e-level.” This system consists of an in-tank compressor, which can be adjusted from the cab or via a smart phone through AccuAir’s app.
Can you tell us how Bahn campers are constructed?
Ryan: The process starts with setting the mold up with the correct window and door inserts in the correct locations. Then an in-mold primer is sprayed into the mold, dry fiberglass is laid down with structural foam core placed in next. Another layer of dry fiberglass is laid down on top of the foam and the entire laminate is sealed with a bag and vacuum is applied. Once vacuum is established, resin is infused into the laminate. Once the laminate is cured the shell is released from the mold. At that stage any trimming, or secondary bonding that is needed gets done. The shell then goes to paint and an industrial automotive sealer and paint is applied and the shell is ready for the rest of the build out.
Is every Bahn Camper Works mold unique?
Ryan: Not exactly. The mold has some features built in that allow us to adjust it to customize each shell, but to be clear there is only one main mold.
What is the R-value of your campers?
Ryan: The minimum R-value is R-15. We can easily add more insulation if/when requested.
What are the tank capacities in this particular camper?
Ryan: This camper has two fresh water tanks totaling 80 gallons, with a 25 gallon grey tank.
How many batteries does the battery compartment hold?
Ryan: This camper was built with two 300 amp hour LiFePO4 lithium batteries. I think it is important to point out that 600 amp hour lithium capacity is roughly equivalent to 1,100 amp hour Lead-acid/AGM capacity.
Wow! That’s a lot of juice! Our camper doesn’t even have one-half of that and that’s more than enough for us. So do you offer only lithium batteries in your campers?
Ryan: Yes. Although they are more expensive upfront they offer approximately four times the energy density of lead-acid/AGM, and up to 10 times the number of charge cycles. The other big advantage is the system we install has full time monitoring with automatic cutoffs for things like temperature and state of charge—this makes the system about as hands off as possible and protects the batteries from misuse which can have a significant effect on the overall life of the battery.
Can you tell us about the heating, cooking, and refrigeration systems offered in your campers?
Ryan: We offer just about anything out there, but we do have some preferred systems. For heat and hot water we like to use hydronic systems, either diesel or LPG. Both offer on demand hot water, radiant floor heating, as well as natural convection heating (i.e.: no fan kicking on in middle of the night, throughout the night). We prefer DC compressor only fridges, Isotherm is the brand we like. For cooking, we like to match the fuel with the heaters if possible with the exception of the diesel cooktop. Our recommendation when using a diesel heater is to cook with an induction cooktop. The diesel heaters are expensive, take time to heat up (and more so cool down), and can have issues at altitudes about 6,000 feet.
Can you tell us about the bathroom in this camper?
Ryan: In this camper the bathroom is really a shower enclosure with a removable port potti. The idea is that the toilet lives in the shower enclosure. If the client wants to take a shower he simply sets the toilet in living space of the camper and has plenty of room to shower. When he needs to use the toilet he can do so in the shower enclosure. This allows the footprint of the shower/bathroom to be much smaller as you don’t need to have room for the toilet while showering. Another advantage of the removable toilet is if you are in a remote location you can set it up somewhere with a nice view—something I learned while rafting on the Grand Canyon. We understand that this setup is not for everyone, but it works great for this client and is a really good way to maximize the limited square footage of the camper.
How durable is the roof on your fiberglass campers? How much weight can they support?
Ryan: The roof of the shell can support hundreds of pounds—we often have two to three guys working up there at various states of the build. We did build a custom aluminum rack for solar panels, a walk way, and a box to house the chimney extension for the wood stove.
The wood finish found in the interior of this camper is pretty impressive. Do you offer any options in cabinetry like different wood finishes?
Ryan: We offer any and all finishes. That is 100 percent up to the customer. Our wood finish options are typically veneered cabinets as solid wood is too heavy for campers in our opinion.
Can customers order an inverter with a transfer relay that’s fully integrated with the camper’s 110-volt electrical system?
Ryan: Yep, our camper electrical systems are fully engineered to the client’s needs. If 110 power is in the design the electrical system includes a pure sine wave inverter/charge/automatic transfer switch, shore power, and an A/C distribution panel.
What entry step system is provided with the camper?
Ryan: In this case we used the accordion steps with a mounting bracket at the door as well as the rear of the camper so that the client could use the steps to access the rear mounted ladder.
Why should customers go with a camper made by Bahn Camper Works rather than going with something else like an EarthRoamer XV-LTS?
Ryan: I’m actually really glad you asked this question. We get a lot of people writing us asking for a “cheap Earthroamer without the wine rack.” I’m not kidding—that’s exactly what countless people have asked for. First there is nothing cheap about Bahn Campers or EarthRoamers. And I’d like to take a second to address why that is and then get back to your question about Bahn versus EarthRoamer.
We hear often, “Your campers are as much as a house! That’s ridiculous. I’m going to write on every message board how horrible you are!” We get a decent amount of emails from people very angry about our pricing. Honestly, what is surprising is that our campers aren’t more than a custom home and here’s why. Custom home builders do not have shop space that they have to heat, insure, and maintain. The customer’s land is the builder’s shop. I would also assume the machinery I maintain is much more expensive (OSHA certified spray booths, CNC routers, forklift…). Finally, the campers are built out of a very expensive production mold. As a side note: the mold is why there are countless van builders and only a few camper builders—the barrier of entry to building out vans is lower because one does not have to design and purchase production molds to create the van. Custom home builders also do not pay for a mold that shapes the house.
At the end of the day, campers like ours cost a lot because they are extremely expensive to build, a large portion of the profit must be saved for future time spent on warranty issues on components installed, and the shop space and machinery needed to construct them is a major investment. I feel awful each time we get hate mail about our prices and I’m truly sorry we make a lot of people upset. I’m just trying to build campers I can be proud of and that people can enjoy for years to come.
Now back to why we are different from EarthRoamer. First and foremost, we think EarthRoamer has an incredible product. Bahn Campers offer a very different build experience and product. We are not better or worse than EarthRoamer—just different. In nutshell, here are the differences:
- EarthRoamer makes a true RV where the camper is not removable from the truck. With their beautiful passthroughs the value of their camper is attached to the lifespan of the Ford truck. Our campers are removeable because we don’t build true passthroughs, but rather a small window that lines up with the truck’s window. If a Bahn camper sits on a truck that is having endless mechanical problems, we can take the camper off and trade in the truck.
- I believe the EarthRoamer XV-LTS has a few standard layouts and standard components their customers can choose from. There is absolutely nothing standard about Bahn Campers layouts or components. Everything is custom. I think you have to purchase the HD model from EarthRoamer to have true custom options.
- EarthRoamer is a bigger company with a much larger work force. They have multiple campers being built at a time. At Bahn Campers, I’m building each camper myself one at a time with one or two employees. I’m a builder, not a businessman. My goal is to design and build for the rest of my life and hopefully never have to worry about sales, marketing, and growing a massive company.
- EarthRoamer’s campers come with the truck—their units are truly an RV. Our customers supply us with the truck of their choice (often Ford or Dodge one-ton), and we do any truck modifications needed. We also are happy to help source the trucks for our customers.
This particular camper is absolutely amazing, one of the best we’ve seen in years. If readers wanted to order one how would they do it, factory direct or through a dealership?
Ryan: Thank you, Mike. It means a lot to me that you like this camper. We sell direct to our customers. They simply need to contact us through our website. My wife, Sarah, replies to every single person that emails us—even the hate mail! We welcome scheduled visits to our Hood River, Oregon shop.
What is the wait time if somebody wanted to order one of your campers now?
Ryan: We only build one at a time so sometimes the wait time is over a year. Right now, the next opening is January 2020, but that could change at any time.