There’s no doubt about it, building a truck camper rig can be a lot of fun. Most relish the opportunity to build a rig, but it can also a lot of work. The time and effort, of course, is dependent on the complexity of the build, especially if it includes a custom truck bed like those made by SherpTek. Fortunately, David Martin was lucky enough to find his rig already built. As a matter of fact, his rig, consisting of a Ram 5500, a SherpTek truck bed, and Host Mammoth 11.6, was hardly even used. How did David get into truck camping and how did he manage to score on such an awesome rig? David explains in this informative interview.
Hi, David. Tell us about yourselves. Where are you both from?
David Martin: We live in northwest Louisiana next to Toledo Bend Lake on the Texas/Louisiana border. Our 18-acre homesite is in a relatively remote area, at the “end of the road” adjacent to a state park. I’m a native of south Louisiana, Cajun country. We moved back to the state in 2014 having lived in Texas and overseas (The Netherlands, England, Scotland, Dallas, and Houston) for more than 20 years. Lori, my wife, was born in California and lived in Oregon and New Mexico before her family settled in Dallas, Texas when she was in her teens.
We are practically newlyweds. Both of us lost our longtime spouses to illness a number of years ago. Before that we had been acquaintances, through mutual friends. After some gentle nudging by one of our friends, we began seeing each other. As the saying goes, “one thing led to another” and we “eloped” to Las Vegas in the spring of 2015.
What do you two do for a living?
David Martin: I attended LSU and became a Petroleum Engineer. I got a job in the oilfield and spent most of my career managing the design, construction, and operation of offshore drilling rigs. Lori started out as sales rep in the photo processing business and then ran her own business as a commercial art representative and advertising agent.
We are fortunate in that we were in the financial position to retire at a relatively young age. After we were married, Lori sold her house in Dallas and joined me at the lake. Now we spend most of our time keeping up our property, fishing, enjoying visits with family and friends, and traveling in our truck camper.
How long have you owned your Host Mammoth truck camper?
David Martin: We purchased our Host Mammoth 11.6 and Ram 5500 in January 2021.
Can you tell us about your camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
David Martin: Yes, first I will explain why we chose to own truck campers and discuss some of our travel experiences. After retiring we made several road trips in our car staying in hotels and B&B’s. I soon had enough of hauling luggage back and forth to the car and sleeping in different beds all the time. That’s when we decided to try RV traveling. Initially, I thought we would get a big fifth wheel trailer. I ordered a brand new 2017, Ford F350 DRW with a factory installed fifth wheel hitch. While waiting for the new truck to be delivered I spent a lot of time researching RV’s, travel destinations, and camping options.
A road trip to Alaska had long been one of the first items on my retirement bucket list. As I researched Alaska travel, it became clear to me that towing a Jeep and having the capability to explore remote areas was the way to go and for that a truck camper would be ideal. Convincing Lori was another matter. Her idea of a truck camper was an old pickup truck with a camper top shell. But after we visited RV shows and dealer lots, she was impressed with the modern truck camper and was “onboard” with the idea.
Shortly after the new F350 was delivered in January 2017, we found a good deal on a new Lance 1172 and purchased it. That year we made several trips with the Lance. We traveled to the Florida gulf coast that winter, a loop around Texas (Big Bend, Padre Island and Palo Duro Canyon in the spring, and a Colorado trip in the summer. In the fall of 2017 we purchased a 2015 Jeep Rubicon. It only had 12,000 miles on it and looked like new. Since then, we have towed the Jeep on all of our trips.
In the winter of 2018 we traveled to Key West (the southernmost point in the U.S.) and that summer we did our three-month Alaska trip (crossing the northernmost border in the U.S.) at the Top of the World highway. On that trip we put over 10,000 miles on the truck and almost 2,000 miles on the Jeep. In 2019 we did a trip to Eastern Canada including Niagara Falls, visiting friends in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Acadia National Park.
We enjoyed all our travels in the Lance and F350. However, on our travels I had noticed some flatbed trucks with campers and began thinking that more storage space would be nice. I looked into converting the F350 to a flatbed and was seriously considering the SherpTek flatbed and storage systems, but I was concerned about the weight capacity of the F350 since we were already at the GVWR limit with the Lance. Having space to carry more weight would put us over the rating of the truck.
We had also looked at a new Host Mammoth 11.6 at the Austin RV show in 2020 and really liked the layout. We especially liked the couch with the adjustable table in lieu of the dinette. Being a big guy, I had never been very comfortable sitting at the dinette table in the Lance. Some other things we really liked about the Mammoth are the bathroom layout and the dual entries and lower step up to the cab over bed area. This layout makes it easier to get in and out of bed and without disturbing your partner.
I started searching the advertisements for an existing flatbed truck with a Host Mammoth. I was excited to see a very nice F550 with a Mammoth that had many added amenities, but then found out that someone had just made an offer at the asking price. Then I found the 2020 Host Mammoth and 2019 RAM 5500 for sale in the Boston area. The owner told me that he had fun and spent over a year on the design and build process of what he considered the ideal boondocking truck camper rig. He and his wife flew to Oregon to pick it up in the summer of 2020 and traveled through British Columbia and back to Boston. During this first trip his wife decided she wanted a bigger RV, so he had bought a super C motorhome and was selling the truck camper. When I bought it in January 2021, the camper was like new having only been used on one trip and the RAM had just 6,000 miles on it.
What mods have you made to your truck camper to make it more livable?
David Martin: The following is a list of some of the options that were included with the camper as delivered from Host to the original owner and some of the modifications we made.
- King size bed with a very comfortable gel foam mattress upgrade.
- Wardrobe on rear slide—The large wardrobe on the rear slide provides plenty of space for your clothes with easy access. We really like this option and think it is great if you have typically have no more than two people in your camper. However, I did have to install new brackets to hold up the clothes hanging rod as it fell down when we hit a pothole during our last trip.
- NorCold 12 volt refrigerator—Has worked great for us.
- Winegard Connect T-2—Works well to boost campground WiFi. We recommend this option for those that use campground WiFi.
- Satellite Dish—We have not used it as we do not watch TV much on our trips, but it would be great for full timers that watch TV.
- Scare Lights (three) on exterior of camper—These are very bright and light up the whole area around camper. Nice to have if boondocking in a remote area and to scare off any intruders.
- TorkLift GlowSteps—These make entry to the camper easier and safer. The steps are easy to deploy and stow. They also stabilize the camper when entering and exiting because the steps are supported by the ground. I have found that it is not necessary to lower the rear jacks at every campsite like I did with the Lance camper. Definitely recommend these for all campers.
- TV in the bedroom area—We removed this as we do not watch TV while in bed. I plan to install a magazine/ storage rack on that wall.
- WeBoost cell phone booster—Highly recommend this; it significantly boosts weak signals.
- Replaced the heavy wood bathroom door with curtains. Much easier and lighter to use.
Can you tell us about the SherpTek truck body on your rig?
David Martin: The RAM truck was a purchased as chassis cab truck with no bed. SherpTek installed the 94 x 103-inch long flatbed with marine decking and DOT taillights and dual fuel fills. The storage areas consist of a large fully enclosed “garage” behind the cab, removable flank boxes, and two enclosed lower boxes on each side of the bed. These boxes are constructed from aluminum and provide plenty of storage area for our tools and camping accessories. The storage areas have a SherpTek custom lighting system.
The flank storage areas are not totally enclosed, they are basically just doors with support brackets. The cellar walls of the camper serve as the backsides of the “boxes.” Therefore, everything has to be removed from these areas before the camper is taken off the truck. The good thing about this configuration is that the doors and supports can be easily removed to convert the truck to an open flatbed. We have also found that these areas do stay mostly dry when traveling in rain.
The “garage” area contains the spare tire mounting bracket, air compressor system, and a potable water filter and water softening system. In addition to the spare tire, we store our two bicycles, water hoses, electrical cords, tools and other items in the garage. It’s plenty big for that.
The short TorkLift FastGun turnbuckles are installed inside the flank boxes so that they are out of sight and do not interfere with opening of the storage doors. The bed also has side to side and front camper alignment brackets that are removable.
Do you use solar power or a generator to keep your Mammoth’s batteries topped off?
David Martin: Both! We have a solar power system and an Onan 2500 generator that were included in the original camper package from Host.
Do you have one of Host’s lithium off-grid packages in your camper? If you do, which one?
David Martin: Yes, we have the Host Off-Grid Extreme Plus Package. It includes six Expion360 120 amp hour lithium batteries, four 170 watt solar panels, a 3,000 watt inverter, and an Expion360 battery monitoring system.
We love this system. It has allowed us to boondock for extended periods. Electricity is not an issue provided you don’t need to run the air conditioner very long. We have found that the limiting factor for us when boondocking has usually been the black water tank, which has a capacity of 32 gallons. The fresh and grey water tank capacities are 65 and 51 gallons respectively. We also have an Onan generator installed, which is nice to have if you need to run the air conditioner and/or charge the batteries on overcast days.
Do you use an alternator DC-DC charger to help keep your batteries charged?
David Martin: Yes, the truck came with dual 220-amp alternators and SherpTek installed a 50 amp DC-DC charging system. The batteries are typically fully charged with this system when we travel several hours.
We love your Ram 5500 truck? Can you tell us more about it?
David Martin: The truck was purchased as a Chassis Cab 84-inch cab to axle with a 197.4-inch wheelbase. It is a Crew Cab Limited 4×4 model, so it is fully loaded with all the luxury, convenience, and safety features that RAM offers. It has the Cummins 6.7L diesel engine and a TorkLift 30K Super Hitch installed, so it has plenty of power and weight capacity to handle the camper and just about anything we would want to tow.
One consideration is that we did have to insure the 5500 as a commercial vehicle, consequently there are fewer insurance providers available, and the cost is significantly more than what we were paying for the F350. Also, I have been told that some states require a commercial driver’s license to drive a 5500. The truck is significantly larger than our previous F350, but to me it drives and handles just about the same.
Having a Ram 5500, we assume you are under your truck’s GVWR. Have you had your rig weighed?
David Martin: Yes, we had the truck and camper weighed. With the camper partially loaded the weight was about 16,500 pounds. Since the GVWR of the truck is 19,500 pounds another 3,000 pounds of weight can be added. I plan to weigh the truck again with it fully loaded with all our gear and a full tank of fresh water, however I am confident that we are currently significantly below the 19,500-pound GVWR.
Did you need to make any modifications to your truck’s suspension?
No, not at all. When I purchased the truck, it already had a Kelderman air suspension system installed front and rear. This system completely replaces the stock rear leaf springs and front coil springs. The system was purchased directly from Kelderman and installed by SherpTek. It consists of 4 air bags (2 on each side) and a sway bar in the rear and 2 air bags and adjustable shocks in the front. The system also includes a Self-Leveling Kit with dual dump valves, height control valves, and an Air Lift 3H Electronic Air Control System. The control system includes dual air compressors, an air dryer, 2 air tanks, ride height sensors, and an in-cab remote control.
When the system is adjusted to the proper pressures the ride is very good. I don’t know how it compares with the stock 5500 suspension, but this truck does ride better than my F-350 did with rear air bags.
I like that the truck can be leveled on most camps sites using just the Kelderman system. It allows you to adjust the height on each corner of the truck independently and has about 6 inches of travel on each corner.
We love your Buckstop front winch bumper. Which model did you get?
David Martin: I don’t actually know the model of the bumper. But I do really like the looks of the bumper and the fact that it has a Warn 16.5 ti winch and fog lights installed on it. I have not had to use the winch yet, but I like having it in case I need it. The Buckstop bumper is heavy-duty like yours, Mike, and should provide some protection if I hit a deer or something else. The bumper has a receiver built-in which would be handy for installing a rack if I ever need additional storage space. SherpTek also built a custom spare tire mount that attaches to the bumper and can be installed to carry a second spare tire. I typically don’t carry two spare tires, but I might install it when I go back to Alaska or some other remote area.
Do you have any regrets in any of your truck and camper choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
David Martin: I have no regrets with the current truck and camper. My biggest regret is not getting a SherpTek flatbed when I purchased my first truck camper.
What is the longest amount of time you spent in your camper?
David Martin: Our longest trip so far in the Host camper was a seven-week trip to New Mexico and Colorado last summer. The longest trip that we made in a truck camper was our three-month trip to Alaska in 2018 with the Lance camper.
Where have you been in your truck camper?
David Martin: I have already mentioned some of the places that we have traveled in the Lance before getting the Host Mammoth. In the past year since we got the Mammoth we have traveled from Boston back home to Louisiana when we purchased the camper, a three-week trip to the coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, then to New Mexico and Colorado last summer and our recent five-week trip through Arizona which included the Truck Camper Adventure Rally in Quartzsite.
What kind of mileage are you getting with your setup?
David Martin: I have been averaging about 9 mpg when towing the jeep. It usually varies between 8.5 and 10 mpg, depending on the elevation change and the wind speed and direction.
What wheel and tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
David Martin: The wheels and tires are the original stock ones came with the truck. The tires are Continental 225/70R/19.5Gs. I run them at 100 psi. I have a Crossfire tire balancing and TPMS installed on the rear wheels.
What kind of places are you planning to visit in your truck camper rig?
David Martin: We are tentatively planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer, traveling through and visiting places in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. We are also hoping to make trips back to the Canada east coast and Newfoundland and back to Alaska in the next couple of years.
Typically, we like to take a winter trip to a warmer area and a summer trip to the mountains each year to escape the Louisiana heat. In between we usually do several shorter trips to the local states. On these trips we like to boondock for the majority of the time while occasionally staying in campgrounds with full hookups to dump, fill up our water tank, do laundry, stock up on supplies, etc.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your rig?
David Martin: I would just like to express how much we like the truck camping lifestyle and meeting fellow campers. We have met a lot of people that we stay in contact with and several that we now consider lifelong friends. We really enjoyed the Truck Camper Adventure Boondocking Rally in Quartzsite and especially the people we met there. We are planning to attend again in 2023.