The Overland Expo West is the premier truck camper show in America. New truck campers and expedition rigs are rolled out for this big show every year, and for the 2022 show in Flagstaff, Hallmark RV rolled out an impressive quartet, the most notable of which was the so-called Stormtrooper that took home first place. Built by long-time reader, Michael Hoyt, the Stormtrooper oozes greatness. But you won’t find a 4-inch lift and super single size-41 tires on this off-road beast. Instead, what you’ll find is a highly-capable, toned-down 4WD rig featuring a Ford F350 Godzilla 7.3L, a classic Hallmark Guanella 8 pop-up, and a custom truck bed built by Brent Bowen, a newcomer and shining-star in the truck bed industry. Bowen’s matching white, aftermarket truck bed not only looks great, but integrates all of the components in this build perfectly. To learn more about the Stormtrooper and how he came about the name, we spoke with the lucky owner, Michael.
Thanks, Michael, for talking with us. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
Michael Hoyt: I’m in my late 50s. My wife Kim and I are optometrists, soon to be retired, from clinical practice at least. We have a thriving, mid-20s, engineer son, Nathan. He’s getting our previous rig at a great mom and dad price. Kim and I live in Ashland, Oregon, and Nate is in Los Angeles.
Can you tell us about your Hallmark Guanella and why you chose that particular make and model?
Michael Hoyt: Choosing a camper is all about defining your non-negotiables and then deciding what compromises you’ll accept on the rest. For us we wanted an 8-footer, that was four season capable, with a cassette toilet and a side dinette. We didn’t want any holding tanks except fresh water. Once we knew that, our focus was narrowed simply by who could provide those features.
We vetted a lot of companies, via phone and email. We ended up choosing Hallmark. We have several friends that have them and they’ve been very happy. Their quality and customer service are great. The whole Hallmark team is friendly, genuine and honest. I never felt like I was being sold to, but rather informed. They started building campers in 1958 and have evolved as technology has. The sides are now composite, built by the same company that was doing EarthRoamer shells, and the roof is a solid piece that’s carbon reinforced. They make that in house with a vacuum press. Long gone are the days of rubber roofs that get hard and need constant babysitting.
A feature that was very important to us was that the Guanella is an 8-foot camper, but its center of gravity is forward enough that it can run on a short-bed. That created an opportunity with Bowen Customs that we’ll get into below.
Your Guanella is beautiful. How long have you owned it?
Michael Hoyt: The Hallmark is very new to us. I picked it up right before the show and drove it straight to Flagstaff, with a bit of an off-road detour for an overnight in Bears Ears National Monument.
What mods, if any, have you made to make the camper more livable?
Michael Hoyt: We haven’t modded anything per se, because we thought out quite a few things in advance. With the help of Matt and Molly Ward at Hallmark, Adam and Val Zolyak and Mark and Nancy Spector, friends of ours who both own Hallmarks, and standing on the shoulders of our current Four Wheel Camper Raven, we mostly knew what to do in advance.
In addition to our non-negotiables mentioned above, we eliminated the front windows to reduce dust and did mostly HPL on the cabinets thanks to the advice of the Spectors. We also added a Guzzle H20 that the Zolyaks recommended. Lastly, awnings are always a compromise. Molly recommended a Dragon Fly Tarp. They’re very wind tolerant and they won’t rip off driving through the woods. We set up the cab with a combination of a BuiltRight mount and 67 Designs attachment for the phone, inReach and iPad. I also just ordered a Froli Modular Sleep System for the bed. I’m headed to bend to get an Expedition One front bumper with a full hoop, a 16,500 ComeUp winch, and an onboard VIAIR compressor. Lights will follow and will be the last thing of all the stuff I intended to do.
We love the Bowen truck body on your rig. Can you tell us more about it?
Michael Hoyt: Molly at Hallmark introduced us to Brent Bowen of Bowen Customs. They saw his booth at the Overland Expo Mountain West in Colorado last year. They were very complimentary of his work, and his proximity to them in theory made for the possibility of a tight integration. That’s certainly the way it worked in practice. Based on the center of gravity of the Guanella, I knew we could do an 8-foot bed replacement.
I live near two bed manufacturers, Highway Products and Sherptek. They both build great products. I knew though that I wanted upper boxes, but I didn’t want to carry a slide-in truck camper 5 inches higher than it was intended. I wasn’t happy with either of their solutions for that problem.
Brent made multiple trips between Arvada, Colorado and Lupton, Colorado to solve the puzzle. His solution was both elegant and practical—a bed that isn’t flat. It’s very complicated to make, but extremely organic in its execution. It is 8 feet, but with a 148-inch wheelbase. It’s a big camper, but it’s agile off-road. I can use it as a camper or a truck bed. It has closed boxes and airline track for tie downs if I pull the camper. People at the Overland Expo West asked me, “who built this?” Like “this” was a factory produced complete rig. That’s how well the truck, camper and bed were paired. It’s the bed that is the glue that holds the everything together.
What systems are you using to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?
Michael Hoyt: Right now, solar. It is minimal and meets our needs, but is very expandable. We have a 200 watt panel hard mounted to the roof and a Go Power 100 watt portable. That was Matt’s idea. In the event that we are under trees, or the sun angle is very acute, we can pull out the portable. The controller is a Victron SmartSolar MPPT 10/30. We have two 6 volt AGMs in series for 225 amp hours. They’re what came standard. Battery technology is changing so quickly that by the time we go through the initial pair, the options will be both better, and cheaper.
Yes, we actually recommend that approach. Are you using a DC to DC alternator charger as well?
Michael Hoyt: Our truck has dual alternators and pumps out almost 400 amps. We move regularly, don’t have a big solar array and don’t have a ton of battery capacity, but we wanted to take advantage of the juice when we were on the move. Matt Ward at Hallmark suggested the Redarc BCDC1250D DC to DC converter. I learned very early in the build that if Matt, Molly, Bill, Andy or Brent recommended something, I listened.
We love your truck? Can you tell us more about it?
Michael Hoyt: The truck is a 2022 Ford F350 Super Duty Super Cab short-bed. If you add Ford’s Camper Package, the F250 and the F350 are quite similar. I was replacing the whole suspension anyway, but by choosing the F350, I was able to get a higher GVWR. We ordered it with the 7.3L Godzilla gasser with a 4.30 gear ratio. Ford is pretty opaque, but I believe this combination has the best Dana axles that they offer both front and rear. I wanted the highest GVWR that I could get and we don’t tow. The diesel is heavier, costs a lot more money, and is much more expensive to service. Plus, I was a little concerned about hitting places that didn’t have low sulfur diesel. We might be taking a little hit on mpg, but the diesel owners I’ve talked to are hitting similar numbers. The most overlooked option we chose was a carpet delete. Ever since owning a Honda Element, I’ve grown to dislike carpet in off-road and snow vehicles. It is one of the few options that Ford pays you to choose.
Having a one-ton truck, we assume you are under your truck’s GVWR. Have you had your rig weighed?
Michael Hoyt: This whole project started by considering adding a bed replacement to our Chevy Silverado/Four Wheel Camper Raven combo. I hit the scales and with bikes, we were right at our GVWR. We scrapped that idea and went to the drawing board. The Super Duty in our configuration has a GVWR of 11,300 pounds. We never wanted to run out of capacity again and wanted the option to convert to a hard-side. I hit the scales after the show. It is sitting at 9,650 pounds, wet, but without Kim and without all of our gear. I don’t think Hap our Norwich Terrier will push us over the top. He’s 14 pounds.
Did you need to make any modifications to your truck’s suspension? Did you have any other work done to it for this build?
Michael Hoyt: We didn’t need to modify the suspension, but we certainly wanted to. We spend a lot of time off-road. Even when it was aired-down, the stock Silverado with Bilstein 4800s and Hellwig Helper Springs got shaken pretty hard. Don’t get me wrong. Inflation makes a huge difference. We just wanted to improve on that.
We turned to Scott Sabo at Suspension Specialties in Bend, Oregon. Scott has been doing suspension work for a long time. Consulting him, Carli and CJC, we ended up with a Carli 3.5-inch lift Pintop. The setup uses tuned Kings, with a custom XHD Deaver leaf pack. With the full-time load, we elected not to use the torsion sway bar, but rather the drops and Carli sway bar links. We stuck with the stock radius arms. Lastly, we stepped outside of the Carli sphere and chose a Fox 2.0 stabilizer.
To say I’m impressed would be an understatement. Through Bears Ears National Monument, and then out of the north side of Death Valley National Park, I was able to maintain a comfortable speed, in control, and I wasn’t aired down. I didn’t have a compressor or a patch kit. Running at 60 psi I was very comfortable and poised. I’m really looking forward to running it at proper off-road inflation.
Do you have any regrets in any of your truck and camper choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Michael Hoyt: As for regrets, sure, but nothing I didn’t consciously choose though. As I stated before, after passing the non-negotiables, compromises have to be made.
I’d love to have the giant marine moon roof in the cabover that Hallmark offers. I wanted to be prepared for air conditioning though, and didn’t want to be saddled without a fan. I elected to get two MaxxAir fans, knowing I could replace one with an AC unit. Had I done the moon roof hatch, I would have lost my fan if I decided on an air conditioner.
The awning was also a compromise. The Dragon Fly Tarp is the most wind tolerant awning/tarp I could find. It’s a bit arduous to set up, but I can pitch it free standing, and it won’t damage my camper if a big wind comes up. I’d love to have a Alu-Cab 270, but a story Bill Ward told me had a big impact. He said, “if you’re out on a lake fishing and a big wind comes up, there’s no way your wife is getting that awning down.” I tend to look at these choices from a worst-case scenario, so any hard-mounted side awning was out, even though they are wonderful when the conditions are nice.
What is the longest amount of time you spent in your camper?
Michael Hoyt: I just picked it up, so I’ve only spent a few nights in it. Several of those were at the Overland Expo West, but I did get a night in Bears Ears overlooking Canyonlands National Park, one in Kaibab National Forest just outside of Grand Canyon National Park, and a night up the Bristlecone Highway peaking across to the Eastern Sierra as part of this trip.
It did give me an opportunity to go through the systems, and marvel at the comfort, space and utility of the combination. My Raven was great for what it was, but it is only 5.5-feet and is a shell with just a heater. It’s an unfair comparison as such, but the difference is night and day.
What kind of mileage are you getting with your setup?
Michael Hoyt: Mileage is a little tricky right now as it isn’t broken in yet. Before adding the camper, my average over 3,000 miles was 14 mpg. After adding the camper and bed, I traveled through some fairly tough conditions for economy, steep, long passes, high wind, and off-road in 4WD. I’ve seen as low as 8 mpg and as high as 13 mpg. I think I’ll settle in around 12 mpg.
What wheel and tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Michael Hoyt: I’m running Toyo A/T III 35s on 17s. The wheels are Method 701s. I wanted a tire that was triple-peak snowflake rated, but was a year round tire. We’ve had good luck with Wildpeaks, but they weren’t available. I’ve read great things about the Toyos, that they are very round and they do well in the snow. My shop really likes them. So far, they’re good, but I haven’t tested them too hard.
I stuck with 35s after reading your interview about Sean Silvera’s rebuild. I’m all about “good enough.” Excess comes at a cost. Sure, 37s or 40s offer more clearance, and look cooler, but for our purpose, the tradeoffs in cost, width, and wear and tear on the suspension just weren’t worth it.
I haven’t chalk tested these yet, because I just got it loaded. I’m just running at 60 psi. My suspicion is that they’ll settle in at 50 give or take once I do that little experiment.
For off-road, I’ve always flown by the seat of my pants. I learned a great rule at the show though. If you measure from the bottom of the rim to the ground at full road inflation and then drop the height 10 percent, you’ll have your proper off-road inflation. It’s relatively heavy in the realm of overlanding vehicles, so I’m thinking it’ll fall in the 30 psi range. I’ve got nothing to back that up though. The Method rep stopped by the booth and essentially said they couldn’t go too low. He was thinking 20 psi would be easily achieved. Sand and snow are different stories…low enough to get out.
What kind of places are you planning to visit?
Michael Hoyt: We have a long list of places that we’ll go. Top on my wife’s list are the San Juans and the Olympic Peninsula. It’s been a long time since we’ve been up there, and we just had a tent. For me, it’s the winds. The ruggedness and the isolation are very attractive. We could do a whole article on just destinations though. I can’t wait to get out there. My little taste of the new rig on this trip has me salivating!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your rig?
Michael Hoyt: There are several things worth mentioning that we haven’t covered yet.
The Super Cab has way more backseat space than everyone expects. My son Nate is over 6 feet tall and he fits with room to spare. The biggest trade-off is that you lose the B-pillar. I’ve been in some situations where the cab and doors flex. Like we’ve discussed though, compromises. I wouldn’t give up the rear space for a regular cab, and I wouldn’t want to have a crew cab with a 160-inch wheelbase.
The build was a very fruitful, team effort. I had a vision, but Hallmark and Bowen were able to collaborate to execute it, so that the whole package looks and functions like a purpose-built, factory unit.
Lastly, the name. The truck is white with black highlights as is the camper. Brent originally assumed that I’d do the bed black. Most people do. Oregon wilderness fire trucks are all white with raw aluminum service bodies. They are cooler in the hot weather, the color values are similar and they stand up to pinstriping. He said he didn’t do them raw though, only black and white. I told him I was intrigued by the monochromatic look of the white, something almost no one is doing, but I didn’t want it to look like a paint truck. He said we could break it up with black hinges, locks and the logo. I sent him back a .gif of a Stormtrooper doing a silly happy dance to which he replied, “STORMTROOPER!” It stuck.
Do you have a website and/or social media channels that our readers can follow?
Michael Hoyt: We don’t have a website, but I’ve been sitting on content waiting to get going on Instagram. It will be legacy pictures of the Four Wheel Camper and places we’ve been interspersed with pics of the new build and trips. Eventually I’ll exhaust the previous stuff, and it will all be contemporaneous. You can find us on Instagram at @wandr_overland.
Thanks, Michael, for talking with us.
Michael Hoyt: My pleasure, Mike. Thanks for all you do. Truck Camper Adventure has been a great resource and inspiration for me.
All photos courtesy of Michael Hoyt and Dylan Rose of Rose Eye Media.