We love truck campers that break the mold. The Outfitter Juno 8.5 is one such camper. It’s not everyday that you see a standard slide-in pop-up with a side-door, a tip-out tent, a north-south bed, and a large wet-bath, yet that’s exactly what you get with the Outfitter Juno 8.5, a pop-up made for full-size, short-bed trucks. Still not convinced that Outfitter Juno 8.5 is unique? How does a 44 gallon fresh water holding tank, a 16 gallon grey water holding tank, and a 16 gallon black water holding tank sound? Or how about a porcelain toilet, molded countertops, insulated Weblon softwalls, along with a 3 cubic foot DC compressor refrigerator, a three-burner cooktop, a 20,000 BTU furnace, a robust solar power system, and under-bed storage?
Yes, this rugged, 2,300-pound pop-up is heavier than the typical pop-up, but not every pop-up has all of these features either. Indeed, many pop-ups are pretty spartan when it comes to the amenities. One thing that sets the Outfitter Juno (and the Outfitter Apex) apart from other makes and models of pop-up campers is the heated basement. In fact, no other company makes a pop-up truck camper with one. Basement storage allows fresh water and holding tank capacity to increase by 70 percent and prevents tank contents from freezing—a common problem with most self-contained, truck campers having externally mounted holding tanks. Not only that, but storing the tanks in the basement keeps the camper’s center of gravity low, making it less tipsy and safer to use off-road. Basement storage also increases the overall height of the camper slightly making it the only pop-up truck camper with a shower that allows you to stand fully upright while inside without having to raise the roof.
Another thing that sets the Outfitter Juno 8.5 apart is the what the company calls its “true composite foam core roof.” This approach to construction transforms the roof into a one-piece membrane that virtually eliminates all possibilities for leaks. The fiberglass roof material is maintenance free and more puncture-resistant to tree branches and other hazards than rubber EPDM roofs. Moreover, Outfitter’s composite roof is hail-proof, and it will not scuff, chalk, or grow mold. Not only that, but Outfitter’s composite roofs are constructed in a crown shape that allows snow and rain to roll off rather than pool and collect.
Why buy a pop-up truck camper like the Outfitter Juno 8.5 rather than a standard hard-side? There are lots of reasons. The pop-up truck camper is not only cheaper, more aerodynamic, and more fuel-efficient than a hard-side, but it also weighs less, handles better off-road, and is easier to store. What’s more, the low profile, compact size, and low center of gravity of the pop-up means that you can take it to places where most hard-side truck campers can’t.
This ability to go practically anywhere is what drew Stephen Payne and his wife Natalie to a pop-up truck camper, and specifically to the Outfitter Juno 8.5. The couple has owned their Juno 8.5 now for eight months.
As former fifth-wheel toy hauler owners, looking for the right pop-up truck camper wasn’t easy for the active couple. They scoured the Internet and inspected several campers privately and at dealerships. With so many quality truck camper companies and models of camper to choose from, the search for the perfect truck camper can be intimidating, especially when looking for a camper that matches well with one’s truck.
“I did a huge amount of research when searching for a pop-up camper using both articles and reviews found online and by visiting sales lots or private party sales,” Stephen said. “Almost everything we looked at was missing something from either mine or my wife’s needs. In the past we have had a massive fifth-wheel toy hauler and within the last year we sold it, so it was a bit of a shock for her to look into a pop-up camper and see how much space we were working with.”
“I was looking for something light, small, and easy to get out and explore with and the wife needed something with at least a few of the amenities a large RV has. A friend has an Outfitter Apex that I got a chance to check out and I immediately knew that this was a perfect combination of a pop-up and a hard-side truck camper. I started researching this company and found a few pics of a guy four-wheeling up some fairly steep rocky terrain. At that point I felt like we found the right manufacturer. I spent quite a bit of time choosing options and emailing Scott Mavis, Outfitter RV CEO, with questions. He was very responsive and helpful getting the camper sorted out,” he said.
Why did the couple choose the Juno 8.5 over other popular models like his friend’s Outfitter Apex 8?
“We ended up deciding on the Juno 8.5 instead of the Outfitter Apex 8 mainly because of the rear tent room for the kid and for our dogs,” he explained. “I was skeptical of the extra length and weight at first, but cannot even imagine not having that space now! The kid loves her little tent space and it really works out great for those late nights or early mornings, so that I don’t wake her up stumbling through the camper! When choosing build options we initially chose just about everything Outfitter offered. I was able to persuade and work with the wife to narrow down options to what we considered bare necessities to try and save weight. A notable option was the gray fiberglass just to get something different and it matched the color of the truck really well. I went back and forth with getting the rooftop air conditioner, but finally gave in and got it. We still have not yet used it. Having the two fans circulating air works pretty well and we don’t need to run the generator.”
Like most of us looking for true independence from RV parks and campgrounds, Stephen and his wife Natalie, wanted their Outfitter Juno 8.5 “outfitted” with the latest technology. They built their camper with a 100 amp hour lithium battery, a 200 watt solar power system with a Blue Sky MPPT charge controller, and a microwave oven with a 2,000 watt inverter. These features, along with the camper’s 44 gallon fresh water holding tank, 16 gallon black water holding tank, and two 20-pound propane tanks give the couple greater staying power off-grid. While we are big proponents of the Thetford cassette toilet, the tiny 5 gallon cassette means dumping more often. Outfitter’s 16 gallon black tanks means fewer stops and detours along the way to dump. In all, the couple spent $45,995 on the camper.
So what are some of Stephen’s favorite features?
“The solar panels with the inverter are things that I would never give up,” he said. “I bought a generator thinking I would use it more, but just never seem to need it, so it’s been sitting in the garage since our first trip. When compared to a hard-side camper, I like the clearance the pop-up creates by not being as tall, as we’ve come across a few tight areas in our trips. The fully enclosed shower and toilet is my wife’s favorite feature. It’s actually pretty sweet to take a quick shower after a long day of hiking or riding trails. Also the shower has a window that allows you to watch some beautiful scenery while washing up!”
Getting the right truck to haul a truck camper is critically important. As a matter of fact, aside from choosing the right camper, it’s the most important decision that one can make. Things like the truck’s GVWR/payload, drivetrain, transmission, wheels, tires, and the suspension must be considered before making the purchase. In Stephen and Natalie’s case, they chose well, getting a Ram 3500 SRW with a 4,000-pound payload to haul their unloaded 2,300-pound Juno. They are currently running Trail Ready 17×8.5 beadlock wheels with Toyo MT 37×13.50 tires and made several improvements to the suspension to improve the ride off-road. With their set-up, they are averaging between 12-16 mpg.
“The truck is a 2017 Ram 3500 with the 6.7L Cummins diesel and Aisin transmission,” Stephen said. “It has Thuren Fabrication front coil springs, bumpstops, trackbar, front axle truss and rear leaf springs . I have King 3.0 inch shocks custom tuned by Thuren Fab on all four corners of the truck. Shocks have been tuned to specs for the camper load while offroading with and without the camper. The bumpers front and back are Chassis Unlimited with a 12k Warn winch in the front bumper. I regeared the differentials to 4.30 and installed a front elocker this last year. Before picking up the Juno, I installed Carli long travel airbags and a remote compressor to fill them up on the fly. I’ve been running 40-55 psi in airbags depending on the load and the terrain.”
Now that they’ve finished building this very impressive off-road rig, where have they taken it?
“Our most notable trip, so far, was to Moab, Utah, Stephen said. “We tackled the White Rim Trail in June and it was a great time. We spent three days on the route and so far this has probably been the most technical road for us with this truck camper setup. We started at the top of the Shaffer Trail and ran the White Rim Trail clockwise. The first leg of the trail to the Airport campground was fairly mellow. The next 60 or so miles of the trail were a bit more challenging with a few surprise tight, off-camber climbs and descents. There were a few rocky, steep climbs that may have been a problem in a stock truck with a camper loaded.”
“On the trail we pulled over for a group of mountain bikers to get by and a tour guide stopped and asked if we were going all the way through. He didn’t think that we would make it due to clearance issues on some overhangs in Labyrinth Canyon. Well, that got me thinking about it, but we decided to just go for it and see what he was talking about. The only problem we were facing was that we would be really low on fuel to get all the way back out if we couldn’t clear the overhang. On the third day we came into Labyrinth Canyon and with my wife spotting us, it was tight, but we made it through with less than a foot of clearance on the top and side of the camper with the edge of the Green River on the other side. So that guy was both right and wrong!”
One concern that prospective buyers have when buying a pop-up, is the soft-top. Typical canvas doesn’t insulate well, but Outfitter doesn’t use a standard canvas, they use an insulated Weblon soft-wall that keeps the camper toasty warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
In order to test out this feature, they decided to take their camper to the Grand Tetons. As anybody knows who has visited this national park in early spring, the weather there can be a mixed bag of rain and snow. So how did their Juno handle the inclement weather there?
“The weather was highly unpredictable for the whole week we were there. It snowed on us traveling into the area and rained for about three days straight with little breaks here and there in the valley. I looked at this as a test to see how well the camper would keep us insulated from the elements and it did great. We only had a few drops enter at one or two of the sewed seams of the window where 20 mph driving rain was hitting it sideways for hours. I’ve put tent sealant on all seams since then. The camper stayed cozy at night and was a great refuge after a few long days hiking in the rain. A quick warm shower in the comfort of our little space was worth its weight in gold at that point!”
So what are their future plans now that they’ve fully tested their Ram-Juno set-up on some of the most challenging roads and parks in the country?
“Future plans will be in and around the Lake Tahoe area. There are tons of lakes and dispersed campgrounds that require 4WD, high clearance vehicles to get to. A Pismo Beach-Oceano Dunes trip is coming up soon and we will be going back to Moab next year. It will be about 50-50 of backcountry camping and paid campgrounds. One trip I’m looking forward to is Fordyce Lake. I haven’t been there yet and hear the trail has a few challenging sections for a truck camper, so I’m excited to do it. Otherwise, we will be mainly around the Tahoe National Forest visiting lakes and mountain biking areas,” he said.