Last year, Truck Camper Adventure announced the release of the Rossmönster Overland Baja. Off all the releases in 2021 and 2022, this is one that really got us excited. Unlike the majority of chassis-mounted expedition rigs, the Baja can be mounted on a half-ton, 3/4-ton, and a one-ton chassis, meaning it’s exceptionally light. Another feature that really stands out is the actuating hard-shell top that can be lowered, making the Baja more aerodynamic and nimble off-road. At camp, the raised hard-top creates over a foot of additional height, while at the same time providing better insulation than canvas pop-tops. The big benefit, of course, is that the camper can be entered through either the rear door or through an insulated pass-through from the cab of the truck. At the 2022 Overland Expo Mountain West, we were able to get a tour of Pete Gordon’s Baja. The Arizona native was proud of his brand-new rig and we don’t blame him. We would be too if we owned this amazing-looking rig. What makes his Rossmonster Baja special? Pete Gordon explains in this exclusive interview.
Why did you decide to buy a Rossmonster Baja?
Pete Gordon: Several factors lead us to Rossmonster. Some context may be in order before a direct answer to this question. My wife and I grew up tent-camping. My family never owned a camper or RV, but her family did have a slip-in truck camper (1960s-70s). I spent 30 years in the Forest Service fighting fires on a Hotshot Crew, Engine Crew, and in Fire Management Leadership including national fire teams where I spent a great deal of time sleeping in the dirt with just a sleeping bag or in the back of a truck. As a family with three boys, most of our vacations and time together was sports, hunting, hiking, and camping…tent camping. Our boys are adults now, so it’s just my wife and I still enjoying outdoor activities and seeing the country. We realized a few years ahead of retirement that some of the new priorities in camping would include sleeping comfort and a way to get out of the elements.
So, in 2012 we decided to rent a 28-foot Class C RV out of curiosity for a 10-day trip. We enjoyed the experience enough to consider making a move from tent camping to RVing. We researched all sorts of configurations from conversion vans; to fifth wheels; to Class A motorhomes, EarthRoamers, and the Renegade Super C on a Freightliner. We opted for the Renegade and by towing our highly modified 4WD truck, we were able to explore, hike, site-see, and do most of our other outdoor passions. After four years of this set-up, traveling, fueling, parking, and limitations off-pavement in a large Super C was testing my patience. As much as I can “nerd” with the best of them using mapping apps and satellite images for off-road and travel, I was not enjoying the skills I was developing in using satellite imagery to see if my Super C would fit in a camp spot, a gas station, or if I’d be able to turn around. They’re some good stories over four years of finding myself in a jam with 39 feet of RV plus 12 feet of dingy towed vehicle.
These challenges in logistics had us making a new decision: one that would get us back to dispersed camping on public lands and more flexibility for travel and back-country exploration. We wanted off-road capability in one rig, that being the camper. But, we still wanted to be able to tow the smaller modified 4WD for specific destinations where it would be advantageous or the primary reason for the trip such as Moab, Utah.
Why didn’t you just buy a pop-up truck camper?
Pete Gordon: Before we contacted Rossmonster in September of 2021, we knew we wanted a “camper” style overlander versus a roof-top tent configuration (getting a little too old and a little too busted up from 30 years fighting wildfires to climb a ladder before bed and sleep without a mattress). Even though we liked their van-conversion models, we wanting a 4WD truck platform and as I mentioned, large enough to tow the smaller 4WD on occasion. We were drawn to their story/history, craftsmanship, quality, and after our first phone call we were impressed with their customer service. The Baja was particularly appealing for the pass-through connection to the cab, the hard-top and hard-sided walls when the top is open, and their overall design and layouts. As we asked questions and shared our wishes and ideas, we were assured of their support for working with us on design and essentially offering that anything custom was an option. We were “in.”
A year later, we couldn’t be happier with the relationship and service from Rossmonster and of course the Baja. We feel we have a relationship with company and the individuals who are Rossmonster, and not just a customer.
The hard-top feature is very different from other makes? Can you tell us more about it and how it works?
Pete Gordon: This was one of the features by Rossmonster that attracted us. We hadn’t seen other articulating tops or expandable shells that weren’t fabric or soft-sided. The durability of the aluminum frame and composite shell we felt would hold up better against the elements, especially in Arizona heat and sun and the hard-top would also likely be more efficient as far as maintaining the internal temperature. The top is sealed all the way around the shell with a large rubber gasket that appears to be double thickness (this is my unprofessional terminology). You’ll have to ask Rossmonster for the specifics: it’s something we can only see partially from inside when the top is up. The top moves up and down by four electric actuators in four corners, controlled at a single point. We can adjust the height as needed by a rotary control/knob or the two preset positions for fully extended or fully lowered. We have already found that the ability to lift the top partially serves well for quick breaks from driving where we need to jump in the camper to grab snacks or feed the dogs. We only need to fully extend the top when camped or loading for a trip and of course we keep it lowered all the way for travel.
With the top completely lowered, we’re able to move around with our heads slightly tilted if needed. And, when the top is in its full, upright position, we have no issues with headroom. I would guess that the ceiling height in the up position would still be comfortable for someone who is about 6-foot 2-inches…something my wife and I don’t need to worry about. The cab-over portion accommodates nearly a queen size mattress. We still have comfortable space sitting up in bed. With the top down for travel, there’s room for bedding, clothing, or other soft items.
What other features makes Rossmonster Overland Baja stand-out from the rest?
Pete Gordon: As I mentioned earlier, we were particularly attracted to the pass-through integrating the camper with the cab. We designed that into our custom floor plan knowing that we could utilize the rear floorboard for dog beds. The two Labrador Retrievers essentially have their own bedroom which allowed us to maximize our needs/wishes in the living space floorplan.
Rossmonster can speak to the advantages of building directly on the chassis vs. on a flatbed or slip-in. However, I think I can say (unprofessionally) that we were able to create space and efficient building by taking advantage of connecting the supporting infrastructure (water tank, grey tank, heater to diesel fuel tank, wire looms, plumbing, etc.) directly to the frame. Essentially, we only had one floor to “cut” through and more direct runs of plumbing and electric harnesses between and among those things on or within the frame up to the cabin. I also think we were able to take advantage of space and voids in both the chassis and the composite shell to create custom storage space and accommodate our custom designed floorplan. Having to work around a truck bed or flat-bed would have certainly limited those custom ideas I threw at Rossmonster.
Any concerns about the Baja’s higher center of gravity with the 6.5-inch lift?
Pete Gordon: Again some guessing since I’m not an engineer, I think that the chassis-mounted package likely creates a lower center of gravity as it wraps the frame and takes advantage of space for the components along side or between frame rails as opposed to being above the frame with those components. Of course, with a 6.5-inch lift kit on my rig, that center of gravity advantage is questionable. I guess I look at it this way: I was going to lift the truck no matter what we put on it, so I’m still better off with my center of gravity this way with the chassis-mounted camper than I’d be if I had as tall a unit on a flatbed or slip in bed on a lifted truck.
The Rossmonster style or the shape of the shell was appealing to us. We like the exaggerated and large departure angle of the rear, the large Molle panels for storage, and the integrated look from cab to camper. The rounded nose up top with the integrated lightbar is also attractive and functional. Rossmonster told us right away (we didn’t need to ask), they intended to paint-match the shell to the factory color of our
What are the tank capacities of the Baja?
Pete Gordon: We have an internal 30-gallon fresh water tank, which I believe is standard in the Rossmonster Baja. However, we added fresh water capacity with an external 50 gallon fresh water tank mounted between the frame rails. We have 10-gallon grey water to handle a few dish-washings or a shower. I opted to install an aftermarket Titan 60-gallon diesel fuel tank to the truck before bringing it to Rossmonster.
Wow, that’s great. How large is the Baja’s lithium battery bank? Does it have an inverter?
Pete Gordon: We have three lithium batteries for 600 amp hours and a 3,000 watt inverter. The electric system is supported by 500 watts of solar on the roof, the ability to charge from one of the two alternators on the truck, or shore power. The system includes the Victron Energy BMV-712 Smart monitoring system with Bluetooth so we can see use and charging history, trouble shoot error codes, and share screens with the Rossmonster support team if needed.
How durable is the roof? How much weight can it support?
Pete Gordon: The four actuators have 1,600 pounds of lifting force with an average roof assembly weighing about 700 pounds. The roof of my rig currently supports five solar panels, an AC unit, HDTV antenna, a WeBoost cellular antenna, and a Arctic Tern Roof-Hatch above the bed.
How large is the solar power system in your camper? Can roof racks be installed on the roof?
Pete Gordon: The system consists of five 100-watt solar panels for a total of 500 watts. Yes, initial plans included a rack and ladder, but we opted not to as we prioritized our budget. We may still consider it in the future, but we’ll have to design a ladder as part of that rack.
How is the camper heated and cooled? Does it come with an induction cooktop?
Pete Gordon: The cabin is cooled by a Dometic Penguin II air conditioner unit with a thermostat. The primary source of heat is the Rixen hydronic furnace heater for both hot water and forced air heat. It utilizes diesel fuel from truck’s tanks for the furnace and this system can also draw from the truck’s radiator system for heat if we need to warm up the camper while traveling in cold weather ahead of pulling over for the night. We opted to add a radiant heated electric floor for comfort on cool mornings or evenings where cabin heat isn’t necessary or for a quick warm up for our feet before we hop out of bed. The floor heat has interval timer options at the switch panel with an automatic shut-off so nothing is forgotten for safety or draining the batteries. If I didn’t mention earlier, we had Rossmonster route all our electric, lighting, HVAC, and topper controls to a cabinet end within reach of the bed.
How many people can the Baja sleep?
Pete Gordon: While the Rossmonster Baja has floor plans available to sleep as many as six, ours is a custom floor plan and only sleeps two adults in the over-cab queen bed. We opted for a smaller dinette and less sleeping space in favor of more cabinet and storage space. We were also able to upgrade to a slightly larger refrigerator (Isotherm Cruise 200 double-door) and place the shower in the rear corner for a bit of extra room as well. Our dinette can be made into a cushioned bench for two adults (love seat size) for watching TV or relaxing. I suppose it would fit a small grandchild/toddler to sleep. The pass-through and rear cab seat area sleeps two Labrador Retrievers quite well. As I mentioned earlier, the Rossmonster signature pass-through and choosing the Chevy full-size four-door platform was intentional to accommodate both travel and sleeping space for the two girls (Labrador Retrievers).
Can you tell us about the bathroom and toilet?
Pete Gordon: The bathroom is quite spacious for such a small area. The entire shower is aluminum and telescopes up/down with the top of the camper. The floor has a teak wood platform over the shower pan and drain. The floor measures 24×36-inches and with the angled rear wall (interior of the exaggerated departure angle shape of the rear of the camper), we have even greater width for more than adequate shoulder room. We added a second shower wand mount to accommodate a wider stance and give us two options for the shower head spray angle. The door to the shower measures 20-inch wide and is solid wood matching the rest of the cabinets and drawers. Inside the solid door is a shower curtain to further ensure the water stays in the shower.
The toilet is a Separett “Tiny” Compartment Toilet. We originally spec’d out a composting toilet, but after thorough research we found that composting really takes weeks into months to produce the final organic product no matter what brand or style (electric mixing, hand crank, etc.) Our travel style is such that we tend to make multiple trips per year ranging from just a few days to 2-4 weeks before returning home. To fully utilize a composting toilet to its potential and intent, we’d need to be using it long term and constantly. The Separett has a pretty good design, separating solid from liquid waste. It has an electric ventilation system as well as products available to reduce odor. It’s easy to maintain and was designed with sanitary disposal in mind, including making use of biodegradable bags and air-tight seals for the liquid chamber. The toilet can be used in the shower or it’s light weight and easily removed to make room for a shower or to utilize outside for a longer camp stay.
What things make your Baja different from others?
Pete Gordon: This Baja is custom designed from the beginning. We asked and were immediately supported by Rossmonster to design the floor plan as we wanted and include many of the special items we had in mind. The folks at Rossmonster certainly guided us, made suggestions, and kept us on budget with honest and timely communication. I’m sure Rossmonster will share with you that many of the features we asked for or designed are going to be included in future versions of the Baja. Here’s just a few of the things we designed and/or included that makes our Baja unique from previous versions and some of the future versions.
Tell us a little bit about how the Rossmonster Overland Baja is constructed?
Pete Gordon: This is obviously best answered by Rossmonster. What I do know is that it is a composite shell with all aluminum framing. The composite shell is a fiberglass composite manufactured in molds specific to the size of the cabin. When we discovered Rossmonster last year, they were building the Baja on the Ford F150, 6-foot truck bed platforms. I believe we were the first or second customer to ask about the option for an 8-foot bed option and the first to ask for a Chevy one-ton.
Can you tell us about the truck and the features it comes with?
Pete Gordon: Sure. It’s a 4WD Chevy 3500HD LTZ with the Duramax 6.6L Diesel engine and Allison 10-speed transmission. The truck features a BDS 6.5-inch lift kit; Air Ride 7,500-pound air bags with a remote control and a heavy-duty air compressor able to adjust ride pressure left and right and independently; Fuel Zephyr wheels; Falken Wildpeak AT3W All-Terrain Tires; a Titan 60 gallon diesel tank, a Rossmonster custom rear seat floorboard storage system; a FabFour front winch bumper; a Smitybuilt 12,000-pound winch w/Factor55 fairlead and flatlink.
What size wheels and tires come with the rig?
Pete Gordon: I modified the suspension and wheel/tire pkg immediately when I took delivery of the truck from Chevy. As noted earlier, I maintained the factory wheel size of 18-inches, but to gain clearance and take advantage of the 6.5-inch lift, I opted for size 37×12.5 all-terrain tires. I specifically chose the Fuel Zephyr wheels to accommodate the appropriate backspace needed and to maintain payload thresholds at all four corners.
Nice! How much did you pay for the Rossmonster Baja?
Pete Gordon: I think it’s worth sharing that we were able to afford this build by selling our Super C Renegade RV in the fall of 2021. Rarely does an RV appreciate in value or stay net-neutral over several years. But, in the COVID-era of outdoor activity popularity, we nearly broke even selling our Renegade compared to what we paid for it in 2017. Amazing. We paid approximately $70,000 for the Chevy truck and $180,000 for the Rossmonster build.
What kind of warranty comes with the Baja?
Pete Gordon: It comes with a 30,000-mile warranty from Rossmonster for any of their fabrication, cabinetry, assembly, etc. Each component such as the Rixen heater, Isotherm fridge, etc has it’s associated manufacturer warranty. We have access to Rossmonster’s service team for as long as we own it. They’ll provide short turn around on questions and issues and are available seven days a week (during reasonable hours) to work over the phone and sharing monitoring apps to troubleshoot one-on-one.
Specific to our Baja, the suspension lift kit from BDS has one of, if not the best warranty in the industry: no questions asked-lifetime warranty and a offer to enroll at no cost in a factory protection plan to cover non-BDS parts for an additional 5 years/100,000 miles.
Where have you taken your rig so far? What plans do you have for the future?
Pete Gordon: Right out of the Rossmonster shop we got to join the folks from Rossmonster and showcase this rig at the Overland Expo Mountain West in Loveland, Colorado. Our inaugural first-night camping trip was to Mingus Mountain in the Prescott National Forest in Arizona, just 20 minutes from the house. The following week we headed to the North Kaibab National Forest/North Rim Grand Canyon National Park for a four-day camping trip. We are currently, as I address the interview questions, on a three-week trip across the southern tier of the US up to the mid-west before turning back west along the northern tier of states to include a stop in the Black Hills of South Dakota before heading to Colorado and Utah, then home. The first-half of this trip included camping in a state park in Arkansas and a farm-stay (in our Baja) in Tennessee.
In the coming months, we have no planned excursion but likely to spontaneously load up and head out somewhere in our home state of Arizona. The ability to load up and fit anywhere on a moment’s notice was another factor in our decision to down-size and “right-size” to the Baja. We are blessed to live where we live in having options to camp, explore, and overland within minutes or hours of the house.
Future plans will certainly include a trip to the Pacific Northwest and through the Northern Rockies (Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado) as we’ve done annually over the past few years. We love to visit friends and pick huckleberries in the summer. We’ve also made annual trips to Maine to visit family, so that’s likely to continue with lots of detours along the way. We have a trip planned to Disney World in Orlando, Florida in the fall of 2023 with our sons and their families. That will undoubtedly include detours and visits with friends both going and coming from Florida. We intend to drive and camp the entire Blue Ridge Parkway as part of a trip east (we’ve done a small portion back in our days of tent camping) and Big Bend National Park has been on the “to-do” list for a while. Bucket list trips include Alaska and Canada. All that said, we particularly like traveling in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, so trips towing the smaller and heavily modified Chevy Colorado ZR2 4WD to Moab and other areas are certain.
How well does the rig perform off-road?
Pete Gordon: Still very new to us with limited off-road (Prescott National Forest and Kaibab National Forest), but very pleased so far. We had a chance on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to drive on wet/muddy (but well-maintained) roads and it did just fine and it also crawled along just fine on a short drive on a dry narrow two-track uneven road. We plan to ease our way into getting further back on lesser roads, but I’m confident we’ll get most places we want to go.