The flatbed truck camper offers several advantages over the standard, everyday truck camper. Not only is the flatbed truck camper larger and more spacious, but it also offers more interior floor space and storage. Getting in and out of a flatbed truck camper with a side entry is much easier when towing a boat or a Jeep, too. Perhaps the biggest benefit of all is the flatbed itself. You can buy either a pre-made aluminum or a steel flatbed or you can have a metal shop fabricate a flatbed to meet your own specific requirements. This custom flatbed can include all kinds of things like lockable storage boxes, additional batteries, an air compressor, extra holding tanks, and an extra fuel tank to increase the comfort and capability of your overland adventure rig. The choices and options are almost limitless.
I recently had the pleasure to speak with Stan Kennedy, Senior Sales Manager of Four Wheel Campers (FWC), about their fledgling flatbed Hawk model. If you don’t know much about this particular truck camper, the flatbed Hawk is a short-bed pop-up for full-size trucks. It’s a derivative of the regular Hawk pop-up truck camper, which together with the smaller Fleet model, comprise about 80 percent of the company’s total sales. The regular Hawk pop-up was already a winner. The flatbed version of the Hawk, which offers a completely different floor plan and an additional 20 cubic feet of interior living space, can take the Hawk to even higher heights.
Unfortunately, even with all of its advantages, the flatbed truck camper hasn’t really caught on in the U.S. like it has overseas. According to Stan, Four Wheel Campers constructed only four flatbed campers between 2002 and 2010, and all of them were unique, custom builds, just basic boxes. With such anemic sales, you’d think that the prospects for the flatbed truck camper in the U.S. market would be poor, but Four Wheel Campers saw the potential for growth even during the lean economic years between 2008 and 2010 when the RV industry really took a hit. The result of their vision and hard work was the 2013 release of three flatbed models, variations of their popular Hawk, Fleet, and Grandby models. Since their release, sales for all three models have been strong. But the flatbed Hawk, in particular, Stan explains, has been catching fire as of late with eight new orders for the camper received just before Christmas.
What sets the Hawk apart from the competition? What niche does it fill in the truck camper and overland expedition markets? Stan explained that the flatbed Hawk is the perfect pop-up truck camper for those who want to step it up and invest in a full-time, overland rig, but not at the cost for a new Sportsmobile Mercedez Sprinter or an EarthRoamer. Indeed, at about $32,000 for a fully equipped Hawk, $10,000 for a custom flatbed, and $45,000 for a truck, you’ll spend half of what these overpriced expedition rigs sometimes fetch and often even more. Even though the flatbed Hawk costs considerably less than the competition, it can do the same things that these other rigs can do and more because of its low profile. Stan said that they’ve even had a few customers recently who had downsized from a Earthroamer to a Hawk pop-up so that they could explore more places and do more things.
At first glance you’ll notice that the exterior of the flatbed Hawk possesses a sleek, aerodynamic look. The rear of the camper is rounded which provides a terrific departure angle for extreme off-roading. The camper also features a side entrance and a longer cabover nose with copious amounts of under bed storage. The exterior is sided with durable and lightweight interlocking panels of aluminum, which is standard, or with smooth fiberglass, which is an option. The flexible “pop-up” material is a tent-like skin made of a tough, vinyl coated synthetic material, similar to the material used in inflatable boats and river rafts. Because they’re prone to scratching, you won’t find any acrylic thermal pane “Euro” windows on a Four Wheel Camper; all of the windows they use are made of tempered glass with aluminum frames.
The flatbed Hawk is well-built and is made to go off-road. The low profile camper is only 59 inches high with the pop-up down and weighs a paltry 1,050 pounds dry and 1,800 pounds fully loaded. The interior is a spacious 80 inches long, 80 inches wide, and 6 feet 6 inches tall with the pop-up fully extended. Like all Four Wheel Camper models, the flatbed Hawk’s frame is constructed of aluminum, but the frame isn’t rigid like steel. The Hawk’s aluminum frame can bend or flex while driving on twisting, uneven road surfaces. The benefits of having a camper and frame that can do this are obvious. The camper’s walls and roof are insulated with rigid block foam insulation and the roof is covered with seamless aluminum. In addition, the camper’s base is constructed of a high-grade plywood that has been coated with a weather resistant, textured, laminate on both sides. This high-grade plywood is often referred to as “skid-guard” material, and is used to make boat docks in marine environments.
You won’t find a lot of amenities inside a Four Wheel Camper. If “foo-foo” is what you want, then you’ll need to look elsewhere. The camper’s decorative elements, like the understated cabinets, are kept to a minimum to reduce weight and increase durability. You won’t find a full-size bathroom in a Four Wheel Camper either. Most models offer either a cassette or porta potti toilet, and that’s only as an option. While the indoor shower is offered as an option in the flatbed Hawk, too, most customers opt for the utilitarian outdoor shower instead. The floor plan of the flatbed Hawk offers a 60×77 inch queen size bed in an East-West orientation only, but Stan said that the company is looking into possibly offering an enlarged sleeping area as well. This option, he explains, would include a small, 20 inch under bed slide-out with two cushions to produce a larger, square-like 80×77 inch sleeping area.
For those who like to boondock and explore for extended periods of time, the flatbed Hawk will be sure to please. The optional, enlarged battery box is lockable and large enough to house two large Group-27 batteries or two 6 volt golf cart batteries. Three excellent solar power options are offered by the company as well: a portable 80 watt panel option, a 160 watt rooftop panel option, and a third option that combines the first two. While some may balk at the smallish propane compartment that can hold only two upright 10 pound, 2.5 gallon propane tanks, it really isn’t an issue for most since many opt for a Danfoss AC/DC compressor refrigerator which greatly reduces the reliance on propane. The only real negative with the flatbed Hawk is the small size of the fresh water holding tank–it’s only 20 gallons, the same as the regular Hawk–but Stan pointed out that this capacity can easily be doubled or even tripled by adding a fresh water tank in the flatbed. This is actually a popular option employed by a good percentage of flatbed customers.
And speaking of options, Four Wheel Campers offers plenty. One of the most popular is the aforementioned Danfoss AC/DC compressor refrigerator. For years, Four Wheel Campers offered only Waeco/Dometic models, but recently the company began putting the Isotherm compressor refrigerators in their campers instead. Stan explains that the reason for the change wasn’t a matter of quality, so much, but warranty support. Dometic simply wasn’t stepping up to the plate when it came to warranty repairs for their customers and Four Wheel Campers was having to foot the bill increasingly for warranty work. Stan pointed out that the Isotherm compressor refrigerator is popular in the sailing and truck building industries and Four Wheel Campers presently offers three models, a 65, an 85, and a 130 liter AC/DC model. So far, the Isotherm models have received an enthusiast reception from customers, Stan said.
It’s uncertain if the flatbed truck camper can gain a real foothold in the U.S. market, but the prospects look promising given that several companies have now thrown their hat into the flatbed truck camper ring (other companies that make a flatbed truck camper include Northstar, Phoenix, XP Campers, and Alaskan). When you consider the typical demographics of a pop-up truck camper–a growing younger crowd and a predominantly older, yet very active crowd—it makes sense to go with a flatbed Hawk because of the low profile, additional features, and larger floor plan. However, if you have your eyes set on an RV and you’re planning on staying at KOA Campgrounds and RV Parks, then skip the flatbed Hawk and buy a double or triple slide-out truck camper and a dually instead. If your plans for travel are more ambitious and you want to get far off the beaten path, then the flatbed Hawk pop-up truck camper will be sure to satisfy.