The 2018 Overland Expo was probably the best overland show we ever attended. Everything about it was perfect—the weather, the exhibits, the classes, and the rigs. Without a doubt, the Jeep Wrangler Outpost II by American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) was one of the coolest rigs we saw at this year’s show. Everyone was talking about it. Dave Harriton, the president of AEV, built this particular rig and he went all out by pouring AEV’s vast resources into this new prototype. We’ve seen Four Wheel Camper pop-ups mounted on an AEV Wrangler Brute before, but this is the first time we’ve seen a complete camper mounted to the chassis of a Jeep Wrangler JKU. As you will see, building a complex prototype like the Outpost II isn’t easy. There’s a lot of engineering that goes into building a rig like this—over 600 parts needed to be made by hand. To learn more about the process of building this head-turning prototype and the rig itself, Dave Harriton took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us.
TCA: Thanks, Dave, for taking the time to talk with us. Can you tell us a little about American Expedition Vehicles and the products the company specializes in?
Dave Harriton: AEV specializes in Jeep Wrangler parts and has recently expanded into Ram Truck and Chevrolet Colorado. AEV Manufactures suspension systems, wheels, stamped steel bumpers, heat reduction hoods, snorkels, engine conversions and more.
TCA: The Outpost II is a very impressive build. What inspired you to build it?
Dave Harriton: We did the AEV Outpost in 2006 just when the JK first came out, it was essentially a lifting roof tent hardtop replacement similar to what’s on the market today. We probably should have gone into production with it but never had the time. For the last year of the JK we wanted to do something big to draw interest to our JK parts, so we figured we would build the Outpost II which is obviously a lot more of a camper than the original Outpost.
TCA: Why draw interest to JK parts when the Jeep is no longer being made?
Dave Harriton: Because the JK will still be relevant for years and years to come due to second hand ownership and the sheer volume of JKs produced.
TCA: We assume the Jeep used in this build was originally a four-door JKU. What was involved in converting it from a basic four-door JKU to a two-door chassis-mount?
Dave Harriton: Yes, it started out as a 2016 black four-door JKU that one of our employees had been driving as a company car. We removed the rear doors and cut the rear section of the Jeep first. We left the wheelbase unchanged, but were able to extend the back by reusing the rear frame extension, under tire mount, spare tire winch, exhaust, and more from our JK Brute doublecab pickup. We then built a powder-coated steel “birdcage” for the camper that tied into the roll-bar and floor in such a way to provide torsional rigidity and the structure needed for the lifting roof. This was a lot harder than expected and took quite a bit of engineering time. The structure of the camper is a semi-monocoque design where the birdcage and all the honeycomb combine to add the required strength.
TCA: What upgrades were made to the Jeep’s suspension to carry the camper?
Dave Harriton: We used our standard AEV 4.5-inch DualSport Suspension and our new AEV High Capacity Springs, which are actually designed for heavy JKs, but served this purpose well. I also had a custom rear sway bar made to account for the weight distribution.
TCA: Are the engine and transmission stock?
Dave Harriton: No, we added the 5.7L HEMI with the AEV kit. We used the 5.7L because it doesn’t require premium fuel like the 6.4L. The A580 Transmission is stock other than the calibration is changed to work with the HEMI.
TCA: Can you tell us more about the wheels and tires?
Dave Harriton: The wheels are the new AEV Borah DualSport wheels. They can be run as a true beadlock or as a traditional wheel. 17x 8.5 or 17x 9.5 when run as a true beadlock. On the Outpost II, I currently have them set up as a traditional mount with the replaceable wear rings since we’ve been changing tires on it quite a bit lately. The tires are a pre-production BF Goodrich KM3 37×12.50R17 MT, which are a welcome change, they’re incredibly quiet for a true mud tire.
TCA: What other upgrades were made to the Jeep to make it such a great expedition rig?
Dave Harriton: The axles were upgraded to Dynatrac Dana 44 and Dana 60 with Dynatrac big brakes and lockers. The transfer case is the original 241OR from the Rubicon. We also added an AEV snorkel with prefilter, a HEMI air box top, an AEV front bumper with a Warn Zeon 10.0 winch, and a custom rear bumper.
TCA: The camper looks custom-made? Who built it?
Dave Harriton: It was all built in Montana at AEV’s prototype shop.
TCA: How was the camper constructed?
Dave Harriton: The panels are all fiberglass and polypropolene honeycomb and are all CNC cut and bonded to a steel, “birdcage” frame.
TCA: How much does the camper weigh?
Dave Harriton: We estimate the camper to weigh about 750 pounds, including the heater, water heater, fridge, batteries, solar, etc. Total weight for the vehicle as shown with the HEMI and Dynatrac axles is 6,340 pounds with full fuel, but no water on board.
TCA: The floorplan looks very functional for a small camper? Can you tell us about some of its features?
Dave Harriton: The floorplan is small, but effective. The couch is 80 inches long and can be slept on. I made sure I had a small hanging closet for dress shirts and jackets, seems like on long road trips its always good to have at least one nice shirt in case you get invited to someones house, etc. There is storage under the couch and that area also houses the water tank, the water heater, the Espar B5 13,000 BTU gasoline heater, ARB dual air compressor, a 12 volt water pump, solar charge controller, a battery charger, and more.
TCA: We like how the chest refrigerator is mounted on a sliding mechanism that can be accessed from both inside and outside of the camper. Who designed that?
Dave Harriton: That was something I decided I wanted early on. Cooking bacon in a camper this small is not a good thing, I envisioned cooking outside 99 percent of the time and maybe just making coffee inside in the AM on a Jetboil type stove. One nice side effect is that when stocking the camper up, you can come out of a store and empty the shopping cart directly into the fridge and pantry without going inside the camper.
TCA: That is pretty cool. We haven’t seen that refrigerator before. What make and model is it?
Dave Harriton: It’s a National Luna 50L Twin Weekender compressor refrigerator/freezer. National Luna is based out of South Africa.
TCA: Where is the stove located and stored?
Dave Harriton: The stove slides out from under the fridge. You can see it in some of the exterior pics.
TCA: That’s pretty clever. What are the tank capacities of the camper?
Dave Harriton: The camper has 22 gallons of fresh water and 4 gallons of 200 degree hot water with a thermostatic mixing valve. The camper has no grey water holding tank.
TCA: Is the camper equipped with a water heater and an outdoor shower?
Dave Harriton: The water heater is from a boat and has a heat exchanger with engine coolant going through it as well as an electrical back up on shore power. The tank is super insulated, so once the engine is up to temp, you have 4 gallons of 200-degree water for up to 24 hours. Water that is 200 degrees is too hot to use, so there is a special valve set up to mix it with cold down to a usable temperature for the soon to be installed sink and outdoor shower. I’m estimating the system should provide about 8 gallons of usable hot water without starting the engine.
TCA: That’s a pretty neat approach to heating water. Is the camper equipped with a porta pottie?
Dave Harriton: No. I set this up as a three-season weekender/long weekend type of camper. Obviously wag-bags and other options exist.
TCA: I noticed that the countertop is solid without any cutouts. Are there any plans to put in a kitchen sink?
Dave Harriton: Yes, I haven’t found one yet that I like. I might just make it. This thing is a work in progress, not a finished product.
TCA: How many batteries does the battery compartment hold?
Dave Harriton: There are two Optima Blue Top Marine batteries for the house and the regular Jeep battery up front. It uses a National Luna Dual Battery Kit to isolate and charge the house batteries as well as monitor the entire system.
TCA: The camper has an impressive solar power system. Can you tell us more about it?
Dave Harriton: We’re now running the eNow solar panel and charge controller to charge the batteries (which can be used to start the truck if necessary). The panel is a flexible panel and used in the heavy truck and marine industries. It’s rated for 265 watts and is frankly a bit of overkill for this camper, but it’s always nice to have more than enough. The roof is set up to be optimal in the northern hemisphere from Montana to southern Alaska/Canada, which is where I like to hang out. All you have to do is park the Jeep facing west.
TCA: How durable is the roof? How much weight can it support?
Dave Harriton: It’s pretty durable. On the roof we actually used thin gauge steel to reinforce all the corners and we made hinges to match the Jeep Hood Hinges. Not sure about how much weight it could handle, but more than you’d probably want to put up there.
TCA: The sideways pop-up design is pretty unique for a truck camper. Is there a loft on top where you can sleep?
Dave Harriton: It’s an electric actuator system to raise the roof. I originally had a sleeping loft that went up and down with the roof however after building it I realized that if the bed wasn’t there I could sit up in the back without raising the roof. This would be nice since I tend to use it as a mobile office while I’m on the road, so I took the upper bed out and am working on redesigning the bed area to cantilever out over the kitchen.
TCA: We like the simplicity of the awning. Who makes it?
Dave Harriton: Honestly, I’m not sure. It was something we had on the shelf and I gutted the original fabric and cover and made our own so it matched the Jeep.
TCA: We heard that this camper is a one-off build. Is this true? Many will be disappointed if it is.
Dave Harriton: Yes, that is currently true. I think we could do a pretty spectacular job at building these down the road, but we currently have less than zero time with all of our other projects.