Without a doubt, one of the hottest selling items in the truck camper industry is the small pop-up made for mid-size and full-size half-ton trucks. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. The number of smaller and lighter pickup trucks far exceeds the number of 3/4-ton and one-ton trucks on today’s streets. More and more truck camper manufacturers are building smaller and lighter truck campers to accommodate this much larger market. Brian Ward, the owner of Outfitter RV Manufacturing, had the foresight to see this trend long ago. In 2012, he decided to tap into this more lucrative market by making an ultra lightweight pop-up truck camper called the Caribou Lite. It turned out to be a great decision. Since then the Caribou Lite has been Brian’s best selling truck camper. In this interview we talk with Brian about this lightweight pop-up and what makes it so special in a market where the competition is so incredibly keen.
Thanks, Brian, for taking the time to talk with us about the Caribou Lite 6.5. But before we do so, can you tell us how Outfitter RV Manufacturing got its start?
Brian Ward: Sure! While I was going to Colorado State University, I did a bunch of repair work for my Dad while he still owned Hallmark. I made some decent money fixing and replacing wood rot within the framing on many different truck campers. That gave me the idea to try my hand at building an aluminum framed pop-up for the Toyota Tacoma pickup I owned at the time. After selling a few smaller Outfitter campers thru Hallmark, I found that there was a demand for a lighter weight short-bed camper that could physically fit in the all new Toyota Tundra. That idea gave way to the Apex model. I built and sold a few Apex 8’s and finished out the summer. Soon after I graduated college, my Dad sold Hallmark to his brother, and we built a building closer to our homes to get a new start. The building went up in 2001 and by that December, Outfitter was officially open for business.
That’s a cool story. Tell us a little about the Caribou Lite 6.5. What makes it different from your other truck campers, the Juno, the Apex, and the standard Caribou?
Brian Ward: The Caribou Lite is our lightened version of our standard Caribou. We started with a Caribou, which is already light, and put it on a diet. We changed the roof to an aluminum frame and skin, changed to a basic and therefore lighter roof lift system, built a lower profile unit to reduce weight, and even went as far as to switch the brand of the external jacks in order to save 50 pounds. Otherwise, this unit has the same floor plan as the standard Caribou.
So is the Caribou Lite made for short-bed trucks only?
Brian Ward: No, we make the Caribou Lite in 6.5-foot and 8-foot versions for both short- and long-bed trucks.
Is it true that the Caribou Lite is your best seller?
Brian Ward: It is. Right now we are booked thru June on Caribou Lite’s alone. Since introducing the unit in 2012, it has surpassed the Apex 8 in terms of sales.
What is the dry weight of the Caribou Lite 6.5? Which trucks match well with it with regard to payload and size?
Brian Ward: The Caribou Lite 6.5 is a flyweight at only 850 pounds. The trucks that we normally see this unit on are the Toyota Tacoma, the new Honda Ridgeline, the Nissan Frontier, the GMC Colorado, and all the half-tons.
What are the tank capacities of this camper?
Brian Ward: The full-size unit, meaning the one that fits on full-size half-ton trucks, has a fresh water tank capacity of 24 gallons. The mid-size trucks have fresh water tank capacities of 11 gallons with the exception of the Ridgeline. Its bed is large enough for us to use the larger 24 gallon tank.
So the Caribou Lite 6.5 doesn’t have a grey water holding tank?
Brian Ward: That is correct.
How many batteries does the battery compartment hold?
Brian Ward: On a normal build, there is a battery compartment that allows for a 24 or 27 series 12 volt battery. On custom orders, we can install two 6 volt batteries.
How durable is the roof on this pop-up? How much weight can it support?
Brian Ward: Aluminum roofs used to be the norm before everyone switched to rubber. Other than being delicate from hail, they are virtually indestructible in every other way. Older truck campers come back in from the ’60’s and ’70’s with an aluminum roof and other than a little hail damage, they are leak free and still working well.
Our roof is constructed using a fully laminated aluminum frame bonded to an aluminum skin and is strong enough to walk on in the down position, have a roof mounted A/C or even a rocket box, or whatever combination. The roof can support an additional 300 pounds. The limitation would be a roof lift system to accommodate the weight. For that reason, we do offer our electric lift from our Apex models as an option.
So I assume standard solar panels and roof racks can be installed on the roof. Is that correct?
Brian Ward: Yes, solar is a popular option as well as roof racks. We like the flexibility of the Yakima track system.
Do you offer any options in cabinetry like different wood finishes?
Brian Ward: We’re like Henry Ford and his Model T. You can have any color so long as it is yellow birch. It would be possible to have a Caribou Lite ordered with the same solid Maple doors from our Apex and Juno series.
We really like the molded counter tops in the Apex and Juno models. Does the Caribou Lite have molded counter tops too?
Brian Ward: Yes, the counter tops are molded in everything we build.
What are the counter tops made of?
Brian Ward: They’re made of a balsa core fiberglass with a granite gelcoat, taken from the hot tub manufacturers.
What are the most popular options ordered by your customers?
Brian Ward: More popular options for this unit are one of the two refrigerator choices (the 3.3 cubic foot gas absorption model or the 3.8 cubic foot Tundra Danfoss compressor model), solar power, electric roof lift with a 60-inch cabover and underbed storage, and battery choices. On the 8-foot version, we build a Caribou Lite with an optional interior shower and toilet.
Can you get an optional porta pottie or cassette toilet with the Caribou Lite 6.5? What about a water heater and an outside shower?
Brian Ward: The rear dinette is built to house either the porta pottie or a permanent mounted cassette toilet for $895. We do have an optional 4 gallon water heater (6 gallon on the 8-foot model) that comes with the outside shower for $835.
How many 12 volt/USB charging outlets come standard?
Brian Ward: One 12 volt outlet comes standard. A USB charge port can be added as an option.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the Caribou Lite 6.5 is constructed?
Brian Ward: The camper is built using our tried and true aluminum frame, vacuum laminated to a fiberglass exterior and a luan interior with 1-inch block foam. The roof is aluminum framed as well, vacuum bonded to an aluminum skin and a luan interior. The manufacturer who makes our Apex fiberglass bodies and our counter tops, also makes our own custom fiberglass skin for the Caribou Lite. It gives us a consistency with the larger Apex and Juno models. The fiberglass comes to us in sheets vs. a coil, so it is thicker and has a heavier gel coat. All interiors are finished with a headliner on the roof and the walls are upholstered in a foam backed vinyl. We also have an aluminum framed floor that is laminated.
Does that mean the camper can be used off the truck?
Brian Ward: Yes, the laminated aluminum framed floor allows the unit to be used when off the truck. Meaning, the floor doesn’t need to be supported to walk or camp in off the truck.
That’s a huge benefit. Why should customers go with an Outfitter truck camper?
Brian Ward: Because they’re the BEST!!! Our Apex and Juno models have NO competitors with that composite body, basement, and electric lift. Our Caribou Lite is the lightest truck camper built with standard features out there. It’s possible to order another brand and have it built lighter, but that would mean not getting a heater, water system, appliances, etc. So I think we offer a very well-appointed camper in the Caribou Lite that is light weight and won’t break the bank. The Caribou Lite is strong where others are weak. The roof can be walked on and used, and as stated before, the floor can be walked on when off the truck.
What is the MSRP of the Caribou Lite 6.5?
Brian Ward: The base price is $16,720. That includes:
- Solar reflective windows
- Weblon Insulated Softwall (three Layers Std.)
- 1.9 cubic foot three-way fully insulated, properly vented refrigerator
- Electronic ignition 16K BTU furnace
- Molded counter tops and tables
- Four corner mechanical jacks
- 5 gallon LPG bottle with gauge
- Power roof vent system
- 24 gallon fresh water tank
- Shurflo® electric water pump
- Three-burner high-output stove with Piezo-Electric ignition
- Progressive Dynamics 4045 Power Center with 3-stage Charge Wizard for fast charging
- Full size cabover bed—pulls out to queen
- LPG and carbon monoxide detectors
- Pressure fresh water fill
- 110 volt AC outlet
- Attractive Birch interior doors and cabinets
- Washable curtains
- Sliding cab through window
- Camper anchor tie downs, centering guide, and Happijac turnbuckles
- Screen door and keyed locking deadbolt
- Group-24 battery
Wow! All of that comes standard? I’m impressed. The Progressive Dynamics converter-charger with the Charge Wizard is a very nice unit and a major upgrade. Why not go with a cheaper make and model?
Brian Ward: Up to 13 years ago we were using the “American” brand and found their rate of failure to be really unacceptable. We switched over to Progressive Dynamics then and I don’t believe we’ve really ever had a problem with one. They really are not much more expensive than the “cheap” model. We’ve been really pleased with their product.
Are any changes planned for the 2019 models?
Brian Ward: The unit is fully developed and I don’t expect much in the way of change except some cushion color selections. But you never know, sometimes a wild hair hits us and we surprise everyone with something new, just to keep everyone on their toes.
The Caribou Lite is a terrific, little truck camper and a great value for the money. If readers wanted to order one how would they do it, factory direct or through a dealership?
Brian Ward: We are factory direct and work off a build schedule. After a deposit is placed, the lead time is usually four to six weeks.
|Caribou Lite 6.5 Specifications|
|Travel Height||59.5 inches with roof vents|
|Camping Height||83.5 inches|
|Cabover Bed Height to Ceiling Height||28 inches|
|Center of Gravity||23 inches from front wall|
|Floor Length||78 inches|
|Fresh Water Tank (for half-ton models)||24 gallons|
|Fresh Water Tank (for mid-size models)||11 gallons|
|Dry Weight||850 pounds|
A special thanks to Henry Passerini of Tarpon Springs, Florida, who just took delivery of his Caribou Lite 6.5, and who graciously gave us permission to use his photographs.