Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present this interview with Bob Hammond. Known as “Geewizard” on the truck camper forums, Bob is an avid outdoorsman and truck camper enthusiast. He grew up on a cattle ranch in south-central Montana, lived in Alaska for 23 years, and now makes Spokane, Washington his home. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology and a Master’s Degree in Geophysics. Bob enjoyed a rewarding career as a geophysicist in mineral exploration and has enjoyed doing research on local and regional tectonic seismicity in Montana, Idaho, and Alaska. He also worked with a tsunami warning system in Alaska and spent 13 years in the Information Technology field. He finished his geophysicist career with research in mitigation of mining-induced seismicity in Idaho. Bob’s wife, Caroline, is a systems analyst for a major healthcare analytics company.
Thanks, Bob, for taking the time to talk. How long have you been interested in truck camping?
Bob: I’ve been truck camping since 2004 when I purchased my first truck camper.
Can you tell us more about your Outfitter Apex 8 truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
Bob: I spent about six months researching truck campers that would specifically fit a Toyota Tundra since I was planning to buy a new 2004 Tundra. I wanted an aluminum-framed camper that was a pop-up because of the lower weight and center of gravity, durability and longevity when compared to a wood-framed camper, the tent-like feeling of a pop-up, and the lower height for going in tight places. Plus, I wanted a toilet and shower as well as heated tanks for use in cold weather and large capacity tanks. I looked at several other makes and models including Hallmark, Northstar, Four Wheel, Outfitter, etc. I read reviews of the different brands and models on the web and on the forums. I learned a lot from what others had done.
I decided that the Outfitter Apex 8 was the best choice for me given the features and options available. Outfitter was and still is a great company to work with.
I purchased both my Toyota Tundra and Outfitter Apex 8 via email and phone calls because, at the time, I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska. I arranged the truck purchase with a Toyota dealership in Longmont, Colorado who kindly picked us up at the airport. After the truck purchase, we drove to Outfitter Manufacturing to have the Apex 8 installed, and the truck modified with the tie-downs, air bags, and wiring. After that, we drove to Walmart to outfit our Outfitter and then headed to Rocky Mountain National Park for a shakedown trip. With no issues coming up, we continued our trip home to Fairbanks with our new truck and camper via Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, British Columbia, and the Yukon. The whole trip was about 10 days, 2,400 miles, and a lot of fun.
Which tie-down and turnbuckle system do you use?
Bob: I use the Torklift tie-down system with spring-loaded turnbuckles.
Have you made any modifications yet to your truck camper?
Bob: Yes, I’ve made a few mods. I replaced the supplied 3-way refrigerator with a Tundra compressor fridge, added a roof-mounted 110 watt solar panel with MPPT controller, added a Xantrex PROsine 1800 watt inverter, a Xantrex battery/solar monitoring system, an additional 100 amp hour battery and wiring, accordion steps, and two Jerry can holders. I also removed the dinette table and replaced it with a small folding table. I removed the microwave as well. I just didn’t use it enough and wanted the storage space for a small propane barbecue. I added spring struts to the overhead cabinet doors and replaced all incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. I’ve also added a permanent mount wireless rear view camera for use when towing my kayak trailer. I put flexible interlocking tiles to the bathroom floor as well as a covered toilet paper holder.
Last year, I added a portable 120 watt solar panel and wiring to the camper. This setup allows me to add more solar input to the system and move the panel around with the sun. This spring, I’ll be installing a Wave-3 catalytic heater.
It sounds like you have a pretty good solar power setup. Do you use anything besides solar to keep your batteries topped off?
Bob: My solar system generally keeps both 100 amp hour batteries topped off. However, I do carry my Honda EU2000i generator as a standby system or when it’s cold enough to run the battery-sucking furnace. So far, I haven’t needed to use it. The permanent solar panel keeps both batteries topped off during the winter.
Can you tell us about more about your truck?
Bob: My first truck to carry the Outfitter Apex 8 was a 2004 Toyota Tundra, Double Cab, four-wheel drive with the 4.7L V8 engine. My latest truck is a 2014 Toyota Tundra, Double Cab, four-wheel drive with the 5.7L V8 engine.
What is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and payload rating of your Toyota Tundra?
Bob: The listed GVWR for the 2004 Tundra Double Cab is 6,600 pounds. The 2014 Tundra Double Cab GVWR is 6,900 to 7,200 pounds. The payload for the 2004 is 1,580 to 1,875 pounds and for the 2014 is 1,320 to 1,500 pounds. I’ve only had my truck/camper on a scale once quite a while back and I think it weighed 2,200 pounds fully loaded. That put me 600 pounds over the payload figure of 1,600 pounds. I’m comfortable doing this because I researched the engineering of the Tundra components (wheels, bearings, rear axle, frame, etc) that could be an issue with a 600 pound overload. And I have my experience and data on my Toyota trucks from 1989 to present. I’ve had my 2004 Tundra inspected for frame cracks and found none. The only Toyota frame cracking report I found on the Web was related to twisting from extreme off-road driving.
Have you made any modifications to your truck?
Bob: I added Goodyear Ride Rite air bags with the Air Lift WirelessAIR compressor system, and load range E 10-ply tires. On the 2004 Tundra, I used McKesh towing mirrors. And, as previously mentioned, I have a Swift Hitch wireless camera system. I have a Toyota drop-in plastic bed-liner in my 2004 Tundra and a spray-in bed-liner in my 2014 Tundra. Otherwise, both Tundra trucks are stock. I added a front receiver hitch to the 2004 Tundra and used it to carry a second spare tire in Alaska. I won’t be adding one to the 2014 Tundra.
How well do you like the Air Lift WirelessAIR system? How well does it do off-road?
Bob: I like the Air Lift WirelessAIR system a lot. My first Air Lift system was on my 1989 Toyota Xtracab pickup and installed for hauling domestic water when I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. That system was a manual control with a pressure gauge and compressor. When I bought the Outfitter Apex 8, I had them put in air bags on my 2004 Tundra with the idea that I would install a compressor and manual control sometime later. I installed the WirelessAIR system and was pretty happy with it. I just recently finished installing a complete Air Lift WirelessAIR system with air bags on my 2014 Tundra. It was a fairly straightforward installation and I’m happy with it. It works well off-road and I’ve had no issues with it.
Do you have any regrets in your choices? Anything you wished that you did differently?
Bob: I’m very happy with my choice of trucks and the Outfitter Apex 8 camper. One thing I wish I’d done is get a cassette toilet rather than the marine toilets to save weight, add room, and make dumping in outhouses easier. Other than that wish, my setup has worked great since 2004, so I think I did my homework and made good choices overall.
Yeah, I like having a cassette toilet. It does making finding places to dump a lot easier. Have you made any mistakes relating to use of your truck camper that would help our readers?
Bob: Oh yes, many! I started out with standard load range LT tires that came with the Tundra when I picked up the Outfitter. I blew a rear tire just outside Cooke City, Montana when I hit a deep pothole. I bought all new load range E 10-ply tires in Idaho Falls two days after that! I’ve made additional mistakes along the way. Once I forgot to tighten the front vent cover before taking my rig on the highway. It blew off somewhere in Wyoming on the way home. I’ve also forgot to latch the roof down several times and drove at highway speeds, but got away with it without any damage. Now I have a “pre-flight” checklist and walk-around. I once forgot to monitor the gray water level and had a shower pan full of gray water, I think most of us have done that. And I tore the side of the rubber roof on a sign when I was backing the truck and boat trailer down the boat ramp at the Yukon River Bridge north of Fairbanks. That’s it so far. I have no doubt there will be more.
Which engine type do you prefer, diesel or gas?
Bob: I prefer gas for several reasons. Living in Fairbanks, Alaska makes it harder to start a diesel due to the very cold temperatures in the winter. There are ways to mitigate this but overall, it’s easier to deal with a gas engine at those temperatures. If Toyota made a Tundra with a diesel engine, I’d consider buying one now that I live in a much more forgiving climate.
What kind of mileage do you get when hauling your Outfitter truck camper?
Bob: The highest mpg I’ve gotten hauling my truck camper is 13.5 mpg and the lowest I’ve gotten is 9.1 mpg. The lowest mpg was due to my driving about 70 mph when I moved from Fairbanks, Alaska to Spokane, Washington I was heavily loaded, both in the truck cab and the camper, and I had a deadline to meet.
Do you tow anything like a Jeep or boat with your truck camper?
Bob: I used to tow an 18-foot river boat as well as an 18-foot snowmachine trailer with the camper on the truck. I also used the snowmachine trailer to haul mining equipment (ATV, wash plant, pump, hose, tools, etc) to gold claims I had near central, Alaska. I also used to tow a CanDig excavator behind the truck/camper to the mining claims.
What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run when driving off-road?
Bob: I have Toyo Open Country AT II tires on my truck, LT265/70R17. I’m quite happy with their durability and tread life so far. I inflate them to 70 psi whenever I have the camper on the truck regardless of driving condition. I haven’t gone anywhere where I needed to deflate my tires for better traction.
Do you have any favorite places or trails you like to explore? What was the most difficult and challenging?
Bob: I have no favorites. I like them all! The most challenging place I’ve been with my truck camper and trailer is to my gold mining claims near Central, Alaska. The gold claims were on Boulder Creek off the Steese Highway and on a very narrow and very steep road.
What are your favorite states where you like to explore?
Bob: Alaska, western Canadian provinces, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
What’s been your favorite place to visit so far?
Bob: One of my favorite places to visit so far is the Blueberry Lake campground just over Thompson Pass near Valdez, Alaska. It’s a very small campground perched on the side of the canyon.
What advice would you offer to those who are considering buying a truck camper to take off-road?
Bob: Oh, just the usual stuff: reliable truck and camper, good tires, extraction equipment, tools, safety equipment, etc. I like the Delorme inReach satellite tracker as a safety device.
If you were to buy a brand new truck camper or overland rig, and price wasn’t an issue, what would it be?
Bob: I’d probably buy or build a very well-equipped titanium/carbon fiber pop up truck camper with very efficient heating/cooling/appliances, 500 watts of solar, lithium-ion phosphate batteries, fuel cell, and a bookshelf. The truck would probably be a diesel Tundra with the camper permanently mounted on the frame.
What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?
Bob: The moment that comes to mind is during my trip from Fairbanks to Spokane in the fall of 2013. I was heavily loaded, driving about 70 mph, and hit a large pothole near Destruction Bay on the Alaska Highway. Everything in the truck and camper was a mess but I didn’t pop a tire or crack a rim. I should have known better. The right rear wheel bearing must have broken then because it started making nasty grinding sounds a couple of months later. The mechanic gave it to me in several pieces.
Have you had any notable run-ins with wildlife?
Bob: None at all and I’ve camped a lot in areas with bears and moose.
What foods do you like to eat when you’re out exploring?
Bob: I’m a big fan of bad foods like biscuits and sausage gravy, nachos, roast beef hash, and anything barbequed like steaks, burgers, chicken, etc. My wife seems to think she needs to moderate the bad foods so there usually is a fresh salad, fruit, and pasta to detox with. A good beer is essential to any trip and my current favorite is Schofferhofer Grapefruit, a 50/50 Hefeweizen and Grapefruit beer blend.
Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Bob: We like to kayak and mountain bike so those go along with us on our travels. We fly fish as well.
This has been great talking to you. Thanks again for taking the time to talk. Do you have any final advice for our readers?
Bob: I visit the RV.Net Open Roads Truck Campers Forum almost every day to see what’s going on, to ask a question, and to answer a question if I can. This forum is a tremendous knowledge base for truck camper owners. I encourage readers to go there, and to your forum and website as well.