Full-timing and boondocking are two themes we’ve covered quite a bit here at Truck Camper Adventure. Jacob Kneeshaw, of Seattle, Washington, is accomplished at doing both. Jacob, and his dog, Abby, started full-timing in his Lance camper in 2016 and presently supports himself remotely with several websites that he owns. For the most part, you can find Jacob boondocking on public land throughout the American west. Unlike many boondocking enthusiasts who are loath to share their boondocking locations with the public, Jacob is willing to share all but his most cherished sites with the public. Jacob does this through his Instagram account where he provides detailed coordinates, photographs, and reviews of each free campsite. As you’d expect, he’s also learned a few things along the way about living the life of a truck camper nomad. We were fortunate enough to catch up with him at his current location in Libby, Montana to answer a few questions about this style of living.
Thanks, Jacob, for taking the time to talk to us. What exactly do you do for a living?
Jacob: I started full-timing in August 2016, so two years now. For the first six months of my truck camping adventure, and five years prior, I was working remotely as a senior analyst in the search engine field. I’ve since quit that to focus on growing some websites I own, and domain name investing.
Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
Jacob: Sure, it’s a 1999 Lance 1010, loaded with all the goodies they had at the time. It has the all-season package, LP generator, Duotherm A/C, 18,000 btu furnace, well-appointed kitchen, wet bath, north-south bed, electric jacks, filon fiberglass exterior, one-piece aluminum roof, lots of windows, two awnings, the works. This rig actually wasn’t my first choice. I was more interested in the clamshell, fiberglass campers at the time, and almost bought a rare factory 4×4 Class C, but in doing my research I knew Lance had a pretty good reputation in this era. This rig with both the truck and camper popped up on my local Craigslist for what I thought was a steal for $21,000. It was ready to go with most of the things I was looking for, and my intended departure date was rapidly approaching, so I jumped on it. I negotiated the seller down to $18,500, and bought it the next day.
What mods have you made to your truck camper to make it more livable?
Jacob: I knew I wanted to boondock a lot, so the very first thing I did was install a 400 watt solar system and upgraded to a 435 amp hour deep cycle AGM battery bank. I’ve also put in a cell signal booster, swapped in LED lights, added another 12 volt plug and a pair of USB outlets, swapped in a memory foam mattress, fashioned some fishing pole holders on my ceiling, and placed lots of command hooks.
So do you exclusively use solar power to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?
Jacob: For the most part, yes. My 400 watt solar system easily provides enough power for me 99 percent of the time, but I have used the onboard generator a couple of times to add a little extra juice in my battery bank after several days of rain and cloudy skies. My generator is pretty loud and uses a lot of propane, so I really try to avoid running it. Besides the rare battery top-up situation, the only other times I run my generator are when I want to “nuke” something real quick in the microwave, or need to run the air conditioner in the heat of summer to cool my dog down. I’ve put less than 30 hours on the generator since I started full-timing.
Can you tell us more about your truck?
Jacob: I’ve got a 2001.5 Dodge Ram 3500. DRW, 4×4 with a Cummins Turbo Diesel (H.O.) and a 6-speed manual transmission. It had 150,000 miles on it when I bought it and it came with a few extra goodies like an exhaust brake, EZ Edge tuner chip, Timbren suspension enhancements, a brush guard, block heater, and some sweet ’90s colored pinstriping. Since buying it, I’ve removed the buggy tuner chip, replaced the tires, added seat covers and a dashmat, and put in a new audio deck that has a 7-inch touch screen and does Google Maps navigation through Android Auto. The thing is a beast, and gets lots of compliments from truck guys that like to geek out about this sort of stuff.
Did you need to make any modifications to your truck’s suspension?
Jacob: I didn’t put them in, but the truck came with Timbrens in the rear to help with the rear sway and prevent any sagging. It also has a rear sway bar, but I’m unsure whether or not that was an add-on. The ride can be a little rough at times, but the camper sits level and the truck feels solid going down the road with no noticeable sway at all.
Do you have any regrets in your choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Jacob: Nope, no regrets. It’s been a comfortable and relatively reliable rig so far and I feel like I got a great deal on it. Of course I still get rig envy from time-to-time, and occasionally I wish I had something different. Some days I wonder what it would be like to have something a little smaller and more off-road capable. Other days I drool over the bigger expedition type rigs built on 4×4 Fusos and Unimogs. I’m sure at some point the urge to try something different will be too hard to resist, but for now I’m happy with what I’ve got.
Have you made any mistakes relating to truck camper that would help our readers?
Jacob: I’ve backed into branches a couple of times, bending the little gutter, slightly denting the generator compartment door and poking a small hole half way through my main door, so I guess the best advice I can give is don’t be in a rush to get backed up. Get out and look if you aren’t certain how much space you have behind you. A good backup camera is probably worth it, and I intend to get one at some point.
What kind of mileage are you getting with your rig?
Jacob: I like to calculate my mileage at every fill up and it’s almost always somewhere in the 11-12 mpg range with mixed driving. At the start when my tuner chip was working and I had less aggressive tires, I was getting 12-14 mpg. I’m not a “hypermiler,” but I drive pretty conservatively in general, avoiding the interstates and rarely going above 65 mph.
What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Jacob: I replaced my tires pretty early in my trip and after doing a good bit of research I went with the Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx tires, which are an all-season mud terrain tire. They are a bit more aggressive than your typical all-terrain tire, but they still wear well, ride smooth, and aren’t super loud. To keep things simple I went with the stock size, 235/85/R16. As far as tire pressures go, I try to run 60 psi up front and closer to 70 psi in the rear, but I’m really bad about checking tire pressure regularly and mostly rely on visual cues. Adding a TPMS and valve extensions on the inner duallys is on my list of things to do.
Do you have any favorite places or trails you like to explore? What was the most difficult and challenging?
Jacob: My favorite way to explore is to just pick a random Forest Service road and follow it to the end or as far as I can comfortably go. I’ve driven many of the roads that show up on the world’s dangerous roads website, but really nothing sticks out in my mind as being overly difficult or challenging. Lots of steep switchbacks, sharp drop-offs, and gorgeous views though.
One situation that sticks out in my mind was leaving Carp Cove on the Eastern side of Lake Mohave in the middle of a nasty rain storm. It’s about a 20-mile dirt road back to the highway, and the road was getting pretty ripped up in spots by the streams of water draining through the road. Four-wheel drive was necessary a good chunk of the way out, and about 5 miles from the highway I came up on a wash that was flooded over the roadway. The water was maybe 30 feet across, ripping pretty fast, and an unknown depth. I tried to gauge the depth by tossing some boulders in there, but really couldn’t tell exactly how deep it was or if any deeper channels had been eroded under all that water. Were it not for a family emergency and me having to get to the Vegas airport and back to Seattle ASAP, I would have just waited it out and never attempted this, but I decided to go for it. I dropped the truck into 4×4 low, gave it some gas, and pushed on through. It was a bumpy crossing, but I made it to the other side dry and unscathed, and out to the highway shortly after.
What are the challenges living in a truck camper?
Jacob: Physically, I’ve found it pretty easy to adapt to road life and living in such a small space. With full-timing, it’s the social side of things that I’ve found the toughest. Keeping tight with family and friends back in the Pacific Northwest is hard to do when I’m rarely in the area. And while RVers are a notoriously friendly crowd, I’ve found a lot of those relationships are pretty shallow. You can have a great time shooting the breeze around the campfire with people for a few days, but when it becomes time to go your separate ways, that’s often the end of it. I’m not lonely out doing this, but building a good “road family” has taken more time and effort than I was expecting.
Of course there are other challenges too, like getting a good shower, managing electric consumption, finding recycling, doing laundry, finding level spots to park, finding propane, and getting maintenance and service done on your rig, but the social element has been the toughest for me.
You’ve boondocked in a lot of great places. How do you find them?
Jacob: Oh man, I could drone on for hours about this, but really it just comes down to lots of research, networking with others, and spending lots of time exploring backroads. Google Maps Satellite View is an amazing tool, and Benchmark Maps State Atlases are my go-to paper maps. I usually check Freecampsites.net, Campendium.com, the iOverlander app, and the UC Public CG app for the areas I’m visiting to get an idea of what spots might already be known and established. I’m also a paid member of Allstays Pro, OvernightRVParking, and Harvest Hosts, but I don’t think I’ve got my money’s worth out of them so far, so I probably won’t renew them. Another cool resource I use that I’ve never heard anyone else talk about is the Sock Monkey Trekkers Boondocking Map, which has a lot of spots you won’t find in those other resources I mentioned.
Where do you get your potable water?
Jacob: I usually fill up on water every couple of weeks at dump stations, while I’m taking care of the stinky stuff. You can often find these at gas stations, rest areas, waste treatment plants, RV parks, and public campgrounds. If I’m having trouble locating a free or cheap dump station on my route I’ll often stop in for a night at a paid campground with hookups. so I can dump my tanks, get water, unload trash, and take a good shower.
Have you done any off-roading with your truck camper rig?
Jacob: Nothing I would consider serious off-roading. I feel like a big hard-sided truck camper on a dually, like mine, really wasn’t designed for that sort of thing. This thing is 11 feet tall, 8 feet wide, weighs over 10,000 pounds, and is somewhat top-heavy, so I try not to push it too hard with the off-roading. That said, U.S. Forest Service and BLM roads can unexpectedly get pretty gnarly in spots and four-wheel drive has saved my butt a few times, so I’m glad I have it. And even though this might not be the most off-road capable rig out there, I’m still able to get into a lot of territory most other RVs, and many car campers can’t, which is one of the biggest benefits of this style of rig.
What emergency preparedness gear do you have with you?
Jacob: I’ve got all kinds of extra gear with me—way more than your typical vehicle rolling down the road would have. Lots of water and food, a couple toolboxes full of tools, a chainsaw, axe, shovel, snatch strap, shackles, first aid kit, fire extinguishers, tire chains, 12 volt air compressor, Fix-a-Flat, fluids for the engine, jumper cables, a portable jumper pack, access to three major cell networks, a cell signal booster, two-way radio, warm weather gear, backpacking gear, manuals on survival and wilderness first aid, and lot more.
This past summer I experimented with hauling a TW200 dual sport motorcycle around with me, which was not only a fun toy, but great peace of mind in the event I broke down or got stuck far from help. My carrier setup off the front of my truck wasn’t working out for me, so I’ve ditched it for now and carry a mountain bike around instead for that purpose.
What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?
Jacob: Less than two weeks after I started full-timing I was laying in bed reading and heard a pop sound I didn’t recognize. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but a few minutes later I started to smell a weird sort of electrical burning smell that was intensifying. I turned over and immediately noticed a faint haze inside the camper, and at that point I knew I might have a problem and jumped into action trying to figure out exactly what was going on. I quickly identified the source of the smoke was coming from the converter-charger unit inside my rig, but it was behind a grille that was secured with four screws, making it difficult to access. I grabbed my fire extinguisher at the foot of my camper door and shouted over to my neighbor who was outside his rig that I might have a fire and that I might need a fire extinguisher if he had one. I then jumped back into my camper with my extinguisher in hand and unloaded it on the converter-charger through the grill vent. Thankfully, that put it out and disaster was averted.
After calming down for a minute or two and monitoring the situation, I cut the 12 volt power, grabbed a screwdriver, and pulled the converter charger unit out of the camper, finding evidence of a serious electrical meltdown. Had I not been there to catch it almost right away, my camper very well might have gone up in flames, effectively ending my trip for a while.
Yikes! That was a close call. Have you had any concerns for your safety while full-timing in your truck camper?
Jacob: Rarely. This past January I was fishing with a couple of buddies on the Colorado River and there was another guy fishing nearby with his young daughter that threaten to shoot my friend’s off-leash dog if it got any closer to him. My friend called his dog back to us, but she didn’t respond immediately and in the matter of a few seconds this guy pulls a handgun and fires off a warning shot off to the side. I yelled over to the dude to chill out and that the dog was friendly while my buddy quickly collected his dog and took her back to camp. Me and the other guy we were fishing with followed our friend out back to camp and cooled him down, so he didn’t go back and confront the guy for being a reckless idiot, but it was crazy to me how fast this all went down.
There are a few other things too, like I’m afraid of poisonous snakes to an irrational degree which makes hiking in some spots a mental challenge, or when I’m in Grizzly country I’ll take extra precautions, but in general I feel safer out truck camping on public land than I ever did in living in Seattle, which is a very safe city.
Speaking of Grizzlies, have you had any notable run-ins with wildlife?
Jacob: Probably my most memorable encounter was the black bear I spooked in Central Oregon, while out hiking in the woods with my young pup. It stood up and looked at me quizzically for a second, while I rushed to collect my pup and yelled at it to go away, then turned and hightailed it out of there. I’ve also observed a ton of deer, elk, and antelope up close. Had encounters with wild horses, bighorn sheep, and bison, which were cool. Had a pair of eagles land 20 yards away from me in Wyoming. Otters, beavers, and muskrats cruise by my camps on multiple occasions, and watched a pod of Orcas breaching the surface in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Tell us about some of your favorite campsites?
Jacob: My absolute favorite spots I like to selfishly keep to myself, but if you peep my Instagram feed you’ll see I’ve stayed at a lot of spectacular spots that I’m happy to share with the public.
A few of my favorites include Carp Cove on the Eastern side of Lake Mohave, which felt like my own little slice of tropical paradise. Myrtle Point on the Mogollon Rim in the Arizona high country offered incredible views of the valley down below and a perfectly placed pine tree to anchor my hammock. Another spot I really loved was Spencer’s Hot Springs in Central Nevada. Soaking in the hot spring while taking in views of the snow-capped Toiyabe Range was a real treat and the cast of characters passing through was equally awesome. Ask me on a different day, and you’ll probably get a different answer though.
What foods do you like to eat as a full-timer?
Jacob: My diet is pretty crappy now. I’ve got a decent kitchen space with a fairly large fridge and freezer, three-burner stove and oven, and a lot of free time on my hands, so I’ve got no excuse for eating as many canned goods and other processed foods as I do. I’m also a sucker for a good burger and fries, and like to stop in at many of the small town diners and burger joints I come across in my travels, which isn’t the healthiest habit. But if I’m making something myself from scratch, big batches of chili, burrito, and taco fixin’s are some of my go-tos.
Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Jacob: Absolutely! Truck camping is fun, but I probably wouldn’t be doing it full-time if I didn’t love the outdoors. My main thing is I really I try to get out and hike with my dog for a couple of hours every day. I’ve also been getting into birding a quite a bit, which pairs well with the hiking. Fishing is another hobby, but dealing with licenses in every state is a pain and more expensive than I was expecting, so I don’t get to do that as often as I’d like. This summer I’m hoping to learn to fly-fish, and maybe piece together an ultralight backpacking setup for a few more overnight trips.
And while I don’t really consider them my hobbies, I’m down for all sorts of outdoor stuff if the situation presents itself. I’ve gone kayaking, stand up paddleboading, cliff diving, bouldering, overnight backpacking, geocaching, and mountain biking while out here on the road. It’s been amazing!
Your photography skills are excellent. Did you go to school to learn photography or are you self taught?
Jacob: I appreciate the compliment! Self-taught here. I just shoot on a smartphone like most people.
Any photography tips for those who are just starting out?
Jacob: The only tip I really feel qualified to give is to experiment with your composition and shoot your subject from a few different angles and settings. When you go back to look at them, try to pick your favorite and put some thought into why you liked it best. Your photography skills and resulting photos will continuously improve this way.
Do you have any advice for those thinking about buying a truck camper and living off-grid?
Jacob: A new truck and camper can easily set you back six figures. That’s a lot of money that could easily fund several years of full-time travel, so be honest with yourself about your priorities and what you can really afford. I feel like buying used and letting someone else take the biggest depreciation hit should be the right move for most people, but I try not to judge. If you want to get into boondocking for more than a couple of days at a time, upgrade your battery bank, and install a solar system right away. Generator noise sucks.