One thing readily apparent to anyone on social media is the growing popularity of truck campers. Skyrocketing sales nationwide provide ample evidence of this fact. Fortunately, when it comes to truck campers, consumers have a plethora of choices. One brand in high-demand right now is Northern Lite. Built in British Columbia, the fiberglass, highly insulated clam-shell construction helps make it an excellent four season camper. Yes, we’d love to see a smaller, mid-size Northern Lite model, yet the company has been doing just fine producing truck campers for full-size, heavy-duty trucks. In this article, Marine Corps veteran, Les Weingarten, tells us about his rig featuring a Northern Lite 10-2, a long-bed camper made for one-ton trucks. Les loves truck campers. He started his truck camper adventures in high school with a 1949 F-100 pickup truck with a camper shell mounted on top. Later, he progressed to a 1995 F-350 4×4 with a used Bigfoot truck camper before buying his Northern Lite 10-2. There’s no doubt about it, Les’ matching Ford-Northern Lite-SherpTek Rig is built for adventure.
Thanks, Les, for talking with us. How long have you owned your Northern Lite truck camper?
Les Weingarten: It has been two years since in April 2019, I purchased this used 2016 Northern Lite 10-2 Special Edition truck camper. It came standard with a 100 watt solar panel and two 6 volt AGM Batteries.
Can you tell us about your camper and why you chose that make and model?
Les Weingarten: I purchased a used Bigfoot 2500 truck-camper and enjoyed it’s use for 20 years. I liked their workmanship quality and its reliability. Bigfoot and Northern Lite campers are known for their four-season design and being equipped to handle low temperatures that I typically see when camping, hunting, and fishing in the mountains. On the flip side they are also well insulated to fend-off the desert heat as well. Yes, they’re expensive. I have an old saying, “buy once, cry once.” I was fortunate to find this used 2016 Northern Lite 10-2 SE at the time when I was about to pull the trigger on buying a new one.
How do you like your Northern Lite 10-2 camper? What are your favorite features?
Les Weingarten: I love my Northern Lite 10-2 camper. My favorite feature is being able to run my CPAP for breathing at night. Because if you do not sleep with a CPAP after years of using one every night, you will not have a good night sleep. I really like the upgrade to lithium batteries and I no longer have the refrigerator low voltage intermittent interruption issue. And it is so convenient to just plug into your 110 volt AC outlets powered by the 2,000 watt inverter.
What mods have you made to your Northern Lite truck camper to make it your own?
Les Weingarten: The first thing I did was add two more 100 watt solar panels to the roof, giving me 300 watts total solar power. Then we installed an Onan propane-fired 2,000 watt generator to the camper. The generator is needed if you are not hooked to shore power and require using the air Conditioner or microwave oven. Several additional USB and 110 volt AC power ports were installed up along side the front bed. My wife, Julie, likes running a small fan at night during sleeping, and I require connecting and running my CPAP at night. I found that the 100 amp hour AGM batteries did not provide enough capacity for weekend trips. My refrigerator would go into check mode often when the voltage dropped too low. I usually carried several coolers and ice for the extra capacity for cold storage. I prefer not having to use ice. I purchased a 67-quart, low-profile 12 volt refrigerator-freezer and built a slide-out system where it is mounted on my truck camper’s side.
While at SherpTek, the two AGM camper batteries were swapped out for two LifeBlue lithium (LiFePO4) batteries, giving me a 200 amp hour usable capacity. They also installed a 2,000 watt inverter with a transfer relay. When not on shore power, the inverter runs all the AC outlets to be 110 volt 24/7. The battery system is controlled by Victron Energy Management System. A phone-app for the LifeBlue batteries shows their charged status and history of usage. The Victron Connect phone-app manages their overall energy usage.
SherpTek also replaced the front camper jack brackets with Northern Lite’s updated design brackets. The new brackets have a bolstered design that added several structural gussets to make it more rigid to better support the camper using six-inch side extensions in order to clear the 35-inch diameter dually rear tires. They also designed and added a new front tie-down bracket to the Northern Lite’s inner side wall to accommodate a better tie-down location within the SherpTek bed system. Lastly, they installed a SherpTek Packhorse, a storage product that attaches to the camper’s ladder. The Packhorse is used to carry recovery gear such as a Hi-Jack Lift, shovel, and traction mats. It can also be used as a stretcher (injured person transport) if needed.
You mentioned your visit at SherpTek. We love the matching SherpTek truck bed you had built for it. Can you tell us more about it?
Les Weingarten: When it came time to choose a color scheme for the bed system, I wanted the matching colors to go with the truck. The truck’s lower gold accent color was in-line with the SherpTek bed boxes, so we wanted these compartment boxes to match the gold accent of the truck. The bed and upper sides were to match the color white of the truck’s body color. By chance, these colors tied in nicely with the accents of the Northern Lite truck camper. The Result? It does look sexy. You know, there are two things that are important to Marines. First thing is mission accomplishment. Second thing is to look good doing it.
Why did you decide to go with a matching SherpTek truck bed? Was it the good looks of the design or the functionality of it?
Les Weingarten: Well, I like Ryan Goodwin and Rebecca Schultze. Since I live in Phoenix, Arizona and they are located in Eugene, Oregon, a degree of rapport and level of trust was established prior to our final decision to start the build process. Basically, I like how their finished product looks and its functionality. It’s a pleasing type of look, like the lines on a boat or an aircraft. Not “boxy,” if you know what I mean.
We agree. You mentioned additional work that SherpTek did. What exactly did they do?
Les Weingarten: Lots of things. They installed a Buckstop front bumper with 18K Super Winch, PIIA Lights, and Spare Tire. They also installed Hellwig Big Wig Sway Bars front and rear, a Nelson Fifth Wheel Goose Neck Towing System integrated into SherpTek bed, an ARB twin compressor system with side ports, ARB differential lockers front and rear, and a Crossfire Tire Balancing System with TPMS.
You had a lot of work done at SherpTek. How long did they take to do everything?
Les Weingarten: I met Ryan Goodwin and Rebecca Schultze, the owners of SherpTek, at the 2019 Overland Expo in Flagstaff and we started planning the build order in May 2019. Albeit the 2019 SEMA show delayed getting my truck scheduled into the SherpTek Eugene Oregon’s shop until the middle of December 2019. I delivered the truck with Northern Lite camper to SherpTek in December 2019. The build was completed July 20, 2020. To be fair this build included several additional items in addition to the SherpTek bed system. Plus, these types of builds are somewhat customized and inherently there are flaws or problems that are identified and require additional work to be addressed. Such was the case with my setup.
Can you tell us about the stinger you’re using for towing?
Les Weingarten: I have a Torklift Super Hitch system that enables me the ability to tow 20,000 pounds using the SuperHitch 40-inch Truss Extension. This device extends the tow hitch ball joint out past the truck camper’s rear bumper. The draw-back when towing is that the camper’s rear entrance drop-down ladder is hindered. My solution? I use a step ladder or stool to aid in stepping up and down, or I disconnect the trailer and move the truck forward a few feet to better use the truck camper’s ladder, just like we did at the Truck Camper Adventure Rally.
What upgrades did you make to your truck? Did you need to make any upgrades to your suspension?
Les Weingarten: Yes. I had SDHQ in Gilbert, Arizona install an Icon Vehicle Dynamics Stage 4 Coil-Over Conversion 4.5-inch Suspension Lift, custom heavy-duty rear leaf springs, rear air bags, 35-inch Nitto Ridge Grappler tires on 20-inch aluminum rims. I also had them replace the OEM fuel tank with a Titan 57-gallon fuel tank, and install a Titan 30-gallon auxiliary fuel tank. I also had them install Kevlar braided stainless steel brake lines and Ford Super Duty AMP Steps. I also had another shop, Cliff’s Welding in Mesa, install a second spare tire mounting bracket under my camper’s rear underside.
We love your Buckstop bumper. What model is it?
Les Weingarten: We selected the aluminum Extreme Duty BuckStop Front bumper with a Talon 18SR super winch installed.
Do you have any engine air-flow issues with the front tire mounted in the front?
Les Weingarten: None. There is sufficient gap between tire and engine grille. Albeit I also use 100 percent synthetic lubricants in the diesel engine and gear oils. Synthetic lubricants help in reducing friction and the heat created from the operating engine.
Do you have any regrets in any of your truck and camper choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Les Weingarten: It’s a little too early to tell what likes and dislikes I have so far. I’m just getting started to use the truck camper with its new systems, but had I known the extent of the suspension system modifications required to accommodate my needs on this 2011 F-350, I might have looked at a Ford F-550 instead. I might have considered a gas engine over a diesel. At present, I am very satisfied that my truck is now equipped for where I want to venture. Now it’s time to just get out there.
What kind of mileage are you getting with your setup?
Les Weingarten: I’m getting about 10 mpg.
What wheel and tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Les Weingarten: I needed additional clearance. So, I installed 35-inch diameter Nitto Ridge Grappler AT tires mounted on Fuel 20-inch aluminum rims. I have two spares because one isn’t enough once you get a flat out in the boonies. I run 70 psi tire pressure all around. The rear wheels are equipped with the Crossfire tire balancing system, with TPMS.
Now that everything is done, what kind of places are you planning to visit in your truck camper rig?
Les Weingarten: If I get drawn for elk hunting in Arizona this year, I will be out scouting and hunting this fall. My wife enjoys exploring remote areas that have ruins and old historical sites of interest. We are also planning side-trips through Moab, and Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks as we make trips to Denver to visit our Daughter. Once things open-up, I would like to go through British Columbia, Canada and on up through Alaska.