Rig building is one trend that’s definitely on the rise in the truck camper community. But building-out rigs isn’t just about properly matching a truck camper with a truck—as critically important as that is—it’s the process of making the truck more capable and dependable. One overland build that recently caught our eye is a rig built by Michael Kosmas, consisting of a 2019 Ford F-450 and a 2019 Cirrus 920. The most noticeable thing about Michael’s rig is that the dual rear wheels have been removed from the truck and that it sports beadlock rims with massive, size-41 tires. This trend of converting the dual rear wheels to single rear wheels appears to be on the rise in the truck camper community, especially with overlanders.
What was the inspiration for such a build? The same rig that inspires so many of us in the truck camper community—the Earthroamer XV-LTS. “I have an off-road background with motocross and building off-road trucks and Jeeps,” Michael explained. “I just kind of like traveling, so when I saw my first Earthroamer in 2011, I was thinking this is way better than a motorhome. I went camping when I was younger in a class-C motorhome, but being into lifted trucks, the Earthroamer is the best of both worlds. That’s when I was originally exposed to the whole overland thing. I was originally going to get a Jeep and a trailer, but with the kind of work I ended up doing, it didn’t make sense to have a trailer that I would have to end up moving from RV park to RV park. I wanted something that I could stay anywhere that was one vehicle.”
Like the designers at Earthroamer, Michael decided to ditch the dual rear wheels on his Ford F-450. This is because dual rear wheels are prone to flats and don’t track as well off-road as single rear wheel trucks. So why go to the trouble and expense of buying an F-450, and removing the dual rear wheels, when a F-350 SRW pickup truck would’ve sufficed for his 3,200-pound camper? Several things. Michael, who works as a natural gas pipeline welding/coating inspector, needed the superior turning radius of a wide track front axle, something the Ford F-450 has. He also needed a truck with larger brakes and axles to handle not only the weight of the camper, but also the weight involved when towing his 5,500-pound Ford Raptor. Lastly, he needed a truck with 10-lug axles and wheels to legally haul the total weight of the camper while towing. Fully loaded, his rig weighs only 13,100 pounds, well within the 14,000 GVWR of his truck.
How difficult was it to convert the rear axle of the truck from duals to singles? “The conversions are very basic. They’re a very easy thing to put on a truck. You just take the two wheels off of the back and you put a different single wheel on the axle that has a different offset, there are no adapters, no spacers, no nothing. It’s super simple. So after doing research and having a welding and fabricating background building off-road trucks, I was like, I will just buy a truck and build it myself.”
Michael went all-out modifying his truck, paying particular attention to the truck’s suspension. He equipped it with a DBL Design 2.5-inch lift with Fox shocks. He also beefed up the rear suspension with a custom Atlas rear suspension leaf pack arch +2 and added six additional leafs over stock. Michael also modified the front fenders, the fire wall, and the rear truck bed to allow for full up-travel and articulation with no bump stop extension of any kind needed. He also re-geared the axles from the stock 4:30 to 4:88 and installed a Banks Derringer programmer. Like the Earthroamer XV-LTS, the truck is equipped with DBL forged aluminum beadlock 20 x 10-inch rims with Continental MPT-81 41-inch mud-terrain tires. He currently runs 75 psi 100 percent of the time. They get so much traction, he says, that he rarely has a need to air down. Cosmetically, Michael painted all the chrome black to include the grill, door handles, window trim, and mirror caps. He also had the OEM headlights painted black and removed the orange side markers.
Michael’s approach to mounting the spare tire using a rear hitch extension is simple and unique. “The spare tire setup couldn’t have worked out better, he said. “I thought I was going to have to build a hitch/swing setup that would be in my way every time I got in and out of the camper. With needing the ability to tow I purchased the Torklift 30k-pound hitch receiver with SuperTruss 36-inch hitch extension. After installing I noticed I had a gap between the extension and the bottom of the camper deck. After some measuring and minor trimming I was able to fit the tire between them and have both low easy access and being completely out of the way. Overall, I don’t have any concerns about the departure angle. I have 24-inches of clearance from the bottom of the hitch. With the hitch extension the rear overhang is 2-feet less than an Earthroamer. I also have a 2-foot shorter wheelbase and 5-foot shorter total length.
So if the Earthroamer was Michael’s inspiration, why didn’t he buy a Ford F-550, the chassis that Earthroamer uses in its luxury expedition vehicles, and put the camper on a flatbed with service boxes? “The F-550 and F-450 are really the same truck,” he said. “The F-550 has the same chassis, same brakes, same axles. Really the main difference is that the F-550 has a detuned engine with a smaller turbo that makes less power. At the end of the day, I would love to have an Earthroamer, but honestly, since following them since 2011 and seeing their prices more than double basically, I couldn’t justify paying that kind of money. It just isn’t practical. With the money I spent to build this completely out, it would’ve been a down payment and I would’ve had a payment for 20 years.”
So how does the rig perform off-road? “Initially, with the block lift in the rear, I was not impressed with how it did off-road,” Michael said. “Spending the money on a custom rear leaf pack for additional travel and progressive feel has been the most noticeable modification. I have been speeding up through bumps and dips to try and bottom out the rear and it doesn’t. I went from sitting on the overload with only 2.5-inch of up travel to being 2 inches off of the overload spring and having 7 inches of up-travel with the camper on the truck. The truck drives great now, no noticeable increase in body roll and the camper and Torklift Fastguns make far far less noise over bumps and dips. Also I had a full Kelderman Air Ride System on the Sportsmobile van I owned previously (front and rear-no coils or leafs). I was not a fan of how it did off-road. This setup is far more predictable and has more articulation. I feel more comfortable off-roading in this even with it being twice the size.”
A great truck camper rig needs not only a capable truck, but also an equally capable truck camper. Michael wanted a camper that was stylish, yet provided everything he needed to live in it full-time without the liability and weight associated with slide-outs. Ranked number one by Truck Camper Adventure in a recent article, the nuCamp Cirrus 920 checked off all of those boxes and then some. Featuring unique aesthetics and European styling, the Cirrus 920 offers a host of innovations not found in other long-bed campers like the Alde hydronic heating system, a whisper-quiet water heater furnace combination unit that saves on both weight and space, the Froli Modular Sleep System, and a space-saving folding bathroom sink. But this 2,905-pound camper provides more than just good looks and innovation, it also features a spacious 10-foot 1-inch floorplan with a large wet-bath, a queen-size north-south bed, a face-to-face dinette, a massive wardrobe, and a large kitchenette with a Thetford three-way, 5-cubic foot refrigerator.
“I went with the Cirrus 920 for several different reasons,” he said. “One, the weight, width, and aluminum construction. Two, the modern interior feel over the traditional manufactures. Three, it was one of very few non slide-out campers with a built-in generator for long-bed campers. Four, the dual thermopane windows with built-in screen/blinds, and five, the Alde.”
Of all of the nuCamp innovations, the Alde is one of the company’s most popular. Imported from Europe, the Alde hydronic heating system not produces hot water, but also heats the entire camper, similar to another product that is starting to catch on in the RV industry, the Truma Combi. When it comes to truck camper storage, you can never have enough. The Alde water heater furnace helps with this in a major way by taking up half the space of a traditional RV furnace and water heater. The Alde is also quiet, producing only a “percolating” sound, a far cry from the traditional RV furnace, which roars like a jet engine.
Like many truck camper owners, Michael outfitted his camper for off-grid use. His Cirrus 920 is equipped with 220 watts of solar that he uses to charge his two 6 volt AGM batteries and his Goal Zero Yeti 1000 during the day. The camper is also equipped with a Cummins Onan 2500 LP generator that he uses essentially as a backup battery charger and to run the air conditioner when needed.
As a full-timer, why didn’t Michael get a camper with one or more slide-outs for the extra living space? Two important reasons, reliability and stealth. “The reliability of not having a slide and being able to get in and out without sliding it in and out, from a stealth camping perspective, was important to me. If you’re in it in a parking lot, you’re not as noticeable, and you don’t have to worry about it breaking down and you don’t have to open and close it if you want to get in,” he said.
How much did Michael invest in his low-budget Earthroamer? “I paid about a quarter of the price of an Earthroamer, about $130k,” he explained. “I paid less than invoice for the truck, getting a 2019 two months before the 2020’s came out, it was an on-the-lot truck. The Cirrus camper had been sitting at a dealer in Arizona for almost a year, I got $9,000 off on that. So if you add in everything I actually spent, ordering the kit, putting them on myself, having a friend paint parts for it, I’m in at less than $130k counting all of the random stuff like the modifications, headlights, and the Goal Zero. A lot of it really comes down to negotiation, when you buy, what you buy, who you know, and how much you do yourself.”
So what does the future hold for Michael? “As far as long-term, depending on what happens and how long I do this, I would still love to have an Earthroamer or an Global Expedition Vehicle. Those are both manufacturers that I looked at and talk to and was really considering. I just didn’t go that route because it’s three to four times more money, so I’m going to keep doing this with this setup, and maybe down the road I’ll end up in something like that, but right now, this is working out just fine for me,” he said.