The pop-up truck camper. Nothing beats having a purpose-built truck camper capable of tackling challenging terrain and 4×4 roads. The pop-up truck camper is lighter, offers a lower profile, and provides better fuel mileage compared to a hard-side camper. Yet, its biggest benefit is its ability to go where few recreational vehicles dare. Yes, a good 4WD truck makes these off-road excursions possible, yet without an equally capable camper, you’re limited where you can go. That’s why we decided to pull the trigger on a pop-up truck camper. They’re simply isn’t a more capable camper when it comes to extreme off-roading than a pop-up.
With so many outstanding manufacturers building pop-up campers today, finding the right one can be a challenge. All have their pros and cons with varying price points and features. Yet, when it comes to building pop-up campers, nobody builds a more recognizable pop-up than Four Wheel Campers. As a matter of fact, the company has been building pop-up campers since 1972 when Dave Rowe started the company. Many of the original campers built by Dave are still on the road. We saw several at the recent Four Wheel Camper Rally. Today, Four Wheel Campers is a major force in the industry with a growing dealership network and a reputation that is second to none. As of this writing, the company sells nine models: five traditional slide-in campers, three flatbed models, and one truck topper. Being our first pop-up, we decided to go with the Grandby, the largest slide-in model in the Four Wheel Camper catalog.
With a dry weight of 1,275 pounds and a floor-length of 8 feet, the Grandby comes in three floorplans: a rollover couch, side dinette, and a front dinette (a flatbed version of the Grandby is offered as well). We opted for the front-dinette floorplan to accommodate work on the road and anytime the grandkids want to join us. The front dinette floorplan features an east-west cabover bed with a pull-out extension for a 64×77-inch queen-side bed, a large front dinette, a small kitchen with a pantry/closet on the driver side, and a refrigerator and toilet on the passenger side. Overall, the interior is surprisingly roomy for a pop-up camper, no doubt aided by the camper’s high interior ceiling of 6 feet 6 inches.
Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers makes a quality camper that will last for decades. Every Four Wheel Camper features a welded aluminum frame with block foam insulation. The exterior features either a smooth or a ribbed aluminum topped with an insulated aluminum roof for extra strength and durability. Numerous exterior colors are offered to accomodate any taste. Like an airplane, the Four Wheel Camper’s aluminum frame is built to flex, providing greater strength and durability off-road where most of us like to take our campers. Aluminum offers greater resistance to moisture as well. If you know anything about old campers, wood is often the weak point where rot often sets in without proper maintenance.
The Four Wheel Camper Grandby is a very capable and comfortable pop-up. Standard features include a 20 gallon fresh water holding tank, two 10-pound propane tanks, a two-burner propane cooktop, a kitchen sink with a 12 volt water pump, and mechanical jacks to load and unload the camper. The company offers an impressive number of options as well. Of these, we ordered the Dometic 12,000 BTU furnace, a Dometic 85L DC Compressor Refrigerator, a Thetford C224 Cassette Toilet, and a Girard On-Demand Water Heater with outside shower. We also had the camper outfitted with the latest technology, including two Dakota 12 volt 135 amp hour lithium batteries, a roof rack, two Overland Solar 160 watt roof-top solar panels, and a Redarc Manager 30, which handles multiple battery charging inputs including one from the DC-DC charger. More about the Redarc Manager 30 later.
The tie-down system that Four Wheel Campers uses offers several advantages over the standard truck camper tie-down system. Rather than employing traditional frame-mounted tie-downs that can be unsightly and a liability off-road, Four Wheel Campers uses four bed-mounted I-bolts to keep the camper secure to the truck. Each 3/8-inch I-bolt is rated for 1,300 pounds with each reinforced with thick plates underneath for extra strength and durability. Mounting the I-bolts in the bed means that the turnbuckles are hidden and are in no way a hindrance when driving off-road. If you’ve ever had a tie-down snag a tree or a large rock you know how much of a bummer this can be.
Unlike most truck camper companies, which use a standard seven-wire plug and six wires, Four Wheel Campers uses a three-wire, heavy-duty “trolling motor” plug. Why are only three wires used instead of six? Because the Four Wheel Camper design incorporates the truck’s rear lighting when the camper is mounted so these aren’t needed on the back of the camper. The only wires used are the running lights, the ground, and the charge wire, which is connected to the Redarc Manager 30 for DC-DC battery charging while you drive. Four Wheel Campers uses 8 AWG wire to ensure you get an excellent charge each and every time that you drive.
FWC Grandby Specifications
The Four Wheel Camper Grandby is surprisingly light for a long-bed camper. The official dry weight is 1,275 pounds for the front dinette model and after taking our rig to a CAT scale, we confirmed the accuracy of that figure. With options, our Grandby weighs 1,480 pounds dry, but this doesn’t include a full water tank and gear. Fully loaded, the camper weighs approximately 1,700 pounds. This means any full-size, long-bed truck can haul the Grandby, including regular cab half-ton trucks like the Ford F-150 and any 3/4-ton like our 2003 Ford F-250.
The interior of our Four Wheel Camper Grandby is both functional and attractive. The interior consists of solid plywood/birch veneer cabinets, “Caprice Truffle” seat cushions, and contrasting dark countertops. A major consideration in any truck camper is storage, and the Grandby has a surprising amount of it for a pop-up. Storage “nooks” can be found underneath the dinette platform, in the dinette seats, behind the toilet, and above the refrigerator. There’s even a compartment large enough to use as a pantry near the door. Unfortunately, the Grandby, like most Four Wheel Campers, doesn’t have much storage outside, meaning owners will need to supplement the storage by using the backseat, which is what we do with our crew cab Ford F-250. The company, however, does offer a roof rack option, which can easily be accessed before the top is raised.
The centerpiece of our Grandby is the front dinette. At 72×46 inches, the dinette is large and can seat four adults comfortably for meals and games. The dinette, of course, can also double as a bed, meaning you can sleep three to four adults in the camper or two adults and three little ones. The storage areas found underneath the dinette seats and underneath the dinette table are cavernous and provide the largest storage areas inside the camper. While, the dinette area is large and comfortable, and provide the largest amount of storage in the camper, there is a downside with its design. Namely, the back dinette cushions effectively block the dinette windows inside the camper, thus eliminating any benefits of even having them. Are these windows even worth having? Probably not. The wall space would probably be better served by having small shelves or small storage cabinets mounted in their place instead.
When it comes to sleeping, the Grandby’s cabover bunk is versatile. The bunk can be used either in a simple east-west configuration or as a 64×77-inch queen in a north-south arrangement. For this review, we tried both, and as you’d expect for veteran hard-side owners, we prefer the north-south arrangement as it offers more room. The dinette lends itself to getting into and out of bed, but only when it isn’t occupied. However, for a family of four or five, it’s probably best to stick with an east-west configuration as it allows full use of the dinette.
The Grandby’s kitchen is small yet functional. The two-burner cooktop works well in the confined space with the top doubling as a splatter screen during cooking. We opted for a small stainless steel sink as it works well not only for dish washing, but also for light cleanup including shaving and brushing teeth. The Dometic 85L DC refrigerator works well, but with limited space inside, is best used for short outings lasting only a week or two in duration. The only thing the kitchen lacks is countertop space for meal prep. A sink cover would be particularly welcome. Surprisingly, not having a grey water holding tank hasn’t been an issue. We use a plastic 5-gallon tank for collecting gray water and simply dump it when we dump the cassette.
And speaking of water, while Four Wheel Campers offers an indoor shower option, we opted to go with an outdoor shower instead. We use the Grandby primarily during spring, summer, and fall, so this approach works well for us. We opted to go with the Girard On-Demand Water Heater and honestly, we’re disappointed with its performance. Sure, it provides plenty of hot water, but you have to run the tap for several seconds before the water gets hot. With only a 20 gallon fresh water holding tank, this results in a lot of wasted water, a precious commodity when you’re boondocking in remote locations. Fortunately, Four Wheel Campers is now offering the Truma AquaGo which has a better track record. If the Truma was available when we ordered our camper, we would have opted for it rather than the Girard model.
Of all the options, the Thetford C224 Cassette Toilet is our favorite. Unlike the standard bench-style cassette found in most campers, the Thetford C224 swivels and has a smaller cassette with a 2.75 gallon capacity. The toilet stays hidden behind an attractive curtain and hinged counter top until needed. Having owned three truck campers previously, we prefer the cassette toilet over all other toilet options and wouldn’t own a camper without one. The cassette toilet gives much more freedom on where you can dump. Rather than limiting you to just RV dump stations, which are sometimes difficult to find, the cassette can be dumped practically anywhere like at a campground pit toilet, city park, or interstate rest area bathroom. Moreover, the cassette dumps quickly and is easy to clean.
The only downside going with the cassette toilet option, of course, is that you lose the rear storage cabinets. When it comes to options, there’s usually a tradeoff and this one’s no different. For those who value storage, having storage cabinets is probably better because it features a small storage nook at the bottom large enough to house a portable toilet. To use the toilet, all you need to do is pull it out. Like all options, it really comes down to your requirements and what’s more important to you.
The Dometic refrigerator and vanity are located next to the toilet. The camper comes with an Dometic 85L model and it’s more than adequate for a two-week excursion in the camper. The refrigerator works well, is very energy efficient, and we don’t have to worry about running it off-level, which is nice for boondocking in rough locations. If you opt for a DC refrigerator, you’ll want to make sure you have at least two lithium batteries and a charging system robust enough to keep the batteries charged. Our 320 watt solar power system and DC-DC charger proved to be more than adequate for the job. On top of the refrigerator is a large vanity space that works as a medicine cabinet with a small mirror. When the lid is down the top adds additional countertop space to the kitchen during meal prep, which is always welcome.
Raising and lowering the pop-top is done manually. The roof lift system found in every Four Wheel Camper is the same one that the company’s founder, Dave Rowe, invented in 1972. Instead of a complex mechanism prone to failure, Rowe devised a simple articulating lift panel in the front and back featuring spring-loaded piano hinges. The mechanism for raising and lowering the roof is time-tested and easy to operate. After a couple of outings, we were certifiable experts and were able to setup the camper in less than five minutes. Those with back and shoulder issues, however, might have trouble raising the roof as a bit of resistance is encounted at first. Fortunately, Four Wheel Campers is now offering two automated roof lift options, including a retrofitable interior roof lift model. More about the roof lift options later.
When it comes to the off-grid electrical system, Four Wheel Campers offers a robust system for the Grandby. The camper’s two Dakota 135 amp hour lithium batteries provide more than enough power to run everything, while the 320 watt solar power system and DC-DC charger keep the batteries charged with little difficulty. You’d have to endure a week of cloudless skies and zero driving time, to deplete the batteries.
Managing the camper’s power is the job of the Redarc Manager 30. The unit is capable of performing six functions in one and acts as a DC-DC alternator charger, an MPPT solar charge controller, a 110 volt converter-charger, a battery isolator, and a load disconnect controller. It comes with an excellent remote monitor providing digital readouts and graphics including voltage, power out, and a battery state-of-charge (SOC). Look for a detailed review of the Redarc Manager 30 here at Truck Camper Adventure soon.
Having owned hard-side truck campers only, are there any downsides camping in a pop-up truck camper? Not really. We’ve actually enjoyed camping “closer” to nature. Boondocking in a pop-up is about as close to tent camping as you can get without having to endure the downsides of doing so. With the thin siding, noise can be an issue—especially for those who enjoy camping in OHV areas—yet most who opt for a pop-up camper like the Grandby do so for the solitude and won’t be around others very often anyhow. Our biggest complaint with the camper is the window placement. At my wife’s height at 5 feet 3 inches tall, she can’t see out the plastic windows in the soft top. With the dinette cushions blocking the dinette windows, the only view she can enjoy is out the back door.
Some have reservations camping in a pop-up during winter, but honestly, this has never been a problem for us. We are impressed with the thickness of the soft-sides and wrapped window screens. With the powerful furnace, we’ve been able to camp comfortably in temperatures in the upper teens, though the size of the two 10-pound propane tanks limits you on how many days you can do so. It should be noted here that Four Wheel Campers now offers a quilted insulation kit that affixes to the velcro strip along the top inside for those who plan on doing a lot of winter camping. This is an upgrade that we will be adding soon.
Even though Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers is now supported by several dealerships nationwide, we decided to take delivery at Four Wheel Campers HQ in Woodland, California so we could get a tour of the factory as well. To say we were impressed would be an understatement. The Four Wheel Camper facility is BIG with 140,000 square feet, a work force of 105, and a massive showroom showcasing all of the company’s models. If you’re on the fence about getting a Four Wheel Camper, we highly recommend the factory tour. The tour should allay any doubts you may have about the quality of the camper. Delivery and pick-up at Four Wheel Campers takes about four hours, which includes the installation of the aforementioned I-bolts to secure the camper, pigtail wiring, mounting of the camper, and a complete PDI.
So how well does the Four Wheel Camper Grandby handle on and off pavement? Honestly, we hardly know it’s back there, though this shouldn’t be a surprise for an 8,000-pound diesel pickup like our 2003 Ford F-250. Having owned hard-side campers previously, hauling a lightweight, narrow, low-profile pop-up like the Four Wheel Camper Grandby is a completely different experience and as close to stress free as you can get. Sure, we got “pulled” by a few big rigs on the freeways, but the “pull” was far less that what we’ve experienced before with a hard-side. As expected, the mileage was better too. Hand calculated doing about 70 mph, we get about 17 mpg, though we can probably eek out an additional 1-2 mpg’s doing 65 mph.
Having owned the Grandby for a year now, what mods would we recommend? First and foremost, an inverter is needed to recharge electronic devices and to run a portable induction cooktop. The inverter doesn’t need to be powerful—a 1,500 watt PSW model should be more than sufficient—but for those who work on the road an inverter is needed. Even though the Grandby comes with a large cluster of USB charging ports in the kitchen, we also think another cluster is needed on the opposite side of the camper on the front wall. As it stands right now, 6-foot-long charge cords are needed to charge and use your phones while in bed. Hooks to hang clothes during the night are a necessity as well. For this, we use basic plastic hooks with Velcro on the back. We attach these using the Velcro lining along the top of the camper inside.
Of all the new options now being offered by Four Wheel Campers, we recommend several. First, get the exterior roof lift option. Having this option not only makes campsite setup faster and easier, but also allows an air conditioner to be mounted on the roof. Fortunately, Four Wheel Campers now offers one of the best DC air conditioners in the market: the Nomadic Cooling X2. This low-profile unit weighs only 44 pounds and consumes only 27 amps in the ECO mode. Sure, you’ll need to get two or three lithium batteries to provide the necessary power to run it for several hours a day, but, honestly, we wouldn’t go with any other type of battery than lithium anyway. The pros of lithium far outweigh the cons. As for the other new options being offered by Four Wheel Campers, we also recommend going with the Truma VarioHeat furnace and AquaGo on-demand water heater, and the new underbed storage option.
There’s a reason why Four Wheel Campers sells more pop-up truck campers and that’s apparent the moment you first step inside of one. Quality and attention to detail are evident everywhere from the cabinet latches, plumbing, and wiring to the appliances, fans, and battery charging system. If you’re looking for a large pop-up that can sleep up to four and has the basics you need to camp comfortably, the Grandby is an excellent choice. This is especially true now, with all of the updates the company is now offering. Indeed, when it comes to size, weight, and cost, the Four Wheel Camper Grandby is an excellent value compared to other makes. As a matter of fact, Four Wheel Campers offers more value for the money than any other manufacturer today. As of this writing, the Grandby model price starts at $27,625, the lowest priced, aluminum-framed camper in today’s market. Without reservation, we give the Four Wheel Camper Grandby our highest recommendation. It’s a great, little camper.