One of the things that makes Truck Camper Adventure different from the competition is our preference for owner reviews. This approach helps ensure an independent voice and that our reviews aren’t bought and paid for. The latest review comes from Scott Sichler who has written several reviews and articles previously for Winnebago and Xscapers. In his review of the Northstar 850SC, Scott pulls no punches on what he likes and doesn’t like about the slide-in pop-up. We hope you enjoy it.
From Motorhome to Truck Camper
We have been RVing in Baja, Mexico since 2016 and enjoy staying there each year. But the size and length of our Winnebago motorhome and Jeep Wrangler was always a concern. We love Baja, and even bought a one bedroom Casita in Mulege with an RV pad, but didn’t love driving our 8.5-foot wide RV down the narrow, winding roads of the Baja peninsula with a Jeep in tow. In all, the total length of the pair was a whopping 56 feet.
Last year, we left the “Bago” behind and took a road trip with our Jeep and camping gear to some more remote locations in Baja California Sur. The highlight of the trip was a week in the little fishing village of Agua Verde. During our almost perfect—I say almost because our tent was almost blown over one night—we met a couple on the beach with a Hallmark pop-up camper and got a chance to tour their rig and talk to them about their travels. That chance meetup had a big impact on the two of us. While we both loved our Bago, we were ready to downsize and change things up.
When we got back from Baja, we started researching pop-up campers. The Hallmark we looked at turned out to be a little out of our budget, and had a long wait-time to delivery. On the other hand, the Northstar 850SC had similar features like a north-south bed, cassette toilet, and layout, with a good reputation for quality, but at a lower price point. The pandemic made it a bit tricky to find a camper, but we managed to put a refundable deposit down on one that had been allocated to a dealer for delivery in the summer of 2022. During our wait, an almost new 2021 model with most of the options we had ordered turned-up for sale on RVTrader in Austin, Texas, near where my wife’s father lived. He inspected it for us and reported that it was in excellent condition as specified in the listing. We were still in Baja at the time, but we wired him the money and had him purchase it before it was sold to another eager buyer.
Then came the truck. The year 2022 proved to be challenging for truck buying with sky-high used prices and supply chain shortages affecting new inventory. In the spring, we finally decided on ordering a 4×4 crew cab Ram 2500 with the gas 6.4L engine through a dealer in Oregon. As optioned, the truck provides a GVWR of 10,000 pounds and a payload of 3,238 pounds, which is more than enough for our Northstar 850SC pop-up. In order to carry the camper, we added TorkLift tie-downs and Fastgun turnbuckles, and a set of air bags to keep the rig level.
Northstar 850SC Exterior
Let’s start with the Northstar 850SC exterior. Ours came with the factory installed options of a rear awning, electric jacks, and detachable wrap around rear with two storage bins for short bed trucks. The 6-foot Fiamma roll-out rear awning is great in theory, but turns out to be a two-person operation best suited for two NBA centers or when the camper is on the ground. The storage bins are small (especially when compared to our cavernous Winnebago), but are actually very usable with a few tips from our “vanlife” friends like getting a collapsible water hose. We also built a shelf in the back seat of our truck for extra storage. The other feature we really like is the outside shower. Northstar provides a hose and we bought an adjustable garden nozzle that works great on shower mode for spraying-off sandy feet or taking a quick, save-the-grey-tank-shower outside.
Northstar 850SC Specifications
Prospective buyers of the Northstar 850SC will want to take a close look at the specifications and options to see if the camper will work with their truck. For short-bed trucks, a “detachable wrap” option provides welcome storage boxes in the side skirts. With this option, the Northstar 850SC will fit a standard short-bed truck, but the storage boxes can be removed in the future to fit a long-bed truck. Northstar is actually one of the few companies to offer this excellent feature and they should be commended for it. Unfortunately, long-bed truck owners do not have the outside storage boxes.
With a wood frame, the Northstar 850SC is well-built, but it’s not exactly light. The official dry weight is 1,785 pounds, which is a low enough number, yet the official manufacturer sticker lists the wet weight as 2,375 pounds with standard equipment, 30 gallons of water, one 20-pound propane tank, and a 3.7 cubic foot refrigerator. Our options weigh around 241 pounds, so overall, the weight is well-suited for our 3/4-ton truck with plenty of payload to spare.
Northstar 850SC Interior
As you pass through the hobbit-size door, the wet-bath is on the right. A half-wall separates the wet-bath from the rest of the camper with a curtain for privacy. The 5-gallon Thetford cassette toilet works well for two people. The cassette probably weighs about 40 pounds full, yet is pretty convenient to empty into a standard toilet or one of the nasty Baja pit toilets we wouldn’t want to use. Most of the places we camped at on the beach in Baja didn’t have a dump station, but did have some kind of bathroom where you could dump the cassette. The shower part of the wet-bath is okay once you remove the floor section, and put up an extra curtain over the door. In warmer weather, we actually prefer using the outdoor shower.
The kitchen, of course, is small yet functional. Storage is adequate with some major downsizing and our camper came with optional overhead cabinets above the kitchen and dinette, which are very nice to have. The camper came with an upgraded sink with glass cover, dish rack and tub. Fellow Northstar owners raved about this option, but we found it to be a bit gimmicky and not very useful because it took up precious counter space due to the location of the faucet. The tub and micro dish rack eventually found their way into storage.
The two-burner stove with the cast-iron grate is attractive, but because the grate isn’t secured and the cover doesn’t lock into place, the grate can turn into a projectile on rough roads. We learned this the hard way in Baja when we hit a pretty big bump on an unpaved road north of San Jose del Cabo. The grate launched into the side of the galley by the refrigerator, cracked and dented the side-wall, yet somehow didn’t break the glass cover as it came crashing down. The thin plywood of the bottom of the hanging closet didn’t fair as well and neither did a bottle of tequila we had stored there. Don’t worry, we had backup tequila.
The Dometic CR110 DC refrigerator is a terrific option. The fridge works well, is very energy efficient, and we don’t have to worry about running it off-level, which is nice. 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 countertop space to the kitchen during meal prep, which is always welcome.
The Northstar 850SC dinette seats two comfortably. The front cushion is larger and a more comfortable space to spread out on while the back cushion is very narrow and usable by a smaller person. The Lagun table, with it’s sometimes confounding pivots, is good for a laptop workspace and eating, but relegates the middle cushion as a storage space since the arm prevents anyone of size from sitting there. Under the front dinette seat is the 30 gallon water tank, which we have found to be very adequate for dry camping with conservation. We also usually carry two 7-gallon drinking jugs—we never drink from the camper’s holding tank, especially when we are in Mexico.
Next to the 30 gallon water tank is the battery compartment space that has a removable top cover and front cabinet door. We were happy to be able to squeeze in 300 amp hour LiFePO4 lithium battery in the compartment. We also added a Renogy 50 amp DC-DC charger with MPPT solar controller on a shelf we made above the battery. The unit is fed power from two Renogy 175 watt flexible panels on the roof with 4-gauge wires that run to truck battery. The system is monitored through a Renogy BT-2 Bluetooth module and a Victron BMV-712 battery monitor. We are very happy with the system and went almost 1.5 months this winter in Baja without having to plug-in once.
One thing we would like to add is a full-size inverter, but haven’t found space for one. We do have a PSW inverter that we plug into 12 volt “cigarette lighter” plug, but it is limited to 140 watts. Our Starlink Internet router draws about 50 watts, so we have to be careful when charging laptops. The camper came with a WFCO lithium compatible converter-charger that provides a 25-amp charge to the battery when connected to shore power. Next to the converter-charger are switches for the power roof, battery disconnect, water heater, and two unlabeled on-off switches. With a little help from the Northstar owner’s Facebook group we found out the two switches are for the water pump and outside LED accent lights. Similarly, Northstar provides a large bag of individual component owner’s manual, but no owner’s manual for the camper itself.
Getting up to the cab over bed can be a bit of a challenge. We suspect the previous owner had some mobility issues and discovered this was just too much for him, which was the reason why he eventually sold it. We found the 6-inch gel memory foam mattress to be a little stiff, so we added a 3-inch memory foam topper, which makes it much nicer but does take away some of the head room when sitting up in bed. The bed lifts up on gas struts and has a ton of storage underneath. There are also two hamper storage cabinets on both sides of the bed allowing for a good amount of storage especially with Jaime’s black belt folding skills acquired form working at The Gap in college. The hampers have a very thin top, so putting any amount of weight on them makes it difficult to make the bed.
Ventilation in the camper is excellent with large, zip-down windows and two Maxxair fans—one fan over the kitchen and one over the bed. When these fail to keep us cool, there is a Houghton 13,500 BTU air conditioner we have run a couple of times while on shore power. It’s nice to have, but it’s not a low profile unit, thereby destroying any overlanding cred. A mandatory option on all 2021 and newer models is the “sub-zero” insulation package, which includes an insulated tent, insulated dinette window, and foil-wall insulation. We kept pretty warm down to 15F with snow using a small space heater and the gas furnace, but we haven’t used it enough to know how much gas it consumes.
Northstar 850SC Verdict
Overall build quality of the Northstar 850SC seems to be good. The wiring and plumbing is neat and well-organized. The cabinets and latches are well-built and sturdy. The only issue that we’ve had is with the plastic windows in the soft top—all of the windows have ripped-out on the sides. Another Northstar owner we spoke with on the Facebook group said she had a similar issue with her 2021 model and her dealer told her this was a defect from the vendor, Top Stitch. We have contacted Northstar and are hoping for a resolution.
In closing, we are happy with our Northstar 850SC, despite the issue with the windows. Downsizing to a truck camper has allowed us travel easier and with less stress compared to our old Winnebago. Having the Northstar 850SC has also opened up parts of Baja with an ability to camp in more remote spots, while at the same time still having all of the comforts of home. The camper may not be perfect, but it’s working well for us.
You can follow Scott and Jaime’s continuing truck camper adventures on Instagram @awaywewinnebago.
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