When I open the doors of my truck camper for show, people are astounded I travel with the gear that I do. My rig is a 2014 Eagle from Four Wheel Camper (FWC) mounted on a 2007 Ford Ranger. In keeping with my minimalist style, I sought out the smallest and lightest slide-in truck camper available for the back of my Ranger.
I’ve always had a knack for packing. My first trip abroad was in 1970 back when kids didn’t have many opportunities to travel internationally. I remember my mother teaching me how to pack, rolling T-shirts and underwear, using every space available to her in the suitcase. Later as a sergeant in the army, I commanded a section of eight soldiers and I was responsible for all of our equipment in and out of our armored fighting vehicle. As a paratrooper, I jumped out of aircraft carrying all the gear necessary to fight and survive for 72 hours on battlefields from the arctic to the desert. If you didn’t pack it, you didn’t need it or if you did need it and you didn’t pack it, you went without! Necessity is a great motivator and lessons learned from those years of packing and using storage space efficiently, remain with me today.
From those lessons learned, I developed a few planning principles to help guide decision-making when packing small and living large. They are: be creative, use space wisely, functionality over form, and if you don’t need it, don’t take it. After time, these principles became innate whether I was packing an overnight bag for a work trip or packing my truck camper for a season’s worth of adventure.
Think outside the box when it comes to planning and using space for storage. The only limit to packing solutions is one’s own imagination. If creativity is not your strong suit, seek out the advice of others in similar situations. Solutions exist and people with experience are always there to help. Social media has multiple resources for groups who share our passion, including this site.
The newer FWC have two polymer based scissor supports which raise and lower the roof, one at the front and one at the back. Seeing the space left open when the roof was open and closed as an opportunity for storage, I devised a system which would not impede the operation of the support but would make use of the support for storage. I ended up riveting modular lightweight load-carrying equipment (MOLLE) pouches onto the polymer support that would hang into an open space when folded and sit upright and accessible when the roof was raised.
Use Space Wisely
An old army saying goes, “Take care of the little problems and the big problems will sort themselves out.” As much as soldiers don’t like to admit, the saying holds up to scrutiny. Apply the same logic to packing small and using space wisely. For example, if you lack space for large kitchen equipment, ensure smaller pieces like kitchen utensils can be folded, clipped together or stored inside each other to save space. If this step is applied to all smaller kitchen equipment, you will create an excess of space for other larger kitchen items.
Functionality Over Form
The ability of equipment to perform a function should always take precedent when packing or designing storage for your truck camper. Pretty rigs in showrooms at SEMA may win prizes, but when it’s -40 degrees Celsius and you are in your rig in the backcountry, you need to know where your gear is and how to access it easily.
It would be nice to keep a truck in it’s original form, especially for resale value, but that’s not my style. Using the space behind the seats in the extended cab to carry extra gear in bags became such a laborious and unorganized tasked, I ripped out the bench seats, carpeted the space and built a custom storage rack to suit my needs. The storage rack holds all my truck accessories (winch kit, survival kit, tire repair kit, air compressor), tools (socket set, wrench set, impact driver and drill) and camera gear stored in a variety of readily available hardened plastic cases. The coup de grace is a tool bench drawer installed as an integral component of the storage rack which slides in and out holding a camera with a large zoom lens.
If You Don’t Need It, Don’t Take It
Pragmatism, concerning packing and using storage space wisely, boils down to one simple concept; if you don’t need it, don’t take it. Vise versa if you need it, take it, but tailor it to the mission. For example, my kayak is usually mission essential equipment. Having said that, the idea of a roof rack never appealed to me for various reasons so I have a 17-foot folding expedition boat packed behind the passenger seat in the front cab.
Most truck camper owners I meet are a pretty cool breed. Not all are hard-core adventurers, but many have varied travel experience and have settled into truck camping after experiencing many other forms of travel. Most truck camper owners know what they need to live comfortably out of a truck camper for the duration of their trip and the majority will tell you what they have and don’t really need.
I once told my brother I was thinking about replacing my truck bed with a flatbed equipped with aluminum storage boxes for my truck camper. His reaction was blunt. “You don’t need all the stuff other people carry. You know how to do without.” His statement was very much true, but I was caught up in the, “he who hangs the most gear off his truck wins,” mantra. His observation brought me swiftly back to reality and I saved me $5,000 to $8,000 when I really didn’t need to! Needless to say, for a moment, I forgot my principles to pack small and live large.
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Martin’s travel photography can be viewed at: https://www.travelbagphotography.com