Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present another truck camper review written by a guest author. In this insightful and informative piece, Joseph Reeves provides us with a Review of the Capri Retreat truck camper, a hard-side model light enough to be hauled on a half-ton truck.
We’ve had our 2018 Capri Retreat for almost two months, and have spent about half that time with it on the road in a variety of weather and places. With that, it seems that an initial review is in order.
Our previous road trip vehicle was a 2006 Sportsmobile Sprinter. We sold the Sprinter after three years on the road as we were moving into a permanent residence and wanted something that could take its place and serve as a second vehicle. The idea of a truck camper came from the need for a rig that we could use anywhere we wanted to go, and especially those places we felt couldn’t be handled by the Sprinter. The 4×4 Sprinters that had come to market during our road trip were very expensive and as long as our TN1. Domestic 4×4 vans were hard to find and with the whole #vanlife thing having emerged during the past few years, also too expensive.
I drooled over a few Defender 110s with a pop-up, but the reality of living on the wrong side of the world from the parts store and mechanics held sway over that decision.
We moved away from soft-sided pop-ups because of the cold and wet conditions in which we will be using the camper for a part of the year. As luck would have it, the truck camper we had hoped to purchase—Pastime—decided to close it doors the week we wanted to place an order. I recalled reading some good things about Capri Campers and decided to give them a call and see what we could build. I’m so happy it turned out that way because Capri makes a unique truck camper and they build them well.
We like our Capri Retreat, a lot. But it’s not just the camper, it’s also the truck. The 4×4 GMC Sierra with the 6-speed Alison Transmission and haul/tow package is a work horse. And a comfortable one at that. The camper sits nicely on the truck. At 7 feet, it’s longer than the bed, but doesn’t stick out over the bumper. The truck’s length is 18.5 feet which makes two tracks and winding roads simple to maneuver. The camper’s width is perfect, as it doesn’t require the truck to add extended side-view mirrors. The height of the camper and the truck is just about what we were used to in the Sprinter at 9 feet 6 inches.
The camper is comfortable inside without a table, though I’m not sure it would be with one always in place. There is enough room for me to prepare a meal and have two people sitting on the firm cushions provided by Capri. The always-made-bed is a huge advantage over our Sprinter, whose bed had to be stolen each night from the settee.
Storage is more than adequate for two minimalists like us. We had more than enough space for food and gear on our recent two-week trip.
Capri Campers provides a great deal of options and is very easy to work with. Their website build process is the best I’ve seen. The exterior and interior are able to be customized a great deal, and the website shows the results. Communication during the build was exceptional, with daily progress emails and photographs. Our Retreat has no shower, water heater, stove top or table. We spent three years without those items and figured that the occasional month-long trip would not require them either. Capri was willing to install our ARB 50-quart fridge and, as it being the first one they had ever done, figured out a good place to put it and keep it viable for easy removal. Options we chose included a 10-gallon water tank, a 12 volt house battery, a fantastic fan, a few extra windows, and a catalytic heater. We also bought a Dometic portable toilet from Capri who built a great storage spot for it when not in use.
Capri offers a number of interior finishes. I chose pecan as it seemed the lightest in color and paired well with the wooden cabinet doors and walls. The exterior of any Capri can be customized by the owner. Ours is silver with black stripes and a red accent line. It looks nice on our black truck.
The fit and finish are very good. Everything is neat and trim. There were a few exposed screw points in storage areas and one of the cabinet doors would scrape the ceiling when the camper roof heated up from the sun. Both were easily fixed. The overall feel is comfortable and authentic. There are no plastic fittings or molding. The cushions and mattress are of good quality. Color choices were broad and we went with a solid that matched the pecan pretty nicely. Window covers matching the cushions were also included. These do a great job of suppressing condensation in heavy rain. The Retreat feels solid and weathers rough roads well. It’s also pretty cool looking and has the same puppy appeal as our Sportsmobile did in the first couple of years on the road.
I like the turnbuckle system that is inside the truck bed and camper. We have had no problems with the camper moving on the bed and the lack of external ties and turnbuckles gives a clean look to the rig.
If my math is correct the camper weighs a bit over 1,300 pounds, which puts us a little over GVWR, but with LT tires, sway bar and Timbrens, it doesn’t impact performance or driving. We are getting 18 mpg without the camper and 14 mpg with it installed.
Counters and Cabinets
The sink is deep and holds everything you need for a sink while traveling. There is sufficient room for our Snow Peak Baja stove—with the propane canister sitting securely in the sink—as well as counter top for food prep. The prep portion of the counter is hinged to allow access to the ARB fridge, something Capri worked out and executed well. We use the cabinets above the stove for light food storage. A basket below the sink holds drink and food cans.
The large cabinet that would have housed the Capri fridge was built with three shelves, two of which are used for utensils, a pot, pan and stove. Toiletries and other small items take the top shelf. These could hold more if needed, but we hope that doesn’t happen.
The overhead cabinet with three doors on the passenger side of the camper holds our clothing and some electronic gear. Again, we could put a lot more in these.
Capri has two very simple storage areas as part of their standard build. A small shelf under the large cabinet, which would normally house the Capri fridge, holds the stuff in your pockets during the night. A phone shelf with accompanying 12 volt and USB ports is a great addition. Listening to music using your phone in that shelf increases the sound and especial the base. A separate sound system would not be necessary. I do wish the phone rack was placed a bit higher and toward the rear to reduce the chances of banging one’s head if sleeping on that side of the camper.
Eating and Hanging-Out
The Snow Peak Baja stove does a good job, and since I’ve been making one pot/pan meals for the past few years of travel, is all we will ever need. I have an adapter on the stove that lets us use the less expensive 1-pound propane bottles instead of Isobutane. A bottle usually lasts us six days; we drink a lot of tea.
Our REI small folding table sits easily on the passenger side bench allowing us to sit across from each other while eating. As noted above, a large table in this small of a camper would be a hindrance. I would consider a folding table and store it in the space we currently hold our Snow Peak Fireplace and Grill, but I couldn’t have both, so for now, we will stick with small bench top table.
The two sitting benches are comfortable for leaning against the starboard wall. The camper is very nice with the heat on and a cup of tea nearby.
Perhaps my only criticism so far is that the LED lights are too bright. There are too many of them in the small camper. I’m going to install a switch on the house lights mounted under the overhead cabinet so we don’t have to have so much light! Typically, we use the recessed lights in the sleeping area in the evening and have seldom turned on the house lights. The kitchen lights are also bright, and provide more than enough for prep and cooking. There is one overhead 110 volt light that is enough to cover the entire cabin when on shore power. However, if you are tying flies all of those lights would be a good thing.
Heating and Ventilation
The Fan-Tastic Vent is a powerhouse. It pulls hard from an open window and makes a nice airflow. The Wave 6 Catalytic Heater also does the job well, though we seem to have a propane leak somewhere, so I have to go outside to turn it off at the source after warming the camper. Our Sprinter didn’t have any propane service and if I had a diesel truck this one wouldn’t either. An Espar heater would be more expensive but would avoid the potential hazards of propane.
The windows are single pane and easily form condensation when the space heats up. A couple of them are difficult to close but they do close and keep the rain out. With hindsight, I would not order the one that faces the truck’s rear window. It provides no view and just makes the cabin colder. We’ve put the window cover over it and it will probably never come off.
The LP compartment was a tight fit for the 20-pound tank that came with the Retreat. I bought a 10-pound tank and am able to store a hose, cord, fire pot and tarp in the space now. There is more than half a tank left after a month of using the heater.
The ARB compressor refrigerator seldom turns on, and when it does only takes 10-15 minutes to return to the set temperature, which we keep at 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The chest design keeps items colder than what we had in the Sprinter. Being an Australian product, the 50 quart fridge is said to be able to hold 72 cans of beer. It holds two weeks worth of food easily.
If Capri is thinking about installing more ARBs or Engle fridges I would ask them to consider moving the location of the ARB to the floor, either in the current water tank location or under the bench that houses the portable toilet. That does, of course, beg the question as to where those essential items would be placed. I think switching the water tank with the battery, and then moving the battery under the sink could work. A hinged top for the ARB would serve as the step to the bed. This would also allow for a drawer to be built under the counter top.
The toilet came with six pages of unnecessary instructions, there was no documentation provided for the battery charging systems and converter. I’ve just recently learned that what we were doing to charge the battery—turning the system to the off position while driving—isn’t correct, and now drive with the system in the “on” position. There was no brand name on the switch, so I couldn’t research this issue myself. I asked in a forum about the switch and got the answer fast! Thank you truck camper enthusiasts!
The mattress is firm and is configured east-west. My wife likes sleeping against the forward bulkhead, giving me a sense of more space. I might relocate the phone rack to allow for a more open view from bed by moving our head to the starboard side of the camper.
Tarp vs Awning
Capri doesn’t include an awning in their option package, and that in and of itself is a reason to buy one. We slept, ate and hung around under tarps in the Tongass Rain forest for the past 20 years (and another 10 in the high arctic before that). Capri does offer options for eye bolts attached to the camper. We went the full round and had four installed, two on the back and two on the starboard side of the truck. I’ve been using my 6 ounce, 5×8-foot solo tarp to cover the back door and provide a space out of the rain or sun.
There are very few hard side campers that can work on a half-ton truck. We used our experience from a three-year road trip to eliminate those things that are convenient, but heavy and not necessary. Fortunately, Capri Campers was willing to work with us to build something that meets our needs, is very comfortable and unique. Our 2018 Capri Retreat gets us to places we couldn’t have gone with the Sprinter, and once we are there is very comfortable and solidly built.