Our Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5 pop-up truck camper was purchased new in May, 2015. Mated to a 2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab, 5.3 V8 gasoline engine, over the past four years we have traveled with it widely through through British Colombia, Canada and most of the western United States. In May of this year, we retired and are now almost four months and 12,000 miles into an Arctic to Antarctic overland trip in the truck and camper and are living in it full-time. The following review of the Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5 is based on our experience with the camper to date.
Traversing roads of all qualities (some not really are deserving of the title “roads”) and experiencing Arctic cold and Mexican Baja summer heat, the camper has truly been tested in all weather conditions. In short, it has stood up very well to all we could throw at it and continues to serve us very well (we are currently half-way through Mexico).
Many people who we have met have asked, “why a pop-up?” Simply put, given the distances we are covering, and narrow roads we are driving, fuel economy and maneuverability were key considerations. Critically, it fits in a shipping container and can maneuver in the incredibly tight streets in places like Guanajuato, Mexico, which we recently visited, and doubtless others to come. We have driven roads and traversed narrow alleys, low tunnels and streets with low overhanging power lines that full-size campers and conventional RVs simply could not tackle. During the last few years of our working career it was also important to us that the camper fit in our garage—no possibility of that with a hard-side unit. So, a pop-up camper it had to be.
The Oufitter Caribou Lite 6.5 tips the scales at just over 1,100 pounds dry. That’s considerably above the “stock” 850-pound weight of the camper, but the demands of our extended travel plans—and tips from other pop-up owners—necessitated certain structural modifications and the addition of critical options that bumped up the weight.
While its light weight makes the Caribou suitable for practically all half-ton trucks, it sacrifices nothing in sturdiness. Outfitter’s are built for rugged conditions with a fully welded aluminum frame and vacuum bonded composite walls filled with block foam insulation. Several roads we have traveled have a well-deserved reputation for destroying tires and we think the light weight of the unit helped us avoid any flat tires on our travels so far—although a shout out here must go to the amazing Toyo Open Country All-Terrain 10 ply tires.
The Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5 fits very nicely on our GMC half-ton truck—no overhang at all and even with us, our gear, fuel and water we were within the truck’s (almost) 2,000-pound payload. Two major structural changes were made to the exterior of the camper. The cabover was extended 12-inches forward (from 4-feet to 5-feet) in order to accommodate a north-south sleeping arrangement along with clothing storage compartments on either side (a slide out on the inside gave us the additional length to make a full queen sized bed). Additionally, the camper body was raised 2-inches creating a 10-inch high cabover versus the standard 8-inch to allow for a thicker mattress and, more importantly, to give us the height necessary to be able to sit upright in the dinette with the roof down—useful during quick lunch breaks or for stealth camping at night where a raised pop-top would betray our occupancy. We are VERY happy we did this and find we often take a quick break with the roof down. A side benefit of this was that we could now squeeze in a taller entry door which we really appreciated against the more common 48-inch doors on many other pop up campers. We did add, and regularly use, a second 12-volt Fan-Tastic Vent above the cabover (critical for a comfortable night’s sleep on really hot nights).
I had two optional Yakima rails/tracks added to the roof and have added eyelets to hold down a cargo net should we ever need one—unused as of yet and likely won’t be since any more weight would make the roof uncomfortably heavy to lift. Two lightweight flexible 100 watt solar panels were installed on the roof (one is removable) and so far have provided more than adequate power for the trip—we have never yet “needed” to use shore power, but will confess to having plugged in a few times simply because it was available. We are habitual dry or “wilderness” campers, so we love being able to go off-grid for days at a time.
The Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5 layout generally follows the tried and tested formula of most smaller campers—opposing dinette seats on one side, which collapse to an emergency bed, and the “kitchen” on the other. We found it worked well once we had the standard kitchen counter layout altered. The stock counter was reconfigured moving the cook top and sink to the left to create useful continuous space on the right side of the counter and we upgraded to a SMEV glass-top cooktop along with a Dometic glass-top sink—much better than the stock offerings, in terms of both space and aesthetic appeal. An aluminum heat shield (placed against the fridge cabinet wall) was fabricated and eliminated any risk of combustibility of the wood paneling behind due to the proximity of the cooktop (looks cool too—we get many compliments).
This size of camper, regardless of make, is generally short on storage so the north-south sleeping arrangement gave us a lot of clothing storage on the sides where low side, open topped cabinets were added. A side-wall mounted swing arm dinette table replaced the standard floor mount unit to free up space around our feet and create a useful storage space below. As with all other mods, the Outfitter folks were very accommodating with our requests (when researching campers we found certain other manufacturers less willing to customize).
The Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5 has a standard 24-gallon freshwater holding tank with no grey water holding tank. A black water holding tank is not required with the Thetford Cassette Toilet since the black water is contained in the 5-gallon unit. I’m a huge fan of the Thetford units—they work well, are easy to empty and we are never looking for dump stations nor lining up when you do find them. Outfitter provides multiple options for flooring and seating material or offered an “order your own” option, which we used. The triple-layered Weblon insulated soft-walls keep us cozy inside and seem to be effective in both hot and cold weather (we have experienced extremes of both).
Like the Thetford Cassette Toilet, the 100 amp hour Relion lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery was an expensive option, but well worth it in my opinion. The lithium advantages are well documented on this website—I would never use anything else. I added a 3000i Blue Sky Energy solar controller that has also served us very well. A comfortable bed is essential so we dumped the original standard foam mattress and had a custom gel/memory foam bed made—one of the best features of the camper, but like other options, did add another 30 or so pounds. The last interior option we chose was the larger fridge—we did sacrifice some storage space as a result, but given how much time we spend in the camper, the extra fridge space is invaluable.
It is very light, low profile and thus easy to drive versus a hard-side regular camper. The impact on fuel economy is fairly minimal as a result (we lose only about 3 mpg with the camper on) and that is critical to us given the distances we plan to travel. I could not imagine sleeping east-west and climbing over anyone in the limited space available in a pop-up camper cabover so would strongly recommend the north-south sleeping mod. The camper construction is very solid and lent itself easily to the mods we made. Just a personal opinion, but I have a strong preference for the smooth, white, fiberglass finish—standard on the Outfitter and an expensive option on some others.
Things We Would Change
Structurally, nothing. We really feel the options we chose and mods we made were appropriate for our needs and our priorities, save for the Yakima roof rails (we just have not used them yet, but they may come in handy in future). That said, there are a few minor things we would change, or recommend. It’s the small things—minor internal fit and finish issues (most we just corrected ourselves), and there were insulation gaps in places (which I filled)—the camper is warm now, but it wasn’t always.
Speaking of warm, the standard Suburban 16,000 btu furnace is a bit of overkill for such a small camper—noisy, bulky, no speed control and consumes a lot of propane. Done over, we would get the smaller British made Propex unit, or the German-made Eberspacher diesel-gasoline heater—neither are cheap, but both are more compact, quieter, could be located close to the floor and offer more than adequate heat for a pop-up truck camper. I’m sure Outfitter would supply either option if requested—we just never asked. Our furnace is located under the counter, using precious usable space and because it is so high up, heat does not easily travel to the floor.
The roof lift mechanism is solidly built, but not as aesthetically pleasing as some competitors and could use a gas strut assist (as some other campers have). Lastly, I’d prefer a stand up 20-pound propane tank—Outfitter uses the horizontal version and it’s not as easily exchangeable or commonly used. A minor quibble, I suppose. That’s really about it!
With such a long trip planned—we expect to take 12 to 15 months to reach Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America and the bottom end of the Pan American Highway—the camper was modified for our personal needs based heavily on feedback we had received from fellow overland travelers, including a couple we met who had done the same journey a few years earlier with a Nissan Titan and similar Outfitter Caribou 6.5. In addition to the 12-inch cabover extension and 2-inch height increase already mentioned, we made the following modifications and found all of them useful:
Jerry Cans: As the Sierra only has a rather woeful 26-gallon (98 litre) fuel tank, I added two external “Jerry” can mounts, boosting the fuel capacity of the truck to 36 gallons and range to 500 miles (830 kilometers). I fabricated an inner 1/8-inch thick aluminum wall plate to ensure the weight of the full Jerry cans and mounts was broadly spread and did not cause them to separate from the rear wall on the rough roads we have driven. They are now very secure. We have been able to average 14 mpg (16.6 litres/100 kilometers) fully loaded—not terrible, considering the mountain ranges crossed, weight carried and quality of some roads driven. The heavier 10-ply tires probably contribute slightly to the reduced fuel economy, but are worth it for the peace of mind they give.
Awning Mounts: I built customized awning mounts so that our detachable awning could be easily moved from one side of the camper to the other. I fabricated eight 2.5-inch by 5-inch aluminum plates (two for each side, inside and out) for backing and had the local industrial plastics shop fabricate four “male” UHMW mounts to complement the standard extruded aluminum base that comes on just about all such awnings. The modification is strong, the awning slides on and off effortlessly and now gives us protection no matter which side the sun is on. As it is not permanently installed it does add not any width to the camper when traveling—a very important feature for us.
Collapsible Inside Shower: Outside full service RV parks one can’t always get a shower and few pop-up campers have them given the obvious space limitations. I created a collapsible shower unit that easily packs away. Not something we use daily, but it takes no space and is there when you need it.
We would have complained a bit about the after sales service in years past but based on our recent experiences with the new owner they seem to have addressed that and are also tackling the minor interior quality control issues. Scott Mavis, the new owner of Outfitter Manufacturing, was very appreciative of, and receptive to, our feedback. Overall, we are very happy with the Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5. We often get compliments on the sleek look, the interior design, and relative spaciousness for a “pop-up.” The Caribou Lite is 83-inches wide so you do get a bit more width than some others. We have learned to live with the minor annoyances that we could not fix and really enjoy the sturdy feel, ease of set-up and take-down, usable cooking space, extra sized, 3.8 cubic foot (two-way) Dometic refrigerator, and the fact that we can easily go off-grid for days at a time with the solar power we have on tap.
For anyone wanting a “garage-able,” lightweight pop-up suitable for a half-ton truck and needing a manufacturer that is willing to make custom modifications such as we did, I would highly recommend an Outfitter Caribou Lite 6.5 pop-up truck camper.