The word revolutionary gets thrown around a lot, but when the Scout camper was unveiled in 2020, it truly was. Today, the Scout brand is regarded as a huge success. Yet, the road to designing and building a lightweight, minimalistic camper wasn’t easy. Naysayers said it couldn’t be done, and even if it could, nobody would buy it.
Scout is the brain child of Adventurer Manufacturing’s CEO, David Epp. He saw the need for a hard-side, slide-in truck camper that could be safely hauled on not only a full-size, half-ton truck like the Ford F-150, but also a mid-size truck like the Toyota Tacoma. Up to this point, there were plenty of pop-up truck campers in the market, but precious few hard-side campers for these lower-rated trucks. The marketplace was primed for a hard-side camper like the Scout that would meet this need.
In order to build a lightweight hard-side camper like the Scout, Epp knew he needed to think outside-of-the-box. Nothing was off the table. After months of ruminating on the concept, Epp and his five-member design team came up with a lightweight, minimalistic camper. The camper’s layout would be simple with only an east-west cabover bed (with an optional extension for a north-south sleeping arrangement), a dinette, a kitchen countertop with a small sink, and a bench for the portable refrigerator. There would be no dedicated bathroom, only an optional toilet. Everything inside the Scout from the storage bags, the propane cooktop, the refrigerator, the dining table, to the diesel furnace, the 4.9-gallon filtered water tank, and the lithium power station, would be modular and portable, meaning each item could be used inside and outside the camper. To top everything off, literally, a roof-top tent would also be offered, something that had never been done before. The tent would allow the camper to sleep up to six persons, an unheard of number for a camper of this size.
No truck camper had ever been designed like the Scout before. In the past, truck campers were plush, hotels-on-wheels with complete kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Scout, on the other hand, was intentionally minimalistic, providing everything you need and nothing you don’t. Scout focused on removing the complexities of integrated systems and designing a camper without a lot of the “foo foo” found in larger, more extravagant campers. As you’d expect, Epp and his team faced push back from every quarter during the design process.
“It’s hard to challenge the status quo,” Epp explained. “I can’t tell you how many people said, you’re crazy. That’s not going to work. There’s no way, people won’t like that. But we knew there was enough validity to the concept, the idea, and to the market, that we just forged forward.”
Design work on the Scout was completed in late 2019, with the first model, the Scout Olympic, released in April 2020. Built for full-size half-ton trucks like the Ford F-150, the Olympic weighed only 1,091 pounds dry, a figure unheard for a hard-side truck camper. The Olympic’s floorplan featured a front-dinette, a kitchen, and a bench where the refrigerator could be mounted. What made the achievement even more remarkable was that the camper truly was light. Unlike some of the “half-ton campers,” made by others, there was no “fudge-factor” in the Olympic’s number. Even when fully loaded with water and propane, the wet weight of the camper wouldn’t exceed much more than 1,200 pounds.
Other Scout models soon followed. In June 2020, the Scout Yoho was released and tipped the scales at only 934 pounds. Made for mid-size trucks with 6-foot beds like the Toyota Tacoma, the Yoho offered the same features as the Olympic, only with a slightly smaller footprint and an L-shaped dinette. Three months later, the factory rolled out the largest Scout camper yet: the Kenai. With a floor length of 8-feet, the Kenai offered more features, including a designated bathroom, a mud room, a queen-size bed, additional customization options, and extended storage options for long distance travel. Yet, in spite of these additions, the dry weight of the Kenai still only topped out at 1,265 pounds, meaning even a long-bed, half-ton truck could safely haul it.
With a starting cost around $20,000 for the Olympic, the response from the truck camper crowd was overwhelming. Unfortunately, the timing of the launch coincided with the COVID pandemic, which strained the supply chain in the industry. Due to existing demands, along with the supply constraints, it forced the company to simplify its offerings. The Eagle Cap and Overlander brands were discontinued and a few Adventurer models fell by the wayside too. Dedicated production lines—one for Scout, one for Adventurer—were set up to ensure quality and improve systems and processes. According to Epp, this was a very important step considering the differences between the products, materials, and assembly.
To help meet the demand for an even smaller camper, the company released the Scout Tuktut in May 2023. Like the Yoho, the Tuktut was made for mid-size trucks, yet weighed only 634 pounds. Unlike the Yoho, however, the Tuktut was compatible with mid-size trucks with smaller, 5-foot beds like those featured on the Jeep Gladiator. In order to achieve the company’s stringent weight goals, the diminutive Tuktut offered little in way features, allowing DIYers instead to build out the interior in any way that they like. A new partner, Goose Gear, was signed by Scout to help owners outfit the interior.
Truth be told, Epp and his design team had ulterior motives going with a modular approach. Portable equipment and appliances not only make the camper lighter, but also easier to service. Inevitably, issues with appliances and equipment arise over time that have nothing to do with how well the camper is built. Having a lightweight, modular, easy-to-access appliance is easy work on. If it breaks, you can simply replace it.
“I have a lot of time and experience in the RV business, and during that, the experiences that I gained were really driven into the design,” Epp said. “Historically, with a lot of the traditional products out in the marketplace, you see a lot of challenges around servicing. If someone ever had an issue or a challenge, like with one of their components or an integrated system, a lot of times it could be weeks, if not months to resolve, which would require multiple times delivering their vehicle or their RV to the service center. And then you’d have to wait for parts. So that was part of the design and going to something, again, simplifying the design and modular components with ease of servicing. So if someone did have a breakdown in the field, it could be something that they could resolve on their own and or not have to bring their camper in to fix it. And if you had an issue with your fridge, you could just remove the fridge, put in a cooler, and keep yourself going while you just return the fridge to get serviced.”
Adventurer Manufacturing partnered with top names in the industry to outfit the Scout with reliable components. These include Goose Gear, Goal Zero, Dometic, Thetford, LifeSaver, HappiJac, Kammock, and Autoterm. For the roof-top tent, the company partnered with one of the top names in the industry, Go Fast Campers. For the semi-flexible, 175 watt roof-top solar panel, Scout went with another top name, Renogy. The solar panel keeps the Goal Zero Yeti power station charged and provides independence from RV parks and shore power hookups. Mounted on the front slope of the roof using high-bond adhesives, Renogy’s semi-flexible solar panel offers great efficiency and reliability compared to many flexible and semi-flexible solar panels in the market.
“We’ve explored many solar options,” Epp explained. “At one point in time, we went with a slightly larger, 190 watt panel, but the output was actually lower. So now we’re back to the 175 watt panel because the efficiency is better. The panel that we’re using now is a Renogy. From a servicing or a warranty issue, they have performed well. When selecting that, that was another component that we reviewed closely for weight and quality. The flexible panels typically, historically, have not had the efficiencies that you would get out of a flat framed, glass panel. But they’ve improved significantly. So now we’re in a position where it absolutely makes sense going with a semi-flexible panel. You can glue it down versus having to use fasteners and holes. So from the service and a maintenance side, there’s a big improvement as well.”
In keeping with Scout’s trend-setting design, the camper would rely on diesel for heating rather than propane. Diesel heaters not only heat better in wet climates, but they’re also safer to use. After evaluating several makes and models, Epp opted to go with the Autoterm Air 2D diesel heater. The Autoterm not only works great, but looks good housed in the Zarges case. Without a doubt, it’s the most attractive appliance in the camper. It even has its own dedicated diesel tank in an outside enclosure that meets stringent NFPA requirements.
“When it comes to the selection of the heat source, we’ve had a lot of feedback from people looking for dry heat,” Epp said. “When it’s wet, rainy or snowing, and you’re up in the mountains, you want to dry out, right? Diesel heat is the best alternative to do that. Personally, I have a lot of experience with diesel heaters. I have one in my jet boat and I know how dry that heat is because we’re in inclement weather constantly here in the Pacific Northwest. And when you get that thing fired up, you’re bone dry within 15 minutes. It’s a natural fit for campers that traditionally have a confined space and customers with an adventurous lifestyle.”
Being comfortable is important. Yet, building a rugged, quality camper, was just as important for the Scout design team. By their very nature, truck camper owners are hard on their campers. They like to explore roads less traveled and that usually means rough, 4×4 roads in remote locations. Traversing these roads can put a lot of strain on the structure of a camper. It has to be able to hold up to repeated use and sometimes abuse. To this end, the design team harnessed technologies from a wide variety of aerospace to marine industries to build a lightweight camper that could stand the test of time.
“With regards to how to we drive the weight down and increase structural strength, it’s a fine balance. The structural strength of our aluminum extrusions, or exo-skeleton, and how that ties into our composite panels and structural grade foam is key. It’s a fine balance, and it’s a number of things that contribute to that. And when it comes to achieving weights, having the modular features of the removable jacks, where you’re not having to, again, pack around 150 pounds worth of jacks when you’re going to be off-road, off-grid, and you don’t have to worry about trail snags ripping a jack off, that’s how it should be,” Epp said.
Building a rugged, trail-ready camper is one thing, building a camper that looks good is another. In order for a camper to sell well, it also has to look good sitting in the bed of a truck. Ideally, it should stand out from other campers. This is easier said than done. Truck campers have been around since the 1950s. Just about every shape imaginable has been built. This was perhaps the Scout design team’s biggest challenge.
“Another component brought in with the design was the overall style,” Epp recalled. “Traditionally, if you look at a lot of the hard-wall campers, they got either the radius or sloped front nose or more angular approach. So we wanted to do something different and come up with a timeless, aerodynamic design that would leave a lasting impression when someone sees it driving down the road. And this was probably one of the biggest challenges for us to overcome, because the easiest way is to build them the other way. Where with the Scout design and having a full-wrapped front nose, we’re dealing with molding panels that are almost 30 feet long. So that’s a very complex process that is very challenging. But our team took that challenge on and was able to develop the design of which Scout is today. Out team was excited to receive word back from the USPTO just a few months back that we were awarded a patent on this design.”
The popularity of the Scout brand has been meteoric since its first release in 2020. Its appeal has crossed the lines of all demographics. If you think that the camper has greater appeal with Millennials and Gen-Xers, think again. The Scout has a strong appeal across all age groups including Baby Boomer retirees. No doubt, the low cost plays a role in the brand’s appeal, but part of the brand’s appeal is the ability to personalize it. Like a blank canvas, the simplicity of the Scout allows it to be built in any way the owner wants. If the owner wants a larger solar power system, no problem. If more battery power is wanted, the owner can do that too. Roof racks and electric induction cooking? Absolutely!
“We’ve designed the Scout to be plug-and-play and ready for immediate use, yet cater to creativity,” Epp said. “There’s a lot of pretty creative people out there. That’s the neat thing about the Scout, it really lends itself to that individuality and ability to kind of go out-of-the-box. An out-of-the-box camper for out-of-the-box people looking to design an out-of-the-box kind of rig.”
Elly Pimentel, Scout’s Communication Manager, agrees. “A lot of our owners are really leading the way. They’re showing us exactly what they want, but no two owners are the same. One of the ways that Scout wins is that we don’t make a lot of those decisions for the customer. We want to empower our community, but also not wanting to box our customer base in. One of the things that I think we would hate to kill is that spirit of creativity. The Scout community likes to bend the rules, and what works well for one customer might not work well for another.”
An out-of-the-box camper for out-of-the-box people? Yep, Adventurer Manufacturing did it. Yet, the company’s success in building a revolutionary camper like the Scout hasn’t gone to their head. They know they couldn’t have done it without their rabid customer base. After all, what good is a camper if nobody buys it? Will more Scout models follow? That remains to be seen. Whether they do or not, one thing is for certain. The future holds a lot of promise for the Yakima, Washington-based company.
“I’d like to express my appreciation to everyone who has joined us on this adventurous journey so far. To our team, community, owners, dealers, partners and family, we wouldn’t be able to do it without your support. Scout aside, it’s exciting to see all the new products and advancements in the truck camper industry. This is important as these will continue to drive innovation and build the truck camping community as a whole,” Epp said.