Concurrent with the growing popularity of the truck camper has been the growing popularity of the custom truck bed. The reason is simple. Truck campers, in general, lack storage. Sure, you can replace the back seat in your truck with a custom storage solution like those made by Goose Gear, but not everyone can do that. Some travel with family and friends and need the extra seating, to say nothing of the fact that regular cab trucks lack a back seat to begin with. The best way to get the extra space is to get a custom truck bed. One of the lightest and best truck beds in the industry is made by Oregon-based SherpTek. What’s different about the SherpTek bed is that the bulk of the storage is hidden behind two large flanks that fold down. The entire space can be used for storage, which means larger and longer items can be stored. To learn more about the SherpTek truck bed and how the company came to be, we spoke with CEO and designer, Ryan Goodwin.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came about designing the SherpTek Truck Bed?
Ryan Goodwin: How this whole story came about was like most truck camper owners. I’ll say that space—or the lack of it—is the key and it doesn’t take too much to realize that a flatbed solves the problem. In 2010, I knew I was gonna get a flatbed and I started looking a couple years later and did not like what I saw. Everything was very heavy, kind of crudely built, didn’t look good, so I set out and just designed my own and started with kind of a modular design, but ended up backing-off and building a very simple lightweight bed simple aluminum and wood and it was it was modular in its own sense—I could move and adapt things around, but it wasn’t by any means a SherpTek, but people saw what I had and over a few years of use were constantly trying to talk me into making it a business. If I showed you pictures of that original one you’d laugh, but people still liked it, so I started doing some market research.
About what year was this?
Ryan Goodwin: It all happened from about 2012 to 2015 through market research and initial development design. The market research came about by talking to people. But if you ask 100 people, you get 90 different answers, so I let that guide my design and challenged myself to see if I could design a modular system that could be built to any length and width and adapt to any camper. Three key things came out of the market research: low deck height, lightweight storage, and designing a bed that didn’t look like the cable company truck. Honestly, the latter was the most challenging part for me you because I’m not one who actually cares what my truck looks like that much, but I knew that customers would.
Can you tell us about your engineering background?
Ryan Goodwin: I started in the bicycle industry and was in that for about eight to ten years and then transitioned into unmanned aerospace where I was designing launch and recovery systems. My first installation was on a U.S. Navy ship and did that testing and then transitioned from that to the miniature side of it, the little stabilized gimbals that fly on small unmanned aircraft. I was doing that while I was starting up SherpTek. That was kind of what helped me sort of start that.
You showed us cross sections of your truck bed. It’s very unique and incredibly strong. Can you talk about the SherpTek system without divulging too many company secrets?
Ryan Goodwin: It’s kind of the way aircraft are built. You have to start with thin gauge material, which is very flimsy, and getting it to be stiff requires that you know section depth and that’s kind of where secret sauce is. In a lot of these designs our extrusions and and the materials we use and how we put them together are what make it strong and light, and it’s why our beds have very little welding in them. None of the structural components except for the mounting brackets are welded. You can’t weld thin aluminum like this and expect it to last long, so I designed this thing to last easily as long as the truck if not transferred to another truck and continue on.
Can you talk a little bit about your rear bumpers and how they are integrated with your beds?
Ryan Goodwin: I never intended on designing bumpers, but because we build typically to the width of the camper the bed width changes and every aftermarket bumper is kind of designed around a regular bed, and so they look a little strange. Yes, we can integrate with stock beds, but they rarely look correct. We have a number of different bumper widths that really play well into all of our design angles and integrate nicely, so it just looks like a clean part of the installation.
What are the two tow hooks on the rear bumper rated for?
Ryan Goodwin: About 9,000 pounds each. Each is tied structurally to the frame of the truck.
Can you talk a little bit about the weight rating of the SherpTek truck bed, the GVWR and payload, and how that works? How much camper can you carry?
Ryan Goodwin: Our beds are over engineered, but they can’t increase the payload of the truck. So the way we let our customers carry heavier campers is by keeping the weight of our system down because a heavy bed means less actual payload for the truck. What I can tell you is that a SherpTek bed will take anything you can throw at it, but at the end of the day, you got to follow the rules of the truck.
So basically if you have a one-ton truck with a GVWR of let’s say, 12,000 pounds and a 4,000-pound payload, then your your beds are rated for that. Is that basically what you’re saying?
Ryan Goodwin: Yeah, we kind of we look at a particular truck and we go to the highest payload option available, which is rarely what people have, but we design to that. We don’t dumb the payload of the bed down when you get options like crew cabs, diesel engines, or any other option, and then have the payload go down. It’s still the same bed.
Can you tell us about the marine decking that you use? It’s very unique.
Ryan Goodwin: Yeah, well we actually offer a number of different decking options like diamond, aluminum, and steel diamond plate if someone really wanted a heavy duty deck to just toss tools into or whatever. But honestly, the marine decking can live up to all that. The problem is if you go with a metal deck you’re gonna end up with a horse mat or a rubber mat under your camper to keep it from just sliding around. I searched far and wide and the marine industry is what really has the appropriate kind of deck material that’s chemical resistant, UV resistant, and it’s tough. It’s kind of like a Linex lining. It’s awesome, I love it. In 10 years if it’s looking tatted and torn up, you can simply replace it.
One thing that really makes the sherpTek bed stand out in my mind are the flanks, they’re unique to the industry. Other company’s rely on storage boxes above deck which have their pros and cons.
Yeah, I just tend to design modularity into everything. You can see our beds have modular channels on the outside and on the inside. I don’t know what people are going to do with them, but they’re there for whatever you want. It’s kind of funny listening to people sometimes because they’ll be like, ‘well, I can use the inside channels, I’ll use those, but I don’t understand the outside channels,” and the next person will come along and say just the opposite, but they’re actually part of the structure as well. So that’s the way I tend to design things. I don’t like single use things, so everything I design I try to make multi-use.
What kind of accessories and things do people mount to the channels of your beds?
Ryan Goodwin: So they’re all custom extrusions that I designed, but I designed them around some off-the-shelf hardware, so that people can can find hardware for it. We make our own kind of medium and heavy duty hardware that we use for tying the campers down and any other kind of heavy duty stuff. You can buy all kinds of Maxtrax stuff to mount to the bed, but channels are actually a critical part of the structure of the bed they’re not just there for tie downs. They’re actually part of the main structure, so again, that’s the whole multi-use part of my brain.
SherpTek moved from Eugene, Oregon to Prineville, Oregon, an excellent location. Can you tell us about your new location and how long you’ve been here?
Ryan Goodwin: We love it here. We moved here in January 2022. Getting set up took a little longer than we thought, but we’re excited to be rolling. We invite people to come visit us at any time.
What’s the latest happenings at SherpTek? Is it true that you are expanding operations in 2023?
Ryan Goodwin: Yes, we are. We’re adding 7,500 square feet that will be dedicated manufacturing space. This will greatly increase our in-house capabilities as we are also adding a number of new machines, including a 5×10-foot laser and CNC press brake. This addition will allow us to convert our current 13,000 square feet to expanded assembly with four installation bays, and plan on adding in-house powder coating by the end of the year. We’re excited about this expansion and anticipate having both shops fully operational by the beginning of Q2, 2023.