So, you just bought a truck camper and you’re basking in the glow of your new purchase. Your new, “home on wheels” has everything you need to live comfortably on the road—a warm bed, a refrigerator, hot and cold running water, a bathroom, and a kitchen. At this point, you might be thinking, “what’s next? What do I do now?” That’s a great question. Now that you have a camper, it’s time to make it your own. What this means is modifying or personalizing it. These modifications can be minor things like adding a spice rack in the kitchen and some hat hooks next to the dinette, or something major like installing a DIRECTV satellite antenna on the roof or a 1,000 watt pure sine wave inverter.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to modifying your rig. Indeed, there are so many terrific mods you can make to your camper it can be a bit overwhelming. Choosing the best ones from the hundreds out there can be difficult. In an effort, to provide some guidance to those who are seeking it, here are our top 10 truck camper modifications, ranked in order. Note: this list assumes that your truck camper already has interior and exterior LED lights and remote operated electric lift jacks; otherwise, they would be on this list.
1. Solar Power
If you enjoy boondocking and hate the noise and smell of running a generator to recharge your batteries, then solar power has to be at the top of your truck camper mod list. What makes solar power so great? What are the benefits? First, the system requires practically no maintenance, as there are no moving parts. It’s also lightweight, mounts primarily in out-of-the-way locations on the roof, and doesn’t take up valuable storage space in your truck camper. Perhaps more importantly, the solar power system doesn’t require fuel like a generator, is clean and quiet, and utilizes a free and renewable source of energy that is good for the environment. As we all know, getting into the solar power game can be expensive at first, but the good folks at Renogy make terrific RV solar power starter kits that cost less than $200. Each kit includes everything you need (sans wire) to get you up and generating your own power for your rig. While 10/2 AWG wire will work perfectly fine for the short wiring runs inside most campers, I recommend 8/2 AWG wire to minimize current losses.
2. Battery Monitor
A truck camper owner’s best friend is a high quality, digital battery monitor like a Xantrex LinkLite or one made by Trimetric. These “smart” meters take the guesswork out of the state of your batteries and selectively provide vital information to the owner like voltage, charge and discharge current, consumed amp hours, and remaining battery capacity. The LinkLite is also equipped with a cool, internal programmable alarm relay to run a generator when needed or to turn off devices when the battery voltage exceeds programmable boundaries. Another less desirable option if you’re going solar is to simply buy a charge controller with a battery meter built-in or one that can support a remote meter like the Morningstar RM-1. This won’t provide all of the info that a good battery monitor will provide, but it’s better than nothing. Don’t bother buying the $15 voltage meters that plug into 12 volt electrical outlets–they’re completely inaccurate and are a total waste of money.
3. Progressive Dynamics Inteli-Power Converter-Charger
The standard converter-charger installed in most RVs and truck campers just plain sucks. Many campers get the basic WFCO 8945 45 amp Power Center that rarely puts out anything above 10 amps. Fortunately, Progressive Dynamics manufactures and sells a complete line of 35, 45, and 55 amp direct replacement converter-chargers for campers equipped with Magnetek, Parallax, and WFCO Power Centers. For the WFCO 8945 unit that’s in our truck camper, we bought one of the best smart chargers in the market, the Progressive Dynamics 4645v. This 45 amp model, which measures 13.25 inches wide x 8 inches deep x 5.38 inches high, mounts in the lower section of the aforementioned OEM power centers. It features the company’s patented Charge Wizard microprocessor-controlled system that constantly monitors the battery’s voltage to ensure a rapid, yet safe, recharge. The Charge Wizard does this by selecting one of three charging voltages and one of four charge/operating modes—boost (14.4 volts), normal (13.6 volts), storage (13.2 volts), and desulfation (14.4 volts)—depending on the state of the batteries. Like all Progressive Dynamics converter-chargers, the 4645v also features electronic current limiting, reverse battery protection, high voltage protection, low voltage operation, and over temperature shut down. The 4645v even comes with an upgraded DC fuse panel with a Charge Wizard control button to manually control the charging mode.
4. Catalytic Heater
Yes, the propane furnace that came with your camper will keep you toasty warm on cold winter nights, but it will also rapidly deplete your propane reserves and will quickly draw down your batteries. The catalytic heater or “cat” heater is the best, most efficient way to heat your truck camper during the winter. They throw off a tremendous amount of heat, use no electricity, and use less propane than a furnace. The only real negative with the cat heater is that they require a window or vent to be cracked open to facilitate the proper amount of air exchange. When buying your cat heater don’t waste your money on the cheaper, lower capacity models, buy an Olympian Wave-6 in case it’s needed during an extreme cold spell. The only challenge you might have is finding an adequate spot to mount it. When not in use, make sure you keep it covered as dirt and dust can collect on the coils and cause it to smell when first turned on. Hands down, the best winter boondocking mod you can make.
5. Memory Foam Mattress
What’s the point in getting away and seeing the sights in your truck camper if you can’t get a good night’s sleep? Unfortunately, most of the mattresses that you find in today’s RV’s are total crap. If you find yourself in this situation then getting a new and comfortable mattress will be one of the most important modifications you can make to your truck camper. To ensure an adequate amount of padding, I recommend a mattress with a thickness of at least 6 inches and one of the best ones I’ve come across is the Sleep Master Memory Foam Mattress. If you buy a quality memory foam mattress you’ll be amazed at the difference. In fact, the one we put in our last camper was so comfortable that my wife and I actually looked forward to sleeping in it. Can you say that about the mattress in your camper now? If you can’t, then you need to make a change. Remember to measure the heights of adjacent doors and pull-out drawers before buying your mattress; otherwise you might not be able to open them.
6. Oxygenics Shower Head
Water is by far your most precious resource when you’re off-the-grid. The best way to conserve water and enjoy an occasional shower is to buy an Oxygenics Body Spa shower head. Using the patented Venturi principle, the Body Spa uses 30 percent less water than traditional shower heads, while at the same time providing more water pressure. Impossible, you say? Nope, the company has done it in an attractive, affordable way. The Oxygenics Body Spa features a push-button valve to turn-off the water, so you can take a real Navy shower–get wet, soap up, then rinse off–quickly and easily. Being a Navy retiree, I’ve taken more than my fair share of Navy showers over the years. In fact, I’ve become quite good at it. I could take a pretty decent shower using as little two gallons of water back in the day. With the Body Spa, I now use even less. You can pickup the Oxygenics Body Spa for about $40 on Amazon.com.
7. Pure Sine Wave Inverter
Inverters are a wonderful thing, especially for those who like to boondock. Inverters allow you to run 110 volt household devices, like TVs, microwaves, and DVD players, in your camper without actually being plugged into shore power or running a generator. Not only that, they create zero noise when in operation. Perfect for those who hate the noise and smell of a generator, and for those times when running a generator isn’t advisable, like at a campground after hours. Aside from the wattage rating, there are two types of inverters from which to choose: a modified sine wave and a pure sine wave. Of these, the pure sine wave inverter replicates what you see in your home and is the best wave form for running all types of electrical devices, including sensitive electronic devices. Yes, it’s true that some devices will run fine on a modified sine wave inverter, but some won’t. Make the right choice and go with a pure sine wave model, like the Morningstar Suresine-300.
8. Fan-tastic Vent Fan
There’s no doubt about it, the Fan-tastic Vent is a must-have mod for those who want to stay cool in the summer without having to run a smelly generator and a noisy air conditioner. This 12 volt, two-way, three-speed fan moves a tremendous amount of air while consuming a minimal amount of amperage (only 1.86 to 3 amps). When shopping for your fan, buy the Fan-Tastic Vent 4000R. This model not only has a temperature setting that activates when the inside of your camper reaches a certain temperature, but it also has a built-in rain sensor that automatically closes the vent lid when the first drops appear (no need for an ugly vent cover on your roof). Made in the USA, this rugged, well-built fan also comes with a lifetime warranty and an industry-best customer service reputation that is second to none. The folks at Fan-tastic Vent will often replace damaged or worn out parts for free.
9. Refrigerator Exhaust Fan
As you know, some RV absorption refrigerators have a difficult time cooling on hot summer days. A cheap and effective remedy is to install a 12 volt exhaust fan behind the refrigerator. Why is an exhaust fan needed and how does it work? Well, the heat source for the refrigerator–either the propane flame or the electrical heating element–is used to “elevate” the ammonia/water mixture up to the top of the refrigerator’s cooling unit. Air flow is needed to dissipate the heat collected on the refrigerator’s evaporator fins and from the refrigerator’s cooling unit. A 12 volt fan helps to accomplish this by circulating the cooler fresh air received from the side vent and across these fins. Small exhaust fans can be purchased at any RV parts store or on Amazon.com like this 12 Volt Exhaust Fan. Twelve volt fans for computers work well, too. You can buy either battery operated fans or those that tap into your camper’s 12 volt electrical system.
10. USB Computer Charge Ports
In today’s electronic age you can never have enough USB charge ports and 12 volt “cigarette lighter” outlets in your truck camper. Most of the electronic devices we use today, like smartphones, digital cameras, and notepads, recharge on USB ports, but few if any truck camper manufacturers are putting them in their campers. Fortunately, there are some terrific, aftermarket charge ports than you can retrofit in your camper. One of the best is the Blue Sea Systems “360 Panel,” a modular, integrated unit that has a 12 volt outlet on one side and a dual USB charging port on the other. Blue Sea’s marine quality outlets are rated for a whopping 15 amps (each USB port has a rated output of 2.1 amps). A great feature about the 360 Panel is that the components are removable and interchangeable. If you want another dual USB charging port all you have to do is unscrew the 12 volt outlet and install a USB port instead.
Honorable Mention: Thermal Pane Windows
Yes, those single pane windows in your camper will provide you with terrific views while you boondock, but they’ll also lose a tremendous amount of heat in the winter. The best fix is to retrofit a set of thermal pane windows in your truck camper. If you don’t know much about thermal pane windows, they consist of two window panes with the void in between filled with argon or krypton gas. The insulation difference between a regular single pane window and a thermal pane window is pretty significant. Besides the cost, the only real negative with them is that they aren’t particularly suitable for high-vibration (read off-road) environments. The vibrations can cause the seals to fail, the gas inside to leak out, and the windows to fog over. In spite of this negative, however, the pros of thermal pane windows far outweigh the cons, especially for those who like to camp in the winter.
A special thanks to Nolan Sturgeon and Kerry Stark for permission to use their photographs.