Looking for some inspiration on how to build your solar power system for your truck camper rig? Look no further. At a whopping 1,720 watts, Lance Wende, and his wife, Flo, have built what is perhaps the largest solar power system ever built for a slide-in truck camper. At 810 amp hours of lithium, the Wendes’ Battle Born battery bank is no slouch either. In this interview, Lance explains the reasons why they went with a Host Camper, a Ram 5500, and why they decided to build such a large solar power system. We hope you enjoy it.
Hi, guys! Tell us a little about yourself? Where are you both from?
Lance and Flo Wende: We are both originally from Hampstead, Maryland, which is a small town northwest of Baltimore. We did not do much traveling other than motorcycle trips which were typically within a 500-mile radius. After a guy’s cross country motorcycle trip with my two friends, I realized at that moment how much we were missing out on our beautiful country! Long story short, when I arrived in California I received word of my father’s passing, still working at 73 for his “retirement.” Well, he never got the chance to enjoy his retirement. At this point, it really got me thinking and I vowed I’d never be “that guy”.
Flo and I had already been talking about downsizing from our three bedroom, two story home that was barely being used since being empty-nesters. We did a lot of weekend camping which we loved, getting away from our everyday life to enjoy the quietness of being out in nature! Lance had stumbled across full-time RVing after doing some research on a repair to our camper. After much research on this lifestyle, we decided to set some goals and do a vision board to move forward with selling our house and all our belongings. We hit the road with our “at the time” 42-foot toy hauler in August of 2018 and continued working full-time remotely with our current employers from Maryland. We realized that we love to be outdoors exploring all the different areas, being adventurous with our Jeep and hiking as well. This lifestyle has been life changing in so many ways, such as many friendships on the road.
How long have you owned your Host Mammoth truck camper?
Lance and Flo Wende: We’re going on eight months now in our Host Mammoth 11.6. We downsized from a 42-foot Grand Design Momentum fifth wheel toy hauler that we had for the first four years of our nomadic life. We really wanted to have a different way of traveling with more freedom of boondocking and less limitations. The truck camper seemed to be perfect since we already had a RAM 3500 dually. Little did we know that RV and truck dealers are grossly wrong and just tell you what you want to hear for a sale. Actual experience would change that!
After traveling with one of the largest truck campers they make we realized that we really needed to upgrade our truck since we are living in it. We did upgrade to a 2022 Ram 5500 dually flatbed truck which really made a difference in our comfort level as we travel the USA!
Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
Lance and Flo Wende: We have a 2023 Host Mammoth 11.6, which has three slide-outs. As full-timers, working remotely, we wanted something that still had some open space and storage. We did love our fifth wheel which felt like home and had PLENTY of storage, but it was huge and cumbersome at times! We’ve always heard good things about Host and had toured a few in the past, falling in love with this layout. We were looking for a used one, but they were selling quickly. We wound up getting a call from a dealer that we were in contact with that had an opportunity of one that was ready to hit the assembly line at the factory that a young couple had just canceled on. We had to make a quick decision and we had the opportunity to make some changes to the layout so the timing worked out perfectly for us to take their place.
What mods have you made to your camper to make it your own?
Lance and Flo Wende: This is our home-on-wheels, so we were eager to make it our own. It also makes a great base station for our Jeeping adventures. We have already made so many changes in the short time we’ve owned it. The biggest mods, since we primarily boondock full time was upgrading our electrical system, converting to a composting toilet and onboard water filtration system.
We installed an Acuva 2.0 water purifier, which gives us plenty of drinking water to save on plastic water bottles. Along with the water system, we also installed a IRVWPC, which is a water pump controller that eliminates the typical surging sound. In addition, it also offers dry run protection, low flow protection, a running watchdog and long run timer.
We also installed an OGO Composting Toilet which allows us to conserve more water. It’s great that it eliminates the need to dump our black tank and lasts up to two weeks before needing solids to be removed and the 2.5 gallon urine tank every one to two days, leaving our “black tank” to be used only for our bathroom vanity since it was tied to that.
Other upgrades/mods include the addition of StableCamper stabilizers, modifying our rear slide from a small jack-knife sofa to a workstation desk area since we both work remotely full-time. We removed a bulky, heavy sliding wooden door for the bathroom to a nice sliding curtain. We’ve upgraded our small bathroom exhaust vent to a larger, simple, interior swap Vortex.
Since swapping to a chassis cab truck with a flatbed, our steps were raised approximately 7-inch so we got the Torklift GlowSteps with six steps that also touch the ground, which made it much safer and more stable.
Our bedroom upgrades include a 12 volt hardwired fan, a 12-inch Zinus mattress, Beddys bedding and air gap system under the mattress.
Our small wardrobe closet next to the refrigerator was modified to become a food pantry along with other upgrades like stainless steel residential faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, water leak sensors placed throughout, motion LED lights in cabinets and compartments, outdoor weather station, Starlink, PepWave cellular router/modem, etc.
How do you like your Host camper? What are your favorite features?
Lance and Flo Wende: We absolutely LOVE our Host Mammoth. Having less stuff gives us the ability to move quickly and easily and has been a game changer for us. We also like the fact that we can flat tow our Jeep, Rubie, since when we had the fifth wheel we had to drive separately. The floorplan with three slide outs, makes for a spacious interior yet divides the bedroom and living areas nicely. The slide system on the Host seems very robust compared to all other systems we’ve ever had and is very fast. All three slides are out in a matter of a minute. We forget that we are in the back of our truck sometimes. We have double pane windows with an added option of the solar mirror film, large dry bath, the large windows which give you great ventilation and viewing of the beautiful scenery while boondocking. The tank sizes for our Host truck camper are amazingly large at 65 gallons fresh, 51 grey and 32 black. The camper makes a great base station.
Your solar power system is amazing. Can you tell us more about it?
Lance and Flo Wende: Our old fifth wheel had HighTec (USA Made) solar panels for a total of 2,400 watts, a 3,000 watt Magnum hybrid inverter, Magnum solar controller and 1,000 amp hours of Battle Born lithium batteries. The need for such a large system comes from us both still working full-time and working east coast hours while primarily staying out west. As full time RVers, we don’t want to have to constantly worry about power consumption. This creates a need for a ton of usage very early in the morning, usually starting at 3:00am. Two computers with monitors, coffee pot, heater, refrigerator, etc. Since solar harvesting doesn’t really start until 10:00am or so, we need the battery bank to get us through and the solar array to quickly recharge it.
Our Host camper consists of the same Magnum components but in order to get the amount of solar we needed more real estate. This sparked the idea of building a rack to raise most of the panels over the AC unit and fans, etc. As an added upgrade, since already building a rack, I decided to take it a step further and make it capable of remotely tilting with actuators. The rack portion contains six HighTec 215 watt panels and two HighTec 215 watt panels are on the front cap for a total of 1, 720 watts of solar. Our battery bank consists of three Battle Born Gamechanger 270 amp hour batteries for a total of 810 amp hours. We typically take the bank down to around 70 percent on a regular basis, charged back to 100 percent by mid-day and have enough excess to get us through overcast days if needed. We’ve also installed a hardwired Progressive Industries surge protector.
We love the truck bed you built for it. Can you tell us more about it?
We actually found this truck brand new and already outfitted with the fully skirted aluminum bed and all other specs we were looking for, but all the way in Rhode Island! We were in Quartzsite, Arizona, at the time!
It’s very similar to the well-known CM but made by DynaMag. We have been very happy with it but didn’t realize until after receiving it that the stake pockets are much smaller than the industry standard. So, when we went to buy slip in tie down mounting points, they wouldn’t fit, leaving us no choice but to have them custom made by NTK Fab Works, who did an amazing job! Having the extra storage of the four skirted boxes and the addition of two 72-inch Buyers Products boxes mounted to the top have been a great addition for the storage we were missing with the 3500, leaving more space in the back of the truck cab.
Can you tell us about more about your truck?
It’s a 2023 RAM 5500 4×4 Chassis Cab in a Tradesman trim with a fully-skirted aluminum flatbed. Though we chose the lowest trim model, we were able to still have some added amenities like power windows/locks, keyless entry with push button start, 8.4-inch screen with back-up camera and Car Play. Due to the type of areas we’re typically in, we like having vinyl seats and flooring for ease of cleaning. It seems our vehicles are constantly in dusty environments.
Being a Ram 5500. We suppose that you are under your truck’s GVWR? Have you had your rig weighed?
The reason for moving to our 5500 Chassis Cab from our original 2018 RAM 3500 dually was all about our payload and payload capacity. Dry weight from the factory on the camper is posted at 3,955 pounds. After a full fresh tank, all the electrical upgrades and typical full time cargo, we weighed in at a whopping 7,440 pounds, well over our Ram 3500’s 5,750-pound rated payload by almost 2,000 pounds!
Our new 5500 payload capacity is 10,900 pounds. which puts us well under our limits and with a much higher comfort level that we aren’t over-taxing the rig.
Nice! Did you need to make any modifications to your Ram 5500’s suspension to improve the ride quality?
Yes, we’ve only made two mods to the truck suspension so far and it was more for ride quality than anything. We added Timbren’s SES bump stops that only touch when fully loaded and helps with bouncing on concrete roads and bridge transitions. We also added Kelderman’s dual steering stabilizer to help with the front end feeling a little light with all the weight on the rear. We may add some more weight to the front end as we’re slightly lighter up front while loaded than unloaded.
What other mods did you make to your Ram 5500 truck?
We added a FabFours Elite steel front grill guard/bumper combo in the event we ever hit any large animals and partly for a different look. The rest of the upgrades we’ve made thus far have been minimal and more cosmetic. Window vent visors, low profile hood deflector, rubber floormats, custom flat-folding floor for rear seat, GMRS radio for scouting out boondocking spots with no cell service, BulletPoint mounting system for phones/GPS/rear view camera, etc.
Do you have any regrets in any of your truck and camper choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
We’re loving the setup we have now, however, if I could go back and do it again, I’d probably go with an 84-inch CA chassis cab rather than the 60-inch. I was worried about the turning radius with the extended length but the wide track front end would easily make up for that. It would have been nicer to have the extra space between the cab and front of the truck camper.
What is your favorite truck camper mod or piece of gear that you take with you?
I would have to say the best upgrade we’ve made—besides solar/batteries—is the OGO Compositing Toilet. It gives us so much more time off-grid, mostly due to the lower water usage. We never realized how much water a typical RV toilet consumed until we went with a composting one. It also eliminates the need for dealing with typical sewage and keeps our black tank fresh and clean smelling.
As far as gear goes, we live a fairly simple life and don’t have much in the way of gear. Guess if I’d have to choose though, it would be our comfortable and easy to deploy/store Cliq High Back Chairs for sitting out enjoying nature and the ability to easily throw in the Jeep to take on the trails.
What is the longest amount of time that you have spent in your camper?
We are living full-time in the Host camper so it’s been eight months straight so far. As far as dry-camping goes, we’ve gone as long as three weeks at a time before needing to dump/flush/fill.
Where have you been in your rig?
We have been boondocking in the Arizona area all winter like Quartzsite, Yuma, Kofa Wildlife Refuge and the outer Phoenix area. We are currently boondocking in the Sedona area then heading to Moab for some Jeeping with friends.
What kind of mileage are you getting with your rig?
Fully loaded with a full fresh tank and pulling the Jeep, depending on terrain, we’re anywhere between 8-9 mpg. Unloaded, we get around 15-16 mpg but since we have the Jeep, we usually leave the camper on the truck. It saves us time loading and unloading and is pretty stable.
What wheel and tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
We’re still running the stock DH35 225/70-19.5 Hankooks. They are an all-traction tire that offers a separate steer tread also. The jury is still out but so far they seem like a nice tire. Only 5,000 miles so far and most of that was unloaded, being delivered cross country.
What kind of places are you planning to visit in your rig?
Over the next year we’re planning on leaving Arizona to head up through Utah into Idaho, (to the NW Truck Camper Rally) over to South Dakota and back down through Wyoming/Colorado. We’ll be spending a couple months next winter in the Mexican Baja. We want to eventually do the trek to Alaska!