Why You Should Buy Rugged Mountain’s Denali 3S Truck Camper

There’s no doubt about it. Of the 403 truck campers present at the 2024 Truck Camper Adventure Quartzsite Rally, none got more attention than the Rugged Mountain Denali 3S. As a matter of fact, the line to tour the flatbed, triple-slide camper during the rally open house was non-stop. Yes, interest in the company’s brand new X14 prototype was pretty high too, but that’s another story that we will tell later. Why did the Rugged Mountain Denali 3S get so much attention? The bold, red mountain wrap certainly helped, but those who toured the 250 square foot camper were wowed by the camper’s bright interior, the 720 amp hour lithium battery system, the massive kitchen with a center island, the dual induction cooktop, the automated bunk bed, and the 82 gallon fresh water holding tank, the largest in the industry. Why should you buy Rugged Mountain’s Denali 3S truck camper? Because it offers all of these things and a whole lot more. To learn more about this modern, cutting-edge flatbed that we affectionately call “Big Red,” Rugged Mountain’s CEO, Jesse Collinsworth, was kind enough to answer several questions.

Thanks, Jesse, for talking with us. So what were your impressions of the rally?

Jesse Collinsworth: I loved it—403 campers! You should feel good about that, Mike. That’s phenomenal. And I can tell you that first day showing the Rugged Mountain Denali 3S and the Rugged Mountain X14, we didn’t get a break. The lines were non-stop as you saw. I was very impressed.

What kind of feedback did you get on the Big Red Denali 3S?

Jesse Collinsworth: All positive. I really had no negative feedback. There were quite a few bigger campers there, lot’s of triple-slide Host and Eagle Cap owners. These were the ones that came over and looked at it. Everyone had positive things to say about the camper. And of course, when you walk in, it’s the same. Everybody’s just blown away by how much actual floor space and room there is inside the camper compared to all the other manufacturers. Instead of a peninsula, the Denali 3S has a center island, so, you can actually walk around your entire kitchen. It makes a big difference.

You nailed it with the Denali 3S’ layout and design. What inspired you to design and build such a spacious camper?

Jesse Collinsworth: Well, my story on this floor plan is, obviously, I have a family with two young daughters. So when I was designing this floor plan, no other camper provided a place where my daughters could sleep and my wife and I could sit while they were in bed. So I needed a dual bunk bed and a couch to be able to sit in the living room area instead of sitting up in the bedroom on the mattress. So that specifically led me to Denali 3S design where we could sit in the living room, the wife and I, and still allow them to sleep.

The dinette bunk bed is an option, right?

Jesse Collinsworth: The bunk bed is an option, yes.

How much does the Rugged Mountain Denali 3S weigh?

Jesse Collinsworth: The Rugged Mountain Denali 3S weighs 5,538 pounds. We don’t provide a “dry weight” because, truthfully, it’s never dry. The minute you pull off the lot, it’ll never weigh that. So, I’m not that camper manufacturer that’s going to tell you that’s the weight of my camper because it will never weigh that again in its life because the first thing you’re going to do is put stuff in it. And being a stick-built camper, it’s going to lighten up when the wood dries out some, but you’re going to add weight to it regardless. What I tell my customers is wet, fully loaded, this camper is going to weigh between 7,000 and 7,500 pounds. And this is my experience from using this camper. That’s fully-loaded with all my gear and everything in here including 82 gallons of fresh water.

The Denali 3S requires a Class 5, two-ton truck to haul it, correct?

Jesse Collinsworth: It does, and we are clear about that. When you start calculating the weight, I mean, nearly every truck is overloaded that has a triple-slide camper out there. Regardless what people think, they’re not designed to go on a one-ton truck, even though they’re advertised that way. So it only made sense for me to go to a flatbed chassis. And I strictly tell people it is designed for a two-ton truck. It’s not designed for a one-ton.

When it comes to the appearance, our Ram 5500 is really not much different than a one-ton. Yeah, it’s a little bit longer, but the payload is so much more for practically the same truck. And once you switch to a flatbed, once you do it, you will never go back because the storage capabilities of the flatbed with the boxes and with the flatbed is more than any truck bed out there. It’s pretty significant.

Your Denali 3S was a real head-turner at the rally. The camper’s size and the graphics really made it stand out. Is there a story behind the red color?

Jesse Collinsworth: There is. Two years ago, I took a prototype that was white with just standard swishes graphics on it with my white truck, and it never got attention. So I had a customer—and this is true story here—I had a customer who ordered a Denali 1S and he had a nice truck that was graphite colored. And it was sitting in my shop with the LiquidSpring and everything. It was the exact same truck that I had, but his was just that graphite color and it sat in my shop for a little over six months waiting for the camper. And every customer that walked in there said how nice that truck was. I mean, they just commented how beautiful that truck was. I never got comments on my white truck that way. I will never own another white truck for business purposes again, just because it doesn’t get the attention. My least favorite color is red, and now I have a red truck and a red camper, and I can’t go anywhere without someone recognizing it. It definitely serves a purpose. By far, the hardest part of my Denali 3S build was designing the graphics package for the wrap.

The Denali 3S’s electrical system is impressive. What are the specs?

Jesse Collinsworth: In my personal Denali 3S here, I’ve got six 175-watt Expion360 on panels on the roof, so I’m pulling in 1,050 solar watts. In the basement, I currently have two of the Expion360 368 amp hour cube lithium batteries with room for one more. And I have a full Victron system in there with the 3,000 watt inverter charger. I also have three Victron 30 amp DC to DC chargers. So, I’m currently running 90 amps driving down the road.

Very nice! Is there room for more solar panels on the roof?

Jesse Collinsworth: I believe so. We are currently working on a way to fit two more 175-watt panels for 1,400 watts total.

We were happy to see an induction cooktop inside. What do you do for heating and air conditioning?

Jesse Collinsworth: I built this before I had diesel options, a diesel on-demand heater option, but I built this one prior to that. So I have two devices that run off of propane. I have a Furrion on-demand water heater, and then I’ve got my furnace. But other than that, I’m running full electric. I have a True Induction two burner cooktop, and then I have a 1,000 watt convection microwave oven with an air fryer, that we do offer.

For heating and air conditioning, I am currently using a Houghton heat pump and it is also an AC unit, as part of our upgrade options.  As standard we use a rooftop AC.  Without the diesel option we also have a 20K BTU forced air furnace as standard.

Sweet! Can you tell us more about the diesel heating option that you just mentioned?

Jesse Collinsworth: The company I’m working with is called Elwell. The model is called the Timberline 2.0. It burns 1.1 liter per hour under diesel, and it’s like 1.3 liters under gasoline option. It is a glycol-based system and has two zones. We run a zone up in the cabover sleeping area, and a zone down in the living area. They each can be controlled individually. This system is an on-demand water heater system with a 1.2-gallon tank backup with electric elements backup option. So, you can run your electric and diesel (gas) at the same time or one or the other individually. It’s very efficient and eliminates the propane option entirely, plus it’s safer. And let’s be honest, most people traveling are either getting diesel or gas. There’s no point in getting propane if you have this option. I beta tested the first unit, and we are now putting it in our production units.

We’re certain that the Denali has the largest holding tanks in the industry. How large are they exactly?

Jesse Collingworth: The Rugged Mountain Denali 3S has 82 gallons fresh, 77 grey, and 35 black. The Denali has the largest tanks in the industry. I can guarantee that. I’m not walking on eggshells saying that either. I don’t think anybody out there can compete with us.

Are your holding tanks located forward for center of gravity purposes?

Jesse Collinsworth: It was a challenge, but yes, all our tanks are installed in the front of the basement and sit forward of the truck axles. My center of gravity, on this particular camper, works on a 60-inch cab axle, not just an 84-inch cab axle. It’ll work on the 9-foot bed because my center of gravity is more forward. And the more water you put in there, the better the center of gravity gets.

Rugged Mountain Denali 3S Specifications

Being a four-season camper, how are your holding tanks heated?

Jesse Collinsworth: They’re heated, but I won’t tell you it’s a heated basement because I’m not using forced air. I call it a “conditioned basement.” I use my basement for return air. I have return vents up in the cab of the Denali, that bring the air into the basement, making the basement the same temperature as up above. There’s a reason why we do this, and it’s based upon my experience as a tiny home builder.  With forced air in the basement and cab, it creates positive pressure, and that air won’t circulate.  Using it the way we do, it creates air circulation in our cab as well as our basement.

What do you use to insulate the camper?

Jesse Collinsworth: I use spray foam insulation for the Denali models and the new X14 will have spray foam as well.  The spray foam is a 2-inch, open cell, and has an approximate R-9 or R-10 value.

Your campers feature an all-wood frame. Is there a reason you don’t use aluminum like the competition?

Jesse Collinsworth: At Rugged Mountain, I’m doing things in the industry nobody else is doing. The fiberglass that you see is Crane Composites Noble. You see it on big, high-end motor coaches. I’m the only camper manufacturer currently using it. And I build a full, stick-built camper, which I stand behind. I’m not a big fan of metal. Metal is a conductor and thermal bridger. I know you’ve talked about this in some of your articles, Mike. Metal is a conductor, not an insulator. It’s basic physics.

I get asked a lot if I’ll switch and ever do a metal-frame camper, and currently that answer is no. I’ve tested it many times. Everything that you attach to that metal, vibrates loose a lot easier than wood. So, I just don’t like the metal product. Wood is a proven method. I mean, wood-frame campers have been around forever. Everybody’s worried about it. And as you know, it’s not about the structure, it’s about stopping leaks before they happen. Maintain your roof and you will have a product that will last forever. Truthfully, if I was to ever build a metal camper at this point, it would be a metal-on-metal with aluminum sidewalls and aluminum framing.

How much is the Denali 3S? What does it sell for?

Jesse Collinsworth: We are selling it for $99,400.

Interested in seeing Rugged Mountain’s “Big Red” in person? You’re in luck. The camper will be shown at the following rallies and shows in 2024: the 2024 Overland Expo West, May 17-19, in Flagstaff, Arizona; the Northwest Truck Camper Rally, July 17-21, in Cashmere, Washington; the Overland Expo Pacific Northwest, June 28-30, in Redmond, Oregon; and the Overland Expo Mountain West, August 23-25, in Loveland, Colorado.

About Mello Mike 889 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert and licensed ham radio operator (KK7TCA), he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, holds a BS degree, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 4WD Ram 3500 outfitted with a SherpTek truck bed with a Bundutec Roadrunner mounted on top.

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