Selecting the main features for the camper

Posted 19 January 2020 by Vegard

Early 3D CAD concept, camper box 2

Early on in the project of building our own camper, there were a lot of decisions to be made. We had looked at several camper trucks and they were all very different with unique features. Nothing we found seemed to be exactly what we wanted. Our near ten years of shared traveling together as a couple (mostly buy car sleeping in some kind of tent) around Europe, meant that we had some experience on how we liked to travel and what features and equipment we would value to include in the new camper truck.

Although we were very fond of our Geländewagen with the Maggiolina roof top tent, we acknowledged its limitations. First of all we missed the posibility to stand upright inside the vehicle, and we were also missing a proper kitchen and dining table. Cooking and living outside the vehicle is totaly fine in nice weather and high temperatures, however during a typical Norwegian summer this type of weather is sadly quite rare, as the Norwegian weather is usually windy, rainy and relatively cold. Therefore, having most facilities inside the camper was of great importance to us, and we hoped somehow to solve this issues with the new camper build. Basically, we wanted to build a camper that allowed us to travel all-year round, in al sorts of climates, and with a bit more comfort than what we’d had so far. This meant there would be numerous things considerations to be made before the actual building process could start.

Here’s a list of the things we spent a lot of time deciding upon in the early phase of the project:

  • Number of seats and beds
  • GRP sandwich panels vs steel frame covered with alu-plates and plywood?
  • Angled or vertical walls?
  • Fixed roof or lifting roof?
  • Sself-supporting/load bearing camper box or a separate support frame?
  • Permanent or foldable bed?
  • Bathroom layout
  • Heating and cooking powered by firewood, propane, diesel or electricity?
  • Kitchen with cooktop only or also with an oven?
  • Rear mounted spare wheel attached to camper or with aseparate bracket?

We were planning to build the camper ourselves and had a quite limited budget. The space available on the back of the truck was less than nine square meters, meaning compromises would have to be made.

After endsless hours for research, debating and negotiations, we selected the main features for the camper design. The aim was to build an off-road overland camper that would enable us to live “off grid” for extended periods of time. The main features:

  • GRP Sandwich camper box, self supporting by design, but bolted to custom support frame made of steel with 3-point linkage to allow chassis flex. A steel frame structure would add too much unnecessary weight, and the steel profiles would make thermal bridges that easily would cause condensation and corrosion problems.
  • Vertical standing wall plates. Sloped side walls would make a slimmer and more elegant design, but straight standing wall panels makes a simpler and cheaper design.
  • Fixed roof with full standing height inside. Again, this makes the design and manufacturing simpler, and it’s still possible to keep the total height of less than 3,5 meters, which we consider acceptable
  • Outer dimensions of our designed camper box ended at 3900x2300x2100 (LxHxW)
  • The floor where designed with integrated plywood and wooden beams so that it in theory should be self supporting. But for practical reasons, and to out rule possible issues with the fixing brackets, we decided to bolt it to a support frame anyway.
  • Fixed bed for 2 persons available at all time, not based on re-arranging the seating arrangement or similar. Firstly, this means it’s possible to go to bed without too much hassle, and secondly, it’s possible for one person to stay up at use the dining table, while the other is sleeping.
  • Seating for a total of 6 persons with seatbelts
  • Total weight, in travel ready condition, at around 7 500 kg (this is not critical, as the truck is a “heavy duty version registered at 10 600 kg)
  • Kitchen with running water and a large sink, stove for cooking, refrigerator, and a decent sized counter top
  • Diesel powered stove and heating oven. Because of the various standards on the gas bottles, and somewhere also limited availability of propane gas, we quickly opted against it. Although a wooden stove is cozy and arguably looks cool in a camper, we thought it would unpractical, as the firewood has to be stored somewhere and the space is alreafy limited. Diesel powered heating and cooking is a bit more expensive and requires more maintenance, but on the other hand we will always have diesel available in the fuel tank.

With these features in mind, we came ut with a lot of various layout concepts. After a lot of debating back and forth, we eventually picked one design. Today, as the interior is more or less complete, we’re convinced that we picked the right one! Here’s some of the different layouts we considered: