For me, tent camping is fun. Tent camping in the rain is not fun. Packing up musty camping gear, putting that dripping wet gear in the car, hanging that soggy gear around my yard to dry is really not fun.
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Last year a light bulb went off in my head while I was packing up the car with cold wet camping gear… I need a truck camper! A truck camper would be waterproof or at least I hoped it would be! A truck camper would be a little place to hang out if the weather wasn’t so great and it would mean not having to deal with wet camping gear. And being self-contained all of my camping gear would be in one place which means I could quickly take off for the weekend (or week) if the mood struck.
So I did what everyone does when they need something. I went to craigslist. There were pages of HUGE truck campers. Just like my small workshop, my truck is small. Actually, it’s considered a mid-size truck, but even still none of these giant truck campers would fit in my pickup.
That’s when I had an idea. An idea wackier than my DIY air conditioner dresser! An idea crazier than my backyard poop bag dispenser disguised as a birdhouse! I’ll design and build my own truck camper! Today I’m excited to share with you the ideas for my “Skate-Away” DIY Truck Camper!
Skate-Away Camper Style
I’ve always wanted a camper. I love VW campers and even DIYed this flower power bus planter. I also love those “canned ham” campers which served as the inspiration for my vintage style camper napkin holder. While I dig those unique styles synonymous with the 50s, 60s, and 70s I wanted a different style for my truck camper.
I wanted my truck camper to blend in with the surroundings of the woods. I wanted it to look like a small cabin you might find in the forest. For the cabin style look, I drew on inspiration from another love of mine. Tiny houses! I’m obsessed with tiny houses and without a doubt, a cabin small enough to fit in the bed of my mid-sized pickup would be tiny!
To make the tiny cabin feel bigger I designed the Skate-Away Camper with LOTS of windows. I think the Skate-Away camper will have more windows than a manufactured truck camper. The windows will flood the tiny interior with lots of sunlight. And to let the fresh mountain air flow in I’ll integrate the window screen into the exterior window trim using a method similar to the window screens I built for my house.
Skate-Away Camper Construction
As I mentioned earlier my truck is small, so I wanted to keep the weight of the Skate-Away Camper relatively low. My goal weight for the truck camper is less than 800 pounds. In an effort to keep the weight low I took a different approach to design the walls of the camper.
For the camper walls, I took inspiration from my DIY workshop doors. For my workshop doors, I used frame-and-panel style construction. Just as the name suggests a frame-and-panel is, well, a panel surrounded by a frame. The panel “floats” in a groove routed into the frame which allows the panel to swell and shrink with seasonal changes.
I could have designed the truck camper with a more traditional interior frame and then attached an exterior plywood “skin” but this method would have increased the weight. Instead, the frame-and-panel construction will allow me to use thin panels within the 1×4 frames. This construction method would help me to keep the weight low.
And while we’re talking about plywood I didn’t want to use any plywood for this project. I’m trying to reduce the amount of plywood I use in my DIY projects, so I didn’t want to use any in my Skate-Away Camper. Instead of using plywood for the panels I will make my own panels just like I did for the DIY bathroom vanity and workshop door.
To make the panels I’ll use my bandsaw outfitted with a resaw blade to resaw pieces of 1×6. Think of resawing as splitting a piece of wood lengthwise and then opening it like a book. After resawing, I will be left with pieces that were about 3/8” thick. Those pieces will be edge glued to form wide panels.
Once the glue is dry I will use my thickness planer mounted on my flip-top workbench cart to smooth the panel sections and plane them until they easily fit in the grooves. Skate over to How to Make a Book-Matched Panel for more details about how I will make the panels.
Are you thinking you might want to make the Skate-Away Camper but you don’t have a bandsaw or thickness planer? No worries, you can use 1/4” plywood instead of making your own panels. Not using plywood is just a personal preference for me.
The wall frames will need grooves routed into the frame to receive the panel. The groove will be made using a router, mounted in my Kreg Bench Top Router Table and 1/4” straight cutting bit.
My favorite joinery method is pocket hole joinery and the truck camper won’t be any different. The Skate-Away Camper will be assembled with pocket holes and wood glue. I don’t use it often, but there will be a few locations where I’ll use the biscuit joiner or plate joiner in combination with pocket holes and wood glue.
Skate-Away Camper Interior
The interior of the Skate-Away Camper will be small but functional. For sleeping, I plan to use a full-size futon mattress. During the day the futon mattress can be converted from a bed to a couch to provide seating.
I wanted to add a hinge at the top of the windows, but I have a little design issue. The roof rafters terminate into a “header”. If the windows were hinged at the top this header would prevent the windows from being able to fully open. So instead right now I plan to use window screen hangers to keep the windows in place. This will allow the windows to be removed to allow fresh air in and replaced if it rains.
This plan isn’t ideal as the window frames will need to be stored somewhere in the truck camper. I’m hoping I come up with a better idea before I get to this point of the build.
Skate-Away Camper Exterior
The exterior of the Skate-Away Camper will be painted with colors inspired by nature. I’m planning to use an exterior high-gloss paint to protect the truck camper from the elements. And I plan to use my HomeRight Super Finish Max paint sprayer to apply a coat of primer and two coats of paint.
Skate-Away Camper Long-Term Goals
I would love to make the Skate-Away Camper functional to use for an extended period of time, a cross-country trip or this road trip that keeps you in 70 degree weather all year. Some of the things I would eventually like to include is a small place to cook a meal. I LOVE this Multifunction Breakfast Center. It has everything I would need in one convenient little unit. You can make coffee, fry eggs and bake biscuits all in one spot.
And I know what you’re thinking. How will I power the Multifunction Breakfast Center? Eventually, I think it would be cool to equip the Skate-Away Camper with solar power. I’m not familiar with setting up solar as a source of power so I’ll definitely need to do some research on this.
Another goal would be to add a small sink for washing hands and washing dishes. When the futon mattress is in the bed position there will be just a tiny amount of space left in the truck camper. This space could be used for a sink, but the sink will have to be really small. Finding a sink this small will also require some research.
Skate-Away Camper To Be Determined
There are a few things I still have to figure out. And the things I need to figure out are big deals! The first is, how will I get the camper in and out of the truck? I’m thinking of using jacks like these attached to all four corners.
The second big question is how will I attach the camper to the truck? I like these bed clamps, but I took some measurements and it appears they won’t fit my truck. My second option is tie downs similar to these that attach to the frame.
I would love to hear your suggestions if you have some ideas about how to get the camper in and out of the truck or how to attach the camper to the truck.
Skate-Away Camper Plans
Enough reading about the Skate-Away Camper now let’s start building! This is a BIG project, so going forward I’ll share plans for the individual components like the lower side walls, front and back walls, upper side walls, roof, windows and doors, and a final post assembling all of the components.
Thank you for stopping to check out my biggest, craziest DIY project yet. The Skate-Away DIY Truck Camper! Please follow me on Instagram for Skate-Away Camper sneak peaks and build progress pics.