In our search for a pop-up truck camper we determined that they were either too expensive and hard to find (Four Wheel Campers), or too heavy for our half-ton truck (Toyota Tundra) once we factored in all the gear we wanted to bring on our trip. To address this we determined that we would build our own pop-up truck “camper” out of a truck canopy/cap. We were planning on installing an on-board air system to air up our tires after a 4-wheeling session so we would have compressed air available for lifting our pop top.
Truck Canopy Camper
The first item we purchased was the truck cap (or topper/canopy, whatever you want to call it). This was purchased second hand and almost matches our paint job (depends on lighting). We insulated this with ½” Styrofoam and Reflectix, and coated the interior in grey outdoor carpet. The Styrofoam, Reflectix and carpet was secured with industrial construction adhesive. We also installed a roof rack on the canopy which required drilling holes through the canopy. The roof rack bolts also help secure the roof insulation for the camper. We cut out bug screen to match the windows and secured it with Velcro to the outdoor carpet (allows for the screen to be removed when necessary).
Based on an earlier (extremely cold) experience camping in Kananaskis (Alberta, Canada) with an air mattress we determined that insulating the bottom of the truck bed was extremely important. We accomplished this using Reflectix and sectional foam floor.
We then constructed a frame out of steel angle. This frame supports the canopy when it is lifted. In hindsight, a base frame in addition to this frame may have allowed us to make our pop up camper easily removable (version 2.0 anyone?). We selected four pneumatic tie rod cylinders (20” stroke, 1.5” diameter) to lift the canopy. The compressed air components have a maximum system pressure of 120 psi which allows us to lift a total canopy and gear weight of approximately 1,500 lbs (provided the weight is evenly distributed).
At this point we had a system that could lift the canopy and our roof mounted gear when pressurized to approximately 60 psi. We initially used a bike pump to test lifting prior to completing the install of the onboard air system. This is a less expensive alternative for anyone who does not want to install an on-board air system (takes about 20 seconds to lift with a standard stand up bike pump).
With the system fully functional it was time to mount it on the truck. We mounted the on-board air system in front of the passenger side rear tire underneath the truck bed. This required us to drill mounting holes through the truck bed sheet metal.
We then bolted the base of the pneumatic tie rod cylinders to the truck bed. This again requires drilling through the sheet metal of the truck bed. We then determined that additional support needed to be added to prevent lateral motion and rotation of the pneumatic tie rod cylinders when the canopy is lifted on a non-level surface. This was accomplished by bolting steel rectangular sections to the truck side rails (existing threaded holes) and then screwing custom bent U-brackets (made with ¼” thick, 1” wide steel sheet – bent with bench clamp) into the steel sections.
Check out the lift in action: Truck Bed Camper Lift
Truck Bed Cabinets/Storage
With the lift built and operating successfully it was time to move on to the cabinets. We constructed two cabinets and two middle support sections. Each cabinet has three compartments, and one cabinet has a custom slide out drawer and table that extend past the back tailgate. The interior compartments all open upwards to allow them to be accessed when the system is in bed mode.
- Bed mode – the cabinets and support sections provide a flat support surface for sleeping and relaxing
- Bench mode – The support sections are removed providing a straight (or U-shaped) bench for sitting and eating or working.
Pop-Up Camper Walls
The side and back walls of the pop up camper consist of bug screen and 18 gauge black PVC. The bug screen was installed prior to the PVC and is permanent and not removable. The bug screen was attached to the steel rectangular support sections with self-taping screws and was also connected to the canopy with screws.
The PVC comes in two pieces. One piece wraps around the front and sides of the canopy. The sides of this piece can be lifted or staked out to allow for additional airflow in hot weather while still preventing rain from entering. The back piece of PVC connects to the canopy and the side pieces of PVC. This piece is used infrequently and is only necessary when the canopy is elevated during bad weather (rain or cold) or when there are lots of bugs.
Electrical and Solar
The electrical system installed for the canopy is extremely simple. We have an auxiliary battery (102 Ah deep cycle battery) in the bed of the truck in one of the cabinets. This battery is charged by two 100 W solar panels with a 30 Amp charge controller, and is also trickle charged by a 15 Amp fused connection to the trailer plug (connected to starter battery) which is only on when the truck is running.
The auxiliary battery powers the on-board air compressor, LED lighting, and 1500W inverter. So far we have never had to charge the battery (1.5 weeks in, will continue testing) as the solar and trick charging have been more than enough to power all the lighting and air compressor and also provide power for charging all our devices. The solar panels are secured to the canopy roof rack with a custom mount constructed out of aluminum c-channel that allows them to sit directly below the roof rack (allowing us to still place items on our roof rack (cargo carrier, surf board, etc…)
Bill of Materials
1 x truck canopy (locking T-handles with side opening windows)
1 x package of Styrofoam insulation (1/2”)
1 x grey outdoor carpet – also used to seal tailgate
1 x VIAIR Quarter Duty Onboard Air System
4 x 40 mm Bore x 500 mm Stroke Pneumatic Tie Rod Cylinders
25′ of ¼” Compressed Air Tubing
1 x In-Line Air Regulator with Gauge
3 x ¼” Push to Connect Air Hose T-Adaptors
2 x 90 degree ¼” air hose to 0.25 NPT threaded connectors
1 x Push to Connect Air Hose T-Valve
Assorted mounting bolts and mounting hardware
2” x 2” x ¼” steel angle
1” x 1” x 3/16” steel section
1 x 100/30A LED Micro Blade Fuse Block
Assorted Mini Blade Automotive Fuses (take care to select the appropriate fuse for your device and wire)
Hook-up Wire (select appropriate gauge based on current and insulation based on voltage)
102 Ah MotoMaster Eliminator Ultra AGM 12V Automotive Battery
Outtag 12Ft Cigarette Lighter Extension Cord w/Protective Cap 12V/24V Black Car Charger Cable
Reese Towpower 78119 Adapter with Built-in 12V Power Outlet (7-Way Blade to 4 or 5-Way Flat)
Renogy 200W 12V Monocrystalline Solar Bundle Kit
- 30 Amp Solar charge controller
- 2 x 100W RENOGY Solar Panels
Assorted electrical hardware (Zip Ties, Heat Shrink, Electrical Tape, Cable Sleeve)
2 x 100 lb 22” cabinet slides
Assorted screws and L-brackets
Additional vehicle modifications:
1 x 10′ x 10′ Canopy and EasyGo Canopy Tent
1 x Sport Rack Cargo Carrier
1 x Superwinch with Curt Hitch Mounting Bracket and Front Reciever
1 x Yakima Backswing
1 x Bike Rack
1 x Aeroblade Rhino Roof Rack (with track mounting)
1 x Rola Cargo Carrier
1 x Thule Clamp on Roof Rack