A new subcategory has emerged in truck campers. These pop-up campers sit on top of pickup truck cap structures. In this feature, we’ll show five great soft side campers in this new trend that are creating the benchmarks for this emerging RV type.
Defining the Truck Cap Camper and Who They’re For
There are many ways to name these campers. For our purposes, we’ll refer to them based on how we introduced them. We will refer to them as “truck topper campers” or “truck cap campers.”
If you’ve ever seen a truck topper/cap, you know that they are truck bed covers usually made out of fiberglass or other hard material. They are flush with the pickup’s roof or have a roof that is slightly higher. These caps protect the contents of the truck’s bed from weather or other outside dangers.
The camper itself looks like a rectangular platform that sits above the cap when its folded up. When opened, it’s shaped in a triangular wedge where the widest end faces the back of the truck. The manufacturers use canvas or vinyl for the expandable sidewalls.
The interior floors have cushion floors that act as mattresses that can sleep up to two people. The frame of the entire camper gets its strength from aluminum tubing. Builders find ways to add creature comforts like:
- LED lighting
- USB ports and 110v plugs
- Insulating liners
- Solar panel wiring
- Roof rack storage
- Standing capability
- Truck bed utility enhancement
- Sleeps up to 2 people
- Come in multiple versions that fit quarter to one ton trucks
- Other features
Many people like the benefit of this type of camper since you don’t lose any utility space in your truck bed. Most of these campers have the ability to hold up to 500 pounds on the roof for kayaks, bikes, and other toys. Think of this RV as your all-in-one “backpack” for your adventure across North America.
The average price range of these campers ranges between $7,000- $10,000. Young individuals or couples will enjoy this RV if they like minimalist car camping. Most of these truck topper campers do come with aluminum ladders, so you don’t have to worry about jumping up and down all the time.
New lightweight truck campers that are entry-level start around the same price. Yet, these truck topper campers have more overall storage (using the truck bed), are the lightest truck campers, and give you that minimalist tent camping experience you wouldn’t get in a traditional truck camper. Truck cap campers also bolt into the bed, making it easier to take them on more off-road terrains.
5 Best Soft Sided Pop Up Campers/ Truck Cap Campers
Vagabond Outdoors Drifter
- Dry Weight: 6,500 pounds
- Base Price: $6,500
Vagabond spent a year and a half designing this truck cap camper. Before they launched it to consumers in March of 2018, they tested it in multiple environments that ranged from the northern reaches of Canada to Baja, Mexico. This all-aluminum frame camper is four-seasons ready for virtually any terrain.
Currently, Vagabond only builds the Drifter for mid-size (quarter-ton and half-ton short box) pickups. The full-size version is in development now. Like the mid-size version, the full-size will still have the advantage of barely affecting your gas mileage.
The Drifter has electric capability. With your own power source, you can use the LED lights and plug in your mobile devices. If you want to take advantage of the natural light, the windows have a clear vinyl layer between the blackout layer and the screen mesh.
What makes this truck topper camper unique is the ability to keep your bedding in place when you fold it down. Many of the models made by competitors require you to tear down the sleeping space when you fold everything down. You’ll also like the added comfort of the three-inch thick mattress.
AT Overland Summit Truck Top Camper
- Dry Weight: 340 pounds
- Base Price: $8,900
The Summit is one of three truck top campers AT Overland makes. Besides its wedge shape, this model keeps the bed of the truck open for your utility needs. That doesn’t mean the truck bed area isn’t good for livable space.
The topper windows use European RV methods. When you open them, they have pull up mesh screens to keep the bugs out. The standard exterior is a clear coat aluminum that is resistant to scuffing and other hazards that off-road conditions generally face.
The roof has a 600-pound weight capacity. You can mount various clips and other equipment to the sides for your cargo needs. It also comes with a carpeted drawer system that fits in the bottom of your truck bed
A Thinsulate brand liner fits inside the fire retardant canvas that is capable of near-freezing conditions. The short queen-size bed has a two and a half-inch thickness that is comfortable and supportive. Optional features include a heater and a Dometic chest refrigerator that plugs into the electric power strip.
Snap! Outfitters Treehouse
- Dry Weight: 340 pounds
- Base Price: $10,500
This U.S. military veteran-owned company opened its doors in 2018 in Pennsylvania. They build their Treehouse truck cap campers to each customer’s individual needs. There are common elements that make them one of the top builders of this subcategory of soft-sided pop-up campers.
All of their campers come with an attached fold-down ladder that makes it easier to get into the sleeping space. The two LED lights in the sleeping area and in the truck bed turn white or a softer red to give you the brightness you need. A power strip connected to the truck bed rail controls the lights and has power ports.
Snap offers solar prewiring. If you have your panels, you can ship them to their headquarters for factory installation on the roof. There’s space for up to two panels.
Other optional features include a brake light, winter liner that velcros in, and tubing to install an exterior shower. There are other features that can make your treehouse as deluxe or unique as you want. Fully featured versions can price around $15,000.
GFC Platform Camper
- Dry Weight: 275/XL 290 pounds
- Base Price: $5,750/ XL $6,250
The Go Fast Camper (GFC) Platform was one of the first on the market in 2017. They are the lightest pop-up truck campers in this category and the strongest. Almost every component comes out of its Montana location.
When folded, the tent structure folds down to six inches. The tent’s frame uses extruded aluminum that holds the vinyl material in place. All of the solid components are powder coated to prevent scratching.
The two black strips on the sleeping area’s roof have multiple functions. It puts off dimmable LED light and has USB ports on the end to charge your mobile devices. The ambient light radiates through the roof and into the truck bed to aid for night purposes.
When you’re ready to sleep, the movable cushions cover the entry point giving both sleepers plenty of room to get comfortable. The two-inch memory foam is a newer feature from the original materials. When you’re ready to go, the roof gives you up to 500 pounds of additional cargo weight for all of your things.
Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers Project M
- Dry Weight: 400- 515 pounds
- Base Price: Short Bed $8,995/ Long Bed $9,495
When Four Wheel Campers released their Project M to the public, many didn’t know what to think of it. In the almost 50 years of making traditional truck campers, many thought that this camper was incomplete. Truck Camper Magazine called the Project M a “…new product concept that challenges the very definition of pop-up truck campers and fuses the advantages of truck toppers and roof-top tents.”
In the almost 50 years of production, this was a radical shift for this truck camper manufacturer. Their motivation was to appeal to a market that their products weren’t attracting. With their quality and innovation, the Project M has features that are highly sought after.
Instead of a wedge-shape, Four Wheel keeps their rectangle-shaped top. This gives more front room in the cab-over section. With their resources, they have versions that fit quarter to one-ton pickup trucks.
In the truck bed, they have benches at the truck bed rail level where you can use the bed cushions for seating. The exteriors come in either a diamond plate or aluminum with plenty of room to attach equipment too. Optional equipment includes features like a refrigerator, cassette toilet, an awning, and others.
Do Truck Cap Pop-Up Campers Need Titles?
A common question people have is whether they need a title with their truck camper. In most cases, U.S. states consider them “cargo”, so titles, registrations, and VIN numbers aren’t needed. We do discuss the exceptions in our article about traditional truck campers.
For truck cap campers like this, the paperwork they give you will have information like the model number and serial number. In there, you may have a Certificate of Origin. You’ll want to contact your state’s DMV to find out the regulations regarding how they regard your camper.
If you do need official paperwork like a VIN or registration, that Certificate of Origin is the document you’ll need to get started. If you don’t need to register your topper camper, but you’re financing it, the bank may require a title for its records. In that case, you will need to first register your camper with the DMV first.
This may not be the case for these minimalist campers. Traditional banks have minimums on traditional lending. Since these truck cap campers are less than $10,000, there may be in house financing options that don’t require titles.
When you’re shopping around for them, if you plan on financing, you’ll want to speak to the sales representative about if and how financing works. You’ll also want to ask about what they know about any state registration requirements you’ll be responsible for. The point is, make sure you know the full story to avoid any unwanted surprises during your RV adventure.
Charles Joseph is one of the original authors of Camper Smarts from when it first started.