If you follow Van Clan’s very own Van Life Instagram channel, then you may have noticed that we’ve been on an international adventure with our friends Four Wheel Campers over the past couple of weeks. Never content with just travelling around Europe to find out more about the Van life movement and the world’s greatest campervan conversions, we took a trip over to California to take a look at two gnarly new campers on the back of two equally impressive off road trucks. Four Wheel Campers are redefining the overland world with their simple to use pop up campers, an easy and affordable option for vandwellers who order their adventures ‘extra tough’ with a slice of ‘off-road madness’ on the side. You might have already read our article on the Hawk and Fleet slide-in camper modules that we tested last October, but get ready to forget everything you’ve learnt about these mighty off grid adventure machines. We’ve spent 15 days cruising around California in one of the newer models, the Hawk range of flatbed Pop Up Truck Campers, and it’s safe to say that it’s blown our tiny European minds!

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You might think that we should have learnt everything there is to know about these Four Wheel Campers by our third trip to the United States, but every time we pull up to the factory, we feel our jaws drop all over again. Not only are Four Wheel leading the way in pop up campers throughout America and the rest of the world, but they’ve now moved on to designing and building the ultimate Flatbed Truck Camper for all of you off grid living enthusiasts out there that refuse to see the end of a road as the end of your journey. This camper is the most rugged, durable, and beastly off grid home I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in, and it’s pretty damn comfortable too!

Take A Look At The New Four Wheel Flatbed Pop Up Truck Campers!

Before we jump into the where, when, and why, first I’m going to give you a little bit of insight into how these Four Wheel Campers are made. We’ve had the opportunity to delve deep into the Four Wheel inner sanctum (in other words, ‘the factory’) several times now, and the technology that goes into making each of these Pop Up Truck Campers just keeps getting better and better. For starters, let’s talk briefly about the process. The skeleton of each camper is made 100% from Aluminium; you won’t find any wood or other materials that could easily rot in damp, humid conditions, just top quality, flexible aluminium that is guaranteed to give you your monies worth. We spoke to a guy on the road who is currently travelling across America in his dads old Four Wheel Camper from 1995; that thing was 24 years old, and it still looked in excellent condition. It even had the old fibreglass stitched roof panels and hasn’t had a single leak! The company now make the roof out of a single sheet of Aluminium to eradicate any chance of leaking, but it’s nice to know that the vintage beauties are still going strong out on the roads!

The FWC factory is split into multiple production areas ranging from woodwork to upholstery, and every section is run by professionals who eat and breathe their craft. On our latest tour, we were introduced to a brand new laser guided cutting machine that cuts metal beams much more efficiently and safely, cutting down any waste and the chances of nasty accidents (both of which we all want to see less of in the world!) 

Pop Up Truck Campers - Prosser Dam

Each camper is custom made to fit the purchasers specifications; you can get right down to the nitty gritty and decide on everything from plug placement to fabric choices, making a camper that is essentially an extension of yourself. With a waiting time of around 10-12 weeks, you might want to bookmark this page and just get your order placed now so that you can get one in time for Christmas, but if you still need a little more convincing as to why these Pop Up Truck Campers are the best in the business, then please feel free to carry on reading! 

What’s All This About A Range Of Flatbed Pop Up Truck Campers?

Sorry; If you’ve read my articles before. then you’ll know how easy it is for me to get carried away! Up until our last trip, each one of the pop up truck campers that we’ve tested and reviewed has had to ability to slide in and out of your truck, making them a perfect choice if you need to use your vehicle for day-to-day activities or work. These original style camping pods are great if you like to camp every now and again or decide to head off at a moments notice on a Friday night, but what if you want to do some serious off grid living in the wilderness? What if you want to go where no camper has boldly gone before, bouncing and crashing through the undergrowth in search of park-up spots that iOverlander could only dream of. The Hawk range of Flatbed Pop Up Truck Campers make any off grid adventure feel like a walk in the park, and it does it all while giving you extra space, a more durable ride, and even more storage space for all of your off grid needs. 

Take a look at that flatbed in all it’s glory. Let me explain why this is so exciting for any truck life newbies out there. If you look at a conventional truck that your milkman or postwoman might drive around, there’s usually a bit on the back with three sides to stop things rolling out, and a tailgate that lifts down to give the driver access. Four Wheel’s normal modules slide in and out of this back section, but because of the predetermined size of the rear of the truck, you can’t get too creative with the amount of space inside the camping pods themselves. If you remove this rear section entirely and put on a rad looking flatbed and soup up the suspension, then you immediately open up the possibilities of having longer and wider pop up campers, giving you more space both inside and outside the camper. If you’re pushed for time and want the ‘Too Long; Didn’t Read’ version – this flatbed gives you way more room and looks badass. There, now you know!

Taking A Look Around The Hawk Flatbed Pop Up Truck Camper

It can be really frustrating when companies send you to one place to order your flat bed, and then another to pick it up and fix it onto your truck, a process which usually ends up causing you unnecessary stress and eats into your precious free time. As well as being the main importers of this Australian-made flat bed, Four Wheel Campers also do all of the hard work for you in-house, including adjusting your trucks suspension and adding the necessary parts to turn your off grid vehicle into something that ends up looking like an extra from the new Transformers movie. The white Hawk camper which features in the pictures throughout this article fits on top of the flatbed with room to spare; if you need to use those extra inches and max out the available space, then speak to Four Wheel about creating your ideal adventure home from home.

Let’s start by taking a look at the lockable cupboards in the base of the flatbed, another feature that makes these pop up truck campers perfect for the outdoorsy traveller with more van life essentials than children. Removing the truck bodywork in favour of a flatbed setup gives you tonnes more storage space, in this case, two larger cupboards for your leads, cables, towropes etc at the front (one on each side), and two smaller boxes at the back which are perfectly sized to house extra gas cannisters, muddy shoes, or wet waders etc. The best thing about these boxes is that they’re completely bear proof, so you won’t get Yogi or any of his mates trying to pry them open to see what’s inside. This might not seem that exciting if you’re reading this from a campground in the heart of Europe, but if you’re heading up through Lake Tahoe or into the depths of Yosemite this summer, then you’ll understand the importance of having gear like this along for the ride. 

pop up truck campers flatbed in the workshop
The flatbed set-up in its natural habitat

What Else Is Different About This Flatbed Camper?

The base vehicle of this particular Pop Up Truck Camper is a Dodge Ram 3500, an absolute goliath of a vehicle that provides comfort and speed in equal measures. The alpine sound system in the cab pumped out bass notes so low that our gear on the back seat started vibrating, and ventilated seating didn’t go a miss on those hot days either. The truck that you choose as your main vehicle will vary due to personal choice, but one thing that will always end up changing if you go for a flatbed option is the location of your fuel tank. The FWC flatbed set up implements your fuel tank into the main body of the flatbed fram itself; the new nozzle is placed in a convenient location on the side of the truck, right next to the all important DEF nozzle, a liquid that helps to reduce the amount of emissions that these diesel guzzling minotaurs produce. 

steps going up into the camper

After you’ve increased the height between your wheel and the truck bed, installed a state-of-the-art suspension system, and added on some beefy off-road tyres, your’e going to be had pushed to get up into the camper itself without obtaining super powers. You might remember the nifty flip-down steps on the Toyota Tacoma that I drove last year, but with the side-door layout on the Hawk Pop Up Truck Camper, they wouldn’t really cut it (especially seen as though there’s a whole heap of rubber right in the way!). The Dodge/Hawk combo makes use of a set of retractable stairs that clip in place and can be adjusted to the user’s preference. They have about 6 steps in total and despite sounding a little creaky are perfectly safe. I even gave them the 11-stone bounce test and they held up just fine. It might seem a little unconventional to climb up over the tyre, but having a side door layout leaves so much more space for a seating area and other potential surprises inside. 

The outside of the Hawk Camper itself has all of the same amenities that we have come to know/love/rely on from other Four Wheel Camper models. Walk around the outside and you’ll see the familiar exterior shower and power inlet sockets, the easy-unscrew sink cap to drain your waste water, and the propane tank cupboard with it’s two pre-installed gas canisters all nicely locked down and fitted into place.

Gas canisters in these pop up truck campers

One new addition (which I should point out that we didn’t actually try as this was only our vehicle for a couple of weeks) is a Dometic chemical toilet which was pretty much the same size and width as an ordinary porcelain throne that you might find in a terrace house or your grandad’s garage. A lockable, push-button door opens up to reveal your cassette tank which can be easily removed and emptied down a black-waste drain or in your local campsite. If you want to save the space and use it for something more exciting than a toilet, then you could always ditch the travelling restroom entirely and go with one of the portable options on our best camper toilets list. 

What’s Inside These Hawk Flatbed Pop Up Truck Campers?

If you haven’t realised that these Four Wheel Campers have pop-up roofs by now, then there really is no hope. Once popped, the Hawk gives you a height of 6.6 feet to stand up and move around in. The available height inside these campers is always one thing that shocks the people that we meet on the road and is a great selling point for anyone who’s planning on spending a lot of time travelling around in one of these things. And it’s not just the height that’s impressive either; the extra width that the flatbed provides makes a huge difference when it comes to the internal layout. I’ve spent time in both a standard Hawk and the flatbed version, and the extra room is noticeable and appreciated over a long stint of tiny home living. 

Hang On…Are They Hard To Pop Up?

Each camper comes with gas-assist lifters which help to push the top up and slow the roof as it comes back down when folding away. Four Wheel have simplified the process so that it can be done with one hand, and even while jet-lagged and before you’ve had breakfast. That’s a very specific description because it’s everything that we had to contend with on our first day with the campers! The roof panel on these campers is fastened down via six clamps that keep everything in place while you’re hurtling down the freeway or careering through the undergrowth on your favourite off-grid trails, so there’s no need to worry about your top popping halfway through your journey. While it’s not advisable on long journeys, the vinyl sided roof can be left up for short journeys if you’re just nipping to the shop or driving around the corner, but just double check any height restrictions before you set off!

Ok, Back To The Inside!

The back of the camper is where the magic happens, with a space that has a multitude of uses depending on your specific off-grid needs. The extra width is ideal for a double bench seating area and table combo, making mealtimes with your family and friends or digital nomad style working on the go a breeze. The model that we took out on the road had extra storage underneath the floor panels by our feet, which really came in handy when we ran out of cupboard space after putting away all of the food that we had bought for the trip.

If you follow what’s going down in the Overland world, then you might have seen our video on Mak and Owen (@boundfornowhere) and their very own flatbed pop up truck camper with a shower tray and pull-around curtain right in the same spot that you’re looking at above. I really meant it when I said that the designs of your Four-Wheel Campers can be entirely customisable (just don’t go asking for a log burner or a laser cannon; let’s keep things safe, folks). One thing that I would like to see here is a couple of hooks or latches for the fold out doors to attach to so you can rummage around inside the space with both hands. Something to work on for our 2020 visit, guys?

Get The Storage Section Over With Already…

storage in the four wheel pop up campers

You might laugh, but good storage is the key to living off grid for long periods of time. I’ve been living in a van full time for almost 2 years now, and there’s not a day goes by that I don’t thank Rose for insisting on implementing the extra storage solutions that she designed in our build. The Hawk Flatbed Pop Up Truck Camper has three cupboards and two pull out shelves in the main kitchen unit, all of which clip-in in or have a latch to stop them from flying open while the vehicle is in transit, but there are also large storage areas under each of the bench seats at the back of the living area too. These are big enough to store your portable toilet, sleeping bags, beer, wine, spare clothes; you name it, and as long as it will fit through the gap, you can store it in there. 

One new addition that I really liked in these flatbed pop up truck campers is the storage underneath the ultra-comfy bed. For anyone who is new to the world of Four Wheel Campers, these beds pull out and can be made bigger with the included cushion pads, turning your mattress from a queen into a super king deluxe royal dream bed. Rose and I were both star fishing on this thing while sleeping and didn’t even bump into each other, and the comfortable foam pads will turn the most wired travellers into sleeping babies within seconds. 

Smaller versions of the gas-assist lifters that help the roof to go up and down can be found underneath the bed in these flatbed pop up truck campers. You can lift the mattress board up with one hand and let the pistons do the rest, revealing ample space for all of your clothes, shoes, underwear and more hidden underneath. We had two weeks worth of clothes in here and it didn’t even look full, so it would definitely be able to house everything that you’d need for a month or more of alternative living. If you throw a Scrubba wash bag into the mix too, then you’ll only have to visit the laundrette once every blue moon!

It’s Time To Talk About Power!

Four Wheel Campers provide solar packages up to 320W on their campers, making them ideal for anyone who wants to spend time away from the drudgery of the campsite and who prefers living in forest glades or up on the top of mountains. The Hawk comes with one 12V battery as standard, but you have the option of adding a second 12V battery or going for two 6V instead. I have it on good authority that the 6V batteries FWC use can keep the fridge running in hot temperatures for a full day even without solar to fill them back up again.

We set off equipped with two 12V batteries which were kept topped up throughout the entire trip via the solar panel on the roof and an all-important split charge relay that pumped juice from the truck battery whenever the engine was on. We charged up our phones and laptops from the electrical system in the back of the van and had no problems on the road. The Dodge Ram 3500 that we were driving also had a laptop plug by the passenger seat too, as well as USB slots for charging and using Apple CarPlay. Turns out Apple Maps is pretty good in the USA, which is a good job because I completely forgot to bring our TomTom Go Camper along for the ride! 

Having a truck camper has some serious speed benefits too (not that I was speeding, Mum…). Vehicles like the Toyota Tacoma and the Dodge Ram have got what the brits might call ‘oomph’ about them, which means that they can pull off the starting line pretty quickly even with a great big camper on the back of them. But not only do they get you to Yosemite and back again faster than the Delorian, but these Truck Camper combos are perfectly suited for powering through the type of rocky terrain that Americans are all too used to. Most of the roads that I take my Camper Conversion on in Europe are flat or marginally cobbly; I never have to compete with some of the trails that we tested out over the past couple weeks. And you know what, the campers were absolutely fine at the end of every journey. The plates were where we left them, the food was still in the fridge, even the cushions stayed up on bench sofa seats. These Pop Up Truck Campers make getting off gird incredibly easy, and they make offroading accessible to anyone. 

fridge in the Hawk Pop Up Truck Campers
These12V fridges are plenty big enough to store tonnes of food for your trip into the wild

I Bet They’re Pretty Useless in Cold Weather Though…Right?

My first thought when I saw these campers initially was that they would get pretty cold once the vinyl roof was popped up. I was wrong, but not in a ‘holy hell it’s like an inferno in here’ kind of way. The campers themselves retain heat pretty well, but thanks to the furnace which can be set to your optimum temperature via the analogue control box, you can keep your living area toasty all night long. I like the fact that it’s analogue as it’s quicker and easier to set, and the furnace automatically comes back on again once the temperature drops below your desired setting. I know that we were in California in August and it’s usually hot, but the weather down Highway 1 was pretty abysmal on a couple of nights. We had the heater on while parking on the shores of Lake Tahoe and it made what would have been a chilly night very comfortable indeed. 

roof vent
If the windows don’t cut to mustard, these roof vents suck air into the camper and make things nice and cool in a jiffy!

The window flaps also create a great crosswind when pulled down, and they come with mosquito netting fixed into the vinyl roof itself, so there’s no need to mess around with installing stuff on the go. You can choose to have air coming in, a plastic cover that velcros over to just let light in, or a privacy cover that blocks out the outside world completely. Obviously you’re not going to be in total darkness even with the sun up outside, so if you’re a late sleeper, then you might want to bring an eye mask along with you on a trip. Life is for living, but only after 9am, right?

Final Thoughts…

The Hawk range of Pop Up Truck Campers feels like a slice of luxury off grid living. The bed is massive, the furnace is a really nice touch, and the the bench seating is a great place to sit and watch the waves on the ocean while having your breakfast. I’m used to a hi-top van, but I don’t mind popping the top up before use as it only takes a couple of minutes. Twinned with a beast like the Dodge Ram 3500, these campers are unstoppable, and with the added bonus of the souped up flatbed added into the mix, well…you’ve got an overland vehicle that will seriously take some beating. 

Now I know what you’re all thinking; ‘he’s biased because he’s just been driving one around for a few weeks in the sunshine’, but don’t forget that this is the thirds time I’ve reviewed these campers and my opinion of them hasn’t changed. I’ll always be a van lover; trucks are too powerful for my life here in Europe and unnecessary for most of the routes that we take, but If I lived in America full time I’d get myself one of these Pop Up Truck Campers the day I arrived. The Flatbed has so much storage that It’s practically a garage, and there’s plenty of space for my food and clothes inside the camper itself. I’m used to tiny house living, and the Hawk Flatbed combo didn’t feel cramped or squashed in any way (unless you try to sit on the bench seats without the pop topped, then you’ve got yourself a problem). 

Pop up truck campers jay wild

The last thing we need to talk about is the price. The camper itself will cost you around £36’000 including the price of the flatbed installation. That doesn’t include the price of the truck, but pretty much everyone has a truck in the states so that’s not really an issue, and if you don’t have one, then second hand prices are quite competitive. It might seem like a lot of money to shell out for a camper, but you’re also paying for the ability to drop Four Wheel Campers a line to ask for advice whenever you might need it, and you’re also joining a network of owners that probably end up knowing more than the factory do. Honestly, you can’t drive a couple of miles through California without seeing one of these things. America loves a good Pop Up Truck Camper, and with the amount of Hawks, Fleets, and Grandbys that we see on the road, it looks as though they love Four Wheel Campers the most!