4-Wheel Pop-up Camper: Minimalist RV

Big Recreational Vehicles are comfortable, roomy and luxurious. They can also be hard to park, expensive to operate, and darn expensive to buy in the first place. Smaller RVs, while not as sexy as the big flashy guys, have a lot to offer along the lines of simple camping fun. In that respect, the Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper (www.fourwh.com) products excel.

Unlike conventional hard-side campers, the Four Wheel models have walls that are partially made of fabric. Collapsed for travel, the camper features a low profile that measures about 8 inches thick in the forward bed/cabover area. After the roof is raised for camping, a total of 29 inches over its folded state, there’s about 6’4″ of headroom inside.

Users have the best of both functional worlds. The low profile, wind-cheating travel design means the truck achieves its best potential fuel economy and it’s less impacted by wind or gusty blasts from passing commercial traffic. Cornering and handling are superb with a Four Wheel model aboard. In camp, there’s adequate space inside for comfortable living, keeping the rig’s compact size in mind of course.

Four Wheel has models to fit most pickups, including compact and full-size pickup trucks. Our test unit is the Fleet, which is designed for small trucks like the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10 and so on. The base model weighs about 700 pounds and that’s a good starting point for a small truck load. Options on our test model boosted that weight to about 997 pounds.

Users will need to pay attention to their truck’s GVWR and payload capacities. Even with the right truck and camper match up, once fully loaded to go, extra (optional) suspension boosters, such as airbags out back, can help the truck maintain a level keel.

The Fleet is built with all-aluminum welded framing the company calls its “Flex-Frame.” A new one-piece, no seam, no screws aluminum roof has recently been implemented as a reliability feature. Simple but durable materials throughout and an eye for practicality have given the Four Wheel its well-deserved reputation as a fine camper for serious off-pavement travel and backcountry camping recreation.

In base model configuration the Fleet is priced at $11,795 and includes the usual basic-level self-containment necessities. A 22-gallon water tank, dual 10-pound propane cylinders, stove, icebox, a hand pump for the sink are standard.

Our Fleet was set up with a ream of options, including a 12-volt pump, furnace, LED interior lighting, rear floodlights, screen door, auxiliary battery, a water heater, exterior shower and other items, all of which add up to comfort. They also boosted its price to $15,535 as tested.

The Fleet floorplan includes a galley and refrigerator on the streetside, a two-person dinette table and seats plus a porta-potti storage spot curbside, and the forward cabover bed.

Once on site, the roof sets up in a couple of minutes. First, six exterior hold-down latches are released around the roof perimeter. Next, the user releases the travel latch for the folding aft interior end wall, and a gentle push up, plus the spring-assist end wall hinge pops the rear end of the top up to in-use position. The procedure is duplicated up front via an extension arm that allows reaching the end wall without squeezing into the semi-collapsed bed area.

Living with a small RV — the Fleet has an 80-inch floor length, is 75 inches wide overall, and has an approximate 20 x 60-inch walkable floor space — calls for some practice and cargo juggling.

Four Wheel includes a variety of storage cabinets and cubbyholes, but for example, we used duffel bags for clothing. They get moved to the bed during the day, and down to the dinette area at night. A toolbox, fishing tackle box, camp chairs and the like are stored inside the camper when traveling. In camp, items such as the toolbox are moved to the truck’s cab for the duration.

In sleep mode, the cabover bed platform slides back and four padded cushions fit in place to produce a 6-foot wide by 6-foot, 4-inch bed. That’s roomy enough for full-size adults.

The fabric sidewalls present the only functional drawback to this design. They don’t provide much insulation, though the company has optional Arctic Pack panels that add insulation for extra-cold weather use. Even without the extra insulation the furnace keeps the interior toasty on average-cold nights, and a good camper sleeping bag helps, too.

In balmy weather, four large windows in the fabric walls can be opened to allow the breeze to blow through. We find it pleasant to lay in bed, listening to the wind, rain and outdoor sounds that filter through the fabric “walls.” That feature alone helps make the Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper a winner for our fun and relaxed RV time. — Jeff Johnston, Motor Matters

Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011

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