DIY Camper Series – Part One: Truck Cap Selection

June 17th, 2016 by

Hey there campers! Are you looking for that next big project to really test your metal, and the metal of your truck? Well after some research and discussion, we decided it would be fun to start a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) series on turning a regular pick up truck into a fully-loaded camper. Why go out and buy an RV if you have a perfectly good truck? Instead of selling it, you can re-purpose it. You just need to know where to start.

For this series, we’re going with the 2016 Ram 1500. You can alter the steps based on your truck, but we’ll explain why we’re going with this particular truck.

A 2016 Ram 1500 has the bed length of 98.3”. That’s a little over eight feet, which means plenty of room for sleeping and a little extra. The height of the bed sides are just under two feet, and that’s without the choice of a canopy or truck cap. Specifically, we went with the Ram 1500 4×2 Regular Cab Tradesman.

This series will cover just about everything, starting with the regular truck and taking you through the process of building it out into a live-able space on wheels. We’ve got plenty of suggestions for accessories, ways to store cargo, and of course DIY woodwork implementations. All we need to do is keep in mind the payload so the truck isn’t burdened by weight. So, let’s talk about adding a roof to the truck bed.

What is a Truck Cap?

This is a good place to start and one of the first questions you want to answer. What kind of truck cap do you want? Well first off, a truck cap is basically a roof for your truck bed. Depending on its dimensions, it will give you a good amount of headroom to move around and it shields you and your gear from the elements. If you check out topper manufacturers like A.R.E., you’ll find many truck caps and options to choose from. For this DIY, we made the choice to go with A.R.E. because they make great caps for the Ram 1500 and come with some unique options.

Head Room

To be comfortable, we’re going to want maximum head room when picking a truck cap. To achieve this, we have the choice of the TW series or the MX series.

TW Series

MX Series

One feature we really gravitated towards was the walk-in door the MX series has available. It is important to note that this option will replace the tailgate of the truck. Once installed, you can open up the door and literally walk into your home on wheels or open up the entire back-end like a hatchback.
MX Series with Walk-in Door

However, for maximum head room, we went with the TW series. Including the truck bed height of 20.2”, plus the TW truck cap, we have 51.2” of head room or a little more than 4 feet. That’s ample room for an average size adult, seeing as how we wouldn’t expect to walk around the camper. Most people would typically use it for sleeping, lounging, and storing cargo.

Headliner, Windows, and Power

If you went to the ARE website, you may have noticed there are many options for a truck, and the endgame is to build your own. So here’s a little walkthrough based on the options you may want and those you’ll need (If you went with the MX, some options may vary. Click on “MW Series Truck Cap” in step 5).

  1. Click on “Truck Caps” and then “TW Series”.
  2. To the right will be a list of buttons for info (specs, features), pictures, a video tour, etc. Click the one that says “Build your TW Series”.
  3. Put in your zip code, press “Go”, pick the A.R.E. dealer closest to you.
  4. Depending on your truck type, fill out the information given in the drop down menus. For this DIY, we picked “2016”, “Dodge”, “Ram 1500”, “Regular Cab”, and “96.0 in.” The bed length is actually 98.3”, but we think it’s safe to assume they’re rounding down to the closest foot, which would be 96” for a total of 8’. Click “Go.”
  5. Click “TW Series Truck Cap” and “Next Step”.
  6. The next couple of steps will be based on your preferences, but if you’d like to follow along, here’s what we did:

Trim Option: Trim

OTR Cap Option: Yes

Cap Front Window: Sliding Front Window. We chose this for easy cleaning and ventilation without having to open up the entire cab.

Cap Side Window: Outdoorsman Windoor (Vented). We chose this for the option of added ventilation while keeping the bugs out, as well as reaching into the camper whilst outside.

Pet Screen Option: No.*

Rear Door Option: Double T-Lock Heavy-Duty Rear Door. We selected the double t-lock for security purposes.

LED Light and Power Options: 12V Led Dome Light and Dual Rope Lights with Prop Switch Option. We thought two lights vs one would be nice, and the prop switch turns them on only when the door is open. We went with the 12-volt power strip because it comes with three cigarette lighter ports. With a standard power inverter strip you can plug into one of the ports, which can then transfer power to two outlets and two USB ports (not every inverter is built the same). You’ll want a spare battery so you don’t kill your engine battery overnight.

Interior: Fabric Headliner. We went with fabric to help reduce condensation and moisture build up overnight. You can choose any of the other options based on your preferences.

Roof Rack Option: No.*

A.R.E. Rod Pods: No.*

Complementary Products: There are many great options here to choose from. For instance, the Cargo Glide racks will help with retrieving cargo from the truck bed without crawling in. The BedRug and AirBedz mattress would be a nice finish to make things feel a little more homey. Pending on your height requirements, we strongly suggest you look into getting the PickUp Vaults. Those will take care of most of if not all your storage needs.

Get Your Quote

We can opt out of several of these options based on budget. The spray is not mandatory, especially if we are using an old truck. Lighting can always be purchased separately, and the dual rope lighting/power switch option is more so a novelty. The vaults are also a nice novelty, but these can always be replaced by store-bought bins or built ourselves. Aside from the TW truck cap itself and the windoors, the OTR Cap Spray, PickUp Vaults, and Dome Lights are the most expensive parts of this DIY.

Once you’ve chosen your options and get your quote, we play the waiting game. Next week we’ll talk about different ways to set up the camper and discuss design options based on the choices we made (and alternatives). Be sure to check in with us, and if you have any information to share with your fellow DIY campers, let us know in the comments below.

*This is our choice, but based on your preferences and project, get what is best for you.
Photo source and copyright: A.R.E.
Written by: Jordan A. Rodriguez