Living or Traveling in an Alaskan Camper
He is very close to being able to retire so he’s thinking about what he wants to do with his life next. Like many people, he feels the call for the mobile life but he’s not sure if he wants to do it part-time or full-time. Either way, he’s sure he’s going to travel…a lot! In preparation he’s bought an almost new 4×4 Chevy 1 ton truck and and an Alaskan Camper. He is going to turn into an adventurer in his Golden Years and this is the perfect rig for it!
If you aren’t familiar with them, Alaska Campers have been around for a long time–since 1953! They were originally designed for workers going to Alaska on the very rugged Alaska Highway. They demanded a quality product that could handle the abuse Alaska would throw at them and the Alaskan Camper was the rig of choice! I can remember seeing them and hearing about them when I was a little boy growing up in Alaska. I assumed they were made in Alaska so I was surprised when I learned they were made in Chehalis, Washington.
To be honest with you, I didn’t even know they were still in business so I was surprised when Greg dropped into my camp with an Alaskan Camper on his truck. The reason you don’t see many of them is because they are such high quality that they are expensive, that limits the number of them on the road. They are rare enough I’ve never known anybody with one or been inside one. I was so excited to see Greg’s, I immediately asked him if I could do a story on it and he graciously agreed. Here is their website: http://alaskancamper.com/sitemap.htm and also here: http://www.alaskancamper.net/index2.html
Here are the advantages they offer:
- The top drops down for better gas mileage and raises for comfort.
- They are high quality and designed to last for generations: old world craftsmanship.
- They are expensive, but they hold their value extremely well.
- Most campers feel very crowded, but this one feels very open and spacious.
- They are very comfortable but small, light and strong enough to take off-road.
- True to their name, they are well insulated and will keep you warm in the winter.
- They aren’t top-heavy like nearly all campers. That is much more important than it sounds when you are getting beaten up on the freeway by a strong crosswind or are on a steep side-hill in the back-country.
Here are the weights and prices of both the Cabover and Non-Cabover models:
A few years ago I invited him to visit me in my camp in the Sierra NF, I told him I thought he could make it in alright. But when he got there I met him at the beginning of the rough part and guided him in. His camper was so huge that we had to walk along and watch for tree branches at the top of the roof. Many times we had to stop and he climbed up and cut off dozens of branches that would have torn up the camper. At one point we had to cut down a small tree that wouldn’t let him make a corner. Eventually we got him almost into camp but when I pointed out the best campsite he tried to get to it but he simply could not, the camper was too big. With this Alaskan Camper, it would have been easy-peasy, no muss, no fuss!!
Those advantages may sound like they aren’t worth the very high price of an Alaskan Camper, but let me tell you another friends story. This friend bought a very large Arctic Fox slide-in camper. It was beautiful and extremely comfortable, and Arctic Fox has a good reputation as a quality product. But as soon as he drove it off the lot it started to fall apart. He had it back to the factory several times in the first year for major structural failures and they did half-ass repairs, just enough to get him out the door but not really solve the problem. He had it for 5 years and it was one constant problem after another. Essentially he rebuilt it until it was basically usable and then he got rid of. Why? Because it was so big and cumbersome he couldn’t take it into the back-country. He had put it on a 4×4 truck and wanted it to go into remote areas on adventures, but it was so huge it couldn’t do it!
I’m telling you all that to point out why an Alaskan Camper is worth the money. First, it’s not going to fall apart when you drive it off the showroom floor because it’s top quality and made by people who take pride in what they do. Second, with the low top it can can go into tight, narrow forest trails with no problem. Third, while it’s smaller it’s just as comfortable as the huge campers but I think it has better storage than any other camper I’ve seen. Fourth, because of it’s far superior aerodynamics and lighter weight, it gets much better MPG.
I know some of you will be thinking that a pop-up camper would be a better choice because they’re even lighter, smaller and much cheaper! But I do NOT recommended pop-ups for full-timers because they have too many disadvantages:
- They’re cold! In the winter you will be very sorry that you don’t have any insulation. And if the wind blows, which it does a lot in the desert, you’ll be miserable! The Alaskan is very well insulated!
- They offer little security against intruders, either two or four-legged. The Alaskan is like Fort Knox!
- Eventually they will mold, mildew, rot or rip. It’s not a matter of “if’, only “when.” You can give this Alaskan Camper to your grandkids!
- Their a hassle to set-up and take-down for every trip. Of course the Alaskan Camper has to be set up every time as well, but because it has automatic hydraulic lifters, it’s not a hassle to set-up, you just flip a switch. See pictures below….
I think the Alaskan Camper is just about an ideal home for anyone who is looking for adventure in the back-country, but the newer ones are so expensive many of us can’t afford them. Fortunately, they are so well built that there are still many older ones on the road for pretty reasonable prices. If you are interested go to this page on the Alaskan website and see many Alaskans for sale from as far back as the 60’s, and as cheap as $850 and several from the 70’s for around $2500. I couldn’t get the link to work for the page. so instead go to this page and on the left you’ll see a list of menu buttons. Click on the “Classified Ads” button.
So here is how you get the top raised:
Here is a list of standard features for the base model that I gave you the prices above:
Be sure to check out Greg’s Youtube channel where he details his build of a GMC Savanah van for vandwelling: https://www.youtube.com/user/vtwinkicker
Hi Bob, nice camper article. Thank you Greg for the tour, it’s good to hear about real life experiences with what is available out there.
Bob do you by any chance remember which pop-up camper it was that your friend found so poor for cold weather living?
Ming, he had a high-end Northstar camper.
thanks for the detail, Bob! Yes, I can see how he would not be happy living in it in the winter – Northstar canvas walls are so thin, you can see daylight through them. No insulation at all there.
Have you met anyone else with other brands of pop-ups? Some advertise insulated soft walls.
I once met a nice couple who showed me the used mini Alaskan (no cabover) that they had managed to find. It felt like a sturdy little log cabin in there, with all the wood. A bit small for living in long term. Still it was heavier than a Tacoma could carry. You would need a Tundra or equivalent truck.
I think most of them offer zip-in insulation for them but it still isn’t very warm. Of course in the heat they are awesome! But you almost never get the heat without the cold.
Alaskan has come out with a model just for the Tacoma you may want to check it out.
So it has a water tank but no holding tank? Where does the used water go?
John, it has an outside shower so that just goes onto the ground, which is perfectly legal. The only inside water use is the one sink and it just flows directly outside. Greg has jugs under the sink he uses to catch it and then he takes it out to discreetly dispose of it. The toilet uses the cassette so it doesn’t need tanks.
Is he able to crawl into the camper via the truck back windows? Also with a cab over bed, is there enough head room to sit up?
mcbe, I’m sorry I don’t know either answer. Hopefully he will answer himself. I can say that most all of the campers I’ve seen have a pass-through but they are so small that they are very difficult for the average American to use. Their main advantage is the dog can go back and forth and you can use it to get heat and cold into the camper from the cab.
I suppose a small person could crawl through, I had a truck camper in the 80’s and remember doing so but I was much more nimble and flexible then. I don’t think I would attempt now. Also you can’t sit up in the bed. It is roomy enough that I don’t feel closed in when in the bed but not tall enough to sit up in.
Bob, once again it was great meeting you and hope we get together again. I’ll make the RTR one of these years. Nice write-up on the Alaskan! Keep in touch!
This got me so excited that I had to look at the classified advertisements for prices. 2006- $14,500 and 2012 $26,000 well — that is a high price and likely well worth it, when you have three feet of snow build up and you need to survive there. Or if you are in some remote axle breaking road, and need your 4×4 to live in. The Market rules, and this is how much people are willing to spend on these babies. Think instead I would look for the deep discount version (old version) that is mentioned in the article, and rebuild it piece by inspected piece.
Will bookmark this, but now will start looking a little more carefully at the http://www.aliner.com/community hard sided pop up camper. Being down south we need less off road truck to get into spots. Agree about these all getting moldy fast and easy, in 4 inch rain storms and 60 mph wind driven rain.
Still regardless will look for a pristine used version, and fix it up somehow. Alaska Camper or Aliner trailer or Camper Van.
The A-liner has a very good reputation also, you can’t go to wrong with one of those! They each have their pros and cons and sometimes it is really hard to decide what is best.
Fortunatley, you can’t go wrong with any of them it’s very good versus great!
Sounds like a great vehicle. Thank you Bob for all the articles on the different choices people are making for their van dwelling life, and thanks to your friend for allowing us to peek inside his rig.
Love your blog Bob; I am learning so much!
P.S. I am looking at a used conversion van this weekend! So excited.
Shawna, good luck with the conversion van. I think they are one of the best choices for a live in! Is it a hightop?
I’ve been looking at truck campers for a few years now,retiring soon. It’s come down to a Alaskan pop up or a Hallmark pop up, both are high end, abuot the same pricing. With the hard sided campers you can camp were soft sided campers are not allowed, some camp grounds in Yellowstone N-P, etc. Witch size camper is Greg’ camper 8′ or 10′ . My truck I have now is a short bed so I’d have to get a 8′ camper. I was thinking if I take the back seat out ( it’s a crew cab) an build some storeage in there I would make up for the shorter camper.Also I like the bike rack on the front of his truck did he build it or buy it ? PS I’ve been reading your site for yeas now thanks for all your hard work keeping it going !
My Alaskan is the 10′ cabover model for an 8′ bed. I also took out the back seats of the extended cab for more storage. The bike rack, I think, is a “Hitch-It” brand which I don’t know if they are still around but it is similar to others sold.
I have been looking at FWC, Hallmark and Alaskan. I know i will need a 3/4 ton truck for the Alaskan but that is doable. I like the look of it. I would want to do solar. Where do they put the batteries in this camper? Can you have 2 batteries? Any info would be appreciated and more pics would be awesome. I may have to fly up to Washington State to see these…..
Wow! I feel like Mr. Toad in the Wind in the Willows, always excited and passionate about the “next great thing”. First it was converting a van into a camper (which I now live in), to “Oh, look, A Lazy Daze”…now THAT’S what I’ll get next (an old one I maybe could afford), to now, Wow! Look! A very cool rip roaring Alaskan camper that could get me almost anywhere in the back country! Yeah, this thing is very cool! Although, I should say, that my Ford E350 v10 with the heavy duty tires does pretty awesome!
Gloria, I know how you feel! There is always something around the next corner that looks better! But I have to agree, your van is very awesome!
Thanks Bob, once again I have to take down more notes, rethink and change my perpective. Always giving me something more to think about. Had no idea something like this was out there.
Thanks Tom! The Alaskan is something of a specialty product that you don’t see very often! If you check out the classified ads there are quite a few used ones around.
We have a 2001 Alaskan Camper, the 10′ cab over, that we bought used several years ago.
We have the std cabover bed, which is to say a little narrow for my wife and I. We make do, but they make a little wider version of the cabover bed, which I would strongly recommend for 2 full sized adults, and that feature might be hard to find used.
One feature I really like is ours has the narrow dinette/bed, so we have even more cupboards/drawers/storage. There is really only room for 2 adults in the camper comfortably any how (opinion), so the wider “dining for 4” space would likely never be used anyway.
All new Alaskan Campers are custom built on order with deposit, so you can get it spec’ed out any way you want. They are offering way more options than they used to.
Over all, I have been happy with it. Of course my wife would like “lounging space” (read 5th wheel) which she considers is inadequate on any truck camper.
Quality is way above average for any kind of camper/camp trailer/etc.-but it is mounted on a 4×4, and is taken off pavement, so that takes a toll on even well built units.
Looks great. Great idea, and if I were to purchase a camper, that’s probably the one I would purchase. Right now getting funds together to build a camper on my short bed.
Seems like it would need at least a one ton for stability, being that the alaskan weighs just shy of a ton.
I do like that it already has electrical and a deep cycle battery in it. When I build mine, I am mounting some radio antennas on it, would the Alaskan be a food fit to that with?
If I only could afford it, I would consider it. Just funds are limited, even for the used ones.
I think you can mount antennas on just about anything. I have a mount on mine for a HF Ham radio antenna. Ground plane is your concern. I have everything bonded with grounding strap on mine. If you look at the pics Bob took from behind the unit you will see the bonding strap and coax cable. I also have a lower antenna mount on the lower left corner for use while driving.
Just toured the new alaskan factory in win lock wa. Have a ways to go to be set up, but already working on new campers. Got to look at a few different of their campers and agree with most of what you say. Great set up with the hard sides and storage.
I would want at least a one ton for their 8 foot camper. Seeing as how we just bought a 3/4 ton, and the Alaskans are still 5 to 10000$ more expensive with the same accessories, we are buying a Northstar popup camper.
Yours is the first comment about popups being cold in the winter i have read after a lot of research. I can see they would take more propane to keep warm than a hard side. I did add extra insulation to my northstar, as well as solar panels. With all the options we added we are still lighter and fewer $ than a lot of other popups.
Bummed to hear about “cutting branches and a tree” to get your buddy into “your” camp. We all drive on and put to hard use the national forests. But lets remember they are all of ours, the publics, and leave them better off than we find them.
Hi Tom, I’m a big fan of the Alaskan campers, they are well designed and extremely well made to last a life-time. In an era of shoddily made RVs designed to be virtually throw-aways, that refreshing.
The big issue with the pop-up campers is the wind in the desert. When the sun goes down the desert can get very cold and the wind blows a LOT! That’s a very bad combination in a pop-up camper. They are great for part-time, but I don’t recommend them for full-time. My friend replaced his Northstar with a hard-sided camper that is quite a bit lighter than the pop-up and he is delighted with it.
I 100% agree about loving and respecting the Forest and I do that to the very best of my ability. Our total impact to the Forest that trip was so minimal I don’t feel bad about it at all. One small windstorm would blow off 10,000 times more branches and trees than we did. Having spent a great deal of time in the National forests I’ve seen and experienced it’s immense destructive power first hand and know that the loss of a dozen limbs and one sapling means nothing to it.
I was a campground host for 4 years in the Sierras and every spring when we returned to the campgrounds we spent weeks cleaning up the dead and down trees, limbs, leaves and mud. If you go back briefly every year it may look the same, but it isn’t. When you are in the same place spring to fall year after year you discover how dynamic, powerful and moving nature is. Nothing is static, it all changes and moves constantly. If we didn’t come in and clean them up, within a decade the campground would be virtually gone, covered under needles, leaves, mud and limbs.
In the spring and fall I’ve been in my campground and had a storm blow through with heavy, wet snow and wind and I’d lay in bed listening to the trees and limbs breaking and crashing around me and just hoping I was far enough away from them that none could fall on me.
I treasure the forests, and I treat them well with love and respect. As an animist, I think of them as every bit as much of divinity as anything can be–the same spark of the divine that is in you and me is equally in them. But if I need to cut a few limbs I’m willing to if I have no choice.
If it is a “marked” two-track trail and the NF/BLM has not cleared the pathway for a road legal pickup then clear it, intelligently, by all means, because nobody else will. Recommend a cheap light-weight DeWalt reciprocating rechargeable 18-volt lithium battery powered saw with a ripper blade. Fast, quiet, very safe, and zero-fire hazard. Even if it is not a “marked” trail you, as a recreational user, have as much right as to use the land as the munching herds of ravenous methane tooting cattle or numerous other industries that use the ‘public’ lands. Next cow-pattie you see, multiple it’s volume by 10-20 (?) and estimate how much vegetation it represents, then multiple that by every day the critter is alive…. Fellow humans, if you tread lightly, relax and enjoy the land guilt free.
@Tom Banks, if you saw a unit on the shop floor 8′ 9” long guess where it is going 🙂
I agree totally, if it is a legal road you can clear it.
Hi Bob, Interesting and informative conversations. I own a 2013 8.5 ft Alaskan cabover mounted on an F350 ford w/ 8 ft bed and regular cab. I like the set-up a lot. The selling point for me was the hard side pop-up and the attention to detail of the interior. I chose a reg. cab to keep length a little shorter when traveling/exploring in populated areas. The smaller cab makes things a little crowded when on the road, but my only travel companion is a cocker spaniel so it works.
I’ve heard you mention other makes of campers are not as well built . I have wondered if the newer construction techniques EG: molded bodies with the use of weather resistant materials would not outlast the traditional albeit well built Alaskan campers which have more wood and seams. Any thoughts? Thanks
Marc, I think the question is less materials than workmanship. Most RV makers cut so many corners that they don’t hold up. Most materials will last if done right and Alaskan campers do it right. They’ll outlast most other RVs no matter the materials they use.
Thanks Bob, Happy trails to you.
@Marc: Hi. Maybe it is true what they say about ‘great minds’ ? Anyway, I concluded after some research and a few years experience that a one-ton made the most sense as well. Went with a Ram 3500 cab and chassis single rear wheel 60” cab to axle options which dictates a 9 foot long service body or a 9.5 foot long flatbed (every single flatbed maker said the same thing). The cab and chassis adds some complexity to the TC build/assembly process but I am betting the initial hassle will pay off in the long term. The C&C also has some very useful options for the TC’er, such as, 74 gallons of fuel (diesel only with the 60”CA) at a very reasonable price, etc. Went with a low-profile service/utility body after much back-and-forth. Although I opted for the Alaskan I’d have to think the Hallmark would be a fantastic choice off-pavement as well depending on your preferences. I looked at Hallmarks some years ago and thought they too would be better suited on 1-tons. That said, I’ve seen some Hallmarks that look worse for wear long before their time. The harder we use something the more we need to maintain it. Treat your Alaskan or Hallmark like you would a boat or airplane and they should survive just about anything short of sudden-impacts. The refurbished Hallmarks on the Colorado factory lot always look solid to me. I guess for SINKs or DINKs an Alaskan is fine, as would be the Hallmark, but for double-incomers with kids the Hallmark would be the more common choice….
Would the mini fit a ford ranger?
Connie, the Ranger is only able to handle the very lightest campers. the less weight the better.
Bob, We recently purchased a 2007 Alaskan…in excellent condition! We slept in it during blizzard in CO in April. Stayed pretty toasty…we were impressed!
I want to add an outdoor shower…not the little box with nozzle for rinsing the dishes! I am sure I have seen a shower that resembles a normal shower…looked like a curved rod that swung out when it was to be used. Then I suppose you could set up a curtain,etc if necessary.
Any words of wisdom??
I also need to add a rack for kayaks and or canoes….previous owner didn’t want to put screws in the roof??
Any info/ advice on either additions would be greatly appreciated!!
Sara, I am no expert at all on Alaskan campers. My suggestion would be to contact them for more help. Sorry that is not very helpful but it is something I don’t know much about. Bob
Hello! What make and model toilet is that? I have an old Alaskan Pop up Camper and I am looking to get one installed. Thanks!
I’m sorry Nick, I don’t know. Bob
That is a Thetford Cassette toilet…top notch and convenient.
Hello Bob! Thanks for the excellent write up on this Alaskan Camper…they’re really something when it comes to truck campers! While I don’t currently own one, I have sat in and inspected several of them over many years’ time and what quality they are. When climbing into an Alaskan it almost feels as though you’ve slipped on an old smoking jacket and are preparing to sit down to a warm fire. The Alaskan Camper is an iconic piece and one that just happens to done in a very correct manner. When it comes to picking a truck camper to explore the backcountry with atop of a capable 4×4 truck…well, I personally can’t think of a better selection than an Alaskan Camper. Cheers!
I apologize if this question has already been asked but is possible to leave the Alaskan Camper in the “Up” position if you just need to drive short distances? Maybe in the 35-45mph range if not traveling far? I’m in the beginning stages of looking for a truck camper and just trying to do all the research I can. Thanks,
Paul, no you can’t. You can drive maybe 10 mph like relocating within a campsite but definitely do not drive with it up at any speed or distance. You would likely bend the hydraulic lift system.
“Nice Bob, but for $25K, plus tax, I could put a downpayment on a nice piece of property! Then, after 30 years of owning it, my property would have both appreciated significantly and be paid off! On the other hand, after 30 years, you’d be lucky to be selling your old Alaska camper for $600!”
Steve, you are absolutely correct. And I wish you the best with that piece of property you mention. You and I are in completely different mindsets as I look at the vast North American continent as a property I want to see, experience, love and explore. The $23,400 loss over 30 years is, in my humble opinion, a priceless value gained on the appreciated value of my soul and humanity. Neither you or I are right or wrong, we just have different aspirations. My choice is to invest in my soul. Besides, we don’t live forever and the ’30 year investment with payments’ concept doesn’t compute as well when one is pushing 60 yrs of life.
Thank you for writing this informative post. We own a 2001 Alaskan Camper. I like your camper, it has a huge space inside and very neat interior design.
Steve put the 25k on a piece of property then and rent it… Buy the used camper for 600 and travel the country with it.
It’s very important to check this before shopping for your camper. Last thing you’ll want to do is wear out your suspension, motor and transmission. Vehicle specs are really put out there to help keeping your vehicle at a prime state.
What are the frequencys you use most often on ham radio, when you are out and about? Bill……wa2ooo.com