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When an emergency emerges, you don't want to be the guy who's struggling to push a wheelbarrow full of gear uphill to a safer location. You want to grab your pre-stocked bug-out bag, put on your boots, and be out the door in seconds. It's also helpful to organize your B.O.B. so it's easy to unload and repack — this minimizes the amount of time you'll need to stop on your journey.
The same principles apply to your vehicle and your campsite. If you own a truck with poor fuel economy and weigh it down with tons of gear, or you buy an elaborate tent that takes an hour to set up and tear down each day, you're effectively limiting your mobility. This means you may not make it to your bug-out location on schedule, or you may not even escape danger at all.
A truck camper improves bug-out mobility in both these areas, by combining your campsite and your vehicle into a single unit. Instead of finding a viable patch of flat ground, parking your truck, unloading your tent, and setting it up every day, you're able to camp virtually anywhere in comfort. The world is your campsite, and setup/teardown take seconds instead of minutes.
There are many styles of slide-in truck campers, but the traditional sort are typically designed to fit into the beds of full-size pickups. These old-style truck campers are often constructed from heavy wood and metal, and use side support jacks to distribute their weight once parked.
More recently, lightweight fiberglass campers have been developed for both full-size and mid-size trucks. These newer campers don't require external support jacks, and won't overload your truck's suspension with thousands of pounds of weight. That means your truck can handle better, accelerate and brake faster, carry more supplies, and traverse rough trails more easily than it would with a heavy camper. For a bug-out vehicle, those are some massive advantages.
On a trip to Bend, Oregon, we stopped by the headquarters of EarthCruiser Overland Vehicles. The company was founded by Australian expat Lance Gillies in 2009, and specializes in purpose-built expedition vehicles like the heavy-duty EarthCruiser EXP and FX. Recently, the company has also branched out into slide-in truck campers with the launch of the new EarthCruiser GZL series.
We checked out one of the first examples of the EarthCruiser GZL-300, mounted on a Toyota Tacoma Double Cab with 5-foot short bed. It's also compatible with other mid-size trucks such as the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, Dodge Dakota, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, and Ford Ranger (here's a full compatibility list). A GZL-400 model is also available for full-size trucks like the F-150, Silverado/Sierra, Ram, Tundra, and Titan.
The EarthCruiser GZL is built around a fiberglass monocoque shell layered with 20mm (0.78″) insulation. It measures approximately 11'8″ long by 6'4″ wide by 4'9″ tall with the roof closed, and weighs just 900 pounds wet (i.e. fully loaded with water, propane, and batteries).
That's practically featherweight, considering other truck campers can weigh more than three times this much. It's also well within the carrying capacity of the Tacoma, so modified rear springs and other suspension upgrades shouldn't be necessary. Gillies told us the truck in these photos was fitted with upgraded shock absorbers, but that was only to improve ride quality and smoothness — it's not mandatory.
Other standard exterior features include dual side windows, a spare tire carrier, 6.5-foot roll-up side awning, two 100-watt Zamp solar panels, and a pop-up roof (more on that later). A roof rack, camper jacks, and storage extension for long-bed trucks are also available options.
Opening the EarthCruiser GZL-300 consists of three simple steps:
First, the upper half of the rear door is opened, and swings upward thanks to an automatic gas strut. Then the lower section is opened, revealing steps to enter the cabin. The user steps inside and releases the pop-up roof, which rises automatically on another pair of gas struts. If this still sounds like too much work, EarthCruiser has developed an optional power roof lift, which will be available in Fall 2017.
The fabric pop-up section offers more than enough space to stand comfortably, with 6'11” of headroom at the highest point. It also includes more ventilation windows with curtains and rain fly flaps.
A panel on the doorframe reveals controls for the lighting, refrigerator, water, and water heater, as well as battery voltage and water level gauges.
The interior space is compact but well-utilized, with a table and two opposing bench seats in the center of the living area. This area is flanked by overhead storage cubbies and LED lights.
The shelf at the far end of the cabin is the sleeping area, with a tray that pulls out above the dining area to form a bed. Support straps with metal hooks ensure the bed stays securely in place.
The driver's side rear corner of the camper contains a sink, stainless steel workspace, and a small 1.5-cubic-foot refrigerator. The opposite corner provides a pantry area with storage cabinets, and a fold-down 2-burner cooktop that's connected to the onboard 3-gallon propane tank.
Beneath the passenger-side bench seat, there's an optional pull-out toilet, and a recessed floor space that serves as a shower area. The shower (like the sink) is fed by a 22-gallon fresh water tank and 2.6-gallon water heater, and empties into a 9-gallon grey water tank.
Other interior options include a water purification system, Bluetooth stereo, outdoor kitchen system, and electrical upgrades such as an additional 90-amp battery and 1600-watt power inverter.
There's no question in our minds that the EarthCruiser GZL camper would make an excellent addition to a mid-size bug-out truck like this Toyota Tacoma. It's comfortable, easy to set up, and it offers lots of room for gear organization and storage. We appreciate the inclusion of standard solar panels and an optional water-purification system for long-term use away from civilization.
Most importantly, the GZL's light weight won't over-burden your truck's factory suspension. This means you'll still be able to tackle difficult trails, have a comfortable ride, and retain enough cargo capacity to load up several hundred pounds of other gear without exceeding your truck's carrying limitations.
However — you were probably expecting this by now — all these features come at a substantial cost. The EarthCruiser GZL-300 starts at a little over $36,000, with a $5,000 up-front deposit required.
That means that you'll probably end up paying a higher price for the camper than you did for the truck it's riding in. For reference, MSRP for a new Toyota Tacoma like the one in these photos is approximately $34,000. Everyone's financial situation is different, and if you're fortunate enough to be in a position to afford a camper like this one, we have no doubt that it'd make one heck of an awesome bug-out hideaway.
For more information about the EarthCruiser GZL-300 truck camper, go to EarthCruiser.com. If you've got a full-size truck, or want to purchase a complete 4×4 expedition vehicle for globe-trotting adventures, EarthCruiser can also accommodate those needs.