Adventure Truck

Camper Canopy and Cargo Platform: The Evolution of Our Family Adventure Truck

email this page

Summertime in Colorado's San Juan Mountains

You need some kind of contraption to get you and the munchkins to the crag. To the break. To the trailhead. To the put-in. Or you just need a machine to get you down a dirt road that'll get you to a sweet spot on the coast of Baja. But vehicles reach into your life far beyond "a thing to get me from A to B." They become an extension of your personality, for better or worse, and I like to think of it as a delicate coalescence of superfluous love affair and absolute necessity. I could be wrong.

In the quest for the ultimate adventure vehicle, family or no family, love at first sight is rare. Maybe not impossible, but certainly rare. When we bought this 2005 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab, we also had a 2002 bright red Jeep. So I wasn't sure, really, how I'd get along with this new truck. But we drove it home and went about the business of, oh, slowly tweaking some things to make it suitable for our style of travel while adhering to the old wisdom: "Pay no attention to anything not nailed down."

It started with the usual. A full set of appropriate all terrain tires and a place to stick a handheld GPS receiver. Down the metaphorical road we added an Eezi-Awn roof top tent, and from there you can say all hell broke loose. Big steel aftermarket bumpers, an 8,000-lbs winch, an auxiliary 12-volt battery, a refrigerator, suspension swaps and so on. When I put it all down in a single paragraph it feels so excessive. Shamefully excessive. And I certainly made a number of mistakes in all of that, added things or modified parts that didn't turn out well or didn't make any practical, useful sense. Although it all happened over a length time, so that's redeeming.

Here we are. This truck racked up 118,000 miles on the backroads and byways from Montana to Mexico in almost six years. In spring of 2010, we finally decided a camper shell, or topper, needed to go on the back. I resisted one from the beginning, despite a friend or two recommending we get one. It turns out there's a reason why they're so wildly popular, something I discovered only through the joy of ownership: they're useful. And, arguably, make a truck look better. But taste is taste. Still, I can't think of any changes that we made to this truck that were as monumentally useful as the camper shell. It confined the chaos and defined the space dedicated to the collection of possessions we call "our stuff."

That is until we get to what I installed two months ago: a custom cargo platform. Few things are as satisfying as loading up your gear and seeing it all packed up, ready to go, and looking like everything has a place and looking like you could still get to the forks you packed on the very bottom in the very back with little commitment.

It's funny. It's just a piece of 3/4" thick plywood wrapped in a tough carpet. And I couldn't me more thrilled with the result. I'm easy. I've attached eight d-ring tie downs, included a 12-volt plug for powering things like a camp light or a computer, and made dandy access to our on-board shower and air compressor. Here are the pictures.

custom platform carpeted truck bed

truck-cargo-platform 001
The big drawer you see holds the fridge and slides out. Little bit of space on the right side, and even more on the left. On top of the platform you see all the d-rings and check out the right corner. That's a 12-volt outlet, some power switches, and a power inverter for juicing the Macbook.

12volt outlet, power inverter nissan frontier
A little closer on the outlet. The basic residential electrical box makes it a simple way to house the electrical connections and fasten it down. The three switches you see operate the shower water pump, air compressor, and ventilation fan for the fridge. They used to be inside a tool box that's toward the cab of the truck, and therefore not terribly easy to get to. Now the switches have easy access from the back of the truck or the side window. You have no idea how satisfying that is to us.

engel fridge in truck bed custom slide out drawer
The fridge stays in this slide-out drawer with extra space for dry food. Ball bearing drawer slides provide smooth action.

d-ring tie downs truck bed custom platform overlanding camping cargoThat's a d-ring. It does nothing other than accept a hook from a ratchet strap.

shower port, quick connect
And this—this—is the quick connection to the on-board shower. There's a 14 gallon water tank under the truck bed. A hose plugs in here with a basic kitchen sprayer at the end. Useful for washing dishes, and yes, taking camp showers.

hatch custom truck bed cargo platform
Access hatches use spring loaded speaker handles with massive rubber grips. They don't rattle and make noise, and the handles are recessed so the top surface is flat. Makes it nice for storing gear on top.

truck canopy windoorsHere's a rule about camper shells. Side windows that open up like this ought to earn an award.

Why, why, why does she do this around the camera?


+3 / 0
# Kirk 2011-10-03 04:37
I would be curious to hear (or read) what things you modified that didn't work out so well. I have my own experiences with that as well so it's nice to know I'm not alone there-
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote | Report to administrator
0 / 0
# Mark 2011-10-04 10:03
Now there's an idea, Kirk. I might do that.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote | Report to administrator
+1 / 0
# Amanda 2011-10-04 12:52
We started with the camper shell. And then came the roof rack, fridge, dual battery and power outlets. Up next will be the RTT, and I'm sure other miscellaneous things.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote | Report to administrator
Mark Stephens
+1 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2011-10-04 15:29
. . . And right about the time you think you're done, someone in the fam is going to say, "Gee, I think we've outgrown this one."
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote | Report to administrator
0 / 0
# Kevin 2013-07-18 22:13
Is your RTT mounted to your camper shell? I've been considering putting one on my Tacoma, but have some concerns about weight on the shell. Any advice?
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote | Report to administrator
Mark Stephens
0 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2013-07-27 12:00
Yes, I have Yakima cross bars on the shell and the tent is attached to those. Makes it easy for taking it on and off. Seriously, never had a problem with that combo in the 3 years I've used this set up.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote | Report to administrator
0 / 0
# Kevin 2013-08-10 14:40
Thank you for the info!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote | Report to administrator


We'd be honored to see your thoughtful opinions, so please share them.

If you wish to display a slick avatar with your comment, this connects to Gravatar as long as you use your email address (email addresses used here remain private).

Security code

Don't-Miss Daily Deals