Backroad Traveler: Four Wheel Camper
When we were planning our trip to South America many years ago, we bought our first Four Wheel Camper. It was the lightest and lowest we could find, and we lived in it for 14 months as we traveled south from our home in California all the way to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
After driving it back home, we bought another one and mounted it on a Ford F-350. Next we drove across Siberia in the winter, across the rest of Russia, and then around the world on a three-year/40,000-mile adventure in 1996.
Any pop-up camper is, in essence, an extremely complicated tent and we don’t really recommend everyone travel in the kind of temperatures we did in Siberia. However, the design and manufacturing of pop-up campers has come a long way in recent years and we were excited to have the opportunity to take Four Wheel’s new Grandby on a road trip. Once we settled in, we were impressed with many of the improvements.
Like our older model, the new lightweight Grandby top “pops” up, but now there are twin gas struts in the front that make opening much easier. Now it also features a one-piece roof to eliminate the chance of seam leaks, and the fiberglass batting of yesteryear has been replaced with modern and efficient foam insulation panels.
All sewing for the construction of the pop-up sides is done in-house at Four Wheel Camper to allow for a higher level of quality control. The corners in the plastic fold-down windows are gusseted for extra strength, and rib beads along the sides have been added to eliminate leaks. Every window has a screen, too.
The first thing we noticed inside the Grandby was the modern kitchen with a stylish and functional flush-mounted three-burner propane stove and a large sink with a fold-down faucet. A real plus is the optional DSI ($155) LP-gas water heater, which also feeds the outside shower, a real luxury in a small camper.
The larger optional ($1,395) Waeco compressor AC/DC refrigerator was super quiet. A compressor refrigerator does not have to be level, and compared to the more common absorption refrigerators it is more efficient. Dual batteries ($180) and a pair of optional solar panels ($995) kept everything running when we were boondocking.
There is no gray- or black-water tank, so you need to carry a collapsible or portable container for this purpose. Thetford makes several SmartTote Portable Tanks ranging in capacity from 12 to 35 gallons (www.thetford.com). The optional Thetford Porta Potti is small, and it can also be dumped into a SmartTote when you camp for several days.
Speaking of water, an electric pump draws from the 22-gallon freshwater tank, nearly twice the size of previous models. On an extended trip, water is always the first thing we run out of.
Because we arrived late at the campground, the twin Grote LED floodlights ($395) on the rear made setting up camp easy in the dark. We do wish they would come on automatically when the tow vehicle is shifted into reverse.
Climbing inside, the top was up in seconds and dinner was on the stove. A Fan-Tastic Vent ($295) pulls cooking odors out quickly and sucks in fresh air if you leave a window cracked. We turned on the forced-air furnace and the camper was quickly warm. Our test model had the optional Arctic Pack ($475), a good idea if you plan on doing any serious winter season travel.
The dinette table is just big enough for two and it stows away securely when not in use. The cabover mattress pulls out to make a comfortable queen-size bed and the seat cushions of the dinette flip around to make a step or second bed for a child. The company has a floorplan it claims could sleep four, but that would be tight.
Our Grandby had the optional ($250) LED exterior lights. A switch near the master bed turns on these outside lights so you can see, “What was that noise, dear?” without getting up. If you do need to get up in the middle of the night, there is even a red interior LED that allows you to see in the dark without being temporarily night-blinded or having to grope for a flashlight. As such things happen frequently while camping, it’s a very handy touch.
The next morning we relaxed around the campfire and enjoyed the crisp cool mountain air. It reminded us why we love to find beautiful places off the beaten track and why we had chosen a Four Wheel Camper to get us there. Its low center of gravity and the overall construction is light, so it doesn’t alter the drivability and maneuverability of the truck. The height of the camper’s cabover section is just 10 inches when in the closed position, giving it a very low profile, which translated into lower wind drag, higher fuel economy and superior handling in all conditions. As we wheeled back home on the twisting two-lane highway over the coastal mountains, planning our next adventure, we hardly noticed the Grandby test camper was still there.
Exterior Length (box): 8′
Exterior Width: 80″
Floor Length: 96″
Height Closed (w/roof vent): 59″
Interior Height (open): 66″
Freshwater Cap: 20 gal.
Black-/Gray-Water Cap: N/A
LP-Gas Cap (optional): 5 gal.
Gross Weight (Dry): 850 lb.
Sleeping Cap: 3-4
Base MSRP: $13,195
Four Wheel Campers, Inc.