Flip-open pickup camper is a truckable vault of off-grid adventure
Overland startup Skinny Guy Campers is aiming to reinvent self-sufficient off-grid camping with a light, low-profile pickup truck solution. Its flip-open pickup-back tent has some of the lightweight simplicity of a pickup topper, an available equipment package more like a full slide-in camper, and a robust, hard-edged construction reminiscent of an Aussie-built off-road trailer. The highly customizable aluminum box-of-adventure turns everything from a Rivian R1T short-bed electric to a full-size truck with 8-foot bed into a go-anywhere camper with kitchen, bedroom, dining room and even flushable toilet.
Skinny Guy may be a startup, but it arrives with an RV pedigree other startups can't match. Founder Jason Bontrager's grandparents Lloyd and Bertha Bontrager were the founders of brand-name camping trailer manufacturer Jayco, a family business Jason worked in for more than two decades, right up until the company was acquired by RV giant Thor Industries in 2016. Our Australian readers will recognize Jayco as the country's largest RV manufacturer; Jayco Australia was founded by Gerry Ryan after reaching an agreement with Lloyd Bontrager to use the brand name and components down under.
With Skinny Guy Campers, Bontrager leaves the mainstream RV market behind in search of a lighter, more versatile overland camping solution, still built in the RV capital of the world, Northern Indiana. Skinny Guy's campers fit atop the pickup bed rails like other pop-up toppers, specifically bringing to mind the AT Overland Habitat with its flip-back tent top. Unlike others, though, the closed Skinny Guy sits at roughly the same height as the truck cab, meaning it can park in the garage and better navigate tight, overgrown trails.
Aluminum skin is standard fare in the topper market, but the Skinny Guy carries a markedly ruggeder look thanks to its exposed rivets, grab handles and sharp edges. Its structural-grade aluminum body shell is built to hold up to the rigors of off-road travel while keeping weight as low as possible.
Unlatch the Skinny Guy camper, flip it open, enter through the side door, and the interior reveals itself as something quite different from the average empty-floor topper interior. Skinny Guy's more three-dimensional build utilizes more of the bed to create a fuller camper layout. The base model brings along a cushioned L-shaped bench with under-seat storage in front of the double mattress-topped sleeper platform hanging off the back of the truck. The tent-top design opens up a full 7 feet (2.1 m) of interior standing height.
Skinny Guy offers several build levels above the base model, right up to a fully self-sufficient camper with onboard heat, water, lighting, power and toilet. The next package level adds a Lagun table to the bench to finish off a complete indoor dining area and a brand-badged Sea Deck marine floor to make the interior a little homier than the bare pickup bed.
Farther up the line, Skinny Guy packages together RV-level amenities such as a fresh-water tank, 12V electrical system with 150-plus-Ah lithium-iron-phosphate battery, Truma Combi furnace/water heater, and portable toilet that hides away in a bench storage compartment. The indoor kitchen unit brings with it a sink with hot/cold water, single-burner cooktop and Dometic fridge box.
The top-of-the-line Skinny Guy build includes all the aforementioned components plus an electrical upgrade package that comprises an integrated solar panel, Redarc battery management system, 1,000-watt inverter and exterior solar lights. The solar panel sits on the roof during driving, then slides out and repositions at camp. Also included is a MOLLE organizer, holding tank heating and extra water storage.
Another interesting Skinny Guy feature is the rain water collection system that captures rain rolling off the rear of the tent, augmenting the vehicle's water-carrying capacity. Skinny Guy also plans to offer a UV water purification system.
The Skinny Guy camper installs using the company's proprietary jack system. It doesn't leave as much open bed space as the average hollow pickup topper, but it sits high enough in most pickup beds to install drawers, such as those from Decked or TruckVault, in the bed below. It also leaves the tailgate intact and does not interfere with the hitch, allowing for unhindered towing or hitch-rack carry.
With an estimated weight between 800 and 1,050 lb (363 and 476 kg), the Skinny Guy camper weighs in right around some of the lightest hard-walled overland pickup campers we've looked at, and quite a bit more than ultralight 300-ish-pound (136-ish-kg) toppers.
Skinny Guy appears to have a very well-thought-out design, but it also seems to be an experiment in what the market is willing to pay for a soft-top pickup topper versus upgrading to a fully enclosed slide-in or an off-road camping trailer. Prices start at US$16,000 for the most basic model and rise up to around $38,000 for a fully optioned version. Other pickup toppers we've looked at recently start under $10,000, so it will be interesting to see if buyers embrace the higher-priced Skinny Guy and how they option it.
One nice advantage Skinny Guy offers over campers and toppers designed specifically for a single class of truck is that it plans several models for common North American pickup bed sizes, from the 4.5-ft bed on the forthcoming Rivian R1T, to 5- and 5.5-ft short beds, to 6.5- and 8-ft beds. It even plans a special 5.5-ft model to match the straighter box walls of the Jeep Gladiator. It does not mention model plans for the 6-ft bed offered on common midsize pickups like the Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger.
After debuting at Overland Expo Mountain West last weekend, Skinny Guy is now taking reservations. It plans to begin production with the 6.5-ft model later this year and will prioritize the launch of additional sizes based upon development, field testing and the number of reservations received for each, adding the first alternative size options by late 2022.
Source: Skinny Guy Campers