Four Wheel Camper - A Review

kcowyo

ExPo Original
#1
I wanted to put together a review of sorts on Four Wheel Campers as the information on the 'Net for these highly desirable campers is surprisingly scarce. This report will focus on my lengthy search for a used unit plus the reasons I chose and purchased my Eagle model camper. I've only owned the camper for a week, but already I have experienced a few different scenarios that I was curious to see how the camper would handle. I will add to this thread as the trips and nights camped, accumulate.

***Looks like this review will be in parts due to pic counts and heavy verbage***

What's the big idea? - I began my search for a camping solution when my second child was born and I needed more room and comforts than a tent or truck camping could allow for. My goal was to find a camper that would have enough room to take my two small children (5 & 2) up to Yellowstone NP or just the local mountains for a 2 or 3 day weekend, but also be stong and lightweight enough that I could live out of it for several days or weeks while going solo on off road trips. It would have to be able to endure the high winds of Wyoming, the heavy rains of chance, the heavy snows of the Rockies and my desire to constantly see what's off the beaten track.





Why a Slide-in Camper? - I came to the conclusion that a small slide in camper was the best option for me when I realistically looked at my needs and wants. I briefly considered a trailer for family camping trips and did a lot of research on lightweight one piece fiberglass trailer manufacturers like Casita, Scamp, Burro and Bigfoot. I quickly decided against a trailer because I wanted the option of camping and towing a trailer with my snowmobile or an ATV on it. If I were ever to get a small boat, I would also need the ability to tow. Other reasons include needing to have a trailer registered and licensed, insured, etc. Additionally with moving parts there is always something that could go wrong and needs replaced.

A hard sided slide-in camper was not seriously considered due to the weight and profile. Other considerations were roof top tents and/or a larger family size tent. A roof top tent with a 4 year old who has "to go" in the middle of the night didn't sound very appealing and I've packed up enough wet tents to know I wanted to avoid that in the future. I also closely looked at the Wildernest and Flip-Pac camper shells with built in tents. The Wildernest was out after figuring out that finding a model to fit my truck was going to be near impossible. They are now out of business so ordering parts or getting factory support would not be likely either. The Flip-Pac was a very viable and desireable option and had one come available for my truck before I had found the Eagle, I would now be writing a review of my new Flip-Pac.

So which slide-in camper would I chose? - With a clear idea of what I wanted from my camper, it was simply a matter of going through the manufacturers websites online, looking at the models and specs and determining who had the lightest, strongest and most durable camper. These were factors I would not be able to improve on, so they had to be right from the factory. Comfort and storage options were important but could be improved on by me if necessary. I also looked at customer testimonials and camper forums to try and get an idea of which manufacturer was giving excellent customer service. The same name kept coming up over and over, Four Wheel Campers. They were touted as having the best product for those seeking tough and light campers. Further research showed that Turtle Expedition, LTD has used Four Wheel Campers on 3 different vehicles they have built to travel around the world. Those were the credentials for rugged off road use I was looking for! A further review of the FWC web site revealed 2 models that would fit my odd ball T100, the Eagle and Hawk. The narrower Eagle would be my choice as the sides of the camper sit flush and neat with the bed rails on a T100, where the wider Hawk model extended a few inches over both sides.



The search for an Eagle Model FWC for me - With the exact model I was looking for in mind, I set out to find a used unit in very good condition. Not knowing for certain if it would work for me, and a base price tag of $8800, I was hoping to find a seldom used older model with as many of the features that I wanted. I began my search in the usual places, online at RVTraderonline.com, eBaymotors, Craigslist, RVHunter.com, etc. as well as in RV classified mags, plus local, Denver and Salt Lake City newspapers. There was the occaisional listing for an Eagle, but the price was near new or it was on the East Coast or in need of too much TLC. I was hoping to find something fairly close to me, for under $5K in ready to use condition. After 2 years I found a real candidate that was close by with an excellent previous owner history in very good condition. Preparation and luck played a huge part as I spotted the listing the very first day it came up and I beat out several other callers who were offering the seller more money than he had it listed for! However, the seller was a quality person and honored our agreement and we had a deal pending my inspection of the unit on Easter Sunday.

On the seller's Tacoma -


The trip to bring it home - The camper was located in Sun Valley, ID which is about 400 miles due west of me. After removing my topper and tailgate, I left Lander on Good Friday evening for the 3 hour drive up to Jackson Hole, WY. I got a room for the night there and woke up the next morning to low hanging clouds and a steady but light rain. The drive over Teton Pass (8500 foot elv) is often hairy but more for the crazies that drive it than the road itself! I continued west in heavy headwinds through Twin Falls, ID to Craters of the Moon National Monument, where I took a few pics although the weather wasn't very cooperative. Finally I arrived in the nation's premier ski resort town of Sun Valley but the low overhanging clouds didn't allow for any decent views. Up to the seller's house I go, hoping for the very best but preparing myself to be dissapointed at the same time.

Targhee Natl Forest Idaho, back side of the Tetons -


Weather at Craters of the Moon Natl Monument -



First impressions of the camper - I had gotten a very good feeling about the seller, Rudy, on the phone. When I pulled up to his house I was relieved to see the camper was in excellent condition. And really, if someone can afford to live in a million dollar home in Sun Valley, they're likely the kind of people who'll take care of their things. Rudy was the second owner and had a stack of paperwork from the original owner, who was some sort of FWC fanatic. The camper had been completely refurbished at the factory in '99, even down to a new serial # sticker! Following a quick check of the stove, lights, and heater we practiced setting it up and taking it down. That it takes 30 seconds to set up is no exaggeration.


****......To Be Continued -
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kcowyo

ExPo Original
#2
Mounting the camper to the truck - (No pics of the process as it was raining/snowing and we had our hands full, but I will try to photograph the process in the future) After a thorough review of the camper we turned our attention to my T100. The camper is not designed for the truck to use the tailgate in the closed position, but it can be left open to use as a workbench or small deck. I put mine in storage for now. We started by measuring where to drill four holes at the corners of my bed. After drilling the holes we threaded a large eyebolt into each hole and secured them with factory provided locknuts. I got a quick course on how the 2 portable jack stands work as we raised the camper up so I could back in under it.

Once under the camper,we lowered the jacks and shimmied and wiggled the camper straight. Careful attention must be taken when pushing on the camper that one pushes on the aluminum braces and not the thin sides. It's sort of like finding the studs in a wall. With the camper centered, we got in the camper to finish fixing it to the truck. Inside the camper on the floor at the corners there are 4 small trap doors. Remove the doors and you can see the eyebolt in the bed. Take a turnbuckle and attach it to the eyebolt in the bed and to another eyebolt above it on the bottom of the camper. Tighten the turnbuckles down and you're done! See the round and rectangular trap doors on the camper in the following photo. I don't know why one is round and one is rectangular -



A turnbuckle mounted to the truck bed and camper -

 
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kcowyo

ExPo Original
#6
Mounting the camper to the truck pt.2 - Two more pics. One to show the full exterior of the camper prior to installation including the other two trap doors for turnbuckle access and you can also see the portable jack stand that's used to raise and lower the camper. The second shot (taken w/ a camera phone) shows the camper lowered on the truck and ready for the turnbuckles. Rudy strongly suggested storing the camper on sawhorses or something of similar height because getting the camper from ground level up to bed level with the 2 manual jacks is a big PITA.






The process was more involved than it would normally be due to needing to install the eyebolts in the bed. For removal of the camper I only have to access the turnbuckles, loosen them enough to take them off then jack up the camper enough to drive out from under it. Done. The camper power is supplied through an auxillary battery box so there aren't even any wires and plugs to disconnect. Just take off 4 turnbuckles, jack it up an inch or two and drive away. Can it get any easier?

A Key Selling Point - This is another HUGE benefit to going with a camper set up in that I can still have full use of the pickup bed if I need. I was keeping this in mind and it was another determining factor in going with this camper. When I first started looking at camping options, I was doing a big update project on my home at the same time and I would often use my truck for trips to Home Depot, the flooring store, etc. I didn't want to compromise the usefullness of a pick up bed with a permanent or semi-fixed camping solution on the back. The camper offers me a removable place to keep all of my camping gear together, without sacrificing the utility of my truck. This isn't quite as important now as when I started looking because I recently sold the house (and bought a sweet little camper!) but I know that after taking 10 minutes to remove the camper, I can go to the store and haul home a new big screen or a giant ficas tree or whatever. That's pretty cool and a great benefit to the Four Wheel Camper!
 

kcowyo

ExPo Original
#7
Not off-topic Jon. I was planning on jotting down some thoughts on the supercharger's performance with the camper anyway.

There is significant difference in the 3.4 with the supercharger. I've driven a T100, a Tacoma and our '99 4Runner with the stock 3.4 . With the SC, the initial throttle response and pulling power has increased dramatically. I haven't had it dynoed and I'm sure TRD's hp and torque gain claims were measured at the fly wheel, not the rear wheel. But it definitely made a difference in performance.

I know some folks feel that the engine should be left stock for reliablity and for ease of working on it. I feel confident that the Toyota Racing Development supercharger, that was built alongside Toyota engineers to work in conjunction with the 3.4 ltr V6, will offer the same reliability as all other Toyota products. It can also be removed with about 20 minutes of easy work if it fails. I am aware of a T100 owner in Colorado who has over 150K on his TRD supercharger with no mechanical issues.

Because the SC requires the use of premium fuel (91 octane) and I use synthetic fluids throughout, I've found that I have higher MPG averages than non-supercharged 3.4 owners in the lighter Tacomas and 4Runners. When I had the topper on I averaged 18.9 mpg in town and 22.1mpg on the highway. I've also learned to discipline myself when to get into the SC and when not to.

****.....more SC and FWC impressions to follow -:beer:
 

kcowyo

ExPo Original
#9
Picking a route for the way home - With the camper loaded and ready to go, the only thing left to do was to pay the man. I have to say that not only was the seller a good guy but he and his wife were genuinely sad to see their little camper go. She even asked if I were to sell it, to please call them first. Even though they felt like they'd outgrown it, they still really liked he camper. That was very good for me to hear as I was leaving. Better than hearing, "OK hon, he's gone!! Let's haul ass to the bank with this check!!"

After discussing the recent local weather with Rudy, I made the very tough decision to head south instead of north to Stanley, Idaho in the Sawtooth Range. As Rudy said, if it's socked in at Sun Valley, it'll be socked in for the 60 mile drive through the Sawtooths to Stanley. I've fawned over Stanley and the Sawtooths in other threads so to be within an hour's drive and not get to go was really dissapointing. I promised myself that I would return at a better time of year with more days to spend in the area and headed south.

First impressions on the road - After 30 miles I stopped in Hailey to re-tighten the turnbuckles then continued back east towards Craters of the Moon. They hadn't really loosened up by that point. The truck rode differently with the camper for sure. Kind of a bouncey ride from the rear, like when you're pulling a trailer that's a tad too heavy. I didn't notice the higher profile of the FWC as semi's blew by me or the occaisional sideways gust. Initially I felt like a huge RV going down the road but within an hour or two it began to sink in that I was no wider and only 8 inches taller than I was before. The exhaust seemed much louder under the strain of the 700lb camper. The Magnaflow has a real nice tone but this really amplified it. Because this was just a few hours after I'd passed through that morning, the headwind I'd fought all the way over was now a tailwind. I kept my foot out of the supercharger on the way to Sun Valley, as the wind was so strong that there was no sense winding up the supercharger and burning that extra fuel to fight the wind. But now the wind was behind us and it was a blast to hear the duet of the supercharger and the Magnaflow seranading me as we started putting some miles behind us. In what seemed like no time at all I was back at Craters of the Moon, but the weather was still overcast.



I took a brief break here to pick a route home. I didn't want to go back the same way I came over but I couldn't go too far out of my way as I had to be home Monday for work. I had to go back through Idaho Falls ( I said Twin Falls earlier, but it's Idaho Falls) and with a little local knowledge of SE Idaho, I opted to take US-89, the Swan Valley Scenic Byway south of Jackson. US-89 and then Rt.34 weaves in and out of Idaho and Wyoming to Bear Lake on the Idaho & Utah border. I was hoping my decision to head south would get me around the weather but as anyone who was travelling in the western US on Easter Sunday will tell you, the winds just never let up.

Time to find our very first campsite! - I was hoping to reach the Palisades Resevoir Dam campground by nightfall for my first night in the camper. I was definitely putting the miles behind me but the dark weather clouds trailed me all afternoon. It was getting dark and I was in the middle of nowhere and the persistent cold drizzle was back. Things started looking not so good when the campground at the Resevoir Dam wasn't open for the season yet. The next Caribou Nat'l Forest campground was closed as well. In the winters the counties do not plow the snow in campgrounds, they just pile up all winter. Whenever they melt in the Spring, that's when the campgrounds open back up. Heading down the same road and 2 more closed campgrounds. I have no problem in these circumstances making camp at a Wal Mart or Super 8 parking lot. However there was no way I was going to spend the very first night in my long awaited camper in some parking lot!

A sign indicating another campground but it too is closed. But this one has had part of the driveway plowed, enough to park a T100 about 100 yards off the wet curvy mountain road. It would have to do and hopefully I don't attract the attention of the local federales. At that point it's late, I'm tired and I just want to relax in my camper. I backed in, popped the top and began making my first cup of coffee when the Heaven's opened up. Great, I'm illegally parked in a downpour in my new camper in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. I can't wait to see what the morning will bring!



*****To Be Continued.....
 
#11
I LOVE reading this:Wow1:

I saw the ad for your FourWheel on one of the RV sites!!!! I recognize the truck.

Did it leak? Did it leak? :) You're turning this into a suspense tale!!!!!!!!!!
 
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kcowyo

ExPo Original
#14
(Sorry for the dramatic pauses guys. I'm winging this since most of my notes are trapped in my PM's)

It was a dark and stormy night....and one man was in a camper.... :rolleyes: - It's 10pm and I've been in possession of the camper for a whole 7 hours. I'm parked just off the road and the rain is coming down so heavy I doubt I'll be able to sleep for all of the noise. I make a weird wish to myself, hoping that it keeps raining and doesn't turn to snow. At the rate it was coming down, a Spring snow would pile up quickly and deep overnight. I flashback to Easter weekend in '92, and being trapped in my apartment for 5 days when the Blizzard of the Century dropped six feet of snow in the NC mountains. Hopefully the flashback doesn't become deja vu.

Stepping around the jack stands on the floor, I get some coffee going and turn the 16,000 BTU furnace on. At first I only got cold air then remembered I had to run outside to open the propane bottle, stored in a door on the driver's side. After that the small camper warmed up quickly and began to fill with the smell of hot coffee. I checked carefully around the seams, windows and canvas sides looking for any drips or leaks. So far so good. The rain never let up but as I sat with a hot cup o' joe and the heater cranking in my camper, I grinned like a little kid who was getting away with something!

I reached through the sliding windows of the camper and the truck to grab my sleeping bag and B.O.B. from the backseat and began laying everything out while the stove top cooled. The bed sits double stacked in the cab over portion. A 5' person could sleep across the bed without pulling out the rest of the bed but if you pull out the bed like a drawer, it converts to a queen sized bed. When pulled out on the slides, the bed frame covers the stove but allows enough room to hop down and turn on the heater or grab something from the fridge. The single cushion you can see in the photo sits atop a second cushion that fills out the frame.




The following pics shows one of the slides the bed frame rests on. There is another of equal length on the other side and these are what the bed extension rests on -







I was told the bed was very comfortable and after sliding the full bed out I jumped up in my sleeping bag and hoped the rain would quiet down enough to get some sleep. After a few minutes I began to feel the space between the cushions and what felt like a small piece of trim on the frame digging into my hip. Not cool. I had my Therma-Rest with me just in case but by now I was too tired to pull it out and blow it up, so I dealt with it and burrowed down for a hopefully decent night's sleep.

****. 2:30am and it's still pouring and the coffee has come back to haunt me. Is there a less pleasant feeling when camping than having to go in the middle of the night? I toss and turn but with all of the rain, my God, who can sleep now? I curse at the thought of pulling on my cold boots and going out in the rain to take a leak when a thought hits me. The top of that little back door on the camper hits me at belt buckle height.... hmmm... Yup, I sure did, right out the back door and I didn't have to get out in the deluge! Man, I hope this rain stops by the morning!

The morning after - Back up by 6am and the rain has lightened up a little. Before I even get out of my bag I check the canvas around the bed carefully for any leaks or small drips. I can find nothing so I look again thinking surely somewhere there must be a small puddle I'm not seeing. I could find nothing. I hopped out of bed and checked the rest but still couldn't find anywhere that water had entered the camper. I rolled up my bag and stuffed it back through to the back seat of the truck then I noticed the source of my hip's discomfort. The two cushions are of slightly different thickness to fit in the frame properly when closed. I had them backwards which allowed the trim to peak through, poking my hip all night. I turned them around, hopped back up and lay there completely comfortable, laughing at my earlier annoyance. I made the mental notes and pushed the frame back to the closed position.



I made more coffee, fired up the heater and walked around outside checking the camper as the rain eased up to a steady drizzle. There is a thoughtful drip rail over the back door and a porch light which offers great light in the early morning. I checked the access doors for the propane and water fill and they were dry. Somehow this camper had endured a night of relentless rain and I couldn't find anywhere that it had leaked. That was very surprising and encouraging as leaks were a big concern. I could feel my confidence in the camper growing.




**********To be Continued..............
 
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