Show Notes for Podcast #97
The Wedge Camper Revolution
Matt Swartz and Scott Brady talk wedge campers and habitats with the team from Super Pacific.
Spencer T. Houser
Learning metal working from a young age, Spencer grew up on a farm in upstate New York where his father was a blacksmith and his mother was an Art Teacher. His formative years were spent skiing, rock climbing and off-roading. As an adult he migrated west, in search of new opportunities and the wilderness of the west coast. For a decade he ran his own design and machine shop HouserWorks, and Ducati Motorcycle aftermarket parts brand SpeedyMoto. Exhibiting his talents as a multi-disciplinary designer and serial tinkerer Spencer forged a career in product design, operations, and manufacturing in both motorsports & aerospace industries.
Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, Peter spent nearly 5 years as an innovation designer in Nike’s legendary ‘Space Kitchen’ before co-founding Super Pacific. From the ages of 10-14 he and his family circumnavigated the globe on a sailboat, instilling a life-long appreciation of adventure that fuels him to this day. His adventurous spirit continued when he attended college in Colorado, where he was a raft guide and ski instructor. He began his product design career learning to sew bags at Mystery Ranch in Bozeman, MT and later established his own line of soft goods.
Super Pacific represents the fusion of his passion for great product design and adventurous pursuits. Father to a 6-year-old son, he is committed to fostering an adventurous lifestyle and love of the outdoors to the next generation.
Super Pacific manufactures the Switchback X1, the most complete lightweight wedge-style truck bed camper anywhere.
www.superpacificusa.com | @superpacific_usa
My name is Matt Swartz and I owe my love of the outdoors to my Grandfather, a PHD Ecologist, and photographer who was years ahead of his time. Every visit to his house was filled with hiking adventures where we’d collect and identify insects, or trips to a nearby creek to fish and look for water snakes. We’d also regularly sit on the couch together, pouring over the latest National Geographic while my Grandfather provided additional commentary, always getting deeper into the science. His knowledge was endless.
With those early childhood experiences in nature, it feels fitting that I’ve built a life full of adventurous outdoor sports, travel, photography, and writing. From my first camping experiences on the East coast to bigger adventures, like exploring the West coast of South America, or hiking from the border of Mexico to Mammoth, California, I find that time spent outdoors gives me an incredible sense of well-being.One of my biggest pieces of advice to the aspiring adventurer: passionately pursue your dreams, and don’t let society convince you that a high net-worth is more valuable than a life full of rich experiences. @m.b.swartz
Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and includes three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @scott.a.brady
Full show notes available at Overland Journal
This episode sponsored in part by Black Series Trailers
Images from Alu-Cab https://www.alu-cab.com/
Scott Brady: Hello, and welcome to the Overland Journal podcast; I'm your host, Scott Brady. I'm with my co-host here, Matt Swartz, and we're going to talk about wedge campers. We're going to talk about why you should consider a wedge camper and we've got some experts with us here today. We've got Spencer Houser, and we've also got Peter Williams. And these folks, they build the Super Pacific wedge campers. This podcast is not about their product in particular, but since they're experts on the subject, it's going to give us a great opportunity to kind of riff on why you should consider a wedge camper, things to look for in a wedge camper, things to avoid maybe that I've experienced in my own testing or Matt's experience in his own testing, and also some of the new technologies that we're seeing coming out related to wedge campers that are making them more and more of a suitable consideration set for people when they buy a camper. So thanks, guys for being on the podcast today.
Peter Williams: And thanks for having us.
Spencer Houser: Absolutely, yeah, thanks very much.
Scott Brady: And a special thanks to Black Series Camper for supporting this week's podcast. If you want to get out of the camping sites to follow freedom and nature, Black Series Camper can show you the way from travel trailers to toy haulers Black Series has options as short as 12 feet or as long as 22 feet a lineup ready for any need and any situation. Get yourself and your family out to enjoy nature in comfort and style. See Black Series in person at the overland Expo shows where you can meet with their team and explore their different models on display in person, please visit Black Series homepage at Black Series dot net. The first thing that I think we should talk about is the benefit of the wedge camper. Historically, you would see something like a Winnebago or you'd see a Westfalia van and it has this pop top style camper. Those were the first times we saw that coming into play, and then of course we saw roof tents for a long time, and then we saw wedge style roof tents, and then we would see, of course, people with pickup trucks with fiberglass shells or with aluminum shells on top of their truck. We now see this kind of amalgamation of those technologies and solutions coming into what we now call in the industry, a wedge camper. And there are different kinds, there are some that like- adventure trailers... AT Overland makes some that go straight up. There's other companies that make some that come up at an angle and they all have their advantages as well. I particularly like the one that comes up at an angle because you can put the nose of the vehicle into the wind and you get a much quieter place to sleep, but then if you need maximum headroom, you may want one that goes up or even one that swings out all the way over the back if you've got a bunch of people that you're trying to pack into a topper, so...
Spencer Houser: Plus that wedge makes a really sweet dirt bike jump if you really need it!
Scott Brady: I like that, oh I didn't even consider that.
Spencer Houser: Yeah, hell yeah.
Scott Brady: What have I been doing wrong this whole time?
Spencer Houser: You gotta take the Moto Guzzi off the roof of my camper now.
Scott Brady: I have to admit, like yesterday, I was driving through Prescott and there was one of those trailers that they used to like back off a D9 CAT or whatever. The ramp was down, I was on the Moto Guzzi. I think every single knucklehead like myself looks at that and thinks "I should jump that, I should totally like..."
Spencer Houser: Totally! And if there was a flaming ring of fire? You wouldn't be able to stop yourself, really.
Scott Brady: Exactly. So there you go. Wedge Camper, it's the reason to buy is because it becomes part of your jumping routine.
Spencer Houser: Yeah, for sure. Totally.
Matt Swartz: Evel Knievel endorsed.
Scott Brady: I like that, I like that a lot. And when we think about some of the great strengths of those types of campers is it really comes down to reduced weight. One of the difficulties especially when you're looking at a smaller truck, like a Tacoma or a half ton pickup, one of the biggest challenges is keeping these trucks at their payload. For example, what is your camper typically come in at for weight?
Spencer Houser: They're roughly 350 to 370, so...
Scott Brady: Yeah, so that's incredibly light. Whereas like a typical raising roof camper that slides into the back of a pickup, you're lucky if you get in at 1100 to 1500 pounds. And that's oftentimes the full payload that those trucks will have. Now, Matt, your truck is a little different. So what led you to decide on a three quarter ton RAM to go with a wedge style camper, even though you've got the payload for another camper?
Matt Swartz: I think you kind of hit the nail on the head when you talked about payload, you know, just because you have a lot of payload or don't have a lot of payload, you don't want to use all of it. You know, like if your infrastructure maxes you out, then what happens when you start putting passengers and water and food and camping gear in?
Scott Brady: Or like those nice bumpers you've got on your truck?
Matt Swartz: Well, those add some significant weight, but you know, the reality is even with a full size truck, you know, our payloads something in the neighborhood of 2300 pounds. And you can eat that up pretty quickly. When you start bolting stuff on. You know, a wedge camper that weighs 370 pounds. That's kind of the sweet spot for us. I don't want to like reduce the capability of my truck by putting something on it, I want to enhance the capability. And so I think like in this case, that's what the wedge camper does. It's going to give us added functionality without taking away from what the truck can do. And especially since we hold the Airstream being able to separate and have that secure storage and a sleeping place. I mean that's like everything we want to be able to do with our vehicle.
Scott Brady: Well, I think your use case is such a great example of that. You've got a three quarter ton truck that does have good payload but you're towing an Airstream. What's the tongue weight of the Airstream, do you remember?
Matt Swartz: I think the tongue weight is around 500 pounds.
Scott Brady: Yeah, so let's say it's in the five to 700 pound range once you've loaded up with some gear. That goes against your payload, because that's tongue weight. You take away five to 700 pounds, you add 350 pounds, you add some gear, you add some bumpers.
Matt Swartz: 400 pounds of bumpers...
Scott Brady: And then you add a couple adults and your puppy dog and next thing you know, you're really even on a three quarter ton truck. You're getting close to those payload numbers, we have to remember to that the performance of a vehicle is very much a reflection of its weight. So there's a reason why a Sandrail performs as well as it does in the dunes even as two-wheel drive. Yeah, because they're incredibly light and powerful so their performance to weight ratio is very high. So just because we have the payload, we may want certain performance characteristics of the vehicle, we may want it to handle a certain way or we may do a lot of deep mud or sand or snow, when the total weight of the vehicle compared to the contact patch of the tire is a really critical consideration. So that's where in my mind, I see that these toppers are oftentimes exactly what somebody needs. The other thing that I've noticed is because it's not a slide-in camper, you get rid of all of this other material. So because it's being bolted to the top of the bed, you now don't have all of that extra structure that would go in where the wheel wells are, you gain a lot more space on the inside too. Sometimes you can- a slide in camper, you can access those little cubbies and things like that through little doors, but it gets super dusty or it's not easy to get access to. A minute* ads in a lot of additional weight while you're losing space efficiency, so that's another real benefit of these wedge campers is that you have a very space efficient interior, you get the whole bed.
Peter Williams: Yep, exactly.
Scott Brady: And what have you guys done to maximize the available interior space? It's kind of a loaded question, because we found in other campers that their... they don't always optimize those interior spaces.
Spencer Houser: Right, no , we had to, kind of, find the magic spot between a straight walled camper and something with a really radical side angle, right? We actually made our tent itself a little bit wider than a lot of the other tents that are on the market so that we could have some of the benefits of of a pure straight wild camper, it still retains some of the characteristics and the aerodynamics.
Scott Brady: Sure, the airflow.
Spencer Houser: Yeah, of trying to keep it close to that cab angle. So that was one of the things that we did.
Scott Brady: Yeah, we definitely find that, the straight up and down ones, they'll end up with a lot more pinstriping, you also have that frontal resistance of the camper when it goes up by where the cab is, you get quite a bit of impact to your airflow. Which, that's one of the benefits of the wedge campers is you're typically not having a big impact to aero, usually much less than you would with a roof tent, you really find the good aero out of a wedge camper. But you don't want those sides to be too much of an angle, because then when you're sitting inside, like on a bench, then you're leaning forward. You can't sit up right when you're on a built out interior.
Spencer Houser: Yeah, that's exactly it. And so we try to maximize the width of the camper right to the edge of the bed rail. But then try to find that magic spot in the height gives you some lean, lean angle, but not a tremendous amount of lean angle. So you're bending over.
Scott Brady: And what are you guys finding when people are purchasing these campers? Are they looking to just have them be a replacement for a shell that they can camp in, or are they looking to do full interior build outs?
Peter Williams: It's a real mixed bag, there's pretty much full spectrum of some of our folks get in there and want to do a big custom build out kind of permanent setup so it's ready to go camping every day. For me one of the huge advantages of this style of camper is that it leaves your truck bed as a truck bed and serve essentially with our product in particular you have a commercial grade canopy on your truck bed so during the work week you're set and you can do whatever you need for your daily driver but then the transition to camping you know is really quick way that we're set up in my house is we just have all our gear in totes we load up, go to the grocery store, and we're we're out, you know? that versatility is a huge advantage.
Scott Brady: That's interesting. You kind of refer to it as this commercial grade topper, so are there load bars on the top? Like could you put your ladder for the tradesmen? Are you seeing people use this for tradesmen are using it during the week to go to the job site and they pull their Duff out and they and they go camping? Is it designed to take some load on the roof as well?
Peter Williams: Yeah, it'll carry closed. The load transfers just metal to metal down, so it carry quite a bit of weight closed.
Scott Brady: And you guys have available cross bars as well?
Peter Williams: The way we design is to... so that it can be accessorized with anything you want.
Scott Brady: You gotta like a rail or channel up there.
Peter Williams: Yeah, so there's a T slot on the top, and Yakima has a set up you can throw on there. So you just have a lot of options.
Matt Swartz: It kind of goes beyond just things that are specifically designed for vehicles. This is one of the things that appealed about it to me so much, from a DIY standpoint, is those rails, like, you can use 80/20. You know, like you can get pretty creative with other materials and ways of attaching things. And some of the users some of the people that own it have done that, right. I mean, people have gotten pretty creative with what they do.
Peter Williams: Oh yeah, it's super fun to see what people do. There's some clever folks out there doing some cool stuff. And that was- we talked earlier about maximizing interior space. That was a big kind of design philosophy as we worked through it and was looking at- everybody has a different use case. We tried to build a framework that you could then go in and really customize and optimize to your needs, you know, and maximize that space because it's quite a bit of space if you're thoughtful in how you use it.
Scott Brady: Yeah, for sure. And Matt, for you, when you started looking on the market, what were the things that you were hoping the wedge camper would accomplish? What were some of the considerations that you had before you made this investment to put it on top of your truck?
Matt Swartz: Yeah. So I think two of the biggest thing for me, why the wedge camper is like the right choice for our scenario. Before we talked about, like, I never wanted to take away capability from the truck with adding something I want everything I had to add capability to the truck. And so the wedge camper accomplish that in terms of secure storage, right, so we went from an open bed, which obviously there's like tonneau covers, and you know, there's dedicated canopies that don't have tents, like, sure those are all options, but the switchback gives me that secure storage. So now all of a sudden living out of the Airstream, which is surprisingly limited on space, given how comfortable it is, and roomy, and on the interior, but like we end up using our shower for storage. So now all of a sudden, all of the paragliders and, you know, tools, and whatever that's lived in there can go in the back of the truck, and I can lock it in there. And I have confidence that it's secure. That's huge. Like that opens up a whole lot of usable space inside the trailer. That was one thing I was looking at. And that could have been independent of the switchback, you know, any wedge campers gonna give you that any canopy is gonna give you that. So I think that's huge. I also want to simplify the camp setup, right? And this is where the wedge tent is awesome. I don't really... I'm not a huge fan of rooftop tents in general. But I think the one exception to that is the wedge tent, because it is very quick. There's two latches, you push it up the gas struts do the work, and then it's set up, you don't have to insert all these rods to hold out portions of the fly. And that's the thing, like I've camped on a lot of roof tents that are actually more labor intensive and more difficult to set up than ground tents.
Scott Brady: Way more!
Peter Williams: Exactly, right?
Scott Brady: And putting them away is even worse.
Peter Williams: Oh yeah, no, it's terrible!
Matt Swartz: And you're having to climb around the truck, like a rock climber and, you know, that doesn't work for everyone, like some people are just not physically capable of that.
Scott Brady: Or tall enough.
Matt Swartz: Right. And so, you know, that kind of excludes a certain segment of the market. So I see when it comes to the rooftop tent, the wedge, I think adds it adds speed, it makes things simpler.
Scott Brady: Yeah. It's always been my choice. Or even those like hybrid wedges, where they still go up like a wedge, but it's got some mechanism that gives a little bit more foot box space. Those work out really, really well. How does the mechanism work in your camper? How does it live?
Spencer Houser: So it's just a pair of gas struts that-
Scott Brady: Are they inside the tent or are they outside the tent?
Spencer Houser: They're outside the tent, but they're interior to the extrusion, so when it's closed, there's no gas struts on the outside or exposed. And it's just a big heavy duty machined hinge on the front end. Incidentally, our first design was just as you described earlier, Scott, with kind of a mechanism that would-
Scott Brady: Scissor mechanism, yeah.
Spencer Houser: That would give you that foot box. We played around with it and and kind of did some mock ups and models and stuff. And we were just a little worried about coming to market with something with a mechanism like that, that if we messed it up, it failed right out of box, nobody's gonna trust Superpacific. We decided to go with just the single hinge where it does limit your foot box a little bit, but it's a super, super reliable mechanism.
Scott Brady: What I've noticed with that is because you have that continuous engagement along the leading edge of the camper, and even in high winds, even sideloaded winds, you don't get a lot of movement of that top. Whereas the scissor mechanisms, because they're relying under the relying on tension on the fabric, and then upward force of the struts, they can still move around quite a bit. And even when you're trying to put them down, it can actually get off axis enough that they can start to pinch material or even cut material. I had a roof tent that I was testing that was in that configuration and the wind was just enough that when it came down it actually scissor cut the fabric between the mechanism. They've since redesigned the structure so it- well, based on feedback, which is why we're out there banging on these things all the time, so we can give people that kind of feedback. The other thing that I've noticed that you'll see done is that they'll do a good job. And I'm not sure how yours- I've not even seen the inside of your camper yet but a lot of them, they'll use some kind of felting or they'll use some kind of carpet material on the walls and on the ceiling to manage condensation. How do you guys manage condensation in the tent?
Peter Williams: We designed in a bunch of passive ventilation so that the air can just circulate? We're in the Pacific Northwest so we really designed it with like wet camping in mind.
Scott Brady: Sure, lots of humidity yeah.
Peter Williams: Humidity and rainy long winters. So, we've kind of imagined ourselves out there in a rainy winter camp, we wanted to be able to have vents open but sheltered from rain so even even if you're socked in, you can still get some air circulating and it's been really effective for managing condensation. We've gotten a lot of feedback from customers that it's pretty much not been an issue. Of course there's sometimes there's so much ambient moisture that it just clings to stuff.
Scott Brady: Yeah, for sure.
Spencer Houser: Nothing's going to work for you have a Maxxair fan or whatever in there, It's not going to do any good.
Scott Brady: Right, yeah. It's more about, kind of, managing where that condensation goes.
Spencer Houser: Yeah the path out.
Matt Swartz: Yeah, if it's 98% relative humidity, It's humid everywhere.
Spencer Houser: Exactly that.
Matt Swartz: You can't get rid of it.
Spencer Houser: You're basically underwater.
Scott Brady: Well, and another thing that I really like about that, I mean, if you look at the different styles, the ones that will flip out all the way up over the back, you end up with an awning. So that's a real advantage, you end up with an enormous amount of interior space. But then you have all tent materials. So they can be, in the ones that I've slept in, they can be louder, they aren't as well insulated. So in colder environments, they're more difficult to heat, because you have so much tent material. You also have the chance of the tent material- there's a lot more tent material to potentially fail or need repair. But you do end up with an enormous amount of interior space, a lot of them will even have the capability of having like a small cot or something like that suspends in the part over the bed, so that's one style. The other style that we've seen are the kinds of goes straight up. So it's like you'd see on a four wheel camper, sliding camper, and they even have their own model now that kind of bolts to the top of the bed and it goes straight up. Those you end up- when you've got the bed kind of tucked all the way out of the way or the sleeping surface tucked all the way out of the way you end up with a lot more standing space, so you can fit more people like if you wanted to have a party, you got a lot more space in there, kind of moving around in there. So I think that that's an advantage, but I think that the reason why we see most of them being wedge campers is because of the durability of the structure. The structure ends up being very durable and why I like wedgestyle roof tents is the fact that you can point the vehicle into the wind. Like right now we're in Flagstaff at the Overland Expo and it is- what'd you guys say? It was like Armageddon or like-
Spencer Houser: Yeah, it was, uh..
Matt Swartz: Mad Max?
Spencer Houser: Mad Max, yeah, Mad Max.
Scott Brady: Yeah, it's gnarly. I mean, there's all kinds of accoutrement, like flying through the air and signs and tents and everything. I mean, it's bad.
Peter Williams: Home Depot sold out of sandbags over the course of yesterday.
Scott Brady: Yeah I'd believe it!
Matt Swartz: The Windy app was showing the peak gusts up into the low 50s.
Peter Williams: I saw that too.
Scott Brady: Yeah, so that's gale force winds. And we can see that the impact on anything that has a broad surface, we're in a black series trailer that's well insulated, and it's behind the 10. It's got some other things that are blocking the wind. So it's actually very quiet in here. But when you're dealing with bad weather- so when you have a roof that's at an angle, you can shed snow and snow load, snow weight, you have much less tent surface area that you have to deal with losing your interior heat if you're heating the interior of the camper. And then for me, the thing that's most important is being able to point it into the wind. I remember I was in San Evaristo, which is a very remote Bay in Baja. And I had a roof tent that was a wedge style, and I could point it into the wind and there was another camper nearby with another style of roof tent, a traditional clamshell style and they broke a bunch of their- bent, broke a bunch of their poles, you know, and it was a very high quality tent, it was just so bad. The wind was so bad that they basically had to try to fold up the tent the best they could and sleep inside. I mean, I sleep like a log anyways, but I never woke up. Like it was not an issue. It is that much better.
Spencer Houser: Oh, no, yeah, we are- right now where we are in our booth, both our trucks are pointed into the wind. Our tents are hardly moving. Our flags are breaking, right? And the poor guys at Outdoor by Four their whole canopy collapsed.
Scott Brady: Oh, no.
Spencer Houser: But we're just sitting there and customers are coming up and going: "It's not even really flapping or anything." And it's like, yeah, because it's pointing right into the wind, it's perfect!
Matt Swartz: It's almost the kind of weather you want to demo how successful a product is. I mean, like you walk around the event and you can see what's working and what's not working.
Scott Brady: When you guys look at where the market is right now, cause there's so many different options, I mean, go fast makes a great product and AT Overland makes a great product, you guys make a great product, Alu-Cab, there's a bunch of them on the market. What are you seeing as far as innovation? Or where do you think there are opportunities to continue to move wedge campers forward? What do you think is going to be the next evolution of- without giving away your own trade secrets, but what do you think-
Spencer Houser: I need to think a little bit about this.
Scott Brady: Are some needs that still exist? Because I've got some thoughts that come to mind for me, but I'm curious what you guys see for needs that still exist in the market.
Peter Williams: I really liked what hiatus has done with their hard sided pop up. That's super cool, the kind of origami. I'm not sure if you're familiar with them or not, but...
Spencer Houser: Red Tails doing that as well.
Scott Brady: Red Tails doing that as well? Yeah, I'm surprised that they haven't come out with a wedge style truck camper, because they've got so much technology and innovation, that design and engineering that they put into making a roof tent.
Peter Williams: Totally.
Scott Brady: Seems like it's a great- it would be expensive, I'm not saying that it wouldn't be a fair value, but it- just the nature of carbon fiber and everything is expensive.
Peter Williams: It'd be a compelling product, man.
Scott Brady: Yeah, it would be really interesting. Some of the things that I think that there are opportunities around is starting to integrate more and more modularity, like lightweight build outs. So that way, you know, you can hang different structures from the side for storage you can- kind of like what Goose Gear does, but finding a way to do that super lightweight, really simple. You talk about how you move things in and out of your truck, having it where it's really easy to do that. So it's not- cause I think that the permanent build out... maybe it works for some people or maybe it's what they think they need in there but I don't know that the permanent build that is actually the right solution for most people.
Peter Williams: Depends a lot on time of life, you know what I mean? And just what your circumstances are, but if the truck you take out for adventures is also your daily driver, the permanent build outs tough.
Scott Brady: Yeah.
Spencer Houser: I just went- my parents were in town my- in Portland. My dad loves the Air Museum in McMinnville. We went and looked, I got super inspired. I'm already very familiar with airplanes, right? But, just looking at all these jets and things and how lightweight the gauge material that they're using compared to what we're building our stuff out of. Now our stuff is bulletproof, right? It's just burly, but it got me thinking about, you know, truck bodies are made out of very, very thin material. Why couldn't we like go like really, really lightweight with what we do. But you're gonna have to also get a customer that's used to a door that you can kind of push and dimple just like you can to the side of your truck, right? And I think so like you're saying with this kind of super lightweight and modular kind of thing.
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Spencer Houser: I hear ya.
Scott Brady: That's where I think that there's a lot of opportunity, is that they're already light. If you look at a Tacoma, I mean, like you can have a couple buddies and a sandwich for the payload that they've got, you know. So it just seems like that there's such an opportunity to go to look after what are the old- how light could you make a wedge style camper? And if they start getting into that same weight range of like an air topper or any of the standard fiberglass toppers, you know, where you start looking at 200 pounds, 220 pounds, I think that that would be really impressive. Yeah, and I also thought that, you know, like opportunities for how do we integrate the awning into the structure of it. So you're not bolting an awning onto the side of it. You're taking advantage of some of the structure that's already there, that also seems to make a lot of sense to me. How do you integrate technology too? Right now we have the Starlink satellite dish, that's- it's mounted on the top of the Black Series, but the people who start to think about how do we make it really easy for people that want to work remote to mount these tools to do their job.
Spencer Houser: With COVID, we were kind of this weird hybrid and you know, we're startups over hybrid, you never stop working at home, right?
Scott Brady: For sure. Well, that's the cool thing about being a startup or running your own business. You get to pick whatever 14 hours a day you want to work.
Spencer Houser: A minimum 14 hours a day.
Peter Williams: You can do it anyway you want.
Scott Brady: Total control over that 14 hours, yeah.
Spencer Houser: Yeah. Well, we've had a lot of customers kind of talk about that, because of COVID. Now they're used to working remotely, you know, and having success being way off in the woods and just typing away. Pete's got a lot of thoughts and ideas around, you know what we can do for that.
Scott Brady: Yeah, I think there's just so many cool opportunities to try to help these remote workers achieve their goals. And I think that the manufacturers that start to pay attention to that, and really integrate those solutions, I think, is a very cool idea. And as you guys have done with making a very lightweight camper, there's been enough wedge style campers out there that you were like, ah, that works well, or this doesn't work so well. Or you see feedback from bloggers, like you guys mentioned, you know, reading the Overland Journal article on wedge campers, you're able to realize like that there are there are things that maybe people thought would work and they don't work. And then we can begin to refine the product. How about you, Matt, what have you seen in the work that you've done around wedge campers where you're like, you know what, it would be really cool if it did this or that?
Matt Swartz: I mean, that's a good question. I think-
Scott Brady: A launching pad for your paragliding?
Peter Williams: I was gonna say.
Matt Swartz: Exactly, yeah.
Spencer Houser: A big slingshot on the top, right?
Matt Swartz: Oh, yeah. Yeah, like totally, definitely, we could do a roof mounted winch to pull us up into the air. One person drives a truck, the other hooks into *
Spencer Houser: Oh, good idea.
Matt Swartz: Honestly, I don't have any big ideas, which is probably why I'm not a person designing these things, but I see some of the things that you guys have done differently with your product that stood out to me and you know, it kind of comes back to what you were just talking about, you know, being able to integrate things and make these work for the user, however they need. The T slots all around. It's just it's so simple to start there and let the user figure out what they want to do with it. It leaves the door open for that. The threaded bosses on the inside you know for I'm sure accessories that we'll see down the road. So that kind of thing, I think thinking in that mindset of like, how can we present infrastructure that can easily be customized? Because it's so hard to say that any one person wants or needs one specific thing, you know, if you kind of leave the door open to the individual people can innovate on their own. I mean, one thing that's kind of very different, but in the same space that I've seen recently is there's this inflatable bed canopy that you can get now, have you guys seen this? I think it's like RF welded. It's kind of like the technology of a paddleboard, I don't know what the weight is, Graham just wrote it up.
Scott Brady: And it pops up when you inflate it, yeah.
Matt Swartz: I mean, that kind of thing is cool, so that's a little different. Now, I wish I had some better ideas around that. I'm just psyched to see, you know, I think what you're talking about the lightweight, a modular kind of interior, because I don't want to build out the bed with like a full camping setup. But a little more infrastructure might be beneficial at times,
Scott Brady: Even paying attention to people's needs around side windows, for example, like the windows that are in this Black Series. I think they're perfect for 80% of users, but they don't survive well with brush scrapes and that kind of thing. So if you were to look at the windows that are in an EarthRoamer, and there's other big campers that use them as well, they're glass, and they are incredibly strong. Tempered, they've got all the integration of the shades and privacy and all that other stuff and then the way that they fit flush, I mean, they just ended up being incredibly robust in those conditions where we end up with a lot of brush scrapes and stuff like that. Did you end up going with side windows on your camper, Matt?
Matt Swartz: There is- so there's there's two windows, but they're on the the front. So at the back of the cab, so you can see in from the cab of the truck. And then there's a rear window.
Scott Brady: That makes sense.
Matt Swartz: So you can see in from the back, there.
Scott Brady: So you can see, see the Airstream behind, you make sure it's still there?
Matt Swartz: One so one thing did come to mind for- and it's not necessarily innovation, but it's kind of like prepping the product right for customers. I think a really cool feature that I'd like to see adopted more widely is designing a camper that allows the customer to integrate anything that would require routing wires anywhere. So make it set up so that the customer doesn't have to create any roof penetrations whatsoever and can get a wire to any corner of the camper.
Scott Brady: That would be really useful, for sure.
Spencer Houser: We've thought about that a little bit, that's a challenge, right?
Matt Swartz: I mean, you guys have gotten very close, I will say because like you have the the wire chases like all throughout it's 90% of what I just described.
Spencer Houser: Right, but that last 10%, you know, trying to figure out how to get it out of the tent, keep it sealed up.
Matt Swartz: That's why you guys are engineers and we just test the stuff.
Scott Brady: Well and I think one of the biggest engineering challenges, and you guys may chuckle at this but, I think one of the biggest engineering challenges of the wedge camper is the integration with the tailgate. How do you possibly keep dust out of that spot, how do you guys deal with that?
Spencer Houser: Absolutely, it is- we have an adjustable bottom gasket.
Scott Brady: Oh nice.
Spencer Houser: For most of the modern trucks that have the big wide four inch wide tailgates, you can adjust down into that and you got a pretty good gasket as opposed to kind of a wiper type of gasket as a surface.
Scott Brady: I don't find that the wiper ones work. There's so much like kind of vacuum, negative- I don't know what you would- you guys are engineers but that term escapes me at the moment but...
Peter Williams: Vacuums a good term.
Scott Brady: It just because you're running down the trail and it's creating this vacuum at the back of the vehicle and it's like just pulls the dust right in past that seal.
Spencer Houser: Yeah, so we've got the, we got that surface but there's this little area in the very corner where the tailgate and the camper, like the body of the camper, and the back door all meet. And that is a it is...
Scott Brady: Quite a challenge.
Spencer Houser: It's a nightmare, yeah.
Scott Brady: It is quite a challenge and then the tailgate itself is not sealed between the body sides because it doesn't have to for their purposes, they're selling a pickup, you know, that gap is there and it just like just can pump. What I always thought is like when I create some positive pressure in the camper because you want to fan in there for ventilation anyways so maybe there's a way to run the fan in reverse.
Spencer Houser: It's like reusable fabric for dust.
Scott Brady: Yeah, and it just has a little bit of a, some kind of a filter a membrane and you can just pack some positive pressure ventilation into the camper so that you're forcing dust out.
Spencer Houser: I always- is it RSI? Do they have something like that?
Matt Swartz: They do on their toppers, they have some sort of it's like a positive air vent that creates positive pressure.
Spencer Houser: Right, and I've seen that. The first thing that comes to mind is if you're the first guy in line? That's awesome. But if you're the third guy in line? Just driving through that constant dust cloud, aren't you just filling your camper up with dust? And I've never had a chance to test it there may be something-
Scott Brady: They'd have to have some kind of a filter.
Spencer Houser: Well there's there is a layer of dead air that is over the surface of things as air is coming over it, so maybe...
Scott Brady: Maybe they got it in the right spot, because you also want the vent when you're sleeping up there. You want to be able to you know, extract the air out of the camper, you know for your cooking inside or whatever you can pull a little bit air through the windows keep your cool when you're sleeping but seems like reversing that and creating some positive pressure but I've never seen anybody do that right yet. That's one of the challenges-
Spencer Houser: Scuba tanks!
Peter Williams: Just fill a bunch of baloons and then pop them as you go, they'll pop as you're driving down the road.
Scott Brady: Totally, but anytime I've ever used a wedge camper, I'm just always shocked by the amount of dust that ends up in the back.
Peter Williams: That is I think a big difference between like a wedge camper and a sliding in because you are sealing- our campers seal to the top of the truck bed rails. So like from the rails up, we're really confident that we've got a tight product, but from the rails down, you're sort of on your own and they designed truck beds for draining. I mean, they don't design them to be tight against dust and water.
Scott Brady: Yeah, for sure. It's almost like you could have a tailgate delete back door that you guys, I mean, it would be so model specific, then you start to get into a bunch of tooling and everything else, but...
Peter Williams: We have seen like, we've got some customers are just like, you know, this is what I signed up for, I'm cool with it, and others are like going hard to try and just lock it out and make that thing float if it ever gets in the water, you know?
Scott Brady: Yeah, sure.
Peter Williams: It's really fun to see how people run that down and how they seal up around their tailgates and...
Scott Brady: Find a way to make it work.
Peter Williams: Kind of fill all the little gaps that are just part fo the truck bed. People get into it, it's cool to see.
Scott Brady: Yeah, they sure do. Absolutely. What inspired you guys to do this? I mean, I think you were- you mentioned you had a machine shop and like now you're making cool campers, so like, how did you go from from that to this?
Spencer Houser: So yeah,I had a machine shop and had a company that made Ducati motorcycle parts for about 10 years.
Scott Brady: Oh, that's cool.
Spencer Houser: Yeah! Early teens, we sold the brand and shut that down and I went off to do some other things, and then Pete came to me and you take this- I'd say you take the story from here.
Peter Williams: I mean, I guess the real genesis of this whole thing is like I've got a six year old son now and he was three when we were first- picked this idea off and we had a 2005 Forester and a dog and to get out for a night in the woods was this Herculean effort. My partner I started looking at like what's out there what would be a better kind of adventure vehicle to have an adventurous family with and we landed on a four door pickup is the right thing for us, started looking at sliding campers, all that stuff didn't quite fit into our life. Started seeing these kind of wedge top of the truck bed rail campers out there. Spencer and I had worked together at a design consultancy in the past, and we both just are pretty passionate about designing and making stuff. So I went over to his place and showed him kind of what I'd been looking at kind of what was on the market at that point, andI was like, man, let's build let's build campers this summer. Let's do a summer project. We'll make one for your f-51, one for my Tacoma...
Spencer Houser: It'll be easy!
Peter Williams: Yeah, so that lead us into really a deep dive on, like, what's out there? How are people doing this? How would we do this? Oh, it'd be cool then we just got into it, you know? And then that kind of led into like, you know what, maybe instead of a summer project, we should actually look at this, design this thing for manufacturing, and think about what a business around this thing might look cause it looked like there was an opportunity.
Scott Brady: Oh, there's so much opportunity, we just see them everywhere now. I mean, 10 years ago, you saw roof tents on every vehicle, now when you walk around Overland- there's a lot of roof tents, I'm not saying that there's not a lot of roof tents but you don't see as many clamshell style roof tents anymore, you see mostly hardshell roof tents. You see a lot of these wedge campers.
Peter Williams: There's a product from way back in the day called a Wildernest.
Scott Brady: Yeah, that was the real deal!
Peter Williams: When I was driving little Toyota pickups I was always like, Oh I gotta find one of those! I gotta get one of those! But i could never find one.
Scott Brady: In fact, wasn't that designed by- it was a famous mountain climber, like a rock climber. It was- we'll have to put that in the show notes but yeah, it was designed or it was run by like Alex somebody or whatever, it was like one of those famous rock climbers.
Peter Williams: Yeah, I don't know who designed it.
Scott Brady: And he just like he built the thing that he wanted to go out, just like you guys. You're like, we've got some problems we need to solve and he built this really- and now they were very different in the fact that they didn't go out over the back, they flipped out to the side and they had support rods and stuff like that with that could hold them up. Yeah, they're pretty amazing.
Spencer Houser: Yeah, totally.
Peter Williams: They totally like captured my imagination back in- it was like the late 90s, probably?
Scott Brady: I remember! Yeah, they were- I mean, if he had just held on for like, another five years. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they would have taken off and of course, you know, flip pack was one of the really early ones as well, they were fiberglass tops made in Southern California. And I don't know if they're still in business or not but these guys were just- they were just a little bit before the explosion. Pretty amazing to see that. And Matt, what do you think you're gonna- what's gonna be your first adventures with the new wedge camper? What's the goal? Because I mean for you it solves a bunch of problems.
Matt Swartz: It does. I mean, the big goal for me is like, let's park the Airstream and break off and do something a little bit more out there. Let's just get kind of back to the roots of why we travel and do the stuff. It's not to be in like a luxurious, comfortable Airstream all the time. It's to go and have these really cool experiences. You know, that's the difference between like living on the road and going out and having an adventure and they can, they can kind of coalesce and they can be intertwined. But there's always compromises to make, right? And like long term living on the road for me dictates a certain level of basic necessity, comfort kind of stuff. So the wedge camper, for me is like, I'm kind of excited to get back out there. You know, so that might be like driving on a road that I would never take the Airstream on, right? Getting to a beautiful campsite. There's one that comes to mind in your head that's above the town that there's no way I could bring the trailer up there. I know I can get my truck up there with the new camper though.
Scott Brady: And it's totally worth being there.
Matt Swartz: Oh, absolutely, yeah. But in the real immediate future, we're flying back to the Portland area after this event and the trucks out there. We're going to grab it and we're going to head out to Western or excuse me, Eastern Washington for paragliding flying. So I imagine we're going to be driving a Treeve and hopefully we're going to be driving up to some pretty cool spots and maybe having some camping opportunities there.
Scott Brady: Well, and I remember, Matt, when you first talked about getting a topper because at first you thought well I'm gonna get some kind of a rack back there, and then you're like, nah, because it doesn't solve the security issue. So then you started looking at, you know, just regular canopies. And then you realize, like, if I'm gonna get a canopy, I might as well get something that I can camp out of. Maybe it adds 100 pounds over canopy, maybe 150, at the most?
Matt Swartz: Yeah, not the much.
Scott Brady: It just doesn't add that much.
Matt Swartz: No, it's just like, it's just such an easy decision to make. It's like have the tent, have the shelter. And it's not just a place to sleep, like you can move the floor and stand up in the bed of the truck and have full weather protection. I mean, it is a level above just a rooftop tent.
Peter Williams: That feature of being able to pop it up, stand in your truck bed and push the bed forward, like, for me, at this time in my life, it's all about getting outside with my six year old son. And like ski days, even if I didn't sleep in that thing, just being able to get in there and like get in and out of wet clothes.
Scott Brady: Totally makes sense.
Peter Williams: Do what you need to do and it's so useful.
Scott Brady: Be out of the weather a little bit. I mean, so useful because Matt, you still do a lot of rock climbing and stuff. I mean, to be able to change at the end of the day or did change into whatever you got to get or
Matt Swartz: To be honest, we had put a lot of that on pause with the paragliding because it just kind of like consumed all of our free time. But we have been climbing lately. Like in the last couple of months, we went to Indian Creek and we were climbing around Moab. And again, that's where I'm like, I wish we didn't have the camper installed all the time I'm like I wish I had that secure storage leave the climbing gear in the back of the truck overnight and not have to worry about someone you know helping themselves to it keeping it protected from dust while we're driving down those long dirt roads to get to the climbing crag.
Scott Brady: Totally.
Spencer Houser: Within my family, we've discovered all these kind of urban use scenarios around the wedge camper because it's so quick and easy to deploy. Both my daughters play soccer, play a lot of soccer. Many a soccer game, pull up to the edge of the field when it's raining. You pop the top me and my wife sit up top there we can see over the fence as you can see the whole field so you're watching the game while all the rest of the parents are getting soaked, that's super great.
Matt Swartz: Next level.
Spencer Houser: Yeah. Muddy kids coming off the soccer field being all muddy and stuff you pop the top kid goes in the back changes their clothes. My brother in law's dirt biker same thing. Come off the trail jump in the back be able to change out of all this gear
Scott Brady: Totally makes sense.
Spencer Houser: Our surfing buddies do the same thing, so...
Scott Brady: It would be a great surf, kind of platform as well.
Peter Williams: Getting in and out of a wet wetsuit, It's kinda humiliating, sometimes.
Scott Brady: Well and we talk a lot, and it's true. It's so true. It's like why is this so hard to get off? Right, and you're exhausted after whatever surfing or spearfishing, or whatever. Exactly, you're flailing around. We talk a lot in this podcast about spending less, bringing less, being more minimalist in the way that you approach travel, and that is one of the things that I find so compelling about the wedge style campers is that they are very simple. They are much less expensive than a full camper. They're much lighter than a full camper. And I think it solves the needs of many people. For those that are listening, if you're looking at trying to build out a camper, or you want to have a camper installed on the back of your truck that you can sleep in, it's worth considering a wedge camper for that because they are so much less expensive and they are so much lighter at the end of the day.
Spencer Houser: Yeah, absolutely, and I think there's a number of companies to choose from, and we all kind of have these specific lanes, you've got a real-
Peter Williams: Lot of good options. You can- should be able to find something that really fixes whatever problem you're trying to solve.
Matt Swartz: I've been having that conversation with folks who have already seen the camper, and they're like, what is that? And you know, I'll talk to them. But yeah, the truth is, there's so many good options right now. Like you should be able to find one that kind of fulfills all of your basic needs. And they're all- they're just all so solid and most of them are so well made, it's awesome to see that.
Peter Williams: It has been fun to see in the couple years we've been doing it to see a bunch more pop up and like a bunch of other approaches to solving similar problems it's just, it's very cool to watch how people approach that.
Scott Brady: Well, and you guys are able to create a business that's consistent with your passion. You're doing it in Oregon, you're employing people in your community, you're manufacturing the product in the United States. It's something that people can get serviced here. It's designed to be used in the remote conditions and rugged conditions around the planet. I think that it's a very, it's a very compelling product for so many people, especially as we start seeing people migrate more away from wagons and towards pickups. So it's pretty exciting to see, for sure.
Spencer Houser: We're very lucky guys.
Scott Brady: Yeah, for sure.
Spencer Houser: We're having a good time doing this.
Scott Brady: Well, Spencer and Peter, we appreciate your time. Matt, do you got any other questions or comments that you wanted to fire off? Around wedge campers?
Matt Swartz: Oh, man, no, just it's really fun. Since having that on, people have come out of the woodwork. And they're like, you have the ideal setup. That's what I want to do. I want to do a travel trailer and a wedge camper. And I'm like, I'm glad that I'm not the only one that thinks this is like a really compelling way to do the full time travel thing. And I'm just so excited that when, you know, we park the trailer and we just want to use the truck that that's an option now and it's you know, it's more full featured, and it gives us everything we need. So my only question is like, how soon can we see more accessories like, I want to see, you know, all the ideas that you guys have come to fruition.
Scott Brady: Well, yeah, it'll be fun to see what you guys come up with next and what we see from the industry next with with wedge campers, I think it's a really compelling choice. So well. We appreciate you guys being on the podcast. We will talk to you all next time!
Spencer Houser: All right thanks!
Peter Williams: Thanks a lot!