Before logging the first mile in our trip book, we logged several hours on vehicle research. Like meeting your soulmate, some travelers know from the minute they start planning what the vehicle will be and the name she will wear. Others, like us, needed a few trial trips, a few break up stories before we found the right fit. After 7 months tick by, we still perk up when we spot another Overlander in the grocery store parking lot, or pulling along side someone at camp, or waving as we pass going different directions on the same road. The vehicles we have seen are as different as the people driving them. The vehicle. It’s the first question right after you decide to hit the road.
We have enjoyed meeting so many Overlanders, hearing their stories and learning about their rigs. In response to several questions we receive about truck campers, we wanted to write a review about ours. After hauling it along some really tough roads, with hard rain, the beating sun, the ocean’s spray, daily use. Our tough little camper is still in one piece, but there are things we would change or like improved. This post is for anyone in the market, or in the early stages of planning, to the folks who reached out to us for advice; here is our unpaid, unsponsored opinion.
We went with the Four Wheel Camper because of its light weight construction, very strong welded aluminum frame, low profile and solid reputation as a quality camper. We ended up buying a one owner 2008 Eagle Model instead of new. This increased our travel budget (the budget always wins in the end!). Our Eagle had only been used a few times, and looked basically new. Our Tundra will accommodate 3 FWC models: The Hawk, Fleet and Eagle. The Hawk being the largest and Eagle the smallest. We decided an Eagle was the best fit for us as it sits flush with the truck bed rails. This allows us to drive tight trails – keeping the fender flares and mirrors the widest point on the vehicle means less chance of ripping the sides off. The truck now has plenty of pin stripping but that just adds character. FWC Eagle is a perfect fit for us. The interior is just right for 2 adults (1 messy) and 1 small pup (who likes her space to be very comfy). Weight, of course we would love to be lighter, however, the Tundra easily hauls the Eagle up steep hills.
The Nuts and Bolts:
Roof Rack We have the combo luggage boat rack–not very versatile and not what we would have ordered, but absolutely better than not having one at all. We would suggest the Yakima Track System, because its adjustable, compatible with multiple boxes and other accessories. (Side Note: We could not find a box that would fit the boat rack. We had to get creative and do some DIY rigging). Whether by design or not, the rack failed before the roof when I hit a branch. Several hard rains later, still no leaks!
Solar We love it so much we wish we had a larger panel or maybe a second one with the ability to be deployed remotely. We have the 85 watt panel that was installed by FWC. It does its job, but more is always good in this case. It would be nice to be able to remove the panel and place it in the sun while we camp in the shade-often the level spots seem to be in the shade. The placement on the roof is something to consider, especially if you can’t move it. When we carried a surfboard (before it took flight and slammed into the road) we had to take it off every time we set up camp – since it covered the solar panel. Not a huge deal but it made us think – panels attached to the roof rack would reduce the number of holes drilled in the top (less chance of leaks), and you can move them.
Dual Auxiliary Batteries The heart of our electric system, keeping the lights working and the beer cold. We really wish we would have replaced them before crossing into Mexico since they are old and barely hold enough charge to make it through the night. Not cool (literally) when you can’t run one of the fans on a hot, sticky night in Central America. Learn from our mistake!
Struts After we loaded the Yakima box with all sorts of fun stuff, we couldn’t lift the top. Thankfully we were able to make a stop at FWC in Woodland, CA. They added struts to our camper and life to our backs. We feel they should come standard with any roof rack option or at the very least mounting hardware, so they can be added later.
Insulation The frame is aluminum, a great conductor of cold – more insulation would be great. When camping in cold climates we get frost/ice inside wherever aluminum frame pieces or metal fasteners are near the headliner. Also, not sure if there’s any under the flooring, but if so…it needs more.
Interior Trim We have had some warping of the interior trim pieces. We wish FWC would use something different. Maybe the same material used for the new lift panels. We would like to see all trim replaced with this material, or something similar.
Fan-Tastic Vent Fan It is great, get 2 if you can. We would love to have one over the bed. When using the stove and burning dinner it pulls all the smoke out! Or blows in to bring you fresh air.
Vinyl Soft Sides and Window Systems The material has been pretty durable and easy to keep clean. However, after 7 months of daily use it’s beginning to wear in some places. In particular the rear corner on the passenger side. We have realized the lift panel, storage cabinet, and soft side are all showing signs of rubbing in this spot where they are make contact. On the kitchen or driver side there is none. We think this is because the counter top sits slightly lower and there is no contact. A slimmer cabinet on the passenger side might correct this problem. The window system allows light and air to flow from both sides. Screens could be finer, small insects (no-see-ums) pass through without a problem. We’ve had some rough nights in coastal areas. We also wish there was a more breathable material that could be purchased if desired. We would have paid more for this option. We do have the Arctic/Thermal pack which provides some extra insulation.
Cabinets & Storage Improved latching system on new models is great. Our older hardware is starting to show a bit of surface rust. We think ALL interior hardware should be stainless, or corrosion resistant – even the hinges. Faux wood cover has held up really well, however, we would opt for Silver Spur type cabinets. Under bed storage option on all models would be a dream! This is an option on the flatbed but not on the other models.
Counter Top The white laminate counter top has held up remarkably well after 7+ months of daily use. Even though ours is white, it continues to come clean, even after spilling red wine and drips of coffee. A little bleach/water solution and it’s as good as new.
Sink We don’t use it and may opt for more counter and storage space next time (or we may start using it and write a better review!). If nothing else, we feel the stove top and sink should switch places on Eagle models. It would be nice to start coffee while the bed is still extended (meaning Carrie gets up early and ready to start coffee but Colin & Sprite are still sleeping).
Stove Top Great! Our propane regulator has become a bit finicky, but otherwise a great unit, easy to clean, and a perfect amount of space for any size pan.
Refrigerator We have an Engel 2-way version. Love it. The fridge goes on our “things we could not live without” list. Wouldn’t think of using a 3-way or anything different. We run it 24/7 and never think about it. Quiet and a surprising amount of interior space for its little size.
Propane Heater The lowest setting was all we needed to stay comfy when it was 7 degrees out. Definitely used a lot of our battery juice but was worth it. More insulation in the camper overall, may make it more efficient. We have the Arctic/Thermal pack and that helps. However, tons of cold air comes in from the large side window, and the floor stays cold. This leads me to windows…
Windows Pretty sure it’s code,(safety exit) but the passenger side window is drafty. Ants have come in through it and we have not used it as a window once. Not once. if you opt for the rollover couch we would say delete it (if possible). This window may be nice with the dinette or a shell model but our curtain stays closed and just collects dust. Front removable, and window on rear door have held up well.
Rollover Couch We love it. Comfy seating for 2 (and Sprite) and good storage underneath. Also provides the up and down option if sharing a bed is not (like the late night pull into the gas station moment when no one feels like making the bed…or if a fight breaks out and you just need your own bed for the night). The rollover also allowed 1 person to nap while on a ferry for 18 hours (we took sleep-shifts).
Curtains, Cushion & Covers Have held up incredibly well after 7 years of age and 7 + months of daily living by 2 adults (1 messy) and a small dog. It would be nice if the curtains could be easily removed and machine washed. (material tan fabric)
Floor Covering We have always had a rug down, so the flooring is not totally exposed, but when the dirt finds its way in and the sand covers every square inch, the vinyl is easy to sweep out or wipe down. Very durable.
Wall Covering (Villa Grey Snow) Like the floor the wall covering is durable and easy to keep clean.
Exterior White Siding Still tight and always a car wash away from looking “almost” new.
Exterior Hardware Weather has started to take its toll on steps and fasteners, but overall still looks good. Very functional.
Exterior Compartments We would like to see all exterior compartments access areas (behind fridge) lined in the same plastic as the propane storage area. Exposed wood gets wet and does not hold up well. Also, maybe screens on the back sides of vented doors to allow veneration, but still keep ants and spiders out. Ask us how we know…we got a case of the ants right before leaving Virginia (we think they found the camper while sitting in storage and then did what ants do – called in the troops and set up their own camp).
Exterior Lighting We have the rear flood lights, the orange side and rear lighting. Very handy. Our only wish was possible wiring the spots for reverse lighting.
Awning Get it! We have the Fiamma 8′ Model and love it. Easy to use and really adds to outdoor living space. Light rain, hot sun – we’re covered!
Rear Wall Steps Actually quite nice for accessing anything on the roof rack. We use these every time we set up or break down camp.
Anchor System Our only “major” failure has been a carriage bolt sheering off after hours on a bad (terrible no good very bad day) road. It was an easy fix because it was under the rollover couch and not the kitchen. We recommend bringing extras just in case (we now have about 10 sets). Just a thought – not sure if a soft attachment point, such as a strap, might be better than rigid.
Turn Buckles & Access Easy to use and access. They do need occasional tightening. Access panels could be something more durable, but work fine.
Door We have the older version (square, the newer models have a rounded top), but it has held up well. The door keeper wore out quickly. Some sort of hooking mechanism may be better.
Screen Door Get it! We use ours every day! Not sure if the latching mechanism has been improved on new models, but if not, it should be – flimsy for something used so often
Inverter (Xantrex Pro 1000) We had Mainline Overland add one for us. Totally worth it. We have given Sprite a full haircut while free camping on a beach in Baja, we have charged computers, plugged in extra fans….do it!
AT Overland Fuel/Jerry Can Carrier Since an Aluminess swing away is over $3,000 this was a life saver. Thanks Mario (see info below). If we could, we would have added two. Easy install at FWC in Woodland, but if you are in or near Prescott, AZ go by and see Mario, he’s awesome.
This is a well built, tough little camper. Of course, if our money was sitting in tall stacks collecting dust along with all of our stuff in storage, we would buy a new FWC flatbed Silver Spur edition Fleet or Hawk model. Since that is not the case, we decided to go the used 2008 Eagle and we both agree: it has been comfortable, and easy to haul on the back of our Tundra. The low profile has allowed us to go anywhere our truck will take us and after 15,000 miles to date and some of the worst roads we have ever seen, it is still in one piece. As a matter of fact, it still looks and functions quiet well in one piece. It’s perfect for a drive down the Panamerican Highway or out for a weekend trip to Yosemite.
Side Note: We believe the back bone of FWC is the great service provided by their independent dealers. We have enjoyed working with the following folks, and recommend you do the same if you’re in the market for a FWC, or just have a question about FWC products.
Denny Saunders at Four Wheel Campers of Jackson Hole, WY
Mario Donovan at AT Overland Equipment, Prescott, AZ
Main Line Overland in West Chester, PA