Dirtbag Dad and the Ski Truck Camper

I don’t want to overstate things. I’m not currently a dirtbag or a nomad of any kind. I’m the absolute picture of the suburban middle aged, middle class dad. You don’t have to follow me on Instagram to see where I’ll be this week, living my best life, influencing my followers, #vanlife-ing all over the mountain states.

raw materials for ski truck camper

When I was young I did spend some time working outdoors in Alaska and at a couple ski resorts for a while and I did it all without buying a plane ticket. Back when # was still the pound sign, living in a van for extended periods I was, at best, an eccentric free spirit and at worst a homeless degenerate. I was a dirtbag and I seized the day.

That was then and this is now. I sleep in a house nowadays but once in a while I still feel the call of the road, the urge to throw my stuff in a vehicle and spend a few days wandering. So to scratch the itch, I occasionally take my kids camping or embark on road trips or, once in a while, indulge myself with a little parking lot dirt-bagging ski safari.

ski truck camper plans

I’m not a candidate for spending big on an elaborately built out Sprinter van. I only get to do this a few times a year so blowing a bunch of money on a motorhome doesn’t make sense. I have a beat up pop up camper for summer and a cap over the bed of my pickup for when I want to move fast.

For me, a modest enhancement to my truck makes it work a little better for my weekend adventures. All I wanted was a bed platform, just enough that if I roll over in the middle of the night I won’t land on my skis.

truck camper platform

At some point I might buy a truck camper with a furnace and an oven and a bathroom but for now my backpacking stove and tailgate will continue to be my kitchen. With a thick sleeping bag I’d don’t need a furnace and my bathroom — well, let’s be honest — the possibilities are unlimited.

Since all I’m building is a platform I can keep things simple. The easiest way is to put a piece of 3/4 inch plywood on top of some milk crates in the back. My advice is to look around your house for building supplies.

truck bed ski storage

I was dedicated to using materials I had on hand, so for me it was scraps of wood from a fence and some odd-shaped bits of plywood from other previous projects. What you have to work with will dictate your design; for me it was a simple deck-on-frame with legs. Ski gear (or camping or kayaking gear) go underneath and me and my sleeping gear go on top.

The fact that I had to make the deck out of small scraps of plywood worked in my favor. This way I could screw down just the center pieces and leave most of the deck unfastened so I can pick up a panel and access things stored underneath while bedded down. I drilled holes near the corners of each piece to make picking them up easier.

storage area access panel

As far as mattresses go, I again advise going with whatever you already have. A camping pad will suffice but a thick piece of foam or futon mattress is probably ideal. The blow up air mattresses you keep around for guests and sleepovers are good for the back of a van but usually too thick to fit under a truck cap.

That’s it. Period.  See you in River Lot, at dawn.

17 comments on “Dirtbag Dad and the Ski Truck Camper

  1. I love this:

    “Back when # was still the pound sign, living in a van for extended periods I was, at best, an eccentric free spirit and at worst a homeless degenerate. I was a dirtbag and I seized the day.”

    I too am a reformed dirtbag who will occasionally dip back into time.

    Great piece Broski

  2. Very cool my best days on skis I spent the night in my car only to wake up freezing and preying for lodge to open to get warm ! See ya soon snows coming! Bobcat pres

  3. A guy I ski with has the pick up truck camper and spending the night in the parking lot and waking up and getting first chair is a good part of the fun of skiing here in Michigan. Love your set up for going solo

  4. I love it! My story is similar to yours in that I have wife, kids, financial constraints that rule out a tricked out Sprinter Van or Truck. Most nights I take the mini-van, fold down the stow and go seats and put the sleeping bag down. Works great for me!

  5. Nicely done, Brownski. Over the years, Blue Toes and I have done two long road trips to the American southwest, sleeping primarily in the back of two different Toyota Tacomas with caps. It is a great way to travel. When we needed showers or it just seemed like a good idea, we would stay in one of the cheap and cheerful roadside motels that were plentiful in the west (15 years ago, anyway). For the second trip, we were much more organized, with a system of Rubbermaid containers for camping gear and food, a cooler, and a shelf in the bed for container storage at night. Took a tent and used it once in four weeks on the road. Great memories from both trips. One that relates to the dirtbag theme happened at the one gas station on the Nevada stretch of US 50, dubbed “the loneliest road in America.” Blue Toes was inside buying supplies and I was killing time reading the interpetive sign about the Pony Express. Around me were a bunch of retired folks traveling south in a posse of giant RVs. We got chatting about our trip and one of the women asked me, “so which rig is yours?” I smiled, and pointed out the silver pickup. They kind of moved away and stopped talking to me after that.

  6. Very cool. I read a story in Powder magazine about people camping at Crystal mtn. I believe it was Washington. They had all kinds of trucks, campers etc. By the sound of it, seems like a fun time. After skiing all day.

  7. @Matt: I can’t speak for Brownski but it really helps to be be a few inches under six feet for this kind of camping. The Tacoma’s bed was six feet exactly.

  8. Thanks for the positive feedback guys. It’s appreciated. Matt, I agree with SBR’s response. If you’re over six feet you might need a full length truck or maybe a van or bigger SUV. I’ve seen guys with similar platforms in cars as small as Subaru Outbacks. For the record, I’m average height.

  9. A GREAT story. A friend of mine had a similar rig in his truck.

    I’ve camped out in the back of my Subaru many times, but generally just for one night. Gets a little crowded in the winter with the boards and wax boxes back there.

  10. Benjamim that’s up to you. Some places out west are very open about embracing the tailgating/camping scene but in the east it’s mostly a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. Some times nearby trailheads or other low profile spots work better then a resort’s doorstep. A short drive with heater blasting in the morning is a good way to soften your boots anyway. Be safe.

  11. No doubt I want this in my next vehicle. It would be great for carrying skis and gear even when you aren’t camping.

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