Northstar takes their most popular floor plan, trims the cabover, and launches the half-ton ready 2016 Northstar Vista. Introducing the lightest and most affordable Northstar hard side.
Who hasn’t looked at a big house, or a big automobile, or a big RV an thought, “Wow, that’s amazing! All the room, and the features, and the luxury. I want that!”
Hopefully, before you sign any paperwork, you come to your senses and think, “That’s way more than I need. It’s also more to pay for, maintain, clean, and insure. Maybe I should look at something more practical.” At this point you rediscover what you need, and take a hard look at what you want.
For many truck camper customers, all they need and want is a warm and comfortable place to eat, sleep, and store their gear. They want all the versatility a truck camper can promise, with a minimum of hassle, weight, and cost. Sleeping on the ground in a tent is no longer appealing, if it ever was, and they’re not interested in a pop-up style camper. For this customer, the cabover-less 2016 Northstar Vista will be nothing less than a revelation.
Having worked a number of RV shows over the years, I can easily picture the Vista, matched and mounted to a 2015 Ford F150, instantly capturing the attention of many show attendees. They would see everything they need, in a simple and efficient form.
In that moment, any possible concerns about matching, payload, and weight would evaporate as they sat in the Vista and imagined being on the road to adventure. When they added up the total truck and camper cost, their wallet might leap from their pocket, relieved that they don’t have to sign a big note, or buy a one-ton truck, to chase their dreams.
As a magazine, we are very excited about the emerging trend towards cabover-less campers and believe they will entice more younger customers, single customers, and overland customers to the truck camper marketplace. And who knows, it may just entice a few Class B buyers to say, “Hasta la vista, baby!” and buy a truck camper.
To find our more about the 2016 Northstar Vista, we talked to Rex Willett, President of Northstar Campers.
2016 Northstar Vista Specifications:
The 2016 Northstar Vista is a hard side camper made for short bed trucks. The interior floor length of the 2016 Northstar Vista is 6’8” and the interior height is 6’0″. The 2016 Northstar Vista has a 20 gallon fresh tank, optional 4 gallon water heater, and an optional 7.5 gallon grey tank. It can accommodate two batteries and has one twenty-pound exchangeable propane tank. The base weight of the 2016 Northstar Vista is 1,260 pounds. The base MSRP for the Northstar Vista is $12,595.
Above: The 2016 Northstar Vista on a 2015 Ford F150 – All photography was supplied by Northstar Campers. Click to enlarge the photos throughout this article.
TCM: What led you to build a cabover-less truck camper?
Rex: In the mid-1960s, when Northstar was named Texson, my dad sold hundreds of cabover-less campers. I have a photograph of one here that I’ll send in for the article.
Above: A picture of a mid-1960 Texson – click to enlarge
Sometimes a cabover-less camper is all people want, or all they need. They don’t need the extra room, not to mention weight and wind resistance, of a cabover. What they do want is comfort and amenities. So the concept of the Vista came from Northstar’s history, and from customer requests for a lighter and more simple truck camper solution.
I am not approaching the Vista as just an inexpensive sleeper. The Vista essentially starts with our most popular floor plan, the Northstar TC650, and eliminates the cabover. Right out of the gate, the 2016 Northstar Vista benefits from decades of refinement.
Above: The 2016 Northstar Vista off the truck – click to enlarge
TCM: Do you anticipate the Vista appealing to the pop-up buyer?
Rex: I think the Vista will interest both pop-up and hard side customers. It’s a unit that can get to those pop-up camper places, but you have all the comforts of a hard side camper. And for the overland customer, the Vista is perfect for going down crazy roads and getting off-grid.
Above: The 2016 Northstar Vista is only 15-inches taller than a closed Northstar pop-up, and features 6-feet of interior height – click to enlarge
To minimize wind resistance, the interior height is 6-feet. From the outside, the Vista is only about 15-inches taller than our pop-ups in the down position. That may be a bit low inside for tall folks, but it makes reaching the cabinets easy and comfortable for the rest of us.
I wanted the Vista to be a four season camper, so it features insulated windows. I put the optional air conditioner on the back to keep the overall height and center of gravity lower. These are important considerations for half-ton compatibility.
Above left: Driver’s side. Above right: Passenger’s side – click to enlarge
We recently had a customer at Northstar who had decided on a Northstar Laredo. He wanted a long list of options and gear, but then realized that a loaded Laredo would require a three-quarter ton truck.
When he saw the Vista, he realized instantly that he could save over $6,000 less than the Laredo and match it with a less-expensive and more versatile half-ton truck. He changed his mind and ordered a Vista in less than five minutes. The Vista had everything he wanted.
Above: The front of the Northstar Vista includes storage, optional television, and refrigerator – click to enlarge
TCM: Is the Vista a stand alone product, or will Northstar be debuting additional cabover-free Vista models?
Rex: For now, we are only debuting the one model. Let’s see how the public responds to the Vista, and then I will consider additional models.
I would consider another Vista model based on the Northstar 850SC model, which features a shower and cassette toilet. Ultimately, the Vista will be retail driven after customers and dealers give me their feedback.
A lot of the ideas that went into the Vista came from my dad’s old Texson camper. He had a double fold-out bunk because the interior height was lower. He made an expandable dinette that was 48-inches by 80-inches. That’s a nice amount of room so two people are not scrunched together. It was fun to give old ideas a fresh approach. I honestly don’t know why some of these design elements went out of production. They work extremely well in the Vista.
Above: The rear of the Vista loaded on a 2015 Ford F150 – click to enlarge
TCM: Can you shut the tailgate when the Vista is loaded?
Rex: No. At 82-inches long, you can’t shut the tail gate. The Vista is actually wider than it is long. It’s 82-inches long and 90-inches wide.
TCM: Do you recommend scissor steps with the Vista?
Rex: Yes, I recommend Torklift GlowSteps with the Vista. Some folks might prefer a plastic stool, but I prefer the safety, confidence, and durability of Torklift’s GlowStep line. When used with the Vista’s standard assist handle, getting in and out of the camper is comfortable.
Above: The Vista being manufactured at the Northstar factory – click to enlarge
TCM: Is the Vista built the same way as other Northstar Campers?
Rex: Exactly the same way. The Vista features our proven wood frame and hung wall construction.
Above: The Northstar Vista features acrylic thermal pane windows with screens and black-out shades – click to enlarge
It has the same insulated windows and heavy insulation package as our regular hard wall production campers.
Above: A 150 watt Zamp solar panel is an option for the Vista – click to enlarge
The roof cross members are reinforced giving the standard Vista a full walk-on roof for kayaks, and easy installation for a solar panel. The roof is rock solid.
Above: The HDTV television mounting location in the Vista – click to enlarge
TCM: Are the cabinets, countertops, and other interior materials identical to the other Northstar Camper models?
Rex: It’s all basically the same. The differences are in the details. For example, we had to design the area where the television is located. Some may doubt the need for a television in a cabover-less camper, but I would want one. If I were going cross-country, I would want all the features and comforts the larger campers have.
Above: There is a 12,000 BTU furnace in the Vista – click to enlarge
We opted for the 12,000 BTU furnace, but this is a smaller camper. The advantage is that the 12,000 BTU model uses only 1.8 amps, versus 3.6 amps for the larger furnace.
Above: There is a storage area that will fit a porta-potti – click to enlarge
It’s got heavy insulation all the way around, insulated windows, and a place for a porta-potti. For more capability, you can add an optional 150 watt solar panel system, two AGM batteries, and a Dometic CR110 12-volt compressor refrigerator/freezer.
Above: 3.8 cubic foot Dometic CR-1110 12 volt compressor refrigerator/freezer
A person can tailor order a Vista to suit their own camping styles and needs.
Above: Options include (left to right) glass top two-burner stove, solar, exterior shower, and a Winegard Razor interior mounted antenna (roof antennas are also available) – click to enlarge
TCM: What other options do you anticipate being popular for the Vista?
Rex: I think a lot Vistas will be ordered with an auto-ignition water heater, exterior shower, grey tank, glass top two-burner cooktop, rear window air conditioner, stereo system, electric jacks, and a Heki skylight. Of course all of those options add weight. I think it will mirror the same option choices as the TC650 that it was modeled after. Inventory units that hit dealer lots will probably reflect that.
Above: The lower dinette bed can be made into a 48-inch by 80-inch bed – click to enlarge
TCM: Tell us about the sleeping accommodations in the Vista.
Rex: With the dinette and double bi-fold overhead bunk, which is an option, the sleeping capacity of the Vista is three adults. The dinette bed is 48-inches by 80-inches, just enough for a couple.
Above: The Lagun table can be swung into any position you want and can be taken down when making the dinette into a bed – click to enlarge
The lower dinette bed worked out well. There’s a section that slides out, and still holds the table. You need to break the Lagun table leg down to extend the bed another foot. I call it the expandable dinette.
Above: The overhead bunk is 30-inches by 80-inches – click to enlarge
The overhead bunk is 30-inches by 80-inches with a 300-pound weight capacity. It’s big enough for a full-grown adult, or two small children. If someone is traveling alone, the overhead bunk can be used for a gun rack, gear, or general storage.
At first I was going to make the overhead bunk standard in the Vista, but I decided to make it an option to lower the price and weight of the camper. Not everyone needs an overhead bunk, but it definitely increases the functionality of the Vista for long distance travel.
Above: Storage locations throughout the Vista – click to enlarge
Above: An LED light (top right) is under the sink storage area
Above: The sink and extendable faucet – click to enlarge
TCM: What size are the holding tanks in the Vista?
Rex: There is a 20 gallon fresh tank. 20 gallons is good for washing dishes and using the exterior shower.
Above: The optional 7.5 gallon grey tank and dump valve – click to enlarge
You can add a 7.5 gallon grey tank, but it’s an option. I expect most of the Vistas will be ordered with a grey tank. Every option adds weight, so it’s an option.
Above: Northstar Campers feature four gallon auto-ignition water heaters for 2016 – click to enlarge
For 2016, Northstar has changed to four gallon auto-ignition water heaters across the board. The four gallon water heaters are smaller, lighter, and more efficient. You can light the water heater inside with the flick of a switch, let it run for a half hour, and then shut it off. With the insulation around the water heater, the water will be hot to blend most of the day, and you will conserve propane. If the water starts to get cooler, simply flip the water heater back on and let it run a few more minutes.
Above: The Northstar Vista features one 20-pound vertical propane tank
TCM: What size propane tanks does the Vista hold?
Rex: The Vista has a 20 pound vertical propane tank located in a ventilated propane compartment just to the right of the entrance door.
By using the common 20 pound vertical propane tank, you can exchange your propane almost anywhere; Home Depot, Lowes, gas stations, you name it. Who wants to take their propane tank to be filled when you can just exchange it? For this reason, we now have 20 pound vertical propane tanks in all but two of our smallest pop-up models.
Above: Winterizing features include a battery disconnect, installed winterizing kit, and hot water heater bypass – click to enlarge
TCM: What provisions are made for winterizing the Vista?
Rex: For winterizing, the Vista features everything a cabover Northstar features. That includes a battery disconnect, installed winterizing kit, and hot water heater bypass. The optional outside shower is also bypassed for winter use.
For 2016, I’m switching all Northstars to SureSleep foam beds. It is apparent customers prefer quality foam mattresses over inner spring RV mattresses, so we are making the upgrade.
Above: There are two USB and 12-volt charging ports in the Vista
The Vista features aviation-style cabinetry catches. I also designed a lot of interior LED lights and outlets into the unit. There’s a 110 outlet, over the cabinet in the kitchen for a coffee maker and other kitchen appliances.
Above: There are three 110-volt outlets in the Vista, including one in the kitchen area
There’s another 110 volt outlet and a 12-volt charging station with USB inlets up by the television. The dinette area has a 110 volt outlet and 12-volt charging station with USB ports for computers and other electronics.
Above: The rear mounted air conditioner – click to enlarge
TCM: Tell us about the optional air conditioner. Will it run on a Honda EU2000i generator?
Rex: The optional wall mounted air conditioner only draws 5.5 amps. A Honda EU2000i could handle it with ease. I like the wall mount because it’s very efficient, and very quiet for such a small camper.
The newly redesigned Coleman Mach 8 roof mounted air conditioner is only 8-inches high, but it’s much louder than its taller predecessor. You want to be able to have a conversation when the air conditioner is running. For the Vista, we offer both the roof mounted Mach 8 and the wall mounted unit, but the wall mounted unit is all the heavily insulated Vista needs. The wall mounted unit also keeps the height of the Vista down.
Above: The aluminum front storage rack on the Vista – click to enlarge
TCM: Tell us about the front rack.
Rex: The front rack is an option for folks who want to store additional gear. The rack can hold up to 200 pounds, so you can store a generator, water container, or a extra food. The rack comes with a heavy-duty zippered bag, and heavy-duty straps that attach the bag to the rack. It also includes a quality hooked net if you do not want to use the bag.
Above: The Vista on a 2015 Ford F150
It is also possible to install the rear Eagle Fiamma self supporting awning on the rear or the side of the Vista.
TCM: What trucks are you targeting for the 2016 Northstar Vista?
Rex: The Vista will comfortably work on most F150 and 1500-series trucks. Half-ton trucks are the obvious choice, but the Vista will also work on three-quarter ton or one-ton trucks.
TCM: What does the 2016 Northstar Vista weigh with standard build features?
Rex: This camper weighs 1,260 pounds with standard equipment features. The first camper that left the factory was 1,600 pounds, but it was loaded with an 80 pound battery, a four gallon water heater, 7.5 gallon grey tank, television and antenna, fold down bunk/cabinet, full propane bottle, a 150 watt solar panel, an air conditioner, a six foot awning, and a rack on the front. Every option adds weight.
TCM: Where is the center of gravity for the 2016 Northstar Vista?
Rex: The center of gravity is 23-inches from the front of the camper to the back.
TCM: What is the MSRP for the 2016 Northstar Vista?
Rex: The MSRP of the Vista is $12,595.
TCM: What is the warranty for the Northstar Vista?
Rex: Northstar Campers come with a two year structural warranty. The individual appliances have their own warranties.
TCM: When will the 2016 Northstar Vista be available?
Rex: Mid to late January, starting at Truck Camper Warehouse in New Hampshire. Many Northstar dealers will have Vista units in the early spring.
TCM: Will the Vista be available for export?
Rex: Of course. You will see this camper in Australia almost right away. You can put them on a tray with outside storage boxes. The tie-downs are in the same location. We have a new distributor in Australia, Kyabram Campers.
TCM: Is there anything about the Vista that you would like to add?
Rex: The Vista is all you need for a quick weekend getaway, including all the comforts. I know a lot of people may already have a dual or triple-slide camper, but this unit is perfect for when you just want to go somewhere a few hundred miles away and go hunting or fishing. It makes sense. It’s extremely well insulated. I want one myself. I also can imagine many single people or just couples doing long distance or off-grid travel in the Vista.
Another huge advantage of the Northstar Vista is price. The Vista is essentially a hard side TC650 without the cabover, but for $4,950 less. Even with a brand new truck, you could put together a $45,000 Vista rig. Buy a used truck and your total rig cost could go below $30,000.
TCM: That is an impressive price point. Any other news from Northstar Campers to share?
Rex: I have another short bed self contained hard wall camper in the works that will be available in February. That’s all I’m saying for now. When it’s ready, I’ll debut it first right here in Truck Camper Magazine.
For more information on the Vista, visit www.northstarcampers.com.