It all started when we drove into a field with a Northstar Escape Pod to join the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree. Then things got hot, ballooned, and exploded. Here is our Northstar Escape Pod Review and Experience.
With three laundry baskets full of assorted camping gear in our Ford Focus, we set out at 7:30am from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Truck Camper Warehouse in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire. About seven hours later, we arrived to pick up a Northstar Escape Pod 750 and a Chevrolet Colorado.
Our mission was to attend the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree at the 2011 South County Hot Air Balloon Festival. The weekend’s weather forecast was for near 100 degree heat, and that’s before you factor in the oppressive humidity.
“We’re going to fry,” I said to Angela. “You’ll be fine,” she quipped. Bill Penney, Owner of Truck Camper Warehouse, didn’t help much when he added, “It’s going to be oh-my-God hot!” Then he installed an air conditioner on the Escape Pod 750 and loaned us a Honda eu2000i generator for the weekend. In that moment, Bill made my top ten most awesome people list.
We have covered the Escape Pod 750 here in TCM before, but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to actually camp in one. What would it be like to drive a Chevy Colorado flat bed with a camper on the back? What would camping in a flat bed truck camper be like? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s camp.
The North-East Truck Camping Jamboree
The next morning we drove three hours to Wakefield, Rhode Island. The first summer North-East Truck Camping Jamboree was already heating up. We were the sixteenth truck camper to arrive. Before night fell, two more rigs joined us and one more arrived that night to make nineteen. It’s always fun to see so many truck campers together.
As we stepped out of the truck, a small crowd began to form around the rig and comment about the Colorado and Escape Pod 750 combo. The ladies said, “It’s cute” and “adorable”. Then one of the guys called it a, “Tonka Toy” and another asked, “When are you getting a real truck camper?”
None of these reactions surprised me. The Colorado and Escape Pod 750 combination is very different than your standard truck camper rig and challenges many time tested and proven concepts about truck campers. For example, you never see hard side truck campers on a Chevy Colorado, you hardly ever see truck campers on a flat bed, and you very rarely see truck campers on regular cab trucks. And this rig is only seventeen feet long! How can it possibly be taken seriously?
I will get to that very question, and a few more, at the end of this article when we dive deep into our experience with both the truck and camper. What we found may surprise you. It certainly surprised me.
Hot, Hotter, and Hottest
We spent most of the afternoon getting to know the Escape Pod 750, putting things away, and socializing with everyone. It was unbelievably hot and most of the conversations revolved around generators, air conditioners, refrigerators, and the next frosty beverage.
The whole campground was buzzing with generators and air conditioners. You could hardly hear the quiet Honda eu2000i generators over the lawn mower loud Onans. Hopefully more efficient air conditioners, like the Coleman Mach in the Escape Pod 750, and quiet generators, like the Honda eu2000i, are directions we’re all going in. The Onans works well, but the noise they make is ridiculous.
At one point Mikeee suggested to us that we put our Honda eu2000i generator on the ground instead of the generator compartment. Once on the ground, we could hardly hear the generator inside the camper at all. Very impressive, and we were plenty cool and comfortable in the camper with the Coleman Mach. Mikeee also said that with the Honda switched to it’s Eco mode, it could run the Coleman Mach in the Escape Pod for at least a couple of days with one gallon of gasoline. Like I said, this is the way to go.
That evening Mikeee led a gaggle of rally happy folks to see the lantern glow of the balloons. When we arrived on the balloon field, there were about a half-dozen tethered balloons intermittently igniting. They were beautiful to watch. Then Mikeee smiled his devil smile and said, “Let’s get back and have a real lantern send off”. Oh no. What’s he up to this time?
Mikeee’s Chinese Lantern
It took a few minutes for the lantern to fill with hot air. Eventually, Mikeee let go of the lantern and it floated in place, in mid air.
Everyone cheered and Mikeee resumed holding the lantern until it had enough hot air for lift off. And just like that, Mikeee let go and the lantern drifted toward the heavens.
We all watched it rise higher and higher into the clear night, flickering with fire light. “It’s really going,” Mikeee said, and he was right. The lantern eventually got so high in the sky that you couldn’t see it anymore. Don’t worry NASA, it’s just Mikeee again.
The following day was Saturday and Angela and I decided to sleep in. We’re usually up around 6:45am for Truck Camper Magazine and the idea of sleeping in an hour or so sounded wonderful. That’s exactly what we did.
When we finally hatched from the Escape Pod, the campground was alive with news of the hot air balloons that flew over the campers at 6:00am. We missed it! Did anyone take pictures of the balloons flying over the campers? No! Talk about being asleep when your photo journalistic opportunities flew past. Oh well, I bet they looked amazing. It’s a good thing we got something even better that night, much better.
By 10:00am it was already stinking hot again. One by one, the generators fired up and the air conditioners roared. We filled the day with more socializing, air conditioning, drinks, and a nap. Hey, it’s exhausting just hanging out with friends, and having fun.
Corvette, After Corvette, After Corvette
At 4:00pm, Mikeee gathered us under his tent for the potluck dinner. Dinner was especially early because many of us were going to the car show and then the balloon rides starting around 6:00pm. As is always the case at a truck camper rally, the food was delicious and plentiful. Angela and I ate our faces off with all the barbeque, salads, desserts, and on, and on.
My Uncle Randy had a maroon 1967 that he absolutely adored. He kept it inside his office for everyone to admire. It was as much art as it was an automobile. When I’m ready to have a mid-life crisis, I may have to get one myself. The question is, old or new? Maybe the C7 will answer that question for me.
These were my thoughts as we walked the rows of Corvettes and other sports cars lined up a few hundred feet from the hot air balloon field Saturday afternoon. The Shelby Cobra was really calling to me, as were the Stingrays. Angela admired a pink Ford ’57 Thunderbird. She’s not really interested in cars. She’s a truck camper girl.
Basket Case High
From the moment Angela learned that we could go up in a hot air balloon, I knew I was in trouble. “We are so going,” she stated. “What does it cost?” I replied. Angela looked at me with that, “We’re going you cheapskate” look. It turns out that it was only $15 a person for a tethered balloon ride. Not too bad. And yes, I am a cheapskate.
Honestly, the worst parts of the hot air balloon ride were the lines and getting in and out of the balloon basket. Getting into the basket was pure comedy. Someone needs to get into the basket before someone gets out to keep the ballast in balance. That sounds easy until you realize the basket entry is at least four feet high and the baskets are tightly packed with people.
Joining us for the balloon ride was Pam Tchorz and Ladies’ Week star, Karin LaPointe. Pam was first to get into the basket and seemed to have no trouble. I followed and stepped on a few toes. Then Angela got in and kneed Pam pretty good. Everyone was laughing at that point. Karen got in as the previous passengers were exiting and we were ready to go.
The first thing I noticed is that the flames were extremely hot. Obviously, I was in dire need of a hair cut, but this was not what I had in mind. To document our ascent, Pam’s husband, Tom, stayed on the ground and took pictures of us with Angela’s camera. So he took pictures of us and I took pictures of him.
Lift off was so quiet and gentle I didn’t even notice we had gone. Once we arrived at the end of the tether, we stayed aloft for a few minutes and enjoyed the view. I couldn’t help but wish we could take the balloon for a non-tethered flight. Someday.
Explosions In the Sky
A few minutes after our return to the Jamboree, Mikeee got started with the raffle. Fresh from her Earth escape experience, Pam stepped up to assist Mikeee. They started with a quiz on Rhode Island with questions like, “What’s the state flower, or bird?” How do people know these things? Anyway, they did and prizes were won, and won, and won. Then the raffle was drawn and even more prizes went out, including a couple Truck Camper Magazine hats.
Angela and I had returned to the camper for a little bug spray when, suddenly, we heard thunderous pops outside of our camper. “Fireworks!” Angela exclaimed. Immediately we leaped out of the camper and there, just above the rows of truck campers, as if I had paid them to do so, the fireworks were going. With my trusty Nikon I walked about one hundred feet away from the camper and snapped some real calendar winners. If only I could enter.
We woke up early the next morning hoping to catch a glimpse of the balloons passing overhead, but the clouds were dark and rumbling with thunder. Once we realized the balloons were grounded, we packed up and hit the road. “No worries about waking up the whole campground with this truck,” Angela said, referring to the fact that starting our diesel in the morning is like a drill Sargent and a metal trashcan walking through. There’s no sneaking out with our diesel and there are probably places all over the United States and Canada with our pictures under the “Never Again” sign. The Chevy Colorado was as quiet as starting a car, and driving away.
Our Impressions: Northstar Escape Pod Review
For those of you who haven’t followed the story of the Northstar Escape Pod 750, allow me to say a few things about this extremely unique camper. First, it’s actually not unique, if you’re Australian. This exact model, with a reversed floor plan, is a consistent and popular model for Northstar down under.
Second, the Escape Pod 750 is a hard-side, non-slide, flat bed only truck camper. While flat bed campers aren’t necessarily something new, the Escape Pod 750 was the first domestic production flat bed only truck camper to hit the market when it debuted in 2008. Today the flatbed camper family has grown at Northstar to include the Escape Pod 900 and the American Hero. Both the Escape Pod 900 and the American Hero are full-size flat bed only truck campers designed for full-size domestic trucks.
Finally, the Escape Pod 750 was specifically designed for the Chevy Colorado, what some call a mini-truck. Northstar and their dealers order the Colorado in a configuration that maximizes it’s payload while offering four-wheel drive. The original concept of the Escape Pod and Colorado combination was to give the consumer a more fuel efficient truck and camper option.
Using a mini-truck as a platform means the camper itself is also relatively small by full-size camper standards. The small overall dimensions are off-set by using a flatbed. So what’s it like to actually camp in the Escape Pod?
For the most part, it was like camping in a small hard side camper. It’s fully self contained and fully featured, so everything was there that we needed. We really enjoyed the rear dinette with it’s one large and one medium-sized European insulated thermal pane windows. Visibility out of the rear of the camper is excellent.
The dinette is not full width, it’s more like a two-top table in a restaurant rather than a four-top table, but this is a two person camper. I personally would prefer a more stable table as Angela and I both work on large laptops everyday. Others may prefer the versatility of the Escape Pod’s table and it’s ability to move as needed.
Around the dinette there are a lot of nice touches like an outlet for laptops, a 12-volt outlet for charging a cell phone, reading lights, and stereo speakers in a small storage compartment. Details like this can really make the difference when you’re out camping.
The kitchen was actually amazingly serviceable and featured a one-piece three-burner stove top and sink that converts into a glass counter top when not in use. This is the kind of efficient use of space and high end design that I want to see more of in camper appliances. Complementing this high end aesthetic is another European insulated thermal pane window behind the sink that looks as if it were manufactured for the space it’s in. And look, a microwave and enough storage for a week’s food, for two. The refrigerator offers about the same capacity making this a completely functional kitchen, only a bit more compact than usual.
Yes, we both took showers in the Escape Pod. And yes, it was fine. The bathroom is a small wet bath, but there’s no sink so space is maximized for the shower. At 6’3”, I was able to almost stand which was fine for taking a quick camper shower. Honestly, it was much better than I thought it would be and I could get used to this bathroom quickly.
We have covered the cassette toilet system before in Truck Camper Magazine, but allow me to say it works, is well designed, and has some important advantages including versatility and winter camping options. For those who want to be able to dump practically anywhere, or are really into winter camping, you should take a long look at the advantages of a cassette toilet system. Check out our article, “ASK THE EXPERT: Thetford Cassette Toilet Systems” for an in depth look at the cassette system.
The overcab bed is East-West rather than the more popular North-South in most full-size truck campers. Angela and I thought we might not like this arrangement, but it wasn’t a big deal.
We both loved the huge Heki insulated skylight over the bed. Talk about a big skylight in a small camper. Together with the two small European insulated windows on either side of the bed, the overcab feels bright and open, or at least as bright and open as possible given the size of the camper. Storage in the overcab was lacking, but there was an overhead cabinet. We actually put our duffle bags along the front overcab nose. That worked well and didn’t take up too much bed space.
On the outside of the Escape Pod you find all your usual appointments including propane compartment, battery compartment, outside shower, Honda eu2000i generator compartment, and cassette toilet system compartment. It’s all there.
The real magic to the Escape Pod 750 is that the whole rig was just over 17 feet. To put that into perspective, most of our full size trucks are at least 18 feet long all by themselves. When we parked the Chevy Colorado and Escape Pod 750 rig in a normal parking space, there was room for a motorcycle to park sideways behind us and still be inside the lines. This rig is crazy short and in many ways redefines what it means to go anywhere in a hard side camper.
Our Impressions: Chevy Colorado
Personally, I really liked the Chevy Colorado interior. It’s very well laid out and aesthetically sharp. The fit and finish are excellent. Honestly, our 2009 Ford Focus isn’t this nice inside. And our 1998 Dodge 3500 looks like something the Flintstones should be driving in comparison. As far as I’m concerned, this is serious luxury.
On the center column Chevrolet has three nickel sized buttons to switch between two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive low. While the Chevy Colorado probably isn’t a good choice for rock climbing or mud bogging, it’s good to have four-wheel drive when you need it.
“This really isn’t too much different than driving our car” Angela said about a half hour into our trek to the rally. I have to agree. Even with the Escape Pod 750 on the flatbed, the ride was very comfortable. If there are any newbies reading this who are concerned about driving a full-sized truck and camper, the Chevy Colorado and Escape Pod 750 rig is something you should consider. If you can drive a car, you can drive this truck and camper combination.
The Colorado is also very quiet. Of course anything is quiet compared to our 12-valve Cummins. The 2011 Ford diesel that Lance loaned us in June was easily the quietest diesel engine I’ve ever heard. The gas engine in the Colorado was even quieter. Actually, it was quieter than the wind noise coming from the camper boot. That’s seriously quiet. In a perfect world there would be a button in the Ford and the Colorado to make them sound like our 12-valve diesel, when the urge to hear a real “man truck” called.
The negatives? On the steep hills of New Hampshire, the truck powered up just fine, but it was in no hurry. Hey, what do you want from a five cylinder gas truck? Eventually Angela found that putting her foot down a bit more firmly helped. Thanks for that lesson Chevrolet. Just what I needed.
The truck also needs extended mirrors. With the regular non-extended mirrors, Angela had a difficult time seeing behind the rig. With extended mirrors, this would not be an issue. Another easy option is to add a rear view camera. Angela also wondered if Northstar could add a window under the dinette to allow the driver to see out the back. This is something we enjoyed with our 2009 Northstar Igloo 9.5 Model U, which had excellent visibility. Upon our return, Bill said he had extended mirrors for the Colorado, so it’s an easy add-on.
Escape Pod Hot Wrap
We really enjoyed our weekend with the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree. They’re such a fun group of people. The whole time they’re talking, laughing, and kidding each other like kids on a playground. They also made us feel incredibly welcome. If you’re anywhere near the North-East and you want to experience a rally, check out a North-East Jamboree Rally. Bring food and you’ll be treated like royalty.
The Northstar Escape Pod 750 was a fascinating experience. Part of me wonders if this is the future of truck camping as fuel prices escalate and the day of larger trucks, towables, and motorhomes dwindles away. That’s a depressing vision of the future, except when you consider that the Escape Pod 750, or a camper like it, could keep all of us on the road, enjoying our wonderful lifestyle, and chasing our dreams.