Alaskan Campers debuts the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry, a hard side pop-up truck camper with an all-new side entry floor plan. Alaskan Campers has also upgraded their hydraulic cylinders and is now installing Truma combination water heater and furnace units in the flatbeds as an option.
In the truck camper industry, six emails often lead to a lot of trouble, and opportunity. For example, a potential customer emails Alaskan Campers with a request for a flatbed model. She has some interesting ideas, but it’s definitely not a standard build.
It will take considerable time and resources to construct what she wants, but Alaskan is a custom shop. In response, Alaskan emails a quote. It’s quickly accepted – via email. Three emails, and we’re off.
When the camper emerges from the factory a few months later, it’s a stunner. “That came out really nice” thinks the Alaskan team. Then they return to work on standard Alaskan models. They won’t see one of those again, or so they think.
Email four fires away, “Your Alaskan flatbed side entry camper is ready. You can pick it up next Friday.” Email five immediately RSVPs. It’s a date!
About six weeks go by. The customer is very happy. In fact, she’s so happy that she posts photos of her new camper on social media and various internet forums. Then it happens. The notorious sixth email.
“I saw this flatbed Alaskan Camper on the internet. Can you build me one?”
And so it begins.
We have seen a few Alaskan flatbed one-offs over the years, but never a side door entry. As you’re about to see, the flatbed and side door open up a number interesting possibilities. Form here on out, you can email Alaskan Campers and request a flatbed side entry model without raising so much as an eyebrow. Well, maybe one.
To find out more about the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry, we talked to Bryan Wheat of Alaskan Campers.
2018 Alaskan Flatbed 8.5 Specifications:
The Alaskan Flatbed Camper is a hard side, pop-up truck camper that is made for long bed trucks. The interior floor length of the Alaskan Flatbed is 100″ and the interior height is 6’3″. The overall width is 89″ and the overall length is 162″, including the extended cabover. Alaskan is reporting the dry weight of the Alaskan Flatbed at 1,800 pounds with standard features. The Alaskan Flatbed has a 27 gallon (optional 54 gallon) fresh water tank, a 4.75 gallon black tank, a 4 gallon water heater, and no grey tank. The camper accommodates two Group 31 AGM batteries and one horizontal twenty-pound (optional 30-pound) propane tank. The base price MSRP for the Alaskan Flatbed is $33,769.
TCM: Alaskan has built one-off custom flatbed truck campers for customers in the past. What’s different about this new model?
Bryan: Alaskan has been building rear entry flatbeds since 1992. This is our first side entry model, a concept the pop-up truck camper industry seems to be going towards.
There are a few stand-out advantages to this floor plan. First, you can mount motorcycles, bicycles, and racks off the back of the truck easier.
Second, the combination of the flatbed and the side door gives the camper a lot more interior room. You no longer need to scoot around one another in a narrow aisle. This camper is wide open inside.
Third, the flatbed opens up a lot of design opportunities. The way I think about it, the increased space of a flatbed allows us to move more parts of the puzzle around. Appliances can go in different spots. More options and features can go into the camper.
Finally, you pick up a good amount of storage inside the unit. That space can also be used for increased fresh water capacity and battery capacity.
TCM: Historically, flatbeds have never been a significant part of the truck camper marketplace. Are you seeing an emerging interest in flatbeds from Alaskan customers?
Bryan: Yes, we are getting a lot of calls for flatbeds. Flatbed campers are nothing new for us. We are just getting a lot more requests for them.
TCM: Do you have a preferred flatbed vendor that you recommend to Alaskan customers?
Bryan: We recommend ProTech out of Vancouver, Washington. They build aluminum flatbeds. Of course the manufacturer of the flatbed doesn’t matter. If you already have one or want one from a local vendor, that’s fine. Just be sure to call us first so we can get accurate measurements.
TCM: What size truck is required for an Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: I would recommend a three-quarter ton or a one ton. An Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry model will weigh a few hundred pounds more than our regular slide-in campers.
The length of the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry camper can be anywhere from 6.5-feet to 10-feet. Depending on the wheel base and the flatbed manufacturer you use, we can adjust the camper length in increments of an inch to fit any size flatbed you want.
When you purchase a truck, you can either take the bed off and sell it, or you could build a utility trailer with the old bed. Or you can start with a cab and chassis. One thing about buying a cab and chassis is that it can limit you with truck options. Most people we are working with are just removing the bed from a standard pickup truck.
The normal flatbed width on a single rear wheel is a 7-feet. Our campers fit perfectly on that size. The headache rack would be where we need to consult with the customer so that the cabover doesn’t hit that.
TCM: Is the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry an all-new floor plan, or is it based on other Alaskan models?
Bryan: It’s a new floor plan for us, but it’s out there in the industry. We built a 7-foot flatbed side door last August by special request. That’s where this new model originated.
We have a 7.5-foot Alaskan flatbed side door camper coming up. They want a cassette toilet, so a few more pieces were moved around. The flatbed gives us a lot of room to make requested changes.
TCM: How do go about designing an Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry for a customer?
Bryan: I first draw the floor plan up on Simple CAD. I focus on the length of the dinette. The other pieces fall together. Then, I am able to give the cabinet shop the dimensions required for the appliances. The crew maps it out and builds it from there.
TCM: Are there any structural challenges to building a flatbed Alaskan, or do you just extend the sidewalls and floor?
Bryan: With the passenger’s side door, we overbuild the wall to reinforce it. Other than that, the Alaskan flatbed side door has the same construction materials and techniques as other Alaskan Campers.
TCM: Why is wood framing still the best way to build an Alaskan Camper?
Bryan: Wood is proven and it works. It’s also a great insulator. And the modern sealants we use are outstanding.
When people see condensation in their campers, that can be from the aluminum frame. If an aluminum camper leaks, it will be your luan wall, cabinetry, and insulation that potentially rots or molds. Aluminum is not perfect.
Like any RV, the real challenge is getting the customer to constantly check and maintain the exterior seals. All RVs have seams and seals that need to be checked and maintained, or you could get leaks.
TCM: That point cannot be overstated; caulk and seal your truck campers! The flatbed side entry is quite high off the ground. How do people get in and out of the camper?
Bryan: The flatbed side door’s height is no different than a flatbed’s back door height. We use Step-Up scissor steps out of Eugene, Oregon. We can get any size of scissor steps that you want. Step-Up scissor steps are double barred and extra heavy duty. Alaskan has used them for 25 years.
TCM: What method are you using for tie-downs? Nothing is visible in the photography.
Bryan: We bolt the camper though the floor with big backer washers. You can disconnect the camper easily because it’s just four bolts that are readily available near all four corners of the camper.
The drawback of bolting is that it requires the camper to be perfectly lined up to the bolt holes. We ask flatbed customers to have a front bumper bar installed at the front of the flatbed for the camper to bump up to. As long as the camper is forward and center on the bed, the holes will line up. We have also used turnbuckles on flatbed rigs.
TCM: We have never loaded a flatbed truck camper. That’s something we need to experience. Are the interior materials for the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry the same as standard Alaskan Campers?
Bryan: Yes, the interior shown in the Alaskan 8.5-foot flatbed side door is the same interior we have used for the past few years. We changed the laminate countertops to a different Wilsonart color.
Customers can select a different Wilsonart laminate for their laminate countertops. The customer can also pick the wall color and fabric of their choice.
TCM: Is there an option for a cassette toilet or a porta potty cabinet?
Bryan: There’s a cabinet to the right of entry door for a Thetford C220 swivel bowl cassette toilet or a porta-potty if they choose. The C220 has a 4.75-gallon black tank capacity.
TCM: The full booth dinette in the back is a nice benefit of the side entry flatbed approach. What size bed does the converted dinette bed make into?
Bryan: In the 8.5-foot model, the dinette bed is 44-inches by 82-inches. Like all Alaskans, the dinette table stores up on the ceiling.
TCM: What type of windows are standard; single or thermal pane?
Bryan: Single pane Hehr windows are standard. Customers can option for Hehr double pane windows on the two sides. The windows for the entry door and cabover windows have to be single pane. We can also add a window in the side wall, but it won’t be very big.
TCM: Alaskan has been utilizing a hydraulic lift mechanism for over 60 years. Does the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry use essentially the same system?
Bryan: Yes. All of our campers use the same hydraulic lifts. Since August 2017 the hydraulic shop that builds our pumps has also built our cylinders.
We were fabricating our own hydraulic cylinders here, but the tubing we were able to purchase could change sizes. We were constantly needing to measure the new cylinder’s wall thickness, and make new fittings for each tubing batch.
Now we have the hydraulic cylinders built by a hydraulic cylinder shop. They build a much better quality hydraulic cylinder than we could manufacture here.
TCM: Have you outsourced any other aspects of Alaskan production?
Bryan: We’re now getting the front, rear, and center panels CNC cut from a local shop. The CNC has saved us hours of production time and results in quality that’s as good or better than what we were able to produce.
TCM: Is the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry a basement model?
Bryan: No. We didn’t even consider adding a basement because flatbeds already make the cabover higher. If we added a basement the cabover would be further up and defeat the purpose of the camper being a pop-up.
TCM: What is the fresh holding tank capacity of the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: We start with 27 gallons of fresh water. If you want more capacity, you can request two 27 gallon tanks for a total of 54 gallons. Basically I can get as much water in a camper as the customer wants. However, there are always trade-offs in storage and weight distribution. That always needs to be considered.
TCM: Does the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry side door have a built-in grey tank?
Bryan: There is no built-in grey tank. Our customers use portable external grey tanks. There’s a hose fitting on the side of the unit behind the kitchen sink. You hook up a short hose to it and run it to a container.
I have a 7-gallon tank with a spout that I bought at a hardware store. With a portable tank you always know how much water you’ve used.
TCM: How many batteries does the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry have, and where are they located?
Bryan: Generally the batteries are in the driver’s side front corner. There’s room for two Group 31 batteries in this model. The one in the photography has two Group 31 AGM Deka batteries. If need be, we could put more batteries under the couches.
TCM: What are the propane tank sizes?
Bryan: A standard camper comes with one 20-pound horizontal propane tank with a gauge. We can also go up to a 30-pound tank. With this model, the customer can dramatically increase the capacities.
TCM: Having lived in the northeast, winterizing is important. Does this camper have a built-in battery disconnect, water heater bypass, and low water drain?
Bryan: Our campers do have low water drains. If a customer requests it, we can install a water heater bypass. We don’t install battery disconnects, but we can do that by request as well. I always recommend customers drain their water pumps when winterizing.
TCM: Are there any new or unique options available for the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: For this the 8.5-foot model we just built, we installed a Truma Combi eco plus, a compact water heater and furnace combination unit. We have had a number of customers ask us about installing a Truma, so we built one into this unit. The Truma is now an available option for our flatbed models.
TCM: Why is the Truma Combi eco something flatbed customers should consider?
Bryan: It’s a space saver. Where you had a separate water heater and furnace, now you have one unit that performs both functions. It also has less amp draw than a forced air furnace. So far we’ve been impressed.
TCM: What options do you foresee the typical Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry customer ordering?
Bryan: Definitely solar. We use Zamp products. We start with the basic 160-watt Zamp roof top solar, and also offer any of their portable panels. If we have enough real estate, we can add another 160-watt panel for 320-watts. We can do anything a customer wants, as long as it fits.
In addition to solar, most customers will order the Thetford C220 cassette toilet, the removable jacks, the upgraded 3.5 cubic foot Nova Kool R3800 refrigerator, and a Fiamma awning.
TCM: What’s the standard refrigerator in an Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: The 2.4 cubic foot Nova Kool R2600. Both Nova Kool refrigerators are extremely efficient 12-volt compressor models.
TCM: Can you get an air conditioner for the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: Yes, you can get an air conditioner. We’re using Coleman Mach 8 roof units. They run very well off a portable 2,000-watt generator.
TCM: What does the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry weigh?
Bryan: With our average options, full propane, and test water, we are 20 pounds per inch of floor length. The weight of the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry in the pictures is 1,940 pounds. A base Alaskan 8.5 flatbed would be about 1,800 pounds.
TCM: Where is the center of gravity on the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: The center of gravity on this camper is 41″.
TCM: Tell us about the warranty for the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry.
Bryan: We have a lifetime warranty on the hydraulic pump and a standard one year warranty on the camper, but that’s not written in stone. If something is wrong, we will fix it.
TCM: What is the MSRP for the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: The Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry is $33,769 without options. With options, most flatbeds go out the door in the mid-to-high $30s.
TCM: How does someone option and order an Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry?
Bryan: We have the standard and optional features on the Alaskan Camper website.
Customers can also just contact me. We will email you an order form with blank lines for special requests. Then we draw up a quote. We require 10-percent down, and the balance upon completion.
TCM: What kind of wait is there for production?
Bryan: We will deliver your camper approximately four months from when you place your order.
TCM: Will Alaskan Campers have a Flatbed Side Entry model on display at the factory?
Bryan: Not always. We are limited to what’s in production. Customers are always welcome to the factory where we have an 8-foot Alaskan on display in our showroom.
TCM: The 2018 Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry is making its public debut at the Overland Expo West this coming May 18th through the 20th. Talk to us about what Alaskan will have on display at the expo.
Bryan: We will have the Alaskan 8.5 flatbed on a tricked-out truck. We’re selling that rig as a package. We will also have an 8-foot cabover on the other truck.
John Macpherson, Alaskan Camper’s Owner, Dorrie Benson, our Office Manager, and myself will all be there to meet customers and talk about Alaskan Campers. John’s son will also be there to talk with our passionate Alaskan Camper customers and community.
TCM: Is there anything else about the Alaskan Flatbed Side Entry that you would like people to know?
Bryan: There’s nothing cookie cutter about an Alaskan Camper. We can add, delete, and move things around per your request. With the flatbed, the palette is there. The question is, what do you want to do with it? We will tailor it how you like.
TCM: How are things going at Alaskan Campers? Is the new building working out?
Bryan: Alaskan Campers is doing great. We broke a 25-year production record last year, and we will beat that number again this year. We’ve already outgrown this building with orders out through August.
To help increase capacity we now have two people at every station and we’re looking to hire more. More importantly, we’re building the best quality Alaskan Campers ever.