Northstar Campers debuts the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS, a long bed or short, hard side, non-slide, wet bath truck camper that’s wider, taller, and longer than its SC stablemate. Oh, and there’s one more thing; Northstar’s new interior!
In the face of competition, companies often copy what’s selling. For better or worse, this approach all but defines the entire RV industry. Ever wonder why so many camper brands have exactly the same floor plans? Copy, sell, repeat.
Fortunately, not every company falls into this pattern. 400-miles west from the Xerox machines in Elkhart, Indiana, Northstar Campers remains family-owned and fiercely independent 60-years after their founding. No corporate ownership. No boardroom bean counters. No copying.
In stark contrast to the RV copy cats, Northstar all but shuns aluminum framing, sidewall lamination, basements, and slide-outs. The Northstar team has tested these popular build practices only to decide their materials and in-house techniques are better.
In a market space that nearly the entire rest of the RV market doesn’t see, Northstar builds a full line of pop-up and hard side truck campers that sell year after year. No basements to increase weight and raise center of gravity. No slide-outs to fail. Nothing to de-laminate.
Northstar’s latest development, the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS, is a revision of an existing model, and a major upgrade. The Laredo SC and Laredo SS may share a floor plan, but that’s where the similarities end.
To get the full story behind the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS, we talked to Rex Willett, President of Northstar Campers.
Northstar Laredo SS Specifications:
The 2019 Northstar Laredo SS is a hard side, non-slide, wet bath camper made for long or short bed trucks. The interior floor length of the Northstar Laredo SS is 8’9” and the interior height is 6’9″. The Laredo SS has a 41 gallon fresh tank, 4 gallon water heater, 13 gallon grey tank, 5 gallon cassette tank with its own 4 gallon reservoir. It can accommodate two Group 31 batteries and has two twenty-pound exchangeable propane tanks. The base weight of the Northstar Laredo SS is 2,470 pounds and the MSRP is $31,150.
Above: The 2019 Northstar Laredo SS, all photography provided by Northstar Campers
The last camper we announced in Truck Camper Magazine was the Northstar Vista in November of 2015. What’s been going on at Northstar for the past three years?
We have been very busy producing Northstar Campers to meet dealer and consumer demand. Even now we’re three to four months out on hard side production.
Along the way we have been challenged by numerous RV supply company buyouts and consolidations. I could list 10 to 15 times over the past three years when parts were either made unavailable without notice, or increased in price to the point of no longer being viable.
Each time this happens we take the opportunity to make Northstar Campers even better. We look for parts that improve the quality of our campers while maintaining our prices.
Another challenge is finding true craftsman who really love what they’re doing and who care about the results. We have an incredible production team here, probably one of the most skilled and efficient in the entire truck camper industry. Thirty people build a lot of truck campers.
After 18-months of development, we are excited to be launching the Laredo SS. It fills an important void in our line up.
At first blush, the Northstar Laredo SS appears to have the identical floor plan to the Northstar Laredo SC. What distinguishes these two models?
The floor plan of the Laredo SC and SS are the same, but the SS is 6-inches wider, 4-inches taller, 3-inches longer, and weighs 2,470 pounds with standard equipment.
The wet bath in the SS is 3-inches wider and we lowered the toilet to a more comfortable 21.5-inch lid height. The cassette toilet also sits further out so the shower pan is more accessible.
The cabinets aren’t so close to the entrance door. Storage and wardrobes are deeper. In person, 3-inches on either side of the camper makes a dramatic difference in the SS.
The SS also features our straight-line roof for more space in the cabover. Additionally, the SS has a Dometic 2652 6.6-cubic foot refrigerator, two 20-pound vertical propane bottles standard, an ultra efficient 12,000 BTU furnace, a 26-inch wide door and our new windows.
Finally, we increased the tank sizes, battery capacity, and gave the SS our all-new interior look. Overall the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS is a taller, wider, longer and more fully-equipped camper for a long bed truck.
That’s quite a list of changes. Tell us about the new interior.
For many years we’ve had a honey oak decor in our campers. When we redesigned the interior, I wanted to keep a camper feel, but make it more modern.
During that process, I contacted Bertch Cabinet Manufacturing in nearby Waterloo, Iowa. At their plant I saw their Sonoma color and asked for a sample. It’s tan and grey, like a whitewashed barn door.
It took some time to source the foil and convince our paneling company to produce the product we needed. The foil itself is produced in Japan in 4-foot wide rolls. The panels are made by Genesis Products in Elkhart, Indiana.
The new Sonoma interior will eventually be in every Northstar Camper. Right now we’re debuting it in the Laredo SS and slowly transitioning the rest of the line. Of course we will keep some honey oak cabinetry doors for customers who need service.
Are there any other changes for the new decor?
We are adjusting the color of our fabric backers and changing our stove coverings, but everything else is the same. The new Sonoma color works very well with the colors and materials we have in our campers now.
With the introduction of the Laredo SS, are you discontinuing the Laredo SC?
Absolutely not! The Laredo SC is a definitive player in the truck camper market and a best seller for Northstar Campers.
The Laredo SC is only 18-inches taller than a pop-up with the top down. It’s also the same 7-foot width as our pop-up models and has a 5-inch dropped nose for aerodynamics.
For someone who isn’t tall and wants to be a little more nimble with his/her rig, the Laredo SC might be a better choice.
The Laredo SS is 2,470 pounds dry – 380 pounds heavier than the SC. Is that just from making the camper longer, wider, and taller?
Yes, the additional length, width and height accounts for much of the weight difference. In addition, the SS comes with two 20-pound propane bottles standard where the SC only comes with one. The straight-line roof also adds some weight. It all adds up.
The weight of the Laredo SS is in line with our 8.5 Arrow U. That stated, the SS will ride better on a truck than the 8.5 Arrow U because of the forward placement of the refrigerator in the SS.
It seems like the new Laredo SS and the 8.5 Arrow-U have exactly the same dimensions and capacities. Are these two campers about to go head-to-head?
The dimensions and capacities of the SS are identical to the 8.5 Arrow U. But, when you sit in the two units, they feel very different because they have two different layouts. I actually think the Laredo SS and 8.5 Arrow U are the ideal size for a truck camper. Either one is a great pick.
Other than the taller cabover, what’s the advantage of the straight roof for the SS?
It gives the SS a much bigger ambiance inside. The roof is also 4-inches taller. Someone who is 6-feet tall can sit up in the cabover and will generally be more comfortable in the camper. And people can sit up in the cabover and read or watch television.
Northstar has built wood frame and hung wall truck campers for nearly 60 years. With a majority of RV manufacturers using aluminum frames, composite materials, and lamination, why does Northstar believe in wood frame and hung wall construction?
You can’t change physics. If you put an aluminum tube in the middle of a wall with water-based glues, you are going to get condensation and de-laminations.
Aluminum tubes condensate when there are changes in temperature. As a result, you will find aluminum-framed and laminated campers with de-laminations everywhere thru time.
In contrast, wood frames do not sweat. Hung wall means the sheets are all one-piece. That gives the wall tremendous strength.
We use Sikaflex for our side walls, the strongest and highest-quality adhesive available. Nothing to sweat. Nothing to delaminate.
By using wood framing, we can screw our cabinets from the inside and down from the top. Cabinets and walls are also screwed from the outside, which makes the biggest difference.
Another difference with Northstar is our non-basement design approach. Basements raise your center of gravity and make a dramatic difference to the quality of how your rig will handle.
By building non-basement campers we avoid having water-filled tanks in a heated basement area. That’s a recipe for mold and other problems. Northstar’s tanks are open under the floor and can properly breathe.
It takes more time to build a wood frame and hung wall camper right, but we are building what we want to build the way we want to build it. With proper seal maintenance, a Northstar Camper will last a very long time.
We also buy the highest quality sealants and recommend Northstar owners continue to maintain their units with the best possible sealants.
Unfortunately, a lot of what’s offered in the RV marketplace is junk. We are a small company in Iowa that builds campers to last.
You said that the Laredo SS has a double-door 6.6-cubic foot refrigerator. Tell us about the refrigerator.
Every Northstar model that gets a straight-line roof has either a Dometic 6.6 cubic foot refrigerator (Arrow U, Igloo U, and Laredo SS) or an 8-foot refrigerator (12STC).
We need the 6’8” interior height to get the refrigerator set correctly.
Tell us about the 12,000 BTU furnace in the Northstar Laredo SS. That’s a smaller furnace than you typically find in a hard sided camper.
All Northstars are standard with a 16,000 BTU furnace, but we can install a 12,000 BTU furnace upon request if it’s wanted by a consumer.
A 20,000 BTU furnace like what you often find in the industry is way too much for a well-insulated Northstar.
The 12,000 BTU furnace in the Laredo SS is significantly quieter and only draws 1.8-2.4 amps. With wood framing, superior insulation, and thermal pane windows, our campers are renowned for their cold weather warmth.
We install a 16,000 BTU furnace in the 12STC, but that’s a significantly larger camper. You’ll be exceptionally warm and comfortable with the 12,000 BTU furnace in the Laredo SS, and you get the higher efficiency.
Northstar led the truck camper industry with the use of acrylic thermal-pane windows. Tell us about the windows in the Laredo SS.
We started installing Dometic Seitz thermal pane windows in 1987. Unfortunately, Dometic is one of the companies that raised its prices over the past few years forcing us to look for an alternative.
I initially brought in a thermal pane window that’s commonly used on some competitive campers. They were smaller and lesser quality. I couldn’t bring myself to install them on a Northstar Camper. Northstar customers expect and deserve a better window.
Eventually I found Euro-Vision windows. They build their windows in the same factory as Heki skylights. Northstar is currently the only manufacturer in the United States using Euro-Vision windows.
The new windows are an even better quality than we had before. The panes are thicker and the windows are bolted together with machine screws that are hand threaded and tightened. The screen is also super-fine; twice as dense as the Dometic windows were.
The cabover and kitchen windows are now 2-inches taller than the previous windows. The different sizes were initially a challenge with each model, but we’re dialed in now. We also chose white frames over black for a different look.
The overall reaction from dealers and consumers has been very positive. The new windows look better with their radius corners, and offer even better performance.
Tell us about the size and location of the batteries in the Laredo SS.
I made the U-shaped dinette compartment a 1/4-inch wider so that two Group 31 AGMs can fit there. There is a battery disconnect in that area as well. People can even install lithium batteries if they want to.
All of the components in the Laredo SS are centralized and easier to trace if you have a problem. Serviceability is always important.
Tell us about the capacities of the Laredo SS and why you made them that size.
The Laredo SS has the same tank sizes as the 8.5 Arrow U; two twenty-pound propane tanks, 41-gallon fresh, 4-gallon water heater, 13-gallon grey, plus a 5-gallon cassette with a 4-gallon fresh reservoir.
The capacities have worked extremely well in the 8.5 Arrow U for many years. With that successful track record, it only made sense to have the same capacities in the Laredo SS.
Can the optional air conditioner run on a portable 2,000-watt generator generator?
Yes. We use the Coleman Mach 9200 BTU air conditioner because it can be powered by a small 2,000-watt portable generator. That allows you to have air conditioning while dry camping.
Tell us about the standard bumper and entry step system for the SS.
The Laredo SS does not come standard with a bumper. You can order the SS with a bumper and swing-down step.
For customers that don’t want or need a bumper, we recommend the Torklift Stow N’ Go scissor step system. It’s a good option because it can be deployed or stowed in seconds.
What does the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS weigh with standard build features?
It weighs 2,470 pounds.
Where is the center of gravity on the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS?
The center of gravity is 32-inches from the front wall.
What is the MSRP for the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS with standard build features?
The MSRP is $31,150.
What is the warranty for the Laredo SS?
There is a two-year warranty on the body of the camper, and all of the components have their own warranties.
When will the 2019 Northstar Laredo SS be available?
You can go see them right now. Southland RV, Truck Camper Warehouse, A&M Services, Muskegon RV already have the Laredo SS in stock. Contact us to find one near you.
Is there anything else about the SS that you’d like to add?
The Laredo SS will go on short bed or long bed trucks. The longer skirted side wings are for a short bed and a detachable L can be attached there for storage if a person has a short bed.
The Laredo SS can also be made for short bed only. That is when the rear skirting around the rear is longer and then a bumper can be installed. The side skirts are radius cut so it looks a bit nicer with the permanent wrap around.
The rear grey water drain will go through the rear wall on the long bed or detachable versions, but be under the camper elbowed down if the camper is a full wrap for a short bed truck.
We added storage in the SS everywhere possible. We know our customers appreciate small storage areas for wine bottles or slippers. Everyone likes more storage.
All of the options for the SS are the same as our other models. A lot of people will not want to put vents in the cabover. They’ll want a Fantastic Fan with a cover instead of a Heki.
We have a new gel mattress, which is a big upgrade. I sometimes sit in our campers to check them out and nearly fall asleep.
Are there any other new model announcements coming from Northstar Campers in 2019?
We will be introducing electric steps for the 12STC. That will get rid of the metal cage the current steps require and allow the unit to be lowered all the way to the ground when unloaded.
I have an idea to build a pop-up for the 2019 GM trucks with the new six-way tailgate and steps. All it needs is a length that fits inside the closed tailgate. That interests me.
We are just took ownership of our new pop-up roof press; aka, “The Beast”. It’s a much larger press that allows us to make more roofs at a time at a higher quality.
Finally, I want to say that we are so blessed by the people who work here. They are so wonderful. Northstar really is a family of families. Our team watches out for the better interests of Northstar. As I like to say, happy people build more and better truck campers!