Phoenix Campers launches the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max, an all-new, fully-self contained pop-up truck camper designed for short bed mid-size and full-size trucks. Want everything on your short bed? Here’s how it’s done.
We’ve all experienced it. You walk up to a small truck camper, step in the door, and have your mind completely blown at how roomy the interior of the camper feels. How can the little camper you just saw be so spacious inside? You step back out and there’s that small truck camper again. Maybe that little camper isn’t right for you, but you’re still impressed with how comfortable the living space was. That’s truck camper design magic.
Nobody is better at this design trick than Robby Rowe of Phoenix Campers. Having built hundreds of 100-percent custom truck campers over the decades, he knows exactly how to make the impossible possible. He’s well known for accepting projects other manufacturers wouldn’t dare attempt, and turning them into fully-functional works of truck camper art. If there’s someone as talented at Robby in pulling this magic off, we haven’t met them.
Robby’s latest rabbit-out-of-the-hat is the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max, a fully self-contained short bed pop-up truck camper that combines the best design and feature ideas from dozens of custom projects into one camper. As Robby explained it to us, he took the finest elements from all of these custom builds, refined them to perfection, and created the Phoenix Mini Max.
There are many facets to the Phoenix Mini Max that make it a unique truck camper. First, it’s a production camper for Phoenix, one of only two they offer. Where the majority of Phoenix’s production is 100-percent custom, the Mini Max starts with the Mini-Max floor plan and features – not a blank page. From there Mini Max customers simply add or delete features and options, choose an interior fabric and counter top color, and put their order in the Phoenix build schedule. It’s that simple.
Another aspect that makes the Mini Max unique is its design flexibility. Robby devised the Mini Max floor plan to be adjustable to any pickup truck; mid-size to half-tons to one-tons. Robby envisions the Mini Max primarily on short bed mid-size and full-size trucks, but he’ll build it to whatever you have. That’s Robby.
The rest of what makes the Phoenix Mini Max unique – and there are many unique features – is best explained by Robby and Cari Rowe, Co-Owners of Phoenix Custom Campers. To dig deep into the details, we contacted Robby and Cari about the new Phoenix Mini Max truck camper.
Phoenix Mini Max Specifications:
The 2018 Phoenix Mini Max is a pop-up camper made for short bed mid-size and full-size trucks. The interior floor length of the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max is 72.5″ and the interior height is 6’3″. The Phoenix Mini Max has a 15 gallon fresh tank, 6 gallon water heater, 7 gallon grey, and 5 gallon black tank with a four gallon reservoir. It can accommodate one AGM 90AH battery and has one twenty pound propane tank. Phoenix is reporting the base weight of the Mini Max with full water and LP to be 1,420 pounds. The base MSRP for the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max is $37,000.
TCM: It’s been some time since Phoenix Custom Campers has announced a new production model. What’s the story behind the Phoenix Mini Max, and why are you announcing it as a new production model?
Robby: We’ve been doing custom-only campers for a long time. The Mini Max is a floor plan and has an option list that customers have custom ordered again and again. Since so many customers custom ordered this floor plan and option list, we decided to make it a production model.
TCM: That makes sense. What makes the Mini Max floor plan and option list so popular?
Robby: The Mini Max fits a Toyota Tacoma long bed with the tailgate closed, but it fits nicely on the short 5.5-foot beds too, with just a little overhang in the back. The Mini Max can also be built for full-size trucks.
The Mini Max is fully self-contained including a fresh water tank, grey tank, and cassette toilet. There’s even a shower, toilet, and water heater in the small Mini Max footprint. We took a mini-sized camper, and designed it to the max.
Above: The Mini Max wet bath with cassette toilet, shower, and curtain
TCM: That certainly explains the name. What does it mean that the Mini Max is a production model versus a custom build?
Robby: When a customer orders the Mini Max, they know what to expect. There’s no design process like there is with our custom ordering. Customers can literally call us and say, “I’d like the Mini Max” and we can build their camper.
We are not getting away from custom. You can still start a 100-percent custom camper from scratch with Phoenix Campers. The Mini Max just gives you an option to start with a very popular floor plan and feature set, and not have to design your own.
Above: A unique feature of this Mini Max is the Marine style teak wood table. It’s mounted on a simple pivoting flush mount floor base and post.
Cari: Even though the Mini Max is a production model, customers can still make changes or ask for different options.
Above: The Mini Max has a built-in head bumper pad over the entry door
They can choose their interior fabrics and countertop material, and anything else they want. Having the Mini Max to start with makes it easier for customers who don’t want to start from scratch.
Above: Real queen size mattress from Lucid has multiple layers of support, including gel and memory foam.
TCM: Does Phoenix Campers currently offer any other production models?
Robby: We have one other production camper that Truck Camper Magazine created; our Phoenix Statement Camper. It’s a flatbed full-size camper that we introduced just before the Overland Expo two years ago. Truck Camper Magazine announced it as our Statement Camper, and the name stuck. Now customers call us and ask for a Statement Camper.
TCM: That’s neat. We called it your Statement Camper because that’s what it was. How did you determine the dimensions for the Mini Max?
Robby: For the width, we wanted the Mini Max to be wide enough so the lower dinette bed length would be comfortable for an adult. The dinette bed length in the Mini Max is 6’5”. That also happens to be the width of our molded fiberglass nose cap. I don’t know of another pop-up truck camper manufacturer that has an aerodynamic fiberglass front nose cap.
Above: The Phoenix aerodynamic fiberglass front nose cap
The height of the Mini Max was designed to fit tightly to the cab of the truck. We do not want a big wind trap under the cabover nose. We also built enough room in the cabover for storage under the bed.
Above: Storage under the cabover bed
At twelve-inches thick, it’s not the lowest cabover, but our aerodynamic nose cap allows it to work better than thinner flat-nosed pop-up cabovers.
For length, we wanted the Mini Max to fit inside the closed tailgate on a long bed (6-foot) truck. That allows the factory back-up camera system to work. The overall fit and the way the Mini Max works on a mid-size truck is amazing.
Above: The Mini Max pop-up creates 30-inches of cabover headroom
TCM: What are the stand out features of the Phoenix Mini Max that you are excited about?
Robby: There are many features of the Mini Max that we’re excited about. For example, the Mini Max is a taller pop-up design. You can pretty much sit-up in the bedroom. There’s a full 30-inches of cabover headroom.
The Mini Max can also sleep three adults comfortably; two in the queen-size bed in the cabover, and one in the dinette bed below. Like all of our campers, the cabover is also well insulated for cold or hot weather camping.
Another stand-out feature is the basement storage area. Not only does it give you easy access to the plumbing and electrical systems, but it also offers a good amount of interior storage. There are a lot of exciting features in the Mini Max.
TCM: You just mentioned a basement storage area. Is the Phoenix Mini Max a basement model design?
Robby: I call the storage area a basement storage area, but it’s more of an elevated sub-floor with a nice storage nook.
Cari: It’s built like a normal floor that’s elevated. Our floors and side walls are insulated.
TCM: Tell us about the frame material and core construction of the Mini Max.
Robby: Building the structure is a tedious process because it’s all done by hand one step of the time. It has to be done right.
To start, all Phoenix Campers have a double-welded aircraft-grade aluminum frame structure. We weld inside and out on every joint of the camper. There are aluminum gussets on all of the major structural support joints. The double-welding and gussets make the camper stronger for off-roading and rigorous use.
Above: Phoenix’s double-welded aluminum framing and gussets
We have foam board insulation in between the framed struts that fits tight. There is insulation in the floor and lower sidewalls. It’s the best insulation for the thickness of our walls. We laminate that to the structure. Our inner and outer walls are laminated, making for a strong camper structure.
There is no wood in our structure. We use water-safe composites and aluminum. We use Azdel, a fiberglass-plastic composite that is not susceptible to water damage.
Azdel is glued to a foam core with 3M Fastbond 30-type contact cement. The adhesive rolls on like paint and is then applied by pressure. We lay the wall on the floor and walk on it to apply pressure to the wall. We do that before assembling the four corners.
Above: Laminated solid fiberglass composite panel and standard trimming
On the exterior we use an already laminated composite panel that’s about a quarter-inch thick and solid fiberglass. Then we apply thick urethane glue in line patterns and clamp the panel to the outside surface. The panel is screwed on and clamped.
TCM: Is the Mini Max built the same way as your custom campers?
Robby: Yes, the Mini Max is built the same way as our custom campers. The process is not diminished. The quality control is the same. We inspect and check out every last piece that goes into it.
The difference is, with the Mini Max we actually have a set of plans that we can reproduce over and over. That makes the build process more streamlined.
TCM: Tell us about the cabinetry and counter tops in the Phoenix Mini Max.
Robby: We are going to take this Mini Max to the shows, so we wanted the cabinetry to be something we want to look at all the time. For the cabinetry in this build, we used Beetle Kill Pine. We had seen Beetle Kill Pine used in high-end furniture and thought it would be great to use this wood that was killed in a sad way to good use in our campers. I think it’s beautiful.
Above: Phoenix Mini Max Beetle Kill Pine cabinets
I found a source in Colorado where we can get it pre-laminated. Customers can get Beetle Kill Pine in the Mini Max or any of our custom campers, but it’s not required. We also offer stained woods and other cabinetry materials.
The counter tops are a half-inch solid surface material similar to Corian. We have a link on our website where you can look at all the different colors. It’s a very high quality and durable countertop material.
TCM: The Mini Max cabinetry features these amazing curved cuts for the drawers and cabinets. How do you make those curved cuts?
Robby: I hand draw the cabinet doors and drawers with a straight edge and stencil. Then I carefully cut the holes with a jig saw. After that we sand on it forever until it looks right.
We finish the cabinetry with a high quality furniture clear gloss finish and spray, and sand, and spray, and sand. It’s a lot of elbow grease and it’s all done by hand.
TCM: Tell us about the pop-up mechanism and roof on the Phoenix Mini Max.
Robby: It’s an all-electric, push-button lift system. We have employed a high-quality actuator lift system in our campers for a number of years now. It’s a push rod with an electrical lift built into it. It’s one-piece, serviceable, quiet, and quick. With the push of a button, the Mini Max roof is lifted or lowered in about 90-seconds.
Above: The Dometic CRX 65 compressor refrigerator
TCM: What refrigerator are you using in the Mini Max?
Robby: We are using a Dometic CRX 65 refrigerator. It’s an extremely efficient 12-volt and 110-volt Dan Foss compressor refrigerator. It’s also light weight and doesn’t need to be level like a gas absorption refrigerator. The unit has a freezer and door storage.
Above: Stainless steel combination stove and sink
The stainless steel combination stove and sink has a glass lid and lays flat for food prep. When you pop the lid open, the tall sink faucet goes up to do dishes. If you make a mess in the stovetop area, you can just scoop it into the sink. It’s a nice unit for a camper like the Mini Max.
Above: The thermostat for the ProPex HS2000 furnace
TCM: Tell us about the furnace under the dinette seat. That’s not your typical RV furnace.
Robby: We are using a ProPex HS2000 furnace. It’s the same furnace they used in Volkswagen bus campers for many years. It’s a very compact, high efficiency, forced air propane heater. It’s quiet and it’s tucked out of the way. The camper will be very comfortable in cold temperatures. We’re happy with ProPex furnaces.
Above: The Mini Max features a fresh tank, water heater, grey tank, and cassette toilet
TCM: Earlier you mentioned the Mini Max is fully self-contained. What size are the holding tanks?
Robby: There is a fifteen gallon fresh tank under the right side of the dinette seat area. That is the biggest tank that will fit in that configuration. We think fifteen gallons is a good size for a three to four day trip, if you conserve. The water heater holds another six gallons of fresh water.
There is a seven gallon grey tank that is centrally located and receives water from the kitchen and shower. Because this camper is self-contained, you can camp in Walmart or a public camping area and collect grey water without having to drain it into a bucket. The grey tank is not designed to be huge because we didn’t want to waste storage with a bigger grey tank. That’s always adjustable if you want to change a tank size.
TCM: The Mini Max comes with a cassette toilet. What size tank does the cassette hold?
Cari: It’s a 5 gallon cassette with a built-in 4 gallon fresh reservoir.
TCM: How many batteries does the Phoenix Mini Max have, and where are they located?
Robby: There is one Group 24 AGM battery located under the left dinette seat. The battery we installed has 90-amp hours. The heater and some storage is in that same space.
The Mini Max has a simple but effective electrical system with 100-watts of solar and a 90-amp hour AGM battery. We’ve installed super-efficient equipment without building a big heavy duty electrical grid. We have made a camper that you can be off-grid for a long time. With the sun and driving, you will keep the batteries charged.
Above: The Phoenix Mini Max has a standard 20-pound vertical propane tank
TCM: What is the propane tank size?
Robby: We like to use a standard 20-pound vertical propane tank. 20-pound tanks are easy to fill or exchange almost anywhere. The propane tank is located in the right rear corner of the camper. There is a vented door out the back wall.
Above: The shark fin cave for Sirius and XM satellite radio antennas
TCM: You already explained that the Mini Max was designed based on previous builds. That said, did you make any adjustments to the final design to make it production ready?
Robby: The biggest change we made was to add a shark fin cave. If the Mini Max is mounted on a truck with a shark fin satellite radio antenna on the cab’s roof, we designed a shark fin cave for Sirius and XM satellite radio antennas to fit up into. It’s a standard feature on the Mini Max.
Above: The Mini Max has a forward, face-to-face dinette
TCM: Can the Mini Max design be adapted for a half-ton truck?
Robby: We can absolutely make a Mini Max for a half-ton truck. For that matter we could build it for a Chevy 2500, Ram 3500 – or whatever. We can build the exact same floor plan and package for almost any pickup truck. The difference for full-size trucks would be a wider and taller base floor, and an adjusted front wall. Other than that, it’s the same Mini Max.
TCM: Tell us about the standard entry step system for the Phoenix Mini Max.
Robby: I like to use a plastic two-step stool. There are a few types of scissor steps that are nice, but I think a stationary step is the most trustworthy and light weight. If you drive away and forget it, it’s only $20 instead of $379. Scissor steps have their place, but I’m for less expensive and lighter weight.
Above: A Carefree Freedom III crank out awning is standard on the Mini Max
TCM: Are there any new options that are available for the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max?
Robby: Just like all Phoenix Campers, you can get pretty much anything you want in the Mini Max.
Above: A 100-watt solar battery charging system is standard
TCM: I have been wanting a periscope in our truck camper for years.
Robby: What color would you like? Blue, red, orange?
TCM: That’s funny. Fuschia would be nice. What does the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max weigh with standard build features?
Robby: It’s 1,420 pounds loaded with options, full water, battery, and propane.
Above: The scale certificate for the Mini Max with fresh water in tank, full six gallons in water heater, full propane tank, and battery.
TCM: With your infinite custom possibilities, can you build a lighter Mini Max for customers who need a lighter unit to payload match their truck?
Robby: Absolutely. Most customers who contact us with lighter duty trucks ask if we can build a unit within the payload capacity of their truck. We can build the Mini Max to meet a customer’s payload requirements, but it will not be as feature-loaded. The nice amenities are where the weight comes from.
Above: The center of gravity is 18-inches from the front wall
TCM: That’s true with all truck campers. Everything is a trade-off. It’s great that you can build a lighter version of the Mini Max for customers that need it, or customers can opt for a heavy-duty half-ton and have all the comfort features. Where is the center of gravity on the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max?
Robby: The center of gravity is about 18-inches back from the front wall. The longer cabover of the Mini Max moves the center of gravity forward. We also have the battery and water positioned forward on the unit. The center of gravity is designed to be very close to centered over the rear axle on a five-foot bed.
TCM: What is the MSRP for the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max with standard build features?
Robby: The MSRP is $37,000. That is a fully-loaded Mini Max with most every option we offer. There is no change in price to adapt the Mini Max for a different truck; Ford F150, Raptor, Ram 3500, whatever.
TCM: What is the warranty for the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max?
Robby: We have a one year bumper-to-bumper warranty. There is a two year warranty on the lift mechanism, liner and frame. All warranty work is done here at the factory. Make an appointment and we will take care of you.
If an appliance stops working like a refrigerator or water heater, you can call the specific appliance companies. They will take care of it with their warranties.
If you are far away, like in Maine or Alaska, and are mechanically inclined, the components can be pulled and replaced. We’ll send you a new part and instructions on how to fix it.
TCM: When will the 2018 Phoenix Mini Max be available?
Robby: Right now our production schedule is out until January of 2019. That is the only drawback of buying something from a small family factory with a popular product. The earlier you get your order in, the earlier you get your camper. Every single person who has picked up their camper tells us that it was well worth the wait.
Cari: With the Mini Max, it will only take us about two weeks to build it versus a month for a custom build where we would have to figure everything out.
TCM: On a totally different topic, what’s going on with the Bronco Bronco truck camper? Have you taken it to any Denver Bronco games this year?
Robby: We haven’t been to one Bronco game yet this year. We did have it to our house for my 50th birthday party. Cari told me that we were having a big Bronco party, and to bring the Bronco Bronco home. It was a surprise party for me. A friend of ours did take it a Bronco’s game this year.
Above: Phoenix Campers are made in Commerce City, Colorado
TCM: Well, at least the Bronco Bronco has been to a game. Is there anything else you would like to share about the Mini Max or Phoenix Campers in general?
Robby: We are a family company. We have two of our sons working here, and my mom. One guy has been here ten years, so he’s like family. Five people do all of the construction of our campers.
There is a lot of responsibility for each person on the team, and we all take pride in our workmanship. We’re cranking out better campers with better quality than ever. It’s going well.