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RV Review: The affordable RV—a Project M vision

Today’s review is one of the more unusual I’ve written and it centers around the Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers Project M cap/topper. This was actually a brilliant suggestion by RVtravel.com reader Steve in response to the PullKitchen review, which is a component of this story. 

I have done a lot of RV reviews lately of even simpler travel trailers that are many tens of thousands of dollars. As someone who is about to pick up my next RV, I understand the difficulty of making a buying decision for so many new rigs. Especially when they cost so much more than the same model of just a year or two ago. 

Further, I know a lot of readers only spend a short time using their RVs. There are weekend warriors but also campers who only get a week or two of vacation a year. What’s more, I also know that some HOAs restrict having RVs on the property, or there are other space constraints. So smaller may be better. 

The goal

My goal with this article is to explore an RV that you could easily get for well under $20,000 and potentially much less than thatperhaps as little as $12,000–$13,000. It also can’t consume a lot of space and has to be flexible. 

So what I’m starting with is a Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers Project M cap. Essentially this is just a blank canvas that’s built by Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers in Williams, California. I got to spend 10 days with one of their fully outfitted campers. It gave me a lot of appreciation for the brand and what they’re doing along with this style of camping. 

Project M

Project M is the company’s line of, essentially, blank campers. The Project M cap is a camper that sits on the bed rails (top of the bed walls) of your pickup truck. It requires no alteration to the basic functionality of that truck. 

That cap sits on the sides of a pickup truck and can be removed rather easily. The base price of these caps is under $11,000, but they include quite a bit of functionality. Like all the products made by Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers (hence the name), the top pops up. So you could fully stand in the back of your truck. The top mechanism is ingeniously simple. There is a two-layer fabric piece that makes up the walls between the inside and outside. 

There are also plastic windows. The inner layer has both a screen and curtain that use Velcro fasteners to close up. You can also cover just a portion of the window with the inner layer—which is kind of nifty. 

But one of the neatest things about these campers is the bed, which is over the cab. Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers has a sliding mechanism, so you can go from a small single bed encompassing just the space over the cab of the truck, or you can slide a drawer-like mechanism back and make a much larger bed. 

Best of all, there are models of the Project M topper that fit most modern pickups from mid-size trucks to full-sized models. These are only a few hundred pounds, so they are a legitimate choice for even trucks with very limited capability. 

What’s inside

If you do get the Project M, there’s not much in here. It’s essentially a camper shell with a pop top and that nifty bed mechanism at the front with benches along each side. But, again, you’re looking at a really affordable price, assuming you already have a pickup, of course. 

The base price also includes LED strip lights that are dimmable. That is a feature I really liked in the camper we had. 

There are plenty of options you can add, including added insulation and even a solar and battery system. The options list is long and varied and includes mounts, shovels, jacks, power systems and more. You could make this into quite an elaborate choice or stay simple. 

More than a camper

If you just have this blank canvas, you can still use the truck for work or truck stuff when it’s not camping. The Project M can be outfitted with a lift mechanism. You can just use that to lift the camper off the back of the truck, and now your truck’s just a truck again. 

But if you do ply a trade with your truck, you could also use this as a mobile office, a place to do the job that you do or, heck, even a mobile bathroom. 

In fact, if you have youngsters who are into sports, you could outfit the back of the truck with just the Camco Travel Toilet and a portable sink. Now you have a place for you and your family to go to the bathroom while you’re at the kids’ games. You might be the only one who doesn’t have to endure those bathrooms at the game, if they even bothered unlocking them this time. 

Blank canvas

Since this truck is more of a blank canvas, you could install a PullKitchen, for example, and now you’re set to do food prep. Add a cooler and now you’re all set for cooking. For keeping things chilled, you could opt for the Alpicool® 12-volt cooler that I am currently testing.

There are also less costly options such as SylvanSport’s Dine O Max or Dine O Mite portable kitchens. They could be used inside the camper or just brought outside. 

If you’re inside, you could use those portable kitchens with an induction cooktop like the Duxtop that I reviewed. I think you might see why so many of these portable gadgets are making their way into my RV life. 

You’ve got the toilet, kitchen and bedroom covered. 

If you’re Mike Sokol, you could also bring a smoker with you and operate it on a portable power station like the Jackery 1500. If you don’t follow Mike’s column here on RVtravel know that he’s been doing some testing of pellet smokers and portable power stations. I’ve been fascinated by what has been going on in that space. 

Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers also offers the ability to outfit this camper with solar and a battery station. In fact, there are a ton of ways you could outfit this. For example, you could add gear mounts on the outside, gear mounts on the inside and more. 

More considerations

One of the things that can’t be overstated is that this entire setup is actually possible with a mid-size pickup or virtually any full-sized pickup including half-ton trucks. The Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers Project M toppers weigh less than 500 pounds in their most basic configuration.

Things like the Dine O Mite, a portable toilet and Privy Bivy, and the Duxtop along with a Jackery or other portable power station aren’t going to add a lot of weight. 

So, you also don’t need an expensive truck if you’re one of the few Americans who don’t already have a pickup in your fleet of vehicles. In fact, if you have an older truck that can’t tow much, you could go this route and still have that truck for whatever purpose it has already served.

In summary

I’ve already divulged that my next main camper is going to be a travel trailer again. But we are considering replacing the camper shell on our truck with one of these Project M caps. It would give us a second option for quick getaways or even for a show office for car shows or vintage trailer rallies. 

Add the toilet, our Jackery and a table and now we have a kitchen with the 12-volt cooler we just picked up. 

In addition to this suggestion, Steve also offered the idea of fitting a Rhino Batwing awning to this rig, which would put a decent amount of space under the cover of the awning. Even with this added, you’re still under $15,000. 

The one major downside to this is that, since it doesn’t modify the pickup, the entry door is a combination of the tailgate of the truck along with a flip-up door. Shutting the world out by closing a door wouldn’t be as simple as in some models with, well, a door. But that’s the compromise of doing as little modification to the truck as this does. 

Lots of flexibility and options with the Project M

When we need just the pickup, the cap could easily be removed and the pickup’s a pickup again. So for well under $15,000, we would get yet another small camper that does little to affect the ability of our truck to tow by adding weight, yet offers a bunch of additional flexibility and more options. 

I would love to read your comments and suggestions over on our new forums, where you can weigh in and start or join a discussion about all things RV. Here’s a link to my RV Reviews Forum.

Tony comes to RVtravel.com having worked at an RV dealership and been a lifelong RV enthusiast. He also has written the syndicated Curbside column about cars. You can find his writing here and at StressLessCamping where he also has a podcast about the RV life with his wife, Peggy. 

These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.

Got an RV we need to look at? Contact us today and let us know in the form below – thank you!

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Stuart Grant
11 days ago

Truck bedrail-mounted campers like the FWC Project M are perfect lightweight solutions when you want to retain the ability to tow heavy stuff and keep a camper on your daily driver. I can also still use my truck to haul big things if needed.

I picked up my OVRLND camper shell in Flagstaff in January. They were able to build it customized for me in only 6-months. Don’t underestimate the work and expense of building out the interior if you want anything more than bare-bones. After 25-years of “car camping” with a tent my OVRLND is a huge upgrade for me.

Scott R. Ellis
11 days ago

Interesting. Can’t help a couple of thoughts, though. If you *buy* kitchen inserts, storage units, etc, etc, that cost is very quickly going to go WAY up. On the other hand, if you’re handy enough to *build* that stuff, you’re surely going to consider building the whole shebang. That said, though, it’s an intriguing approach.

Tim Slack
11 days ago

Back in ‘75 or so, I bought a FourWheel pop-up from the factory that then was in Broomfield CO. I specified only the shell, which included the box & floor but no inside fixtures at all. For them to install the shell on my ‘72 Blazer, they cut off the rear half of the Blazer top leaving only the cab portion of the roof and created a broad pass-thru from cab to camper. I built the camper myself incl water storage tank, marine ‘pump’ faucet, cabinets & portable toilet. With the rear camper door & both Blazer doors useable and the plastic windows you describe, it was perfect for any kind of boondocking I wanted to do. And if I really wanted to venture out from a wilderness base camp, I’d just tow my ‘70 CJ5 behind.

Steve
11 days ago

Thanks for the review, Tony. It does offer so much flexibility that it could be a no-brainer for a lot of boondocking, ATV-OHV trailering, off-road enthusiasts. Nice to see an RV company thinking outside the “Indiana box” by offering a low-cost shell with some basic amenities and lots of options to build your own “custom” RV!

Les
12 days ago

I really like the fact this is a truck bed rail mount, not slide in floor mount. Gives all kinds of possibilities due to more space inside. Many different additions and accessories from the manufacturer to customize. It would seem feasible to have a full gate to the bed floor on the rear like the A.R.E. camper shells so a regular door could be an option instead of the tailgate. Much easier to get in and out without needing a step stool and fully lockable from inside or out.