By Tony Barthel
When a reader suggested I take a look at Alaskan Campers it made me realize that I remember seeing these things all over the place as a young lad. I was intrigued then by the fact that the top would raise up to give sufficient headroom but lower back down to offer better aerodynamics. So I was surprised the company was still around, but it absolutely is.
Alaskan Campers has been making truck bed campers since 1953. Their hallmark is the fact that they raise and lower hydraulically. Rather than some that feature soft sides, Alaskan campers are all hard-sided and split in the middle horizontally. In some ways this reminds me of the TrailManor convertible trailer but as a pickup camper.
As mentioned, the company started in 1953 and has always made these convertible campers. All of their campers operate via a hydraulic lift to move the top up and down. The company makes both cab-over campers as well as models that just occupy the bed of the truck without covering the cab. They also offer camper lengths from 6.5 feet.
One of the things I saw was that Alaskan’s website not only has the listing of new models, but also has older campers for sale in a classified advertisement-type arrangement. It’s really unusual to see someone whose rigs are so well made that they’re willing to show off the older models as well as the new products.
Ups and downs of life
Not a lot has changed visually from the campers I saw as a young lad growing up in Southern California and the models I see today from Alaskan Campers. Essentially the cab-over models have a nose that sticks out over the cab with a unique sort of swept-back style to them.
To raise the camper, the lift mechanism is all hydraulic. Owners are advised to monitor the four jacks that lift the camper so that they operate evenly. There are valves in a cabinet that affect the lifting and lowering of the top of the camper. It seems a bit fiddly to me, so this would seem to be a camper that appeals more to those with some interest in how things work.
Once the top is up, you put pins in the four jacks, which are inside the camper body itself, so that it doesn’t come back down. Then you crawl up to the bed and push open the side walls around the bed and the front wall, as well, and lock them into place.
The advantage of this type of mechanism is that it’s all hard walls. The company boasts that the campers are well insulated.
What’s inside the Alaskan Campers
Like many smaller RV manufacturers, Alaskan Campers is willing to work with a buyer to offer various options. The company sells their products directly so you get the chance to work with them to tailor the specifics in terms of features. Speaking with Brian, who says he’s been giving camper walk-throughs for a few decades, he talked about weighing out options for design with customers.
For example, the 6.5-foot camper generally comes with a 22-gallon fresh water tank. But you can outfit it with a smaller tank for not only weight savings but also more space inside the camper.
The layout of the Alaskan Camper
If you look at their typical layout for this, though, when you step inside (once the roof is up) you’ll find the toilet immediately to the right of the entrance, but not within view. It’s inside a cabinet with a folding top and a door so you don’t see it first thing.
Right after that is the refrigerator, which is not a 12-volt DC refrigerator. These newer style of fridges don’t require venting and can operate even with the top down – which is a plus. You can also get to it with the top down in case you want something cold along the way – also a plus.
After that, the dinette spans the width of the camper at the front. There’s a table between road- and camp-side seating.
On the road side you can have the camper outfitted with a stove and a sink with an electric water pump to draw from the 22-gallon tank.
You can outfit one of these with a four-gallon DSI water heater. There is an outdoor shower, but not one inside. Also know that there is no gray water tank. That means you’ll have to find a provision to catch the gray water. That can be either a bucket or just run a drain hose into the sewer line if you happen to be at a full-hookup site.
Of course, there’s a bed above the cab in models with that provision. Otherwise, it’s a convertible sleep surface made up of the dinette.
While the appearance of these Alaskan Campers to the casual watcher, which is me, hasn’t changed much in many, many decades, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of change overall. The campers are larger than they used to be, as are the pickups in which you put these.
You can now get an awning on the camp side of these, which is a the manual type. But something else that’s really cool are the rails at the bottom of the upper section into which you can hang privacy curtains or lights or all manner of other things. Pretty clever.
The Dutch door, which is necessitated by the camper’s ability to go up and down, has also benefited from the test of time. It includes a dead-bolt lock much like you’d find on a home door for the bottom portion and then a typical RV door latch on the upper section.
When the camper’s down, that deadbolt is an effective deterrent from breaking and entering. The company even has a door prop mechanism that you extend if you’re in the camper with the top down, such as when you might be accessing that fridge. When extended, this will keep the top door from latching and locking you inside the camper.
To me it says a lot when a company sells both its legacy and new models in the same space, as is the case with Alaskan Campers. It shows that there’s a reason these campers carry on the decades of tradition and build methodology.
While you would certainly be able to differentiate the newer model from its older version if the two were side-by-side, it also says something that most casual observers probably don’t realize that the camper they’re looking at could be either brand-new or a vintage model.
Being able to work with the company to tailor one of these to your liking is a plus. There is definitely a buyer for these campers who appreciates the size and functionality of this configuration – and that’s been true for generations.
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!