Homemade Pop Top Camper

A small lightweight camper


We wanted a small camper for our Ford Ranger Truck it was hard to find something small commercially built with a low enough centre of gravity to use on a 4x4 truck, a type of vehicle where campers are not normally recommended, the only ones available where larger and with canvas sides, not the best of things in bear country. The price of these units was beyond our price range so after some browsing on the internet and stealing the idea for the pop top from This Website and the Compact plans ,  my thanks goes to the author  for the great illustrations of the concept. After that it was of to the workshop.

I made several mistakes on the pop top due to my inability to follow instructions but everything has worked out in the end                                                                       


Ready for the road                                        30 seconds later ready to camp pretty neat!


Side view ready for the road .                        30 seconds later the top is raised by pushing on the inside with my head and shoulders the first foot is the hardest due to the angle the body is at. Once the top is fully up the two sides are simply flipped up and locked into place. The camper is unfinished at this stage, I plan on putting more windows in the flip up sides.


The camper sticks out 6" from the box.         Nice big back window that can be left open in the rain, the top weights about 50lbs and is about as much as I want to lift, I'm on the lookout for ideas to make this job easier.


The top partially raised, at the back the side seals against a piece of plywood extending forward from the end of the back piece this wasn't possible at the front due to my biggest mistake. If you look at the top of the right picture you can see the front folding piece is attached with a hinge right on the top, this means that a piece of plywood can't be attached sticking out an inch to the back for the side piece to seal against. It would get crushed against the ceiling as the roof is folded down, the hinge should have been attached 1" down from the ceiling on a piece of wood


    The solution was simply a piece of plywood attached to the side piece that can slid forward sealed with foam weather stripping and a couple of wing nuts. It adds a few seconds to the set up time

The inside is roughed in and usable at this stage, it will be completed over the winter right now we want to take advantage of our short season and go camping.

There is a dinette forward which folds down into a small double bed 5'9" by 4' across the camper, I'm 5'8" and fortunately we are both small the bed could easily be made longer but I wanted to keep the frontal area of the camper down. At the back we have a small kitchen area with a portable single burner stove and bucket for a sink, on the other side is storage with a porta-potty that slides out for use it's usable with the top down for those roadside stops.

Construction is 2 layers of 1/4" Laun plywood sandwiched with 1" foam, edges and stress points have a 1x1 1/4" spruce core, the bottom is 1/2 spruce plywood, interior cabinets are 1/4" Laun plywood. All joints are glued and either nailed or screwed, epoxy resin is used on any high stress area.

To finish the outside I coated the plywood with epoxy resin, filled sanded and applied 6 coats of enamel paint, the roof had an extra coat of epoxy and glass tape on the plywood seams it then received 3 heavy coats of a rubberized RV roof coating.

I would guess it weights about 300lbs empty, I can just lift the heavy end. Although I did everything I could to keep the weight down it could definitely be made lighter, we have a very limited selection of plywood here, 1/8" plywood could have been used on the inside skin this would probably save an extra 40lbs

Outside dimensions are 6' wide 7' long  3' 10" high with the top down and 6' with the top up. The whole top lifts up and the hinged front and back pieces keep it under control as it lifts, it weights around 50lbs and is about as much weight as I care to lift on a regular bases from the crouched position (perhaps too much as I get older) it was much easier to lift before I fitted the hatch as I could stick my head through the hole and lift with my shoulders from a better position.

I'm open to suggestions for making this task easier several options come to mind including the above idea of a different hatch, another thing we have tried is using a second person and a piece of wood as a lever to lift the roof the first foot or so after that its easy to push it the rest of the way, this works quite well its just a matter of fixing some lift points, for the time being I'm content to push it up all the way. Another option that comes to mind is using a piece of threaded rod and a rechargeable drill to push the roof up, a few details need to be worked out!! push button convenience would be the ultimate goal providing it didn't add too much weight.




Wild camping on the beach at Fox's Point Bay of Fundy, the driver is eager to go.    

Fall 2007 Update

We managed to get in only 3 weeks camping this year with a couple of trips in our home province of Nova Scotia totaling about 1500KM.

 The camper performed well, the weight and windage had no noticeable effect on the performance of the truck. The truck has the smallest engine a 2.3L 4 cylinder gas engine, the fuel consumption was unchanged at 10km per liter or 28MPG (imperial) I do most of my traveling on secondary roads at 80kmh (50mph) or less.


Two opening windows have been added to the folding sides and have considerably improved the light and ventilation especially over the stove, one more is planned in the front section.

  We had a few hours of heavy rain on a couple of occasions with no leaks, with the long overhang at the back of the roof it was nice to be able to have the widows wide open and some where to hang wet towels.

  I have got use to lifting the top often 2 or 3 times a day at stops, I have gathered the parts to make a simple lifting mechanism and will post details when I get it built if it works as planned.

  Right now the camper is off the truck behind a snow bank while the truck is in the workshop for a major rebuild once its finished I'll move the camper in and finish the cupboard doors, add another window and finish a few more odds and ends.

  We should be ready to go early in the spring, if you have any questions please use the contact link at the bottom of the page.


I had to install some straps to hold the top down while traveling after an episode of the top slamming up and down when traveling down the road !

2008 Update

Sorry no pictures yet. The interior has been finished with cupboard doors, varnish and paint, a window has been added in the front lifting panel that has made a big difference as it is now possible to sit on the bed and look out at the view. The lifting mechanism for the top still hasn't been made, maybe this winter. So far I enjoy the speed of operation involved by pushing up manually, it often gets put up 2 or 3 times a day when we stop for breaks.

2011 Update

Over the winter the camper received a major upgrade and has been lengthen to extend over the cab the original plywood top has been replaced with a lightweight foam and glass fibre top, the end result has been a lot more liveable interior arrangement with only a 20-30lb gain in weight. A couple more pages should be added to the website soon with details, I promise.

In the meantime in response to several requests here is a link with more pictures taken whilst the camper was being taken apart and the paint stripped so apologies for the mess.


  Continued Page 2


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An animation of the lifting top in action can be found here