A.R.E.’s Topper Turns Our Tacoma Into a Mini RVPosted in How To: Body Chassis on May 17, 2016
Many of the places we venture to don’t have a Holiday Inn or full hookups. That is kind of the point of getting out of town for many of us. While ground tents are fine in summer, they leave something to be desired when it gets cold, windy, or rainy. In the past we have fled to the cab of our truck in the middle of the night to escape the elements, but sleeping upright isn’t a whole lot better than sleeping in a wet tent. The solution was a camper shell from A.R.E. That part of the truck behind the cab is called a bed, after all.
Of course, plenty of people appreciate the benefits of a camper shell without ever sleeping under one. They make a perfect place to secure anything from pets to camping gear to the expensive 4x4 parts you may be hauling and do not want stolen.
A.R.E. makes toppers for nearly every make and model of pickup, with each shell made to order and color-matched to the truck. We loaded our shell with useful features, and the total price was still reasonable enough that we could recoup it by spending a few nights in the bed of the truck instead of the Holiday Inn (though we will miss those yummy cinnamon buns they serve at breakfast). That sounds like a fair trade to us, since there aren’t hotels at most of our favorite destinations anyway.
A.R.E. has an extensive dealer network all over the country. The company builds each topper to order and then sends it to the local dealer. In our case the dealer was Trimline of Reno. In addition to selling A.R.E. products, Trimline also does window tinting and carries a variety of other truck-related products, including clear bras, tonneau covers, and toolboxes.
Trimline installed our camper shell in a few hours. The shell weighs around 140 pounds and can be lifted by two people, but it is far easier to position it with a forklift.
Four aluminum clamps hold the shell firmly in place. Trimline added adhesive foam between the shell and the bed to limit abrasion and rattling and to create a weathertight seal. The clamps are easy to remove should we need to take the camper shell off for any reason.
Trimline’s Nate Parrot wired the third brake light on our topper into the factory brake lights with high-quality terminals and heat shrink. He also wired the LED lights in our topper straight to the battery with large-gauge wire and a fuse close to the front of the truck.
Options abound from A.R.E. Sliding or hinged side windows, pet screens, single or dual locking handles, and fishing rod mounts are just some of the potential options. We opted for a fabric headliner and LED light strips that draw minimal amperage when illuminating the bed of our Tacoma.
Another option we selected was a Yakima Tower Series rack on the roof of our topper. The load bars allow for Yakima’s entire line of products to be utilized on the top of our Tacoma. We added a Forklift bike mount, but ski and snowboard racks, kayak racks, and even Rocket boxes and cargo baskets could be added to the roof of our topper.
Our XC model A.R.E. topper has screen vent side windows. These are great for ventilation when you are in the bed of the truck, but we do not recommend leaving them open when traveling down dirt roads. Dust traveling over the truck gets sucked into the windows and fills the bed.
It did not take us long to load up our gear and get out of town after the A.R.E. topper was installed. We tossed our camping gear in the bed and our bike on the roof and headed to the Sierras for adventure. Excursions don’t need to be far from home or excessively planned to be fun.
The lockable storage offered by the A.R.E. CX topper is particularly useful on our regular cab truck, which doesn’t have an abundance of lockable storage. The topper allowed us to lock up all of our camping gear and head out on our bike for the afternoon without concern that our things wouldn’t be there when we returned.
After a day of mountain biking we soaked in the nearby hot springs to ease our aches and pains. Now that we were warmed up, our sleeping bag and the insulated interior of the A.R.E. CX topper kept us toasty all night. It was so warm on this spring evening that we had to open one of the vent windows.
A Bedrug is on our wish list, but for now we put in the bed of the Tacoma some old bedding that we don’t mind getting dirty. An AirBedz is another great option for sleeping in your truck bed; once deflated, they take up minimal space. One of the nicest advantages this hard topper has over a tent is that it is far less noisy in the wind we often experience in the desert.