Draw a line between the extremes of overnight vehicles. Halfway between a hot tub–equipped rock star bus and a Geo Metro with an inflatable mattress in the back, you’ll find the truck camper.

Perched in the back of a pickup, these structures enclose enough square footage for a tete-a-tete but not enough for a block party. Though truck campers, or slide-ins, have existed for decades, new models reshape an old idea.

King was inspired by a captain’s cabin of a submarine.

Bainbridge-raised Mark King began fiddling with camper prototypes while in technical school. A mosquito swarm on a Highway 20 camping trip convinced him he wanted to sleep inside, but he couldn’t get behind large motorhomes. “The upside is you have a lot of space when you get there,” he says. “The downside is, are you really there if you have lots of space and a flat-screen TV and a full kitchen?” Hence a space big enough for a kitchen, maybe a few seats, but little else. His inspiration: The nuclear submarine USS Alabama, which King rode briefly as the child of its captain.

“I was amazed by the utilization of space, the drawers and nooks and crannies,” he remembers. “It’s a billion-dollar submarine…every space was deliberate.” He crafted a camper, the Kimbo, in frameless aluminum; something burly, something meant to last. In contrast to the network of heaters and chargers and water pipes that power a big RV, the few systems on his unit are independent and simple. The whole thing, meant to outlast the truck it’s mounted on, runs as low as $20,000.

For party people, the Scout Olympic sleeps up to six.

The Scout camper chases a similar streamlined goal, constructed in Yakima by a company that has produced various forms of the style for half a century. Smaller, lighter, and more minimally decorated than the rest of the company’s output, Scout’s popup units optimize life off the grid for just under $20,000. Solar panels come standard, and makers describe one model as “a backpack for your truck.”

Both campers lean hard into the idea that such toys needn’t deliver every creature comfort, even if they do come with benches and beds and tables and sinks, even the option for a tiny, stowable toilet. Crucially, both embrace some minimalist aesthetic, no swooshes on corrugated walls. Says King, “It’s not beige and not like everything else.” 

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