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Built PNW Tough: Super Pacific and X1 Camper Review

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Built PNW Tough: Super Pacific and X1 Camper Review

While many of us attempt to adhere to a bike-centric lifestyle most of the time, vehicles are an unavoidable aspect of transportation. Especially for those of us living in the expansive Western United States. And for folks who like to travel distances for recreation, or need to travel for work, having a vehicle that doubles as a somewhat self-contained living space is more than just a luxury. Josh learned long ago that #vanlife wasn’t for him, and pull-behind campers were more of a hindrance than help. So a few years ago he outfitted his pickup with a bed-mounted wedge-style canopy camper. Then earlier this year he swapped that camper for a Super Pacific X1.

Josh has been fielding a lot of questions about the X1, both at the trailhead and on social media, over the past few months. In advance of a long-term review, he shares an overview of Super Pacific, the X1 camper, and aspects that differentiate the brand in a crowded truck camper space…

A New Generation of Camper

Super Pacific has been building and installing the X1 truck bed camper from their Portland, Oregon headquarters since early 2020. Sales ramped up super quick back then as the pandemic inspired a record number of people to consider new ways to travel, get outside, and seek out new experiences.

Rather than just coasting along on the X1’s success, more recently Super Pacific has been broadening its offerings beyond truck-centric campers. The brand now has a burgeoning lineup of accessories for the X1, organizational adventure gear for vehicles, and are rolling out an integrated pop-top solution for adventure vans.

For those of you who are new to this world of tent campers for pickup trucks, I’ll zoom out to explain some of their general characteristics before diving back into the story of Super Pacific and what prompted me to sell my original camper and get an X1.

First of all, these are nothing new. Flip Pac and Wildernest were making fiberglass toppers with pop-up canvas tents decades ago. But the new variations from brands like Super Pacific, GFC, Alucab, Project M, AT Overland, and others have taken those old designs to wild new extremes. Occupying a middle ground between slide-ins like Four Wheel Campers and traditional bed caps, Super Pacific and its peers offer the utility of a lightweight self-contained camper when you need it with the utility of a simple cap when you don’t.

With this style of camper, you can keep the contents of your truck bed intact when moving up into the tent above to sleep or relax. Breaking down camp is efficient, as you just need to fold and close the tent to be on your way. So it’s great for anyone — cyclists, climbers, carpenters, hunters, etc., — who hauls gear in the bed but doesn’t want to remove it each time they camp.

I thought about getting a built-out van years ago. But finding one that had everything I wanted (4×4, sleeping area for two kids and two adults, and gear storage) was cost prohibitive. And huge. I also figured that I needed a more durable camping platform after having to rebuild pretty much everything on (and in) my 16’ Scamp trailer multiple times, pulling it where it probably wasn’t meant to go. I spend a lot of time on the road for work and with my family. For both types of travel I like to have the majority of our camping and riding gear loaded up and ready to go. So a few years ago I bought a tent camper for my truck bed that was certainly expensive but enabled me to utilize my existing vehicle as a gear locker and camping platform while also traveling off pavement comfortably (most of the time).

Genus Before Species

Typically these campers consist of three primary components: the fuselage (body that mounts on truck bed rails), the clamshell (hinged wedge that opens on top of the fuselage), and a tent contained inside the clamshell.

Fuselage structures vary from brand to brand; some feature an independent frame and others integrate the structure into the unit itself (more on this later). Most have side doors that open as “wings” revealing full access to the truck bed, in addition to a rear door that functions as a standard cap would. And some models are custom fit to specific vehicles while others take a one-size-fits-most approach.

The clamshell is the assembly holding the tent inside. In the case of campers like the X1, they hinge at the front and open like a wedge, or clam’s shell, supported by gas struts on each side. Other manufacturers take a full pop-up approach or, inspired by one of the originators, open 180º with stilts to support the cantilever. And then there’s the tent inside.

The tents found in truck bed campers can range in complexity, from a super simple design with only a couple of zipped door flaps, to a more featured one with windows, awnings, and internal accessories. Tents are accessed by ladders to exterior doors, some sort of modular platform passage from inside the truck bed, or a combination of both.

Designing Solutions

Now, let’s zoom back in for a look at Super Pacific. Similar to documenting bike framebuilders and other makers in the industries we typically cover here, I’m always interested in learning about the people behind the scenes. When the product is cool, there’s usually a good story behind it. The story of Super Pacific and its founders, Peter Williams, Spencer Houser, Josh Anderson, is a fun – and seemingly serendipitous – one. Before starting the camper brand, Peter worked in various trades and positions that would ultimately pave the way for his current professional focus.

After college in Colorado in the early 2000s, Peter embraced the mountain lifestyle, working seasonally as a ski instructor, raft guide, and carpenter before navigating into product design positions. He learned to cut and sew fabric as a production sewer at Mystery Ranch in Bozeman, Montana, while taking on freelance product design projects and gear repair on the side. Taking that experience to the broader softgoods industry, he worked in other freelance design roles before landing at Nike’s Space Kitchen working on advanced “blue sky” innovations.

While working at Nike, Peter had a young family and was looking for a camper for his Tacoma that had everything he wanted to get his family outside. Underwhelmed by the available options he set out to design his own. After recognizing that his ideas for an ideal camper had potential for a business opportunity he reached out to friends Spencer and Josh to help bring his vision to life. And that’s essentially how Super Pacific was born: Peter the designer encountering a problem he wanted to solve.

Peter had been friends with Josh and Spencer for years before Super Pacific was an idea, much less a business. With a shared passion for design and the outdoors, they came together with a vision to build an industry-leading camper and a creative brand behind it.

Going to Market

When thinking about how to approach a camper, Peter drew on his product design background to build the X1 from the ground up, addressing problems in this style of camper like storage solutions, wiring, sleeping platform and mattress, and overall ease of use when switching between drive, camp, and sleep modes. And because he’s based in the Pacific Northwest, it would need to be burly enough to withstand harsh weather.

When he decided to bring what started as a “backyard project” to a larger audience the concept evolved around considering the end user and their ideal experience. Arriving in 2020 in a relatively crowded camper market, design thinking and design-based solutions enabled Peter and the SP team to identify pain points in the camper user experience that they could solve with products or features. This, of course, is in opposition to building purely based on utility or appearance alone. Essentially all aspects you see and use in the X1 and other SP products come from a solutions-based approach.

Most of the X1 camper is made in-house at Super Pacific’s Portland facility. And, what isn’t made or built there, gets outsourced to local shops. Contracting specific jobs enables Super Pacific to retain a “right-sized” staff of skilled craftspeople rather than being subjected to the industry’s booms and busts. Because it’s not just the three founders running the show these days. They have a talented and dedicated team of designers and craftspeople working on making some of the best campers available with a stellar customer experience to go along with them.

But building a small business hasn’t been all roses in… the City of Roses. With sewing manufacturing specifically, there aren’t many domestic operations that could handle sewing the size and complexity of the X1’s tent. This meant that in the early days Peter was sewing them in his garage while refining the design and trying to source manufacturing partners. But after complications in trying to oursource, Super Pacific invested in their own CNC cutting tool and brought the process in-house. As a result, they have enough capacity to offer design and production services for sewn products and have a few OEM clients.

X1 Camper Quick Hits

  • Aircraft-grade solid body riveted aluminum fuselage
  • Integrated electrical raceways and removable faceplates
  • Acrylic cab and rear door windows, with optional cabside slider
  • 4-season, marine-grade tent fabric
  • Three zippered and screened tent doors
  • Adjustable tent ventilation
  • Choice of six body colors and three tent colors
  • Custom-fit to 13 mid and full-size pickups
  • 340-390 lb depending on truck model
  • Multiple install locations in US and Canada
  • $13,495-13,995 (with no sales tax if installed in OR)
  • Made in Portland, OR

Fuselage

My goal in the proceeding second half of this article is to provide an overview of the X1 without slipping into a review. That will come in a few months once I’ve had a chance to finish tinkering and, hopefully, spend a bunch of nights in it with my family.
It’s easy to look at the X1 and notice its sculpted lines that are at home on both current futuristic truck models like the ’24 Tundra and older somewhat rounded body styles like my ’19 F-150. But underneath its attractive appearance are structural elements and details that make it a DIYer’s playground.

The fuselage is essentially a box constructed of riveted aircraft-grade aluminum beams. Each one is custom-fit for a variety of truck beds and can be installed either with c-clamps or bolted directly to bed rails. Beams provide structure for the box, so there are no additional cross supports getting in the way of accessing the contents of the truck bed through side doors. These aluminum supports are also hollow and serve as wire chases for designing user-specific electrical systems.

Speaking of doors, each camper has three: one for each side and a rear with an optional acrylic window panel. These are also constructed of aircraft-grade riveted sheet aluminum and sealed with rubber gaskets against valences protruding from the fuselage. Using this construction method provides strength and also helps to keep water and dust out. A lockable single handle operates both latches for each door that – similar to a cable-actuated bike brake – is made possible by a clever cable-in-housing system. Strips of lash points are found inside each door and, while not structural, offer connections for Super Pacific’s door bags or whatever else the user might want.

Threaded bosses dot the interior of the beams every nine inches, which are specifically designed to house Super Pacific’s molle panels but can hold other accessories. The gas struts on each door are adjustable to be positioned at different angles. Mounting the struts in this way also makes them easy to replace should they ever go bad.

Clamshell

The clamshell is the portion of the camper that both houses and connects the fabric tent to the fuselage. And I don’t know where exactly the clamshell portion starts and ends, so I will also include the tent floor/camper roof in this section.

From the outside, the clamshell has quite a few standout features for a simple structure. While somewhat standard on this style of camper these days, the shell is made from aluminum extrusions with integrated T-slots along the top and sides. These grooves are used for water management and as attachment points. Many accessories can be used with them – from awnings to lights to ladder supports. Thanks to Mark at ShitCo, I found the 1/2-20 45mm hammer nut from McMaster Carr to work perfectly in these slots, as they are designed to be broadly compatible. Super Pacific also makes an awning bracket to fit the extrusions.

A single-piece semi-translucent polypropylene roof panel is held in place by the upper extrusion frame. When closed, the roof is strong enough to support body weight. The shell hinges from the front to open into a wedge shape revealing the tent structure inside. Machined in Portland, the hinges also feature a load-bearing tie-down point. Moving to the rear, there are latches on each side with a passthrough for an aftermarket lock.

The modular tent floor also serves as the interior of the camper’s roof, depending on how you look at it, and is a critical component in converting the X1 from living room mode to bunk mode. Split into three sections, the rearward portion consists of two molle panels that move out of the way providing access into the tent. These panels are not integral to the sleeping platform and can be moved in and out without disturbing the mattress setup. To create even more room in the camper the middle floor portion moves out of the way, sliding on top of the front panel. When opened up all the way, there’s about 8 ft from truck bed floor to the tallest part of the tent.

What might be the only one of its kind out there, my understanding is the clamshell is a modular component and can theoretically be removed from the fuselage. This means that if Super Pacific eventually revises one of the sections’ designs or damage occurs, it could be replaced.

Tent

Opening the tent is almost too easy. Just stand on the tailgate, flip the two blue latches to the unlocked position, push up on the rear handle, and let the strong gas struts do the work. Once open, the 400-denier acrylic-coated polyester tent is a marine-grade single-wall structure with doors on each side of the wedge shape. Each door is dual-layer – one screen door and one poly “storm” door – with the two sides zipping fully leaving no material flapping in the wind.

There are adjustable vents above the doors. Pulling the straps and clipping the buckles closed causes the vents to pop out from the exterior like little awnings. This venting system is designed to create breathability and reduce condensation buildup, but can also be closed down to retain heat inside.

The X1 is built around an inflatable Exped MegaMat Duo. The mat is super comfortable, plus can be easily pushed out of the way when the tent floor is opened up. Plus, when deflated there is room to sandwich bedding items within the closed tent. My understanding is that there are some foam mattresses that fit in the X1, like the Hest Dually, but might be cumbersome.

A series of elastic shock cord sections run the length of the tent walls and pull the sides in as the clamshell closes. So all that’s involved in closing the tent is pulling down on the sides, grabbing the handle, ensuring excess material is tucked in, and clicking the two blue latches closed.

Accessories

Accessorization and customization are a large part of what makes the X1 so appealing. While the minimalist approach to camping is suitable for some, Super Pacific makes it easy to store and organize gear with many attachment points throughout the camper. They are also adding products to the lineup to enhance the camper user experience like the ThermaPuff insulation kit and forthcoming Truma VarioHeat integration.

From molle panels to a gear loft and door-mounted cargo packs, Super Pacific is making a variety of gear specifically suited to the X1. But folks are also using the camper as a blank canvas to create their own unique builds. Just look to the SP community forum to see how the camper functions as a DIYer paradise.

More recent additions to the SP gear shop include Huck Pack seat back organizer, which can fit in pretty much any vehicle with “captain’s seats.” I expect to see a lot more in this non-X1-specific lineup soon.

What’s next?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the X1 since I got it installed. So far I’m very impressed. Several things will take time to assess and others that I’m still not sold on, but—I’m hoping—over time I will start to enjoy. In full transparency, SP offered me a discount on the camper for this editorial work to be less of a strain on my wallet. However, they are prepared for my objectivity, whether that’s good or bad. So in a few months, before the heat sets in here in the Sonoran Desert, I will be back with a follow-up review. I’ll also detail my bed buildout/some other truck mods and how it all works with the new camper.

Here are some of the things on my shortlist to evaluate:

  • Inflatable mattress vs foam cushion
  • Panel mounts and wire chases
  • Fuselage weather/dust sealing
  • Utility of accessory bags and molle panels
  • Tent water resistance and condensation mitigation
  • Molle panel passthrough

What else do you want to know? Drop your questions in the comments!

See more at Super Pacific.

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