diy box truck build series

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Part 1 DIY Overland Box Truck Build

Welcome to part 1 of our Overland Box Truck build. We hope to inspire and share everything we can about our build process. Making your build journey that much better.

Choosing The Right Overland Truck

A lot of thought went into what would make the perfect Overland Vehicle for our needs. Fortunately we had 6 years and two different builds of our Ford Transit to help us figure things out.

After zig zagging through the US, Canada, and Baja we felt like we had a pretty good idea of our dream build. Let’s have a look at some of the must-haves and other design elements that were important to us.

Our Biggest Must Have….

We both love to mountain bike and as you likely know the mountain bikes of today have gotten ridiculously expensive. Given their price as well as keeping them protected from the elements we knew we must have an enclosed place for our bikes.

This was pretty easy in the Van as we just kept our bed high and would store the bikes underneath.

When looking for our next rig having the bikes inside actually eliminated quite a bit of what’s out there. Basically every slide-in truck camper was a no-go. Not that we could afford a built EarthCruiser but those also had no storage big enough for bikes.

One possible solution to a slide in truck camper could have been something like this. By sliding the camper back you can actually free up a bit of space for a couple bikes. Great idea!

Picking The Right Overland Truck Chassis

So this is a meaty subject and obviously dozens of ways to skin this beast. From large military trucks to compact pop-tops their truly is a design for every adventure.

Would we like an Overland Truck that wasn’t 11 feet tall? You bet!

Would we get tired of the hassle, cost and maintenance of a pop-top camper? You bet!

For us it came down to the following 4 things.

1. Short Overall Vehicle Length

We felt our van at just over 21 feet was just right as we could still squeeze into downtown city parking spaces and navigate those tight backcountry roads we all love.

Vans are actually very good at keeping things short as they have very little hood space, and we liked that. Compare that to your standard pickups which have about 5 feet of hood in front of you.

This need for a short and nimble truck quickly led us down the road of a cabover truck. Without a doubt these build the shortest Overland Trucks possible.

In addition the entire cab flips up giving you access to the entire engine which is AMAZING. Wrenching and maintenance are an absolute breeze on cabovers.

Our 14′ foot box on the cabover came out to 22′ in length which has proved to be just fine for our love of city boondocking.

2. A Common Motor and Ease of Maintenance

In our van we had a diesel motor that was so crammed in there you could hardly see the thing. Good luck changing an alternator as you’d need about 4 different Ford specific wrenches to get to the thing. I may be exaggerating a bit but you get the point.

This is were the cabover takes the win with unmatched access to the engine making maintenance or a breakdown much easier and less costly.

We were also done with these modern diesels. They’ve become so riddled with computers and emissions I felt like we were always throwing a diesel emissions related error code. And don’t tell me the Mercedes are any better because all our friends had them and they did the same thing.

I’ve used diesel trucks for a good part of my life working in the fire service and they definitely have their place. But if you’re not towing 20,000 lbs I just don’t think they are necessary for all but the biggest Overland Campers. Now older diesels without all the emissions crap are great. I’m just talking about the newer stuff here.

3. Be Well Under The Vehicle Max Weight

One of the things I dislike about most campervans is that they are built right up to the max gross vehicle weight and often time they are over once filled with water and gear.

Having a camper sit at max GVW all the time in my mind is not ideal. I find that things just wear out quicker when taxed at max GVW for long periods.

With our chassis after full build out and full of gear we still have 2,000 lbs of payload available. I like having that reserve knowing that the truck isn’t maxed out all the time.

4. Keeping Things Narrow

With an overall width(not including mirrors) of 81 inches it’s the same size as your average full size pickup. That makes it significantly narrower than your 1 ton dually trucks.

We enjoy being able to park in standard width parking places at the grocery store and such.

CORE Chassis From EarthCruiser

All of the above eventually led us to the CORE chassis from EarthCruiser. These folks have been making Overland Trucks for quite a while here in the States and even longer in Australia where they started.

While they’ve been making complete finished Overland Trucks for a while this was the very first time they offered chassis only options. In fact, we were their very first customer on their chassis only option which they call CORE.

To put it simply, they basically take off everything behind and under the transmission and toss it. Axles, drive lines, brakes, and transfer case are all swapped with premium off road components.

All of the components that go back on are tried and true simple 4-wheel drive components that are not riddled with wires and electronics. Aside from the air lines going to the locking differentials there’s very little to knock loose or rip off. Even the locking hubs are manual.

All of this combined with a manual two speed transfer case was going to provide for a robust and easy to maintain/fix drivetrain. You can read about our first breakdown here – Blowing A Wheel Bearing In Our Brand New Truck!

Here are some specs on the chassis

  • Isuzu NPR Gas
  • Motor – GM 6.6L V8, 350 horsepower, 425 ft.-lbs.
  • Atlas 2-speed transfer case
  • Fusion axles with front and rear ARB air lockers
  • 60 gallon stainless steel fuel tank
  • 4-wheel disc brakes
  • Method wheels with 12.5″ x 37″ Toyo tires
  • Safari rack, side ladder, and front winch bumper
  • 135 inch wheelbase

Here’s A Walk Around Of Our New Overland Truck Chassis

Total Composites Overland Truck Box

As you can see from the video above we didn’t just drive home a chassis. Rather, it was a chassis with a massive white box mounted to it. That massive white box over the next few months will become our tiny adventure home on wheels.

The camper box is from Total Composites out of Vancouver BC. EarthCruiser partnered up with them and offers their boxes installed or you can build and install the boxes yourself.

The boxes are 2″ foam core panels with fiberglass extrusions. The R12 insulation and zero thermal transfer provides for both warm and cold weather insulation that’s not easy to find in other campers. Our DIY AC unit can easily keep the camper chilled running off batteries or solar.

The Best Off-Grid Campervan Air Conditioner – Finding a good off-grid air conditioner is no easy task. Here’s a list of a few of our favorites. Check out our YouTube on the DC air conditioner that we’re installing to see if it’s right for you – DC 12v/24v Air Conditioner

total composites overland camper box

The floor of the box is 3″ thick and composed of FRP panel skins, foam, and 3/8 sheet of marine plywood. In addition, the floor has steel beams that run through floor for attachment to subframe.

The roof, front, and back panels are 3″ thick with foam and FRP outer skins. The roof also has several wire chase channels built in should you need them. The side panels are FRP skins with foam and are 2″ thick.

You can add addition steel reinforcement wherever you desire. We added steel reinforcement on the sidewall for an awning as well as rear supports that are rated for up to 800lbs.

total composites overland camper box

We opted for a custom 14′ box which was assembled and installed by EarthCruiser. Here are the specs for the camper box.

  • Exterior Length – 14.7′
  • Interior Length – 14.2′
  • Exterior Width – 6.7′
  • Interior Width – 6.4′
  • Exterior Height – 6.8′
  • Interior Height – 6.2′

Torsion Free Subframe

Now it’s important to note that a Total Composite or any camper box for that matter can NOT be mounted directly to the chassis frame. Well at least if you plan on doing anything other than pounding highway.

As the suspension articulates over uneven ground there’s a lot of flex that occurs along the frame rales of the vehicle chassis. If you simply bolted a habitat box to the frame rail the stress from the twisting frame rails would rip the box apart.

That’s why Overland Camper boxes need to be mounted to an articulating subframe which allows for chassis flex without twisting the box. You can get a look at the sub-frame that EarthCruiser provided us in the video above.

august wheeler author bio

Hello! My name is August, and I’m a devoted traveler and travel blogger living full-time on the road. I made the decision to leave my 9-to-5 job and pursue a nomadic lifestyle, and it’s been an incredible journey. My passion for experiencing new cultures is what drives me, and I aim to motivate others to embark on their own adventures through my stories, photos, and advice. When I’m not discovering the wonders of the world, I indulge in skiing, mountain biking, and savoring the unique flavors of different places.

2 thoughts on “Part 1 DIY Overland Box Truck Build”

  1. I saw one of your Outside Nomad campers in Cascade, ID, when it was 0 degrees F, outside. It must be fairly well insulated. “Cool”.

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