The StowAway Cargo Box
One of the big laments about using a Four Wheel pop-up camper for anything other than traditional camping is the limited storage space for long-term live-in arrangements. Traditional camping with these things involves enjoying the great outdoors, which in turn typically involves propane stoves and/or BBQ grills, lanterns, chairs, table(s), canopies, propane cylinders, showering equipment, and what-have-you. That’s a good thing, but imposes a regimen for the FWC that does not appeal to me: emptying out the floor of the camper before you can enter and use it, and then packing everything back inside in order to leave a campsite. It’s fun in the short term, but wearing for extended trips.
Since the FWC alone can technically be fully set up for camping in maybe three minutes and accommodate a furtive quasi-stealth sleep-only overnight with only a rearrangement of cushions, it seems a shame to clog up that inherent ease and speed with the need to scatter equipment all over the ground at every stop. So, many people who are going to be out there for awhile will add dedicated storage space, whether that may involve a trailer, a roof rack, a hitch platform, or a hitch cargo box.
The decision process for a Four Wheel requires a little more finesse, since keeping this camper’s full capabilities requires choices that may be different from what you’d pick for a van or even a hardside truck camper. Any storage option you choose will compromise something, so the goal is to choose in such a way that you keep your own priorities straight – as much as possible.
In my case, I ruled out trailers pretty quickly. Although there are some pretty darned impressive off-roading trailers out there that can serve as storage, or full outdoor kitchens or pop-up tents, I kept in mind two things. The first is that common ball hitches really are pretty limited in how much angle they can handle, and the affordable trailers based on these pose one of these “sooner or later…” issues. The same goes for torsion suspensions, which can work their way apart in certain off-road conditions. That left true off-road trailers, designed and engineered for the job, which are way, way beyond my means. The second thing I kept in mind is that the Mighty Furd is a gorilla in a phone booth when it comes to driving off-road. Many trails are tight and have limited opportunities to turn around, and wheeling the big Ford around sometimes feels like maneuvering an aircraft carrier into harbor, solo. Most of it is simply the effect of a miserable turning circle, and overall length. Adding a trailer to that and then blocking off the view of it with a truck camper in the bed would teach me lessons about going down unfamiliar trails, as in: don’t. I’d prefer to have more leeway than to be forced to continue on while conditions become not suitable for a big, stock vehicle – or to not go down an interesting trail at all, for fear of becoming trapped. Nope.
I already planned to festoon the camper’s roof with solar, so that ruled out rooftop storage, which I personally would be unable to get to safely, anyway. FWC offers foldaway rear wall steps as an option that to me resemble a climbing wall, but putting up and taking down boxes and bags, solo, does not strike me as a viable option in the long run.
Hitch platforms absorbed much of my time, because they are affordable, versatile and strong. Find a truly weatherproof box or two to add, and presto. Trouble is, there’s that pesky thing called a camper entrance door just in back of it, so you need to weed out all the affordable stuff to platforms that either swing out of the way or slide rearward to offer walk-in clearance. That tends to lower weight-carrying ability. You could stick with a wide platform and just leave an empty aisle in the middle, but that just wasn’t working out for me.
So it struck me that if I were going to go for an articulated hitch platform of some type, I may as well look over the cargo boxes that were often offered to make a full system. There’s quite a range out there, from modest to humongous. In my case, I decided to make size, weight capability and cost secondary. It would need to offer a decent shot at being rain and dust proof behind the truck, offer reasonably quick entry to the camper door without screwing up the step-up approach, offer running lights and a lighted license plate holder, and if it swung out, be able to be locked in an open position against wind. More important than any of these was the demand that complaints about the product be few, and that the company’s customer service be accessible and responsive.
Enter the StowAway2 Cargo Box. A significant-to-me plus is that these things are made from linear low density polyethylene. That’s what a lot of outdoor sports equipment is made from (like kayaks) because it weathers well and is tough as all get out. I chose the “standard” 12.5 cubic foot smaller one, mainly because I prefer its old-school rubber lid gasket to the gapped rain gutter style seal of its larger 16 cubic foot kin. That’s a big difference in box volume, but that translates to just two inches difference in every dimension between the two. That’s about where my inner cheapskate starts piping up, considering the gasket situation and difference in cost. If I were doing highway trips, either seal type would be fine. Out in the boonies though, it’s a dust cloud back there, and you have to go with your gut. They come with a ten-year materials and workmanship guarantee – though bouncy off-road use is not covered of course. Load in the full 200 pounds and start slamming it around, and you’ll probably tweak the frame somewhere. I use the warranty as a testament as to the integrity of the cargo box, lid, and hinges.
I went against the norm and ordered a white box instead of the usual black. Yep, that will show dirt much sooner and keep it, thanks to the deep textured surface. (That texturing is necessary because of the way LLDPE looks when you try to mold it with a smoother surface finish.) But I’m sick of everything always being black, and the FWC is white, anyhow. Both will get dusty, and both will need washing. I also figured that as an unventilated box, a black one will get mighty hot in full sun, which would limit what could be safely stored inside. Fabulous! I just managed to functionally justify my fashion choice!
The order showed up just a few days later, in two boxes. That’s good, because shipping weight is about 100 pounds total. It was well packaged, and orderly to the point of being OCD-compliant. Each assembly and accessory had its own labeled box, and each parts group came in a thick Zip-Lock bag containing a thick round-cornered card identifying it, specific contents and quantities, tools needed to assemble/install it, and when appropriate, instructions with a clear diagram on the back. Amazing. All parts were good quality and without burrs, incomplete paint or marginal fit. I’d expected assembly to be challenging because of component weights and the general awkwardness of aligning them to slip pins or other fasteners in. I’d expected misaligned holes. Neither of those expectations were met, happily. It pretty much just slipped together, and in no time I was left to just stand around, looking stupid. It was a nice experience, as such things go.