Every day I comb the internet for awesome, weird, or frankly outrageous RV finds. Usually, I land on some rare fiberglass unit or sometimes even one of many startups. Every once in a while, I find something so ridiculous that I’m just amazed that it even exists. I think today’s find matches that. This is the 2023 Rugged Mountain RV Denali 3S. It’s a truck camper with some mind-boggling numbers. It weighs 5,538 pounds, carries 80 gallons of water, and when loaded, the manufacturer says you’ll need a Ram 5500 flatbed or equivalent just to haul it.
By reader request, I’ve been getting into truck campers lately. I grew up traveling around the country with travel trailers and motorhomes, so I don’t have as much experience with truck campers. However, this is a popular segment of the RV industry. When the RV industry began slowing down last year, buyers still flocked to camper vans and truck slide-ins. As I’ve said before, vans and truck campers tend to be more maneuverable than a travel trailer or motorhome. Many people already own trucks, too, so they can buy a camper that slides right into their own truck’s bed.
Well, that’s how a truck camper usually works, anyway. As I saw at the 2023 Florida RV SuperShow, some truck campers are mammoth creations. For example, the three-slide beast that is the Host Campers Yukon 11.6 weighs in at 4,791 pounds depending on options. That’s solidly in Ford F-350 territory. If that’s not big enough, you can pick up a 2023 Rugged Mountain RV Denali 3S (above), which weighs 5,538 all by itself.
The company doesn’t provide a loaded weight, but the camper carries tanks holding up to 192 gallons of water and waste. Assuming 8 pounds per gallon, that’s another 1,536 pounds of weight for a total of 7,074 pounds. That’s before adding the optional ten house batteries for another 450 pounds, 74 pounds in propane tanks, the tongue weight of a trailer you might want to tow, and finally, any gear you may want to carry. This is why Rugged Mountain RV says you’ll need a Chevy Silverado 5500HD, Ford F-550, or a Ram 5500 to carry it.
What Is Rugged Mountain RV?
This company is a newer name in the RV world. Rugged Mountain RV says it opened in 2014 as a manufacturer of travel trailers before pivoting to truck campers in November 2016. While it’s a newer company, Rugged Mountain says its professionals have over 20 years of experience in building truck campers. According to Truck Camper Magazine, Rugged Mountain stands out from the crowd by designing its interiors to resemble a house, not a camper. We’ll get into the interior later, but check this out:
Indeed, this interior looks like it was ripped right out of an expensive house from a new development.
Anyway, Rugged Mountain RV was founded by Jesse and Anca Collinsworth, a pair of long-time truck camper owners. According to an interview in Truck Camper Magazine, Rugged Mountain first started off by making traditional non-slide and single-slide truck campers. Then, the pair had a second child and felt that there wasn’t a truck camper on the market that truly fit them. They felt that the existing multi-slide truck campers on the market were designed more for retired couples, not families. So, they embarked on designing their own triple-slide camper built with family in mind. The result is the Rugged Mountain Denali 3S flatbed truck camper, which has features like a bunk bed for children and a door to access the bathroom when the slides are closed.
The Denali 3S
The Rugged Mountain RV Denali 3S is a flatbed camper. This means you’ll need a truck that doesn’t have a typical bed. Instead, you’ll need a service flatbed installed by an upfitter. The camper then sits on that flatbed. Jesse, the designer of the Denali 3S, says that the camper is wood-framed. Photos provided to Truck Camper Magazine show the Denali 3S decked out top to bottom in wood, which is a bit different. The magazine correctly points out that the industry standard for campers with slides is to use aluminum framing. Why is Rugged Mountain going with an all-wood design?
Well, Jesse said, from Truck Camper Magazine:
I’m going to call the other manufacturers out.
Why are they even using aluminum? I’m okay saying this because they are stuffing their aluminum frames with so much wood. Any place that’s load-bearing has aluminum stuffed with wood. If you’re doing that, what’s the point of using aluminum? It’s just adding unnecessary weight. Also, wood is an insulator whereas the metal they use is a conductor.
Later, Jesse explains how his company constructs each camper, from Truck Camper Magazine:
Our Denali series has 1.5-inch walls. We made the frame and walls thicker because most of the walls are consumed by the three slides. The wall that is there needs a lot of structure.
Since we are a wood-framed camper, I used 1.5-inch thick 2x4s and 2x6s on the sidewalls. This is the same thickness we use in our Granite series to support the corner jacks.
In a traditional slide-in, the floor cross members take the load-bearing weight. That changes when you design a flatbed model. It’s actually easier to build a flatbed because you don’t need to incorporate the truck bed rail. The structure can go all the way to the flatbed because the basement and floor sit on the flatbed.
In the Denali 3S, the load-bearing structure goes all the way from the roof to the flatbed. The cross members for the floor supports are 3/4-inch plywood with an 8-inch width. That’s why we don’t require a heavy double floor like the traditional slide-in triple-slides do.
A huge benefit of this approach is that our heated basement also heats the floor. To make the Denali 3S even stronger and better insulated, the interior paneling is spray foam insulated.
Jesse goes on to say that his use of spray foam insulation is in part for strength. The spray foam is said to bond the entire structure together from stud to stud. Jesse also touts the insulation benefits of spray foam, saying that it essentially makes the Rugged Mountain camper airtight. Of course, being airtight can cause condensation buildup, so the Denali 3S has thermal dual pane acrylic windows that can crack open to let the camper “breathe.” Helping to keep water out of the camper is a PVC roof and a fiberglass front cap.
Tons Of Features
The Denali 3S measures 20 feet, 6 inches. You get an interior height of 6 feet, 8 inches, and packed in that space are a ton of features. You’re getting 80 gallons for fresh water, 77 gallons for gray water, and 35 gallons for waste. The slide for the kitchen is 7 feet while the slide for the dining room is 6 feet. One more slide is situated in the rear and that one is 5 feet long. Rugged Mountain RV doesn’t say what the total floorspace adds up to, but it looks even more roomy than a Host camper.
The interior features an air-conditioner, a forced air furnace, and a full kitchen. Rugged Mountain says that the kitchen appliances are stainless steel and you get hardwood cabinet doors. Other interior features include a peel-and-stick backsplash, a stereo, a skylight, and Congoleum flooring. Really, the interior goodies of this camper aren’t much to write home about; you can get this stuff in other campers. Even the kitchen’s island, which is really neat, can be found in travel trailers nowadays.
What’s incredible here is the basement. Since this is a flatbed camper, Rugged Mountain RV has a massive 12-foot, 11-inch basement area under the floor for storage. Rugged Mountain RV says that from five feet forward, the basement holds the camper’s tanks and batteries. You can fill the camper with ten Group 27 batteries, three 360 Ah batteries, or up to 1,080 Ah of batteries in total. The company does note that the basement is heated, which means that the floor is also heated.
Rugged Mountain says it offers up to 400 Ah of batteries and the camper can support up to 1,050 W of solar power.
Lots Of Weight
All of this adds up to a base weight of 5,538 pounds. As I said before, when you start filling up the tanks and checking options, you’re looking at well over 7,500 pounds, and that’s before you even hitch a trailer to the back or throw your family into the truck’s cab. That’s why Jesse says that a Class 5 truck is absolutely necessary for this camper.
Also big is the cost. On the surface, this isn’t as crazy expensive as many of the RVs we’ve seen. The 2023 Rugged Mountain Denali 3S starts at $74,900 and Jesse says if you check every option, you’ll max out at $125,000. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need a dual rear wheel Class 5 truck. A Ram 5500 in the necessary configuration is about $56,985 before options. You’ll then need a flatbed installed, and Rugged Mountain recommends CM Truck Beds, which offers a non-skirted model for $6,000. Jesse expects customers to spend $80,000 or more on the truck.
So, unless you already have a Ford F-550 or similar on hand, this is a camper that will set you back six figures, if not a couple of multiples of six figures. But out of the other end, you’ll get an absolute beast of a camper to take your family on a trip with.
I do love some of the ideas at work here. I wish more campers had a residential-style interior design. Having easy access to the bathroom and beds is also a huge plus. But I’m not so sure about how huge the whole thing is.
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So, a Super C with more steps? (literally)
I can’t find a single thing I like about this rig. The first photo shows a ladder going up to the entry door. Seriously? I didn’t need to see any more. There are really a bunch of stupid RVs being built today, but this probably takes first place.
The slide out on the back looks a bit cockeyed
You mean to tell me this is cheaper than any one of the 4×4 Sprinter vans going for $150k, $200k-plus?
The wood frame means this is a tiny house. Put on a flatbed. Yay.
Talking of “mammoth” campers — Host themselves make one called the Mammoth that I think is bigger/heavier.
These are neat but you’re basically just building your own giant Class C with this — I doubt too many people are unloading them at the campsite then scooting their gargantuan 5500 series truck into the local tourist towns.
Yet another indicator as to why most Americans are into some serious debt. $80k camper paired to a $80k truck and you’ve got $160k combined not to mention the gas the truck is going to suck down trying to haul this thing around.
As a big RV nerd, thank you for the recent camper content. Typical RV content online is either vloggers heavy on the affiliate links or press releases masquerading as “news”. There is almost no interesting well written RV stuff out there that will appeal to a typical car enthusiast. It’s weird because we all like cars and we all live in houses – You would think RV’s that combine mediocre trucks with lousy homes would be a no brainer for subject matter. There are so many weird and interesting rigs to cover.
This particular one makes almost no sense. At this price point you’re getting into used expedition vehicle territory, or a nice 5th wheel or used class A. This thing will be the worst of all worlds – Not enough space to be spacious, too big to be nimble, unpleasant to drive… It’s a mess. I’m sure that there are just enough boomers out there dedicated to the truck camper concept that they will manage to sell some though. I’m always happy to see another independent RV company.
I think one major advantage over a Class A is you’re much better protected in a frontal impact in this setup vs. a Class A with a thin layer of timber and fiberglass in front of you.
Good point – Class A’s are indeed dangerous. They just disintegrate on impact and have little in the way of airbags or protection. I never understood why they were allowed on the road but people get wound up about Kei cars. We have a Born Free Class C – Their claim to fame is that they were the only RV company to incorporate not one, not two, but THREE full steel rollbars into the design of the “house”. They’re anchored to the floor (3/4″ ply wrapped in fiberglass) and not the frame, so I’m not sure how much protection they actually offer, but I can say that it is dramatically sturdier than most RV’s.
Y’know, I’ve really enjoyed the spate of recent truck-camper-related Mercedes content. I will occasionally see something like this going down the road, and wonder what it looks like inside, what people are paying for these things, and what the use case might be. But, as others have remarked, I remain puzzled by the cost/benefit relationship for what’s essentially a one-trick pony. The truck here now exists only in the service of hauling the camper, and if you’re going “camping” with this rig, you’re pretty limited by where you can actually park it.
As the long-term (18 years and counting) custodian of a ’79 VW Campmobile, I admit that I’m a bit biased, but all of this just seems like overkill. We’re raising three kids who’ve been camping out of this their whole lives at this point. Our bus can be parked in our smallish two-car garage next to our wagon, and fits easily into any open parking spot at the grocery store. Which brings me to the next major benefit, which is that it can (and has a various points) serve as a daily driver, hauler of appliances and landscape materials, general runabout, and beloved roadtrip machine — provided that you’re not in too much of a hurry. All while maintaining the ability to sleep two adults upstairs, two adults downstairs, and two smallish children in the cot over the front seats, with maybe five minutes of total setup/teardown time. The use of space is incredibly efficient.
I guess the closest modern analogue would be a Sprinter conversion, but good luck getting one in your garage or parking easily in any regular-size spot. And there are a few niche minivan conversions that come close, but none that replicate the flat floor and compact packaging afforded by the cab-forward, rear-engine configuration that VW perfected all those years ago. And no, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about the new ID4, either, given the buy-in cost and fundamental lack of range.
Anyway, thanks for showing us this stuff, Mercedes. If you need me, I’ll be over here adjusting the valves on this type 4 motor.
I like the concept. That said, as built, it really is the worst of both worlds.
A Ram 5500 can pull 34k. I cannot find an off-the-shelf trailer that weighs that much so we can find a new truck to use. A Ram 3500 Laramie (2nd highest trim) with a loadout that can tow 14,000 is $81,775. A Jayco Eagle fifth wheel is 11,000lbs, sleeps 8, and runs about $95k on the lot. Total cost, $176k. More features, roughly $24k cheaper.
Unless you absolutely positively cannot get a trailer, there is no reason to choose this.
I’m a skeptic too, but, this can go a lot of places that a 35+ foot Jayco can’t.
The only real argument to get one of these is if you want a lot of luxury in a compact space. Need compact size, get a Sprinter. Need luxury, get a fifth-wheel.
I just don’t see there being much of a market inside those two circles.
I can’t imagine driving this in remotely windy conditions.
I guess if you’re moderately wealthy retired Boomers who spend the summer (or winter) at the same private campground and already have a flatbed truck use case like a farm this could make sense. I mean, I’d love to have one, but I’m pretty sure I’d blow that kind of money on a fast car or lake house before choosing one of these hulking wonderful things.
Is a Ram 5500 actually any larger than say, a Grand Wagoneer L? Serious not serious question.
Yes, crew cab long bed trucks are much longer than SUVs, and chassis cabs are longer still.
You can spec a 5500 with a 200+” wheelbase, which is a full 6 feet longer than the Jeep.
A feeble attempt at irony. I live in an area where the tiniest people drive the largest possible vehicles to Starbucks each day and it never ceases to amaze and disgust me.
Could an Isuzu NPR or NQR be made to work? Either the single cab and/or the crew cab?
Possibly, the cab maybe too tall though.
This is the worst of all worlds. Plz stop.
It is an extremely cool camper, but I’m curious if there is any market for this thing. I doubt those who own a medium duty work truck want to use it for road trips. I’m also confident very few people want to buy a medium duty work truck to tote their camper. Will anyone actually buy this thing?
There will be. Some people have used chassis-cab trucks for campers in the past. A small market can still be profitable.
I can see how the essentially load-bearing floor/wall design could allow for this camper to be removed from the truck and set on a suitable structural platform or perimeter support at a campsite. So you could, conceivably (at further cost and complexity…), have a camper you could drive cross country as well as set down at a seasonal site (assuming they allowed something unusual like that) or a privately owned site (more $$$…) and then drive the truck around separately. There’s probably a market for that, but it’s going to be small.
Most people will just go with a super-C and dinghy-tow a small car or SUV.
This is weird. Aside from the crew cab, this is a lot like what the RV industry calls a “Super (class) C” except there’s no opening from the driving compartment to the living space. And I’m guessing that there’s no such thing as a “cutaway cab” with 4 doors.
I’m glad there are people who can afford these, but I ain’t one.
Oh that’s a very good point! I’m trying to figure out who this is for, aside from people who already have a 550/5500 truck. Otherwise, just get a Super C?
A million slides and an all wood frame just sounds like a terrible idea to me. The proper choice for a 4door pickup based RV is the Bengal Tiger.
oooh that is pretty cool
Right? You can spec the truck out however you want too and they work with Ford, GM, and Ram. It’s probably slightly too small for my needs, but its really well thought out and perfect for serious off road use.
People who have a big trailer, maybe a trailer for a racing or off-road vehicle, and do not want the mess and stink (said lovingly) of a toy hauler trailer.
As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, every RV is a compromise.
Yeah, to me the appeal of the truck campers is having a useable vehicle when you aren’t camping.
A 5500 flatbed truck is not really very useable; even a 3500 dually is a Cadillac by comparison.
Super cool to basically be the ultimate expression of a camper style, but pretty limited in the real world I’d say.
It sits on a service body. You can still use it similar to a pickup bed.
Sorry, I meant “useable” as in “daily-driveable”. No one I can think of is going to want to drive a 5500 flatbed around town.
You underestimate Santa Clarita dads wanting to drive the biggest vehicle in the Home Goods parking lot
Here in Houston, land of cheap gas, people with DD the shit out of that thing. Also it can easily tow a boat or an SXS and then you have a base camp, a hunting rig and a go to town vehicle- or boat. There is an absolute use case for this thing.