As I have covered in many of my previous posts, there are tons of things that the Toyota Tacoma is good at. If there are two things I’ve tried to drive home, it’s that these trucks are great offroad and great at hauling. Camper shells can be a fantastic addition to make those two points even better.
What are the most common uses for camper shells?
When it comes to camper shells on the back of a pickup, there two main reasons for having them: storage and lodging. Whether you are overlanding for the week, going on a weekend camping trip, or just need a place to rest for the night during a long road trip, camper shells are an excellent option. They give you extra room to stretch out and keep you safe from the elements.
Perhaps you don’t want to sleep in the appropriately named “bed” of your truck. Maybe you just want more storage volume? Tonneau covers seal off the top of your bed, and that’s it. A camper shell allows for usually double or more volume of safe, dry, and secure storage space.
Which camper shell is right for your Tacoma?
There are five main categories for camper shells: cab high, high-rise, commercial, pop-ups, and full-size campers.
Cab High Tacoma Camper Shells
These shells reach the height of your cab’s roofline to provide a smooth and streamlined look to the back of your truck. These are generally made of light material such as fiberglass. Less expensive models are made out of cloth material with a metal frame.
Often on the sides of the shell are windows, but here there are optional models that are solid without them. The side windows can either be fixed, sliding, swing up with hydraulics, or a combination of the last two. The rear is most commonly a hatch window on hydraulics, similar to the back of many SUVs. There are some with “barn doors” that involve replacing your tailgate with two vertical doors. Cab highs are easy to install, light, cheaper, and can be painted or come painted to match your truck! It’s also common for roof racks to be mounted to the top of the shell for ever more storage.
High-rise Tacoma Camper Shells
These shells are pretty much the same as the cab high shells but are taller. Generally these are higher towards the rear of the truck to allow for a more aerodynamic shape overall. The rear is generally the same as well with either a hatch window or barn doors. Depending on the manufacturer, roof racks may not always be able to be mounted on the tops of these due to curvature of the roofline.
Commercial Tacoma Camper Shells
These shells are great if you are using your truck for utility purposes. These are generally crafted out of metal and have many storage compartments and shelves built into the sides and inside/bed are. These are durable and versatile. Racks on top are common for more storage and hauling capabilities. Don’t expect these to be pretty or in a wide range of colors. Commercial camper shells are utilitarian first and foremost but can be customized to anything you want with the right budget and imagination.
Pop-up Tacoma Camper Shells
These shells really bring home the term “camper.” There is a fine line between calling these a pop-up camper, and a pop-up camper shell, but they are worth noting since they may come up in your searches. These shells are designed for you to live in. When collapsed, they are generally the same height as your cab, or perhaps a bit taller at most. When extended, they are a few feet higher and have the amenities of a small RV or camper van. You can find a bed, shelves, and some more expensive models might even have things like a sink. These are not designed to be permanently lived in, but they are great for overlanding or weekend trips if you want a place to stay off the ground.
Full-size Tacoma Camper Shells
These shells are for those extreme weekend campers. These are very tall, and very bulky. Size varies, but for the most part, they are what a pop-up is, but always extended. Generally there is also a section that hangs over your cab. They are not cheap, and they are not for everyday use. They are also not a good selection for overlanding due to their size.
While these technically come on and off easily in terms of mounting, the size and weight almost make them a “permanent” installation. They are significantly cheaper compared to a full-sized RV or camper van, so if you have an old Tacoma laying around and like to drive up the mountains on the weekends to go camping, this could be a great option for you. Keep in mind that many of these are custom ordered.
Now that we have camper shell types out of the way, what are some good brands our fellow Taco drivers like?
A lot of drivers on the forums tend to like the ARE line of shells. They make many different models including cab high, high-rise, and commercial models. They offer the ability to custom make your own as well. One of the more popular models is the cab high “Overland,” which features a bedliner type spray in some of the areas that may encounter the most stress. This will increase the life and durability of the shell. They are around $2000 depending on the options and models.
Another popular model is the SnugTop Rebel. While SnugTop also makes many different cab high and high-rise models, the Rebel offers a perfect color-matched option with all of the windows and locks you need. They are around the same price as the ARE Overland, so it comes down to personal taste.
Commercial shells are generally boring and utilitarian, but forum users are really loving what you can do with Tradesman Truck Toppers. While starting at around $2000, the price can quickly increase, but you have complete customization. These are generally built to order, and some people have gotten very creative with them for overlanding excursions. Since commercial toppers are generally high-rise and have lots of storage, these are great for your camping and overlanding trips.
When it comes to a hybrid model of a high-rise and camper, folks seem to turn to the AT Overland models: Summit, Habitat, and Atlas. While much more expensive (up to around $7000 depending on the model and options), these look great, are of excellent quality, and very versatile. They give you the storage space of a cab high but have a very large tent on top that can easily be deployed. You can make the bed like the inside of a camper as your weekend getaway truck, or leave that area for daily use, but always have a tent ready for when you want to go camping!
Like most things regarding your Tacoma, there are so many options. It all depends on your budget, and what you plan on doing with your truck. From daily use to offroading, to overlanding, and looking good while doing it, there are options for you!
Cab High and ARE Overland Model: Tacoma World User “vuTron”
Commercial and Tradesman Truck Topper Model: Tacoma World User “Toynado”
Camper and AT Habitat Model: Tacoma World User “excorcist”