Have a Truck? Ditch the Camper Shell for a Softopper

I’ve had a handful of pickup trucks in my life and every single one has ended up topped with a fiberglass camper shell. It’s always the same process. I buy the truck with an open bed, fantasizing about all the cool truck stuff I can do back there. Then I drive around for a couple weeks marveling at the visibility without a shell, and enjoying the truckiness of the open bed. But then I go camping and, welp, first time I stop on the road for a bite to eat I realize here’s all my nice camp gear just free for the taking. Or, my gear gets soaked in the rain or snow. So I buy a shell. Then I immediately miss the open bed. Crap. 

Not anymore!

Last spring, I bought a Softopper. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a soft-sided topper for a pickup. But it comes with one incredibly cool trick—it’s collapsible. When the Softopper is in topper mode, you unfasten the cover (it attaches to the bedrails with snaps) and fold the whole thing down, either toward the front or rear of your bed, depending on truck model. When you want the cover again, simply fold it back and refasten the cover into topper mode. Takes just a few minutes to convert, and it’s simple for one person. Magic. 

In the summer, or when camping way out in the boonies, I often run mine in what Softopper calls safari style. The sides of the topper roll up and can be fastened into place beneath the roof, so you get easy access to the truck bed, and you have shade above. I’ve had this setup at 80 mph on the highway and everything stays nice and tight. 

Safari mode! Keeps sun off your gear, allows easy access. Photo: Jackson Casimiro

Here’s a good look at the aluminum frame. Lightweight, super easy to collapse and extend. You can also see the clamps that attach to the both the aluminum rail the topper attaches to, and the bed of your truck. Installation took me 45 minutes. Photo: Casimiro

The Softopper is made from 2-Ply Laminated and PVC-coated Sailcloth stretched over an aluminum frame. The cover material is waterproof, though the seams *may* leak a little, so Softopper includes a tube of seam seal with each topper. I’ve had mine through all four seasons now and it looks and feels brand new. The material is burly. I’ll get some water in the bed during heavy rains, but that’s just from where there are small gaps in the coverage that I could easily remedy by reattaching the Softopper to close the gaps. 

You can pick whether your topper has windows or not, you can add zipper access on the sides of the topper, you can even order a mesh panel for the rear window so your doggo can get some air back there. I replaced the clear window panel in the rear of mine with a tinted panel recently — the panels attach with Velcro and/or zippers, making swap outs easy peasy. 

Rear panel rolls up too, which can be nice for airflow and so you can stick long things like surfboards back there. Photo: Justin Housman

There is of course, one drawback here you won’t find with a fiberglass shell. There’s no way to lock it. Anybody can waltz up and unzip the rear panel, unless you DIY some kind of padlock situation. Plus, even if you figure that out, someone could cut into the fabric with a knife.

So no, I’m not parking my truck in a busy urban area overnight with things I care about in the back, with only the Softopper as protection. But, and maybe I’m being naive, would-be thieves are far less likely to unzip the back of your Softopper to see what’s inside than they are to grab something easily visible from an open truck bed. Right before I got my Softopper, I had a cooler stolen from the bed of my truck while I was fishing a stream nearby. I’m 100% convinced that wouldn’t have happened had it been hidden behind a closed Softopper. 

Softoppers are model and year specific, but the company says they make nearly 1,800 options, so it’s likely you can find one for your rig. A neighbor has one on his early 90s 4Runner, so you can even get them for vintage trucks. 

They’re not cheap, at about $1,000, but that’s roughly one-third of what you’ll pay for a fiberglass shell. But you get so much more utility with the Softopper. It’s an easy call for me. 

 

Words and top photo by: Justin Housman

 

 

 

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