Overlanding Q&A: Jason Bontrager, Founder & CEO, Skinny Guy Campers

Overlanding Q&A: Jason Bontrager, Founder & CEO, Skinny Guy Campers

Today, overlanding rigs are as unique as their owners, with adventure-seekers hitting the road in everything from fully off-grid, all-terrain beasts to rooftop tent-equipped family SUVs. And as more overlanders – whether beginners or seasoned veterans – travel on their own terms, intrepid companies are entering the space with products designed specifically for convenience and comfort.

One such company is Indiana-based Skinny Guy Campers, which has rapidly gained a devoted following among overlanders for its self-contained truck bed campers. Compatible with most North American pick-up trucks, Skinny Guy Campers are fully outfitted with heat, light, water, and power – everything the convenience-minded traveler needs to hit the trails. 

Recently, Hawkes caught up with Jason Bontrager, Founder & CEO of Skinny Guy Campers, to discuss his company, the design process, dream overlanding trips and much more.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Skinny Guy Campers got started? 

Skinny Guy Campers was born out of a desire for better camping products to be built. Donavon [Fredrickson] (D) and I both grew up in the RV industry and we watched as the products that we built and sold slowly deteriorated in quality over time. It was a slow spiral downwards. Typically an industry will improve the overall quality of its products and move it towards nearly maintenance-free products (think the auto industry and Toyota). The RV industry, however, was going in the opposite direction.  

Donavon and I started Skinny Guy Campers in the latter part of 2019. In early 2019, D, our friend Chris, my dad, and I went on a hunting trip to New Zealand. While there, we had a lot of downtime and had many chances to discuss the current state of the industry, what we were doing for business, and what we thought lay ahead of us in this journey called life. It was there that Donavon and I discussed different ideas and ambitions and we found that our visions aligned very well. Donavon had some preliminary, hand-drawn parts and upon return from NZ, he began sourcing parts and assembling the original prototype in his Quonset hut (barn) in Montana. As he went, he would update me on his progress through messages, voicemails, videos, and photos.  

During this time I was still contemplating what was next for me, therefore was still looking at other businesses to buy or start as I was unsure if the SGC was going to work. In late 2019, I went out to visit Donavon and found that he had brought to life what he had envisioned. His product checked several of the boxes that I desired in a product in which I was involved. I shook his hand and said, “Let’s Do This!”  That is how Skinny Guy Campers was started.  

We didn’t form the business until 2020, but that is when and where it started.

How did the design process go? What overlanding problems were you looking to solve, and what was the gap in the market you specifically targeted?

Frankly, we weren’t thinking much about any industry or targeted market when we designed the product. We thought much more about what we wanted in a small lightweight camper that would fit on the back of our trucks.

With that said, some of the overlanding problems that the Skinny Guy Camper does solve are:

  • The ability to park your truck with the SGC on it. If your truck fits in your garage, your truck with SGC on it will most likely fit.
  • Narrow trail access. Our product is very aerodynamic and lightweight so there isn’t much issue with a truck and SGC going anywhere. Most truck campers and on-bed overland campers are very bulky.
  • You don’t have to tow anything to have a great camping experience.
  • The camper living space isn’t way up at the height of the truck cab or on a roof-top roof rack like a roof-top tent system.
  • You can stand up inside to get cleaned up and dressed.
  • It allows the customer to retain and use their tailgate and storage below the camper for what they want to lock inside.
  • If you need your hitch for your primary activity (pulling a boat, ATVs/UTVs, etc.) you can still bring a camper along on your truck that allows you to retain the use of your hitch and doesn’t impact your miles per gallon (MPGs) at all.

Can you describe the core Skinny Guy Campers buyer? What draws them to a Skinny Guy Camper versus an RV or trailer? 

Anyone who wants a very handy tool for traveling in their truck without the need to sleep at a hotel. Anyone who wants to explore the deepest, hardest trails and needs a quiver killer camper. If their truck can go where they want to go, their truck with a Skinny Guy Camper on it, it will be able to go there.

What does overlanding mean to you?

Overlanding is taking the trail less travelled and giving yourself enough time to be present and enjoy the experience.  It means turning a cheek to the highway and taking the off-road route.

Can you describe your dream overlanding trip?

Driving an AEV Prospector XL with an SGC Model 6.5 with KnK Trim and PrimoLoo from Fairbanks, AK to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina with my dad.

Learn more about Skinny Guy Campers at skinnyguycampers.com. Interested in a Skinny Guy Camper-outfitted Hawkes vehicle? Drop us a line.
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