An inside look at the Ford powered Earthroamer

Apr. 01, 2004 By Desertbull

The EarthRoamer XV Xpedition Vehicle has been years in development by Earthroamer Founder Bill Swails and President/CEO Michele Connolly. During the last two months has had a privileged look inside the incredible machine known as the Earthroamer Xpedition Vehicle. And ORC readers had a chance to go one-on-one with EarthRoamer Founder Bill Swails himself during an interview with ORC staffers. And now going one step further, we present to you a tremendously detailed article direct from Bill Swails and EarthRoamer President, Michele Connolly as they address the most common questions directly to you via

Many thanks to Michele and Bill for taking the time to detail many of the important aspects of the EarthRoamer Xpedition Vehicles for our off-road readers! Visit EarthRoamer at

EarthRoamer XVs: Systems Make the Rig
by Michele Connolly and Bill Swails, EarthRoamer founders

We frequently get asked, what makes your vehicle different from RVs of similar size. This question is often difficult to answer, not because we can’t clearly define how it is different, but rather because the list of items is SO LONG! We’ll do our best to briefly describe the systems on EarthRoamer Xpedition Vehicles (XVs) and why they are better suited to get you off the beaten path.

There are probably as many ideas about what defines the ultimate expedition camper as there are people who dream of owning one, so we’ll start with our requirements for an expedition camper.

In its simplest form, we wanted an expedition camper that would allow us to:

1. Travel safely and reliably to remote places, even on very rough roads and trails
2. Travel comfortably at highway speeds with up to four adults seated in a spacious cab
3. Enjoy a secure and weatherproof shelter with all of the comforts of home
4. Be totally self-contained and independent of external water or power hookups.

While the concept is simple, designing and building an expedition vehicle that meets these objectives is very challenging.

Using a diesel 4x4 extended cab American made truck as the foundation of our original Dodge Ram based expedition camper proved to be an excellent choice. An American made truck is easily serviced throughout the western hemisphere, and offers on road and highway speed comfort and capability. The extended cab provides for carrying additional passengers or provides easily accessible space for equipment such as camera gear. We found that four-wheel drive, single rear wheels and a relatively narrow width are the most important attributes for traveling on remote roads. Back roads in the US, Canada and Mexico are frequently very narrow making dual rear wheeled vehicles impractical due to their increased width. Dual rear wheels are also a problem on rough trails since the dual rear wheels do not follow the track of the front wheels, and rocks have a tendency to wedge between the dual tires resulting in tire damage.

Other choices were more difficult. Should we go with an automatic or manual transmission? What wheelbase would be short enough to give good off-road capability but still provide the load carrying capacity to carry enough food, fuel, water and gear? Which brand of truck and (equally important) which engine should we go with.


Designing the XV-LT/Ford F-450 platform

After carefuly evaluating the truck platforms offered by Dodge, Ford and GM, Ford quickly rose to the top of our list. Out of the three major diesel light truck manufacturers, Ford is the only one to offer a cab-chassis truck with a four seat extended cab. The cab-chassis has straight frame rails, which greatly simplifies camper design and allows for a larger interior standup height. The F-450 also has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 15,000 pounds and a gross combined vehicle weight rating (GCVWR) of 26,000, which would give us to an estimated 2,500 pound payload and a towing capability of up to 12,500 pounds. If the 15,000 pound GVWR wasn’t enough, we could step up to an F-550 with a 17,500 pound GVWR.

The balance between having a camper that is large enough to carry gear and be comfortable, yet small enough to travel to be maneuverable is delicate. In our experience, a vehicle with an overall length of around 23 feet is very capable and maneuverable, but still large enough to provide spacious living quarters – even on extended trips. With a 60 in cab to axel, 162-inch wheelbase F-450 cab chassis, we could build an expedition camper that would meet our length criteria. The low straight frame rails of the chassis cab, enabled a camper design with a six foot six inch standup height.

Ford Super Duty’s come with straight axels and manually locking hubs, which we prefer when four-wheeling. Finally, the new 6.0-liter Ford engine has the highest torque and horsepower in its class, providing an incredible 560 foot-pounds of torque and 325 horsepower. After driving the new 6.0-liter with the 5-speed Torqshift transmission, we were sold; this thing hauls!

After debuting our new XV-LT at Ford’s Centennial celebration in Detroit in June, we spent the next three months crisscrossing the country showing our F-450 based expedition camper. During this period, we accumulated over 15,000 miles on our truck, and even managed a couple of off-road trips. Our initial infatuation with the new 6.0-liter engine and five-speed Torqshift transmission has grown into a serious love affair. The 560 foot-pounds of torque, expanded gear ratios of the five-speed tranny, tow haul mode and massive brake calipers make for a truck with amazing acceleration, low end grunt, highway cruising speed and amazing stopping power. This truck drives and handles more like a sports car than a serious truck with a 15,000 GVWR. Off-road, the King off road shocks soak up the boulders, and the Goodyear MTR’s provide awesome traction.

Structural Design

Many RVs are pieced together using a metal or wood frame structure with many seams, and aluminum, plastic or fiberglass skin. Foam or fiberglass insulation is often used in-between the framing to provide insulation. This can result in a structure with water leaks and poor insulation.

For the EarthRoamer™ XV-LT body, we used a molded monocoque design that is completely weatherproof and very lightweight. The carbon fiber reinforced body is structurally robust and is constructed of a fiberglass sandwich with a structural foam core, using the same techniques used to construct many high-end yachts and aircraft. This composite laminate shell is lightweight, extremely strong, and provides excellent thermal and acoustic insulation properties. Unlike wood structures it can never rot.

The combined bathroom and shower has a small wash basin and is trimmed in teak.

To ensure structural integrity in demanding rough road conditions, we incorporated a tried and proven triangular mounting system to isolate the camper from torsional loads caused by frame flex. The front camper mounts were mounted to the truck frame using urethane mounts to isolate vibrations. The single rear mount is on a pivot to allow the frame to flex without transferring torsional loads to the camper. Isolating the camper from torsional and vibration forces allows it to withstand extended periods of travel in demanding rough road conditions without damaging the interior components and cabinetry.



Typical RVs rely on propane, generators, and external hook-ups to provide the necessary power to function. Generators are frequently loud and only provide power when running. Many campgrounds prohibit the use of generators after certain hours. Any appliances that rely on generator current to run will not be operational unless the generator is running. Frequently the most scenic and desirable campsites can be found in national forests, national parks, state parks, and remote areas with no hook-ups.

We designed the EarthRoamer XV-LT for stand-alone power operation. All heating and cooking is done with high efficiency diesel appliances. The thermostatically controlled forced air diesel furnace will easily maintain a comfortable interior temperature even in the coldest weather. Our prototype vehicles have been in 10 degree below zero weather in Colorado and the diesel furnace easily maintained an interior temperature over 70 degrees. In the winter there is no need to drain water tanks to prevent freezing, just set the thermostat to maintain a cozy camper temperature. The diesel furnace only burns .06 gallons of diesel fuel per hour at the highest output level.

For a cook stove we chose a ceramic cook-top diesel stove. It burns less than .05 gallons of diesel per hour at the highest heat level, burns cleanly, exhausts to the outside and only draws .15 amps of 12-volt power. With no open flame it is safe, and the smooth cook top is easy to clean.

While propane appliances are ubiquitous in RVs, we decided not to use propane for several reasons. First and foremost is safety. Propane is a volatile and potentially dangerous fuel. Since propane is heavier than air, if a propane leak develops in an RV the propane can accumulate at the bottom of the camper until an ignition source ignites it. An open propane cooking flame in the relatively tight space of a camper is also a risk. It can be easy to accidentally ignite a paper towel or paper plate with an open propane flame in the relatively tight space of a camper. Additionally, a gallon of propane only has about 65% of the energy content of a gallon of diesel fuel, so much more propane must be carried to get the same energy content as diesel fuel; a waste of both space and energy.

Reliance on propane can cause many annoyances. When propane is burned, one of the byproducts is water vapor, which contributes to excessive humidity and condensation inside the camper. When traveling on most ferries (including Alaska Marine Highway and British Columbia ferries) propane tanks must be sealed closed. RVs that depend on propane for refrigeration will have no refrigeration while on these ferries. Propane can be difficult to find in remote areas, and it’s difficult to top off a partially full tank. We decided to “just say no” to propane and to use only diesel and el
ectric appliances for heating, cooking and refrigeration in the XV-LT.

Camper battery power is provided by two 255 amp-hour absorbed glass mat batteries for a total of 510 amp hours of capacity. The advantages of AGM batteries are that they require no maintenance, withstand shock and vibration better than any standard battery, are sealed against hydrogen leakage and spilling even if they are broken, and can survive most freezes. AGM batteries are “recombinant” – which means the oxygen and hydrogen recombine inside the battery. The recombining is typically more than 99% efficient, so almost no water is lost. Since the internal resistance is extremely low, there is almost no heating of the battery even under heavy charge and discharge currents. AGM batteries have a very low self-discharge rate, so they can sit in storage for long periods without discharging.

These batteries are charged by two 185-watt solar panels located on top of the camper, and when the engine is running dual 130 amp alternators provide plenty of charging power. When camping or parked, power is provided by the camper batteries and the roof mounted solar panels. These single crystal 185 watt modules feature 17.5% encapsulated cell efficiency and 14.2% module efficiency – the highest efficiency commercially available. Using breakthrough technology perfected in the space cell program, these modules allow for maximum usable power per square foot of solar array. Safe, clean, reliable sources of energy, these photovoltaic modules are designed for large electrical power requirements. Based on the technology of crystal silicon solar cells developed over 35 years, this module has superb durability to withstand rigorous operating conditions. A solar charge controller controls solar power and 12 volt power is distributed through a marine circuit breaker panel. The solar panels and batteries easily have enough power to run the refrigerator, air conditioner, convection microwave, lights, water pump, fan, coffee maker, and laptop computer. On the rare occasions that more power is required than the solar panels can replenish during extended stays in camp, a simple idle of the engine will recharge the camper battery. Sufficient power is simply not a problem.

By using solar panels, large alternators, large batteries and efficient appliances, the need for a generator has been completely eliminated. This results in a camper that is much more convenient to use and frees up valuable space normally taken by the generator. The camping experience is much more enjoyable without the noise of a loud generator.

Like most RVs, one of the earlier EarthRoamer prototypes used a 3-way absorption refrigerator (propane, 12 volt dc and 110 ac), which was a constant source of frustration. When running on 12 volt, the absorption refrigerator drew too much power for the camper battery making 12-volt power only practical while driving. The propane flame would go out while driving, which meant that propane could only be used while stationary. This resulted in a constant need to switch between 12-volt and propane, or the refrigerator would no longer run and food would spoil. Another problem with our absorption refrigerator is that it had to be level or it would not cool properly. Refrigeration was a constant problem with the 3-way refrigerator in the EarthRoamer prototype, and on more than one occasion the end result was a dead camper battery or spoiled food.

For the EarthRoamer™ XV-LT we chose a high efficiency 7.0 cubic foot 12-volt compressor refrigerator/freezer that only draws 5.0 amps when it is running. This refrigerator solves all propane related refrigeration problems and even has a separate freezer compartment. The solar panels and battery easily keep up with the refrigerator, so you can let your stocked refrigerator run all the time and be ready to head out on an adventure on a moments notice.

The EarthRoamer™ XV-LT uses a cassette toilet waste handling system popular with European camper designs. By using a cassette toilet, exposure to waste is minimized and waste disposal is simplified. The waste holding cassette is accessible via an access door from the outside of the camper, and it is simply removed and emptied at a dump station, conventional toilet, or pit toilet. The black water tank within the cassette has a capacity of 5 gallons. The more frequent need to dispose of waste associated with this smaller tank is easily offset by the convenience of emptying it. There is no large waste tank to empty and no sewage hose to handle, and no complex black water system to maintain and repair.

Water Supply

Adequate fresh water capacity is essential for extended remote camping, and so we decided on a minimum 50-gallon standard freshwater supply (with the option to upgrade to 100 gallons). A dual filtration system and guidelines for chlorinating the water are supplied to help ensure water quality. In addition, all water tanks including the fresh, gray and black water tanks are located inside heated compartments in the camper enabling camping in below freezing weather with all water systems operational. To prepare for a trip, simply fill the water tanks via the gravity water fills located on the passenger side of the vehicle.


By eliminating the space normally required for propane tanks and a generator, the EarthRoamer™ XV-LT we were able to provide over 75 cubic feet of storage space – a storage volume we believe to be unmatched by any similar sized RV. This space along with an estimated payload capacity of 2,000 pounds will allow us to carry supplies, gear, tools, spare parts and sporting equipment for extended trips.

With the permanent over cab loft, and lower convertible bunk, sleeping space is provided for four adults.

The total interior cabinet storage space is 53 cubic feet providing plenty of space for storing clothing, food, pots, pans, photography equipment, laptop computers and supplies required for an extended expedition. The entire interior camper back wall is comprised of two cabinets: one with drawers and one with flexible, space ideal for hanging clothes and storing equipment cases. The first cabinet provides over 11 cubic feet of drawer space and the clothes closet provides over 27 cubic feet of storage. A slide out pantry provides over 9 cubic feet of easily accessible storage for food and supplies, and the refrigerator freezer will hold 6.3 cubic feet cold beverages and food.

The total exterior storage space is about 24 cubic feet in three separate lockable storage compartments. The back of the camper houses a 12 cubic foot outside accessible storage space for large long items like skis or fishing rods and bulky items such as tents, folding chairs, barbeque grills, tool boxes and inflatable kayaks. This space is approximately 86 inches wide by 20 inches tall by 12 inches deep. The door hinges at the bottom and opens to form a work surface. Within the compartment are external shower controls ideal for beach showers, washing off gear or cleaning fish. Above the long storage space are two additional compartments, each with an addition storage space of approximately 6 cubic feet.

The solar panels, roof hatch and vent fans can be located along the driver side of the roof to allow for roof top carrying of long, relatively lightweight items like a canoe or kayaks. The spare tire is a hard mount point for heavy or bulky items like fuel cans, mountain bikes or kayaks. The Class V receiver hitch can also be used for bike carriers or a motorcycle carrier. The 560 foot pound torque rating of the diesel engine and the class V receiver hitch will enable pulling of a boat, ATV, horse or camping trailer weighing up to 12,000 pounds.

We designed the interior space of the EarthRoamer™ XV-LT to be “flexible” to accommodate performing various tasks. The interior space can be quickly reconfigured depending on the task requirements. For example, the seatbacks of each bench seat doubles as a flip up counter. When preparing a meal or whenever additional workspace is required, simply drop down the seat cushion and flip up the counter. In the galley area, when the granite seat back is flipped up, the entire counter is over 6 feet long.

The dinette table located between the bench seats has “flip up” leaves that allows us to reduce the size of the table for occasions when only two people are eating, and to provide easy in and out access to the bench seats. When the table is fully extended, the table spans the space between the bench seats to provide comfortable dining for four. In the extended position, the table can be rotated 90 degrees and lowered to covert into a second bed 40” x 80” in size. A permanent king sized bed is located over the cab so a bed is always available without taking up or converting other camper space. Sleeping space for up to four adults is available. Ample headroom above the over cab bed allows this space to double as a lounge area for watching television.

The entry door to the wet-bath and the closet door are designed be opened and latched together to form a changing room with easy access to dry towels and clean clothes located in the closet.

With the EarthRoamer™ XV-LT, efficient space utilization and thoughtful design provide a highly functional and spacious interior, even though the exterior camper dimensions are relatively small by RV standards. The interior of the camper has the look and feel of an upscale yacht. Light colored wood expands the space and leather-like vinyl seat cushions combined with high-end appliances and counters deliver the comforts of home in a functional, durable and easy to clean space. A very generous interior standing height of 6 foot 6 inches contributes to the spaciousness.

XV-LT Summary

The best one-word description of the EarthRoamer™ XV-LT is freedom. The XV-LT gives you the freedom to travel confidently and comfortably anywhere you want, whenever you want, without concern for the weather or season. Whether it’s a long weekend at the lake or an extended trip to South America, the XV-LT is the civilized way to escape civilization.

It’s the freedom to head out on a trail in the middle of Baja to a pristine secluded beach. It’s the freedom to camp safely with all the comforts of home high in the mountains – in the middle of winter! It’s the freedom to hit the road for a four-month expedition to Alaska and wake up to a different beautiful scene outside your window every morning. Fishing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, hunting, mountain biking, hiking, photography, surfing, boating, racing – no matter what your passion, the EarthRoamer™ XV-LT is the perfect base camp. The XV-LT expedition vehicle provides the freedom to escape the stresses of everyday life and lets you enjoy nature in peaceful isolation. With an EarthRoamer™ XV-LT you truly can “Live Your Dream!”

Our XV-LT is built on an F-450 Super Cab converted to single rear wheels – but for customers who need more cab space, more towing capacity or dual rear wheels – we offer any combination of F-450, F-550, SuperCab, Crew Cab, single rear wheels or dual rear wheels. Our only requirement is that the base Ford truck be a 60 cab to axle chassis cab, with a Power Stroke diesel engine. Whether you’re off on an expedition to hit trails in South America, or looking for a quality rig to tow your heavy boat or horse trailer on the highway, we can build an XV-LT to meet your needs.



The EarthRoamer XV-LT wouldn’t be possible without the technical assistance and incredible products of some of the world’s best companies.

ATS Diesel Performance
These guys are the diesel power experts and provide EarthRoamer with ongoing technical support.

Supplies core structural foam and solutions for our composite sandwich XV-LT body that is light, strong, and provides good insulation

Builds the incredible Ford F series Super Duty Chassis Cabs that are the foundation of the XV-LT.

Manufacturers the best tire we’ve found for both on and off-highway driving.

Hella HIDs light the way for EarthRoamer.

Builds the best high efficiency 12 volt compressor refrigerator that we have found

Provides the most efficient solar panels and air conditioner we can find for the XV-LT. Also provides the incredible Aquos LCD TV; the brightest, clearest flat panel TV we have ever seen and our convection microwave oven.

Provides the perfect solution for our XV-LT waste management system

T-Rex Engineering
These guys are the experts when it comes to suspension tuning. Want to make your big, heavy Super Duty handle everything from expansion joints to the back roads of Baja? T-Rex can design a suspension system using King Off-Road shocks that will tackle any terrain.

Ute Ltd.
Distributes the coolest looking, lightest and strongest heavy duty aluminum bullbar (bumper) on the market Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!