EP72 | RVing to Overlanding:  The Inspiration and story behind Skinny Guy Campers

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Episode Description:  

What do you get when two guys who grew up knee-deep in the RVing industry decide they want to build a compact, well-constructed truck camper perfect for vehicle-based adventuring and overlanding? The “Skinny Guy Camper” of course!

For this episode, we sit down with Skinny Guy Campers co-founders, Jason Bontrager and Donavon Fredrickson along with Chief Operating Officer and co-owner, Austin Bontrager to discuss what it looks like to take your dream for an innovative product from an idea to a manufactured reality. 

The grandson of Jayco RV founder, Lloyd Bontrager, Jason knows a thing or two about RVs but his passion has always been for remote, overland-style camping far away from parking lots and established campgrounds. The son of the owner of one of Jayco’s most successful dealerships, Donavon Fredrickson (aka “Skinny Guy”) has always shared the same passion. That’s why these two teamed up to build an all-new truck camper concept manifested in the “Skinny Guy Camper.” 

Along with telling the story of the business they built, these two and Austin share details about the SGC that make it unique to the degree of having its own patent. An R.V.I.A. (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) certification, a patented jack system, the ability to fit on nearly any platform of pickup–and even a flushable toilet? Somehow, this team has found a way to make it happen. 

It’s been far from easy though, and Donavon, Jason, and Austin still face new challenges every day as they press on to bridge the gap between the amenities of an RV and the rugged reliability of a compact overlanding platform. 

Detailed Episode Summary

Part 1 (0:40-10:19) From RVing to Overlanding:  We welcome Donavon Fredrickson and Jason and Austin Bontrager of Skinny Guy Campers onto the podcast. We begin our conversation by discussing the family history that led these three to pursue their business dream of founding SGC. The grandson of Jayco RV founder, Lloyd Bontrager, Jason grew up in the world of RVing. As the son of the owner of one of Jayco’s most successful dealerships, Donavon also grew up among RVs. We take a look at how the two met and the mutual inspiration they shared which sowed the seeds for Skinny Guy Campers.

Part 2 (10:20-21:08) From Vision to Reality: Jimmy shares the vision for this podcast episode:  to show how a creative concept for a product in the overlanding space can go from an idea to a reality. Jason and Donavon share the details of how they took the unique (ultimately patented) Skinny Guy Camper concept from an idea, to a design, to a manufactured product. Jason and Donavon also share some of their frustrations with the RV industry that led to their ambition to make the Skinny Guy Camper superior in building materials and construction to conventional RVs and other vehicle-based campers. Jason hints at Skinny Guy Campers’ all-new “Armor” camper trailer, designed to bridge the gap between RVs and Overland Trailers. 

Part 3 (21:09-22:52) That Thing has a Toilet?!  One of the hallmarks of the Skinny Guy Camper is that it offers the option of a fully functioning, built-in toilet system. The Skinny Guy Camper was even able to get their product R.V.I.A. (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) certified–an impressive feat for an overland camper. Jimmy shares why he considers this feature “ahead of its time,” citing what he’s learned about human waste and land management from Tread Lightly! Executive Director, Matt Caldwell. Donavon and Jason discuss why they chose to work so hard to offer this option, some of the technical challenges involved in manufacturing it, and some of its key features.

Part 4 (22:53-32:20) What is the Skinny Guy Camper? Will It Fit on My Truck? The Skinny Guy Camper is unique to the degree that it is now patented. What is it, exactly, and what sets it apart from its competitors? Will it fit on any truck platform? Donavon and Jason share the various dimensions of the SGC platform and how it is able to fit on such a wide variety of vehicles. Austin and Jason discuss the manufacturing challenges they faced in making this happen.

Part 5 (32:21-40:46) Skinny Guy Camper’s Patented Jack System and Exo-Skeleton Design:  Yet, another highly innovative feature of the Skinny Guy Camper is its patented Jack System which allows for easy removal of the camper for garage stowage. Donavon explains this feature, why it’s unique, and why he wanted this option for his customers along with added benefits of truck-topper height of the SGC and “Exo-skeleton” construction.

Part 6 (40:47-49:36) What Were Jason & Donavon’s Biggest Challenges in Bringing the Skinny Guy Camper to the Market Place? Austin, Jason, and Donavon share their greatest challenges in developing their innovative new camper and the stories surrounding those challenges. Austin mentions their success in getting the Skinny Guy Camper R.V.I.A. (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) certified, and the extremely challenging process of realizing this accomplishment.

Part 7 (49:37-End) Advice and Wisdom for Anyone Wanting to Bring a New Product to the Overlanding Marketplace: Jason, Donavon, and Austin end the discussion by sharing their recommendations, wisdom, and advice for anyone wishing to develop an innovative product with the goal of manufacturing it and bringing it to the marketplace.

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