Log In

Reset Password

Hower Built says Southwest Colorado is growing market for camper buildouts

Owner says more young professionals want to live out camper life
Hower Built Campers employee Quinn McGrath installs a bench top on one of the company’s buildouts. Hower Built Campers originally started in Bend, Ore., but made the move to Durango to explore Southwest Colorado’s car camper market. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Living out of a camper van or a truck camper has become a popular trend since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring 2020.

Many elected to leave larger cities in search of more remote areas to live, and with that, some chose to live out of a vehicle.

For Hower Built Campers owner Colin Hower, his business jumped an estimated 25% during the height of the pandemic in 2021. The company, which originates from Bend, Oregon, fully moved to Durango in 2021 because Hower saw Southwest Colorado and the Western Slope as a growing outdoor market.

Hower is no stranger to the “dirtbag” lifestyle, living out of the back of his truck and working as a raft guide before opening the business in Bend in 2017. With his skills that he learned growing up as a custom boat builder, he started the business based on his experiences living out of his own truck.

“We spent a lot of time developing the product,” he said. “We were starting production in Bend but needed to get out of there.”

Bend was a hot spot for remote workers moving from California during the pandemic, Hower said. In 2021, Bend experienced a net migration of 5,638, or 2.7%, increase in people, according to reports conducted by financial news organization 24/7 Wall St.

Hower Built Campers owner Colin Hower and employee Jake Hodges work on a movable bed panel for one of the company’s buildouts. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

But Hower and his team knew the market in Durango was growing and was interested in bringing production to Durango. Operations manager Saren Yater-Wallace said that Durango’s economy is year-round, unlike some of the other mountain towns in Colorado.

“You don’t feel the tourism in that same way as some of those small ski towns,” she said.

Hower said the two communities are comparable to each other with Durango having a smaller population.

Hower’s campers are built with a composite material made up of fiberglass skin and a honeycomb-baffled wall, which gives the camper its insulation.

The camper frames are made from aluminum and it features an automated lift system to pop the camper up so that customers may store items like bikes with the camper on top.

For the most part, Hower focuses on truck camper buildouts because constructing his buildouts are much easier with a truck layout compared to the different shapes of a sport-utility vehicle.

The camper price starts at around $19,000.

A Hower Built camper sits atop a Toyota Tacoma. Hower Built Campers originally started in Bend, Ore., but made the move to Durango to explore Southwest Colorado’s car camper market. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)
A camper is in the process of construction at Hower Built Campers located at 789 Tech Center Drive, Suite C. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

“You’ll find our price points a little higher than our competition,” Hower said.

He said the company strives to build quality products and with that comes more expense. Yater-Wallace said that 70% of the material used to build the camper comes from Colorado.

“We’ve got rear-door options versus just kind of like your standard fiberglass camper shell that has just the flip up glass and we’ll do single and double doors as well,” Hower said.

The electric lift system that raises the camper can handle up to 300 pounds in order to store kayaks or other heavy items on top if needed.

He said this is a major selling point because many customers don’t want to have to unload after a late night of driving to the campsite. It gives the user the ability to just hit the button and the camper will rise with the gear on top.

“I think it’s appealing to the younger audience, too, because you could be out biking, rafting or doing whatever all day long and with these campers, you don’t have the stress of doing more labor to set up camp,” Yater-Wallace said.

Hower Built Campers owner Colin Hower marks a half-built camper with painter’s tape. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

In addition, the campers are pre-wired for solar panels for people who want to use solar as their energy source in the camper.

Hower says the campers are not only great for a weekend getaway – for some, they are also a viable housing situation for those who can’t afford to purchase or rent a home in Durango.

“The cost of living is high, for sure. And we try to deliver something that if you do want to base camp out of this long term, you can,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that have professional careers and are living out of our units full time.”

Because of this interest, the company is working on a camper design that would allow customers availability to full living amenities in what he describes as a “turnkey-type unit.”

But he says many of his younger customers like the simplicity of the campers Hower offers.

Camper vans and vehicle buildouts have become a niche but growing market in La Plata County. There are three businesses in Durango and one based in Bayfield. All except for one opened in the last five years.

San Juan Vans is among one of the companies that offers both van buildouts and truck camper buildouts starting in 2018.

However, unlike many of these other companies, Hower tries to stay away from extensive custom interior designs. He said the company’s primary focus is building a quality camper efficiently, and building them for trucks makes it easier to design.


Hower Built Campers is located at 789 Tech Center Drive, Suite C. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Reader Comments