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Ursa Minor J30 Pop Up Camper

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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me

From the very beginning I didn’t want a roof rack on my Jeep. If I have more storage space up top, it’s only a matter of time before I load it up with tons of heavy stuff. Heavy stuff on the roof of a 4×4 is a big no no, so best to avoid the temptation altogether rather than trying to resist it. No roof rack means no roof top tent for above ground sleeping – the staple of 4×4 Overlanding.

I’m not sleeping in a ground tent for two years around Africa, and although I can sleep on my storage boxes, that’s really only a backup option for when I don’t want anyone to know I’m asleep inside the Jeep. This begs the question of the main sleeping arrangements.

Enter Ursa Minor Vehicles.

ursa minor vehicles 720x480

Ursa Minor Vehicles

John and the crew (The Undertaker* and Tombstone*) in San Diego make a replacement hard top for the Jeep JK Unlimited (4 door) which is a pop up camper. They call this amazing feat the “J30″. The stock Jeep hard or soft top is taken off, and the new top takes it’s place. Normally the camper bolts directly onto a stock Jeep with absolutely zero modifications required, and has access hatches above the rear seat for climbing up into the sleeping section.

Of course I can’t leave well enough alone and so John and the guys customized mine simple smile

africa jk wrangler ursa minor j30 install 720x480

Ursa Minor J30 going onto my Jeep

Years ago when I dreamed of this Jeep, my dream was to “cut out” the sleeping section and hatches, and move the stock Jeep roll bar out of the way. Doing so meant I would be able to stand up and walk around in the entire rear section of the Jeep. Based on my photos and hand waving, a very large opening was cut into my J30, which allows walking all the way up to the roll bar directly behind the drivers seat.

africa jk wrangler ursa minor j30 cutout 720x480

View from outside the rear tailgate, looking up through the opening (J30 roof open)

africa jk wrangler ursa minor j30 cutout from above 720x480

View while standing up, looking down through opening towards drivers seat

The top and modifications have turned out a hundred times better than my wildest dreams. To say that John and the crew are perfectionists would be selling them short. No detail is too small for their attention, every aspect of the camper, it’s installation and use has been thoroughly considered and designed. It’s obvious these guys love what they do, and they use what they build.

With the large opening cut out, John set to work designing roll up wooden planks that are moved into place for sleeping “up stairs”. In a stroke of brilliance John made the planks so that if I choose I can install only a half width bed. The planks are held together with webbing so they can’t jumble about, and lock into multiple selectable positions with spring loaded pins. John also made mattress sections so they can be easily moved and re-purposed from sitting cushions down below to sleeping pads for “up stairs”.

africa jk wrangler ursa minor j30 sleeping boards 720x480

The removable “sleeping boards” that slide into place for sleeping

I’ve spent six nights upstairs so far, and each night I’m so happy to be “up stairs” in my little house, I can’t stop smiling and my brain won’t let me fall asleep for an hour while I think of the adventure ahead of me. To say this thing is awesome is not even close to the truth.

I had a great time hanging out with the Ursa Minor guys in San Diego for a few days while they modified my top, and grinned from ear to ear when John shook my hand, wished me luck and said “Welcome to your new home”.

africa jk wrangler ursa minor j30 sunset 720x480

At sunset right before I popped open the top and spent my first night “upstairs” in my new house

africa jk wrangler ursa minor j30 720x480

Waking up with my new go anywhere home on wheels

A have a couple more additions to my off-grid home to show you before I head to Easter Jeep Safari in Moab next week.


*NOTE: Names used are those requested by the Ursa Minor guys, who are as awesome as their names suggest.

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17 Responses

  1. Luke Sleeman says:

    Great job! I can tell you from my boat, that being able to stand up is a huge thing! Living hunched over might be ok for a week or so, by trying to put your pants on in the morning stooped over gets old real quick.

    • Dan says:

      Hey Luke,

      It’s so funny you say that, because one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about standing up in the morning is putting on my pants! hahaha

      Also, you have a boat? I didn’t know that! Do you have any pics online?


  2. Tom says:

    Looking good Dan. I was wondering what had happened to you. Love the popup hardtop.

  3. Cole says:

    Hey Dan. The Cabinets look awesome and I want to do the mod myself. Do you have an updated link or a product I cold search for on the aluminum framing? Both links provided are dead now.
    Also, are they sturdy? Anything you would change about them?


    • Dan Grec says:

      Hi Cole,

      Sorry about that. It looks like “80/20 Inc.” on Amazon has both the tube and the connectors – I have updated the links on the Jeep build page to be correct again.
      I was wondering if the cabinets would be strong enough… and they are absolutely rock solid. Even now when I rock them, the entire Jeep suspension simply moves.. the cabinets never rattle or move at all!

      Good luck, I would love to see a picture of what you build!


  4. Corey says:

    So you had Ursa Minor cut out the opening larger than stock for more standing room?

  5. Noé says:

    Hello Dan
    I am following your project since about a year. Have been driving with rented JKU’s in Iceland and Hawaii last Year, and searching now for owning a used JKU to built up with a J30. Destinations are: North and South America, Iceland and NewZealand/Australia (Living in Switzerland). I have three Questions:
    – How is your experience with the J30 in heavy storms (+45 Miles p.H. wind) ?
    – Was it ever wet inside after heavy rain? (side faces)
    – It is very hard to find second hand JKU’s with gasoline engine in Europe, what about a diesel engine on such a trip? Do you think I would run into severe troubles driving a diesel JKU on the PanAm ? (finding fuel, repair)

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hi Noé,
      Awesome, it’s great to hear from you!
      1. The J30 is great in heavy wind. When you park it nose into the wind you can’t even notice it, if you’re side on the fabric flaps a bit and might keep you awake.
      2. No, it does not get wet inside. the fabric is very good!
      3. I think the diesel would be fine, though I don’t know much about the 2.8 diesel engine Jeep used. I would certainly add a second diesel filter for remote places. Diesel on the PanAm will be easy to find… spares for Jeep are not super common, but there are enough countries on the pamAm I think you’ll be OK!

      Good luck, let me know if you have any more questions!


  6. Noé says:

    Hello Dan

    Thank you very much for this very valuable informations. Wanderlust is growing dramatically with each time I visit your blog. But first it will take some time (1-2 years) to save enough money. My best wishes to your amazing trip. Drive save and stay healthy.
    Thank you for all those wonderful pictures :-)


  7. Efrain Gonzalez says:

    How much is for the built-in roof-top tent

  1. March 15, 2016

    […] John and the crew at Ursa Minor while the fitted and modified my J30. Read the whole story here: Ursa Minor J30 Pop Up Camper | The road chose me To say that I'm extremely impressed and happy is a massive understatement. This top is a […]

  2. March 15, 2016

    […] John and the crew at Ursa Minor while the fitted and modified my J30. Read the whole story here: To say that I'm extremely impressed and happy is a massive understatement. This top is a […]

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