HYK Outdoors campers reconnect you with nature
There comes a time in every avid outdoorsman’s or outdoorswoman’s life when a tent just doesn’t cut it anymore. Jeff and Laura Baker reached that point a couple years ago. “My wife and I really love to camp,” Jeff says. “The problem is I am just reaching an age where sleeping on the ground is not an option.”
The two started looking around for a better way and discovered there was a wealth of designs for simple trailer campers that let you sleep outdoors in comfort — without the amenities that keep many RV owners inside instead of enjoying the great outdoors.
Jeff is handy with tools, so he figured he could build his own. “It did not turn out well,” he admits. “It was really, really bad.”
The problem was getting matching cuts so that both sides of the camper went together the same way. What Jeff needed was a CNC machine, a computer-operated router that cuts sheets of plywood with precision. He figured he could buy the machine, make his camper and then sell the expensive tool.
Laura agreed to the purchase, and in short order Jeff cranked out a camper that was roadworthy.
“When we got the CNC machine it really opened the door for doing precision work. Everything was so precise. Both sides match exactly. If I need a piece that is 59 inches, I can cut 59 inches, not 59 and a sixteenth,” Jeff says.
The couple took the camper to Colorado to see how it worked. “We threw a sleeping bag in there and it was wonderful,” Jeff says. “I woke up feeling great. It made camping fun again for us. It made us really want to go do it more often.”
In the mountains they did their best to expose the camper’s faults. “We really tried to tear it up,” Jeff admits. “We tried to break it. And we didn’t. We came back to Missouri and we thought, this thing actually works. We’ve got a good idea here.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Instead of making one camper and selling the CNC machine, Jeff launched HYK Outdoors (the name is pronounced as hike), a company devoted to getting more people outside. Starting in his Columbia garage, Jeff made more of the teardrop-shaped campers. He came up with two designs, a retro-inspired, road model called the Ridgerunner and a beefed-up Trailrunner version for off-road enthusiasts.
From its launch in December 2018, to the purchase of a new location just off Interstate 70 at Kingdom City that is served by Callaway Electric Cooperative, the Baker’s HYK Outdoors has grown by leaps and bounds. This past January Marc Gragg and his son, Caleb, joined the company, letting Jeff focus more on the marketing of the unique campers. “Marc is a cabinet guy,” Jeff relates. “From the very beginning he saw it as a cabinet on wheels. His goal was, ‘How do you build a really fine piece of furniture and put it on a trailer?’ ”
That’s a good analogy. An HYK camper is crafted from 13-ply Baltic birch plywood. It’s covered with 2 inches of insulation, sheathed with an aluminum skin and bolted to a sturdy frame. The rear deck lifts to expose a kitchen galley with lots of storage and shelves for a propane stove. An on-board battery powers lights, a fan that draws in cool air and other amenities.
Of course there is a soft and thick mattress inside.
From there the options are seemingly endless. Most buyers opt for a roof rack and awnings that add to its creature comforts. Another option is a six-sided screen tent that attaches to the awnings, providing extra living space for family time. A receiver hitch accepts bike racks and kayaks or canoes can go on the roof. HYK will add the kitchen sink if you want one.
The off-road model comes with a heavy-duty frame, larger tires and wheels and a tongue that lets the trailer and tow vehicle articulate for when the road ends. It has more ground clearance, although Jeff points out that the road model features more clearance than most cars.
The biggest advantage to an HYK camper, Jeff says, is that you probably already own the tow vehicle. “You are not going out spending $100,000 buying a truck and a camper,” he says. “My wife has a RAV4. We can pull an on-road trailer with it all day. If you have a 1/2-ton truck, great. But you don’t need a 3/4-ton or 1-ton truck.”
Their simple design helps outdoor adventurers hit the road quickly. If you decide to go camping at noon, you can leave work at 5 p.m. and be on the road 15 minutes later, Jeff says.
Where bigger RVs come with TVs, microwaves and living rooms that keep you inside, an HYK camper has just enough comforts to encourage enjoying the great outdoors. “It’s a lifestyle,” Jeff says. “Be active. Eat here, sleep here and then go do activities.”
A road model camper starts at $11,000, with common options increasing the cost to an average of $12,500, Jeff says. The off-road model starts at $13,500 and typically runs $15,000, well equipped.
Halfway through 2021, HYK Outdoors had already sold 25 campers, well on the way to its goal of 40. Besides making custom campers, Marc and Caleb are working to keep a small inventory on hand for those who want to drive home with their new camper in tow.
Current lead time is four to eight weeks, due in part to shortages of materials. But Jeff has another option — rentals — for those who can’t wait or want to try before they buy. Trailer rental ranges from $80 a day to $400 per week.
“We believe in try it before you buy it,” he says. “If they want to rent one, we can do a couple of days and we’ve had people rent them for two weeks. It becomes a great way to try it out and experiment with it, see what you like and don’t like. I would rather people not buy a camper than buy it and not have a good experience because it doesn’t fit their lifestyle.”
With its location highly visible on the south side of Interstate 70 just west of Kingdom City, it’s no surprise that HYK campers have been sold all over the country. Looking ahead, Jeff sees the company moving into more outdoor offerings. “We want to be more than a camper company,” he says. “Some day we would like to get into other pieces and parts. What does a clothing line look like? What do other hiking accessories look like? But a camper will always be a part of what we do.”
The real goal is helping others discover the great outdoors. “There’s an amazing creation out there that we should all be experiencing,” Jeff says. “Really that is our drive, to help people experience the great outdoors … in a comfortable, convenient, fun way.”
For more information on HYK Outdoors, call 573-673-9264 or visit www.hykoutdoors.com. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.