Cover up or go naked? It’s a question many a pickup truck driver has entertained at some point, weighing whether they’d prefer the security of a camper shell or canopy or the open-ended versatility of a stock, uncapped bed. Inflatables startup Flated urges pickup owners to ignore the question entirely. The California company’s inflatable Air-Topper provides the cargo-containing security of a shell when the driver needs it but gets out of the way immediately when they don’t, deflating and packing small enough to take up a fraction of the bed.
It’s not that pickup drivers give up their open bed when installing a shell, but it does add time and work to the process of getting the truck back into open-bed form should one need to carry an oversized load that doesn’t fit inside the shell. And forget about doing it in the field, at least without a secure place to leave the shell while shuttling the load. That shell, which likely weighs 175 lb (79 kg) or more, will require some storage space, preferably in a locked garage or shed.
With the 57-lb (26-kg) Air-Topper, Flated looks to make the pickup shell more versatile and easier to handle. What it calls the world’s first inflatable truck shell comes packed in a convenient 34 x 20 x 13-in (86 x 51 x 33-cm) carry bag that stows easily on the cab or bed floor. It’s small and convenient enough to keep in the truck at all times, and should it need to be removed, it lifts and stores much more easily than a hard shell. The carry case even includes backpack straps.
When the pickup owner finds themselves in need of a shell, whether at home, at work, on the side of the highway, or overlanding in the middle of absolute nowhere, they can simply pop the Air-Topper out of the bag, inflate it into shape with the included hand pump or available electric pump, and install it atop the bed rails using the J-hook cam-strap attachment system. Voilà, a pickup shell over top the cargo and/or a temporary, above-ground shelter for camping.
The Air-Topper is made of the same type of rugged PVC-coated drop-stitch material that stand-up paddleboards use to keep smiling, paddling humans from plunging into the water, a rugged construction meant to hold up to the road and off-road abuse any pickup shell will take. The inflated topper certainly isn’t as secure as a hard-sided shell, and we’re picturing a thief quickly slashing it with a knife to get inside, but it looks plenty capable of enclosing less valuable cargo and working as an overnight camper. Also, it doesn’t appear any less secure than the soft-sided fabric pickup shells already available on the market.
The Air-Topper’s tinted, rollable vinyl side and rear windows with removable screens provide a way of letting ventilation and light in when using it as a camper. Four D-rings on the roof work for securing kayaks, boards and other cargo up top, just as you might with a hard cap.
Flated launches the Air-Topper in three sizes aimed at some of the American market’s most popular trucks. It has models for both short- and regular-bed full-size pickups, such as the Ford F-Series, Ram 1500 and Chevy Silverado, and a separate version for midsize trucks like the Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger. The company stresses that buyers should measure out their truck beds before ordering to ensure that the topper will fit properly, a precaution meant to take into account the many different generations and variations among pickup trucks on the road.
The Air-Topper is available for preorder now at prices ranging between US$1,899 and $1,999, depending upon size. Flated plans to begin deliveries on December 3.
Rather than launching just one product, Flated gets four out there right out of the gate. The $749+ Air-Carrier is an inflatable rooftop cargo box designed to offer the same style of flexibility as the Air-Topper while serving as a light 23-lb (10.4-kg) carry option for vehicles right down to small cars. The $599+ Air-Deck debuts as an inflatable mattress/cargo organizer designed to be used on its own or in conjunction with the Air-Topper for pickup camping, or with camper vans and other RVs. The $449+ Air-Chalet brings Flated’s inflatable construction to pet carriers.
The video below and gallery photos show each of Flated’s four products, providing a better look at how they work.