Best Truck for a Truck Camper

Buying a new truck in today’s economy is a big deal. Depending on options and trim lines, a new truck can easily cost you over $80,000. So before you pluck down those bucks, you better be sure that what you buy is what you really want and has the features that you really need. Sure, you can buy used, but there’s always an element of risk associated with buying a truck from a total stranger without a warranty. Either way, it’s best to buy the right truck for a truck camper without having to go through the process again in a year or two. Who makes the best truck for a truck camper? What things should you look for? We’ll take a look in this article.

When it comes to hauling a truck camper, nothing is more important than the truck’s payload rating. The payload of a truck is simply the amount of weight that the truck can carry and is a product of the truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). The payload, expressed in both pounds and kilograms, can either be found on a driver door pillar sticker or in the glove box on a payload certification form. You can also determine the payload by subtracting the curb weight of your truck (you’ll need to take it to the scales to get this figure) from the truck’s GVWR. Basically, everything being carried in your truck, including all passengers, gear, and your “wet,” fully loaded truck camper, should be below your truck’s rated payload. Grossly exceeding the payload and GVWR is neither safe for your passengers nor for others who are sharing the road with you. Not only that, but prolonged use of your truck while greatly exceeding these ratings can not only result in frame, suspension, and tire failures, but can also void any warranties.

The Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is another important rating when it comes to your truck. Each axle has an assigned GAWR, but the most important of the two is the rear axle since it will be bearing most of your cargo’s weight. You can find these ratings by looking at the truck’s axle and tire rating sticker or by looking at the truck’s payload certification form. If you closely examine these ratings you should see an increase over the GVWR when totaling them. This increase can vary anywhere between 100-500 pounds per axle. Exceeding the payload rating of a truck isn’t advisable, but these ratings can be used to squeeze out extra pounds of cargo carrying capacity. One should never exceed the GAWR of your axles, period.

The payload for this truck is 3,809 pounds.
The payload for this particular struck is 3,809 pounds.

Remember when the terms half-ton, 3/4-ton, and a one-ton accurately represented the payload for each weight class of pickup truck? Well, those days are long gone with all three weight classes of truck capable of hauling much more weight. For instance, today’s 3/4-ton trucks have payloads between 2,300 and 3,800 pounds, while one-tons can haul anywhere between 3,800 and 6,200 pounds. The large variances are due to bed-size and options so each option must be carefully chosen. For example, the 6.7L Ford Powerstroke diesel weighs 1,100 pounds wet compared to the company’s V8 gas engine which weighs in nearly half that at 600 pounds. And if you’re considering a 4WD transmission, that’s another 400 pounds. The same applies to other nice-to-have options like steel wheels, a crew-cab, a super hitch and a winch; all of these add capability, but reduce payload. So choose your options wisely.

When it comes to options perhaps the most often debated is whether to buy a truck with dual rear wheels (DRW) or single rear wheels (SRW). Both certainly have their pros and cons. Dually’s offer superior stability and handling on pavement and usually offer much higher payloads, but they are also wider in the “hips” and less adept at off-roading. It’s true that DRW’s “float” better over certain surfaces like loose sand, but the big negative with them is that jagged rocks can get wedged in between the rear wheels causing flats and other damage. On the other hand, SRW trucks are narrower, lighter, more versatile, and provide superior traction and maneuverability on all types of road surfaces. Basically, where you intend on taking your truck camper plays a big role in what type of rear end to get. If you intend on staying on the asphalt with a heavy camper, then the DRW is the way to go. If you intend on doing a lot of off-roading with a light camper, then I’d go with the SRW.

The diesel engine is another hotly debated option. With the high cost of diesel at the pump and with today’s strict EPA standards you’d think the diesel would be dead in today’s auto and light truck market, but it hasn’t happened. Diesels still provide superior torque, better fuel mileage, and last longer than the typical gas engine (600,000 miles is not uncommon). They also hold their value better and have a “coolness” factor associated with them that a gas engine can’t touch. Yes, it’s true that the new requirement for diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) adds an additional burden for diesel ownership, but there’s also no denying that today’s diesel engine burns cleaner, is much quieter, and and doesn’t have the smell associated with them that they had in the past. The big negative, of course, is the payload loss associated with the heavier engine, so this must be carefully weighed against the positives and your own specific needs. Because of this I wouldn’t recommend a diesel for anything less than a one-ton truck.

Can today’s half-ton pickup truck haul a truck camper? The answer is, yes, but with several caveats. It depends on the truck, the truck’s rated payload, and the size and weight of the camper you have in mind. For example, the 2015 Ford F-150 short-bed (154 inch wheelbase), crew cab, two-wheel drive, with the heavy duty payload package, has a rated payload of 2,799 pounds. That’s a pretty impressive number even for a gasoline-powered 3/4-ton truck. Most half-ton pickup trucks out there, however, have much less payload, usually around 1,600 pounds. This reduced payload basically limits you to pop-up truck campers and smaller hard-slide campers like the Lance 650 and the cab-less models like the Northstar Vista. With the exception of the aforementioned Ford F-150, most half-tons will need upgrades to the shock absorbers, spring packs, brakes, and tires, the latter meaning a capacity improvement from the weak passenger tires that came with your truck to a set of good light truck (LT) tires with a Load Range of either D or E.

The Ford F-350 SRW is an excellent truck to haul campers with a single slide-out like this Lance 855s.

So what’s the bottom line? What is the best truck to haul a truck camper? Well, if you’re buying your first truck and you’re looking seriously at getting a truck camper, we suggest skipping the half-ton and 3/4-ton and buy a one-ton truck instead like a Ford F-350, a Ram 3500, or a Chevy Silverado 3500 at a minimum. It all comes down to payload and you want more of it. Don’t make the same mistake we made back in 2011 when we bought a lighter truck to save a little money. Back then, we bought a Ford F-250 4×2 with the 6.2L gas engine to get more payload—a fine truck in its own right—but missed having a 4WD drivetrain and a diesel. As a result, we ended up buying a Ram 3500 with the Cummins 6.7L engine two years later, the truck we should’ve bought from the start. So be wiser and buy a one-ton truck at a minimum from the start. Doing so will save you time, money, and frustration and will make you happier in the end.

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About Mello Mike 535 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently rolls in a 2013 Ram 3500 with a 2021 Bundutec Roadrunner truck camper mounted on top. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side.

7 Comments

  1. I am looking to get a truck just for use with a camper. I didn’t think I wanted a diesel because of the cost/availability of fuel. What are your recommendations?

  2. Thanks for the info Mike. Regarding your "mistake" (buying the Ford), what made you feel like it was a mistake? I know you said that you missed the diesel/4×4, but was that because of a lack of power or capability? I bought a '13 F250 (similar to yours) with the same thought concerning the payload. I intend to buy a camper in the 2800 lbs. (wet) range in the future. Just wondering if your personal experience hauling your camper is what made you change your mind. Thanks. Jeff

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