Full-Timing in a Truck Camper (Part I)

An Interview with Lance 1191 Owner Bryan Appleby

Slide1When it comes to truck campers and extreme boondocking, few people have gained more knowledge and experience than Bryan Appleby. Known on the Internet forums as “bka0712,” Bryan has been a full-time RV’er since 2009. He grew up on the plains of Kansas before moving out west where he worked as both  a national park ranger and as a state policeman, the latter from which he is now retired. Bryan is also a published author, an accomplished photographer, and holds licenses in various car racing disciplines including high-speed driving instructor. Aside from exploring the American west, consulting is his passion now, assisting communities with their open space planning and implementation, mixed in with a dose of driving instruction, writing, and photographic work.

Mike: Thanks, Bryan, for taking the time to talk. Let’s start with the basics. What truck camper do you own and why did you choose that particular make and model?

Bryan: I purchased my first RV, a Lance 1191, in 2008. This was after researching and visiting numerous truck camper dealerships and RV forums. This process took me four years. Some of the requirements I was looking for were different from most who were purchasing a truck camper as my intention was to live full-time in mine. I wanted something that would provide me with both room and comfort, which had four season capabilities, had a quality, fit and finish, and had larger capacity reserves, such as water and storage. Essentially a base camp on wheels.

Mike: What truck do you use to haul your Lance 1191?

Bryan: My truck is a 2008 Ford F-550 Crew Cab, 4×4, DRW, with an extended frame. The engine is the 6.4L Powerstroke Turbo Diesel. Over the years I had been purchasing my personal and work vehicles from a Denver Ford dealer, Phil Long Ford. I worked with them to order a truck specifically for use with a truck camper and the modifications I had intended to allow me to boondock for extended periods in remote locations. When purchased, the F-550 averaged 10 mpg. With my finished rig, I have averaged approximately 7.1 mpg over the last 60 months. I chose this particular truck for its massive 13,700 pound payload. It has the 4.30 ratio limited slip axle, the heavy-duty payload package, an additional transmission cooler, and the snowplow package.

Mike: I don’t see a traditional truck camper tie down system for your Lance camper. Is it permanently bolted to the bed of your truck?

Bryan: No. With the service body, a new strategy was developed for attaching my truck camper. I had Unistruts welded to the top of my Knapheide service body. We used some brackets for a bulldozer attached to the Unistruts coupled with spring-loaded turnbuckles from a parts bin for Crane Body applications. In five years of use there has been no movement or changes with these brackets.

Bryan racing in his 1965 Shelby Cobra, #75.
Bryan’s F-550 with service body, Lance 1191, and trailer.
Closeup of Bryan’s heavy-duty Ranch Hand winch bumper.

Mike: I’m glad you mentioned your service body. It seems like they’re becoming more popular with truck camper owners. Can you tell us more about yours?

Bryan: My F-550 service body serves me very well for full-timing. Even in the winter months, I use some of the compartments as an auxiliary freezer! I knew from the onset that a service body was in my plans. When I purchased my Ford truck, I applied for Ford’s upfitting rebate available with their fleet sales. I also arranged to have the service body purchased with the truck and used their upfitter to perform the work. This saved me many dollars in sales taxes and time. In fact, the rebate I received almost paid for the entire service body! While many choose to go the route of a custom service body, I didn’t. I ended up ordering one right out of the Knapheide catalog. I used Layton Truck Equipment of Denver, a great company that was more than willing to work with me. The eventual cost was $8,040, including the service body, painting and installation. This was half of what it would have been, going with a custom manufacturer.

Mike: Tell us a little bit about your utility trailer. What exactly do you store in it?

Bryan: Behind my F-550, I pull a Haulmark 8×14 foot Motorcycle trailer. While my intentions were not to pull a trailer, to allow more maneuverability, I soon learned that the platform I had envisioned on the back of my truck and truck camper would not be a workable solution for carrying a BMW GSA motorcycle. My plan was to use this motorcycle as a get around vehicle. While it certainly is a compromise in having a trailer, I have found the positives, in actuality, far outweigh the negatives. For security reasons, I won’t provide details of what I have in my camper and trailer, I will say it’s no different from what a person’s garage provides for someone living in a home. I carry many toys, like kayaks, bicycles, skis and things, but it provides more than that. This trailer provides me with the ability to extend my time in remote areas, with additional fuel for the motorcycles, seasonal items, food as well as my main battery bank for one of my two solar power systems.

Mike: Can you tell us about your motorcycles?

Bryan: Sure! One of the reasons I’m successful full-timing in my truck camper is because of my “get around” vehicle. I chose this vehicle before I made the decision on what truck camper to get. My first motorcycle was a 2008 BMW GS1200R Adventure and I’m now riding a 2012 BMW GS1200R Adventure. Much of my riding is exploring the trails and roads in the areas where I visit and my BMW is set up for this type of riding. When the trails become even more extreme, I use my second motorcycle, a 2006 Honda CRF450X dirt bike.

Mike: Can you tell us about your battery systems and how they’re hooked up to your camper?

Bryan: With my rig, I have essentially three battery banks: two OEM batteries that service my Ford truck, two 6 volt Lifeline GPL-6CT AGMs (300 amp hours) in my Lance camper, and eight 6 volt Interstate GC2 flooded wet cell batteries (928 amp hours) in my trailer. Redundancy is an important consideration for me. The AGM batteries in my camper are maintained by the solar panels installed on the camper’s roof (300 watts total). While they’re wired to provide power for both my DC and AC side of my camper, they’re currently maintaining the DC side of my truck camper. Similarly, the eight 6 volt wet cell batteries in my trailer are maintained by the solar panels installed on the trailer’s roof (920 watts). They, too, are wired to provide power for both the DC and AC side of my camper, for now this battery bank is providing my AC side of my truck camper. My shore power cord is essentially plugged into this bank, full-time, via one of my two Xantrex MSW inverters (2,000 watts and 1,500 watts).

The 6 volt battery bank in Bryan’s motorcycle trailer.
View showing the solar arrays on Bryan’s camper and trailer.
Bryan’s BMW GS1200R Adventure motorcycle.

Mike: Why the mixture of AGM and wet cell batteries in your two battery systems?

Bryan: The reason I made the choices I did on my batteries was easy. For the batteries I had installed in the cabinet of my truck camper, I chose Lifeline AGMs. This was because of their compatibility of being in a living space. The wet cell batteries I chose for my large battery bank in my trailer are Interstate batteries, available virtually anywhere in the United States. With these batteries performing much the same as AGM batteries, and the fact that they were $2,650 less expensive than comparable AGM batteries, it came down to an economic decision. I could do a lot with the $2,650 I saved and still have batteries that can perform similarly for five to seven years.

Mike: You also have an impressive solar power set-up, Bryan. Can you tell us more about it?

Bryan: While I received great information and help from others who had solar power systems, I quickly found out that nobody had built or had attempted to build the system I had in mind. Because of I’m a full-timer, I needed an electrical system that was bigger than most. With my camper and trailer I was able to build two separate, independent solar power systems. This two-system approach allows me to leave my trailer in the sun while I park the camper in the shade. I also wanted two solar systems, in case one were to ever go down, I’d have the other. Both systems also have interchangeable hardware in case of a failure. To keep each system “exercised” daily, I have both systems running, one AC (using an inverter) and the other DC. My two systems consist of the following equipment:

Mike: You’re, obviously, a big proponent of solar power. What recommendations would you offer to those who are thinking about going solar?

Bryan: Have a large checkbook! Okay, perhaps I’m being a little facetious, but it’s accurate. For most, solar is not as practical as adding additional batteries and a good charging regiment. For the weekend camper, or an occasional long vacationer, solar is an expensive option. If you’re moving every couple of days, your vehicle should keep your batteries topped off. Running an inexpensive generator a couple of hours or less, or stopping in campgrounds with hookups will do the same. However, if you’re really set on going to solar, I’m there for you. Developing my solar program has been a life changing event for me here on the road. I don’t move around a lot, but I could and did run a generator every day, the first two years I was full-timing. The two things you need to decide on is how many seasons you are going to need them and what your anticipated demands will be. Do a power survey. The Kill A Watt electricity usage meter is a great aid to help you determine the size of the solar power system and number of batteries you’ll need.

Boondocking in the Valley of the Gods, Utah.
Bryan and friends at Teakettle Junction, Death Valley NP.
Boondocking in the Grand Staircase with Mello Mike.

Mike: What modifications have you made to your Ford F-550?

Bryan: I’ll be one of the first to stop and look and crawl around a well set up off-road vehicle, but that’s not for me as I prefer to keep my vehicles stock. With this, I did change out my front bumper to a Ranch Hand winch bumper, to provide more protection to the plastic front end of my F-550. Also on this bumper is a Warn 16.5K winch, a Thule Apex 4 Bike Hitch Rack, and a pair of KC HiLiTES Daylighter II off-road lights. The original 19.5 inch OEM wheels and tires have been swapped to a set of 19.5 Rickson wheels and a set of Continental 245 profile tires. This change provides me with a greater capacity and safety factor for my travels off-road. I also installed a rear deck and a hitch that I built to accommodate carrying additional spare tires for the truck and trailer as well as a receiver to tow my trailer. This hitch also has a side facing receiver to supplement my Lance steps with an additional removable steel step.

In the bed of my truck are two 74 gallon potable water tanks that I use to supplement the potable water tank in my Lance camper. This added capacity gives me a total of 192 gallons of potable water.

Mike: Can you tell us more about your Continental tires? What inflation values do you typically run and what are their weight capacities?

Bryan: The current tires are Continental 245/70R19.5G HDRs on new Rickson wheels. These tires have a capacity of 18,700 pounds at 110 psi on the dually rear axle (rear GAWR 13,660 pounds) and 9,880 pounds at 92 psi on the steering axle (front GAWR 7,000 pounds) for a whopping 28,580 pounds. Now that’s a safety factor. A recent TARE ticket showed my steer axle 6,040 pounds, drive axle 14,100 pounds, and trailer axle 5,040 pounds. Total weight: 25,180 pounds.

Mike: Have you made any modifications to your F-550’s suspension?

Bryan: Yes, the only suspension modification I did was to install a set of air bags. I had air bags on my previous F-350s to assist leveling out the back of these trucks for the tongue weights of my race trailers. I had thought it would be a slam dunk to have on the F-550 as well, so I added them during the first few weeks of owning it. Soon, it became evident that the truck’s spring packs were more than capable of carrying all the extra weight of the service body, aux tanks and camper without a “blush.” What I use the air bags for is for leveling out my truck when I arrive at camp. After previous experience with aux air pumps, I opted out on one and just installed the left and right air inlets in the curb-side cabinet of my service body where my fore and aft and left and right bubble levels are under the skirt of my lance. It makes it convenient to stand in one place and do all of my leveling. I also installed another bubble level in the passenger compartment of my F-550. This level is in an area of the passenger door pocket that can only be seen from the driver’s seat. This makes it easy to better discern a great spot or whether my ramps will make it work.

Part II of this fascinating and informative interview with Bryan Appleby can be found by clicking here.

About Mello Mike 622 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. A communications expert, 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. He currently rolls in a 2013 Ram 3500 with a 2021 Bundutec Roadrunner truck camper mounted on top.


  1. Hey there Anon! Thanks for stopping in. My whole point to agreeing to Mike's interview was in hopes that it would share some of the things I am doing, with others. Mike provides a great forum for doing just that. I did check out your blog and kudos to you on your own adventure, too. I am from Boulder and know the owners of the dealership, you worked with. Great people. Be sure to check out some of Mello Mike's other projects too. One point I would share, stay on top of the moisture/condensation, during the winter months. Otherwise you will greatly suffer the damage it will result in. Safe travels!

  2. I really appreciate this article and the insight. We camp with a lance 1131, 3 kids, 2 dogs and love getting off the beaten path. Your information has answered a number of questions and generated a host of others in my mind… woud love to see a "part 3, 4,5 ,etc."


  3. Mike – We were visiting younger son in Fort Collins two years ago and it got to be 103 (a record) so we went up to Long Draw area at 10,400' elevation to "dispersed camp" and it got down to 38 F that night. Had moose within 100 meters and had to fight off the ground squirrels and Least Chipmunks (OK, we fed and photographed them). Had Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, and Calliope Hummingbirds at the feeder. If it is hot, then we just go hiking or sit under the canopy or shade of the trees during the day. Then, if necessary, turn on A/C for half an hour or so just using battery bank since sun is going down and not much solar insolation. This takes about 1700 W or so. Find the 12 V fans are really great to sleep with.
    Reed and Elaine

    • We're pretty much like you. We only camp at high elevations during the summer to avoid the need for any AC. We find that the 12v Fantastic Fan meets all of our needs.

  4. Thus the reason I have the "3 minute rule." If I need to use a high amp load appliance (microwave) more than 3 minutes, I just turn on the generator. The battery bank that is capable of running safely, is Lithium. There is friend of mine, that has that and runs his A/C for 2 to 3 hours. But it is big $$$ to have a system like that.

    • That makes sense. I'm kind of a fair weather camper. I like the area northwest of flagstaff because its never really hot, and at night you need a jacket even in August. Im getting a rig together myself, see you on the road someday. Thanks for answering my Question on running the ac with batteries. (Royce W.)

    • I believe we are the guilty parties with the lithium batteries. We were lucky enough to meet Bryan two weeks ago near Glacier. The A/C is run as combination of 1.42 kW of solar and the 9.6 kW-hr LFP battery bank. Our usual mode is to run the A/C in the late afternoon. for half an hour or so just to cool down to 85 or so. The 12 V fans work well once that temperature is reached (10 W for each fan). We have only run the A/C for 3 to 4 hours when family is visiting. The battery bank reached 50% DOD on those times but LFP is good to 80% DOD for several thousand cycles (or so they say). However, we choose to go where it is cool in summer and warm in winter. "not to hot and not to cold, just right!" aka "Goldilockers".
      Reed and Elaine Cundiff (Anon since couldn't figure out how to post otherwise)

    • LOL, "Goldilockers." I like that, Reed! Fact is, I boondock using that principle, too. I never use an A/C when I boondock because I like to camp where I don't need one. That's one of my guiding principles on where I go.

  5. That's was a great article. I wonder how long he can run his ac off of those batteries? I like how you added the links on the type of solar panels he used. What a awesome read.

    • Actually, my battery bank does run the A/C.

      With returning the battery bank to 100% charged, it is simpler to run the generator or travel in regions where one does not need A/C. Which is what I do.


    • No doubt that you can, Bryan, with all the batteries that you have. But with your A/C's amp load, it's not something that you want to do very long or you'll quickly dip below 12.2 volts. Best to use the genny for devices with high amp loads in order to preserve the batteries if you can.

  6. Excellent article, Mike and Bryan. Interesting to hear about the thought processes involved with full-time tc-ing. I'm taking notes. Many thanks for sharing the knowledge….Clarryhill

Comments are closed.