Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present this interview with Jim Hance. Known as “jimh425” on RV.NET and other forums, Jim lived half of his life in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and still follows SEC football. He grew up active in sports and was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. In the SEC, he had many outdoor pursuits including camping and has hiked part of the Appalachian Trail. Jim made his first trip to the Northwest to shoot a NFAA National Outdoor Championship almost 30 years ago. Jim migrated to the Northwest to work in computer software. He has skied all over the Northwest and British Columbia and has a variety of outdoor pursuits. In the Northwest, Jim picked up RVing 20 years ago to enjoy the outdoors with his wife and kids more easily. He started with a 6,000 pound 24 foot Terry travel trailer pulled by a Ford Expedition, then moved up to a Holiday Rambler 32 foot Class A, which he kept for several years. He currently owns a 2006 Host Rainier Double Slide truck camper.
Thanks, Jim, for taking the time to talk. How long have you been interested in truck camping?
Jim: I was interested in truck camping since the ’90s, but I was missing a truck! I had been around truck campers out field trialing and thought it would suit me once the kids were older. My first RV was a travel trailer that we had for a short time, and then a Class A which was great for traveling with a family, kids, and their friends. A truck camper appealed to me to for ease of traveling and the ability to tow as needed. I was going to have a pickup as my daily driver in any case.
Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
Jim: My truck camper is a 2006 Host Rainier. It has two slide-outs and a wet bath. The slides are opposed with one being the dinette and the other the kitchen with cabinets. It was a lot model and pretty much loaded with every option. It has a queen bed with a Heki skylight over the bed and bunk over the dinette. It has the built-in Onan 2,500 watt generator and rear awning. We weren’t looking for all of the options but they’ve worked out great.
Can you tell us about your search?
Jim: Our search was broad. We were lucky to live in the Northwest with lots of brands available to see. I was first interested in a Northern Lite since I thought that would be what I would put on my Chevrolet 2500 short bed. It didn’t take long to realize either we were going really small or would also be truck shopping.
After looking at several lots, we started looking at campers with slides. One of our criteria was a lighter color interior, and the other was a large open floor. We did need space on the floor for a dog crate since our dog travels with us a lot. We looked at Arctic Fox, Bigfoot, Northern Lite, Okanogan, Palomino, S&S, Lance, Adventurer, Eagle Cap, and, of course, Host.
We found the Host to be more open than most and better fit/finish than the Eagle Cap. I thought their construction was solid. We settled on 9.5 to avoid a long extension and was pretty much the maximum size we could have with a SRW. I expected to be towing at least some of the time. My camper had to be no more than 110 percent the capacity of a SRW loaded lightly. I picked that number after reading RV.NET. The deal maker was really the kitchen slide that opposed the dinette slide. That made the kitchen very nice. We love the open floor plan.
Which tie-down and turnbuckle system do you use to keep your camper secured?
Jim: I use Torklift frame mounts and FastGuns. My previous truck had the steel mounts and the current truck has Talon aluminum mounts. I’ve had zero issues with the systems on either truck. However, I’m one of those guys who did leave the tie-down that covers the fuel door lose one time. In Oregon, they mostly pump your fuel. I unlocked the FastGun. When he finished pumping, I drove off. It was miles up a curvy road climbing up from the Columbia River when I noticed the FastGun swaying in the side mirror. I stopped and put it back on. It was no worse for the wear. I’m glad I was watching.
Have you made any modifications yet to your Rainer?
Jim: We’ve made a lot of small changes. We tinted the windows, and added additional shelves to the cabinets and outside storage compartment. We’ve also added rugs/runners to the floor, drawer liners, and changed the shower curtain to a fabric one. We also designed a little more comfortable dinette by adding foam behind the cushions and constructing a half round table. We’ve added plenty of D-rings to the dinette as hold downs when we need to carry items in the dinette. We covered the aluminum for the table with contact paper with a wood pattern. I added a D-ring to the screen and back of the dinette to keep my Brittany from being able to push the screen door open. We lined the cabinets with Reflectix. Put Reflectix under the mattress, and use Reflectix in the windows, vents, and skylights in cooler weather or if we want it to stay dark longer. I probably left something out.
What do you use to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?
Jim: I use a generator, but generally speaking I don’t have to use either for a weekend. I switched to LEDs which made a big difference.
Can you tell us about more about your pickup truck?
Jim: My current truck is a lot more capable than my first truck. I no longer worry about carrying too much water with my 2010 F-450 Lariat 6.4 PSD diesel with 4.30 gears. I’m the second owner and have had it for 3 years. It’s a crew cab long-bed. It turns way tighter than the F-350 and of course, carries the camper better and stops way faster.
What is the GVWR of your F-450?
Jim: The GVWR is 14,500 pounds. With the camper, the gross weight of my truck is 14,400 pounds with 5,720 pounds on the front axle and 8,680 pounds on the rear.
Have you made any modifications to your current truck to carry your truck camper?
Jim: My current truck didn’t need a lot even though I bought it used. I did add Bilstein 4600s. They made the ride much smoother. I also added airbags to level and Energy Suspension bump stops to make contact with the overloads. It came with 19.5 rims stock. I’m running 225R70 Hankook DH01s for added traction just in case.
My first truck that carried my truck camper was a 2006 F-350 PSD 6.0 diesel Super-cab, Lariat, four-wheel drive, long-bed. It was bought specifically for the camper and to be my daily driver. It carried the camper pretty well. The first long trip was to Montana to pick up my current Brittany. It was completely stock. Still, it rode pretty well. Later, I added Energy Suspension bump stops, air bags, and Rancho 9000s, and Vision 19.5 G rated Hankook DH01 245R70s. I added the 19.5s to give myself more room to overload the SRW.
Do you have any regrets in your choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Jim: I don’t have any regrets. I was lucky to find the RV.NET truck camper forum before getting too involved.
Have you made any mistakes relating to truck camper that would help our readers?
Jim: I planned for a truck camper when I bought a truck in 2002. Of course, I did what many people did … I bought too small of a truck for the camper I would buy. I did use the truck for a few years before trading, but if I had known more, I would have bought at least a 2500HD instead of the 2500. The extra 500 pounds capacity would have opened up a few more possibilities. At the time, 500 pounds didn’t seem like much.
Yeah, I know what you mean. I really stress buying the right truck with my readers. Which engine type do you prefer, diesel or gas?
Jim: Diesel. I live in the Northwest and travel the mountain passes quite a bit. A diesel is better if you think you may tow. Either way, I know of too many people who have burned up transmissions to want to tow with a gasoline engine over the mountains.
What kind of mileage do you get when hauling your truck camper?
Jim: That’s a tough one. My mpg has varied a lot between the two trucks. I’d say as high as 14 and as low as 8. Recently, I’ve been in the 11 range. I don’t really worry too much about it.
Do you tow anything like a Jeep or boat?
Jim: I have a drift boat and have towed a motorcycle trailer. I will be towing a friend’s trailer to Yellowstone this year. That should be fun.
What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Jim: I run 19.5s on both of my trucks that I’ve used. I’ve used Hankook DH01s on both. I’ve been running 80 psi all around on the F-450 with 225s. I used to run 85 front and 100 in the rear most of the time on the SRW with 245s. It’s approximately 20 pounds more than the recommended on the SRW.
Those are some beefy tires. What is the weight capacity of them?
Jim: The weight capacity of the 225s is 3,640 pounds and the 245s is 4,540 pounds. Obviously, I have four tires in the rear on the DRW. The 225s are the maximum size tire suggested for the stock F-450 rims.
Do you have any favorite places where you like to explore? What was the most difficult and challenging?
Jim: I like a lot of the national forests in Washington. I haven’t really had any issues although I’ve slowed down to take the rougher sections. There are some trails our Loup Loup that were narrow with a lot of limbs. I like national forests a lot. In the higher elevations, the roads can get quite rough. Since I have always had four-wheel drive on my trucks, I’ve just slowed down and everything has been fine.
What are your favorite states where you like to explore?
Jim: I’d have to say Montana and Wyoming are my favorite, but my home state Washington and Oregon aren’t bad.
Are there any areas or trails that you think are overlooked?
Jim: Again, I’d have to say national forest roads are under used. Many have great boondocking locations. Since I just need a minimum amount of space to camp, I can find a lot of locations that are left over from hunting that are great during the Spring and Summer. The bonus is there aren’t that many people who use the national forests compared to hunting season.
What advice would you offer to those who are considering buying a truck camper to take off-road?
Jim: Obviously, I don’t hardcore off-road with my camper, but I think the most important traits are to have tires capable of great traction and strength. There is a penalty for having extra strong tires like 19.5s and aggressive tread, but the benefit is that the tires will do much better when you go on rough roads with sharp rocks or mud. I know the rocks that are on the roads in Washington are capable of slicing a side wall, so tough tires are important.
If you were to buy a brand new truck camper or overland rig, and price wasn’t an issue, what would it be?
Jim: I’d probably buy a second rig. I’d go light for that one with a short wheelbase gasoline engine supercab or similar. I’d have to double-check but it would probably end up being a Ford F-150. My truck camper would be a Four Wheel Camper basic model.
What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?
Jim: We did have what should have been a scary moment when the folks in front of us slammed on their brakes doing 70 mph. My wife was driving, and that moment proved to us that we did the right thing by buying a F-450 instead of F-350 to insure we had great brakes. No, she wasn’t tailgating, but totally shocked at how fast the truck stopped.
Have you had any notable run-ins with wildlife?
Jim: Not really. I’d say the bison in Yellowstone come the closest to being run-ins. Well, they ran down the middle of the road.
What foods do you like to eat when you’re out exploring?
Jim: Our favorite breakfast is ham/cheese/egg omelets on croissants for breakfast. We eat a lot of nuts of different types, and vegetables and fruits for snacks. We also generally bring microwave popcorn. We almost always grill outside for lunch and dinner. Sometimes we eat cheese tortellini. We try to bring fresh bread at times which helps make the meals better and it’s easy to bring with us. We generally bring bottled water or jugs of water. We could drink from our holding tanks, but almost never do. I make coffee with a drip through filter. We also sometimes drink hot chocolate.
Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Jim: I hunt, fish, hike, and ride street and dirt motorcycles. I also like to powerboat. I enjoy drifting rivers with my drift boat.
This has been great talking to you. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me. Do you have any final advice for our readers?
Jim: There isn’t one answer for everyone, or even for one person. Situations change. Be adaptable and expect that you will need to adjust over time.