Picking the Perfect Truck Camper

For consumers looking to buy a new RV, most never consider a truck camper and we think that’s a serious mistake. Today’s truck campers possess the same accouterments as the finest motorhomes and fifth wheels found in today’s market. Indeed, some hard-side, long-bed truck campers offer large dry baths and sport as many as three slide-outs to increase living space. Most are also quite spacious and roomy and offer large kitchenettes and full-size queen beds.

Like most RVs, the slide-in truck camper can be purchased in a wide variety of styles, shapes and sizes. These include long-bed and short-bed models, hard-side and pop-up models, as well as slide-out and non slide-out models. At a minimum, you’ll need a one-ton dual rear wheel (DRW) truck like the Ford F-350, Ram 3500, and Chevy Silverado 3500 for the palatial, multiple slide-out models like those made by Host Industries and Lance Campers, but smaller pop-up campers can easily be hauled by a half-ton pickup truck like the Ford F-150. Got a mid-size truck? Smaller and lighter pop-up truck campers—like those made by Four Wheel Campers and Outfitter Manufacturing—can also be purchased for the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado, and Toyota Tacoma.

If you’re starting from scratch and have neither a truck nor a camper, it’s best to choose your camper first. This will save you angst and money in the long run. Like any RV, you’ll want to buy the camper that meets your requirements as far as size and features are concerned. You’ll also want to buy one that will allow you to go where you want. If you plan on doing a lot of off-roading then you should look hard at a pop-up truck camper. These are lighter, have a lower profile, and have a lower center of gravity for tackling the most challenging roads and terrain. If your travel plans are less ambitious, however, and you desire more security and a more capable four-season camper, then the hard-side truck camper will probably suit you better. That isn’t to say, you can’t do a lot of off-roading in a hard side truck camper. You can. But if you decide to go this route we recommend going with a non-basement model, with a low center of gravity, and a width of no more than 7.5 feet.

When it comes to truck campers, weight is a very important consideration, if not the most important. Truck camper manufacturers list the unloaded “dry” and the fully loaded “wet” weights of their campers on their websites and brochures, but these figures can be deceiving. These numbers don’t include installed options, like air conditioners, and never include things like food, clothing, cookware, utensils, and camping gear. Never buy a truck camper based upon the manufacturer weights alone. To give you a better idea of what the camper will actually weigh when you use it add 1,000 pounds to the camper’s listed wet weight. This often-used rule of thumb works surprisingly well for truck camper owners and has proven to be pretty accurate when going to scales. Obviously, you’ll want to ensure that the truck you choose has a payload rating higher than this more realistic camper weight figure.

The well-equipped Lance 825 is an ideal truck camper for today’s 3/4-ton pickup truck.
Colorado-based Hallmark RV makes on the best pop-up campers in today’s market.

An often overlooked factor when choosing a truck camper is how it’s constructed. Aluminum framing is used by most truck camper manufacturers today, but there are several that still produce wood-framed units. Like anything, there are pros and cons to each. Aluminum is lighter, doesn’t rot, and is mold and termite resistant, but it also “sweats” during cold weather (a primary cause of delamination), is more expensive, is subject to more thermal loss, and becomes weak and brittle with time. On the other hand, wood is stronger, cheaper, easier to work with and repair, and insulates better, but is also heavier, can rot and mold over time if exposed to moisture. The only truck camper manufacturers that we know of that still use wood to construct their frames are Northstar, Capri, Bundutec, Rugged Mountain, and Alaskan. These manufacturers also build the strongest and most durable truck campers in today’s market.

Should you buy a truck camper with one or more slide-outs? That’s a personal choice. There are certainly some big benefits with slide-outs, the most important being the extra space and roominess they create, but they’re also heavy, tacking on an average of 400 pounds to the weight of the camper. Slide-outs can also leak, create drafts when extended (a major consideration for those who like to camp in the winter), and can breakdown. Like anything it really comes down to what’s important to you. If you think you’ll need the extra space that the slide-out provides and you think you’ll camp mostly on well-maintained roads, then I would get one. But if you are planning on going off-road quite a bit and plan on doing a lot of exploring, then I would avoid them. The stresses they can create to the frame of the camper can eventually cause problems.

The Host Mammoth 11.5 triple-slide truck camper is the largest and one of the best truck campers in the industry.

Another popular truck camper feature is the basement. Basement models offer more storage and floor space by allowing the holding tanks to be placed underneath the floor, but they also add more height to hard-sided campers, not a good thing for those who like to off-road and explore heavy forested mountain roads. Basements can also be a negative for those who enjoy winter boondocking as the tanks can freeze if they’re not adequately heated. All things considered, the positives of having a basement far outweigh the negatives, especially for pop-up campers since camper height really isn’t an issue. Most pop-up truck camper manufacturers like Bundutec, Hallmark, and Four Wheel Campers offer non-basement models only; Outfitter Manufacturing is the only company that we know of that produces a pop-up truck camper with a basement.

An important term you’ll need to become familiar with when shopping for a truck camper is the truck camper’s Center of Gravity (COG). Every camper has a COG which identifies where along the length of the camper the weight is centered. Basically, the camper’s COG needs to be in front of your truck’s rear axle. Most campers have a sticker identifying where the COG is located to take some of the guess work out of it. You never want to have the COG behind your rear axle because this will impair your truck’s handling. Verifying that your COG is good is fairly easy and will require a couple trips to the scales with and without your camper. If your front axle weighs less with your truck camper on your truck then your COG is “off.” You can usually correct this by reloading your camper, ensuring that most of the weight is in front of your rear axle.

How much is a truck camper? That depends on several things including the size of the camper, the number of slide-outs (if any), the weight, and the features and options found in the camper. Quality (or lack thereof) is another big factor because some companies and brands are poorly made like Palomino and Travel Lite though both have seen improvement as of late. In general, you’ll find that truck campers cost more by inch than travel trailers and motorhomes. There’s a reason for this, primarily because they’re more difficult the build and because there are fewer truck campers being made. For a new slide-in truck camper, you can expect to spend anywhere between $9,000 (for a small Palomino pop-up) and $60,000 (for a triple-slide Host Mammoth 11.5). A used truck camper model, depending on age, size and features, can cost considerably less.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

About Mello Mike 483 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a Jeep and truck camper enthusiast, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently drives a 2013 Ram 3500 4x4 pickup truck with a 2016 Northstar Laredo solar powered truck camper mounted on top. He enjoys football, music, hiking, travel, photography, and fishing. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management until 2017, and now runs this website full-time. He also does some consulting and RV inspections on the side.

9 Comments

  1. What do you think of the Travel Lites? They are very visually appealing and are built all by hand in a small factory. I never see them mentioned,though, in your articles. Thanks in advance for your opinion.

  2. Very nice new website ! There is one minor mistake in this article however. Four Wheel Campers are built with an aluminum frame, and not wood.

    Best wishes from a former EM2.

  3. Hi Mike. Your blog is helpful and interesting – thanks. We've purchased a truck (Chevy 3500 diesel dually) and are very serious about a truck camper. We’ve looked at the Lance and Arctic Fox and were wondering if you have an opinion on either one of those truck campers or any others that you have information on. We like how the Lance is made. We’re wondering about durability, longevity and ease of use. Any information you can provide would be appreciated. Thank you, John

    • Hi John. You can't go wrong with either one. Both Lance and Arctic Fox are great campers. You'll just need to choose the floorplan you want and get the best deal that you can.

      Good luck!

  4. Mike
    I forgot to let you know, we had decided on a Ram 2500 BigHorn Long bed CC. Saw a Power Wagon, now I'm like a kid in the Candy Store. Like all of the options that are on the power Wagon but don't like the 6ft 4in bed. So now we are looking more. Thank you very much for returning my Phone Call a couple of weeks ago. We are defiantly going to get a Ram 2500 I like the 3500 also.
    I will keep you posted. And again thank you so much for the phone call and you taking time out of your day to talk to me on the phone and answer my questions.
    Pat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.