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 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 picking the perfect truck camper, weight is a very important consideration if not the most important. Truck camper manufacturers list the unloaded “dry” weights of their campers on their websites and brochures, but these figures can be deceiving for newbies because these numbers don’t include installed options like air conditioners and solar panels, and never includes things like a full fresh water holding tank, propane, food, clothing, cookware, utensils, and camping gear. As a result, Truck Camper Adventure recommends that you add 1,000 pounds to the dry weight of your hard-side camper; 500 pounds to the dry weight of your pop-up. This is a general rule and the number should be adjusted based upon the size of the camper. Never buy a truck camper based upon the manufacturer’s listed dry weights alone. This often-used rule of thumb works surprisingly well for truck camper owners and has proven to be a pretty accurate barometer when going to scales, even for us. Obviously, you’ll want to ensure that the truck you choose has a payload rating higher than this more realistic camper weight figure.
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.
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 can you expect to spend on a brand-new 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 and is another great option.