This is the first of a new series of articles on older, sometimes vintage truck campers. In this first “Blast From the Past” installment, Alex Blasingame takes a look at a camper that isn’t that old, a 2002 Lance 815.
With its wood frame and aluminum skin, the Lance Lite 815 represents a bygone era at Lance Campers. At 1,667 pounds, it was the smallest hard-side truck camper that Lance made at that time. According to an old brochure, Lance touted the 815 model as “a popular compact design.” It was built “sleeker, narrower, slightly lower and lighter in weight for full size trucks with less capacity.” The camper was built for both long-bed and short-bed trucks. Lance said that this camper was light enough to be hauled on a half-ton truck as did the dealer. Experience, however, taught us that a half-ton truck isn’t a very safe way to haul this camper around. In my opinion, a three-quarter ton truck is the minimum amount of truck you’ll need to safely haul this camper.
The layout of the Lance 815 is very functional. The dinette and refrigerator are on the passenger side while the bathroom and kitchen are positioned on the driver’s side. This basic layout is actually pretty popular. It seems like all truck camper manufactures have something similar. The dinette seating area is large and the table converts into a usable bed if you need it. The dinette bed is functional, but there should have been some type of fastening device to hold the table top in place when sleeping on it. A restless person could dislodge the table easy and end up on the floor. We took care of this problem by adding a couple of holding pins. Above the dinette table is an overhead cabinet for storage, the face of this cabinet folds down into a bed for a small child or you can use it for additional storage.
The wet bath is probably the camper’s weak point. The bathroom is tight, even for a guy like me who is only 5 feet 6 inches tall. The built-in sink is small, shallow, and nearly impossible to use with the door closed. Not only that, but you can’t open the bathroom door when the dinette is being used as a bed. A folding door should have been used instead when the camper was built at the factory.
The kitchen area is where the Lance 815 really shines. A kitchen sports a two burner stove (the oven was optional). The sink is deep and the counter top has a large area for meal prep. There is plenty of storage under the stove and under the sink for pots and pans. Opposite from the kitchen area is a 3-way 2.7 cubic feet Norcold refrigerator with a small internal freezer. After 15 years, only the kitchen faucet and the Norcold refrigerator have been replaced, everything else in the camper is original equipment.
The cabover area is roomy and spacious. It features a north-south queen size bed with two overhead cabinets mounted on either side. A strip space is also along the mattress to place items on extra things like books, pens and small storage containers. Two small tables and wall lights are at the head of the bed, built between the wall and mattress. An upgrade mattress should have been offered since the standard one was pretty thin and not very comfortable (this is something we upgraded soon after our purchase). The propane furnace has done a very good job of warming the camper even when the outside is fairly chilly. All the windows are single pane and condensation does occur in cold weather, but isn’t too bad if a vent is cracked. These same windows have mini-blinds and the cabover section has curtains.
The holding tanks in the Lance Lite 815 are fairly small—only 18 gallons fresh, 10 gallons black, and 11 gallons gray. A larger black tank could have been installed, so saving weight must have been the reason for going so small. Unfortunately, the shower water drains into the black water holding tank—another weak point in the overall design of the camper. In spite of the small holding tanks, we’ve enjoyed taking this camper out on our excursions. We’ve learned how to adapt and make changes to our habits to stretch out our supply of water. This includes bringing supplemental 5 gallon fresh water tanks to stretch out our capacity.
The camper has held up very well after 15 years of ownership. It survived a flood and endured severe vibrations and shaking on some pretty rough roads. During a trip on the Mojave 4×4 Road, the aluminum siding on the camper suffered a few dents. On the White Rim Trail a few years later, I snagged a tree limb that punctured a few holes in the aluminum siding. That damage cost me $1,300 in repairs. Over time, the front passenger side anchor point on the camper pulled down an inch due to all the rocking the camper has gone through off-road. This damage wasn’t bad and I was able to repair it myself and reinforce it. A lot of good can be said about the wood framing that Lance used back then. The camper has held up very well with all the shaking, rolling and rattling I’ve done to it over the years.
The roof has been one of the strong points in the camper’s overall design. The roof is constructed of a single piece aluminum with cut outs for the various vents and piping. This has been an excellent roof material for it durability—much better than the rubber roofs found on today’s truck campers. The aluminum roof has proven to be easy to repair and easy to maintain. Many tree branches have tried to punch holes into this tough material only to be cast aside. The only real downside is when it rains. During a heavy rain it gets noisy inside.
In conclusion, the Lance 815 has proven to be an incredibly durable, well-made truck camper. It’s the perfect hard-side truck camper to take on camping trips and overland expeditions. You won’t get a lot of bells and whistles with the Lance 815, but that’s okay. It has the basics you need to camp comfortably and that’s what most people are looking for when they shop for a camper. Unfortunately, if you’re interested in buying a Lance 815, you’ll need to buy it used because Lance no longer makes them. It’s too bad. I love my old Lance 815. Without hesitation, I’d buy another.