The Russos Switch from Van Life to Truck Camper Life

Back in 2015, Joe and Kait Russo sold their home, quit their jobs, bought an RV and left the safety and comfort of home for a new beginning—life on the road. What started as a one-year vacation and a chance to do some traveling turned into an adventure with no end date, new careers, and a new understanding of what it means to truly live the life you want. During their first few months on the road, Joe and Kait began posting blogs to update friends and family about their travel. That led to posting videos on YouTube and slowly, they found that they were reaching far beyond their network of loved ones. They also realized this new reach could be the key to allowing them to extend their nomadic life indefinitely. Since then, the Russos have built a travel brand—We’re The Russos—consisting of a popular website, a YouTube channel with millions of total views, and a loyal following of fellow travelers and dreamers. They are passionate about inspiring others to take risks and pave their own road to fulfillment.

TCA: Welcome to the truck camper community, Joe and Kait. We were excited to learn you bought a truck camper. Can you tell us a little about yourselves?

WTR: Thank you for having us Mike. We’ve been traveling full-time since 2015. During that time, we’ve been to 46 states and three Canadian provinces in different types of rigs and we’ve also traveled internationally. Shortly after we hit the road in 2015, we started a content creation business which is what allows us to continue living this lifestyle.

TCA: How long had you been full-timing and what type of rigs did you travel in?

WTR: We started in a class A RV towing a Jeep Wrangler and lived out of that for about a year and a half. Then we downsized to a class B van in 2017 and lived out of different types of vans for almost three years.

TCA: Why did you decide to switch from a van and get a truck camper?

WTR: Timing, budget and availability were some of the factors that started us down the path of a truck camper. We initially planned to get a 4×4 camper van that we could take down some of the forest roads we were hesitant to explore in a 2WD camper, head to Alaska and possibly into Central and South America. We started looking at used camper vans, but found we either didn’t like the chassis they were built on or we didn’t like the interior build. The truck camper appealed to us because we could get the truck we wanted with the camper we wanted and have the option to change either in the future. We also published a video about why we picked a truck camper over a van.

TCA: Can you tell us about your Four Wheel Camper Flatbed Hawk and why you chose that particular make and model?

WTR: We chose the Hawk flatbed model because it offers an open floor plan with a small footprint and is lightweight. We ordered our camper with many of the options available and the dry weight came out to 1,640 pounds. Since we live out of the truck camper full-time, we prefer the amount of interior storage compared to the slide-in model and the fact that we can both move around without having to squeeze by each other. With the Norweld aluminum tray, we also have additional storage boxes and a slide-out tray all of which are lockable. For readers who are interested in all the details, they can find a list of all the options we choose for our FWC Hawk Flatbed on our website.

TCA: What kind of batteries are you using now and how large is your battery bank?

WTR: We choose the upgraded lithium battery option offered by Four Wheel Campers. They installed three LiFePO4 deep cycle batteries in for a total of 300 amp hours. The batteries are tied into a 2,000 watt inverter which powers all of the outlets.

TCA: Fantastic! Do you use solar power or a generator to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?

WTR: We have 320 watts of solar on the roof and a 120 watt portable solar panel that plugs into the side of the camper. When we’re driving, the dual alternators on our F-350 truck are charging the batteries. We do not have nor do we have a need for a generator in our truck camper.

TCA: Any plans to modify your truck camper rig with things like a grey water holding tank?

WTR: The grey water tank was the first mod we made to the camper. We ran the sink drain down through a hole in the bottom of the camper and tray which connects to a homemade grey tank mounted on the underside of the tray. I built the tank using a 6-foot piece of 4-inch ABS pipe with an inlet/vent on one end and an RV style blade valve for dumping on the other. It holds a little more than three gallons which is more than enough for us. Other mods we have planned for the camper right now are ways to keep things organized and secured in the camper such as a spice rack and L-tracks.

TCA: You went with an older model truck. Can you tell us why?

WTR: We had a few reasons for choosing an older truck. First, we wanted to keep our costs down. Second, our preference was a pre-emissions diesel as we want to be able to take the truck anywhere in the world. We ended up with a 2000 Ford F-350 4×4 crew cab with the 7.3L Powerstroke Diesel (PSD). Not only did it fit what we were looking for but the 7.3L is known for being reliable.

TCA: The Ford 7.3L PSD is a terrific engine. Did you need to make any modifications to your truck to carry your flatbed truck camper?

WTR: Not yet. Since we have a one-ton truck, it still rides well fully loaded. We do have plans to go to a suspension shop to have the leaf springs replaced or reworked.

TCA: Do you have any regrets in your choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?

WTR: The only thing we would want to possibly change is to have the camper mounted further back on the tray to allow for a storage box between the camper and cab. While we don’t need the extra storage, this would be a good place to mount the spare tire. We have 34-inch tires on the truck and they don’t fit in the standard spare location.

TCA: What kind of mileage are you getting with your setup?

WTR: We are consistently getting 14 mpg. It will dip down to 12.5 mpg if we are spending most of the drive climbing hills.

TCA: Do you have plans to tow anything like a Jeep or boat?

WTR: We’ve talked about getting an enclosed trailer to bring my motorcycle and a couple of other toys along, but then we lose the ability to do a lot of backcountry exploration, which is why we bought the rig in the first place. We may carry our dual sport motorcycle on a hitch mounted rack.

TCA: We like your front bumper. Who made it? Is it outfitted with a winch?

WTR: It’s a Ranch Hand bumper that’s winch ready, but we haven’t added one yet.

TCA: What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run when driving off-road?

WTR: We’re running 18-inch American Racing rims with LT295/70 Nitto Terra Grappler 2 tires. Because of the load on the truck, we’re currently running them at 75 psi on the road and have yet to take them off-road.

TCA: We assume you’ll be doing a lot of boondocking and off-roading in your setup. What kind of places do you prefer?

WTR: We love spots far enough away from civilization that we can enjoy the quiet and unplug for a few days, but close enough that we can go into town on occasion to dump the tanks, take a LONG shower and grab a beer at a local brewery. With this set up, we’d like to do more off-road exploration that takes us even further off the beaten path.

TCA: What are your favorite states where you like to explore?

WTR: Arizona holds a special place in our hearts, but we love most of the 46 states we’ve been to.

TCA: Are there any places that you think are overlooked?

WTR: The South and Midwest are great when the weather is mild. There isn’t as much boondocking on public land as there is out west, but there is still a lot to see and experience. We’ve spent a couple summers in Wisconsin going to the air show in Oshkosh and have loved exploring the state. We also have good friends in Alabama and are always surprised by the beauty and hospitality the state has to offer.

TCA: Based upon your experiences, what do you see as the biggest advantages of the truck camper over other types of RVs?

WTR: For us, the advantage of a truck camper was that we could source a truck and camper separately. While we were shopping for our next rig and looking at van conversions, we found that we either liked the interior or the chassis but it was very hard to find a van where we liked both. This meant that if we wanted a van, we’d either have to build-out our own (which we did not want to do) or have one custom built (which was out of our budget). Going with a truck camper setup allowed us to source a used truck and install a new camper on it, getting exactly what we wanted for both. This also allows us to swap out just the truck or camper when our travel needs change without having the get a completely new rig.

Another advantage is that for off-road applications, trucks are much better suited than most modern vans. While there are some very capable GMC Savannas and Ford Econoline vans out there, we could buy a good used 4×4 truck for the amount it could cost to convert those vans to four wheel drive.

Finally, we like the large aftermarket for trucks which will allow us to customize the truck to suit our specific need.

Looking back, when we went from our class A to the class B, we did so because we wanted to be more nimble and be able to go more places. Our truck camper still provides us with that nimbleness which is another reason why we went with the Four Wheel Camper and stayed away from the larger truck campers.

TCA: What advice would you offer to those who are considering buying a truck camper?

WTR: With any camper, understand how and what you are going to use it for. Make a list of things that are essential for you and any deal breakers. For example, we wanted a comfortable place to sleep and work with a large battery bank to run all of our devices and a four wheel drive vehicle. Specifically for truck campers, pick the camper before the truck. Know what the camper’s dry weight is and be honest with how much stuff you plan to bring with you. Pick a truck which has enough carrying capacity for the camper, you, whomever else is coming along and all the stuff you plan on bringing—including a full tank of water.

TCA: That’s great advice. What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?

WTR: Being in the middle of a raging storm while our phones are sounding warning messages that a tornado had touched down in the area.

TCA: Have you had any notable run-ins with wildlife?

WTR: While boondocking in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona, we saw a cougar stalking a deer herd. At Yellowstone National Park, we saw a park ranger being chased by an elk near the Mammoth Hot Springs.

TCA: What foods do you like to eat when you’re out exploring?

WTR: Just about anything we can make in the electric multi-cooker and on our Omnia stove top oven. Recently, we’ve been making a lot of stews, chilis and cornbread.

TCA: You have a substantial following on social media channels. Can you tell our readers about them so that they can follow you?

WTR: Our website, weretherussos.com, is where we post articles and resources for people interested in living a similar lifestyle. All our videos can be found on our YouTube channel, and readers can also connect with us on Instagram and Facebook .

TCA: This has been great talking to you and welcome again to the truck camper community. Do you have any final advice for our readers?

WTR: People ask us all the time what type of camper they should buy. Our advice is to find the camper that’s right for you and be prepared to make compromises. What works for you and the way you travel now may not work for you in a year or two so be open to change. We started with a class A motorhome towing a Jeep Wrangler and that worked for us at the time. Now we’re in a Four Wheel Camper and it works for how we want to travel now and where we want to go. Find the camper that best suits YOU then get out there and use it!

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About Mello Mike 485 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.

1 Comment

  1. Great article. Im thinking about buying a truck camper as i near retirement. Im stuck with the decision to buy a camper or a piece of land, in the mountains. I guess the benefits of the camper over the land is, I’ll get to see more with the camper option. What do you think? Ps. I own a 2016 F250 ford Power stroke diesel

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