Which should I buy first, the pickup truck or the truck camper? If you’re starting from scratch and have neither a truck nor a camper, it’s best to buy your camper first. This will save you angst and money in the long run by allowing you to buy the right truck with the right amount of payload.
What size pickup truck should I buy to haul my truck camper? We always recommend that you buy a one-ton truck to haul a truck camper. Why? Because one-ton trucks have the largest payload ratings and are equipped with the suspension and brakes required to safely haul a truck camper. In the future, you may want to upgrade your camper to something larger and heavier. If you already own a one-ton, you can upgrade your camper without having to buy a new truck. To learn more about trucks and truck campers, check out our Truck Camper 101 article.
Where can I find my truck’s payload rating? The payload rating can either be found on a driver’s side door pillar placard or in the glove box on a payload certification form. You can also determine the payload rating by subtracting the curb weight of the truck (you’ll need to take it to the scales to get this figure) from the truck’s GVWR.
Why is the payload rating so important when choosing a pickup truck? The payload rating tells you how much weight your truck can safely haul without stressing the truck’s frame, suspension, and tires. Basically, everything being carried in your truck, including all passengers, gear, and your “wet,” fully loaded truck camper, should be below your truck’s rated payload. Grossly exceeding the payload and GVWR is neither safe for your passengers nor for others who are sharing the road with you. And if you happen to get in an accident while overloaded, your insurance company can void out your coverage.
Can I haul a truck camper on my half-ton pickup truck? The answer is, yes, but with several caveats. It depends on the truck, it’s rated payload, and the size and weight of the camper you have in mind. The 2015 Ford F-150 short-bed (154 inch wheelbase), crew cab, two-wheel drive, with the heavy duty payload package, has a rated payload of 2,799 pounds. That’s a pretty impressive number even for a three-quarter-ton. Most half-ton pickup trucks out there, however, have much less payload, usually around 1,600 pounds. This reduced payload basically limits you to pop-ups, small hard-side campers, and cab-less campers like the Northstar Vista. With the exception of the aforementioned Ford F-150, most half-tons will need upgrades to the shock absorbers, spring packs, brakes, and tires, the latter meaning a capacity improvement from the weak passenger tires that came with your truck to a set of good light truck (LT) tires with a Load Range of either D or E.
What kind of tires should I buy to safely haul a truck camper? A good starting point would be a quality light truck (LT) like the Cooper Discoverer AT3 tire with a Load Range of E, though for half-ton pickup trucks hauling small pop-up campers, a Load Range D tire will suffice. On the other hand, if you’re hauling a heavy, long-bed truck camper with one or more slide outs you may want to buy 19.5 inch, Load Range H tires for greater weight capacity. When shopping for your tires make sure you buy a tire with the required weight capacity to safely haul your truck camper.
I just took my truck and my brand new truck camper to a local CAT scale and my combo exceeds my truck’s payload and GVWR by 1,000 pounds. What should I do? Buy a truck with a bigger payload. If you can’t buy a bigger truck then I would buy new wheels and tires with a larger weight capacity. Grossly exceeding your payload and GVWR is a bad idea. Grossly exceeding the weight rating of your wheels and tires is foolish and can be deadly.
What is a truck camper’s center of gravity (COG) and why is it so important? Every camper has a COG which identifies where along the length of the camper the weight is centered. Ideally, 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. You never want to have the COG behind your rear axle, especially with large and heavy campers, because this may impair your truck’s handling.
How can you determine if a truck camper’s Center of Gravity is bad or off? 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.
I just bought a used truck camper. What equipment do I need for my camper? First, you’ll need a six wire pigtail or umbilical to electrically connect your camper to your truck. Second, you’ll need four truck camper tie downs and four turnbuckles to secure your truck camper to your truck. The tie downs are mounted to the truck’s frame while the turnbuckles act as the “middleman,” securing the truck camper to the truck. There are basically two tie down systems from which to choose: Torklift and HappiJac. I prefer the Torklift Frame Mounted Tie Down System, but that’s my personal preference. Check with your truck camper manufacturer to see which system they recommend. As for the turnbuckles, you will want to buy quality spring-loaded turnbuckles, like the Torklift FastGun, as these have the right amount of give when stressed.
How tight or snug should my turnbuckles be when attaching them to my truck camper? Your turnbuckles should be snug only, don’t go medieval on them. If you’re using excessive strength to clamp them down or tighten them then they’re too tight and may over stress and damage your truck camper. This is a common problem with newbie truck camper owners. Refer to the instruction manual that came with your turnbuckles if you are in doubt.
Do I need a rubber bed mat to haul a truck camper? Yes. The mat not only protects your truck bed or bed liner from being scratched, but also prevents your truck camper from sliding around while driving your truck. You can buy specially made mats for the specific make and model of your truck or you can go cheap and buy generic anti-fatigue floor mats like those sold at the big box stores. Having tried both, I prefer the former. These fit better and prevent your camper from sliding around better than generic mats. I use and highly recommend the Dee Zee Heavyweight Bed Mat.
How can I correct rear sag when my truck camper is mounted to my truck? If your truck has leaf springs on the rear axle, the most common remedies for correcting rear sag include adding either another leaf spring or a set of Torklift Stableloads. If your pickup truck is a half-ton or three-quarter-ton, adding another leaf spring will probably serve you better as they provide more support, provide a much better ride, and provide much improved spring travel compared to a truck with just a large overload spring. Stableloads, however, are an effective suspension modification, too. By engaging the overload spring sooner, they not only prevent rear sag, but can correct sway and improve control. If you decide on a set of Stableloads, I recommend the quick disconnect version as they can be engaged or disengaged in a matter of seconds. If your truck is equipped with coils springs, read on.
How can I correct rear sag if my truck is equipped with coil springs? You have two basic options: Timbrens and Hellwig Big Wig air bags. Each product is engineered differently. Air bags support and lift the rear of the chassis through the use of compressed air while Timbrens accomplish this through the use of progressive rubber springs. There are pros and cons with each. Timbrens cost less, are more durable, and require zero maintenance and adjustments, while air bags can be manually adjusted based upon the weight of the load (up to 5,000 pounds), and have a much more pleasant ride. Unfortunately, air bags are also prone to leaking, can create too much roll when they’re overfilled, and aren’t particularly suitable for off-road use like the Timbrens. The choice is yours though we now prefer Hellwig’s Big Wigs.
How can I correct sway when driving with my truck camper? For those who are experiencing excessive sway or a tipping sensation on turns you can try the aforementioned Torklift Stableloads or a sway bar like the Hellwig Big Wig. Both are excellent products, but work differently. Stableloads work with the leaf springs to engage the overload springs sooner while the sway bar works with the axle and frame of the truck to keep the truck level. Most of the three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks coming off of today’s assembly lines come with a front sway bar only, but many find that a rear sway bar is also needed for added stability and handling when hauling a truck camper. Some truck owners have even replaced the front OEM sway bar with a beefier aftermarket sway bar and have seen a noticeable improvement in handling.
I own an F-250 pickup truck with a 2,500 pound payload and would like to buy a 4,500 pound camper. Can’t I just add additional leaf springs, Torklift Stableloads, 19.5 inch tires, and a rear sway bar to haul it? You can, but we strongly recommend that you don’t. If you do you’ll neither be safe when the weather’s bad nor will you be legal if you get in an accident. The lawyers will have a field day with you and will take everything you’ve got if you injure their client. Is it really worth the risk on a recreational outing? Nope!
Can I tow a boat or Jeep when hauling a truck camper? Absolutely! The ability to tow is one of the great things about owning a truck camper. An important thing to keep in mind when towing, however, is that the tongue weight of the trailer must be factored in against the truck’s rated payload. If you want to tow, you might need a hitch box extension since many truck campers extend anywhere from 18 to 24 inches from the rear of the truck. Available in different lengths, a hitch box extension is simply a metal tube that fits into a standard hitch receiver.
Can I put a long-bed truck camper on a short-bed truck? In most cases, no. The Center of Gravity will be too far behind the rear axle. However, some manufacturers produce both short and long-bed versions of the same model camper like Northwood Manufacturing’s Wolf Creek 850. In this case, you could put a long-bed model on the short-bed truck, but you lose the benefits of the side storage boxes found on the short-bed models.
Can I put a short-bed truck camper on a long-bed truck? Yes. This is usually done by truck camper owners so that the front of the truck bed can be used for storage.
Should I remove my truck’s tailgate before mounting my camper? In most cases, yes. Any camper that extends beyond the truck’s bed will require removal of the tailgate. But even if your camper does load with the tailgate down, you should still remove it. When it comes to truck campers every pound matters, especially when that weight is behind the rear axle. Why haul a 80 pound tailgate when you don’t need to? It only takes a few minutes to remove and with it off you don’t have to worry about the paint getting damaged by stones being kicked up from underneath.
Can I camp in my truck camper dismounted/unloaded from my truck? In most cases, the answer is, yes. A few companies that make small pop-up campers, like Four Wheel Campers and All-Terrain Campers, recommend keeping their truck campers mounted when using it, but this is the exception rather than the rule. All hard-side truck campers and many pop-up campers, like those made by Host and Lance, are made to be used both on and off the truck. However, doing this over time can stress the jack connections. The camper also has a tendency to “wobble” as well when used off the truck. A new company, named StableCamper, has addressed both concerns with a revolutionary new product called the StableCamper. Introduced in 2018, the StableCamper is the ONLY truck camper stabilization product that addresses both side-to-side and front-to-back stability when unloaded from the truck. It can be used when camping or when stored at home.
Is it alright to keep my truck camper plugged in to 110 volt AC when it’s in storage or at my home? This comes down to personal preference. Some do, some don’t. If you want to leave your camper plugged in, I would disconnect your batteries (if you don’t have a battery disconnect switch, then I would install one) to prevent your batteries from boiling dry. Today’s smart chargers are supposed to trickle charge when the batteries are fully charged but chargers, even new ones, have been known to fail, though it’s rare.
Is it true that some states don’t require truck campers to be registered? Yes, that’s true! A total of 40 states still classify the truck camper as cargo rather than an RV. That means if you live in those states you won’t have to pay annual license and registration fees like you would with other types of RVs.
Can passengers ride in the back of a truck camper while traveling? The short answer is yes, but we don’t recommend doing it. Why? Primarily because truck campers aren’t equipped with safety belts. Not only that, truck campers—consisting of either aluminum, wood, or fiberglass construction—aren’t built for high-speed vehicle accidents and collisions. Click here to see which states allow riding in the back while driving.
Why do truck campers make such great RVs? Because they’re versatile, easy to drive, maneuverable, and can be taken far off the beaten path. They’re also cheaper to own, easier to maintain, and provide better fuel economy than other types of RVs.
Where should I go to learn more about truck campers? This site has loads of unbiased information about truck campers. This site also an outstanding truck camper forum where you can interact with other truck camper owners. Click on the “Forum” link near the top of the page to access it.
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert and licensed ham radio operator, he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, holds a BS degree, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 4WD Ram 3500 outfitted with a SherpTek truck bed with a Bundutec Roadrunner mounted on top. - KK7TCA
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