Truck Camper Loading and Shifting: A Few Tips

Is it normal for a truck camper to shift and move in the bed of your truck while on the road? That’s a great question. The short answer is, yes, but that movement should be minuscule. Too much movement can damage both your truck and your truck camper. What can you do to limit such movement? I’ll explain in this short article.

I remember the first time I took my old Wolf Creek 850 truck camper on a long road trip. This trip included a drive on the famous Burr Trail in southern Utah. To my surprise, the camper experienced a fair amount of movement on the trip. So much so, that one of my turnbuckles had become detached from the bottom tie-down. Fortunately, I saw the dangling turnbuckle in my rear view mirror and was able to reattach it before losing it. I knew then that I needed to find a solution. Having a camper sliding around that much on the road was unacceptable.

How did I solve the problem? By installing a thick rubber bed mat. Nothing works better in reducing truck camper shifting and sliding than a good rubber mat. The rubber not only provides a great non-skid surface for your camper, but also provides a fair amount of vibration resistance when vibrations and bumps in the road are encountered. A good rubber bed mat should be at least 1/4-inch thick though 1/2-inch thick is better. Some truck camper owners prefer rubber horse stall mats, while others like to use truck specific bed mats that you can buy online. Either option works well, but in my opinion truck specific mats are easier to install and remove and fit your truck better than horse stall mats. I recommend the Dee Zee Heavy Duty Bed Mat. This is what I’m using in my Ram 3500.

A Dee Zee rubber bed mat mounted in the bed of a 2011 Ford F-250.

Another way to limit truck camper movement, of course, is to employ an effective tie-down system. A good tie-down system consists of either frame-mounted or bed-mounted tie-downs and a quality set of spring-loaded turnbuckles like Torklift FastGuns. I’ve written about both at length, so there’s no need to go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that a good tie-down system like those made by Torklift will prevent excessive truck camper movement and shifting. They also keep your truck camper secure in the bed of your truck when high winds are encountered. But don’t over tighten your turnbuckles. Doing so can damage the anchor points and frame of your camper as outlined recently our Top 10 Truck Camper Mistakes article.

A Torklift FastGun and a Talon Tie-Down.

Limiting the forward movement of your truck camper is important, especially during an emergency stop. Rubber bumpers, which are mounted to the front of your camper, are probably the best way to accomplish this. The advantage in going this route is that you install them and forget about them. Another option is to make your own front bumper out of a standard 2×4 wrapped in carpet. This makeshift bumper should be about 36 inches long and should be placed in the front bottom of your truck bed. Most truck campers being built today come with front bumpers, but some don’t and are offered only as an option by truck camper manufacturers. If this is an option for you, I recommend getting them. Torklift makes an excellent front bumper kit for truck campers, which is the kit most truck camper manufacturers appear to be using today.

Rubber bumpers mounted to the front of a Cirrus 820 truck camper.

For those who like to take their camper off-road, you might get a good amount of side-to-side movement even with a rubber bed mat. The wheel wells will limit the amount of movement to some degree, but depending on the camper and the angle of the roads, your camper might shift as much as 3 inches. This is too much. Not only can this shifting cause a turnbuckle or two to come loose, but for narrow, 7-foot-wide campers, can also cause body damage to your truck from the turnbuckles digging into the sides of your truck. To limit this side-to-side movement, I recommend installing four bump stops. Made from 2x4s about 8 inches long, these bump stops should be mounted in front of and behind the wheel wells of your truck. When mounting them, large sheet metal screws work best. If you go this route you’ll need to trim your rubber bed mat to fit within these four bumpers. When installing them give yourself a little leeway, about 1/2-inch, to make loading your truck camper easier.

Uneven roads, like the White Rim Trail, can cause your truck camper to shift from side-to-side.

While I’m on the subject of truck beds, here are a few tips. Never place your truck camper directly in the bed of your truck. The surface of your truck bed is too smooth and slick, especially if it ever gets wet. Using a plastic bed liner in the bed of your truck should also be avoided for the same reason. A spray-on bedliner doesn’t prevent truck camper movement very well either (I tried this with my first truck camper and it didn’t work). In my experience, the only things that prevent excessive truck camper movement is a good rubber bed mat and/or a set of front and side mounted bumpers.

Like hitching a trailer, perfectly backing your truck underneath your camper takes a little practice. When backing in it’s best to align the camper with some reference point in the truck bed. I like to use painters tape placed in the center of the camper and in the center of the truck bed to use as reference points. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as it works for you. Try to get your camper centered in your truck bed as much as possible. For the process, it’s best to have another person spot for you as you back in your truck. This way you can make sure that your camper is straight and is perfectly aligned in the middle of your truck bed. You’ll also want to make sure that your power cord is out-of-the-way and doesn’t get pinched when you lower your truck camper into the bed of your truck.

Becoming proficient in loading your camper takes practice.

Depending on the year and make of your truck and truck camper, you might need to use some kind of riser to keep your truck camper wings from touching or rubbing on the rails of your truck bed. Riser kits like those offered by truck camper manufacturers are a great option. Another option is to make your own riser by placing one or two sheets of 1/2-inch plywood in the bed of your truck. In most cases, one sheet of plywood should be enough, but two sheets might be needed depending upon the make and model of your truck and camper. When going this route, you should place the plywood underneath your rubber bed mat rather than on top of it.

We hope you found the tips in this article useful. If you have some tips and tricks of your own, we’d love to hear from you.

A special thanks to Alex Blasingame and Nolan Sturgeon for permission to use their photos.

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About Mello Mike 454 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.

2 Comments

  1. Mike, great article, could you please expand on it with photos, etc, of (1) the side bumpers to prevent side to side shifting, and (2) the tape method you use to load your camper (where to you view your sight lines from as you back the truck under the camper? I can’t see the bed of the truck that well from the drivers seat).
    Thanks (btw – I live in Boulder, Ut, and share your fondness for this part of the state)

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