Truck campers are a type of RV that fits inside the bed of a pickup truck rather than being a driveable or towable unit. Truck campers are generally considered the smallest type of RV on the market, and buyers choose them for versatility and durability.
One massive benefit of truck campers is the smaller footprint, slightly larger than a standalone vehicle. The smaller total size provides more opportunities to drive narrow roads and utilize smaller campsites. Because of the unique way truck, campers are hauled, there are many necessary considerations before purchasing and using one.
Truck camper jacks stabilize and support the truck camper when loading and unloading the camper unit from the truck bed. Truck camper jacks are most commonly between seven and eight feet wide, which is wide enough to accommodate the width of a standard single rear wheel truck bed.
Some dual-rear-wheel truck and camper combinations may require the addition of camper jack extensions. Extensions provide more width between the jacks, allowing wider trucks to load the camper into the bed. Jack extensions are installed between the jack component and swing-out mechanism, adding 6 inches total to the width of the camper jacks.
You can easily and safely put a short bed camper on a long bed truck. An essential aspect of loading a truck camper into the truck’s bed is maintaining a safe center of gravity (COG). The COG ensures the majority of the truck camper weight sits above or in front of the rear axle.
It is unsafe to have a center of gravity that sits behind the rear axle, towards that back end of the truck. A short bed camper does not inhibit a safe center of gravity, even installed on a long bed truck, and thus is safe to install and use.
One benefit of using a short bed truck camper in a long bed truck bed is the addition of storage in the empty space in the front of the bed. This space offers storage of extra camping gear, fishing gear, or anything you want. Often, you may see a spare tired stored here.
In most cases, you must use a camper jack system to load or remove a truck camper from the bed. You might see a truck camper manufacturer or an RV sales shop moving truck campers without camper jacks or a truck. Technically, you could use a crane or a forklift, but most people do not have access to this machinery at their house or campsite.
It’s not very advisable, even if you want to use machinery to load up or remove your camper. Handling the camper this way poses a considerable risk to not only the unit but also to you. A forklift is nowhere near as stable as the four corner jack systems for truck campers. Thus, the camper is at risk of tipping or falling during loading or unloading. The camper falling may damage the unit itself and injure anyone involved in the loading or unloading process.
Specific insurance for your truck camper is available, but it is not necessary for use. Most car insurance policies will cover any accidents or damages to the truck camper while sitting in the truck’s bed. If you are driving and an accident occurs, your vehicle insurance will cover the cost of damages to your vehicle and damage to your camper.
However, if you plan to take the camper out of the truck bed while camping or for storage, you may want to consider an additional policy. If you have your camper stored in your backyard, off of a truck, and a tree falls on it, your vehicle insurance will not cover the costs of repairs or replacement.
In this case, a specific policy on the camper will come in handy. An additional policy will also protect the owner of the truck camper from any liability. For example, if there is inclement weather and the camper tips over and falls down a hill striking a person, your policy will cover it.
If you match a truck camper and a truck correctly, the unit will not be hard on your truck. It is imperative for the preservation of your vehicle that you do not exceed the payload outlined by the manufacturers. Even for a short trip, doing this could result in severe damage or injury.
However, if you do the proper research and load a camper with the correct weight for the truck, it will not be too hard on your vehicle. Trucks are designed to haul loads and tow. Using them as designed will not ruin the truck. Sure, wear and tear will happen, but that will occur whether you carry a camper or not.
If you are concerned about putting too much stress on your truck’s suspension or drivetrain components, you can modify the truck with aftermarket parts. Many people beef up their suspension systems by adding airbags, additional leaf springs, or sturdier shocks. Ultimately, there are endless ways to modify your vehicle to better respond to the burden of hauling a camper, but these reinforcements are not necessary to get the job done.
A single rear wheel vehicle is sufficient for many truck campers, meaning you do not need a dually (dual rear wheel) truck for a camper. However, a dually truck will always provide more stability, especially for larger and heavier campers. If a truck camper features a slideout, it will undoubtedly weigh enough to require a dually truck.
The best way to find out if a particular camper you want to purchase requires a dual-rear-wheel vehicle is to find out the exact weights of the camper. Camper manufacturers always list the dry weight of the camper. The dry weight refers to the camper’s total weight before adding any water, gear, or people.
Truthfully, this is not an accurate number to consider when researching if it requires a dually. To be more precise, sum up the weight of water and gear you will have on board. For example, if your camper has a 25-gallon freshwater tank, you can add 208 pounds.
Each gallon of water onboard weighs 8.3 pounds. You can estimate the weight of your gear, food, personal items, etc., that will come along on the camping trip. It is always better to overestimate than underestimate, as it can be dangerous to overload a truck.
Once you have done the math on the wet weight of the camper, you then must find out the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) on the truck you own. Keep in mind that the GVWR includes:
- The weight of the camper and contents.
- Fuel in the fuel tank.
- All items inside the truck.
If the estimated total of all these things is above the weight rating of a single rear wheel vehicle, you will need a dual-wheeled truck or a smaller camper.
There are many brands of campers that are small, lightweight, and engineered for optimal use on a single-rear-wheel truck. These options give potential buyers more choices, especially if they do not already own a dual rear wheel truck and are not in a position to purchase a new vehicle.
It is definitely possible to stay in the camper without the truck, and people do it all the time. A truck camper is most safe and supported on a truck. However, many options are available for increased stability and support when staying in the camper, off of the truck.
One option is to lower the camper jacks as far as possible. Doing this lowers the camper’s center of gravity and reduces the weight strain on the jacks. Keeping it low lessens the burden of rocking movements from wind or moving around inside the camper.
Another option is to use a type of stabilization method. There is more than one option out there to achieve this. One top-rated product is a Stablecamper. The Stablecamper is made from aluminum and provides stability in all directions. Similarly, many campers use sawhorses for additional support. You can create a sawhorse system yourself or purchase a setup like the Torklift Camper Packer.
Using additional support for a freestanding truck camper will make for a more pleasant camping experience. You won’t have to worry about the weather, and the camper will not rock back and forth as much while you move about inside.
Some campers are designed and manufactured specifically for use in a short-bed pickup truck. They are shorter in length than those designed for long-bed trucks, maintaining a safe center of gravity. Campers made for short-bed trucks have less living space and storage than other models but are convenient because of their size. Some people simply don’t want a larger truck, especially driving around every day when the camper is not loaded.
Short bed trucks offer smaller payloads, but short bed campers are designed to minimize weight. A short-bed truck camper will likely meet the payload standards for modern short-bed trucks. A long-bed camper is often too heavy and is above the payload ratings for shorter trucks. There are additional risks to putting a long-bed camper on a short-bed truck, including the camper falling out of the truck.
It is entirely possible to put a truck camper on a lifted truck, though some special accommodations are likely needed. Depending on the size of your vehicle and the size of the lift, you may need to add camper jack leg extensions.
These extensions attach to the bottom feet of the camper jacks and provide additional height to the entire camper. The extensions give a higher set truck enough space to back up underneath the camper to load the camper into and out of the truck bed.
You may think a compact truck disqualifies you from getting a truck camper. However, there are slide-in, pop-up truck campers that are very lightweight and can be carried in the bed of a compact pickup truck. While these options may not be as spacious and roomy as traditional truck campers, they allow greater flexibility when driving the truck.
Pop-up campers maintain a very low profile and a low center of gravity, making them more stable. Pop-up campers can travel down roads and under bridges that a typical truck camper cannot. They are designed to reduce weight where ever possible. Their soft canvas sides and smaller living spaces are lighter and less taxing on a small truck.
While truck campers are not inherently dangerous, users can make mistakes if they fail to take proper precautions and considerations. Common mistakes include:
- Driving too fast on highways.
- Taking turns too quickly.
- Ignoring low clearance bridges and obstacles.
Mistakes like these cause injury or damage. Truck campers are top-heavy and are more likely to tip over at high speeds. Truck campers may also be dangerous if the camper’s weight is significantly heavier than the GVWR or payload.
Similarly, if they are not correctly stabilized when off a truck, they can be more susceptible to tipping over in high winds or adverse weather. Plus, moving around frequently and too quickly while inside could cause the camper to tip over when the jacks are raised.
Truck campers are safe to drive but require special considerations above and beyond a typical car. Going carefully and safely makes driving a truck camper much like driving any other vehicle. Loaded trucks with campers in the bed cannot move as quickly, as the high center of gravity changes the maneuverability and increases the chances of tipping. A truck with a camper also needs longer distances for proper stopping, so leaving plenty of space between yourself and vehicles ahead of you is imperative.