The Complete Guide to Truck Camper Camping

the-complete-guide-to-truck-camper-camping

The tiny living movement has been growing off the charts over the last five years as more and more people chase a nomadic lifestyle of adventure. The trend to purchase or build a home on wheels gives so many of us the freedom to travel and take our homes everywhere. When we first became full-time RVers, we purchased a 30 ft travel trailer. Ever since then, we envisioned going even bigger and upgrading to a 40 ft fifth-wheel, but as time passed, we did the opposite – we went smaller.

Big rigs are great for full-timing in resorts and campgrounds, but they make it more challenging to get out into nature and off-grid. Over the past few years, we’ve seen more and more people selling their things, buying a small adventure camper, and setting out on an adventure of a lifetime. It makes sense why – the smaller your home on wheels, the more you can explore! Small campers like class Cs, class Bs or vans, and truck campers are all great choices!

We personally chose the truck camper route and wouldn’t have it any other way. We already had the truck, and we found the perfect truck camper. Since getting a truck camper, our country has become our playground. We’ve been able to camp on a sandy lakeside beach in Utah, among the red rocks of Arizona, and in the snow-covered mountains of Colorado! Traveling in our truck camper has allowed us to be so spontaneous – it’s so easy to hit the road without any plans in mind. We now have the freedom and capability of being able to stop anywhere because of our size. If you love adventure and being spontaneous, keep reading to learn more about how truck campers can be a great option.

Truck camper aerial view with couple around campfire
A truck camper is an agile RV for boondocking in remote locations.

Why We Bought a Truck Camper

Choosing an adventure vehicle was tough – we were torn between a van and a truck camper. We weighed the pros and cons, cost, features, and more before deciding to proceed with truck camper life.

Overall, it made so much sense to choose a truck camper over a van for our situation. If we went the van route, we would have had to trade in the SUV that we use to commute to work in exchange for a van to build out. The costs of time needed to build out a van and the thought of getting rid of our current vehicle wasn’t worth it to us. We already had a capable truck and could find a used truck camper that was compact enough to fit inside the bed of our truck with our tailgate closed. And, it allows us to tow our 30 ft travel trailer at the same time. We were fortunate to find a road-ready truck camper that was in excellent shape, only two years old and less than half the price of a new truck camper off the lot.

A used truck camper cost us thousands less than building out a van.

It’s a huge decision, but as you’ll see, choosing a truck camper was a no-brainer!

Pros & Cons

Each class of RV has its pros and cons – today, we’re focusing only on truck campers.

Pros to Truck Camper Camping

  • A truck camper is small + compact.
  • It’s road-ready! – once mounts are installed on your truck, you can be on the road with a truck camper in minutes.
  • You can have all of the features of a typical RV (bathroom, shower, sink, fridge/freezer, AC, microwave, etc.)
  • You can turn your everyday truck into an RV.
  • You’re able to travel anywhere your truck is capable of going.
  • You don’t have to learn how to tow.
  • It’s easy to find parking in towns with small parking spaces.
  • You’re able to tow toys with you like boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, trailers, motorcycles.
  • You can leave it at your campsite and take only your truck into town.
  • It can be more affordable than other “tiny living” options.
Couple in Colorado with RV
Chase & Lindsay in Colorado with their truck camper RV.

Cons to Truck Camper Camping

  • You need a truck capable of carrying the truck camper weight
  • It can be hard to find a truck camper due to the lower production of truck campers
  • Truck campers have a higher price per square foot compared to some trailers/RVs
  • Some truck camper mounting systems may be permanent and non-transferable to future vehicles
  • Truck campers can make your truck ride “top-heavy.”

Cost

Price is a huge factor when deciding what type of compact adventure RV is right for you. We couldn’t rationalize spending more on our adventure RV than we did on our full-timing RV, so we knew a truck camper was the way to go!

Truck campers can be hard to find. Unlike the most popular styles of RVs (class A, class C, fifth wheels, and travel trailers), truck campers have fewer units manufactured, and the amount produced yearly is a lot lower than other RVs. There are fewer companies that manufacture truck campers in comparison to the manufacturers who make different classes of RVs. This leads to a supply and demand issue with truck campers. Aside from that, the available ones can vary significantly in price depending on used versus new, age, features, and brand.

couple enjoying lake sunset with truck camper.
Backyard views are epic when boondocking in a truck camper.

Brand New Truck Campers

$20,000 to $60,000 (average)

Similar to all other RVs, the cost varies greatly on the size, brand, and amenities of the truck camper

Used Truck Campers

$5,000 to $20,000 (average)

There is surprisingly a decent used truck camper market available. Some original buyers might have started out with a truck camper and decided to upgrade to a larger RV or have decided that they weren’t fit for the camping life. When you find a used truck camper, expect the quality to vary. You will find that some are old and need a lot of TLC, where others may be nearly brand new! The best thing you can do when buying a used truck camper, or any used RV for that matter, is to inspect it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure the unit is solid, has little to no water damage, and in good enough shape for your liking.

Refer to this buying guide for buying a used RV.

Features

The costs vary due to amenities, brands, and size. Some truck campers have all of the same amenities that you will see in other RVs – toilets, showers, refrigerator, freezer, microwave, stovetop, oven, TV, etc. Others will have the basics – bed, table/seating area, refrigerator. There are even some brands of truck campers that are designed entirely bare to be fully customized according to your needs.

You may desire a truck camper but want more room inside. If that’s the case, there are truck campers with slide-outs. These types of truck campers are extremely spacious, and the exterior size can be deceiving. Just remember, slide-outs will add to your weight and cost.

On the contrary, you may want a truck camper that is as compact as possible. If that’s the case, you may want to look into pop-up truck campers. These types have roofs that lift up, revealing a canvas similar to pop-up campers. A benefit of truck campers is the ability to fold down and decrease your overall height and weight, and they also give you a sense of tent camping. Keep in mind, this type of truck camper requires a little bit of setup time, whereas other styles are ready the second you park.

Another unique feature of truck campers is the four support jacks which are the key to lifting your camper up and down. You will use the jacks anytime you want to lift the truck camper up into the bed of your truck, and anytime you want to take it out of your truck bed.

There are three different kinds of jacks — hydraulic jacks, electric jacks, and manual crank jacks.

We have electric jacks which we operate with remote control. Having electric jacks makes loading and unloading our truck camper time-efficient and straightforward. If you’re worried about weight, a pro tip is to take your jacks off when towing and use them only when you are loading your truck camper into your truck bed or taking it out. Some truck campers may have black and grey holding tanks, and some may not. You can also find some truck campers with onboard generators already installed while others may find the need to install solar and/or bring your own generator. The more amenities and gadgets your truck camper has, the more costly it can become. Aside from these varying features, the brand you choose can make a huge difference.

Brands

Truck campers were one of the original forms of camping after tents. This is why it can be so common to find older truck campers in the used market. Since then, the production has slowed down, but some well-known brands still continue to excel in building these epic tiny homes for those of us out here that really love to get off-grid.

Popular Truck Camper Brands

  • Lance
  • Arctic Fox
  • Travel Lite
  • Nucamp
  • Four Wheel Campers
  • Northern Lite
  • Palomino
  • Adventurer LP
  • Scout
  • Capri

We’ve been so excited to see truck campers making a comeback! You can expect to see several newer innovations in this unique class of RV, and the most prominent innovation is size. Manufacturers are making more models fit smaller beds; in the past, when trucks were manufactured, they were primarily built with “long beds” or 8-foot beds. Most truck campers were designed with this size of the truck in mind. Now with the popularity of short bed trucks (around 6 ft), truck camper manufacturers have updated their design to accommodate those of us with shorter beds! Like we said, our truck camper fits in our 6.5 ft truck bed with our tailgate up!

Truck Requirements

As this market increases in popularity, there is an increasing demand for lightweight truck campers. Truck campers can be found in several sizes and are compatible with several different trucks.

Most Common Requirements for Trucks that Haul Truck Campers

  • 6 ft truck bed or longer – having a longer bed will open up more options when choosing a camper.
  • 3/4 ton to 1-ton trucks – newer, smaller truck campers can even be mounted on ½ ton trucks.
  • Adequate payload capacity.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your limitations are based on your truck’s payload capacity, not tow capacity for truck campers. There are even some truck campers on the market that require a dually truck for safe travels.

Mounting Systems

Similar to trailers and hitches, mounting systems will be required to keep your truck camper securely fastened to your truck bed while traveling. You will want to research what options work best with your truck and rig.

Three of the Many Different Types of Mounting Systems

  • Brophy Clamp Mounts (clamp on to truck bed rails)
  • Tork Lift Frame Mounts (a truck-specific kit that bolts to your truck’s frame)
  • Happijac Mounts (require drilling into truck’s bed and bumper for mounting)

We only have experience with Brophy clamp-on mounts and Tork Lift mounts. We started out with the Brophy clamp-on mounts as a temporary solution to get our truck camper home. They were highly affordable, easy to install, and removable. We used these for a few months but then decided we wanted to upgrade to frame mounts. The Brophys clamp onto your truck bed which transfers all of the stress and weight from the truck camper to your truck bed rails, whereas the frame mounts transfer it to the truck frame; attaching to the truck frame is a more solid option that helps decrease your “roll” or movement of the truck camper while traveling. With the Brophy mounts, we could feel more movement while traveling. After switching mounts, we instantly felt an increase in stability and would recommend frame mounts for a more secure, permanent solution.

Regardless of which type of mount you choose, you will need turnbuckles. Turnbuckles are “tie-downs” and are the long metal rods that keep your truck camper tied down to the truck. Each mounting brand typically offers a turnbuckle system that works well with its mounting system. Overall, we’re very happy with our setup as it feels very solid and we were able to avoid drilling into our truck bed or bumper like some systems require you to do.

Gear

One of our favorite things to talk about is gear! Depending on the gadgets and gear you have, you can be completely self-sustainable and make traveling a breeze. We would need an entire blog post to cover all of our gear recommendations, but you will find some of our favorites below.

Gear Must-Haves

  • Solar panels – help keep your battery charged and allow you to be off-grid longer.
  • Inverter – instead of using a generator, you can use an inverter for power off-grid.
  • Generator – a great way to stay powered
  • Portable power options – when you don’t have hookups to shore power, these battery/solar-powered power banks are a great way to keep your gear charged and power electronics.
  • Backup camera – not only helpful when traveling/parking, but also doubles as a security camera.

Embracing truck camper life has opened up so many doors and adventures for us. We already had our capable truck, so the decision was very easy for us. All in all, it will come down to what the best option is for you and what you’re comfortable with. We love the affordability, road readiness, and ease of travel that comes with owning a truck camper. Cheers to more adventures + safe travels!

Shop Camping World’s inventory of truck campers here!

Would you buy a truck camper? Tell us below in the comments.

We’re Lindsay + Chase from We’re Out N’ About on social media. We’re married traveling nurses who live fulltime in our RV with our cat, Moka! We’ve been traveling the country in our home on wheels for over 3 years, moving city to city every 3-6 months for work. When we’re not working, you can find us roadtripping around the US or traveling internationally!

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