As you’re probably aware, RVing doesn’t always mean needing a motorhome.
What if you want a cozy spot that can detach from your vehicle?
Well my friend, that’s exactly what a truck camper is!
These power packed RVs are an amazing option for those individuals looking to rough it, with a little more style than tent camping.
In fact, some of the floor plans on these truck campers are down-right luxurious with options bound to fit any nomad.
Whether your a solo weekend warrior or a couple looking to overland in remote areas, a truck camper can be a good addition to your travels.
Let’s dive in!
So… What Exactly Are Truck Bed Campers?
A truck camper is a type of RV that specifically sits within the bed of a pickup truck. Often called a slide in camper, cab over camper, pickup camper, or just plain truck bed camper.
Pickup campers offer many of the same amenities that a travel trailer offers (like a kitchen, dining area, single bed, and maybe a toilet), but in a significantly more compact space that sits on your pickup truck bed.
If you’re a solo traveler (or a couple) and enjoy camping in rough country, then a truck bed camper could be a great fit.
They primarily come in three different styles:
- Hard Shell Slide-In Bed Campers
- Pop Up Campers
- Flat Bed Truck Campers
The first two are going to be considered “slide in campers” which means the actual recreational vehicle (although I’m often confused why you could call this camper an RV, but whatever) will slide in and out of the pickup truck. With camper jacks, the unit can be completely stationary off the truck itself when camping.
The flat bed camper doesn’t sit on the truck bed, it basically is the bed of the truck itself. In fact, to have a flatbed installed, you need to remove the side walls of the pickup truck bed, and then install the camper onto it. You can still detach a flat bed camper, but from everything I’ve read it’s very tricky, and the truck often becomes unusable for carrying stuff.
Let’s dive into each separately…
Hard Shell Truck Camper
When you think of truck campers, you’re probably thinking of a hard shell. These recreational vehicles slide into the bed and are completely self contained units where they offer standard amenities common to most travel trailers.
This truck camper type is often called cabover campers because of the cab which sits over the cab (the driving section) of pickup trucks.
These are going to be heavy. You will normally need a heavy duty truck that can carry 3,000 pounds. NOTE: you’re not towing this thing, you’re carrying it.
The cool thing about hard shells is the variety of floor plans available to you. They can fit a long bed truck, short bed trucks, come with a variety of slide out options, and is a fully demountable recreational vehicle.
Just keep in mind that they’re more top heavy (discussed below) than their counterparts.
Pop Up Truck Campers
This camper type will be very similar to hard shells except for the roof will pop up and down when in use or when being hauled.
Pop-ups are much lower profile which means they have a lower center of gravity (important for you overlanding folk) and can sit in a variety of different truck beds. You’ll probably be able to get away with a half ton truck to carry a pop up, but I suspect you’ll most likely still need one a ton truck to carry it. The good news is it won’t feel as heavy.
The downside to a pop up camper is the insulation (or lack thereof). Just like with pop up campers and hybrids, temperature control is an issue, and you’re going to feel sketchy sleeping in inclement weather. The canvas can often get shredded by heavy wind, but the pop up has to be expanded if you’re going to sleep (at least in most options).
Flat Bed Truck And Camper
Before we talk about the difference between the two types of truck campers, I need to quickly touch on what a flat bed truck is.
A flat bed is a truck type where the actual bed doesn’t have any side walls. It’s just a flat surface.
Because there’s no walls, you have a lot of extra surface to play around with. A flat bed camper utilizes this and provides a lot more space for the owner.
In fact, these truck camper manufacturers will typically build the flat bed camper with the idea that it’s not coming off the truck at all (although you could technically detach it, but most people don’t).
This offers a ton of extra interior space, and all the amenities you could ever want in a truck camper.
The downside is you’re typically going to be attached to the truck’s bed. Meaning, we almost never find a flat bed camper getting taken off.
You’ll also normally need a one ton truck to carry this.
Truck Camper Quick Facts
Wide variety of sizes. Typically from 7 feet to 15 feet end to end.
Dry weight is 1,000 – 5,000 pounds. Make sure to know your weight when adding fluid or other items because the extra weight might overload your payload capacity.
Usually sleep 2 comfortably. I’ve seen sites say 6 people can sleep in one and I can’t help but think that’s a clown car. There’s almost only 1 queen size bed for these campers…
Usually one comes standard, but I’ve seen models with three slide outs.
Between $8,000 – $60,000+.
Advantages of Truck Bed Campers
Let’s dive into the advantages of a truck bed camper!
Extra Cool Camping Spots
If you want to upgrade your camping lifestyle, and get into the most remote (and untouched) campsites possible, then a truck camper is going to fit your goals. In fact, if you’re in the RV world at all, you’ll notice that the most amazing pictures come from people who are overlanding with their truck camper. Why? Because the only way you’re getting to those locations is with an off road truck. There’s no chance you’re hauling travel trailers or fifth wheels across rocky terrain. With a truck bed camper, you’re now free to travel to your camping location, and park just about anywhere you like. It certainly adds variety to your camping style!
Truck And Camper Are Separate
Listen, on the road you’re going to face issues with your truck or your camper. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. However, that’s the neat thing about having a separate truck and camper combination. When you get to your location, it’s fairly straightforward to unload your slide in camper which frees up the pickup truck to be a driving vehicle. Plus, if there’s any mechanical issues with your truck (which there will be) then you have a place to stay while it’s getting repaired. Compared to motorhomes, having the detachability provides a lot of extra exploring opportunities.
I personally think the main reason people get a truck camper is because of the extra towing they allow for. Truck bed campers don’t block the hitch, which means you’re free to tow boats, ATV’s, and other toys to your destination. Remember, the truck camper is sitting in the bed, and that’s your payload capacity, but you still have a towing capacity you can factor in.
Disadvantages of Truck Bed Campers
Those advantages make getting a truck bed camper seem like a great idea, but before you go out and start throwing cash around, make sure you know the disadvantages…
Hopefully this is fairly self-evident, but you’ll need a substantial truck to safely carry a truck camper. Most people opt for one ton trucks, but I’ve seen a lot of people carrying their campers (mostly pop ups) with half ton and three quarter ton pickup trucks. Although personally, I think there’s only a handful of models that will allow for a half ton to be a good option. This requirement can put a dent in your financial planning, particularly because the truck models are going to be diesel engines which will cost more at the pump (although they get fairly decent fuel economy).
Tall people, I’m looking at you. You’re going to feel cramped. It’s definitely no Class A lifestyle in there. Even the best truck campers are only going to have a clearance of about 6′ 6″, which is going to feel fairly tight if you’re taller than 6’2″. Your living space will include just a small u shaped dinette and not much else in terms of options. If you’re planning on being a solo traveler (or a weekend warrior) then this might be a good option. However, if you have a family – even just 1 child – I would recommend looking for different RV options. Adding to this point, don’t expect a lot of storage space. There are some models that allow for a generator to be stored, but that’s about it when you compare it to other RVs. Short bed, long bed, doesn’t matter the truck size, you’re still limited on overall space.
Remember how I said you could go off road with truck campers? Well, that was really only partially true. Personally, the only models that go off roading well are pop up slide in campers because of their lower profile. Unfortunately, if you’re getting a hard shell slide in camper, you’re going to be top heavy to a degree that will feel uncomfortable when on rocky terrain or uneven ground. The center of gravity for truck bed campers is typically much higher and it will feel very wobbly. The only options that fit well for serious overlanding are pop up truck campers because they can be closed which lowers the center of gravity.
Main Features Of Truck Campers
The neat thing about a slide in camper is you can get quite a few amenities, but in a much more compact space. Sure, you’re not going to get luxury like some other RVs because you’re saving on space, but a lot of these truck bed campers provide more than enough to make your camping experience extra special. Not to mention that if you’re used to tent camping, then sleeping in slide in campers is like staying in the four seasons! Anyways, here’s what you can typically expect from truck bed campers.
To be upfront, truck bed campers don’t exactly have segregated living spaces. Everything sort of blends into one unit, so to speak. For the most part, there are two primary layouts I’ve seen with a truck bed camper. First, you have the single couch which operates as an extra storage space; Second, you have a dinette option which operates a little more like a work or dining space. The cool thing about most of these campers is they offer air conditioning as a standard option (except for most pop up campers) and you have just enough space for 2 to be comfortable while lounging or sleeping.
You will almost always see a wet bath in truck bed campers, if they even have a bathroom as part of the floor plan. For those unfamiliar, a wet bath means everything (including the toilet) can get wet. From all the ones I looked at, most slide in campers will include one bathroom, although it’s somewhat rare to find them in pop ups. Remember, you’re dealing with a truck bed here, so space is going to be limited. Also, expect the toilet to be small, like really small.
You’re going to find a fairly typical RV kitchen with truck bed campers, although a little more squished together. From most floor plans you’ll find a single sink, a 1-3 burner stove, and a very tiny fridge. Often newer truck bed campers are going with glass stoves which help extend the cutting space within the kitchen. Something to pay attention to is that the kitchen very often blends with the living area and bedding.
So I have to say the cool thing about slide in truck bed campers in general is the queen size bed (sometimes wood framed) that most will offer. I haven’t been able to find truck campers without queens as the main bed. To me it almost feels like they’re built for couples. Granted, there are some pop up camper options which can be very sparse when it comes to bedding options, although those tend to be for the hardcore tent campers looking to pull toys.
But if you’re not 100 percent sold on truck campers, maybe take a look at the teardrop campers. They are just as compact, but easier on your truck.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some most frequent questions we’ve been asked (along with ones I pulled from my research).
Can You Live Full-Time In A Truck Bed Camper?
Technically, yes. However, you’re going to be a hard core overlander if you decide to live full time in a camper. Most will have all the amenities you need to make life comfortable, but be aware that you’re putting a lot of stress on your truck with the constant payload. I’ve heard stories of trucks splitting in half from too much wear.
Do Truck Bed Campers Detach From The Truck
Yes, almost all of them do. Slide truck bed campers (both hard shell and pop up camper options) will detach from the bed. You’ll have to disconnect the chains and mount, then drop the jacks and slide the truck out from underneath the camper, but it can certainly be done. You’ll often find flat bed campers won’t leave the truck bed though.
Can A Half Ton Truck Carry A Truck Bed Camper?
Personally, I wouldn’t risk it. They don’t have the payload to handle a hard shell, although they might fare better with a pop up truck bed camper. Consider getting a one ton truck to handle that kind of load.
Will A Truck Bed Camper Tip Over?
Yes, it’s very possible for a truck carrying a heavy camper to tip over. The center of gravity is significantly higher than any other RV option.
Can Electric Trucks Carry A Truck Camper?
Fun question! I actually had to look this up and from everything I’ve read it’s a hard no. Not only are you going to deal with charging issues, but there’s no good evidence that an electric truck will be able to handle a camper properly. Maybe a very light pop up truck camper, but seriously ask yourself if you’re going to find a charging station in BFE Arizona…
Hopefully this article has given a good introduction to truck campers and how much fun they can be.
If you’re a serious traveler (or even just a weekend warrior) who wants to get into some neat camping spots then you might want to consider a truck camper.
If you think glamping is more your style, and you want the comforts of home while enjoying the great outdoors, then you’ll probably want to opt for a travel trailer.
Either way, if you’re looking for a (somewhat) cheap RV that can keep you warm through winter, while also offering a detachable option, then start looking at truck campers!