A growing RV lifestyle that’s becoming popular is truck campers. There are those that have tried the #VanLife and are now finding slide-in truck campers on a pickup truck more to their liking. The appeal reaches out to those that like the affordability, off-road capabilities, and other options that are unique to a pickup truck and one of these campers.
Our discussion will feature what a beginner needs to know about the truck camper category. We’ll learn about the new and used truck camper price ranges. What features and amenities you can expect to find and the legal requirements of them. You’ll also gain a perspective on what to look for in finding the right truck.
Defining a Truck Camper
Truck campers are hard-shelled RVs that fit completely in the cargo bed of a pickup truck. They have a front cap that extends over the cab of the truck similar to a Class C motorhome. This category of RV is generally lightweight since it must conform to the truck’s payload capacity instead of its tow capacity.
People who like these campers enjoy them for a number of reasons. These RVs keep the hitch available to tow utility trailers. Driving and parking them isn’t too much of a burden since there aren’t any towing concerns. They’re great for dry camping and have simple setups.
This RV lifestyle focuses more on those who travel alone or as a couple. There is one main bed that’s in the over-cab area and may have a fold-down dinette or sofa for guest sleepers. Daily inside life would feel comfortable for one or two people since a truck camper’s interior space ranges from 22 to 60 square feet on average.
Amenities usually include a kitchenette with a two-burner stove, a sink, sitting space with a table, and a small refrigerator. More expensive units will have toilets or wet baths. You’ll find that there are more independent manufacturers than big-name builders in this category.
General Price Ranges
As you shop around you’ll find that new truck campers in the 2020 market range from $6,000 to $76,500 when you look at RV shopping sites like RVTrader. These prices are for those truck campers that fit in standard pickup trucks you can regularly buy at any dealership. This would be something as small as the Nissan Frontier all the way up to a 3500 Dodge Ram.
The used truck camper market has a wider range that can be as low as $650 and as high as $65,000. If you plan to go this route, truck campers are well built. Make sure you do a complete inspection of the unit you’re interested in that includes the seams, caulking, roof, plumbing, and all of the other components.
Evolutions in the Category
Truck campers have evolved since their beginnings in the mid-1950s. Today’s versions have slideouts, soft-shell expandable roofs, and other versatility for almost any climate. Most are now built with aluminum frames, but you can still find some that still have wood skeletons. To add storage and fit better in the bed, others have basement storage areas.
As RV manufacturers have adapted these RVs to the latest technology, they’ve also designed them around the automotive world. Pickup trucks have variances in their cargo boxes with each significant model change. In the 2020 market, a pickup truck’s bed can be a standard box, a flatbed, no bed, or something different enough to keep RV makers on their toes.
Finding the Right Truck
If you’re in the market for a pickup truck to haul a truck camper, the relationship between vehicle and RV is so symbiotic, you must consider both at the same time. You may find the perfect truck camper, but the truck to haul it may be too much for you. The opposite could be possible as well.
There are two main factors you must focus on: The truck’s payload capacity and the bed size. Payload capacity is different from the towing capacity. You’re not looking for pulling power, you want to know how much weight the truck can essentially hold in the cargo bed/chassis.
Bed sizes can be:
- Short: 5 foot 8 inches or less
- Standard: Around 6 foot 5 inches
- Long: Measures near 8 feet
You’ll want to avoid the flareside/stepside cargo beds. While they look great, their narrow cargo beds won’t fit a truck camper. The fleetside/styleside cargo box with the rear wheels underneath has the width that you need.
To secure your Truck camper, we recommend using ratchet tie-down straps. Companies like SherpTek go a step further by creating custom cargo beds designed specifically for truck campers. Besides making the bed fit the coach perfectly, they can add additional storage, backup cameras, and other great features to make the camping experience more comfortable.
For our purposes, we’ll refer to the different sizes of pickup trucks using the quarter-ton method. RV manufacturers primarily design truck campers for half-ton trucks and bigger. There are a few that can fit in the more fuel-efficient quarter ton trucks, but remember to calculate the weight of your gear and supplies.
Below is a chart of each level of pickup truck, their payload capacity ranges, and an example truck in the class. When you’re choosing the best truck, you need to also consider the additional weight besides the dry weight of the RV itself. You’ll be storing your camping gear, supplies, water in your holding tanks, and everybody that will be in the truck.
|Classification Payload Capacity||lb||Model|
|Quarter Ton||1 500- 2 130||Honda Ridgeline|
|Half Ton||1 700- 2 300||GMC Sierra|
|Three Quarter Ton||2 500- 4 300||Nissan Titan XD|
|One Ton||4 650- 7 000||Ford F-350|
4 of the Best Hard Side Truck Campers
1. Eagle Cap 1200
- Dry Weight: 4,930 pounds
- Length: 21.3 feet
- Center of Gravity: 58 inches
- Truck Required: One Ton Long Bed
- Sleeps: Up to 6 people
- Price:$53,000- $66,000
The Eagle Cap stands out on its own due to the luxury filled 100 square feet interior with three slideouts. This side entry truck camper has a dry bath in the middle of the coach, a travel trailer style kitchen, and a residential queen bed. Standard luxury features include every type of electrical plug, leather upholstery, keyless entry, and a backup camera.
2. Alaskan Camper 10 Foot Side Dinette Cab Over
- Dry Weight: 1,985 pounds
- Length: 10 feet
- Center of Gravity: Not Available
- Truck Required: Three quarter ton long bed
- Sleeps: Up to 3 people
- Price: $35,099
Alaskan Campers are heavily insulated to withstand the conditions of the Alcan Highway. For easier driving, they have an electronic lift system that raises the completely hardshell roof. The side dinette model is full-featured with its large kitchen amenities, strategic storage, swivel cassette toilet, and optional equipment for a more deluxe camping experience.
3. Lance 865 Truck Camper
- Dry Weight: 2,012 pounds
- Length: 16.5 feet
- Center of Gravity: 34 inches
- Truck Required: ½ ton short bed
- Sleeps: Up to 5 people
- Price: $26,000- $38,500
Lance designs their light-duty truck campers to mimic their heavy-duty truck versions so their customers don’t feel left out. The 865 is the biggest of the half-ton models. Some of its unique features include a roomy wet bath, U-shaped dinette, arm-mounted TV, and dual awnings.
4. nuCamp Cirrus 820
- Dry Weight: 2,916 pounds
- Length: 17.4 feet
- Center of Gravity: 33.5 inches
- Truck Required: ¾ ton standard bed
- Sleeps: Up to 4 people
- Price:$33,000- $41,500
The nuCamp Cirrus 820 gives campers the latest in technology with a bright interior. This all-weather truck camper comes with all electronic jacks, electric awning, a standard solar panel, and a wireless backup camera. This truck camper also has an independent basement that has storage and helps with fitting the unit in your truck.
4 of the Best Soft Side Expandable Truck Campers
1. Phoenix Popup Chassis Mount
- Specifications vary based on customization
Phoenix pop-up truck campers build custom units that have softshell roofs that expand up. They make units that fit in cargo beds, flatbeds, and chassis mount campers that take the place of the bed. They have all of the full features you can expect in a deluxe truck camper with plenty of options to choose from to make your custom unit all-weather, off-grid, full luxury, or anything in between.
2. Palomino Rogue Truck Camper EA-1
- Dry Weight: 1,402 pounds
- Length: 12.5 feet
- Center of Gravity: 29 inches
- Truck Required: ¼ Ton Short Bed
- Sleeps: Up to 2 people
- Price:$14,000- $18,000
The Rogue by Palomino is one of the few designed for quarter ton pickup trucks. It’s filled with features that allow you to connect to a campsite or use its Badlands Package to go completely off-grid. You and a companion can have a comfortable late-season camping experience with the 20,000 BTU furnace, full kitchenette, and easy setup.
3. Northstar TC850 SC
- Dry Weight: 1,785 pounds
- Length: 15 feet
- Center of Gravity: 32 inches
- Truck Required: ½ ton standard bed
- Sleeps: Up to 3 people
- Price: $22,000- $24,000
This Northstar truck camper may have a softshell pop-up, but it has an optional insulation package that can handle northern winter conditions. The XB model has a hybrid camper style expandable bed on the passenger side for extra sleeping. The cassette toilet is easy to care for due to the exterior door that gives you direct access.
4. Four Wheel Camper Grandby
- Dry Weight: 1,200 pounds
- Length: 12 feet
- Center of Gravity: 43 inches
- Truck Required: ¾ ton long bed
- Sleeps: Up to 4 people
- Price: Starting at $20,195
The Grandby extends a foot and a half between its closed and open height measurements. It comes in a base model, side dinette, or front dinette floorplan. Four Wheel puts the customer in control to customize their RV through the fabrics, countertops, and other options available.
Are Titles Required on Your Truck Camper
Truck campers fall under the category of “cargo” according to most states and insurance companies. From their perspective, it isn’t motorized, and it’s not a separate towed vehicle. For most of the states, you won’t need a title, VIN, registration, license plate, or be legally required to have separate insurance.
Truck campers come with Certificates of Origin. In this document, you’ll find an ownership number and serial number. If your state or insurance company requires any legal documents, your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will require this certificate.
If you’re financing your truck camper, the dealership may include titling fees in your closing costs due to the lender’s requirements. The RV Industry Association (RVIA) has a chart that shows those states that have laws requiring truck campers to have legal paperwork and/or registrations. They are:
- Rhode Island
- Washington State