What Is a Truck Camper RV?
Definition of a Truck Camper
The truck camper is not a vehicle in itself, but an add-on living quarters designed to slide into the bed of a full-size pickup truck. The camper is fastened to the truck frame during transport and slides out onto its own legs at the campsite.
They are also known as truck bed campers, slide-in campers, pickup campers, demountable campers, and cabover campers.
Truck campers are unique in that they aren’t self-contained vehicles. Depending on state law, they may not even be considered an RV – some states don’t require titling for truck campers! Think of them as a backpack for your truck.
Unlike towable RV campers or motorhomes, you don’t drive or tow a truck camper. you haul a truck camper (as payload). And no, you don’t generally need a special license to haul one!
Truck Camper Specifications
- Lengths range from 6 to 14 feet, with 8 to 12 feet being the most common.
- Width ranges from 7 to 8.5 ft (wide-body). Somewhere around 90 inches is typical.
- Height, as measured from ground to top of camper (including A/C), varies from 6 feet (for a pop-up truck camper) to 12.5 feet (for a full-size hardshell). Most are between 9 and 12 feet.
Driving an RV for the first time? Check out our guide to what you need to know about length, width, height, and weight!
Most slide-in truck camper RVs can fit 1-6 sleepers (2-4 standard). That doesn’t mean there’s room for everyone to sit down at once, though!
Truck Camper Categories
Slide-in campers are widely split into three subsets:
More information about these types is given below in Sub-Types.
Truck bed campers are also designated by bed type:
Long-bed campers are designed to fit a “full-size” pick-up truck bed length (approximately 8 feet). Short-bed campers are designed to fit a shorter bed length, usually around 6 ft 4 inches.
Truck Bed Camper Description
Small truck campers have just the basics: a bed, shower, sofa, and kitchenette. Larger models (especially those with slide-outs) may offer as much as a small travel trailer, including a dry bath, dinette slide-outs, clothes closets, etc.
Truck bed campers slide into the bed of a pickup truck (with the tailgate down) and are secured with tie-downs and turn buckles. One of the best things about a truck bed camper is that you can lower the four corner jacks, raise the camper above the bed, and drive away! Your camper acts as a house on stilts, and you can use the truck as a local commuter vehicle.
Truck Camper Chassis & Fuel Economy
Truck campers are not built on chassis – at least, not in the traditional sense. There is no running gear.
Instead, truck campers are typically built with extra-strong superstructures made of welded steel or aluminum. Some are built from solid fiberglass or other composite panels. Most of these designs are unique to the manufacturer.
The acting “chassis” of a truck camper is really the tow vehicle.
Almost all commercial truck campers are designed to be used with a pickup truck with a cab and a bed. A few commercial models, and several turnkey manufacturers, build jumbo-sized truck campers that are built on medium-duty flatbed work trucks.
Pickup trucks are commonly called half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton. These numbers hail from history and have no connection with modern-day payloads. Even though manufacturers throw around sales jargon terms like “super duty,” according to VIUS vehicle classifications, all these are considered Light Duty (Class 1 and Class 2) trucks.
Most pickup truck campers should be hauled with three-quarter-ton or one-ton trucks. Only the smaller versions can be hauled with F-150’s and the like. Even though a manufacturer may claim a half-ton truck can haul their unit, that often assumes a best-case scenario. With a fully loaded truck camper and some passengers and cargo in the cab, you may find yourself overloaded!
- Average Fuel Economy (pop-up): 1-2 mpg difference
- Average Fuel Economy (hardshell cabover): 4-8 mpg difference
Who Might Want a Truck Camper?
Truck bed campers elicit strong reactions in people. Naysayers claim, “That’s not a real camper!” Believers wouldn’t have it any other way.
No, you don’t get the cargo carrying capacity of a 5th wheel. You don’t get the tow vehicle options of a travel trailer. You don’t get the luxurious living space of a Class A motorhome.
Instead, you get adventure, pure and simple. You get nothing more than you, a bed, a shower, and a stove and shelter from the worst of the elements. You get nothing but the open road – or no road, just a trail, if that’s your thing.
Truck Camper Pros and Cons
- One of the least expensive RV’s.
- Mounts in the bed of most full size trucks with minimal modifications.
- Easy to drive on highway and around town. This RV is attached to the bed of a truck, so it is just as easy to drive.
- Truck doubles as local transportation.
- Can tow a small trailer or support a carrying platform on hitch receiver.
- Truck can be used as a family or work vehicle when not traveling.
- Requires no special storage when not in use. Fits in standard driveway or back yard.
- Can reach less accessible camping sites that are too tight for large RV’s. When attached to an off-road truck, it can reach camping sites that no other RV’s can.
- Road handling can be an issue when mounted on a truck with light suspension.
- Limited space, practical only for short trips.
- Driving and living compartments are separate. Living area inaccessible while moving.
Key Features in a Truck Camper
Size and Space Questions
There are dozens of floorplans available for truck campers! You’d be amazed what designers can fit in so small a space.
At the small end of the spectrum is this Scout from Adventurer Manufacturing. No fancy slide-outs or jackknife sofas. Just a simple weather-tight shell with a dedicated sleeping area, toilet facilities, and clean walls for extra storage space.
Alternatively, here is a floorplan with a slide-out from Lance. This 975 camper weighs less than 3,000 lbs dry weight but includes seating for four, a dry bath, queen-sized bed and his/her storage!
- What size of bed (twin, full, queen, short queen, king) do I need?
- Am I going to sleep in the same bed as my partner, or will we need dual twin beds?
- Can we scoot to the end of a bed, or do we need to roll off the side?
- How much visual or acoustic privacy do we need in the bedroom? Will a curtain suffice, or a solid wall and a door?
- Do we need a jackknife sofa or convertible dinette for the kids or guests?
- Do we need a dry bath (separate shower and toilet) or can we get by with a combined wet bath?
- Stovetop or full oven?
- Sofa or U-shaped dinette?
- Clothes closet or shelves?
- Room for four to sit (slide-out may be required?
- Able to use the camper without deployment (pop-up or slide-out)?
- Where will we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner? Do we need a breakfast nook in addition to the main living area?
- Do we need a separate table for office space?
- How many people need to be able to watch TV or eat a meal at once?
The truck camper industry, more than most RVs, is full of mom n’ pop operations building high-quality campers in low volume. Many of these manufacturers pride themselves in 4-season design.
Be sure to ask if 4-season makes cold weather or actual sub-freezing weather! Not all 4-season campers are designed to be used in continuous sub-freezing conditions, particularly if left overnight where water could freeze.
Weights and Capacities
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) and dry weight (UVW) of your truck camper is critical – perhaps more so than any other RV type.
That’s because 100% of the weight of your RV goes onto your tow vehicle. There’s no travel trailer tire to blow out; only your truck (the one with you inside it!)
Ensure that your truck is rated to carry the truck camper when the camper is loaded to the GVWR and all passengers and cargo are inside the tow vehicle!
Truck Camper Sub-Types
Truck campers have four sub-types:
1. Pop-Up Truck Camper
Pop-up truck campers collapse in a stowed position when in transit. They are designed to lower the vehicle’s center of gravity and reduce the overall height. This improves vehicle driving dynamics, increases fuel efficiency, and allows the vehicle to access low-clearance areas. Pop-up campers are popular for off-road expedition campers.
2. Hardshell Truck Camper
Hardshell truck campers are the more common choice. They can be used without deployment, offer better weather protection, and are a better (or required) choice in bear country.
Hardshell campers typically overhang the rear of the bed by 1-4 feet. Some (greater than 7 feet wide) may also overhang the side of the tow vehicle. This probably requires your tow vehicle to use towing mirrors.
3. Slide-Out Truck Camper
While not an official category, adding a slide-out to a truck camper really changes the experience. The weight skyrockets, for one thing, and the camper may not be able to be used without being fully deployed. That takes away one of the best attributes of a truck camper – the ability to hop in and out at any time.
4. Fiberglass Truck Camper
Yes, there are a few manufacturers building molded fiberglass and all-composite slide-in truck campers!
For more information on fiberglass truck campers, see our Fiberglass Campers RV type introduction.
Truck Camper Major Manufacturers
There are about 15 major truck camper RV manufacturers in North America.
Some of the biggest names include:
- Northern Lite
- Adventurer LP
- Bigfoot Industries
For a full list of manufacturers, check out our comprehensive RV manufacturer’s list!
There are also quite a few custom coachbuilders who will design you a bespoke truck camper complete with awning and screen room, living room slide-out, reinforced steel superstructure, custom wet bath, or whatever else your heart desires. They are not shown on our lists.
We’ve spotlighted a few brands below. These brands are either known for their popularity, quality, or innovation.
Lance Camper is an RV manufacturer based in the state of California and has been in operation since 1965. The company is owned by REV Group.
Lance is the premier manufacturer of hardshell luxury slide-in truck campers. They are also well-known for their lightweight but rugged travel trailers.
When it comes to truck campers, Lance is Big Dog. They are known for their mechanical reliability and timeless designs. Their truck camper series include 650, 825, 850, 855S, 865, 975, 995, 1062 and 1172.
Adventurer Manufacturing is an RV manufacturer based in the state of Washington and has been in operation since 1969. The company is owned by private ownership or family.
A Washington-based manufacturer of premium outdoor and off-grid truck campers, from the Lilliputian composite Scout to the hotel-on-wheels Eagle Cap series. Like many Pacific Northwest RV builders, Adventurer prides itself on 4-season design and excellent durability.
Northern Lite is an RV manufacturer based in the state of British Columbia and has been in operation since 1989. The company is owned by private ownership or family.
Designed for the northern wilds, Northern Lite builds 4-season, lightweight, 2-piece fiberglass truck campers. It’s a cult favorite amongst campers based in western Canada and the PNW.
Northwood Manufacturing is an RV manufacturer based in the state of Oregon (seeing a Pacific Northwest trend?) and has been in operation since 1998. The company is owned by Northwood Investments.
One of the largest private ownership or family-owned RV manufacturers, Northwood Mfg is known for its commitment to construction quality, attention to detail, and true 4-season design. Their truck camper lineup includes Arctic Fox and Wolf Creek.
Truck Camper RV FAQs
Yes! In fact, truck campers are arguably the best option for boondocking or dry camping! Especially when paired with a capable truck.
Whether “dry camping” or “Wallydocking,” truck campers excel at camping without hookups. Thanks to their efficient use of propane and water, they can run off-grid for some time. They are best for primitive camping or boondocking, which usually involves tight spaces and high-clearance roads.
Well, there’s really not much reason to. You can lower the 4-corner jacks and leave the truck camper deployed and ready for use while the truck can be used a local commuter vehicle.
But yes, you can tow something else with your truck at the same time as you’re hauling a truck camper. The truck camper merely counts as payload. So you could, in theory, tow a boat or cargo trailer. The challenge is that most passenger vehicles won’t have sufficient payload capacity to both haul a truck camper AND tow a boat separately.
Surprisingly, yes! Most states allow occupants inside a truck camper while the vehicle is in transit, so long as certain conditions are met (e.g., the occupant must have a way to communicate with the driver). Some states require tempered safety glass, seat belts, or other restrictions.
However, the following states specifically outlaw the practice:
- New Hampshire