Truck campers come in sizes from 7′ 6″ campers made for import pickup trucks, to 11′ campers, sometimes complete with side entry doors and slideouts. Some campers are regular wood-framed, aluminum sheeted (stick and tin) and others are fully laminated units with aluminum framing and fiberglass exteriors. Other manufactures make campers with pop-top roofs that raise about 8″-12″ when the roof is cranked up. I have seen campers that weigh in at less than 900 lbs, and I have seen units that weight closer to 4000 lbs. The reality is that if you have any kind of a medium to heavy duty truck, someone probably makes a camper to fit it.
For those of you with lite duty trucks there may be some possibilities, but it all depends on your particular truck.
There are a great deal of options for trucks as well. Most people are familiar with the terms of 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton and 1 ton pickup trucks, but not everyone knows how to correctly identify them. The 3 big North American builders, Ford, GM and Dodge use a similar method of numbering their trucks according to size:
-1/2 ton is F-150
-3/4 ton is F-250
-1 ton is F-350
-1/2 ton is 1500
-3/4 ton is 2500
-1 ton is 3500
-1/2 ton 1500
-3/4 ton is 2500
-1 ton is 3500
Most of these manufacturers also make larger trucks such as F-450’s and F-550’s in the Ford but these are more often bought by people needing commercial vehicles.
I haven’t quite got a handle on the imported trucks, but I know Toyota and Nissan both make trucks large enough to handle truck campers.
Now the trick is, what camper will go with what truck. Obviously if you already have the truck you want to find a camper that will fit. There is a ton of information that you can dig up on truck weights, but the 2 things you need to know about your truck are:
– how much is your truck legally allowed to weigh.
– how much does your truck actually weigh.
The first one is easy. To find out what your truck is legally allowed to weigh, open the drivers door and look on either the door post, or the edge of the door itself. Attached to all vehicles by the manufacturer is a information decal that lists all the relevant information about the vehicle.
This sticker will have information such as the VIN (Vehicle Information Number), month and year of manufacture, model year (not always the same as year of manufacture), tire sizes and ratings, axle ratings (front and rear) and the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). Depending on the age of your vehicle, the GVWR will be listed in Kilograms and pounds.
The GVWR of your vehicle is the maximum weight your vehicle was designed to weigh, including passengers and cargo. This number is determined by the manufacturer and is based, among other things, on the capacity of the frame, suspension, and brakes of your vehicle. If your vehicle is being operated at a weight greater that your GVWR you are taking a chance on having some part of the frame, suspension or brakes fail while driving which would make you a large hazard to yourself and other motorists.
I’m sure you have all seen the guy in the old pickup truck driving down the highway with a full load of gravel or firewood, and it looks like the rear axle is about to bounce right through the bottom of the truck box. Sometimes, they are throwing sparks every time they hit a bump because their trailer hitch is hitting the road surface. Other times they are having a hard time steering because the front of the truck is pointing at the sky and the front wheels are hardly touching the road.
Give them a wide berth. These are the people our government is trying to protect us from!
The second item can be a little bit harder to determine. All manufacturers have brochures and web sites that describe their products. Weight and size information is listed under specifications. Remember the same brochures are mass produced and distributed throughout North America (and sometimes the world) and are a general description of the product line, not individual vehicles. Because of this any reference to the actual weight of the vehicle is usually an estimate and can be effected by the local dealer putting running boards on the truck to increase its curb appeal. This also means that if a cargo capacity is listed, again it could be just an estimate and not the actual capacity of that specific vehicle.
Some manufacturers will actually weigh the unit and put a decal somewhere on the vehicle telling you what the actual weight of the vehicle was when it came off the production line. This helps, but can still be affected by your local dealer putting on optional equipment after the unit is delivered to his lot.
The best way to determine the actual weight of your vehicle is to load everything you would normally take with you (including passengers and cargo), filling up the gas tank, and then going to a commercial scale where you can weight the whole vehicle in one shot. Sometimes your local dump may let you weigh in as they usually have a scale to track the loads that are dropped by all dumpers. Sometimes the commercial highway scales will let you weigh your vehicle. Keep in mind that these scales are designed to measure commercial traffic and the big rigs that go through are often in a hurry, and not happy they have to stop in the first place. They can get a little upset when a private guy shows up and slows down their progress back onto the highway. To get around that, a lot of the highway scales are not open 24 hrs and some will leave the scale on at night. Just drive on the scale and check the display that is usually within site on a pole in front of you.
Once you have determined the actual weight of your vehicle follow this formula to find out your real cargo capacity:
GVWR minus actual weight equals Cargo capacity of vehicle.
For example if your truck has a GVWR of 8200 lbs or 3720 kgs and you weighed in at your local scales at 5390 lbs or 2450 kgs, your cargo capacity would be:
This means that the most weight you can carry in the truck box is 2810 lbs, or 1277 Kgs.
Anything more than that and you will be over your GVWR and a menace like the guy our government is protecting us from.
There are some opinions of there being some leeway in weights, a 5 or 10% over allowance, and questions about manufacturers down rating capacities and GVWR to minimize warranty claims, but if you go according to the law, 8205 lbs is 5 pounds overweight no matter how you look at it.
Now for a camper. Just to keep things interesting, all campers have a weight sticker usually on the back of the camper next to the door. Don’t believe it. In over 10 yrs in the RV business I have yet to see one that is even close to accurate. I even spent a week working with a camper manufacturer to make a unit for customers that had a very specific weight in mind (which the manufacturer said they could meet), only to weigh the camper and find it was still almost 400 lbs heavier than they said it would be.
If you are within 500 lbs of a camper putting your truck overweight, make it a condition of the sale that the camper falls within the weight range you need. Any dealer should not have a problem with this as long as they don’t have to spend a bunch up front. If your plan is to get a camper anyway and you just need to decide which one, you will need to have all the equipment for hauling a camper installed anyway. Once that is done, go camper shopping, and find the unit you like. Once you have made your deal, subject to weighing the camper, make arrangements with the dealer to load the camper and run it over the same scale you used to weigh your truck without a camper. If you still come in under the GVWR listed on your truck, you are OK.
Make sure you leave yourself enough room for items loaded in the camper once it is installed. Propane tanks when full will weigh whatever their capacity is (20lb propane tanks weight 20 lbs when full). Water can be estimated at 10lbs per gallon (don’t forget the hot water tank if the camper has one) and normal rv batteries weigh between 45 and 50 lbs. Then you have your clothes, dishes and food (don’t forget the beer). If your camper has holding tanks it is not usually a problem because most times you will dump the tanks before hitting the road. If not just estimate it at the 10 lbs per gallon weight and you should be pretty close.