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- Off Road Capabilities
- It Can Tow A Trailer
- Easy to Drive
- Registration and Insurance Savings
- Tax Advantages
- More Space
- Multiple Uses
Truck campers have been increasing in popularity in recent years, with companies both in the U.S. and abroad creating imaginative floor plans on the basic concept – a truck with a camper body loaded on the back. Their major feature as compared to an RV is that the camper portion can be “demounted,” allowing you to use the truck portion as you normally would.
Truck campers can be separated into two categories based on the kind of truck used as a base – flatbed and pickup campers.
What is a Flatbed Truck Camper?
Truck campers mounted on pickup trucks are the most popular. A unit referred to as a slide-in, or cab-over is lowered or slid into the bed of the pickup then secured in place using tie-downs and turnbuckles. Pickup campers can be mounted on trucks as small as half-ton models, also known as light-duty pickups, such as the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. These trucks are rated to carry loads up 1,000 lbs. making them suitable for small slide-ins. Larger camper units require a three-quarter or one-ton pickup.
Flatbed truck campers are mounted on trucks with a flatbed. And as the name suggests, they have no fixed sides, tailgate or roof. Tie-downs are typically located along the side of the trailer. Some people remove the truck bed from their pickup truck and replace it with a flatbed.
Flatbeds can range up to 53 feet long, accommodating a larger, more roomy camper body, although most camper bodies are 6.5 to 11.5 feet in length. The resulting vehicle often looks much like a Class C RV. The difference being that the camper portion can be lifted off, allowing the vehicle underneath to revert to use as a truck.
Why Choose a Flatbed Truck Camper?
1. Off-Road Capabilities: Truck campers in general, both the pickup and flatbed based models, are favorites with owners who plan to take their rigs off-road, do a lot of boondocking, or just enjoy going where more “delicate” motorhomes wouldn’t dare. The four-wheel-drive feature of many trucks lets the truck camper tackle sand, mud, and steep and bumpy conditions that would destroy a typical motorhome, or at least leave it waiting for a tow.
2. Can Tow A Trailer: Truck campers, with their more powerful engines, also are great for towing boats, horse trailers, or utility trailers loaded with motorcycles, ATVs, jet skis, snowmobiles or other “toys” that today’s adventure seekers want to bring along on vacation.
3. Easy to Drive: Truck campers are generally smaller than big motorhomes or fifth-wheel combinations. They have a tighter turning radius and are easier to park since they usually fit in a regular parking space. Gas mileage is likely to be a bit better as well. And the units are easier to store and maintain.
4. Registration and Insurance Savings: Another, often overlooked, advantage of a truck camper is the savings in insurance, registration, and licensing fees. Many, if not most, states consider the camper body itself to be cargo, instead of a typical RV that has to be registered as a separate vehicle. All owners have to do is maintain the license and registration on the truck itself. The same goes for insurance, although some companies will offer a special rider for the truck camper, usually at low cost.
5. Tax Advantages: There may be a tax break involved as well. The IRS waives the $25,000 limit on expensing any vehicle “equipped with a cargo area (either open or enclosed by a cap) of at least 6 feet in interior length that is not readily accessible from the passenger compartment.”
6. More Space: Since flatbed truck campers don’t have to fit into a pickup truck bed, they have additional space for storage, water tanks, extra batteries, and propane as well as more spacious living quarters. They are secured to the truck bed itself, often with pins or bolts, without cutouts around the wheel wells and the sides of the truck bed. This lower center of gravity makes them more stable, as well, allowing heavy items like water, propane, and batteries to sit lower in the overall design.
7. Multiple Uses: You can also remove the camper and use your flatbed truck for work or other activities. Therefore, your flatbed truck can be used in a variety of ways.
Truck campers have some “cons” as well. They aren’t ideal for people that need accessible features, due to the higher clearance, and many find that the interior is cramped compared to a big Class A of the sort preferred by full-timers.
While pickup campers have traditionally dominated the truck camper field, flatbed campers have become increasingly popular in recent years. The slide-out design necessarily causes the pickup camper to be narrow on the bottom to fit into the truck bed, then balloon out over the truck sides. This design not only limits storage and living space; it may create a top-heavy rig and affect stability.
What Kind of Truck Is Best for a Flat Bed Truck Camper?
Nearly any kind of flatbed truck can be fitted with a truck camper. Various brands of campers are designed to be compatible with certain flatbed lengths and sizes. But a three-quarter-ton or one-ton truck is generally preferred to handle the various options popular on flatbed campers.
The important requirement for assembling a truck/camper combination is that the camper fits correctly on the flatbed and that the total payload can be handled by the truck. New truck campers are rarely sold already mounted on a truck. People who already own a truck can generally find a camper that is suitable for mounting. Those who have a camper top and want to mount it on a truck can find a suitable truck out there.
The important thing in assembling a truck camper is to work closely with the manufacturers of the truck and/or camper to make sure you have a compatible fit. Once assembled, experts recommend weighing the truck camper several times, both empty (“dry”) and full of liquids and gear (“wet”) to make sure the combined vehicle is operating within its safety parameters.
Several truck manufacturers specialize in making flatbed trucks for conversion to flatbed truck campers. AT Overland, Sherptek and Highway Products make custom flatbeds to match camper manufacturer specifications. The Hillsboro 2000 Series of aluminum flatbeds come in several sizes, including long bed and short bed models.
DIYers can get creative in building their own flatbed truck campers. Popular right now are flatbed truck campers mounted on retired military vehicles, which are definitely ready for rough and tumble conditions.
Do Flatbed Truck Campers Have Bathrooms?
Except for the smallest or oldest models, most truck campers have some kind of restroom or bathroom facilities. Bathrooms in campers are either wet or dry baths, although some manufacturers just have a room with a toilet, a cassette toilet in the main living space, or a cabinet where you can stow a porta-potty.
A dry bath is essentially the kind of bathroom you probably have at home, but smaller. There’s a toilet, a sink, a mirrored vanity and a separate shower (convenient for storage).
Wet baths consist of a single, molded plastic unit that includes a shower stall, toilet and sink all in one. These take up less space than a dry bath, and conversely are also roomier inside, for large or tall people who need more space. You can also sit on the toilet and take a shower.
Many wet bath designs include a dry compartment to stow your toilet paper and perhaps a mirrored cabinet. After using the shower, the compartment needs to be squeegeed down and dried. Otherwise, the bathroom will be wet if you need to use for other than a shower.
These wet bathrooms are widely used in Europe, in campgrounds as well as in commercial settings. From personal experience, I can say that one of the only drawbacks is that the flush button and the shower button in some can be too easily confused. Be sure you push the right one, or you may find yourself unexpectedly soaked.
Most truck campers in the past have had wet baths exclusively, but the advent of slide-outs has changed all that. Just make sure that your dry bath is going to be accessible quickly. Having to deploy your slide-outs before you can get to the toilet gets old fast.
For smaller truck campers (and vans), a cassette toilet may make the most sense. These can be concealed in a cabinet or closet, and are a real space and weight saver. Cassette toilets look much like your toilet at home but drain into a removable black water tank. The tank, which is spiked with chemicals to control odor, can usually last a week before needing to be emptied. It can then be taken out and dumped into an ordinary toilet, making it great for weekends when you’ll be off the grid, and for winter use when dump stations may be closed.
Flatbed Truck Camper Interior Options
Flatbed truck campers are available in two distinct styles: hard-sided or soft-sided, also called a pop-up. In this article, we’ll mostly talk about hard-sided models, with a fixed roof and solid sidewalls, saving pop-ups for another discussion. Solid side units offer better insulation, more interior storage, and less sound pollution than soft sided models.
Inside the traditional truck camper, you’ll find a cab-over sleeping area, a basic kitchen area with sink, stove and refrigerator, a dinette and a bathroom, often all in one room. But times, they are a-changin’.
Until recent years, hard-side campers were known for their limited living space, but all that changed with the advent of truck camper slide-outs. As in regular RV models, slide-outs have increased the interior living room in flatbed models, as well as allowing for larger dry bathrooms, additional beds, couches, and entertainment centers. Many newer models also include space for “toy” storage.
Available in lengths ranging from 6 feet to 12 feet long, flatbed campers are available with one, two, even three slide-outs. Most flatbed designs have doors on the side, although some, like the Hallmark Nevada, has a rear entry. In some, a rear slide holds a couch or a dining area, even a dry bath. The side entry frees up space on the back of the camper to carry motorcycles, bicycles, spare tires and luggage racks.
Who Manufactures Flatbed Truck Campers?
While not as many companies make campers for flatbeds as for pickups, the growing popularity of flatbed truck campers has encouraged a number of manufacturers to enter the field.
Here are a few options:
1. Overland Explorer offers a composite flatbed truck camper which includes a camper and aluminum flatbed installed on your Ford F350 or Ram 3500.
2. Bahn Camper Works custom designs flatbed campers in a light, resin-infused fiberglass shell with a variety of floorplans.
3. Colorado-based Phoenix Custom Campers offers hard sided flatbed campers that can be completely customized by the owner.
4. Four Wheel Campers offer flatbed campers for mid- and full-sized trucks with 6.5 ft. and 8 ft. flatbeds.
5. Alaskan Campers makes an 8.5 foot Flatbed Cabover with a side entry. Like Alaskan’s other models, it features a unique hard-sided telescopic roof that is raised and lowered by a pushbutton operated electric pump.
6. CamperLogic, a new company based in Minnesota, produces all-aluminum, 10 and 12 ft. campers for mounting on a flatbed.
To see the latest in flatbed truck camper design and other adventure vehicles, plan a trip to the Overland Expo, held twice a year in East and West locations.
Which are the Best Flatbed Truck Campers?
With so many options in the marketplace, it’s tough to say which truck camper is the best. A better question is: which truck camper is right for you?
Numerous factors need to be considered, including:
- Do you want a slide-in model based on a pickup truck or a more spacious flatbed camper?
- Do you want to use a truck you already own or buy a new one?
- Do you want a hard-sided or pop-up camper model?
- What kind of bath do you want?
- Do you want slide-outs?
- Will you be towing something?
- How many people will be going camping with you?
- Will you be off-roading?
- Will you be boondocking?
- Will you be using your camper in the winter?
- And of course… how much do you want to pay?
Truck campers are a great choice for those who would like the option to use their vehicle as either a truck or a camper. They are especially recommended for those who want to get off-road or into the wilderness to boondock where other RVs can’t go.
Do you have any info to share about flatbed truck campers? Please leave a comment below!
For more info check out some of our other helpful articles below:
- Renting a Pop Up Camper – A Complete Guide
- What You Should Know Before Buying a Pop Up Camper
- Can I Legally Ride In A Travel Trailer or Truck Camper?
- Free Overnight RV Parking
- How Much Does a Class C RV 4×4 Conversion Cost?
- 21 Must Have RV Accessories for a New Camper or Travel Trailer
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