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Why Are Truck Campers Called So Many Names?

Why Are Truck Campers Called So Many Names?

Many new RVers love the idea that RVing will give them freedom. They can travel to destinations found off the beaten path. For some, this means finding an RV that can handle rugged terrain but still has most of the amenities from home. That sounds like a job for a truck camper! But what should you call it? A cabover camper? A slide-in camper? What about pickup campers?

Let’s find out why there are so many names for a truck camper!

What Do You Call Campers That Go in the Back of Pickup Trucks?

A truck camper is an RV that sits in the bed of a pickup truck and is used as a living space. It usually has the same amenities as a travel trailer or motorhome. It can have a kitchen with a sink, a refrigerator and stove, a bed, a toilet, and a dining area.

Driving & Off-Roading in a Truck Camper, Thoughts After 6 Months On The Road | Go North Explore More

Most pickup campers are hard-sided with a bedroom area over the truck’s cab. You may even find slide-outs on larger models. Additionally, some have a pop-up top, creating a lower profile for driving yet plenty of headroom for living. 

We often use the interchangeable names of cabover camper, slide-in camper, and pickup camper when referring to a truck camper. Let’s examine those names closer.

Why Are Truck Campers Called So Many Names?

Manufacturers made the first truck campers in the 1950s. Their popularity grew, especially in the western regions of the United States and Canada, where rough terrain made them a practical investment.

The campers started small, but as full-sized RVs grew, so did the demand for more amenities and space in the truck camper. Many truck campers now have slides to increase floor space and add functionality. 

Host pickup camper with slide outs
Truck campers may have started small, but today you can find models that weigh over 3,000 lbs.

➡ Did you know truck campers have become so popular there are now over 30 brands? Learn more here: What Are The Best Truck Camper Brands? A Comprehensive List

But it seemed that no matter how the truck camper evolved over the years, no one could decide what to call it! Is it a cabover camper? It must be a slide-in camper! Or why don’t we call them pickup campers?

A portable camper that slides into the bed of a pickup truck has numerous monikers based on location, the type of camper, and who told you about it. Truck bed campers and cabover campers are terms used in different regions. Many regions call ‘trucks’ by the word ‘pickup,’ so pickup campers may be more prevalent in those areas.

Terminology also may vary depending on the person who first introduced you to these portable campers. If they called it a slide-in camper, chances are you will also refer to any camper you see in the bed of a truck as a “slide-in camper.”

pop-up pickup truck campers
Pop-up truck campers are lighter weight and have a lower profile, making them great for off-roading.

Other countries have even more names for this portable camper.

What Do Australians Call Truck Campers? 

Australia is full of rugged topography, with miles of arid land. It’s no wonder that the truck camper has become a popular vehicle Down Under. They, too, seem to have difficulty deciding on one name for this camper. One term used is a “tray,” while others call a truck camper a “slide-on camper.”

What Are Truck Campers Called in Europe? 

The term for a cabover camper varies in Europe, as well. Their names for this small RV are functional, such as “dismountable” or “demountable.” While these terms are easy to understand in context, they might not be familiar in other countries.

The Simplest Truck Camper: The “Truck Bed Camper”

If you’re not ready to invest in a slide-in camper just yet, there is a compromise. Placing a topper on your truck will shelter you from the elements. Then, you can add a truck bed mattress under the shell for a comfortable place to sleep.

truck bed mattress
Adding a mattress to your truck bed makes camping convenient anytime, anywhere.

Some truck owners also add a truck bed tent that fits on the truck’s rails to offer coverage. Sliding a mattress beneath this canvas tent can give you a place to rest on warmer nights, as well.

What About “Attached” Truck Campers?

In the 1970s, truck camper manufacturers worked with Toyota and Datsun (today’s Nissan) to build campers that would fit in their compact trucks. The campers were on the truck’s bare chassis with one axle. They were permanently attached to the truck cab, which was open to the camper. This design is similar to a small Class C RV.

Camper manufacturers increased the size of these cabover units so that the truck chassis could not sustain the weight. The manufacturers discontinued these old truck campers, but you can still find a few on the road.

EarthRoamer "attached" truck camper
EarthRoamer expedition vehicles are a good example of an attached cabover camper.

Today, you’ll find custom builds and expedition vehicles, like EarthRoamers, that fall into the category of attached truck campers. However, because the camper is on an axle and permanently attached to the chassis, you may not hear them referred to as such. Rather, many people simply think of them as recreational vehicles.

What Class Is a Truck Camper?

The truck camper is a class of RV. Unlike Class As, Bs, or Cs, a truck camper is a class unto itself. It is not a travel trailer or fifth wheel because it has no wheels. The truck camper class has several styles, including a clamshell frame, a wooden frame, an aluminum frame, and a pop-up top.

Is a Truck Camper Considered an RV?

For most, a truck camper is a portable recreational vehicle, but in 41 states, there are no licensing requirements. These states call campers without wheels ‘cargo’ and do not require a license plate for them.

small pickup camper on a Chevy Silverado
Because slide-in campers are carried on the back of a pickup truck, they’re classified as cargo by most states.

The nine remaining states collect taxes on trailers, and you would need to attach a license plate. These states include Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.

The rationale for no licensing is that most pickup campers do not have VINs or an axle. But all states agree on one fact: the truck bed camper, also known as the cabover camper and the slide-in camper, is an RV!

➡ Still confused about truck camper registration requirements? Check out our in-depth explanation here: Does My Truck Camper Need a Title, Registration, and Insurance?

The Odd, Many-Named Camper With No Wheels

For a camper with an identity crisis and no attached wheels, the truck camper is the perfect RV for those looking to head straight into adventure. A truck camper may fit on your existing truck, and it brings the comforts of home with you to city streets and backcountry four-wheel-drive roads.

cabover truck camper parked in a forest in the fall

Thinking about buying a truck camper? Make sure you have a truck that can handle the load. Find out: What Is the Best Truck for a Truck Camper?

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Alan Douglas

Wednesday 2nd of March 2022

As you say, many refer to truck campers by the name they first heard used. For me it was “Turtleback campers”, because you take you house with you like a turtle. Seemed logical at the time, around 1960. But it is still the first name that comes to mind when I see one.