What’s it like driving a truck camper? How do they perform off-road? This versatile RV is unique in that it is easily turned into a 4×4 camper by simply loading it on a 4×4 truck. But is that all you need to do? In this article, we share what it’s like to drive a truck camper both on and off the road.
What’s It Like To Drive A Truck Camper
In this video, Cait shares her perspective on what it’s like to drive and off-road with a truck camper. After 6 months and 15,000 miles of full-time truck camper use, we are reflecting on some of the good and bad things about driving a truck camper and comparing it with other types of RVs we have owned and operated like travel trailers, motorhomes, and fifth wheels.
While we did not do any extreme off-roading with the truck camper we went many more places than we have ever gone with other types of rigs and shared our thoughts on off-roading with a truck camper as well.
Pick the Right Truck for the Camper
We drove the 2020 Lance 1172 Truck Camper on a 2019 Ford F350 on our GO NORTH trip to Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. The truck had dual rear wheels and a 6.7L diesel engine.
Truck campers come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. They can be as small as the bed of your truck up to 3-slide models that weigh close to 6,000lbs.
No matter your camper, you’re going to want to make sure you have a truck capable of handling the added weight of the camper.
Your truck weight + your camper weight + all your stuff and tanks must be < less than the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating for the truck.
3 Big Truck Camper Driving Factors
There are three major things that change when you put a camper in the back of a truck:
Unless you have a pop-up truck camper that compresses down, you’re going to have to watch your Overhead Clearance. Watch for tunnels, bridges, and especially TREE BRANCHES!
You’ll also want to be cognizant of driving in WIND – you’re profile is much bigger and you’ll get pushed around more.
If you’re like us and are used to pulling a bigger rig with your truck, it can be easy to forget you’ve got a truck camper on board.
With the added weight comes changes in:
Stopping Distance & Ability – give yourself some extra space, and if you have an Engine Brake use it!
Acceleration – if your truck has it, use the Tow/Haul functionality to adjust the shift pattern for proper shifting with the heavier load. Or consider shifting manually in some cases.
Hill Performance – This is going to depend on the weight/power ratio of your setup. Again, Tow/Haul and Engine Brakes are your friend.
Suspension – The added weight might cause your back end to sag. Consider adding airbags* to level out your ride height to prevent bottoming out on bumps and to keep your headlights from blinding oncoming traffic.
*We had Hellwig Sway Bars and BigWig Airbags to our setup and they helped tremendously.
Center Of Gravity
The added weight and height changes your center of gravity, and when you drive a truck camper you’ll notice this change the most in how it changes the movement of the vehicle. This movement is called sway – the vehicle will sway or roll more in turns and when hitting uneven road surfaces.
All cars experience this and have sway bars to help prevent it and control it, but as you stack on more weight it’ll become more pronounced. This can create a tip-over hazard in hard maneuvers or very steep side-to-side grades. We recommend looking into beefier sway bars* to tackle and control the extra body roll.
In a truck camper, this higher center of gravity caused by so much weight on the back axle can create something called porpoising. When you hit a bump or hump in the road the camper can start to nose dive as the truck is coming back up, creating a diving and bouncing effect. In severe cases, the bottom side of the nose of the camper can hit the top of the truck cab.
Other Truck Camper Driving Considerations
You’ll also notice changes in visibility, as the truck camper blocks your rear-view. We recommend getting a back-up camera to be able to keep an eye on what’s behind you both while you’re driving and to assist with parking and maneuvering into campsites.
If you happen to have a longer Truck Camper, you’ll also have to consider rear-end clearance coming out of steeper grades. Be mindful as well of your tail swing so you don’t clip anything when turning sharply.
Do I Need a Dually Truck?
Many truck campers are carried on dual rear wheels – ours was. Dual rear wheels add more wight capacity and can help tremendously with sway. You may be required to get a truck with dual rear wheel to handle the weight of your truck camper.
There are some downsides: they are wider so you have to watch your “hips”. They are also not the best off-road: mud and rocks can get stuck in between the tires and they don’t fit on the trails as well.
Besides getting scratched more due to being wider, if one tire gets up on an edge it can lift the other off, causing improper weight distribution and undue stress on the truck.
Off-Roading in a Truck Camper
Generally speaking, a truck camper is a great way to get off-road with an RV. Even in their stock configurations, they can be better than a Class B motorhome or van because of their higher clearance and readily accessible 4×4 abilities in trucks. But off-road capabilities will vary significantly on your setup.
We got off-road mainly on gravel roads and seasonal roads that were in fairly good condition. We would then go short distances on rougher trails to get to some awesome campsites.
Using 4×4 with a Truck Camper
We primarily used the 4×4 for mud, rocks, steep sections, slippery grass, sand, and rocky river beds. Rule of thumb is to use 4×4 to get out of a situation, not into it! (unless of course, that’s what you’re looking for)
We used the 4-LOW gear quite a bit in situations where we wanted a lot of power and control. This would be crawling over a really rocky trail, going through questionable mud, and even climbing ever so slowly up onto leveling blocks.
Truck Camper Off-Roading Advice
Couple of other thoughts about Off-Roading with a Truck Camper:
- Watch for those branches
- Know your limitations with clearance (we had some low-hanging steps in the back)
- Dual rear wheels aren’t great for off-roading. Lighter, single rear wheels are better for 2 tracks – so consider this when buying your rig what you want to do and where you want to go.
- Sway off-road is exaggerated – go slow and let the rocking stop.
- Carry the gear for off-roading, as you never know what’ll happen out away from help:
- Traction pads
- Folding Hand Saw for branches
- Viair Air Compressor for reinflating tires
- Tire Repair Kit
- Advanced things may include a winch, high-lift jacks, first aid kit, etc.
If you really want to get serious, consider getting a truck camper designed for off-road travels, like one of these Best Off-Road Truck Campers.
Ultimately, if there is a particular road you want to drive but don’t feel comfortable taking the camper, you can drop the camper and now you have a capable and unburdened truck. (just remember to bring your off-road gear with you, as this might be stored in the camper)
The final piece of advice from our experience off-roading in the north is don’t push it. We did a lot of scouting ahead on foot or on bikes to make sure we could safely get into and back out of a trail. If you have someone with you have them outside as a spotter if you’re unsure of going through something – eyes outside the vehicle can see things the driver can’t.
And if you’re uncomfortable with off-roading do research and/or take classes to better prepare yourself for this type of adventuring.
Before the truck camper we were very limited in where we could go with our fifth-wheel RV. On the Go North trip we found that we could get to so many more places and turn around or back up anywhere.
Cait found confidence in driving the truck camper that she never had with the fifth wheel, and in general travel days were lower stress. We could pull of pretty much anywhere with a normal parking lot without worrying if we’d be able to get out, get turned around, or get back out into traffic safely. We could follow our hearts and drive down a side road without fear of getting stuck.
As long as you are aware of the driving differences of a truck camper, you’ll find it is a fun and easy way to travel and RV!
Learn more about our Go North Expedition & Traveling in Alaska Learn more about Truck Campers and RVing to Alaska
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Monday 17th of May 2021
I wanted to ask an additional question in a separate question. (1) With a log of first hand knowledge of truck campers, would you choose the Lance 1172 again? What would be your first 2-3 picks in a truck camper of about the same? (2) Would you again choose the F350 or something else? (3) What tires did you have on the truck?
Thanks again :-) Roger M.
Mortons on the Move
Friday 28th of May 2021
You can read more about the truck, truck camper, and our experience with both here: https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/tour-the-2020-lance-1172-truck-camper-the-go-north-expedition-vehicle/
Monday 17th of May 2021
Six questions: (1) The Lance 1172 loaded plus people and additional gear in the truck is heavy. Why not an F450 or F550? It seems the F350 was a little light duty for your adventure. (2) What did your fuel mileage look like? (3) Are you going on another distant trip? (4) With so much weight, did the tire hold up? Wear quickly? (5) Did the truck sway a lot and so much that you thought it would tip over? (6) Six months in a truck camper means very close quarters for everything. Was that a problem? Thanks in advance for your response. Roger
Mortons on the Move
Friday 28th of May 2021
You can find more information about our Go North series on our Explore More page: https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/go-north/go-north-explore-more/ We also put together a list of answers to frequently asked questions here: https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/go-north/go-north-frequently-asked-questions/