Knowing how to secure a truck camper is one of the most critical parts of a safe and fun trip in these versatile RVs. Thankfully, it’s not complicated – and if you follow our quick steps below, you’ll be on the road in no time!
How Do Truck Campers Work?
A truck camper is a camper that sits in the bed of a pickup truck, often extending over the cab and a few feet behind the tailgate. We can split truck campers up into slide-in or pop-up varieties.
They’re among the smallest and most affordable RV or camper options and are relatively basic in their amenities. Most have a sleeping area, a small kitchen, and sometimes a full bathroom or wet bath.
How to Secure a Truck Camper the Right Way
Because truck campers aren’t permanently connected to your truck, you’ll need to install and secure them each time you load your camper. This process isn’t complicated, but you must do it correctly for your safety and the safety of those around you.
There are two main elements to consider: your tie-down system and your turnbuckles. It’s also recommended to have a mat to protect your truck bed and keep your camper steady.
Happijac (owned by Lippert Components) and Torklift are the two biggest names in the industry selling truck camper tie-downs and turnbuckles.
Truck Camper Tie-Down System
Tie-downs are the anchor points where your camper will connect to your truck. You’ll typically mount 4 of them to your truck bed, frame, or even bumper.
Tie-down components are often sold in sets of 2, one for the front corners and one for the rear. Because of this, it is not uncommon that people will mix and match the tie-down type on the front and rear of the camper.
Some tie-down systems are designed for specific trucks, so be sure when shopping that you find a system that is compatible with your truck.
Let’s take a look at the different tie-down types:
Truck Bed-Mounted Tie Downs
These tie-downs mount to the sheet metal of the bed of the truck either through the use of metal plates bolted to the front of the bed or metal clamps that rest over the rails of the truck bed.
The metal plates are typically drilled into and through the front wall of your truck bed – something that doesn’t sound appealing to most truck owners nowadays. Also, consider that many trucks are made with lighter materials.
- Replacement front anchor plates for tie down systems
- Available options: 1999-2007 Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra Classic...
- Includes (2) anchor plates
The clamp versions are removable, so can be ideal for situations when you take your camper out every once in a while. Many of the clamp models come with neoprene pads to prevent any damage to your truck’s paint when used.
- Wider design fits the newest full size pickups
- No drilling required
- Set of 4
You can also get stabilization bars to connect front bed tie-down brackets for even more stability and weight distribution. These bars are installed on the inside of the front of your truck bed.
Frame-mounted tie-downs bolt directly to the truck frame, the strongest part of your truck. This lower connection point adds to stability and handling and is strongly recommended for full-height, slide-in campers.
We used the Torklift Frame-Mount Tie-Downs on the Ford F350 we drove to Alaska with the Lance 1172.
As the name suggests, these tie-downs secure the truck camper to the bumper of the truck. However, bumpers are not as strong as your truck frame or bed. If your camper is really heavy (like one of these large truck campers), or you drive it down bumpy roads, you can bend or damage your bumper.
For this reason, we really do not recommend this type of tie-down system.
Since the bumper is only in the rear, you would also need to use either a bed-mounted or frame-mounted tie-down for the front of the camper.
What Are The Best Camper Tie-Downs?
Out of these options, frame-mounted tie-downs are generally considered the best choice. They provide the most robust base for securing your camper, over the thinner and weaker sheet metal of your trunk bed or your bumper.
Frame-mounted tie-downs also handle and distribute your camper’s weight better, which improves your truck’s handling and overall stability. When you hit a big bump or a strong wind, you’ll be thankful for the stronger connection of these tie-downs!
What are Truck Camper Turnbuckles?
Turnbuckles are devices that allow you to increase and decrease tension between two points of a tension system. This usually involved two screws inserted into either end of a small metal frame. As you turn the frame, the two ends are screwed out or in simultaneously to increase or decrease the length.
When talking about truck campers, the term “turnbuckles” refers to the tension mechanism that secures your truck camper to your tie-downs. They connect to a mounting bracket on your truck camper on one end, then attach to the tie-down in a temporary or more permanent way, depending on your choice of turnbuckle style. Once attached, you can tighten the tension to the appropriate amount.
Turnbuckles range from the most basic to advanced versions with tension indicators or easy on/off levers. Your specific truck and camper, as well as your budget, can help dictate the right turnbuckles for you.
Again, your truck may need a specific variety, so also check with the manufacturer before buying. It’s also crucial to have the correct size for your tie-downs. A bed-mounted tie-down will have a very different size turnbuckle than a frame-mounted one.
Standard Turnbuckles And Chain
These simple systems involve using a length of chain connected to a hook-to-hook or eye-to-eye turnbuckle.
While simple and cost-effective, you definitely want to make sure the chain, turnbuckles, and any S-hooks or other componentry are properly rated for handling the weight and movement of your camper.
Spring-loaded turnbuckles have special designs to allow the camper some “give” and shock absorption as it reacts to bumps and turns along the drive. This spring is either built into the turnbuckle itself or in special anchor points that attach to or near the tie-down connection.
This reduces stress on your tie-down anchor points which decreases wear and extends life. These systems are often completed with a chain or a stainless steel rod that connects to the other tie-down.
- - Torklift Basic Spring Load System carries our legendary...
- - Bolts easily to the end of each Forklift tiedown providing the...
- - Each kit includes two spring loads and 2 HD forged turnbuckles.
Many of these designs also have spring tension indicators so you can easily find the appropriate tension.
Quick-Release or Lever-Action Turnbuckles
Many truck camper owners realize very quickly that their turnbuckles may block their fuel tank access. Twisting and resetting turnbuckles when you’ve got vehicles waiting for the pump can take a while. Other times you just might want a faster and easier mount or dismount process.
Quick-release turnbuckles have levers that release the spring-loaded portion of the turnbuckle and extend it enough to unhook it from its anchor point. The only twisting needed is to set the initial tension.
We personally used the Torklift FastGun Turnbuckles on our Go North expedition vehicle and we were very pleased with their performance and ease of use.
- EASY TO INSTALL – Regardless of your tie-down mounts (bed,...
- DURABLE CONSTRUCTION – The turnbuckle barrels are made with...
- USER-FRIENDLY – By using the rubberized handles, it’s simple...
How Tight Should My Truck Camper Turnbuckles Be?
It is critical that you tighten your turnbuckles appropriately to properly secure your camper. Camper manufacturers recommend that you apply 300 pounds of pressure. If there is not enough, your camper could shift in the bed of the truck or worse, come detached completely!
However, if there is too much tension, you could damage your anchor points. The brackets might pull out of the truck camper.
Unless you have turnbuckles with tension indicators, this could be tricky. Generally speaking, they should be snug but not so tight that excessive strength is needed to lock them. Fortunately, most truck camper turnbuckles come with an instruction manual on how to properly tighten your model of turnbuckles.
Which Way Should The Turnbuckle Hooks Be Facing?
If your turnbuckles have hooks, they should face out and away from the truck. This way no contact between the hook and the truck body will happen. Honestly, though, we’ve seen them installed both ways, and may vary depending on manufacturer recommendations.
How to Use Turnbuckles and Tie-downs to Secure Your Truck Camper Properly
Securing a truck camper starts by using your camper’s jacks to raise it slightly above your truck bed’s height. Carefully back your truck underneath, and lower the trailer into the bed.
With the camper resting in the bed, connect the turnbuckles to the camper and the tie-down anchor points. Tighten them until secure. That’s all!
For a step by step guide on loading your truck camper check out our article all about it.
Protecting Your Truck Bed and Truck Camper
Having a rubber truck bed mat is a simple way to protect your precious vehicles. Place these mats in the truck bed before your camper is loaded to prevent it from sliding while in motion.
These mats are also relatively affordable – well worth protecting your truck bed from any damage or scrapes caused by your camper! Click here to check out truck mats and shop for one that fits your particular truck.
Keep Your Family and Your Camper Safe
There you have it – the answer to how to secure a truck camper is as simple as that! Follow these steps each time before heading out for your camping trip, and you’ll keep your family, those around you, and your camper safe and secure.
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Sunday 29th of August 2021
Can I use Bull Ring tie down anchors instead of Broghy camper tie down or Torklift fast gun turnbuckles for 2022 Drifter truck camper longbed on 2017 Ford F 250 longbed ?
Mortons on the Move
Saturday 4th of September 2021
As long as you can get a solid connection to the frame you can create your own tie-downs. We did that on our custom flatbed build but our flatbed is structural. I would not rely solely on the sheet metal of the bed for a tiedown.
Tuesday 23rd of February 2021
Good article. I live FT in my 2009 single slide truck camper. I am still using the turnbuckles that the RV dealer installed when I bought my camper and it's working well.
Tuesday 23rd of February 2021
Hi Tom and Caitlin. So sorry to realize we have missed each other last weekend in Organ Pipe Cactus NM. Right after we took the El Camino del Diablo towards the West and camped somewhere in the Tinajas Altas, which was great. Anyway, our Four Wheel Camper Hawk got dis-centered on our Power Wagon on the washboard roads and now almost touches the drivers side bed. Can’t even open the turnbuckle because it touches the camper wall. Ughhh. Will get that fixed with the help of a forklift probably. Do you guys have any recommendation on how to keep a camper in a permanent location in the center despite going off road? Also, how to center again a camper once you have no jacks on your rig any longer? Something like a ratchet strap hooked up to a tree side ward or so? I came across this website here which seems to help with proper centering when putting the camper in the bed. Thanks guys for your daily newsletters. You guys do a great job really getting into the meat without being too scientific. Very informative too. If you ever get over to Joshua Tree, feel free to ping us for a meet up.
Mortons on the Move
Tuesday 23rd of February 2021
Ahh the off-center issue, we have always had jacks so it is just a matter of lifting and replacing, that might not be the case for our next TC however as it's going on a wide flatbed. TC magazine did an article one building centering devices, but we have seen metal versions of the angles for sale as well. https://www.truckcampermagazine.com/camper-mods/projects/centering-guides-for-slide-in-campers/ We have been considering building a stabilizer bar between the two front landing gear mounts that will pin into the bed to prevent shift, but it is only a concept at this point. As for getting it centered without jacks your ratchet strap idea sounds interesting, maybe even a long rope that you can push on to get leverage. Hard to say if it would be enough force if its on a sticky rubber mat. Good luck!