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Is A One-Ton Truck Big Enough For Your Camper? Maybe Not!

Is A One-Ton Truck Big Enough For Your Camper? Maybe Not!

A one-ton truck is a hefty truck by any standards, but is it big enough to pull or carry your camper or the one you want to buy? It’s an important question, and the answer depends on several factors. We hauled our fifth-wheel camper with one for years, but when we switched to a truck camper, it became a different story. A little knowledge goes a long way! Let’s investigate. 

What Is a One-Ton Truck? 

A one-ton truck is the largest and heaviest of passenger trucks available to the general public. Trucks larger than this usually fall into the commercial category. In your popular brands, this would be a 3500 or 350 series truck, like a Ram 3500 or Ford F350.

Pickup trucks are classified by their payload capacities, the maximum weight a pickup can carry in its cargo and passenger areas. The payload includes all the people in the truck, plus the truck’s contents, as well as the trailer tongue weight. 

For many years, you could assume that “one-ton,” “half-ton,” and “three-quarter-ton” corresponded with a truck’s payload capacity. These days, the terms are little more than an informal way to refer to the truck size.

How Much Weight Can a One-Ton Truck Pull? 

Every one-ton truck model has a different towing capacity. To find out what your towing capacity is, subtract the loaded vehicle weight from the GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating). These numbers will depend on the year, make, and model of your truck. For example, our 2010 Ram 3500 could pull 18,000 lbs, but our 2019 Ford F350 could pull about 20,000 lbs. Newer one-ton pickups can tow upwards of 37,000 lbs.

Historically, one-ton trucks could carry about one ton. But these days, they have more robust frames, suspensions, braking systems, and engines.

Pro Tip: Find out what your towing capacity is by subtracting the loaded vehicle weight from the GCWR.

What Is the Payload Capacity of a One-Ton Truck? 

Payload capacity is how much you can haul in the bed of the truck. Most modern one-ton trucks have a payload capacity of about 5,500 lbs. These max out at 7,600 lbs. However, the only way to know the true payload of a given truck is to find it in your truck’s owner’s manual or to calculate it yourself.

Here’s how to calculate your real payload capacity:

  1. Weigh your truck without the payload. This will almost always be higher than the curb weight stated on your factory sticker due to fuel, gear, passengers, etc.
  2. Find your GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating), which is the maximum weight allowed for your loaded truck.
  3. Subtract your truck’s actual weight from the GVWR. This is your Real Payload Capacity.

Normal payload capacities use the curb weight of the truck, but we find this always causes problems later when you’ve forgotten to add back in other cargo in the truck cab.

go north ford truck

What You Should Know About Towing and Payload Capacity

First and foremost, never max out your towing or payload capacity. This is especially true for full-time RVers. When we say “never,” we mean it! 

Maxing out your towing and payload capacity is not only bad for your truck but also dangerous. If your trailer detaches because your car can’t handle it, it could be fatal! 

When calculating your payload capacity, don’t forget to factor in passenger weight. No, you don’t need to ask each passenger what they weigh—instead, estimate. You could say 200lbs per passenger. Some will weigh more and others less, but it will generally balance out. 

ram 5500 badge camper

How to Know How Much Your Truck Can Safely Tow

Because this is so important, we’ll emphasize it by expanding on it a bit further. Grab your truck’s owner’s manual and follow along!

Your truck’s empty weight is its curb weight, and you can find it in the owner’s manual.

Remember that your truck’s payload capacity is its curb weight plus all the cargo weight it can safely add for a total carry capacity. It doesn’t matter what your truck is hauling. It could be hauling your family and towing a 5th wheel camper, a truck bed filled with construction supplies, or a bed full of garden mulch and plants and four passengers. 

Regardless, follow the formula mentioned above: GVWR – actual truck weight = payload capacity. 

For instance, if your truck’s GVWR is 8,000 pounds and weighs 4,000 pounds empty, your payload capacity is 4,000 lbs. In other words, you can carry under 4,000 lbs of people, stuff, and the trailer’s pin or tongue weight. 

The next piece you need to consider is the GCWR or gross combined weight rating. This is a rating that includes the trailer and is the heaviest combined weight the vehicle can be. You never want to exceed this because it’s set to make sure the vehicle can safely stop and control the weight of the entire setup.

Did You Know: While Dodge Ram used to be quite a popular truck brand, it is now two separate vehicle companies!

Campers That Require More Than a One-Ton Truck to Safely Tow

Some campers require more than a one-ton truck to tow safely. Let’s have a look at a couple of examples:

Large Truck Campers

There are some huge and heavy truck campers available today, and several weigh well over 3,000 pounds unloaded. These truck campers have slides or pop-outs, allowing for greater living space. With expanded living space comes more heavy furniture, larger tanks, more sleeping capacity for more people, and more stuff, all of which means more payload.

Remember that when we talk about larger tanks, those tanks will contain heavy water (and other “stuff”), so you must factor in whatever the tanks hold as well. 

For example, do you have a full 40-gallon freshwater tank that you’re carrying? A gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds, which means you’re taking on an additional 333 pounds. Add that to your calculations when determining payload.

This is why a one-ton truck may not be sufficient to carry larger truck campers.

weight sticker on a RAM 5500 with GVWR
This is the payload capacity of a Ram 5500: 19500lbs gross with a 13500 rear axle! This will carry just about any truck camper.

Large 5th Wheels

There are many large 5th wheels on the market today that weigh as much as 26,000 pounds, with the average being 12,000-15,000 pounds.

These include luxury 5th wheels with all the comforts of home and some high-end luxury items to boot! They may even include appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and residential-sized refrigerators. Some even have tile floors and granite countertops all adding a lot of weight!

Some 5th wheel RV brands that are heavy like this are DRV, New Horizons RV, Newmar, Teton Homes, and Spacecraft, to name a few.

You can see how these large 5th wheels can weigh between 18,000 and 26,000 pounds with lengths of 45 feet or more. 

Heavy fifth wheel by newmar

Toy hauler 5th wheels add a whole new dimension to the payload concept. Toy haulers range between 10,000 to 16,500 pounds and are up to 45 feet long, but toy haulers introduce a garage filled with, well, toys!

You might find golf carts and golf clubs, ATVs, motorcycles and dirt bikes, kayaks, canoes, bicycles, paddleboards, surfboards, and children’s toys. Some folks even carry large grills for cooking on-site.

Again, it’s easy to see how a toy hauler’s weight can quickly escalate. Take all of this into consideration when determining what type of truck you need to tow your specific camper and gear safely.

Larger Trucks for Larger Campers

Larger campers such as those mentioned above require larger trucks to carry them. An example of a larger-than-one-ton truck would be the Super Duty F-450s, which is capable of pulling a 21,000-pound trailer, a 35,000-pound gooseneck trailer, or a 27,500-pound 5th wheel! 

Tom Talks About Trucks & Towing - Our Experience and Tips on Towing Heavy

Likewise, a Ram 5500 towing capacity ranges from 34,290 to 34,800 pounds, payload of 10,700 to 11,450 pounds, and the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of the Ram 5500 without an upfit is 19,500 pounds.

Finally, we have the HDT (Heavy Duty Truck) options, which are Class 7 and 8 trucks. HDTs usually have a 60,000-pound to 80,000-pound gross combined weight rating! They also have brakes and power to handle that weight.

We see more and more HDTs towing big trailers, likely because they contribute to safe, comfortable towing with optimal performance and utility.

New Horizons HDT Semi
New Horizons are so heavy hauling with a semi is a good option!

Can Your Truck Handle the Weight? 

A one-ton truck is undoubtedly a sizable option. But the power of a one-ton truck quickly diminishes when we consider the combined weight of what we’ll be towing. 

It pays to look at the specifics of your intended payload and trailer before deciding whether your one-ton truck is big enough to pull your camper.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Thursday 12th of October 2023

Excellent article - there is a "go-to" Medium Duty truck, the Freightliner M2-106. It's sibling is the M2-112 (requires a CDL License in many states). The M2-106 does not.

There are after-market companies like Transwest and SportChassis that can convert these into an interior similar to any Ford/GM/Ram cab while being able to accommodate large (heavy) 5th wheels.

One can also find a "tongue weight scale", I use one with a 2,000 lb capacity to find out exactly what kind of weight I'm putting on the hitch, which as the article noted needs to be subtracted from the payload numbers, along with the other items mentioned.

J Chadima

Saturday 27th of November 2021

Good information. However, being detail oriented, I thought I would highlight some points that may need editing. First, look for "young weight". Second, this introduces GCVWR to calculate 'payload', then it moves onto GVWR to calculate 'payload'. Then it jumps to GCWR without explaining if or how this differs from GCVWR.

Robert Kimball

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Great info. I have been studying this for more that a year. My plans are to purchase a toy hauler and go full time. With this info, I am better prepared for buying my trailer and truck. I will most likely be upgrading my truck first as the trailer I have in mind fully loaded will max out my truck. SO, on to getting the truck replaced before I pull onto the sales lot for my trailer. I don't want to be one who is fooled into believing my current truck will be enough. I want more than enough. Thanks for your time on this article. I enjoyed the read. Keep ENJOYING THE FREEDOM.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 19th of April 2021

So glad you found it helpful!

David Anderson

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Don’t think that this accurate -“you can tow”? Maybe carrying/hauling weight. But trailers carry much of their own weight on their axles.

“For, if your truck’s GVWR is 8,000 pounds and weighs 4,000 pounds empty, your payload capacity is 4,000 lbs. In other words, you can tow under 4,000 lbs of people, stuff, and trailer. “

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 18th of April 2021

You are very right and I have corrected that and added a section about GCWR. Thanks, David.