What’s it like driving a truck camper? How do they perform off-road?
We chat about what it’s like to drive a truck camper both on and off the road.
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 RV’s 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 share our thoughts on off-roading with a truck camper as well.
Pick the Right Truck for the Camper
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.
Three Big Changes
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 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 hitting uneven road surfaces. All cars experience this and have sway bars to help prevent it and control, but as you stack on more weight it’ll become more pronounced. This can create a tipover hazard in hard manuevers or very steep side-to-side grades. We recommend looking into beefier sway bars* to tackle and control the extra body roll. (*We had Hellwig Sway Bars added to our set up and they worked great!) 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 Driving Consideration
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?
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 it’s higher clearance and readily accessible 4×4 abilities in trucks. But off-road capabilities will vary significantly on your set up.
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 really rocky trail, going through questionable mud, and even for climbing ever so slowly up onto leveling blocks.
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
- Tools (check out what we brought on our expedition here)
- Advanced things may include a winch, high-lift jacks, first aid kit, etc.
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)
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 safety 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!
- How We Packed Our Truck Camper for Alaska
- Tour the Lance 1172 – The Go North Expedition Vehicle
- How to Load & Unload a Truck Camper