August 04, 2019

Every Camper Needs a Truck

userBy Steve Dildine user1 Comment

We haul our camper atop a 2015 Ford F-350 4×4, crew cab, single rear wheel, long bed with the camper package and a 6.2 liter gas engine. That was a heck of a sentence, and, yes, you read that right–gas engine. The second installment focuses on one extremely necessary piece of equipment: the truck. If this were a chicken and egg scenario trying to answer which came first, the truck would definitely come first, but absolutely know what camper you are interested in to ensure the truck can support. So perhaps the camper does come first…

Hauling a Camper with a Gas-Powered Truck

The decision to go with a gas truck was made based on payload. Plain and simple, a gas engine truck weighs less than a diesel truck allowing it to hold more weight. With both diesel and gas trucks being identical, other than engine, the gas powered truck in our configuration allows for 450 pounds more payload. But what about all that diesel power? We don’t need it.

Our gas engine hauls us around with our camper without any trouble, which included our trip over Teton Pass on the Idaho/Wyoming border. That road has a 10% grade and reaches over 8,000 feet of elevation. Yes, the diesel would have done it easier (and with better fuel economy) but the fuel savings would have been lost for us both at initial purchase and with higher maintenance costs. Maybe if we had a large boat that we planned on towing behind the camper on a regular basis or a 10,000 pound trailer we might have gone diesel, but for how we use our truck I think gas was the right choice.

So Many Numbers, So Much To Learn

Before we began looking for a truck, I first looked at what the camper weighed dry, and then added in tank capacities and the weight of all the options we elected to add. We also had to try and estimate what the weight of all our supplies, clothes, cookware, etc. was going to add.

The Lance Camper website has a Build Yours tab that lets you pick the options you want. It also estimates the approximate final weight of the camper. With all those numbers roughly calculated, I then looked at payload numbers. Now, there are a whole bunch of numbers that can confuse people who aren’t familiar with hauling and towing. To keep it simple, we are going to focus on the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and payload. The GVWR is the maximum combined weight of the vehicle and anything you put on it or in it. It is illegal and unsafe to go beyond GVWR as the vehicle was designed and engineered for that limit. The payload is the GVWR minus the weight of the truck rolling off the assembly line with a full tank of fuel.

I ran into some conflicting information related to GVWR while speaking with a gentleman that designed truck campers for a big RV company. He told me that truck manufacturers automatically figure in 150 pounds for each seat and that weight doesn’t count against your payload weight. However, I called Ford to confirm this, and they told me this was incorrect. I then called our insurance company to find out what would happen if I were to have an accident and it was determined that I was over my GVWR. I was told that they have never had that happen and would need to look into it further for a more detailed answer. We opted to go with Ford’s definition.

Our trucks payload sticker tells us we are rated to hold 3,868 pounds. Our campers placard tells us that the camper weighs 2,760 pounds when full of water, full of propane, and standard equipment. Add in roughly 275 pounds for optional equipment, and we are at 3,035 pounds, which gives close to 850 pounds for our bodies and our stuff. My point here is to be aware of your camper’s weight when in use as well as the load your truck was designed to handle. Once I started looking at how much some models of campers weigh, I began to realize that there are several overloaded trucks on the road.

Campering Necessities

Our truck came from the factory with the camper package installed. This means that the front suspension was upgraded and a rear sway bar was added for improved lateral stability. Along with that, we added Torklift Stableloads (pictured below). This further helps improve stability and also decreases the amount of sag in the rear suspension by pre-loading the overload springs, basically initiating the extra help before the suspension compresses.

We decided to use this product for a more comfortable ride and peace of mind. Remember, the camper sits in the back of the truck bed and extends another eight feet above the vehicle, so it acts like a big sail in the wind and raises the center of gravity as well. What’s nice about this product versus others like airbags, timbrens, or add-a-leaf helper springs, is that it allows the suspension to work as designed and we can easily disconnect them when we aren’t using the camper for a softer ride. Easy to install, affordable, and they work.

A few other upgrades we sprung for was with the electrical system and tires. The camper has a pigtail that needs to be plugged into your truck so that your brake lights, turn signals, reverse lights, and markers all light up when driving, much the same as a boat trailer. However, the standard trailer wiring on our truck had two flaws when using it for a truck camper. First, as with every other tow vehicle, it’s located on the back bumper and the camper wiring is near the cab of the truck. Second, it uses a lighter gauge wire which is not sufficient to charge the campers batteries. The solution included adding a receptacle for the camper in the truck bed so we didn’t need an extension to plug it in, and we had the dealer directly wire the power supply to the alternator using heavier gauge wire to supply enough power to charge the batteries while driving.

By doing this, we still have our factory trailer connection available if we want to tow anything behind the camper. I’m not sure what the cost of this is as we negotiated this into the sale of our camper. As for tires, the original tires were already worn out by the time we made our camper purchase, so we replaced them with a set that had a higher load capacity, thicker sidewall construction, and more aggressive tread pattern. Again, having off-road travels in mind we wanted some extra protection and traction. The drawback of these new tires are that they are slightly heavier which caused a small change in fuel economy, and they make a little more road noise than standard highway tires. Having been stuck once in the mountains on a prior camping trip due to having low traction highway tires, the extra grip of the all terrains should help keep us from getting into a similar situation…I hope.

A Safe Camper is a Happy Camper

To keep our camper secure to the truck we considered a couple different options. We landed on Torklift’s Frame Mounted Tie Downs (pictured above) along with their FastGuns turnbuckles. We knew we would be spending most of our adventures on bumpy forest roads, so it made sense for us to go with the much sturdier frame mounted system versus the thin metal truck bed and bumper. The FastGuns turnbuckles are more of a convenience item than necessity, but they make loading and unloading so fast and simple. Once you assemble and adjust them, it takes less than two minutes to put them on or take them off. Yes, they are pricey, but the convenience far outweighs the initial investment.

We hope this gives you some useful information or at least opens your eyes to some of the nuances of hauling a truck camper. As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. I started with YouTube videos of how other people were loading and unloading, which led to more videos about tie-down systems and suspension upgrades. The rabbit hole gets pretty deep fast with conflicting methodologies of what’s the right and wrong way. I can’t comment on any other products as the only equipment we have any experience with is the equipment we are currently using, and we’re happy campers.