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What You Need to Know Before Buying a Truck Camper

Former and current owner of several types of RVs, including 2 types of Truck Campers, 5th Wheels, and Class C's.

My Palomino Back Pack HS-2910 Truck Camper

My Palomino Back Pack HS-2910 Truck Camper

The Importance of the Appropriate Pickup for the Size and Weight of Camper

The photo shows my 2021 Palomino truck camper and my 2019 Ram 3500 heavy-duty pickup. The Palomino camper pictured weights 3,493 pounds dry. This is the weight of the camper when it leaves the factory.

It does not include the weight of water or any other items you add. For example, my camper can hold 45 US gallons of freshwater. A US gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds. With a full tank, the weight is 374.85 pounds. So, now the camper weighs 3867.85 pounds and I haven’t even added all my gear. You can see how everything you add to your camper, or the cab of the pickup is going to adjust the weight load limit.

You can find the load limit of your vehicle on the sticker located on the inside of the driver’s side door. This will tell you what your pickup can safely haul in the cab and bed combined. Because my pickup is a 3500 heavy-duty it has a GVWR of 11,700 pounds, and the payload capacity of that is 7,680 pounds. This is much higher than a normal payload rating on a regular duty or a 2500 pickup.

GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is the maximum allowable weight of the fully-loaded vehicle. This includes liquids, passengers, cargo, and the tongue weight of any towed trailer, such as a trailer and a UTV for example. As you can see it does not take much for the pickup to get to its load limit fast. Therefore, it is particularly important that you match your pickup to the camper you want to buy ahead of time.

Improving the Ride by Making Your Truck and Camper Safe

While there is nothing you can do to increase the load capacity of your vehicle you can add a few things that can make a heavy camper ride better on your truck. One thing I added to my vehicle was air suspension airbags.

Air Suspension Airbags

The basic function of these airbags is to assist the factory springs when a heavy load is applied and keep your vehicle from sagging in the rear. They will also help improve steering control, reduce sway and lessen wear on existing suspension components.

You always want your vehicle to remain level and not sag down on the rear end. The airbag suspension system essentially works like a balloon. It is designed to resist the weight of the frame of the vehicle, pump air in to keep the truck from sagging down on the rear end. The opposite occurs when you're not carrying a load and the suspension returns to normal. Basic installation is done by mounting the kits between the frame and suspension. Air pressure within the airbags will help support the additional weight. All of your factory suspension components are retained.

I have a remote control with my system that enables me to easily change the air pressure when needed. For example: when I'm hauling my camper I run 55 psi on the airbags. When I'm not hauling the camper I set the airbags to 30 psi. You will have to experiment a little to find your best ride.

Sway Bars

Most heavy-duty pickups come with front sway bars. The Ram pickup that I have, did. I added a rear stabilizer bar as well. Truck campers tend to sway some, especially when going on uneven pavement, entering a road from a driveway, or maneuvering around a sharp corner.

Adding the sway bars is greatly beneficial in keeping the camper from leaning, or swaying side to side. The whole intent of the sway bar is to prevent body lean. A sway bar does nothing at all unless the vehicle is inclined to lean to one side or another, such as when a camper is being hauled. When the camper does start to lean (which usually means the vehicle is turning—every car or truck tends to lean to the outside of a turn), the sway bar applies force to the suspension on each side, upward on one side and downward on the other, that tends to resist the leaning and keep your vehicle and camper from leaning. It should be noted that pickups with lift kits installed should take special care to research the aerodynamics of putting a camper on the truck bed before installation.

The right camper size matters

The right camper size matters

Truck Length vs Camper Length

I can't tell you how many truck campers I see that are hanging way over the back bumper of the vehicle. If you have a 6-foot truck bed, buy a camper that fits it, and not one that is designed to fit an 8-foot bed. The camper I have is only meant to be carried on an 8-foot bed, and still, it hangs over the back by 2 feet.

A 10-foot camper will do well on an 8-foot bed, but not so good on a 6-foot pickup bed. Four feet hanging off the back can make for a dangerous weight distribution problem that can affect the safety of the vehicle. I know that some will say that a dual rear wheel pickup can handle more weight, and they would be right. Still, you have to be aware of the load's center of gravity and how it will affect the vehicle's performance.

Properly matching your truck to the camper will exhibit the least amount of wear and tear on brakes, tires, and suspension components avoiding costly repairs and maintenance often caused by overloading. Truck owner surveys consistently report overloading as the number one reason for unscheduled truck repair and maintenance.

If your safety and driving performance are a priority, and you want to avoid unscheduled maintenance and repair costs, a properly matched truck and camper is the only way to go.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Charlotte Burch