We just hit six months and 20 thousand miles with our truck camper, it was a 2001 Summerwind weighing about 2,300 pounds, and closer to 2,800 pounds loaded with our stuff. Let me tell you the reasons we loved it and why we sold it.
Making the Truck Camper Work
The camper sat on our year 2000 Ford F-250 short-bed diesel truck. Being a ¾ ton truck it managed the weight admirably going under 50MPH on straight roads. I highly recommend the 1999-2002 Ford Superduty trucks. We averaged about 16 miles to the gallon with the camper on which was impressive. We get well over 20 MPG all the time now.
Being young and adventurous we stayed on pavement only when necessary but western speed limits sometimes approach 80MPH so we had some upgrading to do to the truck to feel safe. The first upgrade was Rancho adjustable shocks on the front to save our tires from wearing unevenly from the camper swaying back and fourth in the wind or on turns. Rancho Suspension 999267 RS9000XL Series Shock
The second upgrade was done months later and included Air Lift Airbags that DRAMATICALLY improved ride quality. I almost can’t think of driving a truck camper around anymore without them. It is a fairly simple DIY install and costs under $400. AIR LIFT 57215 LoadLifter 5000 Series Rear Air Spring Kit I HIGHLY recommend this air pump for quiet reliable operation too, I don’t think there are better compressors for the money. Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
Driving down a dirt road many miles into Escalante Utah early in our trip we passed some $60,000 Jeeps outfitted to the max for just the type of driving we were doing. The look on their faces was priceless as we dragged our home and stock sixteen year old truck to near tipping point many times; it is as if they saw a Honda civic making years of paying off their Jeep worthless. We certainly pushed the limits of sane travel with our truck camper and MANY more times than we could count on one hand we held our breath and also braced ourselves and dog anticipating rolling over.
Glad we didn’t.
We rarely took off our truck camper. It was a lengthy and involved process, and if you are thinking of purchasing a truck camper I highly recommend electric jacks. We managed to find a bolt that fit in our drill to move the jacks up and down, but it didn’t solve the problem of finding level firm ground, as well disconnecting numerous wires from our battery system that lived in the fender of the truck bed.
The reason we didn’t buy a van was that we wanted four wheel drive to go wherever we wanted and being six foot tall I wanted to stand up in the living quarters. Finding that in a van was just not in our budget. Our camper had two kitchen sinks, three stove burners an oven, a full bathroom with shower, solar power and a queen size bed. It was reasonably priced at $3500. Three sinks total, and a toilet. In six months I can count on one hand how many times I used more than one sink and neither Melissa or I ever did go #2 in the bathroom. It just made draining our wastewater so much easier and kept our truck camper smelling fresh! Wastewater could be drained from a garden hose instead of a sewer hose with this: Camco 39463 Sewer Cap with Hose Connection
With all that stuff we constantly had to manage various appliances and it became more stress than it was worth. Our hot water heater needed to be disassembled and rebuilt which took me most of an entire day. Our heater needed various minor fixes, our thermostat needed replacing, our refrigerator was very finicky (and ran off propane which made us both a little nervous due to the age of the camper and the rough driving we were doing), there is always roof sealing to do, and plumbing that leaks and freezing pipes is a serious concern in cold weather. If the outdoors is free then we felt our life systems should be modular. If something broke we could elect to fix it or replace it, as it would be easy to access instead of behind a wall somewhere.
The Good and the Bad
So if the outdoors is free I suppose we weren’t living up to our dreams. Do I recommend a truck camper? YES! A truck camper allows you to go offroad, get unstuck easily because you have a truck and has a great turning radius compared to a trailer, but still gives you all the comforts of home. If you buy a van you likely need to outfit it. For us, we just moved from Hawaii though and had no time to outfit anything and I was concerned due to other women telling me that Melissa would need a toilet for sure. As usual listening to your wife is more important than what others say, she actually preferred going outside more than I often and had far more difficulty with the smells of our waste water…which is great encouragement to dig a hole instead.
It was that the disadvantages of a truck camper outweighed the advantages. We quickly realized didn’t need all that stuff, we didn’t want the wear and tear on the truck due to carrying all that weight or the fear of rolling somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Finally, we were tired of “improving” or fixing things much like we did when we owned a house. Let me tell you one diabolical part of owning a house and that is upkeep, the more house the more upkeep.
We looked at sprinter vans but really wanted the four wheel drive and they don’t offer those for less than the cost of a small house. We met many living in vans and it seemed the back of our pickup met the same needs. Furthermore every single time you want to drive into town, or down the road there is a five to fifty minute process of picking and tying down anything that might spill, break or become an issue. With a small cargo trailer that houses the breakables, the toys and spill-worthy items one can leave the trailer behind briefly while you continue on your adventure. From the others I talked to in vans they had lesser so but similar issues with stowing items before takeoff. If plumbing is reduced to five gallon jugs freezing does not become an issue. If your water consumption is outside, well wastewater falls back onto the earth instead of pipes.
So that’s our take on the best of both worlds. I realize it isn’t conventional and slightly less stealthy than living in a van. We are now growing into our pickup truck camper shell that drives like a pickup truck. In all truth we probably don’t need a trailer and haven’t bought one just yet, but with the mountain bike and other large items it sure will make just hopping in and going to bed much easier. We hope to install solar this week so we can charge laptops and run lights. We are still in Colorado at 10,000 feet in the latter part of September so we bought a propane Camco 57331 Olympian Wave-3 3000 BTU LP Gas Catalytic Heaterthat runs off a 20lb propane tank and is catalytic therefore safe to run in an enclosed space with a window slightly cracked. As always we bought a brand new carbon monoxide alarm just in case. The adventure continues. Farewell truck camper and the beautiful times we had with you, it’s time to move steady into the present now.