What Is A Truck Bed Camper? All You Need To Know About Slide-In Campers
By Marshall Wendler
Last Updated: August 4, 2022
Truck bed camper. Slide-in camper. Cab over camper. Pickup camper. All are terms for the same style of recreational vehicle that fits snuggly into the bed of a pickup truck.
This is one way to camp in a very small space and is a popular option for those not wanting to tow a trailer or drive a big motorhome and don't need the space that either of those options affords.
Read on to learn what is a pickup camper and if this mode of camping might work for you.
What Is a Truck Camper?
Simply put, a truck camper is a recreational vehicle that sits in the bed of a pickup truck.
When 'slid into place,' an RV pickup truck camper becomes one with the truck and offers a convenient way to go camping. It offers a relatively compact overall length.
There are two types of truck campers in this style of recreational vehicle:
A slide-in camper = a hard-sided RV that sits fairly high in the truck bed
A pop-up truck camper = one that expands upwards once you need to utilize the living space.
Who Makes Truck Bed Campers?
Slide-In Pickup Campers
A slide-in camper is a type of RV that 'slides in' the bed of a pickup truck and is then carried on the bed as you explore the open road.
A slide-on camper is what most people think of when they think of truck-mounted campers.
They are hard-sided and can offer all the amenities of other RVs.
They commonly have a sleeping area, seating area, full bathroom, and a fully equipped kitchen (with stove, fridge, sink, and counter space).
They are fully self-contained pick-up campers with camper waste water tanks for the toilet, shower, and sink.
RV Truck Camper Construction
RV truck campers are constructed similarly to other recreational vehicles except for not having a base frame.
They don't have their own wheels or drivetrain, so they don't need the same frame structure that a motorhome or trailer requires.
Pickup bed campers will have either bonded fiberglass or aluminum skinned walls, with aluminum or wood studs inside.
Foam sheets or fiberglass batting is used for insulation.
A few truck camper manufacturers use a solid fiberglass, two-piece shell.
Length Considerations For Truck Bed Campers
The overall length of a truckbed camper will vary depending on the length of the truck bed in which it is being used.
The truck bed RV will stop at the rear of the pickup truck bed, or it will overhang a couple/few feet.
The overhang will extend below the bed of the pickup box camper, allowing for exterior storage compartments and, in some cases, a generator.
Lighter truck top campers are available for mid-sized trucks. These will typically offer basic amenities to keep the load weight down.
On the other end of the spectrum are 12-foot-long full-size truck campers with all the bells and whistles but require a heavy-duty pickup truck with dual rear tires (dually) and a long bed to carry the extra weight.
A short bed truck camper will have less living space (hence the name "short") than a long bed truck camper.
A slide in truck bed camper is also known as a cabover camper.
A cabover camper has a portion that goes over the truck's cab (thus, cabover).
This area normally contains the primary sleeping camper RV mattress.
Some pickup campers don't go over the cab, so they don't have this upper sleeping area.
Pickup Truck Camper Jacks
Usually, a pickup truck camper will have a vertical jack at each of the four corners.
They are used to lift the RV high enough so the truck bed can slide under it.
Then the jacks lower the camper onto the bed of the pickup truck.
Once the jacks are fully retracted, the slide-in camper is secured to the truck at all four corners via tie-downs and turnbuckles. At this point, the truck and camper become 'one.'
Can Any Truck Handle A Camper?
It's VERY easy to buy too heavy of a pickup camper for your truck.
Most slide-in campers require a heavy-duty truck due to weight requirements.
Many need a dually one-ton truck to safely carry them, as a dually has an increased payload capacity.
You can find truck campers for half-ton pickups, but these will often lack slides to expand the living area and will be shorter in length.
Half-ton campers lack features to keep the overall weight of the truck with camper below the maximum allowable payload.
Never exceed your truck's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). This is VERY easy to do with a 1/2 ton truck and anything other than a lightweight back of truck camper.
Small Truck Camper
Large Truck Camper
Stand-Out Features Of Slide-In Campers
A slide-in camper can offer all the amenities of a larger RV in a very compact package.
This type of recreational vehicle doesn't have to add any additional length (just height) to a pickup truck.
This means you can go to many places you wouldn't be able to if, for example, you were towing a travel trailer (even a smaller one).
Some truck campers have slide-outs to expand the living space. (What are RV slide-outs?)
However, these increase the camper's weight (and cost), requiring vehicles with higher payload capacity.
Slides are typically found on units made for one-ton trucks.
A 1/2-ton truck camper will have manufacturing compromises to keep the weight down, including not having a slide.
Wet baths are common in pick up truck campers due to space restrictions, though you can find a dry bath in some of the longer floor plans.
Holding tanks for fresh and waste water are usually a standard feature, allowing you to stay outside a campground and not be hooked up to utilities.
There will be a kitchen area with a stove, refrigerator, meal prep area, and a dinette for seating.
Generators to run 120-volt appliances (air conditioning, microwave, etc.) while not connected to shore power are available on some models.
But remember that generators will add to the cost, add weight, and take up precious cargo space (something lacking in a truck camper).
Exterior storage space is generally limited in a slide in campers for pickup trucks.
There isn't much extra room in these compact units.
But you will find a small compartment here and there to store stuff.
If you stay in one place for a while, you can use the camper jacks to 'remove' the truck bed camper from the truck's bed.
This allows you to use your truck to explore the area without worrying about carting your living quarters along, increasing fuel economy while exploring the local area.
How Much Does A Slide-In Camper Cost?
The retail price range of a new slide-in camper runs from around $10,000 to over $70,000.
Pickup campers are one type of RV with an extensive price range because the quality and features available vary greatly.
On the low end of the price scale, expect a no-frills slide-in camper that doesn't use the best building materials.
On the high end of the price scale, you'll find the longest, heaviest, and most feature-laden truck bed campers, including ones with three slide-outs and requires a heavy-duty dually truck to carry.
Slide-In Camper Quick Stats:
- Length: 6 to 20 feet
- Sleeping Capacity: Up to 4 people
- Slides: 0 to 3
- Dry Weight: 700 to 4,200 pounds
- Retail Price: $10,000 to $70,000+
*Above stats are approximate ranges to give you a general idea
Slide-In Camper Pros and Cons:
Ultimate Guide To RV Types
Confused about the different types of RVs? Read our guide that explains the differences between the various RV styles.
Pop-Up Truck Campers
Pop-up truck campers are similar in layout and visual appearance to slide-in truck campers but have one significant difference - their roofs are designed to drop down onto the main body.
This makes the travel height of these collapsible truck campers much lower than a traditional truck camper, making them much less top-heavy and less susceptible to swaying while traveling down the road (especially when traveling off-road).
What Are The Biggest Benefits Of A Pop-Up?
A pop-up pickup camper achieves its low-profile travel position by having soft walls that collapse as the roof is lowered.
While these soft walls (often canvas) can be insulated, they don't provide nearly as much protection from weather extremes as a hard-sided slide-in camper.
A benefit of the soft canvas walls is lower weight.
This makes these ideal truck campers for 1/2 ton pickups (not able to carry as much weight as a heavy-duty truck).
A pop-up truck camper also is popular with people who like to go off-roading, as the overall weight and length are less than other RVs, as is the height (less top-heavy).
Both of these are important considerations when traveling over rough, uneven terrain.
Pop-Up Camper vs. Slide-In Campers
While buying a popup truck camper with all the standard amenities found in other RVs is possible, it is more common to have just the basics.
Portable camper toilets, possibly no waste water tanks, minimal freshwater storage, and an optional refrigerator are common.
With a popup camper, it's more about being lightweight with a low profile than having all the bells and whistles.
This type of camper gets you out of the weather and offers more protection than a tent, yet lacks the polish and wow factor of many hard-sided RVs.
You can get a popup truck camper with or without a rear overhang (camper extending past the back portion of the truck bed).
You will also find lifting jacks at all four corners and the same type of turnbuckle and tie-down system to secure the small truck camper to the pickup truck as you do in a slide-in camper.
The main sleeping bed is generally in the cabover section, like a hard-sided truck camper.
The interior layout is similar with a seating area, a cooking area (most likely without an oven), and possibly a separate toilet area.
There may also be a shower stall, but this will depend on the size, weight, and manufacturer.
Regarding these small truck campers, you will find some features lacking due to space and weight constraints compared to a slide-in.
Stand-Out Features Of Pop-Up Truck Campers
The number one stand-out feature of a pop-up truck camper is in its name - the pop-up top.
The ability for the top to drop down, creating a low-profile RV, is a massive benefit of this style of camping truck.
You won't find any slides on these RVs, as that's not feasible with a collapsible roof.
Depending on the length, exterior storage may or may not be present.
Finding one with a built-in generator will be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Remember, these small truck campers are often very no-frills. Often just one step above tent life.
Due to the lower weights available, these make great truck campers for 1/2 ton pickups.
How Much Does A Pop-Up Camper Cost?
Retail prices for a new pop-up camper vary widely.
You can purchase a lower-end model from a more prominent manufacturer for around $8,000.
Expect to pay into the $40,000's (or more) for a high-quality collapsible camper from a smaller (more custom) manufacturer.
Pop-Up Truck Camper Quick Stats:
- Length: 10 to 15 feet
- Sleeping Capacity: Up to 4 people
- Slides: 0
- Dry Weight: 900 to 1,900 pounds
- Retail Price: $8,000 to $40,000+
*Above stats are approximate ranges to give you a general idea
Pop-Up Truck Camper Pros and Cons:
Frequently Asked Questions
Can A 1/2 Ton Truck Carry A Camper?
Yes, a 1/2-ton pickup can carry a camper, but you have to be careful not to exceed the truck's gross vehicle weight rating. Because of the weight limitations on many half-tons, a pop-up camper is ideal for this size pickup.
Can A 3/4 Ton Truck Carry A Camper?
A 3/4 ton truck can carry a camper, which should be considered the minimum sized pickup for this RV style. The weights of today's slide-in campers require at the very least a 3/4 ton truck, while many require a one-ton truck.
What Do You Call A Camper That Fits In The Bed Of A Truck?
A camper that goes in the bed of a truck is called by several names, including truck bed camper, slide in camper, cab-over camper, and pickup camper.
Can You Live Full Time In A Truck Camper?
Yes, you can live full-time, year-round, in a truck camper. We know several people who have done just that.
Because of the small interior space of a typical camper for pickup truck, it is best to be a solo traveler if you are living in it full-time. However, some couples live this way, and they get along really, really well!
Can You Sleep In A Truck Camper Off The Truck?
You can sleep in a truck camper when it is off the truck, and this is a very popular option when you arrive at a campground. Keep the camper supported by the jacks at all four corners, and you can use the interior space just as you would if it were mounted on the truck.
Unload the camper off the truck bed, and now you have a vehicle you can drive around locally without having to deal with the extra weight of having the living quarters in the truck bed. Not to mention you don't have to put everything away inside the camper whenever you want to explore.
So yes, truck campers are stable off the truck, and you can live in them just as you would if they were mounted in the truck bed.
Are Truck Campers Worth It?
Whether or not a truck camper is worth it will entirely depend on your camping style. Suppose you currently have a pickup capable of carrying the weight of a camper (most likely at least a half-ton truck), and you are looking for a relatively compact recreational vehicle that can go pretty much anywhere your truck can. In that case, a truck camper may be worth it to you.
Remember that this camper style has drawbacks compared to larger motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels, including a lack of storage space, small interior living spaces, and smaller bathrooms.
Is It Legal To Ride In A Slide In Truck Camper?
It is legal to ride in a slide-in truck camper in most states. Only a handful of states expressly prohibit passengers in the campers while in motion, and a few others have specific requirements (such as age minimums and the need to be able to communicate with the driver).
However, is it a good idea to ride or sleep in a truck camper while driving? Probably not! Most don't have seatbelts to keep occupants secure in the case of a crash. Plus, the inside of any RV would be a horrible place to be in case of a wreck. Just taking a quick look at how RVs are constructed, you will see that they offer minimal protection in anything other than a minor fender bender.
Be safe and don't travel in a truck camper. Ride up front in the truck's cab, where you have much better protection should an accident occur.
Now you have the information needed to understand what a truck bed camper is and the differences between the two main types - slide-in campers and popup truck campers.
If you are looking for an RV that gives you the freedom to explore without having a huge vehicle to drive around while giving you many of the same features of a much larger recreational vehicle, a pickup camper may be the right choice.
There are 1/2 ton truck camper options for lighter-duty trucks, but most slide-in campers are heavy enough to need a heavy-duty pickup truck to haul them safely.
Now you know what is a slide in camper and if it is the right choice for the way you want to travel.
A pickup truck and camper combination may be the perfect adventure setup for your family to hit the open road on your next truck camping trip.
Author: Marshall Wendler
As the co-founder of Camp Addict, Marshall Wendler is a seasoned expert in the world of RVing, with years of hands-on experience living the full-time RV life in his travel trailer. From 2014 to 2020, Marshall learned the ins and outs of the lifestyle and has enjoyed sharing his knowledge and expertise with others. After a brief hiatus as a part-time RVer in 2021 and 2022, Marshall is back on the road full-time, embracing the vanlife and all the exciting possibilities it brings. He particularly enjoys the freedom and flexibility of boondocking and is excited to share his technical insights with the Camp Addict community. Whether you're a seasoned pro or new to the RV world, Marshall has valuable insights and information to share, and is here to help you navigate the exciting world of RVing with confidence and ease.
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I have a 2004 tundra. What type of upgrades do i need to put a popup camper on the back?
I don’t have experience owning a truck camper or equipping a pickup to handle one.
I would suggest taking a look at the Toyota manual, asking in a Toyota truck forum, and/or asking the popup camper manufacturer of your choice and see what information you can get there.
Good article, my first camper was an 8’ slide in and on a 4×4 long bed chevy pick-up. I went to a lot of out of the way places. I currently have a 30’ class A and there are times I miss the truck camper.
Glad you like it, Lew!
RVs are all about trade-offs, right? The truck camper could go just about anywhere, but your Class A sure is a lot more comfortable to live in!