What Is A Truck Bed Camper? All You Need To Know About Slide-In Campers
Truck bed camper. Slide-in camper. Pickup camper. All are terms for the same style of RV.
This is one way to camp in a very small space.
What Is a Truck Camper?
To put it simply, a truck bed camper is a recreational vehicle that sits in the bed of a pickup truck.
When 'slid into place', a pickup truck camper becomes one with the truck and offers a convenient way to go camping. It offers a fairly compact overall length.
There are two different types of 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 which expands upwards once you need to utilize the living space.
Who Makes Truck Bed Campers?
A slide-in camper is a type of RV that 'slides in' the bed of a pickup truck and is then carried in the bed as you explore the open road.
A slide-in camper is what most people think of when they think of pickup campers.
They are hard-sided and can offer all the amenities of other RVs.
Most commonly, they have a sleeping area, seating area, full bathroom, and a fully equipped kitchen.
They are fully self-contained pick up campers with camper waste water tanks for the toilet, shower, and sink.
Slide-In Camper Construction
Pickup campers are constructed similarly to other RVs except for not having a base frame.
As they don't have their own wheels or drivetrain, they don't need the same frame structure that a motorhome or trailer requires.
Pick up truck campers will have either bonded fiberglass walls or aluminum skinned walls, with aluminum or wood studs inside.
Foam sheets or fiberglass batting is used for insulation.
There are a very few truck camper manufacturers who use a solid fiberglass, two-piece shell.
Length Considerations For Truck Bed Campers
The overall length of a slide-in camper will vary depending on the length of the truck bed in which it is being used.
The pick up truck camper will either stop at the backend of the pickup truck bed, or it will overhang a couple/few feet.
The overhang will extend down below the bed of the pickup camper, which allows for storage compartments and in some cases, a generator.
Lighter truck campers are available for mid-sized trucks. These will typically offer basic amenities to keep the weight down.
On the other end of the spectrum are 12-foot long full size truck campers that have all the bells and whistles but require a heavy-duty pickup truck with dual rear tires (dually) and a long bed to carry the heavy payload.
A short bed truck camper is going to have less living space (hence the name short truck bed) than a long bed truck camper.
A pickup truck camper is also known as a cabover camper.
A cabover camper has a portion that goes over the cab of the truck (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
Normally a pickup truck camper will have a vertical jack at each of the four corners.
They are used to lift the RV high enough up so that 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 the truck you have.
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 1/2 ton pickups, but these will often lack slides to expand the living area, and will be shorter in length.
All to keep the weight down.
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 weight (and cost) of the camper, 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.
Generators to run 120-volt appliances (air conditioning, microwave, etc.) while not connected to shore power are available on some models.
But keep in mind 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 camper.
There just isn't much extra room in these compact units.
But you will find a small compartment here and there to store stuff.
If you are going to stay in one place for a while, you can use the camper jacks to 'remove' the truck bed camper from the pickup truck.
This allows you to use your truck to explore the area without having to worry about carting your living quarters along.
How Much Does a Slide-In Camper Cost?
The retail price range of a new slide-in camper runs from around $10,000 up to about $70,000.
Pickup campers are one of those types of RVs that has a very wide price range because the quality and features available vary so much.
On the low end of the price scale, expect to get 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, most feature-laden of the truck bed campers, including ones with 3 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 just to give you a general idea
Slide-In Camper Pros and Cons:
Pop-Up Truck Campers
Pop-up truck campers are similar in layout and visual appearance to slide-in truck campers but have one major 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.
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 that a hard-sided slide-in camper does.
A benefit of the soft canvas walls means 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 is lower 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 it is possible to buy a popup truck camper with all the standard amenities found in other RVs, it is more common to have just the basics.
A removable toilet, possibly no waste water tanks, minimal freshwater storage, and optional refrigerator are fairly common.
With a popup camper, it's more about being lightweight with a low profile than it is having all the bells and whistles.
This type of RV gets you out of the weather, 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 rear portion of the truck bed).
You will also find lifting jacks at all four corners, as well as 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 normally 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 oven), and possibly a separate toilet area.
There may also be a shower stall, but this is going to depend on the size, weight, and manufacturer.
When it comes to 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 huge benefit of this style of pickup camper.
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. 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 larger manufacturer for around $8,000.
Expect to pay into the $40,000's 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 $42,000
*Above stats are approximate ranges just to give you a general idea
Pop-Up Truck Camper Pros and Cons:
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 safetly haul it.
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
Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing from April 2014 - December 2020 (now RVing about 50% of the time), Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle. Marshall spends the majority of his RVing life boondocking. He is the part of Camp Addict that knows 'all the things'. He's good at sharing his technical knowledge so you can benefit.