Matching a Truck and Camper
- February 10, 2009
- - By Gordon White
This article is designed to simplify, as much as possible, the process of matching a safe and successful truck and camper combination. Hint: It's CAT Scale, not cat on a scale.
Almost everyday, we get an email from someone who is researching their first truck and camper purchase and needs help with truck and camper matching. Often these folks are frustrated with what appears to be an overly complex problem looking for a simple and safe solution. This article is designed to be that solution by helping to simplify, as much as possible, the process of matching a safe and successful truck and camper combination.
The Two Paths to Matching a Truck and Camper
There are two paths to matching a safe and successful truck and camper combination.
The first path is to match a specific camper to an unspecified truck. Use this path if you (a) already own a camper or have selected the camper you are going to purchase and (b) are now ready to find the right matching truck.
The second path is to match a specific truck to an unspecified camper. Use this path if you (a) already own a truck or have selected the truck you are going to purchase and (b) are now ready to find the right matching camper.
Many people, ourselves included, have become frustrated by attempting to match a truck and camper when they haven’t yet selected either one. You need to choose either a truck or a camper before you can assemble a safe and successful truck and camper combination. To help you to choose your truck or your camper, we have written two articles, “How to Choose a Truck” and, “How to Choose a Truck Camper”.
As a magazine, we strongly recommend choosing your camper first to ensure that you get the camper you want and to avoid buying more or less truck than you need.
Path One: Matching a Specific Camper to an Unspecified Truck
Let’s begin with the path we recommend, matching a specific camper to an unspecified truck. For this path, we assume you’ve done your homework and found the camper of your dreams. Now it’s time to match that camper to the right truck and get you on the road to fun and adventure.
Before we can find the right truck, we need to determine a few exterior dimensions of your camper as well as the wet weight of your camper.
Begin by measuring the length and width of the lower camper box. The lower camper box is the part of the camper that rests in the bed of the truck. While these measurements are fairly standard between camper manufacturers, some lower camper boxes are narrower, wider, longer, or shorter, than others.
Naturally, you will check these lower camper box length and width measurements against the length and width measurements of your future truck bed floor to ensure your camper will fit. You also need to check that the widest point of your lower camper box is not wider than the space between the wheel wells inside your future truck bed.
Next you want to measure the height from the bottom of the front lower camper box (under the cabover nose) to the bottom of the cabover nose above your head. Again this measurement is fairly standard from one camper manufacturer to the next, but some campers will measure taller or shorter than others. This measurement is important to make sure that your camper’s cabover nose will clear the roof and roof lights of your future truck cab.
Now it’s time to determine the wet weight for your camper. What you need is the weight of your camper with options, batteries, and full water and propane tanks. It’s also important to add an additional 500 to 1,000 pounds for you, your passengers, gear, and stuff (food, clothing, etc.). Add more weight if you plan to bring more stuff.
Weighing a camper can be a challenge. Perhaps the easiest solution is to use a portable scale system such as the Intercomp SW500 E-Z scale. Many manufacturers and camper dealerships use this system and we’ve tested it to be very accurate.
If the dealer or manufacturer doesn’t have an available portable or on-site scale, mount the camper on a truck and take the camper to a local CAT Scale. You can find a local CAT Scale by visiting catscale.com/cat-scale-locator. It’s important that the truck has been previously weighted (preferably at the same CAT Scale) as you will need to subtract the weight of the truck from the weight of the truck and camper combination to get your camper’s weight. Again, be sure to add 500 to 1,000 pounds (or more) for you, your passengers, gear, and stuff.
With your camper’s measurements and weight in hand, you can start your truck selection process with confidence. We recommend reading, “How to Choose a Truck” to narrow down a few of the many truck options before taking your camper measurements and weight data to your preferred local truck dealership.
Once at the dealership, the dealer should be able to recommend the truck with the dimensions and payload that you need. Bring your measuring tape to verify the truck bed length, width, and cabover height. And finally, take the truck to the local CAT Scale and verify that specific truck’s payload capacity. Determining a truck’s payload is detailed in the next section, Path Two, if you’re not familiar with the process.
When the truck measurements and payload capacity have been carefully verified and checked against your camper measurements and wet weight data, you are ready for a great truck and camper match.
1. Measure the length and width of your lower camper box and the height from bottom of the front lower camper box (under the cabover nose) to the bottom of the cabover nose above your head.
2. Determine your camper’s wet weight with a portable scale, on-site scale, or local CAT Scale. Be sure to add 500 to 1,000 pounds (or more) for you, your passengers, gear, and stuff.
3. Look for a truck that (a) can accommodate the length and width of your lower camper box, (b) can accommodate the height of the overcab, and (c) features the necessary payload to safely carry your camper. Carefully double check and verify everything before you make your purchase.
Path Two: Matching a Specific Truck to an Unspecified Camper
The second path is to match a specific truck to an unspecified camper. For this path, we assume that you already own a truck or that you have selected the truck you are going to purchase. Now it’s time to match that truck to the right camper.
Before we can find the right camper, there are three things you need to know about your truck; the available payload, the exact dimensions of the truck bed, and the height of the cab and cab lights from the floor of the truck bed.
Determining your truck’s available payload is as simple as locating the closest CAT Scale and getting your truck weighed. Once you have the weight of your truck, you can subtract that weight from the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your truck to determine your available payload. Your truck’s GVWR should be posted on a decal in the driver’s side door jam.
For example, let’s say the CAT Scale states your truck’s weight at 9,185 pounds, and your posted GVWR is 12,550 pounds. If you subtract your truck weight (9,185 pounds) from your truck GVWR (12,550 pounds) you get an available payload of 3,365 pounds.
That payload number represents the maximum weight of everything that can safely go in your truck. That means you, your passengers, your future camper, gear, and stuff. An industry standard for the weight of everything you will pack into a camper including yourself is 1,000 pounds. With the above example, you would have 2,365 pounds of available payload for your future camper after the 1,000 pounds of people, gear, and stuff are included.
Now that we have your truck’s available payload, you will want to measure the dimensions of the empty truck bed and the height of the truck cab from the floor of the truck bed. You need to measure your truck bed because long and short truck bed dimensions are not always standard or consistent from brand to brand or model year to model year. You also want to pay attention to how the truck bed walls curve-in front to back as that can also change from brand to brand or model year to model year.
Additionally, you need to measure the height of the truck cab from the front floor of the truck bed. You need this measurement to ensure that the bottom of the camper cabover will clear your cab, preferably by about six-inches to give room for up and down movement as you drive down the highway or go off-roading.
Once you have the available payload and dimensions for your truck, you can confidently begin your search for the perfect truck camper. We recommend reading, “How to Choose a Camper” to narrow down the many camper options before driving to your preferred camper dealership.
Camper dealers will be very happy that you have your truck payload number and measurements ready to go. With that information, they will be able to quickly recommend the camper or campers that will safely match your truck.
Again, we recommend bringing your measuring tape to verify the width and length of the lower camper box as well as the height of the cabover. And finally, verify the weight of the camper using a portable scale, on-site scale, or local CAT Scale. Determining a camper’s weight is detailed in the previous section, Path One, if you’re not familiar with the process.
Once the camper measurements and wet weight has been carefully checked against your truck measurements and payload capacity, you are ready for a successful truck and camper match.
1. Weigh your truck at a CAT Scale and calculate your available payload by subtracting your truck’s weight from the GVWR posted with your truck.
2. Measure your truck bed length and width dimensions as well as the height of the truck cab from the front floor on the truck bed.
3. Look for a camper that (a) will fit your truck bed measurements, (b) will clear your front cab by a least six-inches, and (c) has a wet weight within your truck’s available payload.
Matching A Truck and Truck Camper Feedback
We have no illusion about this article being the end-all or be-all of truck and camper matching solutions. With your help, we hope to refine and improve this article and process to make it simpler and safer for those who are new to truck campers.