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Northstar Truck Campers
Newbie Corner

The Best Truck Camper

The most common question readers ask us at a RV show or truck camper rally is, “Who makes the best truck camper?”  Here is our official answer.

the best truck camper

Long time Truck Camper Magazine readers know we have been to every truck camper factory in the United States and Canada, seen every truck camper brand in detail, and actually been truck camping in dozens of truck camper models over the past decade.

Knowing this, it’s no wonder that readers often pull us aside at RV Shows and truck camper rallies to quietly ask, “Who makes the best truck camper?”  After everything we’ve seen and experienced, we have to know who makes the best camper, right?

In fact, we do.

So, who makes the best truck camper?

No one does.

Buying a Truck Camper is Like Buying a Refrigerator

When we needed to buy a new refrigerator two years ago, we looked at Consumer Reports, read reviews on Amazon.com, scanned consumer forums, and talked to sales people at local appliance stores.  We wanted to know, “Who makes the best refrigerator?” and sought advice from refrigerator experts and owners.

During this research, we asked an appliance salesperson at Sears, “Who makes the best refrigerator?”  He immediately answered, “What size do you need?  Do you want a side-by-side, top freezer, bottom freezer, or french door?  Do you want an in-door ice maker or filtered water dispenser?  Stainless steel, white, creme, or black finish?  Standard or cabinet depth?  And how important is operation cost per year?”

Angela and I had considered some of these variables, but were unprepared to definitively answer all of the salesperson’s clearly important questions.  Honestly, we didn’t know some of these variables existed; like cabinet depth versus standard depth.  How could we find the best refrigerator – for us – if we didn’t have answers to these questions?

There Is No Best Camper, For Everybody

The first lesson from my ridiculous, but hopefully poignant, “buying a truck camper is like buying a refrigerator” analogy is that there is no refrigerator, or truck camper, that’s best for everybody.  In fact, the problem with asking, “Who builds the best” of anything is that the question itself is incomplete.

Imagine going back to Sears and asking that same salesperson, “Who makes the best cabinet depth, side-by-side, stainless steel refrigerator with an in-door ice maker and filtered water dispenser?”  This detailed and specific question would have helped the sales person to immediately narrow our refrigerator choices down to a select few models and likely given us the results we hoped for.

Fred Asks the Wrong Question

Let’s have some more fun with this.  Imagine a reader, we’ll call him Fred, meets us at an RV show and asks, “Who makes the best truck camper?”

Rather than answering with our usual, “Tell us about what you need and want in a truck camper”, we point to few truck campers across the way and state, “That brand makes the best truck campers”.

At first, Fred is thrilled that we told him who makes the best campers, until he sees that it’s a hard side truck camper brand.

“But I want a pop-up camper,” Fred replies.

“Too bad Fred, those campers over there are the best.  No pop-up camper for you.”

Poor Fred.

The serious side of this made-up scenario is that it happens.  When you don’t carefully define what you need and want in a camper (or any product or service for that matter), it’s likely that you’ll get inappropriate advice.  Worse, you could get swayed into something that doesn’t fit your requirements or intended lifestyle.  Fortunately, you can avoid this potential pitfall by having the right “best camper” question ready.

Asking the Right “Best Camper” Question – For You

Go back to our imaginary RV Show, and Fred.  This time Fred asks us, “Who makes the best pop-up truck camper for a short-bed truck, with soft-side pop-up walls, and a wet bath?”

Now we’re talking!  Fred has successfully narrowed down the big choices.  Based on his specific question, we could recommend campers to Fred that fit his requirements.

After a few additional questions about Fred’s intended price target, weight target, and truck camping lifestyle, we could even make some specific make and model recommendations – perhaps even narrowing Fred’s choices down to the best truck camper, for Fred.

Getting to Your “Best Camper” Question

There are five questions that, once answered, will help you to ask the right “best camper” question.  Here are the questions:

1. Do you want a pop-up or a hard side truck camper?

2. Do you want a long bed or a short bed truck camper?

3. If you want a hard side camper, do you want a non-slide, single-slide, double-slide, or triple-slide floor plan?

4. If you want a pop-up camper, do you want hard-side pop-up walls, or soft-side pop-up walls?

5. Do you want a wet bath, dry bath, or no bath?

Once you have these five questions answered, you can put your answers together to get to the right “best camper” question – for you.

For example, Fred’s brother Ted might ask, “Who makes the best hard side truck camper, for a long bed truck, with three-slides, and a dry bath?”

Fred’s sister Jane might ask, “Who makes the best pop-up truck camper, for a short bed truck, with hard pop-up walls, and a wet bath?”

You get the idea.  It’s all about knowing what you need and want in a truck camper, and creating the right “best camper” question for those needs and wants.

But What If You’re Not Sure About What You Want?

If you need help making these choices, or want clarification on the differences, start by reading  Truck Camper Magazine’s Newbie Corner.  We also recommend visiting truck camper dealers to see and experience the differences between a pop-up and a hard side camper, a long bed and a short bed floor plan, and so forth.

Whatever you do, please do not attempt to ask about the “best camper” until you have your own “best camper” question ready.

Next Questions: Price and Weight

Before making a recommendation, most manufacturer representatives and truck camper dealers will ask, “What is your target price range?”  Ideally, they will also ask, “What is your target wet and loaded weight?” or, “What is the payload capacity of your target truck?”  Most do.

Don’t worry if you don’t have this information ready.  You may not have a truck yet, or you may want to keep your price and weight options open as you learn if a non-slide, single-slide, or multi-slide is right.  Making price and weight decisions ahead of time can be helpful, but it can also be too limiting.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s add price and weight information to Fred’s, Ted’s, and Jane’s “best camper” questions:

Fred: “Who makes the best pop-up truck camper for a short-bed truck, with soft-side pop-up walls, and a wet bath?  I need to stay under $20,000 and keep the weight under 2,200 pounds wet and loaded for a 2008 Chevy Silverado 2500.”

Ted: “Who makes the best hard side truck camper, for long bed trucks, with three-slides, and a dry bath?  I’m hoping to stay under $50,000, and keep the weight under 6,000 pounds wet and loaded for planned 2015 Ford F350 dually purchase.”

Jane: “Who makes the best pop-up truck camper, for a short bed truck, with hard pop-up walls, and a wet bath?  I need to stay under $20,000 and keep the weight under 1,900 pounds wet and loaded for a 2014 Ford F150 EcoBoost I’m looking to buy.”

If you take the time to create your own “best camper” question – like the three examples above – and send it to your local truck camper dealer(s), you should get some very specific and helpful responses.  Try it.

Pet Peeve Alert: Did I Mention My Bass Boat?

A major pet peeve of ours is when someone asks the infamous “best camper” question, and leaves out a very important lifestyle variable, or two.

Once again, let’s go back to Fred at the RV show.  Fred asks us the infamous, “best camper” question, and we follow-up by asking him the right questions – as listed above.

With this prompting, Fred answers, “I’m looking for a pop-up truck camper for a short-bed truck, with soft-side pop-up walls, and a wet bath.  I need to stay under $20,000 and keep the weight under 2,200 pounds wet and loaded for a 2008 Chevy Silverado 2500.”

With Fred’s feedback, I begin making specific make and model suggestions and pointing Fred in the right direction.  Two minutes later, Fred adds a couple of important lifestyle details.

“Did I mention that I want to take my truck camper ice fishing in Michigan every winter, and tow my 22-foot bass boat to Texas every summer?”

This happens all the time.  In fact, it happens so often that most industry veterans have learned to ask, “What do you plan to do with your camper?” before making specific camper suggestions.

Fred’s lifestyle information dramatically changes the possible camper recommendations.  For example, if Fred wants to camp in temperatures below zero (ice fishing in Michigan) he would likely do better with a cassette toilet that he can dump after the standard RV dump sites have been closed for the winter.  Otherwise, we may not be able to dump his black tank until Spring.

If Fred wants to tow a bass boat, he may also need to consider a lighter weight camper, or a heavier duty truck, to safely tow his boat.  As you can see, both of these lifestyle details dramatically change the “best camper” for Fred.

Throw Your Dealer A Bone

Folks usually decide on a truck camper because there’s a specific lifestyle they want to pursue.

According to our 2015 reader survey, nearly 76% of truck camper owners tow something including boats, ATVs, utility trailers, Jeeps, motorcycles, and horses.  Furthermore, truck camper owners often enjoy taking their rigs off-road to places other RV types wouldn’t dare, boondocking off-the-grid for extended periods, and in weather conditions that would send most motorhomes and towables running for hook-ups.

When asking for advice on the “best camper” make sure you tell the manufacturers and dealers what you want to do.  Don’t leave out that you’re going to tow a Civil War cannon to N-SSA gatherings for three-day off-grid summer weekends.  Don’t forget to mention that you want to tackle the White Rim Trail and possibly carry two canoes to Alaska.  And for goodness sake, please tell them that your wife, three grand daughters, and ninety-pound Saint Bernard will likely come with you.

There’s a very funny scene in the movie Austin Powers when Doctor Evil makes it clear to his henchmen and henchwomen that he needs to be in the loop.  If you haven’t seen it, don’t remember it, or just need a laugh, check out the scene below.

As Doctor Evil would say, “Truck camper manufacturers and dealers need the info.  Tell them about your intended truck camping lifestyle, okay?  They haven’t known you for the past thirty years.  Throw them a bone!”

Construction Quality, Quality Control, and Beyond

One more time, let’s go back to the RV show, and Fred.  Fred asks, “Who makes the best truck camper?” and I answer with the five “best camper” questions listed above.  He answers, and I make some recommendations based on his requirements.  Then we narrow Fred’s choices based on his price and weight needs, and intended truck camping lifestyle.

Happy, but also a bit frustrated, Fred replies, “Come on Gordon.  Just tell me what truck camper brand has the best construction quality, best quality control, best warranty, best customer service, and best long term reliability.  I know you know, so stop messing around and just tell me.”

If only it were that simple.

Construction Quality

Everyone defines construction quality differently.  Fred may prefer aluminum framing to wood framing for his truck camper, but that doesn’t mean aluminum framing is better quality than wood framing.  All that means is that Fred prefers the advantages and trade offs of aluminum framing versus the advantages and trade offs of wood framing (or molded fiberglass for that matter).  The same goes for lamination versus hung wall, basement versus non-basement design, and so on.

To find the best construction quality, you need to decide what construction approach you think is the best.  To get a handle on the construction approach for each company, read their factory tour articles, new camper announcements, and model year updates in Truck Camper Magazine.  Those articles will give you an excellent overview, along with specifics about how a given company builds truck campers, and why.

The “why” is where you will discover the quality built into that brand’s construction approach.  The important question for you is, do you agree with their construction process, construction materials, and construction approach, or would you prefer another?  Which brand has the best construction quality – for you?

Quality Control, Customer Service, and Long Term Reliability

Truck Camper Magazine’s critical reviews are often ten to twelve pages type written, with 60-70 photographs inside and out, and offer specific pros and cons of that camper brand and model.  Our reviews are in-depth, detailed, and designed to give a prospective buyer a firm grasp on the form, function, and overall qualities – and liabilities – of a particular camper.  To read our truck camper reviews, check out the Review section.

What TCM’s camper reviews cannot do is speak to the customer service or long-term reliability experience actual owners have.  While we look for design, material, and quality control issues that could potentially cause long-term issues, there’s no substitute for actual long-term experience, from actual owners of the campers.

To find out about a brand’s customer service and long-term reliability, we recommend talking directly with owners of that brand.  That means talking to owners in person at truck camper rallies and gatherings – which we highly recommend – and online via truck camper forums and owners groups.  Just be aware that anyone can be an expert on the forums, and make sure to balance your gathered feedback across multiple sources.

Truck Camper Magazine has a list of rallies and owners groups.

The Warranty Reality

Every consumer product has a different warranty, whether it be a refrigerator, camera, or a truck.  From brand to brand within a specific category, the brands themselves have different warranties from one another.  For example, Nikon does not have the same warranty, or warranty term, as Canon.

The truck camper manufacturers also have different warranties, and warranty terms, from one brand to another.  The way each manufacturer’s warranty covers the camper structure, materials, and appliances, is different.  Furthermore, the materials and appliances will often have their own warranties, from the original manufacturer of that material or appliance.

Our recommendation for comparing truck camper warranties is to read through the warranty information on the manufacturer websites.  If you want more detailed information, contact the manufacturer directly and ask for a copy of their warranty, or visit a local dealer and read through the printed warranty included with the campers.

Additionally, ask truck camper owners about their experiences with warranty repairs.  For example, if they had a problem with their camper under warranty, how was that problem handled by their dealer and/or manufacturer?  After all, a great warranty is worthless if it’s not honored.

Who Makes the Best Camper?

Before you even think of asking a truck camper manufacturer or dealer, “Who makes the best truck camper”, make the right “best camper” question – for you.  If possible, include your target price, weight, and lifestyle information, and the industry will have all the information they need to make a solid recommendation for your best truck camper.

At the same time, read Truck Camper Magazine’s factory tour articles, industry leader interviews, new camper announcements, and model year updates.  These articles will help you learn about the camper brands, how they build truck campers, and why.  Then read our truck camper reviews to learn more about the specific brands and models.  These articles are all here, ready to read, right now.

Of course the best source of information will always be folks who own the brands and models you’re considering.  Owner feedback, when compiled with the information you gather from the manufacturers, dealers, and Truck Camper Magazine, will give you a solid take on the construction quality, quality control, warranty, customer service, and long term reliability for the brands and models you’re considering.

In the end, the direct answer to the question “Who makes the best truck camper?” is simple.

You do.

The Camper Chooser will guide you to find your best truck camper.

 

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Founded in 2007, Truck Camper Magazine is a free online magazine dedicated to the exciting go anywhere, camp anywhere, tow anything lifestyle of truck camping.

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