Essential Truck Camping Advice

How To Match A Truck and Truck Camper

Step-by-step instructions to properly match a truck and camper including calculations for camper weight, truck payload, center of gravity, and overall fit compatibility.  If you only read one article in Truck Camper Magazine, make it this one.  Don’t miss the new Fast Match system!

How Match A Truck And Camper

It’s Important To Properly Match Your Truck Camper Rig

Properly matched truck and camper combinations will stop, steer, accelerate, handle and perform as the truck and camper manufacturers designed them to.  These driving dynamics become acutely important when the next knucklehead on a smartphone cuts you off.

Properly matched truck and camper combinations also exhibit the least amount of wear and tear on brakes, tires, and suspension components avoiding costly repairs and maintenance often caused by overloading.  Truck fleet ownership surveys consistently reveal overloading as the number one reason for unscheduled truck repair and maintenance.

If personal safety and driving performance are important to you, and you want to avoid unscheduled maintenance and repair costs, a properly matched truck and camper is the way to go.

Three Paths To A Proper Match: Truck First, Camper First, and Fast Match

There are three paths to a proper truck and camper match; Truck First, Camper First, and Fast Match.  The Truck First path assumes you already have a pickup truck and are looking to match it to a truck camper.

The Camper First path assumes you have a truck camper and are looking to match it a truck.  Both paths are important to familiarize yourself with to fully understand what’s involved with a proper truck and camper match.

The Fast Match path is what we recommend for anyone who doesn’t already have a truck.  Due to its simplicity, speed, and certainty for success, we used the Fast Match path for our current truck camper rig.

No Truck or Camper Yet?  Start Here.

If you do not have a truck or camper yet, it is not possible to proceed with a proper match.  Attempting to match a truck and camper prior to having a truck or camper presents too many variables.

If you don’t yet have a truck or camper, we strongly recommend choosing your truck camper first.  Once you have selected a truck camper, you can proceed with the Camper First path or Fast Match path to find the right truck.

Choosing your camper first also gives you the most flexibility to select the truck camper you want, and presents the least compromise for your final rig.

Begin your truck camper selection process by reading, “The Best Truck Camper” followed by, “Picking the Perfect Truck Camper”.  Once you have read these two articles and made the directed decisions, proceed to the, “Camper Chooser” and then our Buyers Guide.  Before you know it, you’ll be back here and ready to match your dream truck camper to the right truck.

Path 1: Truck First

Use the Truck First path if you already own a truck and want to match it to a camper.  If you do not have physical access to your truck, do not proceed with the Truck First path.  Access to your truck is required.

Important: Never use the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or payload information published on a truck manufacturer’s website or brochure.  This information is rarely accurate and often misleading.  Only use the GVWR and payload information physically posted on your truck.

Here are the steps for the Truck First path:

1. Weigh your truck at a CAT Scale or other certified weight scale.

Immediately before entering a certified weight scale, fill your truck’s fuel tank.  If you will be removing the tailgate when loading a truck camper, remove the tailgate before entering the scale, or subtract the tailgate weight from the certified scale weight.  Be sure to note anything else that is being weighed with the truck including yourself, passengers, and any cargo in the cab or bed.

2. Calculate your truck’s payload capacity.

Subtract the resulting certified scale weight (as shown on the CAT Scale ticket) from the exact GVWR posted on your truck.  The GVWR information for your truck is located on a sticker on the driver’s side door.  If necessary, make sure to add back the weight of the tailgate, yourself, other passengers, and truck cargo.

3. Measure your truck’s furthest center of gravity point.

Measure the distance from the front wall of the truck bed to the center of the rear axle.  Start your measurement on the front wall of the truck’s bed at the furthest point a truck camper could be located when mounted on your truck.  The resulting number should be measured in inches.  Your camper’s center of gravity should be forward of this point.

4. Measure your truck’s exterior dimensions for camper fit compatibility.

Not all truck and camper combinations are fit compatible.  Truck campers are built to fit the trucks available at the date of manufacture.  New truck designs sometimes don’t fit older campers, or even current campers.

Always measure and verify that your truck will be fit compatible with your intended camper before purchasing and loading the camper.  The important exterior truck dimensions are bed length, bed width, rail height, cab height, and the tailgate opening.  Truck bumpers can also cause fit compatibility issues.

5. Select a truck camper that is payload, center of gravity, and fit compatible with your truck.

Now that you have the accurate payload capacity, furthest center of gravity point, and exterior dimensions for your truck, you can research and select a truck camper that matches these three criteria.

Make sure to include the truck camper’s wet weight, option weight, cargo weight, and occupant weight in your final calculations.  This process is detailed in the Camper First path below.

Path 2: Buying Your Camper First

Use the Camper First path if you already own a truck camper and want to match it to a truck.  If you do not have physical access to your truck camper, do not proceed with a Camper First path.  Access to your truck camper is required.

Important: Never use the weight information posted on a truck camper, in truck camper manufacturer’s brochures, or on manufacturer’s websites as this information is rarely accurate and often misleading.  There are a few exceptions to this rule as described in the “Find The Sticker” instructions below.

Here are the steps for a Camper First path:

1. Calculate the dry-with-options weight of your truck camper.

To make a successful Camper First match, it’s essential to begin with an accurate dry-with-options weight for your truck camper.  There are three ways to get an accurate dry-with-options truck camper weight:

A. Weigh It.  By far the best way to get a dry-with-options weight for any truck camper is to physically weigh it.  If you are purchasing a truck camper from a dealer or direct manufacturer, ask them to physically weigh the camper.  Most truck camper dealers and manufacturers have accurate scales on site and regularly provide this information to their customers.

Make sure to note anything that is being weighed other than the camper and options.  For example, the truck camper might have water in the fresh tank, full propane bottles, and/or installed batteries.  The weight of these liquids and items should be deleted for your dry-with-options weight.

B. Find The Sticker.  If it’s not possible to physically weigh the truck camper, look for a “Dry With Options Weight” or “Actual Weight With Factory Installed Options” sticker inside an interior cabinet door.  There may also be a similarly labeled sheet in the truck camper’s factory paperwork.

While we always prefer to physically weigh a camper, industry-provided “Dry With Options Weight” information is significantly more accurate than any other industry-provided camper weight information.  Please note that not all truck camper manufacturers post or include “Dry With Options Weight” information with their units.

C. Ask The Manufacturer.  While not all manufacturers provide a “Dry With Options Weight” with their units, most can provide this information if requested.  Some manufacturers now have “Build Your Own” systems on their websites that calculate the dry-with-options weight for you.

If an online “Build Your Own” calculator is not available from the manufacturer, email the manufacturer directly with the specific year, make, model, and option list for your camper.  They will need this information to provide you with an accurate dry-with-options weight.

D. Hand Calculate.  When all else fails, the final option is to calculate the dry-with-options weight with the available information.  This means starting with the manufacturer provided dry weight and adding the weight of all installed options.

For your calculations, you need to know what features are standard and optional for your truck camper, what options are installed on your truck camper, and what those options weigh.

Many times the standard and option list is available on the manufacturer’s brochure or website.  The weight of the options is also commonly posted on the manufacturer’s brochure or website.  This may take some digging.

In reality, you might need to use a combination of the above paths to an accurate dry-with-options weight.  For example, you might (C) call the manufacturer and ask, and then (D) run the numbers yourself.

2. Calculate the wet-with-options weight of your truck camper.

Calculating the wet-with-options weight is very straight forward.  Simply take the dry-with-options weight calculated above and add the weight of a full fresh tank, full water heater, full propane tanks, and installed batteries.

Start with the manufacturer provided fresh water, water heater, propane, and battery capacities of your truck camper.  For current truck campers, this information is available in the Truck Camper Magazine Buyers Guide and on the manufacturer’s website and/or brochure.  For older campers, consult the manual.

Fresh Water.  To get the fresh water weight for a truck camper, multiply the gallon capacity of the fresh tank by the weight of a gallon of water; 8.34 pounds.  For example, if a camper has a 15 gallon fresh water tank, the weight of that fresh tank when loaded is 125.1 pounds (15 gallons x 8.34 pounds).

Water Heaters.  With the exception of tankless on-demand water heaters, all water heaters have a fresh water tank that remains full during normal operating conditions.  Most truck camper water heaters are either four or six gallon models.  At 8.34 pounds per gallon, that’s 33.36 pounds (four gallons) or 50.04 pounds (six gallons).

Note that some truck camper manufacturers include the fresh water capacity of the water heater in the fresh water capacity totals marketed with their units.  In other words, if a camper has a 34 gallon fresh water tank and a 6 gallon water heater, the manufacturer might list their camper as having 40 gallons of fresh water.  This could lead you to include the same 6 gallon water weight twice; once for the fresh water tank and again for the water heater.

Propane Tanks.  One might think propane tank weights would be simple to calculate, but there are some quirks.  For example, propane tanks do not weigh 10, 20, or 30-pounds when full.  One gallon of propane weighs 4.2 pounds.  Based on this information, here are the real numbers:

10-pound propane tanks weigh 15 pounds empty and hold 2.4 gallons (10.08 pounds) of propane for a total of 25.08 pounds.

20-pound tanks weigh 18 pounds empty and hold 4.6 gallons (19.32 pounds) of propane for a total of 37.32 pounds per tank.

30-pound tanks weigh 25 pounds empty and hold 6.8 gallons (28.56 pounds) of propane for a total of 53.56 pounds per tank.

Truck camper manufacturers include the weight of the empty propane tanks specified for their models, but not the liquid propane weight.  This means you need to include 10.08 pounds of liquid propane weight for every 10-pound propane tank, 19.32 pounds of liquid propane weight for every 20-pound propane tank, and 28.56 pounds of liquid propane weight for every 30-pound propane tank.

Batteries.  The overwhelming majority of truck campers use Group 24, Group 27, Group 31, or 6-volt golf cart batteries.  Unfortunately, these designations relate to the size not the weight of the batteries.  Battery weight can vary significantly from brand to brand, and model to model.

We have surveyed a number of battery manufacturers and models to create a simple average for your calculations:

50 pounds for Group 24 batteries

60 pounds for Group 27 batteries

70 pounds for Group 31 batteries

65 pounds for 6-volt golf cart batteries

Add approximately 5 additional pounds per battery for AGMs.

If you have a specific brand and size of battery, the weight of those batteries is readily available on the battery manufacturer’s website.  As always, go for the actual weight data if it’s available.

3. Calculate the wet-with-options weight with all cargo and occupants.

The next step is to calculate your cargo weight; literally everything you bring with you when you go truck camping.  Cargo weight should include food and bottled water, kitchen supplies, towels, bedding, clothing, shoes, toiletries, pet food and supplies, cameras, computers, tablets, truck camping essentials, tools, and anything else you bring.

Truck Camper Essential Weight

Above: A sample of what we weighed for our cargo weight calculation in 2014

Not everyone has the time or patience to actually weigh their cargo, but it’s the best way to accurately get this information.  We went through this process when matching a truck and camper in 2014.  If you’re at this step, we highly recommend reading, “The Payload Match Challenge: Part 2” to see how we did it.

Based on our experience, here are some weight guidelines:

100 pounds of food and bottled water

15 pounds of kitchen supplies

15 pounds of towels

15 pounds of bedding

25 pounds of clothing and shoes per person

7.5 pounds of toiletries and bathroom supplies per person

15 pounds per camera and camera gear

15 pounds per computer and cords

20 pounds for truck camper essentials

For a round number, make it an even 250 pounds for all of the above (for two people).  Naturally you should make your own judgements about the above weights and add or delete items you bring or don’t bring.  Just be careful not to underestimate what cargo weighs.  For example, 25 pounds of clothing per person might be conservative for some folks.

Next add your personal weight, and the weight of anyone who’s coming with you.  Be sure to add the weight of any pets and their needed food and supplies.  For our calculations, this added another 375 pounds (two adults, one cat, and pet supplies).

One area that is often forgotten when calculating the cargo weight are tie-downs (approximately 50 pounds), turnbuckles (approximately 10 pounds), and a bed mat (approximately 50 pounds).

If you have a dually truck, you need to add swing-out brackets (approximately 10 pounds).  Remember that your tailgate will be deleted (approximately 50 pounds in your favor).

When all was settled, our cargo and occupant weight was 728 pounds.

The next step is to add the wet-with-options weight calculated in step 2 to the cargo and occupant weight calculated above.  This will give you the total wet-with-options, cargo, and occupants weight you need for your proper truck and camper match.  We’re not yet done, but the final three steps are much easier.

4. Locate your truck camper’s center of gravity.

Truck camper manufacturers publish center of gravity information for every truck camper they build.  This information is available on their websites, brochures, and in the Truck Camper Magazine Buyers Guide.  All specifications and capacities listed in the Truck Camper Magazine Buyers Guide – including center of gravity – have been verified by the manufacturers.

The industry standard is to measure the center of gravity from the front wall of the truck camper back.  If a center of gravity is listed at 36-inches, that means the center of gravity is 36-inches back from the front wall of the truck camper.  The front wall of a truck camper is the wall immediately behind the cab of the truck.

Another industry standard is also worth noting.  Center of gravity is typically measured on a dry base model without options.  When a camper is wet (with full fresh water, propane, batteries) and includes installed options, the center of gravity will move – sometimes considerably.  Fortunately, full fresh water tanks typically move the center of gravity forward of the manufacturer’s specified position.

5. Measure your truck camper’s exterior dimensions for fit compatibility.

Not all truck and camper combinations are fit compatible.  Truck campers are built to fit the trucks available at the date of manufacture.  New truck designs sometimes don’t fit older campers, or even current campers.

Always measure and verify that your truck camper will be fit compatible with your intended truck before purchase and loading.  The important exterior camper dimensions are base length, base width, base height to wing walls, base height to cabover, and the overhang.

6. Select a truck that is payload, center of gravity, and fit compatible with your truck camper.

Now that you have (1) accurate wet-with-options, all cargo, and occupant weight, (2) center of gravity information, (3) and the exterior dimensions for your truck camper, you can research and select a truck that matches these three criteria.

For many folks, this means simply going to your preferred truck dealer with this information and saying, “Help me to locate (or custom order) a truck that will accommodate this weight, center of gravity, and dimensions.”

Path 3: Fast Match A Truck and Camper

After reading this article, matching a truck and camper without hours of calculations and measuring might seem impossible.  Well, here’s how you skip most of the work and make the best possible truck and camper match – and fast.  But first, a short story…

In 2012, we meticulously matched a 2013 Lance 855-S to a 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500.  We used the Camper First path and ran all the required calculations and measurements described above.  We learned a tremendous amount during that process and shared our experience in the magazine.  In the end, we had a properly matched truck and camper, but just barely.  I still get chills remembering the events described at the end of “The Payload Match Challenge: Part 2”.

When it came time to match our project camper to a new truck two years later, we were determined not to cut things so close.  In short, we decided to calculate the wet-with-options, cargo, and occupants weight of our project camper and then purchase a truck with with significantly more cargo capacity than the camper would ever need.  We call this path the Fast Match, and it’s the number one way we recommend matching a truck and camper.

Note: Fast Match only works if you have already selected a specific truck camper and want to match it to a truck.  If you already have the truck, use the Truck First path.

Here are the steps for a Fast Match:

1. Find your selected truck camper in the TCM Buyers Guide.  If your selected camper is not listed in the Buyers Guide, take the manufacturer’s stated dry-without-options weight, and run it through the standardized Truck Camper Magazine wet weight equation.  A full explanation of the Truck Camper Magazine wet weight equation can be found on the Buyers Guide’s main page.

2. For your selected truck camper model, add 500 pounds for pop-ups, or 1,000 pounds for hard-sides to the wet weight listed in the Buyers Guide.  If you calculated the wet weight on your own using the Truck Camper Magazine wet weight equation, add 500 pounds (pop-up) or 1,000 pounds (hard-side) to that number.

3. Contact the manufacturer and/or dealer for your selected truck camper and verify that it will (a) fit your preferred truck make and model and (b) has a center of gravity that will be forward of that truck’s rear axle.  The phone numbers truck camper brands and dealerships are listed at the top of their Buyers Guide and Dealer Inventory page(s).

Important: Since the Fast Match overestimates the wet-with-options, all cargo, and occupant weight of the camper, fit compatibility is the biggest risk of the Fast Match approach.  That stated, most late model trucks and campers are designed for fit compatibility.

4. Once the truck fit and center of gravity compatibility is verified by the manufacturer and/or dealers, tell your preferred truck dealer that you want to custom order a truck with the camper weight result from the Fast Match calculation; TCM wet weight plus 500 pounds (pop-up) or 1,000 pounds (hard side).  If given the option, exceed that target truck payload as much as possible.  The more truck payload, the better.

5. Custom order the specified truck.  When it arrives at the dealer, verify that the payload meets or exceeds what the dealer specified when you placed the order.  To do this, check the “Tire and Loading Information” on the driver’s side door frame.  The stated cargo capacity should be in line with what the dealer specified.  If it’s under the specified number, reject the truck.  If it’s at or above the specified number, go pickup your new camper.

As long as the camper manufacturer and/or dealer were correct about the fit compatibility and center of gravity, you will now have the best possible truck and camper match.

Why The Fast Match Works

The Fast Match path works because the wet weights in Truck Camper Magazine’s Buyers Guide account for the manufacturer’s base dry weight, full fresh water, full water heater, full propane tanks, installed batteries, and 500 pounds of cargo weight (options, cargo, and occupants).

By then adding 500 (pop-up) or 1,000 (hard side) pounds of additional weight for options, cargo, and occupants, you will be all but guaranteed to surpass the possible weight of these items.  Unless you’re hauling anvils, or happen to be sumo wrestlers, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll underestimate the total options, cargo, and occupant weight with the additional 500 or 1,000 pounds.

Fast Match also allows you the most options for the future.  For example, you might decide in two years that you want a bigger truck camper.  If you have excess payload, you might be able to accommodate that larger camper with the truck you own.  Or, you might decide you want to tow a boat.  If you have used this Fast Match approach, you will likely have the capacity to tow a boat behind your truck camper rig.

Using the Fast Match path, we bought a truck with 5,851 pounds of payload for a camper that we calculated would weigh less than 4,900 pounds wet and loaded.  When we CAT scaled our resulting rig, the camper actually weighed under 4,800 pounds.  That’s right, we had over 1,000 pounds of excess payload.

After adding an air conditioner, solar panel system, inverter, and more, we still have over 800 pounds of excess payload.  In our opinion, the Fast Match is the best way to match a truck and camper; faster, easier, and better.

CAT Scale With Alpenlite Truck Camper

Some Final Truck and Camper Matching Advice

We have talked with hundreds of truck and camper owners over the years who wished they had done a bit more homework before matching their rig.  Take the time and care to follow one of the paths above and you will avoid the most common (and often expensive) mistakes.

If the Truck First or Camper First paths feel overwhelming, we certainly understand.  We have walked the walk and gone through these truck and camper matching paths for our own rigs and others many times.  There’s a lot to putting together a safe and proper truck and camper.

Fortunately, the Fast Match system is a faster, easier, and generally foolproof way to an excellent truck and camper match.  Yes, you will likely end up purchasing more truck than you had originally intended, but it’s doubtful that you’ll regret this decision down the road.  If anything, you’ll be happy you went big.

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