Essential Truck Camping Advice

The Ultimate Truck Camper Payload Match Challenge

What follows is likely the most extreme and accurate truck and camper payload match in history.  The final result is so unbelievable, it had to be CAT Scaled three times.  And we have the weight tickets to prove it.

Truck and camper payload match challenge

Note: This article, originally published in 2012 as a two-part series, has been combined and updated with enhanced images and remains a must-read for anyone who matches a truck and camper.

“That’s impossible,” said Angela.  “No one is going to believe that,” I exclaimed, utterly confounded with what we were looking at.

We had just weighed our Chevy Silverado 3500 and Lance 855S truck camper at a certified CAT Scale.

“It has to be wrong,” I said.  “Let’s weigh it again.”

We would weigh the rig two more times before the day was over.

Four Months Earlier

Moments like this always have a good back story, and this was no exception.  Four months prior, Angela and I committed ourselves to finally achieve a vision we had been dreaming about for years; a truck and camper that honestly and accurately accounted for every conceivable weight variable.

Without exception; every camper option, every gallon of water, every person and pet, every tie-down and turnbuckle and all the real-world cargo and personal effects necessary for true go anywhere, camp anywhere adventure.  The works.

In all the years we have been publishing Truck Camper Magazine, we had never seen a truck and camper matched and documented to that degree.  We wondered, often out loud, “Is it possible?” Can a truck and camper be properly payload matched if everything is honestly and accurately accounted for?

As the self-appointed Chief of the Weight Police, it was imperative that I find out.  After all, I can’t tell others that they need to be within payload if I can’t do it myself.

The Challenge: A Payload Matched Truck and Camper

Before we proceed with our project, let’s clarify the challenge we set out for ourselves.

Our challenge was to assemble an honest and accurate truck and camper match based on the payload and GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of our truck.

When our final rig is weighed on a certified truck scale, the camper should be wet with full fresh water, full propane, and batteries.  Additionally, our calculation needs to include all camper options, cargo weight, people weight (including pets), tie-down and turnbuckle weight, and any suspension enhancement equipment weight.

Cargo weight should include food, clothing, kitchen supplies, toiletries, pet supplies, camping supplies, towels, bedding, cameras, computers, books, and everything else we pack into our camper.

For the final certified truck scale weigh, we would fully load the rig for a typical trip.  The truck fuel, fresh water, and propane tanks should be full, our grey and black tanks empty, and Angela, Harley and I would be in the truck.

If the resulting certified truck scale weight ticket is on or under the payload and GVWR of our truck, we will have met our challenge.

Cat Scale Weigh An RV
Above: This rig is ready to go anywhere and camp anywhere, but the first place we took it was a CAT Scale

“If the resulting certified truck scale weight ticket is on or under the payload and GVWR of our truck, we will have met our challenge.”

Step 1: The Truck

As you’re about to read, we threw our own “camper first” advice out the window and designed our rig backwards.  Why do we have to make life so difficult?

The answer is another important vision for our new rig.  Not only did we want to design and assemble a payload matched truck and camper, but we also wanted a rig based on a short bed truck.  Once that decision had been made, I contacted GM corporate to help us design a short bed truck with the most payload possible.

Payload Sticker 4013 Pounds

After several weeks of planning with GM, we ended up with a Chevrolet Silverado 3500, gas engine, crew cab, short bed, automatic, four wheel drive, single rear wheel truck with 4,013-pounds of payload (see payload sticker above).

More payload is possible in a regular cab, two-wheel drive, work truck with no options, but that would compromise not only the comfort we wanted, but also the truck camper capabilities and lifestyle we were aiming for.

We need four-wheel drive for off-road travel and beach camping.  We need a back seat for storage and our cat.  And upgraded front seats mean our backs will still nimble when we arrive at the incredible slot canyons in Utah.  The resulting truck represented a careful balance between comfort, capabilities and the need for the most payload possible.

Step 2: The Camper

Lance Camper stepped up to the plate to help us perfectly match our designated truck.  After a quick review of their models, we agreed on the Lance 855S as the right candidate for the challenge.  The next step was to option a Lance 855S to payload match the Chevy Silverado 3500.

Gary Conley, Director of Sales for Lance Campers, was our lead consultant from Lance.  During our first conference call, we outlined everything that needed to be accounted for:

1. Camper wet weight including full fresh water, full hot water heater, full propane and batteries.
2. Camper option weight.
3. People weight including myself, Angela, and our cat, Harley.
4. Tie-down and turnbuckle system weight.
5. Suspension enhancement equipment weight.
6. Cargo weight including food, clothing, kitchen supplies, bedding, towels, toiletries, pet food and supplies, cameras, computers, electronics, and all required truck camper chemicals, cords, hoses, and tools.

There would be no unaccounted pound.  Even when I started waking up in a cold sweat screaming, “It’s impossible to not be overloaded!”, we stayed the course.

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 26th, the die was cast and Gary completed the order for the Lance 855S.  It was a thrilling and terrifying moment.  We had designed a truck camper on paper that would be within the payload of our truck, but it was very close.  All we could do is cross our fingers and trust that our information and calculations were accurate and complete. We would soon find out.

The Impossible Happens, Three Times!

Just 24-hours before we were scheduled to debut the Chevy/Lance rig at the Northeast Truck Camping Jamboree Rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we got the call from Parkview RV that our Lance 855S would arrive the following day.  The next morning we drove to Parkview RV in Smyrna, Delaware.

Truck On Lift Turnbuckle Installation At Parkview

When we arrived, Parkview RV got to work like a NASCAR pit crew.  First up, the Torklift and Happijac tie-down systems were installed on our truck.

Note: As Truck Camper Magazine, we had both Torklift and Happijac tie-down systems installed.  Only one of these systems is required for a proper truck and camper set-up.  This weight is duly noted in the final tally.

Lance Camper 855S Forklift

While that was happening, the Lance 855S arrived and was lifted off the transport.

Camper Roof Before Delivery

Once the Lance had landed, the Parkview RV team installed two Group 27 batteries, filled the fresh water tank, filled the propane tanks, checked the refrigerator, range top, water pump, hot water heater, propane heater and every other camper system.

Lance Camper Being Loaded On Truck

Before we knew it, the Parkview crew was loading the Lance and giving our newlywed truck and camper a bath.

Parkview RV Washes Campers

With the countdown clock to the Gettysburg rally running, we said our goodbyes with Parkview RV and hit the road.  The NASCAR pit crew was done, and now the race was on.

Before we could rally, we needed to weigh the truck and camper three times at the same CAT Scale, loading it full of our cargo for a ten-day trip just before the third CAT Scale weigh.

CAT Scale #1: Truck Empty, No Camper

Truck Being Weighed At CAT Scale

The first CAT Scale weight we needed was the truck empty with full fuel, installed tie-down systems, rubber truck bed mat, and required truck wiring.

Essentially, this CAT Scale weight reflects what the truck weighs including items that are permanently installed for a truck camper.  The rubber truck bed mat is technically not permanently installed, but it’s appropriate to include the rubber bed mat weight with the truck empty weight.

Here are the weights of the installed items:

Happijac tie-down system (minus turnbuckles): 29-pounds
Torklift tie-down system (minus extensions and turnbuckles): 55.5-pounds
Rubber truck bed mat: 49-pounds
Umbilical cord and wiring for truck: 4-pounds

Took Off Truck Hitch For More Payload

Before going to our local CAT Scale, we removed the tailgate and stored it in our garage.  Since we were not going to tow with our truck camper rig, we also removed the GM factory truck hitch, adapter, and bolts.  Angela also decided we didn’t need rear floor mats and removed those as well.  Remember, we were going for extreme accuracy and already suspected we would be cutting it close.

Here are the weights of the removed items:

Tailgate: 48.5-pounds
GM Factory Hitch, Adapter, and Bolts: 56.5-pounds
Rear Floor Mats: 3-pounds

The total installed item weight is 137.5-pounds.  The total removed item weight is 108-pounds.  The net gain in truck weight is 29.5-pounds.

With the above items installed and removed, we weighed the truck empty, with full fuel.  This CAT Scale weigh actually happened last due to our tie-down installation and camper delivery timeline.  The resulting empty truck CAT Scale ticket read:

CAT Weigh 1 Truck Only

Above: This CAT Scale ticket of the truck empty was taken after the removal of the tailgate, factory truck hitch and rear floor mats.

We subtracted the CAT Scale gross weight of the truck (6,720-pounds) from the GVWR stated on the truck (10,800-pounds) to calculate our payload; 4,080-pounds.

CAT Scale #2: Truck Empty and Camper Wet with Options

Cat Scale Weight Three

For the next CAT Scale weigh, we weighed the truck and camper with full fresh water, full water heater, full propane tanks, two batteries and full truck fuel tank.  This CAT Scale ticket would give us the camper wet with options weight once we subtracted the truck empty CAT Scale gross weight.

The resulting truck empty and camper wet with options CAT Scale ticket read:

CAT Weigh 2 Truck Camper Wet Weight Without Cargo

This CAT Scale weigh happened immediately after leaving Parkview RV.  Unfortunately, we forgot to remove the factory hitch from behind the front seats where we had put it after removal.  This added the hitch weight, 56.5 pounds, to the above gross weight.  Subtracting the 56.5 pound hitch weight brings the truck empty and camper wet with options weight to 10,123.5 pounds.

Cargo Cards, Cargo Weigh, and Cargo Load

Before loading the camper, Angela had created cargo cards titled with the categories of cargo we needed for a truck camping trip.  For example, one cargo card was titled, “Truck and Camper Essentials”.  On the flip side of each cargo card, Angela listed everything that should be included with that cargo category.

Outside Compartment Items Weighed

Above: The “Truck and Camper Essentials” cargo card listed the GPS, tool box, rubber gloves, sewer hose, portable 12-volt inverter, maps, water hose and pressure regulator, extension cord, 30 amp adapter, RV chemicals and truck journal.

Kitchen Items Weighed

Above: The “Kitchen Supplies” cargo card listed bowls, plates, can opener, spatula, cooking pot, cooking pan, strainer, salad bowl, kitchen towels, oven mitt, bottle opener, silverware, silverware divider, big spoons, scissors, cups, coffee mugs, detergent, sponges and chip clips.

Using the cargo category cards and lists, we then filled a laundry basket or fabric grocery bag for each cargo category.  This actually made packing for the trip a snap as we completed each cargo card by filling a basket or bag.

Weighed Every Item To Go In Camper

Next we brought out our bathroom scale so we could weigh each and every cargo basket and bag, cargo category by cargo category, and record the resulting data.  We started by weighing me (empty handed) on the scale.  Then I picked up each cargo basket and bag, one at a time, and stepped on the scale.  Angela subtracted my weight from each weigh and recorded the weight for every cargo category.

It was great fun.  Not only were we working on this project together, but we were learning a tremendous amount about what the different cargo categories weigh.

Here’s how the cargo categories broke down:

Food and Bottled Water: 97-pounds
Kitchen Supplies: 15-pounds
Towels: 15.5-pounds
Bedding: 15-pounds
Gordon’s Clothing and Shoes: 27.5-pounds
Angela’s Clothing and Shoes: 25.5-pounds
Toiletries: 16.5-pounds
Harley’s Litter, Stroller, and Supplies: 43-pounds
Backpack and Camera: 10.5-pounds
Computer Bag and Computers: 15-pounds
TCM Papers and Supplies: 8.5-pounds
Angela’s Scrapbook: 9.5-pounds
Carpet Runner for Camper: 2-pounds
Truck/Camper Essentials: 21-pounds
Roadside Emergency Supplies: 7-pounds
Turnbuckles: 7.5-pounds
Gordon, Angela, and Harley: 332-pounds

Total Cargo Weight: 668 pounds

Please keep in mind that you may need to add swing out brackets if you’re using a dual rear wheel truck, a platform under your camper if your camper doesn’t clear the truck cab, and suspension enhancement equipment.  The Lance/Chevy rig did not require these items.

CAT Scale #3: Truck Full, Camper Wet, with Options, and Cargo

Cat Scale True Wet Weight

The moment of truth had arrived; the final CAT Scale weigh with truck full of fuel, and camper wet with options and cargo.

After weighing the rig, Angela said, “All we need is a number below 10,800 pounds”.  If we were over by a few pounds, we could remove some of our personal cargo to reduce weight, but it would mean some difficult choices.  With fingers and toes crossed, we approached the CAT Scale counter.

I will never forget what happened next.

The lady handed Angela the CAT Scale ticket.  I didn’t look.  I would know the result from Angela’s reaction.

“That’s impossible,” said Angela.

Immediately I looked at the CAT Scale ticket.  It read:

CAT Weigh 3 TC Wet With Cargo

“No one is going to believe that!” I exclaimed, utterly confounded with what we were looking at.

The truck full of fuel, and camper wet with options and cargo had just come out exactly the same as our GVWR; 10,800 pounds.  We weren’t over GVWR.  We weren’t under GVWR.  We were right at GVWR.  This is like flipping a quarter and having it land perfectly on its edge, and stay.

“It has to be wrong,” I said.  “Let’s weigh it again.”

The lady behind the counter then explained that a CAT Scale re-weigh is only $2.  With that news we went back to the rig and drove up on the scale.  Angela opened her door and reached up to the yellow button to start the re-weigh.

Over the intercom in the CAT Scale lady said, “Ready for your re-weigh?”  Angela replied, “Yes!” and then quickly sat back in the driver’s seat.  “Okay, come on inside for the weigh ticket.

Again we parked the rig and walked inside.  The new ticket read:

CAT Weigh 3 TC Wet With Cargo

No change.  We were dizzy.  We had to be dreaming.  It couldn’t be.  How could it be exactly the GVWR?  This was impossible!  There was no way our readers would believe this was true.  We have to keep weighing the rig until we get something believable.

For the third time, we drove the rig onto the CAT Scale, pressed the yellow button, drove around, parked the rig, and walked into the building.

This time the numbers were different:

CAT Weigh 5 TC Wet With Cargo

We must have stopped the rig on the scale in a slightly different position as the steer axle and drive axle weights had each shifted twenty pounds, but the gross weight number remained the same; 10,800 pounds.

As we drove home, we didn’t know whether to cry or celebrate.  Eventually Angela broke the mood, “We did it!”.  She was right.  We had challenged ourselves to design and assemble a payload and GVWR matched truck and camper, and we had done exactly that.

The Final Tally: Truck Empty and Payload

When the proverbial dust settled, we broke down the data for a final tally of our truck and camper match. This is the same equation we used when designing the rig and should be a useful way to design and verify your own truck and camper match.

First we broke down the truck weight and actual payload by subtracting the stated GVWR on the truck (10,800 pounds) from the CAT Scale weight of the truck full with fuel, installed tie-down systems, rubber truck bed mat, required truck wiring, and removed tailgate, factory hitch, and rear floor mats (6,720 pounds).

Truck GVWR: 10,800-pounds (minus)
Truck weight: 6,720-pounds (equals)
Payload of truck: 4,080-pounds

The Final Tally: Camper Dry with Options

Second, we calculated the camper dry with options weight by subtracting the truck, fresh water, full propane, and battery weight from the CAT Scale weight of the truck and camper rig wet and with options.

CAT Scale truck empty, camper wet, with options: 10,123.5-pounds (minus)
CAT Scale truck empty: 6,720-pounds (minus)
30-gallons fresh water: 250.2-pounds (minus)
6-gallons hot water heater: 50-pounds (minus)
2 full 20-pound propane tanks: 40-pounds (minus)
2 batteries (53-pounds each): 106-pounds (equals)
Camper dry weight with options: 2,957.3-pounds

The Final Tally: Camper Wet with Options and Cargo

Next we totaled up the camper weight; wet, with options, and loaded with cargo.

Lance 855S dry with options: 2,957.3-pounds (plus)
30-gallons fresh water: 250.2-pounds (plus)
6-gallons hot water heater: 50-pounds (plus)
2 full 20-pound propane tanks: 40-pounds (plus)
2 batteries (53 pounds each): 106-pounds (plus)
Cargo weight (including people and pets): 668-pounds (plus)
Turnbuckle weight: 7.5-pounds (equals)
Camper wet, with options, and cargo: 4,079-pounds

4,079 pounds!  That’s just one-pound from our 4,080-pound payload.

CAT Scale Obsession

After completing the challenge, we took the Chevy/Lance rig across many more CAT Scales.  In the first month we weighed the rig seven additional times at three different CAT Scales in three different states.

What we learned from the multi-state CAT Scale spree is that the rig weight fluctuates in direct relation to the status of our holding tanks and truck fuel tank.  Our personal cargo doesn’t change too much, but things like groceries can be 75-pounds plus or minus if we’re full or empty.

The good news is that we never exceeded 10,800-pounds.  The closest we came to that number was the first wet and loaded weigh; but that was close enough.

CAT Weigh 6 Western PA

Above: Our CAT scale weight from western Pennsylvania

Even with a small collection of thrift store LP record discoveries on board, we never exceeded the truck GVWR.  Not once.

CAT Weigh 7 Indiana

Above: Our CAT scale weight from Indiana

We truly enjoyed the process of designing a rig that’s within payload and GVWR and continue to challenge ourselves to find opportunities to lose truck, camper and cargo weight.  Now that we’ve had this experience, we’re hooked.  Anyone know the number for CAT Scale Anonymous?


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