Hauling a slide in truck camper on your pickup can be a nerve racking outing for an inexperienced driver.
Towshop can help you pick the best truck upgrades and camper tie down anchors to make the adventure more enjoyable.
Well, the first thing would be a pickup truck! But seriously, we receive several calls every week from customers new to the slide in camper world wondering what type of equipment they need to purchase in order to tote their new (or new to them) slide in camper unit.
The most common situation is the person who already owns a pickup and has purchased a pre-owned camper to see if they like this type of RV camping. Very often they have made the deal and need to go pick up the unit but have no hardware to attach the camper once loaded. If purchasing from a dealer they may be able to make recommendations based on the camper and truck combination in question.
Many people get ahead of the game and make the camper purchase before determining if their existing truck is up to the task! Check the GVWR and cargo load capacity of your pickup to determine if you're on the right path. Almost all RVs, including slide in campers, have a data plate attached from the manufacturer with the weight listed. A good rule of thumb is to add at least 10% to the weight listed on the tag for the "real" weight.
Can your truck handle this legally and safely? Take a look at this picture. Would you guess this heavy duty dually pickup loaded with a 9-1/2' camper is legal? Well, you might be surprised. This truck/camper combo actually weighs around 1,600 lbs. more than the GVWR for the truck. Now imagine this same camper sitting on a 3/4 ton truck. We see that situation practically every day!
There is an almost limitless variety of aftermarket accessories to help your truck carry the camper you choose. Keep in mind though, the specifications listed on the data plate of your tow vehicle will never change, no matter how many suspension upgrades you add. And even the heavy duty "dually" pickups available can still be made to do the job better.
Modern campers are typically heavy due to all the amenities available. Most cab over truck campers are tall, making them top heavy so the truck wants to "rock-n-roll" traveling down the road. Some suspension enhancements can help with this situation.
High quality tie downs are important to keep the camper firmly in place. This includes the anchor points on the truck AND camper, as well as the turnbuckles you choose. The whole system needs to be up to the task. And DO NOT be tempted to use only front tie downs. The camper needs to be held firmly at all four corners to prevent movement, or in the worst case, tipping forward.
When shopping for used campers, the corner mounting brackets for the loading jacks and also the turnbuckle anchor points are often overlooked. Check these out to be certain no damage has taken place here. Most camper frames, especially older units, are made of wood. Over time the lag bolts used to attach the brackets can become loose.
Because the camper is outside most (or all) of the time, loose bolts will allow water to penetrate causing the wood to rot. Loose camper jack brackets or tie down anchor points can be extremely difficult and expensive to fix, and a deal breaker if you aren't prepared to spend some extra cash or do some major surgery yourself. This is the first thing I would look at before even opening the camper door! Remember, you will be lifting all the weight of the camper with the corner brackets and holding all that mass in your truck with the anchor points.
Once you've determined that your truck is within the capacity range needed and you have a camper lined up you'll need the tie downs on the pickup and turnbuckles to attach the two together. The size of your camper will be a factor in the type of tie downs you want. These can range from the old standard "stake pocket" mount style up to the frame mounted style.
If your truck is older, meaning pre 80s era, the sheet metal and pockets will be a little stronger than the newer trucks and may be able to handle the stresses involved with the pocket mount hold downs .For very light campers it can sometimes do the job.
If you choose this type be sure to look for a design that either bolts or clamps solidly to the truck, otherwise they have been known to pull out. Remember, since these mount in the truck's stake pockets, there's always a risk of damaging the truck bed.
Bed and bumper mount style tie downs are a step up for small to medium size campers. These have been around for many years and have proven to work better than the pocket mount type for a little heavier campers. The front (bed mount) is a plate that attaches to the front of the pickup box, between the cab and bed, a few inches down from the bed rail. The plate protrudes out from the side of the truck and has an anchor hole for the turnbuckle. Too much tension on the turnbuckle can bend this plate back into the box, damaging the bodywork so be careful!
The rear (bumper mount) anchors include a bumper bolt or "button" and an anchor plate which slips on to the bolt for attaching the rear turnbuckle. As with the front bed mounts, care must be taken to not bend the truck bumper when tightening the turnbuckles.
"Direct to frame" mounts are the same principle as the bed and bumper mount but with the added strength of extra brackets that attach to the truck frame in the front along with a stabilizer bar to tie the two sides together. For many applications there are also rear bumper braces available.
"True Frame Mounted" tie downs utilize 4 independent units bolted to the frame and or receiver hitch for a solid connection between the truck frame and camper. There is a separate tie down "receiver" for each corner with removable inserts for turnbuckle attachment. This system is very similar to the design of a receiver hitch and slide in ball mount. These tie downs are designed to fit specific vehicle makes and models to allow the best fit and strongest attachment to the truck.
In most cases they bolt on to the truck with no drilling required. No belly bar is needed, allowing full access to the underside of the truck. Many dual rear wheel trucks have running boards extending back on the box to the dually fenders. A special adjustable version of the front tie downs is available with longer inserts that can extend out far enough to accommodate this situation.
Once the truck is outfitted you will need attaching hardware from the camper anchor points to the truck tie downs. This needs to be substantial enough to handle the loads encountered. A basic chain and turnbuckle with hooks of some type is the entry level setup.
There are several turnbuckle systems available that eliminate the need for chain. These generally have a hook on each end, and a threaded rod that screws in or out of a threaded center section for tightening. Basically just a fancy turnbuckle, usually with some type of spring load or cushioning, that connects directly to each anchor point with enough length to eliminate the need for chain or separate hooks. Different lengths and styles are available for use with bed and bumper mount or frame mount anchors
Some tighten down using a lever action design that speeds up installation and removal.
As always, if you have questions about the parts you might want for your application please don't hesitate to call: 503-637-5050