Why is this? Why are truck campers so expensive?
Could it be that they offer extreme luxury not found in other RV types? Are they the best, most coveted RV on the market, allowing people to sell them at high prices? Is the truck included in the price? (psst… it’s not)
These are all reasonable questions that can arise when pondering this price disparity. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
Welp, I’m here to clear the air on this matter. In the past decade, I’ve lived and breathed RVs and RV life. I’ve explored the industry as a consumer, a DIY builder, and a professional RV technician, and now I write about RVs every day.
Through all of this, I’ve picked up some insights as to why RVs are priced as they are. My time in RV manufacturing in particular, has helped me to understand what exactly goes into building a truck-bed camper, and why they are so expensive.
Today, I offer this knowledge to you.
What is a truck camper?
Australians know them simply as “slide-ins”, due to the action of sliding them into the bed of the truck. English speaking Europe refers to truck campers as “dismountable”. Here in America, and to our friendly neighbors up north, they’re called “truck bed campers” or just “truck campers”.
Every once in and while I hear someone call a truck bed camper a “pop-up”, which is in reference to a specific variety of truck camper. While this term works and people can generally deduce what type of RV is in question, I think it’s misleading and not accurate.
Truck campers do not have their own engine, cannot move on their own, and do not have the ability to be towed. These are the primary differences between a truck camper and other types of RVs.
Truck bed campers are one of my personal favorite types of RV but are frequently overlooked by new and veteran RVers alike. From what I’ve experienced, it almost seems as though the RV community doesn’t quite consider truck campers to be “proper” RVs.
A common but unspoken opinion seems to be that truck bed campers are for weekend warriors- folks who work all week and hit the road on Friday evening so that they can wake up in the mountains on Saturday morning. If it weren’t for these judgments, more people might feel inclined to give truck campers a chance.
The 3 types of truck camper
There are two main types of truck bed camper available on the consumer market: hardside and pop-up. A vast majority of truck campers seen on the road will fit into one of these two categories.
A third, uncommon type of truck camper exists, and is rapidly gaining traction in RV markets. These hybrid campers have the shape of a low-profile truck canopy, with the amenities of a small RV.
Pop-up truck campers
A pop-up truck camper gets its name from the “pop-up” action of its roof. Similar to pop-up trailers, these campers travel in a compact, collapsed state. Once parked, the RV owner can raise, or “pop-up”, the roof and ceiling, to create an interior living space with plenty of headroom. All but the tallest of people can comfortably stand upright in a pop-up camper.
When popped open, flexible canvas walls prevent most weather, insects, and natural debris from entering the interior of the camper. The walls do great at keeping out anything solid, but do not have good insulating properties, and are known to stay cold in the winter and warm in the summer.
Lightweight, sleek in design, and relatively aerodynamic, pop-up truck campers are beloved by weekend warriors. These adventurous professionals load their pop-ups into the bed of their pickup truck Friday evening after work and hit the road. After a weekend of beautiful vistas, outdoor adventure, and relaxing in nature, they drive home, unload their truck, and are ready to commute to work on Monday.
Not bad, eh?
On average, new pop-up truck campers cost between $8,000 and $20,000. Used models can be found for as low as $4,000 but might need some refurbishing to make them comfortable.
Hardside truck campers
Hardside truck campers are what most people picture when they imagine a truck bed camper. These campers are the largest, most expensive, and most popular type of truck camper on the American market.
Large, heavy, and with four sturdy walls and a roof, hard-side truck campers offer protection against anything and everything outside of the rig. Camping in rain, hail, and sleet? No problem. Raccoons, bears, and other critters around? They aren’t getting in. Campground prowlers? Don’t worry about it.
In addition to offering supreme protection against outside forces, hard-side truck campers are better insulated than pop-up varieties and are thus much more comfortable in extreme temperatures.
To transport a hard-side truck camper, the RV owner must have access to a large, heavy-duty truck. While a midsize pickup truck can carry a pop-up camper just fine, they don’t have enough power to carry a hard-side safely.
Hardside truck campers cost, on average, between $15,000 and $65,000 new. That’s quite a bit more than a pop-up model.
Fiberglass shell truck campers
Over the years, a trend has emerged of outdoor athletes and enthusiasts converting fiberglass truck canopies into small, compact, do-it-yourself (DIY) campers. For many years, these campers were almost exclusively DIY built. But in recent years, some RV manufacturers have invested in putting high-quality, fiberglass-shell truck campers on the market.
These campers are much smaller than traditional truck campers and offer spartan amenities compared to pop-up and hard sides. Some models only sit over the bed of the truck, while others offer a cantilevered sleeping berth that extends over the cab, similar to a class C motorhome.
I believe fiberglass truck campers to be the future of truck camper boondocking, and that in the near future, we will see many more of these new RVs hitting the market.
Why are truck campers so expensive?
Alright, are you ready for me to clear the fog surrounding truck campers and their exorbitant prices? Are you ready to find out why truck campers are so expensive?
It’s because they are expensive to build and not that many people want them.
Honestly, it’s pretty much that simple.
A lot of expensive materials and manufacturing processes are used in the building of truck campers. This, combined with low market demand, results in truck campers not being exceptionally profitable for RV manufacturers. If they can’t make good profit margins on truck campers, manufacturers won’t feel too inclined to pour money into refining the manufacturing process to be more efficient and profitable.
Expensive materials such as aluminum and fiberglass are used by RV manufacturers to ensure truck campers are lightweight but strong. Additionally, many include stainless steel features and are insulated using top-of-the-line insulations. These pricey materials add up quickly, forcing the retail price up as well.
Beyond the cost of the materials themselves, the techniques used to build and shape the materials also come at a steep price. Fabrication techniques for aluminum welding are tedious and time consuming. Stainless steel is an extremely hard metal and tends to break and wear down tools.
It is expensive to pay specialists a fair wage to build with these materials, and those costs are passed on to the consumer.
Low production capacity
As a result of low market demand, many RV manufacturers do not have the production capacity to produce truck campers at an affordable price.
Profitable manufacturing requires a fine honing of production processes over many years. This refining is largely propelled by the success of a product, and the demand created by consumers. If demand for a product does not rise, the companies are not incentivized to make their processes better.
Truck camper manufacturers that do not make many other types of RVs offer the highest quality and cheapest truck campers.
Cost of owning a truck camper vs other RVs
Once purchased, truck campers are one of the cheapest RVs to own and maintain. They do not have an engine or any moving mechanical parts that can break down as with motorhomes and camper vans, and there is no need to buy the specialized hitches or hitch equipment required to haul travel trailers.
This is assuming that the owner of the RV already owns a powerful pickup truck that can be used to transport the camper. If you count the cost of buying, insuring, and maintaining a truck in with the cost of owning the RV, then most truck campers will seem pricey.
If you consider class A motorhomes at the expensive end of the price spectrum, and teardrop trailers on the low end, truck campers land somewhere in the middle, toward the low end.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find a cheap truck camper?
Definitely buy preowned if you want to purchase a cheap truck camper. Peruse online classifieds such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. They also occasionally appear in government surplus auctions.
Are truck campers good for solo travelers?
These campers are perfect for solo travelers. Just enough space to be comfortable, while being small enough to be efficient. They are also well suited for two people, or couples with a dog.
What kind of truck camper should I buy?
There is no such thing as the perfect truck camper. It is up to each individual to find the camper that is best suited to their needs and lifestyle.
Sure, truck campers are expensive. But I hope you now see that relative to their size and what you are getting, they are actually a pretty good deal!
Will I be shelling out $65k for a new hard side truck camper anytime soon? No, I will not.
But is there a preowned pop-up camper (this one, this is what you should buy) in my future? You bet there is!
As with all things, quality costs. Truck campers are high-quality RVs, and the price reflects that. You won’t be disappointed when you buy your own.