Many people are choosing to ditch the old American Dream of a house with a mortgage for a life of freedom and nomadic travel. There are many ways to go about full-time travel and the digital world has made it easier than ever. We call ourselves digital nomads and the one thing we all have in common is that we are location-independent. We rely on the internet in order to live this lifestyle of perpetual travel. Most of us work online but there are opportunities for more manual labor through different websites like WWOFF. Jennifer and I are digital nomads and we choose truck camper living for our full-time lifestyle.
Our truck camper, named YOLOM, is a Palomino Bronco 1500 slide-in with a pop-up roof. When we first started traveling full-time this setup seemed like the ideal home for us. After living on the road for two years we are weighing out the pros and cons of this lifestyle in an effort to help those of you who might be looking to change up the status quo. Truck camper living is all about an unobstructed adventure in a tiny footprint but like anything else in life this rig has its trade-offs.
Pros and Cons of Truck Camper Living
Many of the positives of truck camper living can also easily be seen as negatives. We list these here to help educate but you will have to balance what is important for you. For many nomads, a large, more comfortable living space is worth the effort and limitations of driving around a bigger rig. For us, the nomadic life was all about visiting and experiencing everything we could. It is hard to do that if your rig is too large to fit into the nooks and crannies of the Americas.
Truck campers are relatively abundant and cheap to buy, especially when compared to RVs or even campervans. Sure there are expensive models like the Earthroamer but on a whole truck campers can be bought brand new for less than a moderately priced car. Plus, an older used model (like our 2008 Palomino) can be purchased for a few thousand. The most important thing to look for when buying used is water damage. Also, know that a used truck camper probably needs to have all the seals redone. They should be redone every few years when you start to see the sealant crack. It is cheap to do yourself but can be time-consuming.
Truck campers are great for people who already own trucks but even if you don’t they are very abundant. This abundance makes them cheaper than a class A or C recreational vehicle (RV) and even cheaper than a cargo van. Just make sure when you get your truck that it is rated for the camper weight plus about a 1,000lb. A 1,000lb is a general rule of thumb for the weight of you, your partner, all your gear, food, water, and other supplies. If you don’t already own a truck, buy the camper first so that you can then get a truck that has a GVWR needed for your camper.
Con: Truck Camper Living is Really Tight
While the smaller footprint on the outside means being able to go anywhere and everywhere, it also means a tighter living space on the inside. Our unit is one of the largest slide-in truck campers manufactured. It requires an 8’ truck bed and has a whopping 98 square foot of living space. It can be tough for two people to maneuver around this tight of an area. For many people, this is a deal-breaker and I wouldn’t recommend this small of a rig for any more than two people. I would also note that you had better really like the other person.
Pro: Truck Campers are Reliable
Trucks are very reliable because they have big-block engines that are mostly bulletproof. We love our Ford F250. It is a gas engine which means it doesn’t have the torque of a diesel engine. It is a bit slower at climbing hills but the gas engine is nice because every mechanic in the western hemisphere can work on it. Parts are abundant and often available. That being said, other than regular maintenance, we have only really had one issue with our used F250 and that was when we blew a caliper in Florida. Not a huge failure and again it was very easy to find someone to work on it.
The camper side of the truck camper living isn’t as reliable as the truck. But on a whole they are more resilient than RVs that have a lot of bells and whistles. Ultimately that comes down to campers being fairly simple boxes. The only issues most people have with campers are slides breaking down (most don’t have slides) or appliances giving out. All our appliances are still working although we did swap out the fridge for a more energy-efficient cooler/fridge and the toilet/shower combo was changed out for a cassette toilet. The only issue we’ve had was needing to repair the crank mechanism on the pop-up part of the camper. It was very difficult to find someone willing to work on it.
Con: Time Consuming
The pop-up takes time to set up and takedown. This is my biggest frustration with our truck camper living setup. When it’s time to lower the roof, everything on the inside has to be moved down, safety supports (in case the crank fails—important) have to be moved, and then we can crank the roof down and tuck the fabric away. We are pretty good at this after two years but it still takes about 10 minutes on the out and 5 minutes on the in. That means 15 minutes every time we decide to move is waisted on this routine. It didn’t sound like much two years ago when we first started out but it is now just a frustration.
Pro: Truck Camper Living Anywhere & Everywhere
Our Ford F-250 has a 4×4 transmission so we can go almost anywhere and everywhere with confidence. We have been on some very rough roads in the past two years and even camped on sand. The 4-wheel drive gave us confidence few other full-timers enjoy. In good weather conditions there isn’t anywhere we can’t go. This overconfidence did get us stuck once in a sandy mud pit that Google thought was a road during a rainstorm. Typically, 4-wheel drive gives us the freedom to camp in beautiful free places that heavier and lower to the ground rigs just can’t enjoy.
Con: Can’t Get Up and Go/Safety
The fact that we can’t get up and go is a result of the time-consuming nature of the pop-up. But it would be true of many detached rigs as well, including standard truck campers, travel trailers, and fifth wheels. What I mean is that in the middle of the night should you need to vacate your camping spot because of an external threat, you would not be able to do so without exiting your camper to enter into the drivable part of the vehicle. We have never felt threatened in any of our “campsites” but the thought of ‘what if ‘ has always been with me. It would be nice to be able to slide out of bed and into the driver seat without having to leave the protection of our home. Class A and C recreational vehicles as well as campervans and skoolies allow for that kind of safety.
Pro: Low Clearance
A big part of being able to go anywhere and everywhere is the low clearance height of the pop-up camper. Full-size truck campers that don’t have the low profile of our 8.5′ clearance height can’t make it under low hanging tree limbs. They can also struggle with clearance on overpasses, tunnels, gas station covers, self-serve car washes, and bridges making it more important to scout out routes. Our low profile also makes it easier to have the rig worked on because it can fit through most maintenance doors in garages.
Parking Garages and Drive-Throughs
Our height is actually still too large to fit inside the typical parking garage making parking in big cities a hassle. Likewise, drive-throughs are typically not adequate for our clearance height. We find these to be minor nuisances and generally avoid both but are worth mentioning when considering truck camper living.
Con: Less Protection from the Elements
The pop-up canvas is very breezy making it more difficult to stay warm in cold environments. The propane-fueled space heater works incredibly well but the heat dissipates fast so in really cold areas the heater runs a lot. The pop-up isn’t completely sealed in the corners either so bugs also have an easier time getting in. We have found that running the fan so that it pushes air into the camper and out the seams helps to keep the bugs out but a rig without the canvas fittings would most likely work better. I would add here that newer pop-up truck campers seem to have better corner seals than our old Palomino. All of this makes a pop-up less than ideal for full-time truck camper living.
Pro: Truck Campers Fit Everywhere
Along with being able to go anywhere, our truck camper fits everywhere too. YOLOM stretches out to 21′ long making it longer than the average car but not so long that it can’t squeeze into a single parking spot when needed. This length helps with parking but it also makes a truck camper very maneuverable when compared to RVs and travel trailers. We’ve visited many places that limit road access to less than 24′ in length. This is a real bummer for those big RVs and travel trailers. Many older campgrounds, especially state and national parks limit the length of RVs as well. In many cases, you have to pay extra for tow vehicles on travel trailers and fifth wheels.
Con: Weight Rating
Weight rating is more of a cautionary tale than a negative specific only to truck camper living. All vehicles have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). This is the maximum weight at which the vehicle and its components can operate without fear of failure. Getting a truck camper that is rated about 1,000lb below your truck’s GVWR is essential for living a nomadic life free of breakdowns.
GVWR applies to all RVs and campervans/skoolie renovations. Make sure you don’t overload your rig with weight. I cringe when I see people DIY’ing a campervan bathroom with subway tiles, the interior with hardwood paneling, and water-heated flooring. Those things are heavy and so is drinking water and batteries for that matter. One has to prioritize. I rarely hear a YouTuber mention GVWR on their Sprinter Van builds. By the way, some of the models are rated for less weight than my F-250.
If you choose to build something out or renovate an existing rig, build it like a boat with the best, lightest materials you can afford. You should also calculate the overall weight of all of your desired materials to the best of your ability before starting your renovation. Once complete, load your rig with all your required living items and go have your rig weighed on a truck scale. If you are overweight you need to trim your load until you are not.
Pro: Ready to Go
A big benefit of manufactured Truck Campers and RVs is that they come off the line ready to be lived in. While many truck campers are designed for weekend warriors they can be lived in on day one. If you intend to renovate a cargo van, box truck, or school bus as a full-time nomadic home you will have your work cut out for you. However, a truck camper is pretty much ready to go on day one with all the amenities necessary for a life of travel. That isn’t to say that renovations aren’t needed to make it a better full-time nomadic rig. Check out the Our Rig tab in the navigation bar to see all the renovations we did to perfect our truck camper living experience.
Con: Poor Construction
Truck Campers, like most RVs, are made poorly with the cheapest lightweight materials. You can also expect very questionable construction. I swear the people who constructed our camper at Palomino never used a right-angle. In several spots instead of recutting a piece, they obviously cut at an angle they used a shim (or several shims stacked on top of one another) to get it close to level. They also overlapped paneling to hide janky cuts. It is astonishing what the “professionals” think passes for quality work.
After years of being a member of several full-timer groups, I am convinced that any manufactured RV or camper is questionable the day it rolls off the lot. The bigger a rig is and the more bells and whistles it has the larger your maintenance budget should be. If you get a warranty, expect it to take months to be seen for a repair as the shops are booked out for months. Honestly, it is crazy to think of how these manufacturers are able to stay in business when they have to repair so many of their products. I think they sell so many to people who never really use them and therefore never repair them, that they make a profit.
Pro: Two Axles
A truck camper, like many consumer vehicles, only has two axles. This comes in handy when being charged by the axel on toll roads and ferry crossings. Fewer axles also mean fewer tires and less maintenance.
Con: Truck Camper Living has Tough Accessibility
Truck campers sit in the bed of the truck elevating the entrance door higher off the ground than most full-time rigs. This makes it harder to get in and out of. This isn’t an issue for younger people but as I get older that three-foot jump in and out of the back (when I don’t want to spend time putting out the stairs) seems to be getting tougher.
Most truck campers can be slid out of the truck bed with the help of the camper’s crank stands. They can then be left at the campground allowing for rougher off-road adventures and just generally easier travel. We actually removed our crank stands to save on weight as they are heavy pieces of metal (about 23lb each) and we are very close to maxing out our GVWR.
Again being a part of many forums online mold isn’t an issue unique to truck camper living. Nearly every enclosed space deals with mold build up in the right/wrong climates. The canvas on the pop-up along with the aluminum railings that hold the canvas in places sweats a lot and creates the opportunity for mold. In general, this can be mitigated by circulating the air with the fan on and the lid cracked. Make sure that cavities are opened to that circulation, as well. Many truck campers have a storage space under the bed. This gets very little airflow and is a constant problem for many travelers. I actually drilled 1.25″ diameter holes all throughout that storage space (sailboat trick) to allow for better airflow. Since I did that, no mold.
Full-Time Truck Camper Living
Truck camper living is a very good choice for those who want to live the nomadic life and are on a tight budget. It is also a great and easy way to get started with full-time travel and figure out what is most important for you in this kind of lifestyle. If I had initially built a rig from scratch, I would have inevitably overbuilt some things and forgotten other necessary items. You could spend lots of money on a brand new RV and realize that the sheer size limits your destinations. I say buy something you can afford like a truck camper and see how you like to travel and what is not only necessary but preferred. Once you have a year or two under the tires, trade up to something that is perfect for your preferred way of full-time living.
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