Pop-up campers for small pickup trucks
Posted on 10/14/2011
If you have a small pickup truck (sometimes referred as “a compact truck”), you will have limitations in the size and weight of the camper that can be loaded safely over the cargo bed because most five feet bed pickups aren’t designed to carry this kind of stuff. Anyways, if you want to try, there are some options out there. This was my scenario when we wanted to “upgrade” to a better way of camping, not for nothing some define truck campers as a “tent in steroids”).
I had a Nissan Frontier Crew Cab (4-doors) with a V6 engine that was capable of carrying at the most maximum load of 5,730 pounds (GVWR). The maximum allowed weight over an axle was 3,296 (GAWR) and buying a bigger truck was out of the question. The truck capabilities excluded from consideration most of the available camper fleet in the market.
I didn’t give-up on the idea of taking advantage of the truck we already owned for creating sort of an expedition vehicle for the whole family. The other considered option was to buy a trailer, and my truck limits here were 2,000 pounds at the maximum, keeping the tongue load under the 200 and never surpassing the 5,500 pounds combined with the vehicle. Also, we would need to add brakes if towing more than 1,000 pounds. In the final round we discarded the trailers and ended considering three of the lightest pop-up truck campers in the market made by FWC (Four Wheel Campers), All Terrain Campers and Northstar.
The winner for our needs was the FWC Finch. Why that one? Weight and size were the determining criteria for our decision; the aluminum framed model made by Four Wheel Campers offers a dry-weight of just 650 lbs (compare to the Northstar MC600, that we also liked, at 1,148). The small weight of the Finch gave us more room for cargo and also fit better in the short bed truck.
Before installing the camper I had to compensate for the extra-weight over the rear axle reinforcing my truck suspension. For this task we choose to install the Supersprings Stabilizers (there are other solutions in the market).
Because the bed of the truck was extremely short, I also had to keep the tailgate open when the camper was loaded and this brought another problem. In the Nissan trucks, if you keep the tailgate lowered will be very hard to access and operate the factory installed system designed to lower the spare tire from under the cargo bed.
The first year my solution was to move my spare tire to the front of the vehicle using a spare tire carrier installed in the front-hitch (as show in one of the posted photos); but in 2012 we changed our minds, after deciding that we needed that hitch to carry four bikes. Therefore, the tire was returned to its original position under the bed, and to facilitate the access to the load-unload mechanism, I had to come-out with some “creative” idea that ended with installing permanently the first section of the bar used to lower the tire, held secured inside a piece of tubing, as shows the following diagram.
We are very happy with our decision on the FWC Finch and love the small profile when the pop-up roof is down.
The Finch model fits better in pickup trucks with longer cargo beds and the tailgate can be closed.
If you want to explore details and other truck campers models from the manufacturers mentioned in this post visit:
If you have a bigger truck your options will be open to many other models and manufacturers that include hard shells (no pop-up roof or vinyl parts). Two good places to start your exploration are:
Two forums are also a great source of information for topics related to truck camping and overland expeditions:
Note about center of gravity in campers.
The center of gravity should be marked in the TC and it should fall on the rear axle or close and forward of it. This is something important for short bed trucks carrying big campers because if the COG falls behind the rear axle you can loose steering traction because the weight may unload the front axle of the vehicle.
Specs for Nissan Frontier Crew Cab (Short bed).
- Overall Length = 205.5 in -> 17.2 ft
- Overall Width = 72.8 in -> 6.07 ft
- Gross Weight = 5,370 lb
- Gross Axle Weight Rating = 3,296 lb
- Towing Capacity (CC, 2in) = 6,300 lb
- Tonge load 2′ = 630 lb
- Gross Combined Rate Weight = 11,133 lb
- Towing more than 3,500 lb -> use brakes
- Tonge load = 10-15% of total trailer load
- When towing a trailer inflate tires to recommended cold tire pressure and attach Cross safety chains to hitch (leave slack in chains to allow turning).