Lightweight, 4 season, wet bath 1/2 ton camper clarification & questions.

panema

New member
Hi Folks,

Thanks in advance for any replies, I’m new here and a hopeful future owner of a truck / camper, I think. Over the last couple months I’ve been doing online research trying to hone in on what I think I want to get out for some long term exploration. I figured after doing a certain amount of research it would be more self evident what the right option would be and it would present itself.

My dilemma, right now, is I think I might be looking for a truck camper that doesn’t exist. I’m hoping ya’ll can talk some sense into me if I’m chasing a ghost or I just need to be more open minded about what I’m looking for. I’m hoping I can borrow from your collective experience and get some clarity.

Originally I was thinking to build out a camper van. A couple things stopped me. (1) way too much DYI work (2) probably very hard to sell (3) would likely get expensive really fast (4) no 4x4. I stopped shopping for a van, hit the pause button, and have now been exploring truck campers as an option and they seem to make a lot of sense and are, I’m many ways, an obvious response to the items above.

Here are the things that are questions or things I think are important. I realize some of them may seem contradictory or unrealistic and am open to your opinions in the hopes I can figure out a solution that might meet my needs.

(1) I’d like it to be 4 season or something I wouldn’t freeze to death in in the cold.

(2) I’d like a bathroom / shower. Having lots of tankage isn’t super important to me as I’m ok being frugal with water and waste.

(3) I like things, generally, to be on the smaller or more minimal side as I find this usually means more simple. I like simple. What I mean is given 2 options for something that has the same features or capabilities, I would choose small and simple over luxury, space, or creature comforts. I’d rather have something old and affordable that does the job than have bells and whistles and pay fir them.

(4) Is the 1/2 ton truck lightweight camper combo for long term use actually a myth? My internet sleuthing leads me to believe manufactures want to claim 1/2 ton lightweight hard side bathroom camper is there, but real life user reports seem to indicate that once loaded down it’s pushing the payload boundary too much and requires too many upgrades just to make it work with most trucks (except the newer F-150 with the addition payload capacity). Going 3/4 ton min from the get go seems to mean way less wear and tear and safer operation. Going 1/2 ton and super light would mean better fuel economy and so many more (affordable) truck options - but - I would hate to be pushing the limits and end up in trouble down the road (literally). I’m thinking of being out for months at a time so this isn’t an occasional weekend getaway.

(5) Slightly different question... but is truck / camper combo good international or will it become a target at night because it’s obviously a domicile? I have a particular interest in making my way south through Mexico and Central America after extended US trip. My impression (could be wrong) is being in the US, if you’re smart, you can probably usually find a place to park and sleep without too much trouble. But, if you make your way south are you asking for trouble being in a truck camper or is there a case to be made that subtle or stealthier options are better for this sort of a journey (I.e. van with no windows)?

(6) Affordability. Are there older trucks and older camper models that work well together that could be prioritized to save some $$$ and retain savings for traveling. I.e. should I just get an older affordable 3/4 ton truck like a 1994 F250 and a $4000 Lance Squire, shut up, and get out there?

I’m sorry for the long post / rambling. It seems these topics have been covered in bits and pieces in different threads, but I’m curious, laying it all out at once if there some combo I’ve yet to uncover that could fulfill these requirements. Or, if my requirements simply need to Change. Or, if hard side truck camper isn’t the right option and I need to reframe my whole thinking.

Thanks!!!

// Phil
 

sg1

Adventurer
Just a few comments. Unless you take a F 150 with heavy payload it won't work. We have just completed a trip from Inuvik to Ushuaia. Don't worry about stealth camping. Anything US made won't be stealth and it's not necessary. Our camper is very obviously a camper and we never had problems. Either you camp in the middle of nowhere or you find a safe place with IOverlander.
Standard US RV aren't really well suited for international travel. South of Mexico there are no hook ups, no dump stations and roads often aren't great to put it mildly . But that is another topic.
 

Pacific Northwest yetti

Expedition Medic

Will be a great resource. Also, there are lost of people who take trucks and camper to south america, it can and is done. I have spent time in Mexico, Columbia, Argentina and Chile. My brother drove his truck and camper from Oregon to Punta Arenas. But a a cassette toilet would be your best bet.


Also, there is a LOT to be said for " Get an older reliable truck, and camper and get to it" most international travelers would say the same thing. That is amazing advice, you can spend as much time and money as you want, when the reality is people have gone around the world in beat up subarus, honda civics, a london taxi, etc

It is way easier to find spots to just boondock in Central and South America. I have had more trouble in the US with it. The US has some great BLM lands, and as far as parking lot camping in the states, most wal marts allow it, as do Home Depot;s, and Cabela stores.

No mater what you go with, too much camper and not enough truck can and will be an issue, especially on rough roads. Causing extra stress and wear on truck and camper. The best advice, is to use more truck then you need, if the truck is not overloaded it wont be as hard on it.

Check out TCM,and this forum, also a few good FB groups. And keep asking questions and research.

My truck is a 3/4 ton, looking back I would just go one ton.
 
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Buliwyf

Viking with a Hammer
Half tons suck, even with light campers.

I'm going with a Capri because they're geared more towards us, skiers, and cowboys, and less towards RV slobs.




My only reservation is that little campers are within $5000 of extremely plush travel trailers. And big campers are way more than said TT's. When I travel, I sleep at hwy rest stops all of the time without anyone caring.

In the south, you can 4wd down to the bottom of any secluded field along the roads. Keep the window covers buttoned up, and avoid lights at night that draw attention. IE: travel until you can't stay awake, and then be in bed in 10min.
 
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Mundo4x4Casa

West slope, N. Ser. Nev.
My advice is to look around for a truck and camper combo for sale that has already been shaken down by the owner. I see these locally all the time. The only woe is to cast your net very wide and be patient. This cuts out a lot of 'build' time where you must go through the dredded period of adjustment. You may not find the rig that checks ALL the boxes, and may have a tooth or two missing. You'll have to make those choices. AFA old Lance Lite campers go, condition is the only yardstick. As time passes, there is an inevitable changeover from fearless off-roader/camper dudes to humble old men who are done and want out of the TC biz. The same can be said about the truck. I've preached for decades the gain in having too much truck and not enough camper. It requires an abrupt change in paradigm. Yes, you can haul any camper on a 1 series truck but at what cost, and how close to the edge? You want your final purchase to be far from the edge where all the engineering has been carefully thought out. Failing that, there is a lot of work in upgrading the truck's suspension, wheels, tires, shocks, anti sway bars, overload springs to be able to haul your choice of camper. I still think a hardside camper, with a wet bath or cassette toilet, is hard to beat for someone who is on a long road/off road trip especially in the U.S. Yes they are expensive compared to T.T.'s and tent trailers, but if you get the right/light rig, you will get a lot further out there than any MoHo or bumper pull in any weather; any season; park in a regular parking place and have some ability to layover in big cities.
Just keep worrying through the process. Your budget will dictate the outcome.
jefe
 

Wild_Jackalope

New member
Also, look into regular cab pickups. My regular cab tundra is ~500 pounds lighter than a crew cab model. Makes a difference from a payload perspective.
 

sg1

Adventurer
Here are a few reasons why you should try to get a light rig:
  1. In our experience tire problems were by far the most important source for technical problems when traveling with our Transit. We had more than 10 flats and 2 blown tires in 145,000 km ( 90,000 miles) in Africa and Latin America. We used BF Goodrich AT. All tire failures were at the rear axle where we have a heavier weight. Because my tires are relatively small (225/75R16) I am close to the load limit and have to maintain a relatively high pressure with over 70 psi on the road. This makes the tires vulnerable. Because of its high curb weight a 1 ton SRW truck with a medium size hardside camper will have the same problem. The weight will be at the limit of the tires load capacity. With our other camper, a F 150 with pop up cabin we never had a tire failure because I am far under the load capacity of the tires and can run them with 40 psi when fully equipped. I run e rated tires (123 load range) specified for the much heavier heavy duty trucks.
  2. On bad roads shocks, bearings and other suspension components suffer with every extra pound. With a light vehicles you can have reserves where you need them most (tires, shocks etc.).
  3. Fuel economy. With my F 150 and our pop up cabin I have a range of almost 700 miles with the stock tank. I could literally drive from Dawson City to Inuvik on one tank without filling up in between. Try that with a 1 t gaser.
  4. If you get stuck it is much more difficult to get out again with a heavy vehicle. A heavy vehicle is much more likely to get stuck on soft ground.
 

Photomike

Explorer
Well you do have some wants / needs that may conflict with each other. Four season and light do not usually go together. Colder it is designed for and the more insulation and extras that are needed, that adds weight. BUT you may be able to reach a compromise.

CAMPER
What I did was to find an older camper that was good in the cold and update it to what I wanted. Problem with what you are looking for going this route are the heated tanks. Older RV's never went with those and they are not easy to do efficiently on an older rig (ie Ducting heat to them).

TRUCK
I would look at a truck of at least 3/4t capacity to start with. This will save you so many issues later on. Then I would look for a camper to fit it.

MISC
As for being a target yes a TCer is more noticeable then a plain white van but honestly if someone is looking for trouble they will know you are in there.

Here is my TCER and some of the upgrades that I did.
 

AbleGuy

[Back] Roads Scholar
Truck...definitely go with the 3/4 ton. It’s your biggest purchase and if you don’t get the 3/4 ton you will just wind up wishing you did.

Truck....consider an older Chevy with the 5.7 engine cause you can get parts for that pretty much everywhere.

Camper...maybe you can find an older GoldStar or SixPac or Sahuaro hard sided rig. These generally are narrower (so less side to side sway, better on narrower roads, and lighter), are lighter weight in general than other brands, simple and easy to customize or repair yourself.

Camper....keep it simple to start with to keep it lightweight. Yes, cassette toilet. Yes, homemade shower with minimal or no holding tanks. Keeping it simple with an older camper may mean rebuilding much of the basic electrical and plumbing but then you’ll know how everything works and can more easily fix stuff yourself while on the road down south and away from RV shops. You may also wind up rebuilding much of, or parts of, the framing or roof with an older, cheaper rig but you’ll find them very easy to work on and again know how to make repairs once you’re out on the road.

Camper....keeping it simple, cheap and lighter weight means realizing you’re often going to be a little chilly or a little hot. You’ll quickly get used to being more in sync with the natural weather though and that’s all part of adventure travel. If your rig is too comfy your liable to spent too much time inside it...that’s not camping (to me).

I’m almost 70 and and am spoiled today because I have a great (expensive) fully self contained 4wd camper. But for most of the 50+ years I camped in and explored all of North America, I had an old 4wd pickup and a simple, beat up hardsided camper (no bathroom, no furnace, no a/c, no fridge, etc.). We used an icebox, a cassette toilet, propane and battery lights, and propane camp stove, and bathed in lakes and creeks, campground restrooms, truckstops or inside the rig, standing in a shallow tub using water heated on the stove.

The camper often had to be rebuilt structurally to one extent or the other at the end of each summer’s long travels on so many miles of bad back roads. But it was all we could afford at the time and at least it got us out every summer for months of great exploration (I was a poorly paid teacher for many years but was rich in having 3 months off each summer).

Don’t overthink the camper combo, do keep your budget in mind, and just commit to getting out on the road as soon as you can. I guarantee you that the adventures you make and the memories you create will easily more than compensate you for any deficiencies you might discover with your gear.
 
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panema

New member
Just a few comments. Unless you take a F 150 with heavy payload it won't work. We have just completed a trip from Inuvik to Ushuaia. Don't worry about stealth camping. Anything US made won't be stealth and it's not necessary. Our camper is very obviously a camper and we never had problems. Either you camp in the middle of nowhere or you find a safe place with IOverlander.
Standard US RV aren't really well suited for international travel. South of Mexico there are no hook ups, no dump stations and roads often aren't great to put it mildly . But that is another topic.
Awesome. Good to hear and thanks for taking the time to reply. Did you chronicle your journey? That sounds like an incredible trip and would love to read more about your set up and your travels if you have that info anywhere.

I am aware that the F-150 has the heavier payload option but a) they aren't cheap and b) finding one with that option in the used market still seems pretty difficult. I actually started looking at older F-250s from the mid 90's. Thinking might be able to find something with relatively low mileage that has the payload capability and won't cost an arm and a leg.

Thank you!
 

panema

New member

Will be a great resource.

Check out TCM,and this forum, also a few good FB groups. And keep asking questions and research.
Awesome - thank you so much. Any links to facebook groups in particular that might be extra helpful?

I've bookmarked the site you sent over and will spend some more in depth time digging through their resources... thank you so much!

The more I'm thinking it over, the more I want to go older and cheaper. Every dollar saved getting out there is more time and flexibility I can spend exploring.

Thanks !
 

panema

New member
Half tons suck, even with light campers.

I'm going with a Capri because they're geared more towards us, skiers, and cowboys, and less towards RV slobs.




My only reservation is that little campers are within $5000 of extremely plush travel trailers. And big campers are way more than said TT's. When I travel, I sleep at hwy rest stops all of the time without anyone caring.

In the south, you can 4wd down to the bottom of any secluded field along the roads. Keep the window covers buttoned up, and avoid lights at night that draw attention. IE: travel until you can't stay awake, and then be in bed in 10min.
Thanks for sharing this. I've come across the capri's and will go give them a second look based on your thoughts about who they're geared towards as that sounds a little more like my vibe. I will also see if there is much to be found with them on the used market. Appreciate the input!
 

panema

New member
My advice is to look around for a truck and camper combo for sale that has already been shaken down by the owner. I see these locally all the time. The only woe is to cast your net very wide and be patient. This cuts out a lot of 'build' time where you must go through the dredded period of adjustment. You may not find the rig that checks ALL the boxes, and may have a tooth or two missing. You'll have to make those choices. AFA old Lance Lite campers go, condition is the only yardstick. As time passes, there is an inevitable changeover from fearless off-roader/camper dudes to humble old men who are done and want out of the TC biz. The same can be said about the truck. I've preached for decades the gain in having too much truck and not enough camper. It requires an abrupt change in paradigm. Yes, you can haul any camper on a 1 series truck but at what cost, and how close to the edge? You want your final purchase to be far from the edge where all the engineering has been carefully thought out. Failing that, there is a lot of work in upgrading the truck's suspension, wheels, tires, shocks, anti sway bars, overload springs to be able to haul your choice of camper. I still think a hardside camper, with a wet bath or cassette toilet, is hard to beat for someone who is on a long road/off road trip especially in the U.S. Yes they are expensive compared to T.T.'s and tent trailers, but if you get the right/light rig, you will get a lot further out there than any MoHo or bumper pull in any weather; any season; park in a regular parking place and have some ability to layover in big cities.
Just keep worrying through the process. Your budget will dictate the outcome.
jefe
Fantastic advice. Thanks so much for weighing in. Definitely thinking 3/4 ton truck minimum and a lighter weight camper to make sure the payload is there and prevent long term issues. Great to hear from folks like you who have first hand experience.
 
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