Looking for a vehicle that will allow you to explore the great outdoors? You may be considering a truck camper or conversion van. Both types of campers have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. The best camper for you depends on a number of factors including where you plan to camp, how long you plan to camp, who you plan to camp with, and your personal preference. This guide outlines the pros and cons of camping in a truck camper vs van. We’ll cover comfort, cost, off-road capability, maintenance, living space, fuel efficiency, ease of driving, parking, and much more. Hopefully, this guide helps you decide which camping setup is right for you.
What is a Camper Van?
Camper vans are vans that have been modified to include living amenities, such as a bed, kitchenette, storage space, seating area, and sometimes a bathroom. A wide range of designs and layouts are available. Camper vans are often referred to as class B motorhomes. They are also called conversion vans.
Camper vans are built into existing vans. A camper van can range in size from a minivan to a large commercial van. Most models measure 18-24 feet in length. Some popular camper van models include the Mercedes Sprinter, Dodge Promaster, and Ford Transit.
You can convert your own van into a camper with a bit of DIY, hire a company to build you a custom van, or buy a pre-built model. Some of the biggest camper van manufacturers include Airstream, Winnebago, Thor, Coachmen, and Pleasure-Way.
Despite their compact size, camper vans come equipped with all of the essential amenities including a small kitchen, a sleeping area, seating, and storage space. Some models have a small bathroom. Some Class B RVs offer off-road capability.
Many people live out of their camper van full-time. Van life is popular among digital nomads. Others just use their van for short camping trips. Camper vans have become incredibly common over the past decade as van life has increased in popularity. Check out my guide to the pros and cons of van life for more info.
What is a Truck Camper?
A truck camper is a type of RV that sits in the bed of a pickup truck. Truck campers come with a range of amenities including a bed, dining area, refrigerator, stove, sink, heating, air conditioning, and a small bathroom. On most models, the bed sits over the cab of the truck. These are sometimes called cab over campers. Truck campers are also sometimes called slide-in campers.
Truck campers come in various sizes, shapes, and designs. There are small truck capers that only include a sleeping area. Larger truck campers may include pop-out sides to increase the living space. Different campers require different types of pickups to support their weight.
To haul a truck camper, you’ll need a pickup truck. For lighter campers, a 1/2 ton truck like the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, or Chevrolet Silverado 1500 may suffice. Heavier campers may need a heavy duty truck like a 3/4 ton or 1 ton. The largest campers often require a dually truck. A large truck camper might mount to a flatbed pickup. This is called a flatbed truck camper.
When you reach camp or when you’re not using the camper, you can use a series of jacks to remove it from your truck. This allows you to use the truck for other purposes.
In most states, truck campers do not need to be registered and licensed separately from the truck. They are not considered recreational vehicles. Instead, they are considered an accessory or cargo.
What Are the Differences Between a Truck Camper and Van?
The main difference between a truck camper and a van is the type of vehicle used. A truck camper is a camper shell that is mounted to the bed of a pickup truck. On the other hand, a camper van is a camper that is built into the back of a cargo van or passenger van.
Another key difference is the way you access the camper. With a truck camper, you can’t pass between the cab and the camper. You must exit the truck cab and walk around to the rear of the vehicle, where the camper door is located. With a camper van, you can walk from the driver’s seat to the camper. You don’t need to exit the vehicle. You can also access the camper through the side door.
off-road capabilities are also different. Trucks tend to be more off-road capable than vans. Trucks often feature four-wheel drive systems, heavy-duty suspension systems, lifted frames for improved ground clearance, and large tires for enhanced traction on rough terrain. In contrast, camper vans are usually not designed for off-road situations. They generally lack four-wheel drive capabilities or heavy-duty suspension systems. There are exceptions to this. Off-road vans are available.
Truck campers and vans do share some similarities. The amenities and interior space are usually pretty similar. These are both small campers designed for individuals and couples.
Truck Camper Pros
Truck campers can offer a number of benefits over camper vans. In this section, I’ll list some of the main advantages.
Truck Campers are More Versatile
Probably the biggest benefit of a truck camper is its versatility. When you use a truck camper, you have both a camper and a pickup truck. The vehicle is multi-use.
When you’re done camping, you can simply remove the camper. Most campers have jacks that allow you to easily lift it out of the truck bed. This job takes just 15-20 minutes.
After removing the camper, you have a normal pickup truck to use. You can use your pickup for hauling, commuting, towing, or running errands. It can be your daily driver if you choose. You can use it to help you move. When you use a truck camper, you only need to own one vehicle.
You can also change the type of RV pretty easily. If you have kids or if you simply want more space, you can sell the truck camper and buy a more spacious travel trailer or 5th wheel. It’s easy to upgrade.
You Can Remove the Truck Camper at Camp
When you arrive at camp, you can remove the truck camper at your campsite and drive the truck around normally. You can use the camper normally when it’s not attached to the truck.
This is nice if you’re staying at the same campsite for several days. You can set up a base camp and take your truck off-roading, fishing, hunting, sightseeing, etc. then drive back to camp at night. It’s nice being able to drive a normal vehicle around without all of your stuff.
It’s important to note that you can’t always use the truck and camper separately from the truck but most can. Camper vans don’t give you this option.
Pickup trucks are much more capable off-road than vans. Pickups are commonly available with 4 wheel drive. This gives you more traction on loose surfaces. They also offer more ground clearance and larger tires. This allows you to drive over larger obstacles. Pickups generally have more low-end power than vans as well.
It’s also easy to upgrade a pickup to make it even more off-road capable. There are plenty of aftermarket parts available. You can install a lift kit to increase the ground clearance. You can also install larger, knobbier tires to improve traction. If you plan to drive through streams, you can install a snorkel. In addition, you can install recovery gear such as a winch and traction boards.
Driving an off-road capable vehicle really opens up your camping opportunities. With a 4×4 truck and camper, you can drive further into the woods on rough fire roads and forestry roads. You can drive through muddy and sandy patches. You can drive through snow and ice in the winter. This allows you to reach places that you couldn’t with a camper van. You can camp in off-the-beaten-path destinations.
There are some exceptions to this. You can buy 4×4 vans that are as off-road capable as pickups. These vehicles are a bit more rare and expensive. It’s also important to note that your truck loses some of its off-road capability when you add a camper.
Easy to Register and License
In most states, truck campers do not need to be registered, titled, or licensed. You only need to register and license the truck. The camper doesn’t need its own license plate. The camper is simply considered a truck accessory. It mounts to the truck.
There are exceptions to this. In a handful of states, you do need to register your truck camper. Some states require that campers be titled. You’ll want to check the laws before you buy a camper.
Easy to Insure
It’s also easy to insure a truck camper. Every major insurance company offers affordable policies for this type of camper. In some cases, you can include the camper under the truck’s policy.
If you don’t have a lien on your camper, you may not even need to insure it if you don’t want to. This isn’t recommended though. It’s a good idea to insure your camper from theft, fire, and vandalism.
Truck Campers Are More Spacious
Truck campers are usually larger and more spacious than camper vans. They are both longer and wider. This gives you more square footage to work with. Most truck campers have a kitchen, a dinette, a cab over bed, and a bathroom.
The cab over bed is a major space saver. Another benefit of this design is that the bed is out of the way. This frees up more space for seating and dining.
Some large truck campers even include pop-out sides to increase the interior room. Pop-outs usually aren’t available on camper vans. They are usually only available on class A and C RVs.
The Bed is Always Ready to Use
The bed in truck campers usually sits above the truck’s cab. This means the bed is also always ready to use. You don’t have to convert a dinette into a bed. You can just climb in and sleep anytime. Large campers come with a queen or even king-sized bed.
In a camper van, the bed is almost always convertible. You need to convert a sofa or dinette into a sleeping surface.
Truck Campers Are Tall Enough to Stand Up In
The ceiling in most truck campers is at least 6’4″- 6’6″ high. This allows you to stand up straight and walk around inside the camper. This makes truck campers the better choice for taller people.
There are some exceptions. Some minimalist truck campers aren’t tall enough to stand up in. Many camper vans also aren’t tall enough to stand up inside.
Truck Campers Can be Cheaper
You can buy a mid-range truck camper for around $25,000. Entry-level models start at around $15,000. You can buy a higher-end truck for $35,000-$45,000. Used truck campers are available for $5,000-$20,000.
Camper vans can get very expensive. Entry-level models start at around $60,000. Premium camper vans can sell for $100,000-$200,000.
Of course, you do have to factor in the cost of a pickup truck when you choose a truck camper. If you don’t already have a truck, you’ll have to buy one. A truck with a high enough payload rating to haul a camper is expensive. A new 1/2 ton truck starts at around $35,000. You can buy a decent used truck for around $10,000.
If you factor in the cost of a new pickup, the cost of a truck camper and camper van is around the same.
Very Little Maintenance Required
Truck campers require less maintenance than camper vans. They don’t have an engine, transmission, tires, or suspension components that can wear out.
As far as maintenance goes, you’ll have to winterize your camper when it gets cold so water lines don’t freeze up and cause damage. You may have to do some caulking once in a while to prevent leaks. You also need to inspect the jacks and tie-downs from time to time. These components can suffer from wear and tear from repeated use.
Of course, you still have to maintain the truck that you attach the camper to. The truck will require the same types of maintenance as any other vehicle. You’ll have to change the oil regularly, ensure that the tires have the appropriate pressure, keep the fluids topped up, and generally maintain the vehicle.
If you already own a truck, you’re not really adding any additional maintenance for yourself. If you buy a camper van, you have a whole other vehicle to maintain.
You Can Use Your Truck Camper Year Round
If you enjoy winter camping, a truck camper is an excellent choice. If you have a 4×4 truck, you can drive over snowy and icy terrain through the mountains to reach campsites during the winter months. These campsites may not be accessible with a 2 wheel drive van.
Truck campers are often better suited for winter camping as well. They often feature better insulation than vans. This will keep you warmer. Most models come with a propane heater built in. If you plan to camp during the winter regularly, you can buy a truck camper that is designed for four season use.
Vans can also be used for winter camping if they are equipped with a heater. Diesel heaters are popular among van lifers.
Heavier Towing Capacity
A full-sized pickup truck will have a greater towing capacity than a camper van. For example, a 3/4 ton truck can tow 13,000-20,000 pounds. Most camper vans are rated to tow 5,000-10,000 pounds.
The extra towing capacity is useful if you plan to tow a large boat or a heavy trailer. With a camper van, you’re more limited in what you can tow.
Truck Camper cons
Truck campers aren’t for everyone. In this section, I’ll outline some of the main drawbacks to consider.
Attaching and Removing the Camper Can be a Hassle
The process of mounting your camper on your truck can be a challenge if you’ve never done it before. The first couple of times that you do it, it’s a good idea to have a second set of eyes and hands to help you out. You’ll need someone to help you line up the camper while you back under it. You may also need help securing it to your truck safely.
It’s easy to damage your truck or the camper if you’re in a rush. You could back into the camper and damage the lights or bumper of your truck. Worst case, you could tip the camper over. You need to have patience to avoid causing damage.
After you’ve mounted and removed the camper a few times, the process becomes much easier. You should be able to get the job done in 15-20 minutes all by yourself. It will always be a bit of a hassle though.
You Have to Own a Pickup Truck to Use a Truck Camper
A truck camper needs to sit in the bed of a pickup truck. A pickup is the only vehicle that you can use with a truck camper. If you don’t already own a pickup truck, you’ll have to factor in the cost of buying one. This is a major expense.
You can’t use just any pickup to haul a truck camper. The truck needs to have sufficient payload capacity to handle the weight of the camper. Truck campers are heavy.
Most truck campers require a 3/4 ton or 1 ton truck. Some require dual rear wheels to support hte weight. Some smaller models can fit on a 1/2 ton truck. You usually can’t use a lightweight pickup to carry a camper.
Big trucks are expensive. A truck that is capable of hauling a camper will cost at least $40,000-$50,000 new. You can buy a used truck for under $25,000. You could buy an older truck for less but then you have to deal with mechanical issues associated with older vehicles.
It’s also important to note that not all campers are compatible with all trucks. You need to have the proper bed size to fit the camper that you want. Many truck campers are only compatible with an 8 foot bed. Smaller campers can fit in a 5.5-6.5 foot bed.
Truck Campers are Not Stealthy
When you use a truck camper, you stick out. Everyone knows you’re camping. If you park on a city street or in a parking lot, you can’t blend in with the other cars.
This can attract some unwanted attention. The police will be more likely to knock on your door. If you’re trying to camp in a city, you could get ticketed. Some cities have laws against sleeping in vehicles and camping within city limits. A property owner could also ask you to leave if you’re parked in a private parking lot overnight or in a residential area.
With a van, you can be more stealthy. A plain white van can blend into a city. This allows you to camp in more urban areas.
Poor Gas Mileage
Adding a camper to a truck greatly reduces the fuel economy. A modern truck without a camper might get 15-20 mph. When you add a camper, you might only get 9-12 mpg. This is pretty poor.
Your gas mileage decreases for a couple of reasons. First, the camper adds a lot of drag. It sticks out above the truck and to the sides and creates wind resistance. Truck campers are not aerodynamically efficient.
Campers also add a lot of weight. A camper can weigh anywhere from 1000-5000 pounds. Your truck will burn more gas to carry the extra weight.
Vans, on the other hand, can achieve much better fuel economy. A modern van can get 20 mpg with a full camping setup in the back.
If you’re planning on traveling cross country with your truck camper, you should take the gas mileage into consideration. The cost of fuel can add up quickly. Particularly if you’re getting less than 10 mpg. If you’re only going to use your camper for short weekend camping trips around home, gas mileage is less important.
You Can’t Pass Between the Cab and the Camper Without Going Outside
Personally, I think this is one of the most significant drawbacks of a truck camper setup. With a truck camper, you have to exit the cab, walk around the vehicle, then enter the camper from the outside. You can’t access the cab from the camper.
This can be a major annoyance. If you forget something in the truck camper, you can’t just reach back and grab it. You have to pull over, park, and get out of the vehicle to get it.
If it’s cold, rainy, or muddy where you’re camping, this can be annoying. You have to get dressed and walk through wet and dirty conditions to access the camper or truck cab. You can’t just drive away in your PJs.
This can also be a security issue. If you’re camping and some scary people show up, you can’t just crawl into the driver’s seat and get out of there. If there is a dangerous wild animal, such as a bear, outside, you can’t drive away without going outside. You have to wait until the animal leaves before you can move from the camper into the cab.
Having to walk between the cab and truck camper also makes you less stealthy. If someone sees you climbing into the camper, they will know that you’re camping. If you’re camping somewhere you’re not supposed to, they could call the police on you.
With a van, you can crawl from the back into the driver’s seat and leave whenever you need to.
Harder to Drive
A truck camper is usually taller, wider, and longer than a van. Most trucks and campers measure around 18-25 feet in length, 11.5-12.5 feet in height, and 7.5-8.5 feet in length.
The sides of the camper stick out further than the sides of your truck. This makes a truck and camper more difficult to maneuver. You have to be extremely careful while navigating tight areas such as narrow city streets, narrow forest roads, and parking lots. It would be easy to hit something.
You will also notice your truck’s performance decline when you attach your camper. While driving, you will feel the extra weight of the camper.
You won’t be able to slow down as fast. Your braking distance will be longer. You need to anticipate stops and brake sooner when coming to stop lights. Give yourself plenty of room.
You also won’t be able to accelerate as fast. You won’t be able to pass people as quickly as you’re used to. When passing on a two-lane road, you need to consider this.
Truck campers also catch a lot of wind while driving. When a semi passes you, you might feel the camper blowing around. A large gust of wind could also blow you off your line. You have to be careful while driving in windy conditions. If it’s extremely windy, pull over so you don’t tip.
You also need to be careful while cornering. The camper makes your truck a bit top-heavy. If you corner too hard, you could tip your truck. Turn slowly and steadily.
If you don’t have any experience driving a large vehicle, you may not feel comfortable driving a big truck with a camper. It can be too much for some drivers to handle. Before setting off on a big trip, you might want to practice around town to get a feeling for driving a larger vehicle.
To be safe, it is also best to maintain a low speed while driving a truck with a camper. Ideally, you shouldn’t exceed 55mph.
Vans are a few feet shorter. They also aren’t as tall or wide. This makes them a bit easier to maneuver.
Truck Campers are Harder to Park
Truck campers are longer, wider, and taller than vans. This makes finding a parking spot a bit more difficult.
An average parking spot measures 18 feet long and 8.5 feet wide. Some truck and campers are too long or too wide for an average parking spot. You may have to take up two spots. In a small parking lot or crowded city, it can be a challenge to find a space big enough to park.
You also have to watch out for low entrances and overhanging tree branches while navigating parking lots. You must know the height of your vehicle and pay attention when passing under anything.
In addition, you can’t park in most parking garages with a truck camper. You also can’t go through most restaurant drive-throughs with a truck camper. This is somewhat limiting if you plan to spend any amount of time in urban areas. There are lots of places you can’t park because the camper is too big.
The only exception is if you use a small pop-up camper. These are similar in size to a large van. You can drive and park in most places with a pop-up camper.
Vans are usually easier to park but not always. High-top vans with an extended wheelbase can be similar in size to a truck and camper.
Moisture Can Be an Issue in Truck Campers
In many truck campers, moisture tends to accumulate in the cab-over bed area. If you don’t do anything about it, you may experience mildew.
To reduce the accumulation of moisture, you need to make sure your camper has good ventilation. Open windows when you can. Turn on the ventilation fan. It’s also a good idea to use some moisture absorbers. I like this DampRid Moisture Absorber.
Moisture can also be an issue in vans but it’s usually easier to deal with.
Truck Campers are Too Tall to Drive Some Places
You have to consider height restrictions while driving a truck camper. If you mount your camper to a big, lifted pickup, it may be over 12 feet tall. That’s almost as tall as a semi truck. To compare, a high-top van is around 8-9 feet tall.
The extra height makes it difficult to drive in areas with low clearance. You can’t drive a truck camper through drive-throughs or in parking garages. There may be some bridges that you can’t drive under. You also have to keep an eye out for low-hanging branches.
The Off-Road Capability of a Truck Camper Might Not Be as Good as You Think
A truck camper can be driven off-road. Your truck’s off-road capability will be reduced when your camper is attached. There are several reasons for this.
A large camper can make the truck more top-heavy. You have to be careful while driving over steep terrain. It’s easier to tip your truck over while driving off-road with a heavy camper attached.
There are also some places that you won’t be able to access with a camper due to the extra height and width. If you’re driving narrow trails through a forest with lots of branches overhanging, you may have trouble driving through with a massive camper. You can use a chainsaw to clear your path in some cases. Sometimes, roads are just too overgrown to drive through.
The camper will also affect your vehicle’s acceleration and braking. You also won’t be able to hit obstacles with as much speed. This can affect off-road performance. Your vehicle will also be much heavier with the camper. If you get stuck, it may be harder to get unstuck.
If you’re planning on driving on some really rugged terrain, there are some alternative options. You could use a lightweight pop-up camper. These are small and light enough that they don’t affect your truck’s handling much. A rooftop tent is also an option. Of course, you could also use a ground tent or hammock.
Truck Campers are Harder to Get In and Out Of
It can be difficult for people with mobility issues to climb in and out of a truck camper. The camper must sit up high due to the height of the bed of the truck. You’ll have to climb some stairs or a ladder to get into the camper.
The bed also sits up high over the cab of the truck. You’ll have to climb a ladder to get up into bed.
Older campers and those with certain disabilities may have trouble using a truck camper. Those who use a wheelchair will also have trouble using a truck camper.
Vans are much easier to climb in and out of because they sit lower. It is even possible to install a wheelchair lift in a camper van.
Vans Are More Stealthy
If you plan on stealth camping in a city, a van is the better choice. With a van, you can camp in parking lots, on city streets, and in residential areas without anyone knowing that you’re camping. When designed properly, a van blends right in.
Having a stealthy camper may be necessary if you’re a van lifer living out of your van or if you simply want to camp in urban areas. A stealthy van is also beneficial for those who travel cross country. You can pull over in towns and find a place to camp. You don’t have to look for a hotel. Having the ability to stealth camp really opens up your camping opportunities.
Not all vans are stealthy. You have to choose the right kind of van if you want to stealth camp. The best kind of van for stealth camping is a plain white cargo van. These commercial-looking vans can fit in anywhere in the city. People are used to seeing them everywhere. Minivans are also incredibly stealthy. Nobody will know you’re camping.
You want to avoid conversion vans that look like campers. These are not stealthy. You’ll also want to avoid modifications that make your van less stealthy. For example, vent fans, bike racks, luggage racks, and curtains can make your van look like it’s being lived in.
It’s important to note that the legality of stealth camping varies. In some places, it’s perfectly legal. In other places, you could get ticketed if you’re caught. Do your research before you steath camp.
Vans Get Better Gas Mileage
A modern camper van can get 15-20 mpg on the highway. To compare, a truck and camper might only get 8-12 mpg on the highway.
The savings in fuel can really add up over the life of your camper. An extra 5 mpg could save you thousands of dollars over the course of thousands of miles of driving.
Fuel economy is important if you’re planning to put a lot of miles on your camper. For example, if you take a 3000 mile road trip across the country in a van that gets 15 mpg, you’ll burn 200 gallons of gas. This will cost you $700 at $3.50 per gallon.
If, on the other hand, you drive a truck and camper that only gets 10 mpg and you take the same 3000 mile road trip, you’ll burn 300 gallons of gas. This will cost you $1050 at $3.5 per gallon.
On this trip, you’ll save $350 in gas if you drive a van instead of a truck camper. If you were to put 150,000 miles on your vehicle over the course of its lifetime, you will save tens of thousands of dollars in gas if you choose a fuel efficient van instead of a gas guzzling truck and camper.
This savings will allow you to travel further and camp more often. It’s also nice if you’re on a tight budget. Gas is one of the biggest expenses of camping.
Vans Can Be Cheaper
If you’re comfortable with DIY, it is possible to build your own camper van for little money. You can buy a decent used van for $5,000-$10,000. You could convert it yourself for $2,000-$5,000 worth of materials and some of your time. It’s possible to build your own camper van for under $10,000. Check out this cool guide for some ideas.
If you’re on an extremely tight budget, you could buy an old van for under $5,000, throw a sleeping pad in the back, and start camping. This won’t be as comfortable as a professionally built van but it will work.
Of course, vans aren’t always the cheaper options. A professionally-built camper van might cost $80,000-$120,000. A high-end camper van can cost upwards of $200,000. These are far more expensive than truck campers. It’s also possible to find older truck campers for under $5,000.
You Can Pass Between the Camper and Cab of a Van
With a van, you can pass from the camper to the cab without having to go outside. This design offers several benefits.
Most importantly, it’s safer. If a dangerous-looking person wanders into camp or if someone attempts to break into your vehicle in the night, you can hop into the driver’s seat and quickly drive away. If there is a dangerous animal, such as a bear, wanders through your camp, you can just drive away. You don’t have to wait for the animal to leave on its own. You never have to go outside and put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.
This design is also more convenient. You can park, cook a meal, sleep, go to the bathroom, change clothes, or just relax without ever having to leave the vehicle. If you forget something in the cab, you can just reach for it. If you forget something in the camper, you can pull over and grab it. This is really nice if it’s cold and rainy outside. You never have to leave the van when you don’t want to. You can stay comfortable inside.
Vans are Easier to Park
If you drive a regular-sized cargo van, you can park pretty much anywhere a car can park. A van is shorter and narrower than a truck and camper.
You can park in regular sized parking spaces wherever you go. Most parking garages and restaurant drive-throughs are designed to accommodate cargo vans. You can even parallel park your van on the street. You never really have to worry about not being able to find a place to park.
This makes it much easier to navigate a city with a van. You can drive pretty much wherever you want without having to worry about the height or length of the vehicle.
There are some exceptions to this. High-top vans can be too tall for some parking garages and drive-thrus. A van with an extended wheelbase may be too long for some parking spaces.
Vans are Easier to Drive
A van is easier to drive than a truck with a camper. Pretty much anyone can drive a camper van. There are several reasons for this.
First, vans are physically smaller. They are narrower, shorter, and the roof is lower. This makes them far easier to maneuver. You will appreciate this while driving throw narrow forest roads and in crowded downtown areas.
Vans also tend to be lighter. The lighter weight allows for better performance. You’ll be able to brake and accelerate a bit faster with a van. You don’t have to anticipate stops as much. You can also pass more easily on the highway.
In addition, you don’t have to worry as much about height restrictions with a camper van. A van can pass under any bridge. There may be some drive throughs and parking garages that are too low.
Vans are also more aerodynamic than tuck campers. You won’t feel the wind as much. When a semi passes you, the van may blow around a bit but it will be manageable. You don’t have to worry about getting blown off the road or tipping over. You can drive your van in high winds.
A van can also corner better than a truck camper because the center of gravity is lower. It won’t feel quite as top-heavy. You should corner slowly and steadily but you don’t have to worry as much about tipping over.
If you’re not used to driving a large vehicle, you may be better off with a van. Most people can hop in a camper van and start driving with little difficulty. You don’t need any training to drive it.
To be safe, it is always best to maintain a low speed while driving a camper van. It’s best not to exceed 60 mph. Driving slower is safer. You’ll also get better gas mileage.
A Camper Van is Always Ready to Go
When you have a dedicated camper van, it’s always ready to go camping. You don’t have to worry about mounting a camper. You don’t need a separate vehicle to haul the camper. When you’re ready to go camping, you can just pack your gear, hop in, and go camping. If you want, you can leave your van packed and ready to go.
This makes a camper van a great choice for those who camp frequently. It’s always ready for an adventure.
Community and Social Life
Over the past decade or so, van life has become incredibly popular. When you camp in a van, you’re automatically part of the van life community.
You can connect with other van lifers and talk about your build, your trips, and your experience. It’s easy to make friends because you share a common interest: camper vans. You can find people to camp with and travel with if you want to. Owning a camper van is a great way to make friends and build your social life.
Vanlifers also tend to love the outdoors. You’ll meet surfers, climbers, hikers, kayakers, and skiers who live in their vans. You can join these communities as well if you’re into these activities.
Truck campers are accepted in the van life community as well but they are kind of a different thing. Most people don’t build their own truck camper. Truck campers tend to spend more time in campgrounds or exploring off-road. Truck campers are more popular in the overlanding community.
A Van Isn’t As Versatile
A camper van only has one use: camping. You can’t remove the living area and use your van as a daily driver like you can with a truck camper. It’s not really practical to drive everywhere in a van with a full camping setup, unless you’re living in it.
This means you’ll most likely need to own two vehicles. You’ll need a daily driver in addition to your camper van. If you use a truck camper, you can get away with only owning one vehicle.
If you have a larger van, you can get some utility out of it. You may be able to remove some of the camping setup and use your van for hauling. It has more space inside than an average car. You can also use your van to tow a trailer. This is nice if you want to bring a boat or some dirt bikes with you on your camping trips.
Vans aren’t as Capable Off-Road
Vans aren’t as capable off-road as trucks. Most vans are two wheel drive. They also have smaller wheels. They don’t have as much traction. In addition, they don’t offer much ground clearance. You can’t drive over large obstacles with a van. They also have less low-end power.
Vans are geared for driving in the city. Cargo vans are built for making deliveries, not driving off-road. If you plan to drive your camper off-road, a van isn’t the best choice.
Driving a camper that is not off-road capable limits your campsite options somewhat. There are some campsites that you won’t be able to access in a camper van because you won’t be able to drive quite as far into the woods.
You could get stuck in sandy or muddy patches. There may be some obstacles that your van can’t cross due to the low clearance. For example, if the road gets rocky, you might not be able to pass.
There are exceptions to this. You can buy four wheel drive and all wheel drive vans that offer excellent off-road performance. A 4×4 van can perform just as well off-road as a truck and camper. These 4×4 vans are kind of rare. They are also expensive.
There are also some upgrades you can make to your van to make it a bit more off-road capable. You can lift your van to give yourself more ground clearance. There are lift kits available for most vans. You can also install larger and knobbier tires to give yourself more traction on loose surfaces.
If you plan to drive off-road, it’s also a good idea to pack some recovery gear such as traction boards and a shovel. You can even install a winch on your van if you choose.
Camper Vans Can Get Expensive
If you buy a premium class B van from a major manufacturer, it’s easy to spend $80,000-$150,000. A used professionally built camper van can cost $60,000-$80,000. These are expensive vehicles.
You can save some money by building your own van. If you buy a new van and do your own van conversion, you can easily spend over $50,000. Plus you’ll have to factor in the cost of your labor.
It is possible to build a camper van on the cheap. If you buy an older van and do your own conversion, you could start camping for less than $10,000-$15,000. Van conversions are extremely popular these days. Even if you’re not very handy, there are lots of videos that can help you learn how.
The vanlife trend has made camper vans far more expensive over the past few years. Demand for these vehicles is extremely high. It’s hard to find good deals these days.
If you’re on a tight budget, you may be better off going with a truck camper. Older used models can be found on the cheap.
Vans Can Be Harder to Register, License, and Insure
You will need to pay for a license and registration for your van annually. This adds to the cost of ownership. It also adds more paperwork for you to do. When you use a truck camper, you usually don’t have to license or register it.
After converting your van into a camper van, it’s a good idea to re-register it as a motorhome or RV if you can. This makes registration and insurance cheaper in most cases.
The rules for registering a camper van as an RV vary by state. Some states are more strict than others. Sometimes registration can be a challenge if you converted your own van.
A camper van will be more expensive to insure than a truck camper. This is because a camper van is a standalone vehicle. It is also more expensive than a truck camper. This is another cost to consider. On average, it costs $500-$1000 per year to insure a camper van.
You Can’t Stand Up in Some Camper Vans
On older-style conversion vans, there usually isn’t enough room to stand up inside. You have to hunch over while moving around in the van. This makes it much less comfortable. It’s harder to cook, change clothes, and simply move around when you can’t stand up straight.
High-top vans are available. These offer enough headroom to stand up in. There are also vans with pop-up roofs that offer plenty of headroom. It is also possible to install a high-top on an existing van. This involves cutting the roof away and installing a taller top made from fiberglass. This conversion must be done by a professional.
Vans Have Less Space
Camper vans are usually smaller and less spacious than truck campers. They are both shorter and narrower.
Another issue with camper vans is that the bed takes up most of the interior space. The bed sits in the back of the van, not over the cab. To save space, many vans have a bed that converts into a bench or dinette. It can be a hassle to set up the bed and take it apart every day. Of course, you can leave the bed set up all the time but then you have less space.
The bed in camper vans is usually smaller. Most vans have full-sized bed. Most truck campers have a queen or even a king sized bed over the cab.
There are larger camper vans available. Some models even offer popouts for more space. These may be more spacious than a truck camper but they are very expensive.
Vans Require More Maintenance
A camper van requires regular maintenance, just like any other vehicle. You’ll have to change the oil, replace the tires when they wear out, replace the coolant, replace brake pads, replace wiper blades, and all other consumable parts.
You may also have to deal with mechanical issues from time to time. If you drive your van enough, it may need major work such as engine work or transmission work. This can get expensive.
If you buy an older used van, you can expect it to have some problems. Maintaining an old vehicle can be a headache.
A truck camper isn’t a vehicle. It doesn’t have a motor or tires. It doesn’t require this type of work. It’s low maintenance. Of course, your pickup truck will need to be maintained.
Many Camper Vans Don’t Have a Bathroom
Many smaller camper vans don’t have a bathroom. In this case, you’ll have to rely on public bathroom facilities or simply go outside in nature. This is a major inconvenience.
Some larger camper vans do have a bathroom. Due to the small size, the bathroom is usually a wet bath with a cassette toilet or composting toilet.
If you build your own van, you have to be extremely careful about properly sealing the bathroom. Moisture can cause mold.
Most truck campers have a bathroom.
Vans Can’t tow as Much Weight
Generally, vans don’t have as high of a towing capacity as pickup trucks. You could tow a small boat or a cargo trailer with your van. You wouldn’t be able to tow a large boat or heavy trailer.
Who Should Choose a Truck Camper?
For those who want to explore nature, a truck camper is an excellent choice. You can mount your camper to a 4 wheel drive pickup. This greatly improves off-road performance. With a 4×4 vehicle, you can access wilder areas that a camper van be unable to access.
If you already have a pickup or if you want to buy one, a truck camper is also the obvious choice. You can easily install a truck camper in the bed of your existing vehicle. When not in use, you can remove the camper and use the pickup for hauling, towing, or commuting. It can double as your daily driver. Truck campers provide greater flexibility than camper vans.
Those who need more space are also better off with a truck camper. Truck campers tend to be generally larger than camper vans. Having the bed over the cab also saves space.
Those who are on a tight budget are also better off going with a truck camper. You can buy a used truck camper for far less than a camper van.
If you need to tow a large boat or heavy trailer, you’re also better off going with a truck camper. A full-sized pickup has a greater towing capacity than a camper van.
Those who value ease of ownership are also better off going with a truck camper. These RVs require less maintenance and paperwork to own.
Who Should Choose a Van?
Those who are looking for an economical way to travel should consider a camper van. If you buy a used van and build your own camper, you can save a considerable amount of money. If you’re on a tight budget, a camper van is the way to go.
A camper van is also the better choice for those who want to stealth camp in cities. A camper van can look just like a regular cargo van. This design allows you to camp almost anywhere without being noticed. You’ll blend in.
For those who have difficulty driving larger vehicles, camper vans are often the better choice. They are easier to maneuver due to their smaller size and lower center of gravity.
If you want to have the ability to pass between the cab and the camper, a van is the only choice. The ability to pass between the cab and camper offers extra convenience when traveling with multiple people or if you need to stop quickly.
Those who plan to drive long distances are also better off with a camper van. Camper vans offer greater fuel efficiency, making them even more attractive for budget travelers and road-tripping adventurers alike.
Those who value convenience may also prefer a camper van. It’s always set up and ready to go. you never need to attach, detach, or set up a separate camper.
My Choice: Truck Camper Vs Van
For my style of travel, a camper van is the better choice. Being able to move between the cab and the camper is really convenient. I also value the stealth capabilities of a camper van. I like having the ability to stay in cities. The ease of driving is also nice. I don’t really enjoy driving all that much. Driving a smaller vehicle makes driving a bit less stressful.
That said, sometimes I think a truck camper would be a better choice. I envy the off-road capability of pickup truck drivers. I would like to spend more time exploring nature. The versatility of a truck camper would also be nice. Being able to remove the camper and have a regular vehicle to drive is valuable. My next RV will probably be a truck camper.
Final Thoughts About Camping in a Truck Camper Vs Van
For those adventurers out there looking to enjoy nature and the open road, truck campers and camper vans are both great options. The best type of camper for you depends on where you camp, how often you camp, who you camp with, your budget, and your personal preference.
If you need off-road performance or if you already own a pickup, a truck camper is usually the better choice. If you need a stealthy vehicle, good gas mileage, or if you’re on a tight budget, a van may be the better option.
Whichever type of camper you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision. No matter which type of vehicle you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience with plenty of lasting memories.
Do you prefer truck campers or vans? Share your experience in the comments below!
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