Pickup Truck Campers as Bug Out Vehicles, by Wade on the Road

A few years ago, I found myself widowed after 36 years of marriage.   Seven months later, I buried my mother after she lost a long battle with colon cancer.   I was only 59 but my kids were gone and suddenly I had no family nearby and no one dependent on me.  It took a few months to mentally adjust, but during that time I began thinking about re-engaging my life and setting new goals….sort of a bucket list if you will.  Two of the things that were on that list were traveling around our country and retiring early if possible. 

Retire, I did, and my travels have, and will in the future, include visiting the great national parks and wilderness areas of our country.  Also, I am an unabashed fan of Virginia Tech football and enjoy tailgating at the game.   My parents had a truck camper when I was a young man and it occurred to me that a truck camper would allow me greater access and enjoyment for both traveling and football games.  My parents’ camper and truck were gone decades ago, so I began doing my research on the various makes and models and what they offered.  I quickly found out that the capabilities and amenities modern truck campers offered were light years beyond what I had experienced using my parents’ camper.

I have slept in the open and under shelter halves as a Marine. I’ve also tent camped with my son’s scout troop, put up big old wall tents, cooked over a campfire, and used a cat hole.  I decided that roughing it is no longer my thing.  I wanted to go for more comfort and I decided that I was going to get a camper with a lot of features and buy used to save money.  I also needed a truck to transport it.  To make a long story short I bought a 2003 Lance 1130 camper and a 2004 F-350 dual rear wheel (“dually”) pickup to haul it.   Admittedly even for truck campers, this is a big combination but it had all the features I wanted and by buying used I saved thousands of dollars getting both truck and camper combined for around $36,000.    Before you sigh and close this article because of the cost, let me assure you that you can buy much less expensive truck campers that can be carried on standard pickups which I bet many of you already have.    A quick search on one RV web site while writing this article, yielded 12 campers in the Mid-Atlantic region for sale under $10,000 and at least one was an 11′ foot 2011 model.  

Good fortune smiled on me and quite unexpectedly, I was recently joined in life by a beautiful lady who had been a neighbor for years.  We were acquaintances but didn’t really know each other, but our respective kids swam together on swim team, went to the same schools and we had much in common that drew us together.  We were married last year and one of our delights has been using the truck camper for camping and tailgating.  My wife has told me that this camper is definitely her idea of “camping,” and our tailgating friends are amazed at the amenities we have right in the parking lot. 

We have both been very concerned about our nation’s political situation, the danger to our economy and non-conventional threats to our society.  We recently began serious prepping activity and are on our way to self-sufficiency should the Schumer hit.   We live in a rural area and hope to stay in place if things aren’t too bad, but if we have to, we will bug out and we have what I think is darn near the perfect bug out vehicle.  Let me tell you why I think so and why I highly recommend a truck camper.

First, here are some basics for those of you unfamiliar with truck campers.  Far from the “camper” shells you see on pickups, a truck camper has at a minimum the following features:  A bed, refrigerator, stove, kitchen sink, lighting, heat, and almost all have at least a portable “potty.”   The camper sits in the bed of your pickup and has a connection to your truck’s electrical system.   The interior is high enough that a six footer can walk easily down the aisle of the camper.  A bed rests in the “cab over” section of the camper over the roof of your truck.  Most manufacturers’ model numbers reflect the length of the floor of the camper not counting the cab over section.  In our case, we have a Lance 1130 which translates to approximately 11 feet of cabin length.  Our camper requires a long bed truck but dozens of models are available for short bed trucks.  I think all will require you to remove the tailgate.  Minimal modifications need to be made to most trucks in the form of tie down brackets and electrical connection and can be installed by an RV dealer for just a few hundred dollars or for much less if you do it yourself.

Most truck campers have many more features than listed above and you’d be hard pressed to find a camper with just those.  I’ll use mine as an example and while it has physical capacities larger than most due to its exceptional size, almost all campers have the same features just on a smaller scale.

We have a queen size bed over the cab.  This is pretty standard on truck campers these days.  Our dinette which seats 4, converts to a bed and over that is a fold down bunk for a child giving us the ability to sleep 4.  Most truck campers will sleep 3 or 4 fairly easily.

We have a 40 gallon fresh water tank, 25 gallon gray water tank, and 24 gallon black water tank.  The gray and black tanks have a sewer hose for dumping into an RV park’s sewer, or emptying into their dump station or in a pinch, somewhere else  We have an electric water pump or can hook up to a standard outdoor water faucet with our fresh water hose. We have A/C and a furnace.  The furnace runs on propane  The A/C runs on regular 110 volt power but we also have a built in Generac generator.  When “shore” power is available such as at a campground, we use it, connecting via a 30 AMP power cable.   While we seldom run the A/C when not connected to external power, we can if we want to by using the generator.

Our galley has a 3 burner propane stove, an oven, a microwave and a double sink with counter space.  We have a 6 cubic foot “3 way” refrigerator with freezer that runs on A/C, propane or battery power.  It automatically switches between power sources based on settings you can manage.  We have a hot water heater that can run on propane or electricity.  We have cabinet space for utensils, pots and pans, food and cleaning supplies.  This doesn’t count the multiple cabinets for clothes, supplies and gear.

Our bathroom (head) has a sink with hot and cold water, a medicine cabinet, a shower stall, powered exhaust vent, and a flush toilet.
We have a flat screen television, with crank up external antenna, AM/FM radio and a Blu Ray player.  Other amenities include a back door awning and a large awning on the side. Our windows are generous and all except the front window have screens to allow us plenty of fresh air. We have a powerful ceiling exhaust fan. Outside are power outlets and a gas nipple for connecting an outdoor grill.  There is also an external, stow able shower head with hot and cold water.

Despite all of these amenities, a truck camper is designed to be able to ‘boondock” for weeks at a time with no external connections.  Our camper has two deep cycle Interstate marine batteries.  It has two onboard 30 lb. propane tanks.  All of the lighting is 12 volt as are the fans.  There is an inverter to run electrical devices from the batteries and we have easily run the lights, television, Blu-Ray player and other things while barely drawing down the batteries.  With widely available solar panel re-chargers, and conservative usage of power, you can have power indefinitely.  But the campers also have an interface to your vehicle’s electrical system, so by running the truck engine for a while you can charge up your onboard batteries.  Also, our onboard Generac can charge the batteries but in a bug out scenario, you’d probably want to avoid that as well as running the truck engine.

Speaking of bug out scenarios, we could load our camper with supplies and be on our way very quickly.  As I mentioned, we have an F-350.  The truck has huge diesel fuel tanks giving us almost 400 miles range.  We have the crew cab which gives us a large cargo area when the rear seats are folded down.  Our truck has 4WD and is a dually.  Even with the camper mounted, we can still park it in a standard parking space.  Now since our rig is pretty long compared to most, we’re not as maneuverable as some but we can still go almost anywhere we want.   We could easily drive into the woods, pull it into a secluded spot, throw some camo netting over it and disappear.  If you could find a spot near fresh water and be able to expose your solar panel, you could stay out for a long time.  Obviously, there are other considerations, such as OPSEC, how much food you brought along or that you cached, and sanitary disposal but there are ways to deal with that and go beyond this article. 

A situation that would be most favorable would be owning your own remote piece of land, with water, pre-cached supplies, and good hunting potential.   You wouldn’t have to build a shelter or cabin, just drive your camper there.  Obviously, a truck camper doesn’t take the place of a cabin or bunker, but it also gives you flexibility and much more comfort than living out in the open.  I strongly encourage you to check truck campers out as a family emergency vehicle (FEV) and as something you can enjoy right now while things are “normal.”   Many of the prepper’s purchases are something we buy and put away.  This is one that you can enjoy all year long, yet can save your life if things get bad.

JWR Adds: Because of space and weight constraints, virtually all vehicular retreat approaches are doomed to failure in anything longer than just a short term disaster. That is, unless you heed Wade’s advice. I agree with him that you will need to cache a lot of food, fuel, tools, and other bulky items such as rolls of fencing wire at your retreat property. Without a pre-positioned deep larder, you will become just another statistic. Mobility is great, but inevitably it is just a means to get yourself to a locale with supplies stored in depth and where you have fertile soil and plentiful water to grow crops.