Campervan to Truck camper - anyone done it?

#1
The wife and I are beginning to talk about our 1-2 year vehicle plan that will be best for our family and I think we are leaning heavily toward eliminating 2 of our 3 vehicles (my VW Passat wagon and the van), and replacing those 2 with an efficient, full-size, crew cab, 4x4 truck. I'm looking at the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel very closely. If that happens, I would want a rather basic pop-up truck camper (shell model - maybe with a heater and toilet but little else) to replace the capability of the van. My want is to sleep 2 adults and up to 2 kids, with space for some gear.

My reasoning for potentially ditching the van:
  1. My van has a forward-facing sofa but in order to a have layout that works, the sofa is pretty far back (eg. Sportsmobile RB50 layout). Over the course of a couple road trips now, that distance between adults and child is proving to be a pain. The wife is reluctant to unbuckle and go to the rear when he needs something, and she is prone to car sickness so she won't ride in the back with him.
  2. My van has the factory roof so you spend a lot of time bent over, sitting, or kneeling - I'm 40 and not getting any younger. I have explored adding a pop-top or rigid high-top. Either it is not possible, what I want has been discontinued, or I am having great difficulty justifying the expense of a "nice to have" mod on a vehicle with 160,000 miles. There is also a clearance problem (see next comment).
  3. My current job situation requires me to park in a parking structure. I can't keep anything on the roof of the van, lift it in anyway, or add a higher top (assuming I only sell the VW and keep the van) as I barely clear as-is.
  4. Maintaining, registering, and insuring 3 vehicles is becoming a burden financially and with my time. I would rather have my wife's car plus 1 other vehicle that is more flexible and can fill more rolls (commuter, camper, hauler, tower, hunter, fisher, etc.).
  5. I have dealt with it this far but there is still little-to-no aftermarket support for the fullsize GM vans. It is rather annoying.
  6. Currently I have 2 garage bays plus a large yard. With 3 vehicles, 1 is always sitting out with the elements and vermin. The van barely fits in the garage. A truck would fit better and there is space outside for a camper sit in the yard. There is talk of tearing down a large shed in our backyard and replacing it with a new, larger pole barn but we are only dreaming at this point.
  7. I get 19-20MPG on the highway and 16-17MPG on my commute, if I'm lucky. The MPG numbers on the Ram EcoDiesel or even a full-size gas truck beat that every day of the week.

My question is - has anyone gone from a van to a truck + camper? Any regrets? Pros/cons? Other feedback?

When I search the internet for similar topics, the main "pros" I see cited for preferring the van over the truck + camper is the instant pass-through to the living area and the ability to stealth camp. Simply parking and walking to the back is nice but I don't hold it at a premium. In my 7 years of owning the van, I've never had the need to stealth camp; I've always found a truck stop, ride share lot, rest area, etc. I see going to a truck + camper giving me forward-facing seats for a kid's car seat and the seating area is separate from the living area, so I'm not converting seating into living space and vice versa.

Thanks!
 
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#2
One thing to keep in mind is that these fuel efficient 4x4 trucks, like the Ram Ecodiesel, have quite a low payload. Looking online, the Ram 1500 ecodiesel has payloads between 1040# and 1250# for the crew cab 4x4 6'4" box. The 1250# is only if you get the lonestar package. Note that these payloads may be less from factory because of added options... so you might end up with a truck being delivered that has 1100# of payload. Assume 400# for 2 adults and 2 kids and another 250# for a full tank of fuel, and you are left with only 450 pounds of payload. That's before any of your gear. Anyone here will tell you that even the lightest pop-up campers, like a FWC, will put you well over 1000#, and then add in your gear, food, water, etc. If you could keep it to only 1000# over payload you'd be a magician, probably closer to 1500# over payload. So then you will need to end up making modifications to the vehicle to make it safe and even then it probably won't handle well. You can only do so much. The braking becomes an issue especially on steep declines, those little trucks just aren't meant for that. In the end you are much better off going with a bigger truck but obviously you don't want that because you lose out on fuel mileage. Unfortunately, the USA doesn't have small pickups with diesel engines and high payloads like the rest of the world. In Europe and other places you can get Ford Rangers or Toyota Landcruisers that get excellent MPG and have payloads of 2500# or more
 
#3
Yeah, you are dreaming if you think the 1/2 ton dodge is the right truck.

You need to step into a 3/4 or 1-ton to do it correctly.
 
#4
I went from a VW Syncro Westflia to a Toyota Tacoma with FWC Fleet. The walk through was handy to have at times. There were upgrades that I did to the truck to have it handle the way I wanted it to and to be safe- tires to “E” rated KO2, Firestone Air Bags, upgraded shocks and although it stops fine I will upgrade to better rotors and pads for braking when the current ones get worn. I had three reasons for going with the smaller sized truck: 1. I take the camper off during the winter and store it on a rolling cart I made. The camper, truck, and car will only fit in my garage if a mid sized truck. I regularly park at a couple of parking garages and in both of them they have packed spaces so tight that if you do not have short turning radius you can not turn into a single open space. My favorite hidden fishing spot requires a sharp turn between a rock and a tree that a full sized truck could not negotiate. As others have said if I did not have these reasons for going smaller, I clearly would have bought a truck with much higher hauling capacity than the camper weight, probably a 3/4 ton truck.
Some of the pros for camper over van:
With built in propane hot water heater I can take a outside shower after a hike or do dishes without heating water on a camp stove to do it.
In the spring and fall I just set a thermostat and the heat comes on on those cold nights- quality heater for the van was almost $1,000 or a buddy heater which adds moisture inside.
I can take the camper off to use the truck as a truck in the winter to haul household things without needing a utility trailer.
Have space for two batteries and 160 watt of solar so am much more independent of needing to plug in-only space for three scooter batteries and 100 watt solar in van.
Have vent fan and a lot more window openings to allow for more air flow on hot days.
With two propane bottles I can pull one out and use camp stove and lantern off away from the camper at the camp site-my van propane was attached permanently.
I can use the added space in the access cab to haul camping gear and still have access to everything in the camper with nothing in the way.
There were some parking structures that were too short for the van to go in, but the truck and camper can go in them all as it is not as high.
In Oregon I had to pay extra tax for the van as a camper, but the camper on the truck does not meet the height requirements and therefore is not taxed at all- that is not true for all states.
I have steps on the back of the camper to have easy access to the roof rack, it was difficult to get to on the van without a ladder.
With 5 LED lights inside and 4 outside the camper has much better illumination when backing up and all around than the van did.
Having screen door has been very handy at times when bugs are out here.
I do my own work on the truck and van and the truck has much easier access to work on.
Just as a FYI my FWC camper is a side dinette model with a single bed down below so it would be easy for one person to just go in the back and sleep there without ever popping the top if someone wanted to stealth camp which I have never done.
Pros for van over camper:
The van had more open space than the camper which only really mattered on rainy days.
The van pop top opened easier with weight than the camper with load on it.
The van was easier to go into and out of without hitting your head because of higher door.
After insulating the van was easier to keep warm with buddy heater on ski hills camping.
With front and rear lockers my van had better 4 wheel capability than the Tacoma.
Bed was more comfortable in the van because it was twice a thick as the camper mattress.
Van had more sleeping space with double above and double below where camper has queen above and single below.
This is my thing on having a somewhat unique van then the FWC camper. Hope it is at least somewhat useful in your thinking.
 
#5
Yeah, you are dreaming if you think the 1/2 ton dodge is the right truck.

You need to step into a 3/4 or 1-ton to do it correctly.
1/2 ton just isn't enough truck for what you want to do IMO. Once you load the Eco-Diesel down the mileage/power may not be as great as you hope either if it is anything like a V-6 gasser like say a Tacoma. If you go with a 3/4 ton may as well go all the way to a 1 ton.

I went from a 4x4 van to a 4x4 truck/camper about 10 years ago and was much happier with the TC over the van. The big drawback to the van was it just rode so rough it would wear me out after a 3 hour drive, the truck was like a Caddy compared to it. Both were fairly large vehicles so not big differences in where I could go off-road.
 
#6
Not quite what you are asking, but my Wife and I were trying to decide between an "overland worthy" full size van setup or a truck and pop up camper. I ended up going with the truck (Tundra) and will be ordering a Hawk pop up next month. I decided that this combo allowed me the option of choice in vehicles and camping setup, as well as options to switch out one or the other down the road in the event of failure, accident, etc. With a dedicated van everything is tied up in one package. I can appreciate convenience of the van, but we decided the truck-pop up combo would provide more options down the road.

Sent from my SM-G930W8 using Tapatalk
 
#7
We had VW vans in the past and got over the having to move carseats to do anything. We have 3 kids and carseats suck. We have been rocking an F150 and a FWC lately and what a difference. The car seats stay put and we just move to the back to do our thing. We did a month in a Hawk front dinette this summer and the only time it sucked was when it was raining. But we made do and things worked out fine. We sold that camper and have a Grandby shell now (has a heater and rollover couch) and its awesome. We use a 12V fridge but love the space and openness of a shell. Sometimes I miss all the cabinetry and water systems etc but love the savings in price, plus we cooked 95% of the time outside anyway with the other one.

All in all both a van and truck are limiting in the fact you have to set up and tear down each time but it beats towing a trailer. Overall for my month long trip we averaged 13mpg. We ranged from cruising to doing 80, from high winds to sunny days. Not bad I think. On the shell we avg a bit higher but not much. Ive got a 2012 F150 CC 6.5' bed 5.0 V8 4x4 stock. I love the ability to use my truck during the week and in 20 minutes be ready to go camping.

Vans are tempting but I was over the 3 car shuffle as you are. Plus a camper doesn't have registration (in CA) and no drivetrains and tires to replace/repair.
 
#8
Ahhh you'll be fine with an Ecodeisel. People put FWC's on Tacoma's all the time, 1/2 ton truck will handle it with ease, especially if you're just doing a basic shell, these trucks can handle more than what is on paper, they just do that for the lawyers. Problem with going 3/4 ton is the absolute crappy mileage they get, you "should" be able to yield at least 10 mpg better than a 3/4 ton diesel, and 15 over the gas version.

LINK <<<<<here is a guy who did it, maybe get in contact with him and see how it is working out for him.

20161107_103821.jpg

If you're really worried about weight could always do an AT Hab.

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Pulled from the Ecodiesel forum.

Food for thought

The same RAM 1500 trucks in other countries are rated for 700 to 1000 pounds more (numbers taken from Ram's own sites in various other countries like Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, etc... Some small variances due to trim level differences and engine offerings).

So if I use Mexico for example: if I drive my exact truck (stock config) south of the border - it instantly gains an additional ~800lbs of payload capacity.

If I drive my exact stock configuration north into Canada, it gains ~250lbs of payload capacity.

Mexico wasn't the largest difference in ratings - which I found with a quick 10 minute browse around Ram's international sites. I think it was Saudi Arabia (I've closed the tab already and don't care to re-do the search). Sure - it was a little hard finding the *exact* same configuration as mine in every country - but the setups are close enough for basic comparison.
 
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#9
summer 2017.jpg
I carry an 1100# Northstar MC600 on my 2003 Tundra access cab. Only modification I did was to add timbren SES on the rear and some proper tie downs. We just finished a week and a half, 1791 mile trip including everything from interstates, backroads, dirt roads and a mild trail or two... truck handles the weight fine. MPG average was about 11.5. Regular MPG for this truck (2003, 4.7 v8, 4 spd auto) is right at 14.5 - 15. In fact we have carried this same camper in my wife's Tacoma, adding hellwig springs and it handles great, maybe even better than the Tundra.
We have had a pop up trailer and a small hardside trailer, and we enjoy the truck camper the best. Like with a van I guess, it is just so convenient to have everything with you, especially with kiddos.
 
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#10
We have a fleet flatbed camper on a modified Tacoma, and our regular camping buddies have a tricked out Syncro Westy and two small kids. To sum it up: the driving experience with the truck camper is far superior, quieter, safer and far more reliable. However, particularly with the kids, the camping experience with the van is far superior. They pull up into camp, throw open the slider, wind out the awning and put down the sand mat. Now the kids have a place to play under the awning while the parents make dinner what have you. Come bed time, the kids go up top and the adults can sit around under the awning and enjoy the evening. The van is like a patio home with a seamless transition from inside to outside. The Fleet is like a second story walk up - you are either inside the camper or outside the camper. Sleeping more than 2 in a truck camper is a little bit of a pain as you have to convert the only sitting space into a bed. Whereas with the van the kids can sleep in the pop top and you can use the rest of the van like normal. For the two of us, with no kids and no intention of kids, the Fleet Flatbed/Tacoma combination is perfect. For a family, the van seems like a really good option.
 
#11
We have a fleet flatbed camper on a modified Tacoma, and our regular camping buddies have a tricked out Syncro Westy and two small kids. To sum it up: the driving experience with the truck camper is far superior, quieter, safer and far more reliable. However, particularly with the kids, the camping experience with the van is far superior. They pull up into camp, throw open the slider, wind out the awning and put down the sand mat. Now the kids have a place to play under the awning while the parents make dinner what have you. Come bed time, the kids go up top and the adults can sit around under the awning and enjoy the evening. The van is like a patio home with a seamless transition from inside to outside. The Fleet is like a second story walk up - you are either inside the camper or outside the camper. Sleeping more than 2 in a truck camper is a little bit of a pain as you have to convert the only sitting space into a bed. Whereas with the van the kids can sleep in the pop top and you can use the rest of the van like normal. For the two of us, with no kids and no intention of kids, the Fleet Flatbed/Tacoma combination is perfect. For a family, the van seems like a really good option.
No car seats for the kids?

I've spend a bunch of time travelling around in a friends Vanagon Westy and it was great fun, for ages I've wanted one or a Eurovan Westy. Now I've got two kids, a 2yr old and a newborn. Car seats then booster seats are my life for years ahead. The thought of needing to unlatch and move the two child seats then find a place for them each time we camp seems like a pain. We are usually weekending and are in a different spot every night. This is one of the main things that has had me considering a pop up camper vs a van.
 
#12
We have a Northstar tc800 with the extended cabover. It is tight sleeping 4 in there. The claustrophobic person sleeps on the dinette (and thus has to make coffee in the morning) and the rest share the queen bed in sleeping bags. I don't know how long we can keep it up as the kids are getting larger and more obnoxious. With a shell model, you can manage some sort of bunk system. Water heater is awesome. I didn't think I needed one but it is so nice...better than a furnace!

(We have it on a diesel 2012 F350 and can get ~19 mpg with the camper on if we don't speed. We speed so it's more like 15 with camper. 22+ mpg without the camper. Not terribly economical but not awful. And we can pass going uphill.)
 
#13
No car seats for the kids?

I've spend a bunch of time travelling around in a friends Vanagon Westy and it was great fun, for ages I've wanted one or a Eurovan Westy. Now I've got two kids, a 2yr old and a newborn. Car seats then booster seats are my life for years ahead. The thought of needing to unlatch and move the two child seats then find a place for them each time we camp seems like a pain. We are usually weekending and are in a different spot every night. This is one of the main things that has had me considering a pop up camper vs a van.
They do have car seats on the rear bench, but installed some sort of quick release thing so they come out super quickly (not having kids I don't know the details). They either put the seats on the patio (and the kids like to sit in them as camp chairs) or in the front seats if the weather is bad.
 

Herbie

Rendezvous Conspirator
#14
No car seats for the kids?

I've spend a bunch of time travelling around in a friends Vanagon Westy and it was great fun, for ages I've wanted one or a Eurovan Westy. Now I've got two kids, a 2yr old and a newborn. Car seats then booster seats are my life for years ahead. The thought of needing to unlatch and move the two child seats then find a place for them each time we camp seems like a pain. We are usually weekending and are in a different spot every night. This is one of the main things that has had me considering a pop up camper vs a van.
We have a van, and when kiddo was young and the carseat was huge, we usually just put a 55-gallon drum liner over it and put it outside. Now that she's in a booster, it conveniently stores in the driver's footwell.

To make getting the car seat installed tightly a lot easier, I used one of those ratcheting seatbelt tighteners (called a "Mighty-Tite"). This made it simpler to use the ratchet to snug the seat down every morning instead of having to do the knee-in-the-seat, wrestling with the belt-lock thing.
 
#15
I have a 2016 Eco Diesel Crew cab 6.5 foot bed and 4x4 with a fully loaded Hawk. In addition I up-fitted the camper with a 465 amp hour battery bank and 680 watts of solar. Loaded and ready for a trip the payload is approaching 1700 lbs. I have heavy duty coil springs in the rear to support the load, Icon vehicle dynamics shocks with a custom tune and a heavy duty sway bar. The truck handles the weight incredibly well, and gets 17 mpg with 34 inch e load tires. It can be done... Safely but it requires a lot of modification. The GVRW for the eco diesel is 7800lbs and the truck curb weight is 5600lbs.
 
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