Matching Your Truck to a Slide in Camper

December 23, 2008 06:00 PM

Payload and trailer tongue weight come from the same capacity limit. Which makes hard sided heavy truck campers difficult to use with trailers. It's fairly common for a ¾ ton truck to be overloaded with a hard sided slide in camper. Look at trucks with the big Lance campers on them. They'll have air bags or extra overloads and sometimes 19.5” or even 22” tires. It's nice to take your house with you to the woods, mountains and then there's hunting. If you need to haul horses too for Elk hunting or just horsing around, it's important to get the specs figured out. With truck payload don't forget rear axle weight as along with GVWR it's the easiest to exceed.

Yes, a truck camper and bumper pull trailers are easier to get in tight places, like trailheads and national forests. For ½ and some ¾ ton trucks, a soft sided popup camper is the better choice to keep the payload weight down so there's room for a trailers tongue weight. The formula to determine what camper weight and what trailer weight fits your truck, we need a little info. You can get some numbers from your trucks owner's manual or the truck manufactures towing guide, but to make it simple we'll just look at the manufacture safety compliance certification label on your truck and trailer. These tags have the GVWR, axle ratings, tire pressure ratings and date of manufacture.
This sticker (label) is in the drivers door frame near the door handle of your truck. You're looking for the GVWR number. This means Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, which is the max weight with passengers, fuel, cargo, and truck. Payload is what your truck can carry as cargo, camper and trailer tongue weight. Truck manufactures figure payload rating by subtracting curb weight (empty truck with one 150 lb passenger and tank of fuel) from GVWR. 

The simple way for you to do this is to weigh your empty truck (at a truck stop or feed store) with what you plan on carrying on your trips like passengers, coolers etc. Then subtract that weight from the GVWR you found in the label in your truck. Now you have the real payload number that will show you what's left for your camper and trailer's tongue weight. Next look at the trailer manufacture label on the trailer tongue, once again looking for the GVWR. If you want to weigh your empty trailer, you'll have the real number of what weight you can put in the trailer. Generally conventional tow trailers have a 10% tongue weight with goosenecks at 20%. These are the numbers that the SAE will be coming out as the standard for the industry.
There are methods of weighing your loaded trailers tongue weight and scales made just for that or you can take your trailers GVWR number from the tag on your trailer times 10 % and consider that the tongue weight estimate. Take the payload number from your truck that we figured earlier and subtract the loaded trailer tongue weight (10%). Now you know what's left over for the slide in truck camper. Not much. This leaves out most ½ ton trucks except for the lightest soft side popup campers.
Same info you need to find out about the slide in camper, the GVWR on it's factory label. What you need as real payload after the trailer tongue weight and empty truck weight. You can also at the feed store or truck stop, weigh each axle on your truck and trailer and see if you are under the Gross Axle Weight Rating. Have FUN, we'll save Gross Combination Weight Rating for another time.

Author H. Kent Sundling writes for via a special agreement with

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