Selling my Subaru Impreza and upgrading to a Tacoma fits my on-the-go lifestyle much better, but it also has me thinking about installing one of the best short bed truck camper models in 2021.
While I do love tent camping and appreciate keeping the bed of my truck free for gear and supplies, there are benefits to having a fully-enclosed, weatherproof truck camper on the back of your truck.
That’s especially true if you’re living on the road full-time, but these small truck campers also have their place for weekend getaways.
So, because I wanted to do the research anyway, I thought I’d compile my findings into this quick review of the best short bed campers for small trucks.
I hope you enjoy it!
What is a short bed truck camper?
Short bed campers are condensed living, cooking, and sleeping spaces that fit in the bed of smaller trucks.
Their exact interior amenities will vary depending on design, but they commonly include a kitchen, dining area, and sleeping platform. Some models include a toilet shower, but this is less common in small truck campers.
What types of trucks are best for a small pickup camper?
You will most commonly find a small pickup camper on a quarter-ton truck. That said, it’s possible to install them on larger trucks if they have a short bed.
These campers are made for trucks with a 5’8” bed length. Examples of truck models that will be compatible with many short bed truck campers include the following:
- Toyota Tacoma
- Ford Ranger
- Nissan Frontier
- Chevy Colorado
- GMC Canyon
However, some larger truck models, such as the F-150s and Toyota Tundras, can be compatible with a small truck camper if the camper’s length and your truck’s bed length match up.
Things To Consider Before You Buy A Short Bed Truck Camper
Buying a new truck bed camper is no small endeavor. There are many different designs and manufacturers out there, and not all of these campers are as affordable as you might imagine.
Plus, many truck camper manufacturers build customized models with lead times that could very well be several months out. So it benefits you to really dial in exactly what you are looking for before you finalize a purchase.
Before you buy a camper for a small pickup, here are a few important points you should consider:
Your Truck’s Carrying Capacity
For starters, it is a great idea to make sure your truck can support the weight of your camper. It’s important to know that your truck’s payload isn’t synonymous with its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).
You will, however, need to know your truck’s GVWR to calculate its maximum payload. Start by locating that number on the label on the driver’s side doorframe or in your owner’s manual. Next, find the curb weight of your truck. This is the total weight of your truck itself without any passengers or cargo.
Once you have those two numbers subtract curb weight from GVWR to determine your truck’s maximum payload. For example, my Tacoma’s GVWR is 5,500 pounds and its curb weight is 4,285 pounds. So my maximum payload is 1,215 pounds (5500 – 4285 = 1215).
As you search for short pickup campers, make sure that the manufacturers you are contacting have a history of producing campers for the specific truck model you own. If you have an older truck, for example, the mounting locations on your truck bed rails may be slightly different from what the manufacturer is familiar with on newer trucks.
This is critically important because most manufacturers build your entire camper before you pick it up. You will work together on design features, of course, but sometimes you might not see it until you arrive on your agreed-upon install date. If things don’t quite line up on that day, you could incur additional costs or delays to your build timeline.
Pop-Up Versus Hard-Side
There are two main types of truck campers for small pickups on the market these days. One is the pop-up style and the other is the hard-sided truck camper. There are advantages and disadvantages to each that you’ll need to weigh before making your decision.
Pros and Cons of Pop-up Truck Campers
The major benefits of a pop-up truck camper include improved fuel economy, less overall vehicle height, and easier access to a roof rack or cargo basket installed on top of the camper. The main downsides of these campers include longer set-up times and less insulation for cold-weather camping.
Pros and Cons of Hard-Side Truck Campers
On the flip side, hard-side truck campers require no set-up time and are typically better for four-season camping. The disadvantages to these campers include less height clearance, decreased fuel economy, and the elimination (in most cases) of the ability to store gear on top of your camper.
There is no such thing as a standard set of interior amenities when you’re comparing short bed truck campers. Some might include a two-burner stove, small refrigerator, an AC/DC power inverter, an air conditioning unit, and other useful appliances that you’d expect to find on the best small RVs for full-time living.
Others, however, can be a basic shell that includes none of those amenities. Now, the DIYers amongst us tend to love those shell models because they allow you to completely customize the interior layout of your camper.
If you have the time, energy, and skillset to build out your own truck camper, a shell model might be perfect for you. On the other hand, if you need something that’s adventure-ready when you pick it up on your install date, make sure it includes most (if not all) of those appliances I mentioned above.
Does It Include Stabilizers?
This is the final consideration I’ll include here. It’s a really important one if you plan on frequently removing your camper from your truck. Plus, it’s useful if you know you’ll be camping in locations that aren’t perfectly flat.
The best short bed truck campers include four stabilizer legs at the corners of the camper. They can be extended or retracted to raise or lower the entire camper. When you need to remove your camper from your truck, find a flat surface and lower the legs until the camper is resting on the legs instead of the bed of your truck.
Then, you will be able to drive away safely without worrying about your camper falling over. For my money, I can’t imagine buying a truck camper for a small pickup without having stabilizing legs installed.
Without them, it’s going to be a hassle to remove and re-install your camper. Plus, these legs can help to provide additional stability if you ever camp on uneven terrain. They also give you the ability to drop your camper and leave it on a site. This allows you to enjoy an extended stay at a local campground while still coming and going with a lighter truck (and full use of your truck bed) on a daily basis.
5 Best Short Bed Truck Campers
In choosing these small pickup truck campers, I looked closely at square footage, interior layout, kitchen setup, the inclusion (or not) of a restroom, ease of installation, and, of course, price.
I’ve also done my best to include a brief selection of the specific small trucks that each camper might be best for.
- Interior Dimensions: 70” L x 72” W x 76” H
- Exterior Dimensions: 111” L x 75” W x 54” H
- Sleeping Deck Size: 80” L x 60” W
- MSRP: Starts at $12,995
The Swift truck camper for small trucks is the smallest and most lightweight design that Four Wheel Campers offers. The cool part about all of the models from Four Wheel Campers is that they’re available in either a shell model or a roll-over couch model.
The basic difference between these two small truck campers is that the latter is already completely built out with all of the amenities you’d expect in an RV or travel trailer.
But, for those of you interested in customizing the interior design of your camper, you can also purchase the shell and then set out with your DIY truck camper build.
What I really like about this short truck camper is that it has a low profile design that wouldn’t kill your gas mileage from destination-to-destination.
The roof also raises using gas struts when you arrive wherever you’re camping. The fact that it has a lower profile also means you can still install a kayak roof rack or any other truck rooftop accessory on top of this camper without worrying about your rig getting too tall.
Supported Small Trucks:
- Toyota Tacoma Crew Cab
- Ford Ranger Crew Cab
- Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
- Unfortunately they do not offer a camper for the Crew Cab Short 5.0′ bed Chevy Colorado or GMC Canyon
- Interior Dimensions: 80” L x 72” W x 76” H
- Exterior Dimensions: 128” L x 75” W x 54” H
- Sleeping Deck Size: 76” L x 72” W
- MSRP: Starts at $13,295
The Fleet Model is the other small pickup camper design offered by Four Wheel Campers.
One reason I chose this design is that it includes a kitchen area, a living and dining area, and a slide-out sleeping platform. It basically includes all of the essential areas you’ll find in most small RVs (except a bathroom) in a more compact package.
Because the couch folds down into a smaller bed, you’ll actually enjoy a three-person sleeping capacity with this best short bed truck camper.
This can be great for small families or couples that may sometimes entertain visitors. It also comes with a 20-gallon freshwater tank that allows you to conveniently store extra water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking without purchasing a bunch of plastic containers.
Although it’s a little more on the expensive end of the spectrum, this slide-in truck camper for small trucks provides a nice balance between a minimalist pop-up camper and a full-size RV or travel trailer.
And this slide in camper for small truck’s aluminum frame and low profile help your truck maintain reasonable fuel economy so that you can keep money in your pocket rather than spending it all on gasoline.
Supported Small Trucks:
- Smaller and mid-size trucks with 6’ bed
- Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon trucks may not be covered under warranty with a camper.
- Interior Dimensions: 72” L x 84”W x 60” H
- Exterior Dimensions: 72” L x 84” W x 60” H
- Sleeping Deck Size: 76” L x 48” W
- MSRP: Starts at $7,995
One of the coolest parts about buying one of these best short bed truck camper models is that you’ll have the ability to customize the exterior color and striping scheme instead of buying a more ‘cookie-cutter’ design.
There are also a number of packages you can choose from depending on your preferred amenities.
Some of the standard features in this slide in camper for small trucks, however, include a dedicated battery system and charging station, interior and exterior LED lighting, a motorized roof-mounted vent fan, and a 30-amp power plug on the back wall.
Dual 110-volt AC outlets on the exterior of this small pickup camper also make it easy to plug-in any of your electric truck camping accessories once you’re parked.
From there, the primary package includes a roof-mounted RV air conditioning unit, manual jacks, and blackout shades.
If you were to opt for the premium package in this short bed truck camper for small trucks, you’d enjoy all three of those features, but your camper would also come with an AC/DC refrigerator and a hand-pump sink for washing hands or dishes inside.
Supported Small Trucks:
- Models available for full size or midsize trucks, including:
- Those with 5.5, 6, 6.5, and 8-foot truck beds
- Interior Dimensions: 108” L x 60” W x 76” H
- Exterior Dimensions: 195” L x 98” W x 94” H
- Sleeping Deck Size: 80” L x 60” W
- MSRP: Starts at $49,910
This short bed camper is easily the largest (and most expensive) option that I’ve included in this list.
But I wanted to find at least one model with bathroom amenities if any of you are interested in a fully self-sufficient short bed truck camper. And this option is also a great choice for small families because it can sleep up to four people.
In terms of interior design, the Northern Lite 8-11EX Wet Bath Limited Edition is actually reminiscent of a small Class C RV. It features a dinette area, queen-size bed, small kitchen, RV refrigerator, and plenty of interior storage space.
On the outside of this truck camper, you’ll also find similar the same kind of water, sewer, and electrical systems that most larger RVs boast. This makes the Northern Lite small pickup truck camper equipped for stays in fancier RV resorts while also being compact and nimble enough to handle your more remote camping trips.
Supported Small Trucks:
- Short bed trucks with a minimum towing capacity of 3,000 pounds.
- Interior Dimensions: 32” L x 45.25” W x 74” H
- Exterior Dimensions: 90” L x 87” W x 80” H
- Sleeping Deck Size: 75” L x 53” W
- MSRP: Starts at $7,550
The Travel Lite Rayzr is the final short bed truck camper that I’m including on this list. I chose it because of its ability to fit on many different truck types.
The adjustable stabilizers that extend down from the back of this small pickup camper also help to keep it more secure and level when you reach your camping destinations.
The roof and front sections of this camper for small trucks are finished with a one-piece, fiberglass-wrapped panel that eliminates the presence of any seams or seals that sometimes allow water in on other truck campers.
The floors, walls, and roof are all insulated for true three-season comfort and the interior boasts natural wood construction for a cozy feel.
You’ll also be able to cook comfortably inside this camper on the small cooktop located immediately to the right when you enter.
To keep the temperature warmer inside, it’s also equipped with a 12,000-BTU furnace.
There’s also a 20-pound liquid propane gas tank onboard that supplies reliable fuel to both of these essential appliances (provided you keep it full!).
A few of the additional standard features on this short bed truck camper include a 42-amp converter and charger, a detachable 30-amp power cord, a two-cubic foot refrigerator, and a Shur-flo water pump.
That’s not to mention the fact that it’s also prepped for you to install solar panels should you want additional power reliability for extended off-grid adventures.
Supported Small Trucks:
- Fits long bed and short bed trucks with adjustable stabilizers
Conclusion on Short Bed Truck Campers
Installing a small camper on your pickup truck can allow you to enjoy more luxury camping amenities without having to tow a larger travel trailer behind your rig.
And that will also allow you to keep enjoying those more remote camping locations that travel trailers and 5th wheels simply can’t get to.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the short bed truck camper models that I chose to review in this article.
And if you have any specific experience with any of them, we’d love to hear from you!
Please feel free to drop a comment below or shoot us a direct message so that we can share your experience and expertise with our readers. And thanks in advance!
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