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If you want to take your road trips to the next level, there is no better way to do it than a lightweight slide-in camper, but how do you build one?

So many people prefer to travel in a lightweight slide-in camper over a full-sized RV, as it comes with so much more flexibility and ease of use. Although building one is not an overly technical procedure, you do want to approach it with careful consideration to ensure that your slide-in camper comes out with the best possible results.

To build a lightweight slide-in camper, you first need to plan your design based on the size of your truck bed. Then design and construct your frame, seal it with plywood, install windows and vents, paint the exterior, install plumbing and wiring, and arrange the interior of the camper.

The upcoming road trip season is just around the corner, which means that it’s the perfect time to start getting geared up for your next adventure. Traveling in a camper is the ultimate way to experience the country, as you have got so much freedom to go out at your own pace right in the comfort of your bedroom on wheels. A lot of folks often find themselves on the fence about committing to a full-size RV, as they do require a fair bit of work. If that is the case for you, then you should highly consider getting yourself a lightweight slide-in camper, as it gives you the best of both worlds between an RV and a car. With that being said, how you approach your slide-in camper is likely to be different from how others do it, as each person is going to have their own project vision, truck type, and budget. To help you understand this further, we are going to take a closer look at how to build a lightweight slide-in camper in more detail.

After extensively researching lightweight slide-in campers, I have been able to gather information to determine the best way to go about building one. My research has shown me that to build a slide-in camper, you must first consider the specs and amenities that you want it to have, as well as your overall budget for the build.



What Is a Slide-In Camper?

A slide-in camper is essentially a truck that can be converted into a recreational vehicle. To do this, an RV compartment is attached to the bed of a pick-up truck, which features all of the essentials that you would find in standard recreational vehicles.

These are amazing options for people that want to travel in a camper but do not want to deal with a large recreational vehicle. With that being said, you can get pretty expansive with a slide-in truck camper - with some folks designing theirs to have all the comforts of home.

Essential Amenities

Slide-in truck campers can greatly vary across the board. The reason for this is that so many people custom-design their truck campers based on the level of comfort that they want to have when on the road.

However, you will find that virtually every slide-in truck camper has got the basics. A key focus for living out of your recreational vehicle is to be self-contained.

In addition, you want your slide-in truck camper to feel homey. At the end of the day, you should be able to enjoy yourself when on the road, which is why so many travelers design their campers to at least have the basics. Let’s take a look at the essential amenities of a slide-in truck camper.

  • Bed/Sleeping Area
  • Kitchen Space
  • Lighting
  • Basic Storage

If you are missing the essential amenities of a slide-in truck camper, there is really not much difference between traveling in a standard vehicle.

Additional Amenities

Once you have got the basics down, you can get creative with where you take things. You would be amazed by how dynamic and luxurious some people’s slide-in truck campers get.

If you are the kind of person that likes to have all of the comforts of home while on the road, having the right amenities equipped with your vehicle can make that happen. With that being said, you want to approach this with careful consideration, as overdoing things can easily lead to complications. Let’s take a look at some additional amenities.

  • Shower
  • Heating
  • Air Conditioning
  • Insulation
  • Toilet
  • Generator
  • Solar Power
  • Expanded Kitchen
  • TV

There are plenty of people that go above and beyond when designing their slide-in truck campers, which is great if you have got the space to do it. However, you should keep in mind that the whole point of a slide-in camper is to stay relatively lightweight. Overloading your camper can cause strain on your truck - leading to mechanical issues, as well as safety risks. That is why you want to weigh out the specs of your camper and truck before you commit to any additional amenities. More on this later.

Types of Slide-In Truck Campers

The overall idea behind a slide-in truck camper is virtually the same across the board - a camper shell that has been connected to the bed of a truck. However, there are a couple of different types out there that you can consider for your build.

  • Hard Side
  • Pop-Up

Both of these slide-in camper shells are going to perform the same function but you may find that one of them is more suitable for your setup. The main difference is that the camper shell of a hard side is an immovable structure that cannot be altered or maneuvered (more common for homemade builds). Whereas a pop-up camper shell can be folded down to save space - making it easier to store and handle.

What Makes a Truck Camper Lightweight?

One of the main purposes of a slide-in truck camper is to keep the weight down as much as possible. This is a critical aspect of building your camper because you need to consider the weight that your truck can handle. There are a number of different factors that contribute to the weight of a slide-in camper such as the:

  • Size
  • Building Materials
  • Features/Amenities
  • Payload

You want to keep all of these things in mind as you design your camper, as you do not want to overload your vehicle and bite off more than you can chew.

Can You Build a Slide-In Camper?

If you want to customize your slide-in camper from scratch or simply want to cut down on some costs, the best way to do so is to build it yourself. A lot of folks prefer to take this route with their slide-in truck camper as the process is not all that difficult and it can be very rewarding.

If you decide to build your slide-in camper yourself, you should approach your design carefully. Take the time to weigh out the specs of your vehicle, as well as your slide-in camper cab before you make any commitments to materials.

Cost to Build a Slide-In Camper

The costs associated with building a slide-in truck camper can vary greatly depending on what your intentions are. If you have got an average-sized truck and want to keep your setup quite modest - with a primary focus on basic amenities, then you should be able to get away with keeping costs at around $3,000.

If you want to keep things super minimal, you can cut costs even more with a setup that costs $1,000 (or less). However, you will find that most people end up paying anywhere from $600 to $6,000 for their slide-in campers.

With that being said, some folks like to go all out with their truck campers and end up installing a bunch of additional amenities, a luxurious interior, and creating as much space as possible. This can result in some slide-in truck campers easily going into the tens of thousands.

What Kind of Truck Do You Need?

The kind of truck that you use for your slide-in camper is going to be the biggest determining factor in what kind of setup you can hope to achieve. Given the fact that your truck is going to be hauling around a lot of extra weight, you want to calculate exactly what you can afford to add to your camper.

If you have got a small truck with not a lot of power and weight behind it, you are either going to want to keep things very minimal or, consider getting a different truck entirely. Whereas if you have got a larger truck with more weight, you can stay quite flexible and get away with a lot. Let’s break down the different trucks for your slide-in camper:

  • Mid-Sized Trucks
  • Half-Ton Trucks
  • Three-Quarter Ton Trucks
  • One-Ton Trucks
  • Class 4 Trucks
  • Class 5 Trucks

If you are unsure of the weight class of your truck, you should check the manual of your vehicle before you begin doing any formal planning for your slide-in camper. Once you have determined the weight class of your vehicle, you need to find out its tow rating

It is often the case that a truck classification will equate to a certain payload capacity, but you want to get as precise as possible when making these calculations. Having an accurate figure for what your truck can support is going to be the base for your planning, which is especially important for those of you who want to utilize as much of your payload capacity as possible.

How to Build a Light Slide-In Truck Bed Camper

If you are good with tools and need a good project - a slide-in truck camper is going to be a very rewarding experience. Just make sure that you have got the essential tools that are necessary for the job.

1. Measure Your Truck Bed

You want to consider the size of your truck bed. If you are buying a truck specifically to convert it into a slide-in camper, the size of the bed is going to be an important characteristic to keep in mind, as this is essentially what will dictate the size of your living space.

However, a lot of folks end up just working with what they got, which is just fine. Get out a measuring tape to get the specs of your truck bed. Make sure to get the depth height, length, and width of the bed.

2. Create a Framing Plan

Before you begin buying up materials and cutting out your design, hit the drawing board first so that you have a plan in mind for your build. Based on the measurements that you took, you can get a visual idea of how much room you have to play around with and what the overall size of the slide-in camper will be.

As you draw out the size of the frame, also be sure to include the access points and amenity features that you want to throw into your design. The most necessary features that every truck camper should have is a door, some windows, and ventilation. If you are having trouble with your planning, one of the best ways to go about it is to simply take a look at some camper cabs that have been pre-built at dealerships and implement a similar design.

3. Source Your Materials

Once you have got your planning out of the way and you have your idea down, you can begin sourcing materials for the build. One of the most important materials that you need to consider is what you are going to use for your frame. More often than not, the best option is to go with lumber. However, some folks prefer to use aluminum. In addition, source the following materials:

  • Plywood
  • Tyvek
  • Fiberglass Panels
  • RV Door/Windows
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical Wiring
  • Power Tools
  • Screws
  • Adhesive
  • Caulk

In addition to these common materials, you will also want to buy whatever supplies you need for your additional amenities (if any).

4. Construct the Frame

Now that you have sourced your materials, you can begin constructing your frame. Some people like doing this right from within their RV bed - whereas others like to have the open space of working in their garage. Whichever way you approach it, make sure that the frame is stable during the build.

With most folks preferring to use lumber, you are going to want to use screws and an adhesive to keep the frame sturdy as you construct it.

5. Seal Frame With Tyvek and Plywood

With your frame constructed, you can begin sealing it with plywood panels and Tyvek to create the walls for your camper. Cut out the panels and Tyvek to fit the sections of your frame properly.

As you do this make sure to screw the materials tight to ensure that your camper is fully contained from the outside in. Utilizing adhesive for this step is also highly recommended as it will keep moisture out and keep your camper airtight - with better insulation.

6. Install Windows and Vents

The exterior of your camper shell should be making progress at this point. You can now install your windows and vents into your camper.

The structure of your frame shell should already have your windows and vents measured out. You essentially want to fill in these gaps by screwing in the windows and vents, which should also be installed with calk so that there is a waterproof sealant to keep moisture and air out.

7. Paint Wood or Add Siding

You can either paint the exterior of your shell or add a siding to it based on your preference. If you are on a budget, a simple paint job is usually the best way to go. However, if you want to make the exterior look more presentable and increase insulation further, you can add the siding of your choice - fiberglass is a particularly popular option.

8. Install Wiring and Plumbing

Based on the setup that you decided to go with for your camper, you can easily make your plumbing very high-tech. Given that most folks that build truck campers tend to keep things minimal, a simple PVC or PEX piping that is equipped with a sink and bucket is usually all you need.

However, if you want to have a sophisticated plumbing system with a shower and toilet, you will need to install a grey and/or blackwater system to your vehicle so that you can connect the plumbing to it.

9. Finish Interior

The interior of your camper can be approached with a lot of flexibility. The main focus is to create a homey living space that is going to be comfortable based on your tastes and needs.

A bedding area, as well as compartments for storage, are going to be the most necessary. If you are going all out, you can create an entire living room setup based on the space that you have to play around with.