Later, we got an “import” truck and camper. Its previous owners were pretty green too: They tied the camper on the truck with small metal turnbuckles—attaching those turnbuckles to rope hooks on the side of the truck bed. We took that thing some amazing places, and once again, somehow the whole thing always stayed in place. When we “upgraded” to a full-size truck and camper we finally learned that somehow, by some mechanical (as opposed to maniacal) methodology, you should firmly moor truck and camper together.
Today’s truck campers are getting bigger and heavier. Our current camper is over 11 feet long and tips the scales at 3,000-plus pounds. There are physical forces in this universe that would just as soon move that camper all over in the bed of the truck, and maybe worse.
Physics teaches us that objects in motion tend to keep going in that same direction until something intervenes to stop them. Imagine you’re heading down a back-country highway at 55 miles an hour and one of those darned Geico squirrels run out in front of you. Training kicks in and your foot hits the brake. Thirty-five hundred pounds of camper, maybe sitting on a nice, slick bedliner, haven’t got the message yet. Care to have your refrigerator sitting in the seat next to you? Backing up and stepping quickly on the brake could actually start an inadvertent “unloading” process.
Leave the squirrels behind, you’re cruising straight down the highway, and whoopee, here comes a hairpin turn. Imagine your big Campola turning a bit sidewise in the bed of the truck. Not only does it look sloppy, it can make unloading quite a chore. Forward, rearward, and turning actions can shift your camper.
Ever encounter a “speed bump” with your rig loaded? Hope you saw it in time. Having a truck camper “jump for joy” in the bed of your pickup can really ruin your whole day. Now envision your camper cabover and picture driving at a fast clip and encountering a sudden gusty headwind? Can you say “leverage”? And then there’s our favorite: the narrow mountain road. There’s so much “slant” on that road you can practically feel that top-heavy camper just rolling out of the bed when you have to crab over to the side of the road to make room for the oncoming logging truck.
By now you can see where we’re going with this. For the safety of your truck, your load, and your loved ones, it is essential that your truck camper and truck become physically bonded. That’s where camper tie downs and what we’ll generically call “turnbuckles” come in.
Tie Down Types
Camper tie downs are the physical anchors on the “truck” side of the system. Manufacturers provide the other tie point on the camper, typically in the form of large eyebolts secured to the camper frame. There are two basic categories of camper tie downs:
Bed-mounted tie downs: Years back, many truck camper folks used “stake pocket” mounts—chunks of steel that bolted in the truck bed stake pocket that had wing-like appendages that stuck outside of the pickup bed, allowing a turnbuckle to hook to the camper eyebolts. They might have been good enough for lightweight campers on older trucks, but times have changed. Not only are truck campers getting heavier, pickup trucks are getting lighter—often through the use of thinner metals. We’ve heard of a lot of truck owners who tried using stake pocket tie downs and seriously damaged their pickup beds when the tie downs twisted up the bed when torque forces made themselves known.
When we gave up our import truck and went “full size,” we tried another form of bed-mounted tie down. This was in the form of a large metal plate that bolted on the outside of the pickup bed, sandwiched between the pickup bed and the cab of the truck. To mount it up, you bored holes through the bed corners and ran bolts to hold the plates tight to the bed. Aside from having to blow holes in your truck bed, the lightweight, thinner construction of current pickups have caused the same cries of complaint: bed damage.
Bed-mounted ties were your grandfather’s choice of mounts. In today’s world, they just don’t seem to have the appeal—or ability—to serve today’s generation.
Frame-mounted tie downs: Once again, a couple of different types of tie downs fall into this category. The first is often referred to as a “belly band” style. Picture a flat bar of metal, or a square tube, passing under your truck bed, running crosswise. The belly band sticks out from under the side of your truck, a back a bit from the cab of the pickup. The belly bar ties to the camper via a chain and turnbuckle system. How does the belly bar attach to the truck? Typically a clamp system allows you to attach it to the truck frame. Some people consider the belly bar to be a bit of a shin-buster, depending on how far out from under the bed of the truck the bar extends.
Since truck campers should be tied down at four points, and the belly bar handles two points (those up front) how does the back of the camper tie down? Often special clips are attached to the rear bumper of the truck, one on each side. Again, a chain and turnbuckle system ties to these points. We’ve found some truck camper users who are quite happy with their belly bar system.
The second form of a frame-mounted system is like a square metal tube that attaches to the outside edge of the truck frame, one on each side. The tube doesn’t extend out from under the bed of the truck, but acts like a hitch receiver: Another smaller metal tube slides into the frame-mounted tube and locks into place with a retaining pin. At the rear of the truck, similar tube stock attaches to the truck’s hitch receiver. One of the biggest manufacturers of this type of tie down system is TorkLift International. We have found that the majority of “posters” to popular truck camper computer forums swear by TorkLift as being the best tie down system they’ve ever used.
How do you go about putting tie downs on your truck? And what about the “middle man” between the truck tie downs and the camper eyebolts? We’ll discuss those, and our own experiences with truck tie downs next month.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit www.icanrv.com for more information.