Without a doubt, the slide-out is one of the most important technological innovations to hit the RV industry in the last 20 years. Indeed, a recent poll here on this site confirmed this when a large majority of respondents ranked the slide-out number one in a long list of recent innovations. Slide-outs offer a tremendous amount of living space. This is a huge positive, obviously, but when you consider all of the negatives associated with them, you have to wonder if slide-outs are really worth it, especially in small RVs like truck campers.
What are some of the negatives associated with having a slide-out? Well, for one they’re heavy. At a minimum a single slide-out will add about 300 pounds of weight to your camper. When you consider the limited payloads found in today’s three-quarter-ton and one-ton pickup trucks, every single pound counts. Most fully loaded, hard side campers already exceed 3,000 pounds, adding one or more slide-outs basically means that you’ll need at least a one-ton SRW Gasser or a one-ton DRW. The payload limitations are even greater if you own a short-bed pickup truck with a crew cab.
Another big negative with slide-outs is that they can leak. If you live in a wet climate like in the deep South or in the Pacific Northwest ensuring that the weather seals are in good shape is critical. If you think that water leaks aren’t a big deal anymore with today’s aluminum frame campers, think again. Aluminum frame truck campers still have plywood floors that can be damaged by persistent water leaks. So if you’re interested in buying a used camper with a slide-out one of the first things I would check would be the floor to ensure it’s rock solid. A soft spot in the floor of any RV is a tell-tale sign of water damage requiring repair. A persistent water leak can also mean black mold, never a good thing.
If you plan on doing some winter camping in your truck camper you may want to think again about getting a slide-out. No matter how good the rubber seals are, slide-outs generate drafts when they’re extended. This may not be as big an issue when temperatures are in the 30s and 40s, but it may be if you enjoy camping in sub-zero temperatures. Truck campers typically don’t have very large propane tanks anyhow and those unwanted drafts will require your furnace to stay on longer thus eating up what little propane you have that much quicker. And if you enjoy camping in the desert Southwest, these air leaks can create other problems as well in the form of dust and dirt intrusion from the dust storms that frequently strike the area.
Lastly, slide-outs add significant cost upfront and can breakdown. On average, the typical slide-out will tack on an additional $2,000 to the sticker price of that new camper. When you’re talking about the already exorbitant prices for today’s truck campers–with figures often in excess of $40,000–the cost for options quickly add up like unwanted pounds during the holidays. The mechanical device required to move that slide-out also means that you have another item in your camper that can breakdown. Suffering a mechanical failure is no big deal when your camper is still under warranty, but if it happens outside of your warranty, you’re talking big bucks to repair. And if that’s not enough, the slide-out can also stress the frame and in some cases cause frame failure to your camper.
We examined the negatives, now let’s look at the positives of slide-outs. We all know that slide-outs add a significant amount of living space, but they can also create a more more open feel in your RV. This can be an important benefit for those who suffer from claustrophobia or get “cabin fever” easily. This openness can also be nice on rainy days when everyone in your family is confined to the camper. Those who have raised or who are currently raising children know what I’m talking about. Lastly, slide-outs can also add a significant amount of storage. This is especially true for dinette slides which usually add a tremendous amount of storage in the dinette seats, in the slide-out step, and optional storage in the overhead in the form of a fold-down bunk/storage unit. These extra storage places are a big win as storage is always at a premium in small RVs like truck campers. You can never have enough.
So are slide-outs a worthwhile option for the truck camper? Yes and no. It really depends on the family size and situation. If you really need the additional living space, can afford the extra cost, and have a truck with a payload rating big enough to handle the extra weight, then I say go for it. Especially, when you consider the popularity of slide-outs and the increased resale value that slide-outs offer. But if your adventures will take you off-road a lot or if your truck is payload challenged, then I would pass. There are simply too many negatives associated with the slide-out to make getting one worthwhile.
A special thanks to Kyle Marriott of Qualicom Beach, BC for permission to use his Arctic Fox 811 photograph.