Truck Camper Slide-Outs: Are They Really Worth It?

AF811Without 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.

Host Truck Camper - Triple Slide-out - Truck Camper Adventure

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. 

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About Mello Mike 295 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure Magazine. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a truck camper and Jeep enthusiast, and has owned and restored several Airstream travel trailers. He enjoys college football, hiking, travel, off-roading, photography, and fishing. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years and now works as a project manager for a major banking and security firm. He also does some RV consulting and RV inspections on the side.

10 Comments on Truck Camper Slide-Outs: Are They Really Worth It?

  1. Hi Mike — You note that aluminum-framed truck campers still have wood floors that can rot. While that may be true for many manufacturers, LivinLite's Camplite Truck Campers have no wood products in them at all. I have one of their small travel trailers which is, likewise, all aluminum. Zero wood – even my cabinets are aluminum! I had mine custom built with an aluminum interior wall finish instead of their standard Azdel composite (which is the same composite used to make molded car headliners). LivinLite produces well-built rv's that are built to be tough & durable but because of the aluminum are relatively light weight. While I never plan to "recycle" it, my RV is 98% recyclable! [In my trailer the only steel is the axle/brake, the coupler, and the appliances].

    • Hi Ross,
      Yeah, LivinLite's are pretty cool campers. As a former Airstream owner I took a hard look at them, viewing several models here at the local dealer. You're right, of course, about the flooring, but that's the sole exception to the rule about plywood floors. Perhaps, I should note that.

  2. Yup … for us the compact-ness (is that a word?) of a non slide-out is an asset. It helps us keep things simple; keeps us packing light; and keeps the expectation of extra repairs low. Of course, that's just "the Bleys" … probably not everybody's cup of tea.

  3. Give me the extra 200 lbs payload anyday, Mike. I found a 2200 lb SunLite hard side on Ebay with no slides. My Silverado 2500 can carry 3600 lbs. I'd hate to have to give 200 of those 1400 "spare" pounds back for a slide.

  4. I got the lightest weight TC I could find — used — and it was less than 5K. Of course we've fixed a lot of stuff and I expect more stuff will crap out eventually. But it'll do for now. It's just for me, not both of us (we have two fifth wheels – one parked permanently and one to travel) for when we go somewhere together.

    BUT … some day way in the future, I will get 450 or 550 and a HUGE TC with triple slide outs!! That's my "never happen" dream 🙂 Meanwhile, no slides for me (driving F250 diesel short bed four-door 4×4 with all the bells and whistles).

    • I'm in the same boat with my F-250. Even a camper with a single slide is too much for my truck as I'm a little overweight even with my lightweight Wolf Creek 850.

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