Camp anywhere: The Lance Altimeter

It’s fun to tow something behind a proper truck. Especially when you have a destination set in your nav, cold drinks in the fridge, and a weekend set aside for nothing but hanging out. It’s even better if you don’t need to tow your home away from home. With the right setup, you can just hop in the driver’s seat and go. Your campground is already sitting in the bed of the truck. That’s the setup I recently tested with a vehicle called the Altimeter.

This rig was built by Lance Camper. Starting with a Ford F-350, Lance then plopped its 855S in-bed camper into the back of the truck. Since this is a show truck, the upgrades continued from there. Icon Vehicle Dynamics, Hellwig Suspension, Battle Born Batteries, and a whole bunch more folks lent a helping hand here. The end result is a bad-ass rig that can go anywhere… assuming the trail is large enough to accommodate an F-350. And my destination in the interior of Southern California was such a place.

This trip marks the second time we’ve gone camping with my daughter’s day care group. Last year, I took an Airstream Basecamp and a Ford F-150 diesel to the same spot. That was a great setup, but the Altimeter is even easier to work with. Hellwig did a great job supplying the air suspension and other bits that help keep side-to-side sway down as much as possible. While the 855S only weighs 2,997 pounds (dry weight), it still shifts the center of gravity a bit. Regardless, I never once felt uncomfortable behind the wheel.

With the Altimeter, you find your spot, park, lower the powered leveling legs, and… that’s it. Well, the next step is to stash the keys to the mighty Ford and crack a tasty beverage. Inside the camper, there’s a full-size bathroom with a shower, plenty of cooking space, a dining area, and then a sizable sleeping space forward of that. My wife and I felt completely comfortable in the bed, even with our tossing and turning daughter between us.

Lance wants its Altimeter to serve as a proof of concept that the camper is truly a four-seasons rig. There’s a heating system onboard that I did not need to test, and there’s also a strong air-conditioning system. And unlike the Airstream that I tested a few years prior (full-size Classic), I didn’t blow out any windows simply trying to open them.

This setup is clearly meant to appeal to the overlanding crowd. It’s splashy graphics, colored wheels, and unnecessary roofbox add to a Do It for the ‘Gram vibe. But the styling works for me at the same time. I’d ditch the graphics but keep a black, white, and copper theme. It does look cool. I also like the fact that I can adjust the exterior lighting. There’s a setting for bright whites but also a more subdued amber hue if you desire.

Having an in-bed camper equipped with a slide-out section is another bonus. Room inside is great for a family of three. With one more kid, or larger children, I’d be curious to see if I feel the same way. Though you could turn the dining area into another sleeping space, which would probably keep everyone smiling.

The camping trip was a success once again. Clean up was simple. Prepping to head home even more so. And the on-road manners were completely sorted. It wouldn’t be inexpensive to duplicate this exact build, of course. The camper itself retails for $39,875. A 2019 Ford F-350 Platinum is… a lot. And all of the aftermarket parts will bring the price tag that much higher. But I’d absolutely want the Hellwig components on there. On the highway, and around town, I was comfortable the whole way.

The Lance Altimeter is a fun machine that wants to be taken on many an adventure. I only took it on one simple trip, but it was a trip that meant plenty of family time, no cell phone signal, and a vehicle that could keep us happy and comfortable. When I returned the truck, I was still daydreaming of other places to take it. Especially since Lance commissioned a matching side-by-side to go with the truck.

Perhaps a trip to the desert is in order?

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22 responses to “Camp anywhere: The Lance Altimeter”

  1. Smaglik Avatar

    Just looking at that makes me think I could have a career in Van Nuys.

  2. 0A5599 Avatar

    Seems pretty compromise-y, Even with the slide-out retracted, that’s pretty wide. Why not start with dual rear wheels for better stability? It’s not like the camper is going to fit down any narrow trails anyway. And if you want to spend that kind of money to go overlanding, it would be better to start with a cab and chassis so the camper isn’t restricted to the footprint of the bed. Build it as a beefed-up Class C, with more room and a way to get between front and back without going outside.

    1. Eric Rucker Avatar

      I think the idea with these things is, instead of replacing the bed, this way you can easily get it out of the bed and use your pickup as a pickup.

      I mean, if you’re going to do a chassis cab, might as well just do one of the lifted Sprinter or Transit 4×4 Class Bs, which would be narrower anyway, and then you get the way to get between front and back for free.

      1. 0A5599 Avatar

        I assumed someone spending that kind of money is going to do the overlanding thing and live in it for long stretches of time, leaving the camper permanently connected. If you only use it one or two weekends a year, you could probably rent one for less than the annual storage fees.

        But remember that a pickup bed is designed around the dimensions of a stack of plywood. That leads to a lot of wasted volume at the bottom, and raises the center of gravity by removing low storage places. Also, losing the bed would gain a couple hundred lbs of payload capacity.

        1. Eric Rucker Avatar

          “Annual storage fees”? I feel like most buyers of these would be living in rural areas, where the annual storage fees end up being $0.

          But yeah, the main reason to use one of these in the bed is if you need to keep the trailer hitch free for something else, and also be able to use the pickup as a pickup.

          1. 0A5599 Avatar

            Jeff’s premise was that this is a rig for going places where you can’t bring a trailer.

            Also, don’t forget the trailer hitch location is way up under the camper. When you extend the hitch, you lose towing capacity. So the F350 drops to F150-ish capacity, or less, depending on the quality of the hitch extender.

        2. Lokki Avatar

          The idea that you are going to find a place where the soil is level enough and firm enough to support the weight of that camper on those small legs and have it remain level strikes me as optimistic. The idea that you are then going to climb into that camper, parked on the dirt and move around with it on those small legs without incurring ‘an incident’ strikes me as overly optimistic.*
          The idea that you are going to back your pickup truck and reload the camper, undamaged, into the bed on uneven dirt strikes me as recklessly optimistic unless you have a very capable spotter crew. I can’t speak for anyone else’s spouse, but my wife wouldn’t qualify for that duty.

          However my views must be evaluated from the perspective of someone who begins their evaluation of this rig by doing a quick estimation of how many hotel rooms you could rent in nice places for the cost of this set-up. I’d much rather trailer a couple of small dirt bikes to the trail head, ride for the day, and then head back to to Jacuzzi tub and dinner at the restaurant. This is not a criticism of those who enjoy communal concrete cold-water showers (or none at all) or who prefer heating up their own canned beans over a propane burner to a chef-prepared meal.

          (*It really must be true that it never rains in California.)

          1. Vairship Avatar

            Alternatively, for $39,000 you’re getting close to where you could probably pick up a used camper van, and keep your pickup as a pickup.
            I like the idea of “have a slide-in for when you go camping, and leave it at home when you don’t”, but that only works out for about half this price. And at that point it’s probably hard to turn a profit.

    2. Tiberiuswise Avatar

      I agree on both counts. Probably better to go dually. Plus, once you’ve got a camper that big, It’s going to take a lot of work to remove it. Perhaps an electric hoist in the barn to remove and store it. What is the incremental work to remove a purpose built body, and swap out a conventional bed? Aside from hooking up the wiring for the tail lights and the fuel filler, I assume it’s just a few more bolts.

    3. Tiberiuswise Avatar

      I agree on both counts. Probably better to go dually. Plus, once you’ve got a camper that big, It’s going to take a lot of work to remove it. Perhaps an electric hoist in the barn to remove and store it. What is the incremental work to remove a purpose built body, and swap out a conventional bed? Aside from hooking up the wiring for the tail lights and the fuel filler, I assume it’s just a few more bolts.

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        A dually is not really suitable for off-road work though.

        1. Tiberiuswise Avatar

          Why not? Especially if the camper body is wider than the wheel track anyway.

          1. outback_ute Avatar

            The load is not equally shared between the tyres; load ratings are reduced when tyres are used as duals for on-road use, and it wouldn’t be hard to have the whole load on one tyre off-road. You also get rocks wedged in between them, causing punctures etc.

            If the off-road is just on formed tracks it isn’t really an issue I suppose, but something to consider.

  3. outback_ute Avatar

    Looking at it I’d guess it would fit anywhere a 4×4 fire truck goes, or could it even be taller?

    How much payload is left? And does that take into account all the accessories on the truck?

  4. salguod Avatar

    The problem with a stand alone camper is that you can’t go anywhere without breaking down camp first. Even a milk run means retracting the legs, rolling up the awning, pushing in the slide out and securing your gear first. With a trailer, you hop in the tow vehicle and go.

    1. Zentropy Avatar

      I’ve always been of the same opinion, too, though I would think that a camper trailer would limit your access to remote destinations, which is apparently the idea behind this rig. The Altimeter build included a trailered Yamaha side-by-side that could potentially do milk runs, but again, that trailer won’t let you get “out” as far to begin with. There are compromises either way. Personally, I wouldn’t want to feel tethered to the campsite.

  5. Zentropy Avatar

    I’m always drawn to the tires. I didn’t realize Maxxis made rubber for passenger vehicles– I’ve only seen them on bikes. Those Razrs look pretty rugged.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      And I was surprised when I saw Continentals on bikes

  6. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Truck campers look cool but lack of headroom in the over cab bed is a deal break with SWMBO. I’d sooner compromise on a capable vehicle with a trailer. I also wonder why there aren’t more campers like the Earth Cruiser built on a small cabover truck chassis.

    1. Zentropy Avatar

      The small cab-over concept is ideal. Can you get a CO chassis in the States? Isuzu? Mitsubishi? Seems I rarely see them on the roads these days.

      (I had to Google “SWMBO”. That’s funny.)

      1. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

        The Isuzu NPR is very common in the US, the Mitsubishi Fuso FE & FG are less common but more popular for expedition campers because it’s available as a 4×4. The majority of these are used as box vans, landscaper trucks, small town trucks and parking lot sweepers. There are also some other Japanese and Korean cabover trucks on the market and people sometimes convert box vans into campers, but mainstream US RV builders don’t use them.

  7. neight428 Avatar

    Camping in general has benefitted greatly from some filtered version of reality as presented via Instagram et. al.

    Maybe if I didn’t live in a swamp I would have a better opinion of it.

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