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Tricked-Out Truck Camper: Lance Altimeter

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine
Author Donya Carlson holding snowboard on back of Lance Altimeter with bikes on rack.

Lance outfits a project Ford F-350 pickup hauling a model 855s truck camper for a combination that doesn’t stop where the road ends

Piloting a decked-out, custom-outfitted 4×4 Ford F-350 carrying a four-season Lance camper, we bounced along a deserted dirt road with an open meadow on either side and blue skies overhead. It seemed like the landscape went on forever, and in the distance, snow covered the tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Then we disappeared into a grove of pine trees so dense that it became noticeably darker inside the crew cab.

See Related Story: Lance 1172 Truck Camper

Our unique home on wheels was vinyl-wrapped in a custom-designed graphic sporting the squiggly lines of a topographic map, as well as mountains, rivers and ocean that flowed from the camper onto the truck. It was the perfect RV “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” to quote Captain James Kirk. OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration — others have gone here before, but the bears and deer certainly outnumber people where we were headed.

Truck camper with snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains in background.

The author’s husband, Bill, unloads a pair of mountain bikes from the back of the Lance Altimeter for a scenic ride in the Mammoth Lakes, California, area. Photos: Donya Carlson

When the dust settled, we hopped out of the 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel-powered truck and breathed in the fresh mountain air. Ahh, the perfect boondocking campsite at almost 8,000 feet with a stream meandering among the trees. The 855s Lance camper, bound to the Ford by Torklift Talon aluminum tie-downs and stainless-steel, quick-disconnect locking FastGun turnbuckles, is an example of how far you can go — literally and figuratively — to create a truck camper that knows no boundaries.

Lancaster, California-based Lance performs these special builds — this one named the Altimeter — to get the message out about truck camping to a broader audience. Said Bob Rogers, Lance’s director of marketing, “We want to raise awareness of the amazing versatility of truck campers and the Lance Camper brand.” Following up with that, Jim Waters, marketing coordinator, said, “We want to educate younger buyers that they can go farther off-road and camp longer off-grid with a truck camper.”

The 855s camper was stock with a few options, but had several prototype features: a Truma AquaGo instant water heater and VarioHeat furnace, both of which the company is considering installing in future RVs.

Altimeter crossing bridge in campground at Mammoth Lakes, California.

On the road to adventure, the Altimeter crosses over a bridge in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Off-road and off-the-grid is how we spent a week, stopping in at an RV park once to fill up the 30-gallon freshwater tank, and running the 2,500-watt Cummins Onan generator a couple of times to charge up our computers. Otherwise, we relied on the 100-watt solar panel and two 5-gallon LP-gas cylinders.

At this writing, Lance had just installed an inverter and several more 100-watt solar panels in addition to two 170-watt models that will charge four Battle Born 100-Ah 12-volt GC2 lithium batteries. This may be a good excuse to ask if we can get our hands on the Altimeter again!

Smack Dab in the Middle

With an overall length of 18 feet and a box length of 8 feet, 11 inches, the 855s floorplan lands in the middle of the company’s truck-camper lineup that ranges from a box length of 6 feet, 10 inches to just under 12 feet. At a claimed wet weight of 3,331 pounds, this single-slide, shortbed-truck model is roomy and can sleep up to four people. Because the Altimeter’s looks turned heads wherever we went, fellow campers wanted to peek inside and were impressed with the creature comforts in the 855s.

Overhead, just inside the entry is a Fan-Tastic Vent fan. A key hook resides over the door — handy, since that’s where the keys were located much of the time because of the keyless entry system (optional). What a convenience the keyless entry was when we were out mountain biking or hiking, and even snowboarding one day — in July! Outside, a Yakima bike rack was attached to the Altimeter via a Torklift SuperTruss extension. The swing-down steps and heavy-duty fold-up ladder to grab onto made exit and entry easy.

Lance 855s camper's living area, kitchen, door into bathroom and queen bed.

Housed in a slideout, the elevated dinette transforms into secondary sleeping space in a minute or two. The mirrored door slides open to access the wet bath. Floor space is large enough for one person to be cooking while another reaches into the fridge, opposite the sink. A comfy queen bed is flanked by storage on each side and windows, plus there’s an overhead escape hatch.

Centrally located and housed in the slide is the elevated four-seat dinette with 4-inch-thick cushions that are made for relaxing. Clearly, some craftsmanship went into the leatherette cushions in the Roadster decor’s rich, warm brown tone. The space between the base of the table and seats is almost 8 inches, and seat-cushion depth is 20 inches. The cushions have just the right amount of padding for that “ahhh” feeling when plopping down and leaning against the 14-inch-high supportive backs.

Dual-USB, 12-volt DC and 120-volt AC charging stations are placed at the base of the dinette’s first step, a couple inches above floor level. It’s not the handiest place to reach when sitting at the table, plus you need to watch cord placement so that you don’t pull an electronic device with you when stepping down. Storage space under the 10-inch-high step is great for tossing things in like shoes.

Smooth-rolling glide-out drawers, 7 inches deep, 17 wide and 26 long, are under the dinette benches and lock for travel. We stored everything from pots and pans to a large cutting board and bags of chips here, and because the drawers are a foot and a half above floor level, reaching into them was not backbreaking.

Seated at the dinette, there’s a front-row view to the outside through the large tinted window with two panes that crank outward from the base via smooth-operating hand cranks. Dimming lights over the dinette set the mood, and there’s plenty of LED lighting throughout. Transforming the dinette into secondary sleeping is a snap: flip a release lever on the table, push down, move a couple of cushions around, and you’re done. At 71 by 44 inches, it can sleep an adult, possibly two.

Kitchen Chronicles

Across from the dinette, a Dometic three-burner range has a full-coverage rolled-metal grate that is raised above the waterproof laminate countertop. A metallic-look plastic backsplash protects the walls around the range and gets a thumbs-up for quick cleanup. We liked the height of the counter, at 35 inches, and location of the stainless-steel-and-black appliances. Above the range is a microwave, and next to it a cabinet that opens toward the ceiling, leaving 6 feet, 3 inches of head clearance, so even when the cabinet door is left open, most people won’t be hitting their noggins on the edge of it. Cabinets are Euro-Lite construction with raised hardwood panels.

Lance 855s camper kitchen with stainless-steel appliances and black sink.

The Lance 855s truck camper has a roomy kitchen outfitted with stainless-steel appliances, a black double-basin sink, a wooden spice rack and storage above, below and on the left.

The black double sink is set forward in the counter, leaving sufficient space (ranging from 1 to 2 feet deep) between the sink and the kitchen’s crank-open window, clad with aluminum mini blinds. We would have preferred either a single-basin sink or a longer faucet: With the pull-out faucet turned to the left-side basin, it was too close to the sink divider when washing a large skillet that didn’t quite fit into the sink, so water sometimes ran across the top of the divider and onto the counter. Placing a towel at the edge of the sink mitigated water runoff.

A spice rack is affixed to the kitchen wall leading up to the cabover bed. Someone came up with an ingenious idea to place a narrow 2-foot-long shelf above this rack and at the base of the mattress, so when climbing out of bed, an errant foot doesn’t accidentally step onto the spice rack and take it out. Plus, that shelf was great for setting a drink while preparing meals.

Additional storage is in the row of cutlery drawers with self-closing hardware and the wardrobe/pantry on the wall between the kitchen and wet bath. We kept a hodgepodge of items in this large cabinet, from hanging jackets to storing a box of peaches that bounced along some rough roads and survived bruise-free.

Panels for monitoring battery power, solar, LP-gas level and holding tanks, and the switch for the generator are located near the kitchen’s overhead cabinet, where they’re also viewable and reachable from the bed.

Sleep Tight

A wide step (where batteries are housed) leads up to the queen-size cabover bed, and another small one is set at an intuitive height to aid shorter folks. A privacy curtain separates the “bedroom” from the living space. If you don’t want to leave the cozy bed to brush your teeth, you can lie on your stomach with your head at the foot of the bed to lean down to reach the kitchen sink below to rinse (ask us how we know this!). And since the three-way, 5-cubic-foot refrigerator is located at the base of the bed, we could reach into it from our sleeping quarters for snacks.

Lance 855s truck camper queen bed.

The comfortable queen-size mattress comes with a Bed-Maid comforter-and-sheet-set-in-one to simplify making the bed.

An option in Lance truck campers and travel trailers is the company’s Bed-Maid sleep system, a comforter-and-sheet-set-in-one that simplifies making the bed and saves occupants from packing a variety of blankets. Slip the fitted sheets (sized for an RV queen mattress) into the comforter, and they stay in place with hook-and-loop tabs. The comforter itself has a heavier-weight side (winter) and a lighter one (summer), so you simply flip the comforter over to match the season.

Our favorite feature is the push-open escape hatch/roof vent over the bed with three height settings for regulating airflow, and it’s a breeze to operate. Lying in bed at night, looking at the stars was also a treat. The hatch has a day and night shade. The screen shade keeps bugs out while still allowing in air. The night shade darkens the space for sleeping. There’s a window on each side of the bed for a wonderful all-around flow of fresh air.

While lying in the very comfortable bed, there’s enough headroom for partially sitting up, though we stuffed pillows behind our backs to compensate for the rounded front wall. Stainless push-button LED nightlights over each side of the bed twist almost 360 degrees to cover reading material without blinding your bed buddy. The driver’s side has USB and 12-volt DC outlets, and the passenger’s side has a double 120-volt AC receptacle.

Most of the bedroom’s storage is on the driver’s side, with a flat wardrobe deep enough to stow my hiking boots and long enough for adjustable twist-lock trekking poles and a tripod. A large wardrobe with a hanging rod near the foot of the bed can be reached from the bed and when standing on the step. On the opposite side is a drawer, and shelves are positioned around the 28-inch Jensen LED TV (with swing-out bracket) and Jensen DVD/VCD/MP3/USB with app and Bluetooth compatibility.

Rise and Shine

The sizable wet bath is accessed through a wood sliding door with a large mirror on the outside. The push lock keeps the door closed during travel but sometimes got stuck, making it difficult to open. With 6½ feet of height, courtesy of the skylight, and good elbow room, there was enough space for my 6-foot, 4-inch husband, Bill, to comfortably shower. The shower pan is 15 inches wide at its narrowest point, and the plastic Dometic toilet is stationed higher than the shower pan. A shower curtain protects the wood door, and a watertight cabinet, located under the single-basin sink, keeps TP dry.

white wet bathroom with sink and toilet

The wet bath is fully outfitted with a mirrored medicine cabinet, waterproof cabinet for TP, sink, shower sprayer with shutoff valve, Dometic toilet, clothing rod, towel rack and electric fan.

The bathroom is outfitted with particulars not seen in all wet baths, such as a faucet operated separately from the shower, a bath-towel rack, a removable clothing rod for drying (optional) and a mirrored medicine cabinet. The adjustable-head handheld sprayer, with shutoff valve, felt stout, and water pressure was good. Overhead, an electric fan pulls moisture out, though, in the case of the Altimeter, the racks for a roof-mounted Yakima Rocket Box were above the vent, blocking it from opening all the way.

A wonderful touch is the padding above the door so tall folks stepping up into the 8½-inch-high shower pan have head protection. The light switch for the bright ceiling-mounted LED is just outside the door. Drying the wet bath after a shower with a towel was a cinch because all the edges are curved; there are no hard corners for water to sit.

Outside Matters

At one campground, our nightly entertainment was a six-pack of chipmunks that used the Altimeter’s undercarriage as their playground. They gathered on a nearby rock, ran single file under the truck, jumped up into the Raceline Defender wheels and Maxxis Razr tires, ran across the axle, jumped back down, and then reconvened under the truck to discuss their findings. Enjoying the outdoors and watching this was more fun than being inside viewing the TV, which comes with a King over-the-air antenna. A Winegard auto-locating satellite antenna is an option.

Chipmunk in Raceline Defender wheels.

A curious chipmunk checks out the Altimeter’s Raceline Defender wheels and Maxxis Razr tires.

There’s an outside sprayer, and two carpeted exterior storage compartments on the passenger’s side measuring 15 by 13 by 22 inches are at an easy-reach height since they back to the dinette’s drawers. Carefree awnings, a manual one off the back and an electric model on the side, are optional.

After a week playing in the Sierras, we took a slight detour on the way home to spend an evening at the beach. From taking a wrong turn and ending up on a dirt road to nowhere, to checking out a 60-foot-deep earthquake fault, to spending the night in a populated campground and then the next setting up in a remote campsite and falling asleep to the soothing sound of a stream, we enjoyed the versatility of truck camping in the well-equipped Altimeter. The F-350 and Lance 855s are a sky’s-the-limit pairing for exploring new and adventurous places in comfort and convenience.


2019 Lance 855s Truck Camper
Exterior Length: 18′
Box Length: 8′ 11″
Exterior Width: 8′
Exterior Height (with A/C): 8′ 9″
Interior Width: 7′ 10″
Interior Height: 6′ 9″
Construction: Aluminum-framed floor, cabover bed, roof and walls; block foam insulation; Azdel interior walls; laminated and insulated floor; one-piece roof
Freshwater Cap.: 30 gal.
Black-Water Cap.: 25 gal.
Gray-Water Cap.: 20 gal.
LP-Gas Cap.: 10 gal.
Water-Heater.: Truma AquaGo instantaneous
Refrigerator: 5 cu. ft.
Furnace: 11,500 Btu
Air Conditioner: 10,000 Btu
Batteries (2): Group 27 deep-cycle
Weight (Wet, with Standard Equipment): 3,331 lbs.
Lance 855s MSRP, As Tested: $50,543
Lance Altimeter Project Cost, Projected: $164,806
Basic Warranty: 2-year structuralLance 855s camper floorplan

Ford F-350 SRW 4×4 Crew Cab Platinum
Engine: 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Lance Project Sponsors

Hellwig: Big Wig Air Spring Kit
Icon: 2.5-inch Performance Suspension System, Stage 5
KC HiLiTes: Gravity LED G34 Pair Pack System
Maglite: ML150LRX LED Rechargeable System
MagnaFlow: Filter-Back Black DPF Series Exhaust System
Maxxis: Razr MT-37×12.50R18LT tires
Raceline: 935BZ Defender Bronze with Black Ring wheels
Scosche: Boombottle MM waterproof wireless speaker
SherpTek: Pak Horse gear and supply carrier (not on tested unit)
Torklift: SuperHitch Magnum 30K frame-mounted receiver, Talon Aluminum Camper Tie Downs, Locking FastGun turnbuckles
Truma: AquaGo instant water heater, VarioHeat furnace
Warn: Ascent front bumper, Zeon 12-S Platinum Winch
Yakima: LongHaul bicyclerack, RocketBox roof carrier

Rear of truck camper with Yakima bicycle rack and roof-mounted Rocket Box.

Mountain bikes stayed securely in place with the Yakima LongHaul RV-approved bicycle rack that was attached via a Torklift SuperTruss Extension.

Managing Editor Donya Carlson grew up camping with her family in Southern California and loves spending time hiking, mountain biking, motorcycling, snowboarding and just about anything else outdoors. Before joining the Trailer Life and MotorHome team, she served as managing editor of Rider, a magazine for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Donya CarlsonFordFord TrucksLanceLance CamperTruck Campers

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