Adventures with a Ford Lightning & Truck Camper
Growing up in the 70s and 80s my fondest memories were taking family camping trips in my father’s 3/4 ton truck and a medium size camper. Fast forward decades, my parents and I were each temporarily displaced from our homes during the 2021 Caldera fire in Pollock Pines and South Lake Tahoe. We both knew what it was like to be temporarily homeless and knew the fear of possibly never coming back to our homes. That experience led both of us to have discussions about purchasing a trailer or camper together for fun and as an emergency use if evacuating would ever be necessary again in the future, or worse.
In 2022 I purchased an F-150 Lightning extended-range battery truck. My decision in purchasing this truck was to replace my electric vehicle that was used as a commuter vehicle from South Lake Tahoe to SF Bay Area. I knew the F-150 would be a better electric vehicle in Tahoe during the winter snow and it would be used for projects on my property, and for gathering wood in the El Dorado County forest to prepare for winter. Finally, it would act as a power backup for my home. As an afterthought, I wondered if it could be used with a camper.
TLC Truck did an amazing test using a Four Wheel Camper Project M on their F-150 Lightning extended range and taking it to Alaska. They averaged 220 miles range, traveling around 65mph.
I rewatched every video and went over the specs with my father and we both agreed on purchasing a pop-up slide-in camper together. The only problem was, there has never been a purchase for a slide-in camper with a full-size electric pickup, which led me to reach out to Stan at Four Wheel Campers in Woodland, Ca. After Stan set up three visits with my Lightning at four-wheel campers, with their technicians and engineer thoroughly inspecting the Lightning, which included testing the squat of a Raven on it, we were given the green light to purchase a Raven. Huge thumbs up to Four Wheel Campers for being conscientious and thorough before selling my father and me a camper. The first thing I did after bringing the camper home was take it to the weigh station. With the rear tailgate off, and dry, the truck/camper came in at 7800 lbs, and the GVWR is 8550. So, about 750 lbs to play with. Perfect for my parents, or me and my two dogs, with our food, water, and some light simple camping gear.
Our first test drive was from Folsom to Rohnhert Park, California, for a family Mother’s Day get-together at a relative’s house. I was like a kid with a new toy and volunteered to level the camper in the driveway and sleep in it, to make more room in my aunt’s house. With the Lightnings stock all-season Grabber tires we got an amazing 250-260 mile range driving the speed limit at 65 mph. Memories came back to me and that familiar feeling of being around a camper, but as an adult.
My father mentioned he had that same familiar feeling and we both had big grins on our faces. Our return trip gave us the same results for mileage on the Lightnings 131kw battery, averaging 1.9 to 2.0 kw per mile.
We were really impressed by the mileage. We were not happy with how the rear tires (4ply) looked with a slight bulge in the rear set compared to no bulge in the front. We decided we should get some 10 ply tires that were rated in the 123 range. We stayed with stock measurements to hopefully keep us above the 200-mile range, even though getting some 34″ tires was very tempting. We purchased Nitto Recon Grapplers 275/60/r20 for my upcoming trip from Tahoe to Owens River near Mammoth Lakes. Once the tires were mounted it looked like a four-wheelel camper should look on a truck with AT tires.
My drive started from Electrify America in South Lake Tahoe with a 100% charge, to my first stop at Bridgeport, Ca Electrify America. I ended with 66%, for an 84-mile trip that lasted around an hour and fifty minutes. There I charged 93% and drove 85 miles to Owens River campground with 62% battery left. In total, it was a 169-mile trip using 64% of the battery, which gave an average mileage of 263 miles on a full battery which is about 2.0 Kw mile average. On the way back home
I documented all the charging stops and it averaged 1.7 Kw mile for a 220 range average on a full battery, for the return trip. In addition, I noticed when driving the dirt roads in Owens Valley the truck was averaging about 1.8 to 1.9 Kw, so 248 miles average (full charge) when driving around the camping area. During my two-night stay, I visited Crowley Lake and the Whitmore Hotsprings and checked out the Mammoth Lakes and their Overlook Trail, which was still blocked with snow short ways in.
The Raven fits very well on the F-150 Lightning Lariat ER and I’m sure those of you that are familiar with the F-150 Lightning might ask if the Lightnings Pro Power bed was available for me to use. Yes, it is! You have enough room to stick your hand down near the left rear tie-down and just next to that, access the bed’s electric ports. I bought a 5’ power strip that has multiple 110v and USB and USBC ports. I used some Velcro tape to attach it just below the sink. The trick to using the Pro Power is to not leave it running constantly. Otherwise, you will lose valuable KW from the Lightnings battery with nothing charging from it. This is great to plug anything into, coffee maker, waffle maker, you name it, and not have to be tied to shore power.
Our Raven upgrades are a single Lithium battery and a 160w solar panel, an extra fan over the slide-out top bed, a Porta Potti, an 85-liter refrigerator, and a furnace. The 1000w Lithium battery runs the power inside the Raven for the refrigerator and fans, lights, water pump, etc. I found on sunny days it does a great job of fluctuating down to 70% or so and back up to the 90% range. On cloudy days it will gradually get lower, and lower. I have not camped for more than two nights so far at the time of this article.
The bottom line is that you can definitely get 220 miles on average from an ER Lightning/Raven doing around 65mph on the highway in fair weather and then about 250 miles on average on a full battery when you are out exploring your camping area. In my hometown of South Lake Tahoe, I am averaging about 250-260 miles local driving with the camper on. Residential electric rates cost a little under $16 for a full charge, and about $47 for charging on the road paying for fast chargers. With fast chargers averaging every 50 -70 miles on the highway you can plan your trip accordingly and enjoy using a Four Wheel Camper Raven at many places on an F-150 Lightning Extended Range. You can’t go far into places as you would a gas truck and camper, but using this setup is still very doable if you keep an eye on your destinations and the range of the truck. Keep in mind if you camp during the winter, the range of a battery will decrease by about a third. I do not plan on doing winter camping.
My next test with the F-150 Lighting and Four Wheel Camper Raven will be putting on a custom wind fairing, and if it works and saves me mileage, I will then put a 2.25″ level on the front of the F-150, which will probably take me down to my 220-mile average on a full charge, if everything goes right.
I plan on taking the Lightning and Raven to different camping spots in the Tahoe region, up and down Highway 395, Yosemite, and to the Northern California coast this year. I will be taking it to Oregon for some camping and attending the PNW overland expo in Redmond too. I also have a business trip in Bend, Oregon and I will take the camper there in August too. These are the pioneer days of matching up a full-sized EV truck with overlanding equipment. Someone had to try it with a slide-in camper, even though Ford says you shouldn’t! I’m extremely happy with my Four Wheel Camper and can’t wait to get out to more and more places with it.
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