Stanley and the Lance

Our home on wheels the past three summers – a Lance camper perched on a 3/4 ton Chevy Silverado, here parked for lunch with a gorgeous view of Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska. Note the hitch for towing our C-Dory 22 Angler. This photo was taken on May 21, 2012.

Our first summer in Alaska, we lived aboard our C-Dory 22 Angler, GillieGillie’s pilot house and cuddy cabin made for a cozy nest, and the spirited little Toyota Tacoma that did the pulling over the 8,000 plus miles we drove that summer was, simply, the most enjoyable vehicle either one of us has ever driven. The 43 days we spent traveling in that rig made for a summer for the books. In fact, we talked for some time about traveling all across North America in this rig: exploring blue highways both on land and on water, envisioning jaunts down to the Florida Keys, out to Martha’s Vineyard, across the country to Catalina Island and everywhere in between. We even talked about launching the C-Dory at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and cruising all the way down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans.

But when we made the decision to move to Alaska, rent out our home in Sacramento, and spend our summers on the Kenai Peninsula…

A carved wooden hummingbird given to us by our daughter, Maia, on a trip that passed through a First Nations village in British Columbia greets us each time we open the door. Framed artwork and other personal touches make our camper a home.

After months of comparative shopping and researching campers and trucks, we still felt like we didn’t know as much as we would have liked. On the other hand, we knew enough to be comfortable making a decision. We’ve been very happy with both the Lance Camper and the Chevy Silverado 2500 it sits on.

The camper has a queen-size bed, lots of windows and skylights providing natural lighting, a three-burner propane stove with oven, an air conditioner and heater, a good shower and flush toilet, a TV and sound system, a great refrigerator/freezer, lots of storage space and enough room overhead to be comfortable for a person of my height (I’m 6′ 1″). We added a solar panel, which we highly recommend; even on cloudy days the battery charges. We also have a generator which, although rarely used, has been much appreciated the couple of times we’ve needed it.

A pair of Xtratuff boots – iconic of Alaska anglers and boaters – is ready at the entrance. 

Stanley is a name conferring strength and dependability – like Stanley tools. Fitted with airbags (extra shock absorbers), our three-quarter ton Silverado has performed superbly carrying the camper and towing our 4,500 pound boat. Given a steep mountain grade, Stanley shifts down as if to say, “All right.” Nothing more. No groaning and straining, no needless extra shifting, just a simple, straightforward, “All right” and up the mountain we go. And kicked into four-wheel drive, this truck has the grit to power through even loose beach sand with the camper – a test we didn’t intend to put the truck through and won’t be repeating.

We went back and forth regarding two options: gas or diesel, and dual rear wheels or single. We opted for a gas engine and single wheels, and after three summers of putting this rig to the test we can say without hesitation that with the right tires, single wheels are fine. And we’re happy we don’t have to deal with the noise of a diesel engine (or impose that noise on our neighbors). That being said, the fact is we don’t put a lot of miles on our rig. A diesel engine offers some real advantages to campers engaged in extensive traveling.

To anyone contemplating a rig like this, we have one firm recommendation: Start by choosing the camper you want, then match it to the right truck. 

This watercolor by Homer, Alaska artist Leslie Klaar depicts a boat much like our C-Dory heading off for a day of fishing in the great Northwest. It hangs near the door of of our camper.

11 thoughts on “Stanley and the Lance

  1. My parents had a rig like this for awhile and it served them well. Glad you put your personal touches on it. So many folks don’t and it never quite feels like “home” to them. Safe travels, Ann and Jerry.

  2. Having used your truck and camper for a couple of seasons would you make different choices now? Do you prefer a truck with a shorter bed, or wish you had an 8ft bed now? Or 1 ton instead of 3/4?
    Do you like the size and floor plan (and storage) of your current model, or do you wish you had a larger one? Or a dry bath model?

    Things like that, the things you can only learn from actually being “out there” living the life, that someone like me, who is contemplating following your lead and trying this, would like to know.

    What do you know now, that you wish you knew before you started? Thanks, great website.

    • Hi Logan,
      We purchased our gasoline engine 2008 Chevy Silverado 2500 pickup truck and the Lance 845 truck camper in the fall of 2009. For the past four years, this rig has seen a fair amount of use, including a nearly 4,000 mile trip up the Alaska-Canada highway from Sacramento, California to Denali over stretches of rough highway while pulling a 4,500 pound boat. These days, we use this rig for shorter trips in Alaska. In all, we’ve probably spent close to 200 nights in the camper. There may be a better rig for what we do, but we haven’t found it!
      A few things we especially like:
      –The gasoline engine is quieter than a diesel engine. True, diesels are longer-lived, more powerful and (usually) slightly more economical, but the sound of quiet is priceless.
      –At the end of a day of traveling, hiking or fishing, everything is ready to go: no beds or tables to convert and there’s plenty of storage to keep everything put away and tidy.
      –The bed is very comfortable.
      –We haven’t used the air conditioner since moving to Alaska, but were grateful to have it in California. The heating system is quiet and super efficient, and we do use that.
      –The refrigerator/freezer unit is just the right size.
      –Having a shower is great. Plus, there’s an outside shower for cleaning off after digging clams or fishing.
      –The amount of space for the two of us is perfect. If we had a third person, though, we’d want a slightly larger unit.
      –Parkability! This rig is not only a breeze to drive, we can park it virtually anywhere regular vehicles can park. The overall length is about 17 feet, and it’s not overly wide.
      –In going with a relatively small unit, we saved the cost of slide-outs. We don’t need the additional space, and we are happy to not have the additional weight, cost, and potential to break these represent.
      –The ample headroom is fantastic. I’m 6′ 1″ and do not feel cramped in this camper. Plus, since the cabinets go up to the ceiling, ample overhead means ample storage.
      –Since we tow a boat, we’re happy to have a short bed and a short camper. Again, makes parking and maneuvering a breeze.

      A few things we don’t like:
      –A computerized sensor for the truck’s braking system is overly sensitive. The “check brake” light has been on for much of the time we’ve owned the truck. The Chevy dealer in Anchorage told us that this is a common problem with this truck model. We have had zero actual problems with the brake system.
      –There is no good reason to have a double basin in a small sink as is the case in the camper, but it doesn’t bother us enough to replace it.
      –Each spring when we bring the Lance out of storage, and each end-of-summer when we run antifreeze through the pipes to winterize it, we fuss and fume to achieve sufficient pressure to get everything flowing. Shouldn’t be hard, but something in the layout causes air to get trapped. A significant nuisance.
      –We miss the sunroof we had in our previous truck! But that was a trade off when we got a camper.
      –The TV isn’t of very high quality. Fortunately, we don’t watch much TV.
      –At 33 gallons of fresh water, we don’t have as much water tankage as larger units. We wish we had more, as well as more black water and gray water holding capacity, but we do not want a larger overall rig. This was one of the trade-offs we thought about for a long time before making a final decision.
      –The three-burner stove doesn’t make sense as most pans are too large to fit three at a time on this unit. A two-burner stove would be fine.
      –Gas mileage. It is what it is. We average 10.5 to 11 mpg.

      A few things we changed:
      –We took out all the incandescent lightbulbs and replaced them with LEDs. Expensive up front, but a smart move when it comes to electricity draw.
      –We took out the microwave. Too much energy draw, and the extra cabinet space is useful.
      –We added a solar panel. Even on cloudy days, this provides the additional power we need to keep lights on, etc.
      –Although we seldom use the optional propane generator, we’re glad to have it onboard. When you need it, you really need it.
      –The optional outdoor shower was a smart move for us, too.
      –We added throw rugs and art work to give the camper an “at home” feel.

      Bottom line: We are very happy with our Lance 845. What do we wish we’d known then that we now know? Nothing, really. We thoroughly researched the market, weighed what was available against how we intended to use this rig, and came up with a good fit for us. We’re not in the market to upgrade, but if we were, we’d probably go with another gasoline engine Chevy 2500 and since the Lance 845 has been discontinued, we’d go with the 855.
      If you’re thinking about getting into this, we’d also recommend you go to every single dealer in your area and every RV show. Look around and ask lots of questions.
      Everyone goes back and forth regarding whether to first buy a truck and get a camper that fits the truck, or whether to decide on a camper and get a truck that fits the camper. If you can afford it – that is, if you can sell or trade in your existing vehicle or if you have the cash available -, our advice is to decide on the camper you want and then shop for the right truck. That’s how we approached it, and it gave us a lot of flexibility.
      Best of luck, and let us know if you have additional questions.
      Jack & Barbra

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