Truck bed camping – what, why, and how?
There are lots of ways to approach camping. Whether alone, with your family, or with a large group of friends, you can travel and camp in various ways. One of the best and least talked about, however, is truck bed camping. And with hurricane season going into high gear in the U.S. truck bed camping also offers a great SHTF survival backup.
So, let’s delve into the specifics of this unique camping method.
What is truck bed camping?
The core concept of truck bed camping is as simple as it sounds – camping with and in your truck. This typically means fashioning the back of your truck into a comfortable bed and using it instead of a tent.
However, that’s not all truck bed camping is. If you don’t want to sleep inside the truck you can also bring a ground tent with you for a more “standard” camping experience. If you do this you can use your truck just for transportation so it can still qualify as “truck bed camping”.
Or, you can opt for a truck bed tent for trucks with open backs. You can even get a nice truck canopy instead of a tent. These last two methods are usually called “truck shell camping”.
This method of camping also involves many other benefits that come from having a big and powerful vehicle with you.
Pros and cons of truck bed camping
Each camping method has its positives and negatives with many of them being quite subjective. So, while truck bed camping won’t be for anyone, it’s definitely worth considering. Here are the main pros and cons of truck bed camping you’d want to consider before you start investing in camping gear:
- Extra comfort and convenience. We’re not typically used to associate sleeping in a car with “comfort” and “convenience”. Yet truck bed camping can surprise many of us with both. With the right preparation, of course. Whether for one, two, or even two people plus a kid, the backspace of a truck can offer enough room for a comfortable mattress. The width will have to depend on the width of the truck of course. The distance from the truck ceiling or canopy will also depend on their particular design. Plus, the type of mattress you use is also important, more on that below.
Once you get a setup that feels right for you, however, it can be as blissful as sleeping in your bedroom.
- Lots of carrying space and load capacity. This benefit is much more intuitive to recognize. Trucks can offer a, well, “truckload” of carrying space. This means that you can forget about having to weigh every piece of backpack camping gear. A nice big and powerful truck can carry everything you need, removing the need for compromises with your gear. Some organization will be required, of course. But with some planning, you can store as many totes and bags under the seats and the mattress as you need.
- Near-unlimited traveling range and destinations. A nice 4×4 truck can go almost anywhere you need it to. This means that you can forget about the limits of urban vehicles or public transportation.
- One of the main fear of most non-campers is that camping can be dangerous. From insect pests and wild animals, all the way to unwelcoming weather conditions – camping can seem scary at first. Truck bed camping alleviates these concerns, however. When sleeping in your truck or under its secure canopy you can be 100% safe from all of the above. Plus, you can always escape from any situation without even having to leave the truck.
- Truck bed camping vehicles and gear can double as survival gear. When prepping for emergency escapes, people usually go for survival or bug-out bags in the closet. This way you can grab them together with some other stuff and load them into your car.
If you have truck bed camping gear, however, you won’t even need to do that. Instead, you can have everything ready to go in your truck! Bed, tent, totes with dried food, water containers, survival gear, and a full tank – all you need to do are get in and drive. This is especially useful in many east coast areas during hurricane season.
Of course, truck bed camping can have certain drawbacks compared to other camping methods. Whether those are significant or insignificant for you will depend on your preferences.
- Hiking and trekking limitations. Many people like combining hiking with camping. This typically means crossing mountains or other wide areas on foot with your backpack and tent on your back. With a truck, however, you’ll either have to take it everywhere with you or leave it somewhere. And leaving your truck somewhere means that you’ll have to circle back to it at some point.
However, if the above doesn’t bother you or if you’re only interested in camping, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Overreliance on your vehicle. Trucks can carry lots of baggage with them but if anything happens to your truck you may be forced to leave it behind. In contrast, on-foot camping means that you can always carry everything with you and you only rely on your own two feet.
This issue can easily be mitigated with routine checkups and maintenance, especially before every trip. Nothing can offer a 100% guarantee but then again problems can arise even with on-foot camping.
- Significant expenses. The main drawback of truck bed camping that stops most people is the expenses it involves. The main expenditure is, of course, the truck itself. Especially given that you need a high-quality and reliable machine for off-road trips, a good truck can cost a lot. This alone makes truck bed camping an instant “No go” for many people.
If you already have a truck, the additional expenses can still be pretty significant. A canopy or tent, a nice mattress, camping fridge and stove, water storage and systems, camping and survival gear, and so on. All these can cost top dollar if you go for the quality. There are more budget-friendly options, of course – ice chest instead of a fridge, for example. However, that tends to take away from the comfort and fun of the experience.
How to go about it?
So, if you’ve decided that truck bed camping is right for you, here are some pointers that might interest you. The exact type of gear you opt for will depend largely on your preferences. However, with on a budget, some things are strongly recommended.
The truck canopy
We won’t spend too much time on truck bed tents or ground tents as these are pretty self-explanatory and we’ve covered them before. All you need to do is find the right tent for your truck and needs, and you’ll be fine. Truck canopies, however, come in all shapes and sizes. There are many canopies that aren’t really suitable for camping so you’ll have to be careful about your choice. Here are some pointers:
- Strength and sturdiness – make sure the canopy can withstand accidents and direct hits. Longevity is also key if you want to get your money’s worth.
- Insulation and ventilation – camping often involves harsher climates so you want your canopy to offer good ventilation. At the same time, however, there should be at least several windows for good ventilation. As an additional tip, having mosquito nets on the windows can be priceless for pest protection.
- Weight – as powerful as a good truck is, you don’t want to weigh it down more than you have to.
- Built-in storage and customization options. This is self-explanatory – truck bed camping is all about making the most out of your limited space so the canopy should promote that.
- Aerodynamic – you do want to travel with your canopy, after all, if it’s too non-aerodynamic, that can be a problem.
- Space and height – many canopies can be too low which is annoying as you’ll have to sleep too close to the ceiling.
Camping off-grid power
Between your camping fridge, oven, laptop, smartphone, lighting, and other devices, you’ll likely need a lot of electricity. With all those electronics it’s easy to overtax your truck’s battery. To avoid that, we’d recommend carrying a portable jump starter with you. Another good option is switching to a dual battery setup. Learn cold weather camping.
Most ground tent campers are used to relying on a simple sleeping bag. This is certainly an option for truck bed camping as well. However, the main pro of the sleeping bag is that it’s easy to carry in a backpack and that’s not that significant with truck bed camping.
Instead, carrying an inflatable mattress or even a whole memory foam mattress in your truck’s canopy is much more comfortable. If you’re going with a truck bed tent instead of a canopy a whole memory foam mattress can be complicated, of course. But with a canopy, you can just drive with the memory foam mattress in the back without a problem. All you need to do to have enough space for both a mattress and your gear is elevate the mattress on a platform above the truck’s floor. This will give you lots of extra storage room under your “bed”.
You even can (and should) bring your own pillows with you!
The sleeping bags are still recommended, of course, if the expected night temperatures are expected to below.
Food and gear storage
One of the many benefits of truck bed camping is all the food you can bring with you. Instead of having to rely on dried fruits and nuts, you can carry entire totes and fridges full of food and drinks. With all the extra space offered by your truck this shouldn’t be a complicated issue but here are some suggestions:
- Camping fridges and coolers > ice chests. Good camping fridges can cost a bit but they are significantly better than an ice chest. The latter can work for shorter trips but for anything longer than a day or two, a nice fridge will be preferable. In both cases, it’s smart to pre-cool your food and drink beforehand, of course. As an additional tip, if you want to bring drinks it’s better to opt for two smaller separate fridges than one bigger fridge. That’s because you’ll likely want to reach for the drinks much more often.
- Dry food storage. Depending on your preferences you may decide to disregard the cool storage options altogether and go for only dry storage instead. More often than not, however, people go for both. Dry storage can be very simple as all you need is a couple of totes stashed beneath the mattress. One important note, however, is to make sure they are animal-proof if you’re camping in bear country.
- Gear storage. This is even simpler than dry food storage as no bear will be interested in your underwear. Anything from plastic totes to duffle bags can work perfectly well for this. If you want to go with a ground tent you might want to go for water-resistant totes but even that’s unnecessary with truck shell camping.
If you want to get even fancier you can even go for a drawer system under the sleeping mattress. This can make your gear storage much more convenient, especially if you camp often and for longer periods.
Kitchenware, camping stoves, and additional camping gear
There are lots of other things you can take truck bed camping with you. Here are some more suggestions:
- You can take all types of kitchenware on a truck bed camping trip as you should have enough space. A simple tote designated for kitchenware should be more than easy to take with you.
- Camping stoves. A simple flat 2-burner stove is easy to carry and use with truck bed camping. You can either use the tailgate as a counter or you can fashion your own contractible counter surface beneath the mattress platform.
- Camp chairs and hammocks.
- Solar lanterns, headlamps, and other lighting options.
- Survival gear and tools such as axes, saws, shovels, etc.
- Portable camp showers. These can be pressurized, electric, or simple gravity showers.
Are you looking to do Truck Bed camping as more of a survival? then check out my post about survival tools post.