Truck camping is a wanderer’s dream.
Essentially a house on wheels, you have the FREEDOM to go anywhere and set up in totally scenic locations you wouldn’t have otherwise seen from a hotel room view.
Not only does it give you unrestricted mobility but it’s budget and eco-friendly, too.
If you’re raring to explore the great outdoors, read this post first and learn all you need to know about truck camping.
How to Sleep In Your Pickup Truck: 4 Ways to Try!
Sorting out the sleeping arrangements when you’re going truck camping is arguably the most important part of the experience.
Figuring out where you’ll store your bed on your truck camping adventure will depend on:
- Where you’re going
- Your budget
- Other truck camping needs
There are several ways to set up sleeping arrangements using the different parts of your vehicle for truck bed camping.
1. Sleep in the Cab
The easiest and cheapest truck bed camping arrangement is to simply sleep in the cab of your vehicle. Grab a mattress and some pillows or a sleeping bag and call it a day (or night).
Most vehicle cabs like the Ford F150 have seats that fold down into a nearly flat sleeping surface for you to rest comfortably in a reclined position.
When you’re ready to bunk down, fold up the rear set cushions and then fold down the front-seat backrests (make sure your vehicle is in ‘Park’!).
BUT IF THAT’S NOT YOUR STYLE, THEN TRY A…
2. Pop-Up Tent
Opting for a truck bed tent will give you extra room to stretch out when you’re truck bed camping since you’re basically setting up a full-size tent.
A pop-up tent, whether on your truck bed or on the roof, is also a CLEANER OPTION than setting up camp on the ground of your campsite.
Aside from protecting you from muddy grounds or rocky terrain, pop-up tents will also give you some peace of mind since you’re a few feet above the ground and safe from dangerous animals like snakes.
One con to consider, though, is you’ll have to disassemble the tent when you’re ready to move on.
However, a pop-up tent is still a MORE LIGHTWEIGHT and BUDGET-FRIENDLY OPTION than attaching a full-size bed camper shell to your vehicle.
Check out the two ways to set one up!
On a Truck Bed
Setting up a pop-up tent in your truck bed is similar to setting up a tent on the ground.
The only difference is that truck bed tents come with ‘floorless’ options which is handy if you don’t want to go through the hassle of clearing your truck bed.
Truck tents also have straps you can wrap under your pickup truck to further secure it to your vehicle bed. This helps keep the tent stable when you’re truck bed camping.
Pop-up truck tents come in a variety of sizes, materials, and features depending on your truck camping requirements and budget.
Tents can come with awnings, inside storage for small items, and access through the back of your cab so you don’t always have to climb over your tailgate for things.
This article gives a quick rundown of the latest truck bed tents at several budget points, so you’re sure to find one perfect for your truck bed camping needs!
On a Truck Roof Rack
Roof-top tents look great on Instagram but they’re also a really great option for truck bed camping if you want to have even MORE PRIVACY and SAFETY than a truck bed tent.
It’s also (literally) cooler since it catches drafts and cross-breezes better. Roof-top tents also come with a sky view window at the back to give campers a breathtaking view of the stars at night.
Roof-top tents can be assembled on top of your pickup truck (provided your truck has a roof rack) and can be fitted with an air mattress if you want something COMFIER than your typical sleeping bag.
Roof-top tents also work great on a 4×4 vehicle or an SUV in case you don’t have a pickup truck. Just make sure you have a rack and that your car can accommodate the extra weight.
3. Truck Bed Camper Shell
Truck campers are as close you can get to a real RV without having to buy one. Truck bed campers are also the BEST OPTION for families traveling together since they provide the most space and stability.
Another benefit to truck bed campers is that they’re not classified as RVs but under ‘cargo’ instead, so THEY WON’T COST you additional fees in campgrounds when you’re truck bed camping.
Since truck bed campers come in different types, such as pop-up models or hard-shell slide units, purchasing either will really depend on your budget and truck bed camping needs.
Pop-Up Truck Bed Camper Shell
Since pop-up truck campers are made with collapsible material, they’re definitely more lightweight than hard-sided slide-in camper models.
Pop-up truck campers are also:
- More fuel-efficient
- Easier to set up and store for truck bed camping
- Easier to drive with
- Lower clearance height
One thing to note about using pop-up truck bed campers for truck bed camping is you’ll have less protection.
Since the material used for the camper is light, it’s also EASILY PENETRATED by weather elements.
Slide-In Truck Bed Camper Shell
Towing a hard-shell, slide-in truck camper might sound intimidating because of the sheer size of the unit. However, don’t think that a slide-in truck camper works like hooking up a trailer to your vehicle.
All you have to do is:
- Jack your vehicle HIGH ENOUGH so the truck bed can slide under the camper.
- Secure the camper to your truck bed with tie-downs and turnbuckles.
While a slide-in truck camper shell is markedly more expensive than the pop-up version, this type of truck camper is still a budget option compared to RVs that are pricey to maintain.
You can also just switch out a slide-in camper for another model in case you need additional space or want to level up your truck bed camping features.
4. Truck Bed Canopy
A truck canopy or “truck cap” is essentially like a box cover you fit ON TOP OF THE BED of your pickup truck.
Aside from keeping your cargo safe from external elements and theft, you can also use this as a space for you to sleep in when you go truck bed camping.
The only thing to note with having a vehicle cap at the back is that:
- It limits the height for taller items of cargo.
- It creates drag which can affect your fuel efficiency.
Several people also DIY their own beds for truck canopy camping; fitting in extra storage space and even a sleeping platform.
Have a look at this tutorial if you’re up for the challenge of customizing your own for your truck bed camping adventure.
Setting Up Your Truck Camping Cooking Station: 4 Essential Reminders
Now that we’ve sorted out the sleeping situation, it’s time to tackle the next important factor when going truck bed camping: Your cooking area.
Unlike RVs that come with little kitchenettes at the back, you’ll have to do your heating and cooking outside on the campgrounds when you go truck bed camping.
While you can definitely live off canned goods and granola bars, it’s also nice to wake up to FRESHLY COOKED eggs and sausages.
Consider these top tips when it comes to transforming your truck camping setup into the perfect kitchen.
#1 Use Your Tailgate As Counter Space
Prop up your ingredients on your tailgate as you’re cooking for easy access. You can also customize your truck’s bed to fit in extra storage that includes a pull-out counter to prop up your stove.
#2 Use A Propane Stove
Save yourself the headache and hassle of trying to figure out how to start a fire- just bring a propane stove instead.
These kinds of stoves are best for camping since the fuel will come from good old-fashioned butane canisters which you can pack.
Pro tip: Make sure your stove is placed away from natural debris like leaves and twigs so you don’t accidentally start a fire!
#3 Bring Minimal Cookware
To free up weight and storage inside your vehicle, we suggest bringing the BARE MINIMUM when it comes to cookware. We narrowed it down to:
Cast-Iron Skillet And Cover
Cast iron skillets are a great option since they heat up quickly and won’t melt over high heat. Meanwhile, the cover will help cook food quickly and retain heat.
Unless you have a deep skillet, you’d want to have a soup pot handy to heat up liquids. It’s also nice to have another container to cook additional things in aside from your pan.
A percolator is one great, NO-FUSS WAY to make coffee on the road. Simply pour coffee grounds in and heat it up.
Stainless steel percolators are great camping gear for pickup truck camping as they’re lightweight and easy to clean.
#4 Separate Your Cold and Dry Food Storage
It might be tempting to dump all your food items into one cooler, but separating them is just a more hygienic and convenient way for you to organize your camping setup on the road.
Storage boxes and Ziploc bags are a great way to categorize your food when you’re truck camping.
In case you’re heading to a camping spot that is bear-prone, invest in bear-proof containers.
Coolers are quintessential truck camping gear people should always have when they go truck bed camping.
Instead of using one big cooler for all your water bottles and drinks, use two small ones so everything cools faster. This also reduces the amount of ice you will need to bring.
Another pro tip is to cool your water storage items in your fridge before you load them into your cooler. This will help your ice last longer on the road, too.
Going to the Bathroom When Truck Camping: 3 Options
Another important thing to remember when going truck bed camping is to consider your bathroom situation.
Some camping spots will offer access to public showers and toilets, while certain camp grounds will be near enough to public areas that will have pay-for bathrooms you can use.
Check your camping grounds’ website before you head out on the road to scan the general vicinity for public bathrooms.
However, in case you’re setting up camp in the middle of nowhere, there are still several options for you to get your hygiene needs in.
The easiest option to showering in the wild is to set up camp near a river, spring, or stream since you have UNLIMITED ACCESS to water for bathing.
Just remember to do some research first on whether the bodies of water near your camp allow bathing. Also, include biodegradable and eco-friendly hygiene products in your packing list for your trip.
Since conserving water is an essential camping practice to surviving off-grid, we understand you might want to save it for potable drinking.
That said, the sponge bath method for bathing is one way to stretch your water supply and is helpful when you need to wash quickly in cold weather. Biodegradable wet wipes are also a good alternative.
If your trip is going to require a more intensive hygiene method, there are several portable shower types you can take truck camping.
Some shower camping gear includes:
- Pressurized camping showers – double as water storage tanks; can be pressurized with a bicycle pump and flow rate can be adjusted
- Electric camping showers – uses rechargeable batteries to draw water from a storage container
- Gravity camping showers – simplest option; fill-up-type water container hung overhead
You can also DIY your shower by taking a water bottle and poking holes in it or get fancy and use a pressurized water container.
Must-Have Truck Camping Power Equipment
Some camping spots will be equipped with electricity and plugs so you can hook up your truck camping gear. But if you’re going way off-road, you’ll need to pack extra power equipment.
A power inverter is critical camping gear you want to invest in.
An inverter will allow you to convert battery power into usable power for your camping setup. Just remember to consider your power needs so you can select an inverter with enough wattage and outlets.
Dual Battery and Isolator
Investing in a second battery gives you EXTRA JUICE on the road while also ensuring your SUV battery doesn’t die on you in the middle of nowhere.
Using your isolator, you can charge the second battery while your SUV is running since it’s separate from your actual starter battery.
Other Useful Camping Accessories
Why rough it in your sleeping bag when you can take an air mattress with you to camp?
Air mattresses take up MINIMAL STORAGE SPACE and are easy to inflate and pack down. They also give you extra area to spread out in case you have a particular sleeping style to get comfortable.
Camp Chairs and A Hammock
Camp chairs and hammocks provide extra seating area for your truck camping setup, and are nice places to relax in especially when the weather is nice out.
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors on your truck bed camping trip, consider investing in a canopy.
This accessory not only provides shade in hot weather but is ADDITIONAL SHELTER for downpours.
You can also opt for a lightweight awning that you can attach to your vehicle bed in case you don’t have enough storage for a full-sized canopy.
Before you take all this information and embark on your road-trip adventure, remember to pack emergency gear just in case something happens on your trip.
- First-aid kit
- Tire repair kit
- A life-straw and water purification tablets
- Thermal blanket (for camp spots with inclement weather)
- Headlamp or flashlight
Truck bed camping is a great way to explore the outdoors and be one with nature.
That said, it’s wise to educate yourself with all the information about the camping spots you’re traveling too so you know exactly the kind of gear you need.
As they say, it’s not just about the destination but the journey to get there.