Truck Bed Camping Beginners Guide: What You Should Know

truck bed camping night

Maybe you’re brand new to the concept of truck bed camping.

Or perhaps you’re an old hand at it but are always on the lookout for new tips. Either way, you’ve come to the right place.

This guide will cover truck bed camping in detail, including how to do it, what to bring, and things to look out for.

This popular recreational activity is one of the most convenient and comfortable ways to spend extended amounts of time in nature, whether for weekend camping trips with the family or more intense week-long excursions in the wilderness.

Before we get too far into the nuts and bolts of it, let’s take a look at what truck bed camping is, which will help newcomers.

What Is Truck Bed Camping?

Truck bed camping is exactly what it sounds like – instead of sleeping out in the open or a tent pitched on the ground, you’ll be sleeping in the bed of your truck.

This provides many benefits, such as:

  • More protection from the elements than a ground tent
  • Increased security compared to most other camping options
  • Greater mobility than RVs and motorhomes
  • Less need to unpack and haul camping gear over rough terrain
  • Less cost than an RV or motorhome

As with all things, however, you have to take the bad along with the good when it comes to truck bed camping, as it does have a couple of shortcomings:

  • It offers less mobility than backpacking or walk-in camping.
  • Since you need room to sleep, there’s less space available for storage.

Truck bed camping can be done solo or in groups, but keep in mind that space will get quite tight with larger groups when it comes time to sleep.

Which Truck Is Best for Truck Bed Camping?

Choosing the best truck for truck bed camping is largely a matter of preference, but there are a few things to keep in mind while picking one out.

Reliability

The number one factor to consider when selecting a truck for camping is its reliability.

If you’re planning on driving on winding mountain roads or camping in the middle of nowhere, you want a truck that’s going to do what you tell it to do.

The last thing you want after a weekend of truck bed camping is to turn the key and the engine won’t turn over, leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, any vehicle is capable of breaking down, but you can minimize the chances by buying the best truck you’re able to find.

Read truck reviews to get an idea of what to look for, and have your mechanic inspect the truck before you make a purchase.

Terrain Capabilities

If you’re looking to take a truck into the wilderness, it needs to be able to handle whatever you throw at it.

That means you want a truck that:

  • Has 4-wheel drive
  • Appropriate tires (all-terrain, snow tires or chains, mud tires)
  • A powerful engine for hauling your gear up mountain roads
  • Decent ground clearance, especially if you plan on off-roading

There’s nothing more disappointing than planning a camping trip at a new location, only to find out that your truck can’t make it there.

So make sure your truck is up for any adventures you’re planning.

Size

It’s essential to take into account your truck’s size since it will need a cabin large enough to carry everyone to the camping destination and a bed large enough to store all your gear and provide sleeping space.

You also want to make sure it’s the right size to fit the sleeping accommodation that you plan to use, which we’ll get into in a bit.

Cost

While you want to make sure to buy a reliable truck with all the features you want, you might want to think twice before going all out on the most expensive truck you see.

After all, if one of the pluses to truck bed camping is how inexpensive it is compared to buying an RV or motorhome, it doesn’t make sense to spend an insane amount on it.

While expensive vehicles are impressive looking, higher cost doesn’t always mean better value, and there are plenty of reasonably-priced trucks out there that will do the job just fine.

On the other hand, if you plan on using the truck all the time and have a large budget, by all means – get the truck that you’ll be most happy to take with you on your extended treks into the wilderness.

Truck bed camping is all about separating yourself from society and being yourself, so your truck should be an extension of that.

Whether you’re practical and budget-conscious or a person who likes expensive toys, there’s a perfect camping truck out there for you.

Maintenance

A well-maintained truck is a safe truck, so no matter what truck you end up choosing to accompany you through the natural world, make sure to service it regularly.

Shortly before your trip, make sure to check:

  • Tire condition
  • Tire pressure
  • Fluid levels
  • Air filters
  • Spare tire
  • Spare key
  • Windshield wipers and fluid
  • Headlights
  • Battery connection and age

These simple steps could save you a lot of hassle in the long run, not to mention keeping you safe on the road.

Sleeping/Living Area Options

Your sleeping/living area can be as simple or as elaborate as you like when truck bed camping.

There are a ton of options to choose from:

  • Canopy: Canopies offer more security and protection than tents do and are more discreet options for urban camping. A canopy also means that you won’t have to set as much up when you arrive at your destination. Canopies come in all sorts, all of which can work for truck bed camping.
    • Regular truck canopies: can be a basic shell or with included storage
    • Canopies designed for camping: have more room and sometimes pop up or extend for more living space
    • Custom-built canopies: the most expensive but are built to your exact needs
  • Truck Bed Tent: There are plenty of tents designed especially for truck beds, but if you have a tent that will fit, it will work just fine. Tents don’t offer as much protection as canopies but are much cheaper and easier to set up and takedown.
  • Open Air: If you’re camping in an area where you feel safe, there’s nothing quite like open-air camping under the stars. This is an especially great option during summer meteor showers.

The shelter option you choose will largely depend on the weather and your comfort level sleeping in the location.

And keep in mind that you’re not limited to one option – there’s no reason why you can’t use a lightweight tent during warmer summer months and switch to a canopy when the weather starts to cool.

Camping Can Be Comfy

Just because you’re sleeping in the bed of a truck doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable.

Outdoor supply stores sell a ton of outdoor sleeping gear that’s designed to keep you comfortable no matter where you’re sleeping.

Figuring out the right combination of sleeping gear will help you sleep like a baby so you can wake up refreshed and continue your adventure.

Consider:

  • Sleeping Bag: The most basic sleeping gear item, they come in multiple sizes, thicknesses, and styles. There are bags especially designed for freezing temperatures, summer weather, backpacking, you name it. Be sure to choose the right one for your needs, which may change from one trip to another.
  • Sleeping Mat: These mats are slightly thicker than your average yoga mat. They don’t take up a lot of room but provide only minimal cushioning.
  • Sleeping Pad: Pads are slightly thicker than mats, so they’re more comfortable to sleep on, although they take up a bit more room in the truck.
  • Inflatable Mattress: These are perfect for longer camping trips since they provide the greatest amount of cushioning. They can be a pain to inflate and deflate but are often worth the hassle.

Don’t forget to dress for the weather, too, or you’ll be uncomfortable no matter what other sleeping gear you bring.

Storage Considerations

It goes without saying that you need enough room in your truck bed to lie down comfortably if you’re planning to sleep in it.

But it’s easy to forget that you’ll need to be able to store all your camping gear at the same time unless you plan on unpacking the truck for the night to make room for sleeping.

If you’re camping on your own or with only one other person for short periods of time, this isn’t usually too much of a problem.

But if you have more than two people on the trip or are planning to stay out for a longer adventure, you’re going to run out of room pretty quickly.

The following tips will help you make the most out of your truck bed space, so there’s room for everyone.

Take Only What You Need

Make sure that everything you take on your trip is absolutely necessary, and if possible, bring items that have multiple purposes.

Plan your gear based on the weather and trip duration, and if you don’t absolutely need it, leave it behind.

This will get easier the more often you go camping since you’ll start to recognize a pattern of items that always get packed but rarely (or never) get used.

Utilize Slider Storage

The most efficient way to store your camping gear while leaving room for you to sleep is to build or buy a slider storage platform, which functions much like a platform bed with drawers underneath.

These storage units keep all of your gear safely tucked away under the sleeping area while keeping everything easily accessible.

Containers and Cargo Nets

As anyone who camps or travels a lot will tell you, the best way to keep required storage space to a minimum is to keep it organized.

Without a decent organizational system, gear that you’ve carefully packed into a tiny area before the trip will start to expand over time as you rifle through looking for this or that.

A messy truck bed will start to feel cluttered, and lead to stress that you don’t need.

Instead, use cargo nets attached to the sides of your camper or truck bed to keep frequently-accessed items off to the sides, so they’re not rolling around the sleeping area.

And utilize storage containers to keep items organized by use, such as storing all the kitchen items together.

This will make it easier to find what you need, and prevent messes caused by frantic searches.

Cooking On the Road

Camping means different things to different people; some people like to keep things simple, while others prefer “glamping.”

So it makes sense that your cooking options while truck bed camping are also incredibly varied.

The Kitchen

The first thing to decide is what your camping kitchen setup will be.

This can be anything from a fire pit and a jug of water to a full camping stove.

Camping stoves are usually propane-fuelled and come in budget varieties as well as high-end luxury models.

They can be convenient, especially if you’re cooking elaborate meals or for a lot of people, but keep in mind that a camping stove is one more thing taking up room in your truck.

A good old fashioned campfire minimizes the gear you need to bring, but it’s also very dependent on favorable weather conditions, so it might not be the best option for damp or rainy weather.

The Food

Make sure to bring a good stock of non-perishable food items like:

  • Dried beans
  • Rice
  • Canned goods
  • Jerky
  • Freeze-dried veggies

It’s easier if you plan your meals out ahead of time, so you can be sure to bring only the ingredients you need.

Most people think of roasting hot dogs over a fire when it comes to camping food, but there are actually a surprising number of creative camping recipes out there if you want to change it up.

When it comes to long truck bed camping trips, spices can be your best friend – the right spices can completely change a meal, and take up very little storage space.

Cleanliness and Hygiene

One of the more off-putting aspects of truck bed camping is the question of cleanliness and hygiene.

But there is plenty you can do to keep clean while enjoying the great outdoors.

It just takes some planning ahead and a few of the right tools:

  • Hand Sanitizer: Use it after going to the bathroom and before each meal.
  • Extra water for washing (if possible): Or find a source at the location. At least wash your face, armpits, groin, and feet every few days, if nothing else.
  • Oral Hygiene Items: Don’t forget to brush and floss
  • Biodegradable Toilet Paper: Or use nature’s TP: leaves

Speaking of toilet paper – if you don’t feel comfortable leaving the truck bed at night to use the restroom, you’ll need to bring a container to take care of that in.

Plan Ahead to Be Prepared

As much fun as it is to be spontaneous, the best truck bed camping trips are the ones that you plan ahead for.

The more you know what to expect, the better prepared you’ll handle anything that comes up.

  • Directions: It sounds obvious, but make sure to have a clear idea of where you’re heading before leaving the house. If possible, print out a map or write the directions down, in case your truck’s GPS cuts out once you get to a remote area.
  • Road Conditions: If you have a 4-wheel drive truck with decent clearance, you probably won’t have to worry too much about road conditions. Still, it’s worth researching ahead of time for things like flooding, mud, and snow.
  • Weather: Truck camping provides more protection from the elements than traditional camping, but you’ll still be susceptible to extreme weather conditions, so check the forecast and prepare accordingly.
  • Required Permits: It’s not uncommon for campsites to require overnight permits, so make sure to take care of them ahead of time and avoid potential fines.
  • Flora and Fauna: Experienced campers know to keep an eye out for potentially troublesome flora or fauna in an area, such as poison ivy, ticks, and bears. Find out what the local plants and animals are so you know to be on the lookout.

Half of the fun of truck bed camping is escaping the grind of everyday life.

But if you take the time to handle the admin of the trip ahead of time, you’ll be better able to fully relax once you leave for the trip.

Final Thoughts

Nature lovers never tire of finding new ways to enjoy the solitude of the wilderness, and camping is one of the best ways to do just that.

After a day spent hiking, rock climbing, or just relaxing outdoors, it’s a treat to come back to basecamp and have a nice meal and a restful sleep.

Take your camping setup one step further by exploring truck bed camping – you’ll be glad you did.

image: pxhere

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