Truck camping now is not just used as an activity – it’s being adopted more as a lifestyle. It means living simply in your truck, finding comfort in less, and discovering nature more closely. It’s about connecting to nature and making the most out of a cozy and minimal setup. It is also known as Overlanding or off-grid camping.
Truck camping has several advantages over others as it is cost-effective and your truck can take you to places that other recreational vehicles cannot. It provides mobility to remote areas and has a convenient setup, storage, and sleeping arrangements. You can have more flexibility to change conditions and build a closer, immersive connection to nature.
What Is Truck Camping?
“Truck camping involves using your pickup truck as a shelter for outdoor adventures. It’s about creating a snug and basic setup with the necessary amenities within your truck bed, that lets you enjoy camping to the fullest”.
Although truck camping offers many advantages, you also need careful planning, preparation, and knowledge of outdoor ethics to respect the environment. Follow these simple tips that I have learned from my own truck bed camping experiences and enjoy your first-ever truck camping adventure.
Find A Mechanically Fit truck:
First of all make sure that you have a mechanically fit truck, that can handle overlanding. Or you can invest in a good truck and you will never regret it, as it would be your best investment. Ford, Chevrolet (Chevy), Toyota, GMC, and Ram (Dodge) are some of the best truck brands that are producing a wide range of pickup trucks in many different sizes, and features.
Pre-Plan Your Gear and Accessories:
For me planning the gear and accessories comes before the canopy or camper shell build, as you build your camper shell around your gears. To guarantee that your camper is built to accommodate the particular equipment and stuff you’ll need for a successful camping vacation, it is crucial to plan your gear before creating a truck camper.
This proactive strategy ensures that the configuration, storage areas, and features of your camper meet your needs, avoiding the need for retrofits or adjustments in the future. By designing a functional and optimal living environment that is specifically suited to your needs from the beginning, you may save time, money, and effort.
There are chances that your gear and accessories may wiggle while off-roading, so try to keep things intact and protect fragile accessories with linings. It’s better to build compartments around your gears to keep them safe.
Find A Family Mechanic
Truck camping is a never-ending journey. It’s smart to make friends with a mechanic who understands your truck and what you want. They can help make your truck just right for you, making your journey smooth and lasting. Especially if you don’t have any technical know-how.
But if you are technically sound, you can build your truck by yourself to cut the cost. The most important part of truck camper build is finding the right truck camper canopy or camper shell.
Choose A Suitable Truck Camping Setup:
The best lesson I have learned in my 10 years of outdoor camping is that, picking the right camper shell for your truck camping setup is a game-changer. It can make or break your truck camping adventure.
For a short trip, you can use a truck bed tent for sleeping and protecting your gear, but for long camping trips look for the canopy or camper shell that is well-insulated, fits snugly, and offers durability and space.
The camper shells and canopy come in various shapes and sizes and in different materials explained below. Choose according to your need and truck size.
Aluminum Canopy Or Camper Shell:
Aluminum canopies are more durable and sturdy due to their robust build. Most of the models come equipped with built-in storage solutions. But for durability, we cannot compromise insulation.
Aluminum canopies are less insulated than other options. During colder seasons, they tend to be colder, while in the heat of summer, they can become uncomfortably warm. Their customization and repair are also challenging at times.
Wood DIY Camper Shell Or Canopy:
Crafting a DIY wood canopy can create unparalleled customization possibilities. Skilled builders can create a canopy tailored to their needs. However, this creative freedom comes with some practical downsides.
It is difficult to achieve complete waterproofing which can cause leakage, rot, and mold growth. Also, the wood is inherently heavy, which can affect the truck’s gas mileage and handling. While a DIY truck camping setup might seem budget-friendly, it has proved to be equally costly.
Fiberglass Canopy Or Camper Shell:
Fiberglass canopies come in numerous shapes and sizes that can easily fit individual truck camping needs. Their aerodynamic design improves gas mileage, a boon for extended journeys. They can be easily repaired because of their widely available supplies.
They are lightweight as compared to wood and aluminum but on the other hand, they are more susceptible to breaks or cracks.
Wedge-Style Camper Shell:
If you find good quality wedge-style camper shells, it will make your trip as they balance the cost and comfort of rooftop tents and slide-in campers. Because they are new in the market, you may not find the right one easily and most manufacturers are not producing quality products. So, I would suggest you research thoroughly before purchasing. I got mine from Alu Cab Camper, and I am very satisfied and love the space it creates for me.
So, I suggest you go for the canopy that is well-insulated and has a good ventilation system based on your budget and personal preferences.
Off-Grid Power System For Truck Camping:
Carry an off-grid power system that suits you best and according to the amount of power you need. I am using jackery lithium solar generators as they produce no fumes and no noise. So, I can have my generator inside my truck.
It is in fact a giant battery pack with 3 built-in inverters. It has three different AC ports that you can switch on with a button. It also has many different USB ports, charging ports, and 2 inputs to build a charge quickly. You can hook up 4 solar panels at his jackery at one time.
If you don’t have any electrical know-how, you can hire an electrician for these electrical power tasks. It’s a good idea to learn some basic electrical knowledge, so you can understand how things work on your journey and fix issues. Know which power source suits you best. Start by checking out these simple electrical guides before your first trip.
Build A Sleeping Platform To Maximize Space:
For short-term weekend trips, carry a good comfy air mattress, pillows, and blanket for sleeping on the truck bed and that’s it. You will also get a great space for storage boxes.
For long-term truck canopy camping trips go for PVC sleeping platforms or DIY wood platforms with dedicated storage space. These cost under $300 and will last for years. The benefit of sleeping platforms is that they can create tons of extra storage space under the bed.
Basic Truck Shell Camping Essentials: (For Inside Use)
Now it is time to discuss some essentials that are used for camping mostly inside the truck or are directly built into the camper. I have prepared a list for you, that I have been using for years.
- Maxxfan 6200k vent fan: Install it for ventilation
- JOYTUTUS 12 Volt Refrigerator
- Hike Crew Gas Camping Stove | 20,000 BTU (It’s made our lives easier for 4 years and is equally great for cooking inside the truck or outdoors closer to nature. It’s lightweight and easy to go anywhere. Just connect with your own propane tank and enjoy cooking anywhere.)
- KYY Portable Monitor 15.6inch
- Graphene 3-Level Heating Sleeping Bag: For those who won’t get warm easily on colder nights.
- CAMPMAX Water Container: Its rectangular shape will let you carry several of these.
- GPS Navigation System: Either install a GPS navigation system in your truck or keep a handheld navigation device to keep track of your location.
Gears To Maximize Your Outdoor Fun:
The ultimate goal of truck camping is to maximize your outdoor fun by getting closer to nature as much as possible. So, truck camping outdoor gear includes all those accessories that will build your closer relationship with nature. So, here is a list of items that I will never forget to carry. In fact, they stay in my truck all year long.
- Camping chair and table
- Skottle grill (for extra cooking fun away from your campsite in the wilds of nature)
- Outdoor Camping Shower (For taking a bath while enjoying the nature)
- Waterproof string lights for added ambiance.
- Portable Toilet (read our article on best camping toilets to select from different types of toilets that suit your needs)
Equip Your Truck For Emergencies:
Emergencies happen and it is a reality. Adventure-loving people don’t fear surprises but are ready to face them. Pre-planning the truck camping must not ignore nature’s surprises or mishaps. Of course, when you are off-roading it usually happens that you may stuck somewhere or in the middle of nowhere. So, you should have all the useful kits and equipment that help you and your truck out of that unpleasant surprise. A
The following kits should be available in your truck all the time. Better dedicate a separate and easy-to-reach space for them.
- First aid kit: I prefer keeping some calming medicines in my first aid kit as I have a weak heart.
- Tire repair kit and an extra tire: Tire repair kit to repair punctures and plug tires. Don’t forget to keep an extra tire.
- Tire inflator and pressure gauge
- Emergency Roadside Kit contains a multifunctional shovel, jumper cables to borrow electricity, tow ropes, 16pcs multifunctional tool set, ice scrapper, and gloves to protect hands.
- Tarp: Keep it for unwelcome rain and storm protection.
- Recovery Gears: Including shackle, strap, and extra cords to help recover your or your friend’s stuck truck.
- Walkie-Talkies: Long-range walkie-talkies have proven to be a lifesaver.
- Pepper Spray: For defending yourself against wild animals especially bears.
I suggest you read my article on truck winter camping as a guide to avoid cold weather and snow emergencies while truck camping.
Pets Are Great Camping Partners:
Dogs are thought to be very good camping partners, as they are loyal and protective. They also produce a significant amount of heat if sleeping in your rig on colder nights. They also sense danger and retrace locations. For those, who are not dog fans and are cat lovers, I’ll suggest you carry a cat that is strong enough to face the outdoors.
Cats are a bit hesitant when it comes to long outdoor camping trips. So, if you still wanna like camping with the cat, you can carry a well-trained Maine coon cat, which has all the dog-like characteristics and brave the outdoors with fun. They are curious and love exploring new places.
Where To Find Overnight Parking For Your Truck:
Bearu Of Land Management and U.S Forest Serving Land (USFS) allows you to camp freely in a large number of beautiful areas and forests. You must check with their official website before planning.
There are some RV parks, Walmarts, big store parking lots, casinos, and city and country parks that allow overnight parking and sleeping in the truck. Special programs like Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome offer free stays at unique places.
Read our article for a complete guide on how to find free campsites and free overnight parking for your truck.
Can you sleep and cook at the back of your pick-up truck?
Yes, you can sleep on your pickup truck bed using a mattress or building some sleeping platform. You can also cook inside your truck with your portable stove.
How is truck camping better than other RV camping?
Truck bed camping is better because your truck can take you to places that other RVs cannot go. It's best for off-roading and overlanding.
Is Truck Bed Camping Legal?
Yes, truck camper camping is legal in most of the areas while some areas have some limitations. Do check your local campsite regulations before planning the trip.
How to measure your truck?
First, close the tailgate. Then measure from the front edge of the truck bed to the inside of the tailgate. Measure along the bed's bottom. Also, consider extras like wheel wells and accessories.
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