Thinking of trying out camping in the bed of your truck? Awesome! Truck Bed Camping is a lot of fun, however, there is a bit of a learning curve involved to do it right. Here is an extensive guide to know everything you ever wanted on how to truck bed camp (and more!).
Introduction To Pickup Truck Camping
I don’t know about you, but, when I head outdoors for a camping trip I see more and more solo rig campers. This includes Truck Campers, Sprinter vans, and even car campers.
It’s getting really popular these days and rightfully so. It’s very affordable, simplistic, and gives you the ability to really get deep into the backcountry to explore further without lugging a trailer or RV with you. Gas costs are also reduced and your overall outdoor footprint is smaller. It’s a Win/Win.
However, what about all those little details to get you started your first few times out? I hear ya, so, let’s tackle that. Issues like “how do you shower when truck bed camping?” or “Where do you poop when truck camping?” Those are valid questions!
Here is everything you ever wanted to know about truck camping and well, a whole lot more!
Why Do People Go Truck Bed Camping?
When I first heard of the idea of truck bed camping, I immediately thought “well that sounds uncomfortable”. However, as my love for the outdoors grew, I learned that more and more, I wanted to travel lighter and be more mobile.
Camping in a truck really lets you do both. Ever tried to change camping spots in the middle of a trip? You have to pack up your RV and sewer lines or even something as annoying as breaking down your tent just to move to a new location can be a pain. But, with truck camping, it’s easy! Just close up the truck, toss the camp chairs in the back, and cruise to a new adventure!
Also, truck camping can be enjoyed year-round, if it’s the dead of summer or the middle of a blizzard, you can still camp and enjoy yourself (well, relative to those conditions I suppose).
Speaking of conditions, when truck bed camping you will need to get a Overlanding Recovery Gear Kit, if your unsure what you need, we put together a guide to 5 Affordable Overlanding Recovery Gear Items You NEED.
Truck Bed Camping BASICS
To truly master camping in a truck, you need to know the basics first. Let’s talk about what basic and essential tips you need to start truck camping today!
Oh and while we’re here, read up on DIY Airbags to Prevent Sagging in your truck bed camping rig (or when towing)
Picking A Truck Camping Location
Are you ready for the BEST part of truck bed camping? You can do it darn near ANYWHERE! I’m not kidding.
From Wal-mart parking lots to deep in the National Forest, truck camping has no boundaries (aside from private property, no camping posted areas, and anywhere that looks too scary at night).
Living in Northern Colorado, I get the luxury of having camping areas of all types within any distance of driving. I’ve slept in the back of my truck in all locations and learned a few tips along the way.
Stealth Truck Camping:
This is reserved for generally two types, those who are road tripping in their truck and need a quick overnight spot near the highway or those who are quite literally living in their truck. Stealth Truck Camping is a bit riskier due to the increased opportunity to encounter police, weirdos, and store employees in parking lots.
However, if you do it right, you can camp all stealthy-like in your truck in a variety of places including Cables Parking lots, Wal-Mart parking lots and several trucks stops along the way. These are free and often common knowledge to the local cops and store workers.
Just look for any posted signs that say otherwise before setting up for the night. The last thing you want is someone calling the local cops saying there is someone sleeping in a pickup bed in some city, that’s not a fun 3 am window knock.
National Parks Truck Camping in Designated Camping Areas:
National parks are an awesome place to camp for a list of obvious reasons. Most parks have designated camping areas that are both first come first serve and reservable on Recreation.gov
State Parks Truck Camping:
ust like the above National park reasons, state parks also have designated camping areas and you are good to truck camp there just like any other camper regardless of tent, RV, or truck camping status.
Truck Camping in Private RV and Campgrounds:
Now this one could be a bit tricky. Some privately run campgrounds have restrictions including vehicle type, RV year, dog restrictions, and yes rules against truck camping. Just check beforehand.
While those above are fine, let’s be honest? Who needs fancy campgrounds? Let’s get into the WILD, these next few are dedicated to the true Truck Bed Camping heroes!
Camping in public lands is free and vast, the one stipulation is there is a 14-day stay limit in any one spot. But hey, 14 days at a time, and for free, is pretty sweet!
National Forest lands:
These are among my favorites! The lands run by the Forest Service have old Forest Service roads and trails that will take you deeper into the wild than you may be willing to go and well, that’s what I find to be the best part.
BLM-Bureau of Land Management:
BLM lands or a really unique experience, these lands are VAST out west, some are wide open prairies and others are desert lands and some are awesome deep forests. BLM lands are really fun.
Fun fact: many ranchers have agreements with the government to keep their livestock on the BLM lands in a free-range capacity and this means you may run across some random cattle herds or maybe you will be sharing your camping experience in the presence of wild horses!
Keep in mind, on public Lands, you are your own tow truck, so having some essential self-recovery off-road gear can be cheap, easy, and will get you out in a pinch if needed. These are great choices and very affordable:
Sleeping in the Truck Location Considerations
So, you’ve located some potential camping spots, and you’re ready to camp, but, where exactly do you physically sleep when truck bed camping? Let’s sort that out now.
Inside the Cab Truck Camping:
Let’s start with the most immediate access area within your truck, the cab! I know, it doesn’t sound great, but hey it’s an option. From the front seat laid back or the back bench seat, it can be done, but is definitely the most uncomfortable!
Inside The Bed (No Shell or Topper):
This is another one of those “least desirable” scenarios but it can be done. Sleeping in the bed with no camper shell or topper leaves you open to the elements and anything (or anyone) who comes by. So, for me, that’s gonna be a “No”, dawg.
Pickup Truck Shell (or Topper) Camping:
This is one of the most common methods of truck bed camping. The pickup shell offers a hard-sided option to keep the elements and critters out. It’s basically a hard-shelled tent that just travels around with you and you don’t even have to deal with those pesky tent poles!
Truck Bed Tent Camping:
No camper shell? No problem! There are a few companies that make these sweet tents that are specially designed to fit around the bed of your truck and offer a tent-truck camping hybrid experience. This one from Amazon is really cool and highly rated:
Ground Tent Truck Camping:
This is a bit of a cheating option but let’s be honest, there are no rules here and this is a viable option! Sometimes you just don’t have the room in the truck bed and you want to stretch out. Well, set up that tent next to your truck, and well, your (kinda) truck camping!
Truck Camping Sleeping Comfort Options
A significant concern for many when they think of truck bed camping is the comfort factor, and rightfully so! Getting a good night’s sleep starts with a comfortable sleeping position. Let’s discuss your options here to maximize your comfort when sleeping in your truck bed!
From big and fluffy to slimmer lighter, sleeping bags come in many shapes and sizes. They can be used to sleep in for warmth, or laid below you for an impromptu sleeping pad. They can be rolled up and used as a pillow as well. They are versatile and you likely already have a few around the house.
I never cared much for sleeping pads when I was younger, but now? Bring on the softer sleeping surface. A good sleeping pad is a lifesaver when camping in a truck bed. If you have no idea where to start or what’s a good one, check out CJ’s write up of the NEMO Roamer Sleeping Pad Review.
If you want to keep this simple and minimize costs, just grab a few good blankets from the house. They can be folded into a sleeping platform and also used as your blankets. No sleeping bag or sleeping pad needed!….and free!
Truck Bed Mattress by AirBedz:
There is a company called AirBedz that make vehicle specific truck bed camping mattresses that are tailored to fit your make/model of truck bed matching the bed dimensions and contours. I have been eyeballing them for over a year now and want to try them out. Yo Airbedz! Send me one so I can use and review it! I’ll be waiting by the mailbox.
I tried this once, I picked up a twin bed mattress from Walmart and two things happened, I could get it to fit no matter how much air I let in or out and sleeping was very awkward, not to mention, they just lose air all night and potentially lead to a miserable night of sleep. However, if you do better homework than me, you may get one to work and well, it’s an option!
You can pick up a generally sized memory foam on Amazon for pretty cheap. The best part? You can literally cut these to fit your truck bed! The downside? You now have a heavy mattress in your truck and I don’t recommend leaving it in there due to other life duties requiring a truck bed. You don’t want it getting dirty and also don’t want to lug it in and out of your truck all the time.
This comes down to a few options. Bring a few from home. Use a camping inflatable pillow or just roll up some clothes or jackets and use them. I’ve done them all and home ones get dirty. Camping pillows are usually the best bet.
Weather Elements When Truck Camping
One of my favorite parts of truck camping is not having to worry about the elements. It’s kind of like an RV (except it can go anywhere). When truck camping in the snow or rain, there is always the concern of a leak or drops hitting your head all night. That concern doesn’t happen in truck camping.
Temperatures will matter though. I went truck camping last week in Colorado and at night it was about 15 degrees. I don’t care about your sleeping bag, that gets cold, even in a truck bed with a shell. When this happens I do two things:
I keep hot hands all the time, I place them in my pockets, gloves and toss a few down in my sleeping bag for added heat at my feet. It works well and there is no fire hazard.
Mr. Buddy Heater:
Now, this one is the most effective option as a Mr.Buddy Heater will always be a workhorse and keep your truck camper shell nice and toasty. HOWEVER, you cant just set it and go to sleep, two things happen. One is you will get too hot, and the other is the most obvious and dangerous, you could move while sleeping, and your blankets get too close and literally catch on fire.
I don’t know about you but my truck burning down to an ash pile in the middle of nowhere sounds no good. To deal with this, I turn it on before bed, let it get hot, and then turn it off and go to sleep. If I get too cold in the middle of the night, I just repeat the process as needed but NEVER go to sleep with it on, like ever.
Extra Blankets and Sleeping Bags:
It never hurts to have extra blankets and not need them than the alternative of not having enough and freezing. Free and easy.
In the summer, this isn’t much of an issue, like most camping, open a vent window, lose some layers and blankets as needed. Drink more water and you will be fine.
Camping Kitchen when Truck Camping
Undoubtedly one of the best parts of camping is camp cooking. No? Is that just me? Ok fair enough, but either way you will need some cooking essentials. Here are the basics for your truck camping kitchen.
- Camp Stove: If cooking for a family or even another person, you will want the ability to cook it all at once. A go-to for me is my Blackstone Adventure 17” Griddle. I literally love cooking on it and it makes all kinds of food and has a built-in cooking surface so no need to have extra pans. If your not a griddle fan, you can use the Coleman Classic camp stove. Both are great.
- Cast-iron Pan and Campfire: Timeless and easy. A good old cast-iron pan over the fire will get the job done.
- MSR Pocket Rocket: Solo campers or people who keep it simple enjoy using a solo stove-styled method of cooking and the MSR Pocket Rocket is a quality way to get this done.
- Pots and Pans: Your gonna need some kind of surface to cook on.
- Little Green Propane Bottles: These power it all outdoors, from your heater to your stove, they are little beasts for camping.
- Camp Utensils: A good camping utensil kit is great to have and can be used for years without taking your good stuff from home out with you.
- A Cooler: Keeping food in one place and keep it from going bad in warmer temps, a cooler is timeless and effective.
- Portable Fridge/Freezer: Companies like Dometic and ARB manufactures cooler sized self-contained all-in-one fridge/freezer combos. They are more expensive but I hear they are pretty sweet!
- COFFEE: Don’t forget this. Ever.
As a precaution, if you are in any sort of bear country, don’t leave your food out, in fact, keep it very secure and out of reach. Check out our write up on Bear Bags 101 for food safekeeping in bear country.
Power Options when Truck Bed Camping
Power options when camping can get confusing, but it doesn’t have to. A simple power bank and/or a generator will suffice. Jackery, Goal Zero, and many others make great solar power banks.
I would caution you not to rely too much on just running your truck to power and charge things. Long idles are bad for your engine and wasting gas in the backcountry is not a good idea. Just imagine making a wrong turn on an old logging trail just to lose an hour of travel and that be the last bit of gas you had (and now need) to get back to civilization.
When in doubt, read up on How To Get Power Off-Grid
Use the truck’s power supply sparingly. It’s a good idea to keep a portable Jump Start device with you, these are small and very popular over on Amazon.
Psst! Camping with a Dog? Check out our Camping with a Dog Checklist
How To Use the Bathroom When Truck Camping
Ok ok, I know what your thinking “I get it, bro, I know how to sleep, but where in the world do you poop?”
I get it, and now that we established you are a weirdo, it’s my duty to advise you on where and how you doodie while truck camping.
You have a few options here and again, let’s not overthink it.
Camp Toilet: Bringing a portable toilet made for camping is always a great option. Companies like the Luggable Loo are great for this and make it easy. Don’t forget your baggies! That would be shi***….. well you get it.
A Shovel: If you need to drop a deuce in the woods, that’s fine, but make sure it’s buried at least 6 inches deep and 200ft from a water source. Also, don’t bury the toilet paper, you need to do the right thing and pack your trash out, yes even that stuff.
EcoGel Bags: These are a really great option, they have a gelling formula in the re-sealable back that masks any odors and allows you to seal it up and pack it out, mess-free!
Also, many people opt for a Camping Toilet , here are the Best Camping Toilets
Hygiene When Truck Camping
Fortunately, this section will be quick, it’s just like regular camping, brush your teeth, use some wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, and water, and your good to go!
However, if your wanting to get really clean or if your gone for more than a few days, read up on the Best Portable Camping Showers
Storage When Truck Camping
Storage when truck camping is a bit of an issue, the more you bring, the more you need to move around when it’s time to sleep. I recommend the following:
Storage Bins: Keep it light and basic, pack it well and tactfully and a single bin will do you well.
Water Storage Jug: A good 6 gallon just will hold enough water for a couple of days. This is what I have and for years, it works with no issues!
**Pro-Tip, place the water jus on its side and let the water seep out from the air vent hole and you can use it sparingly like a leaking faucet.
DIY Sleeping Platform: I built a sleeping platform with a drawer system that holds most of my gear and stays out of the way. Check out my YouTube video about my drawer system here:
And if Truck Camping isn’t for you, check out Pop Up Camper Vans: Your Next Adventure
Essential Truck Camping Gear List:
Below are the basics and what’s needed, I have linked to recommended items.
**We are an Amazon affiliate and if you purchase through this link, we will receive a commission, thanks!
- BEST Camp Chairs ON EARTH
- Table optional and/or tailgate
- Pocket knife/multitool
- Axe/Hatchet/Saw: I have this and its fantastic
- Waste baggies
- Trash baggies
- Medical or First Aid Kit: This is self-explanatory but if not, check out our DIY Guide to Making Your Own Adventure Medical Kit.
- Firewood: You may want a fire, if so, check out this article: How Much Firewood Do You Need To Go Camping
So, there you have it! All you need to know about truck camping and lots more! Hopefully, this is useful and helpful to you. If truck camping doesn’t sound like it’s for you, check out our list of the Best Off-Road Trailers Under $10,000
I hope to see you out on the trail and as always, GET OUTSIDE!