What Is Truck Bed Camping?

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What is Truck Bed Camping?

Of the many ways to go camping, truck bed camping has become increasingly popular among hunters and fishing enthusiasts. Truck bed camping has so many advantages that it’s worth giving it a try. 

Today, we’ll look at the whole concept to see why so many avid outdoors men and women are camping this way.

Let’s dive in!

What Is Truck Bed Camping? 

Truck bed camping is just what the title suggests – camping in your truck bed! 

Many people who hunt, fish, and enjoy the outdoors for the numerous recreational activities it offers are truck owners. They use their trucks to carry gear or tow a boat. And their trucks take them to the locations where they enjoy their favorite outdoor pursuits. 

Truck bed camping most likely began with a truck owner who went out for a few days of hunting or fishing. Instead of sleeping in a tent on the ground, they decided to sleep in the truck!

Camping in a truck bed is a less expensive way to approach camping than purchasing an RV or camper. It’s also more convenient, comfortable, and secure than camping on the ground.

Truck Bed Camping Methods

We’ve all heard of van camping and car camping. A truck can be a great camping vehicle. Its versatility and ability to drive into remote areas for hunting and fishing can be especially satisfying.

There are many ways to camp using a truck as your home base. Your truck can serve as your recreational vehicle or simply as a way to get your tent off the ground. 

Let’s take a look at the most popular ways to use your truck as your camper.

Truck Bed Camper Shell

A camper shell is a great addition to any truck, no matter what the intended use. Your gear is secured, and everything in it stays safe and dry. But a camper shell can also be useful as a roof over your head.

With a camper shell covering the bed of your truck, you’ve got the start of a fine little RV! You can create a little lounge area and bedroom, and some space for kitchen goods and gear. You can even add power to keep your devices charged. 

You’ve now got a weatherproof covering over your head and a lockable space in which to sleep. Many models of truck campers even have windows that can open for ventilation. And you’ve still got the cab of the truck for more storage!

The standard camper shell is quite lightweight at around 300 pounds and will barely impact gas mileage. Mid-rise and high-rise shells offer more height and space yet still mean you won’t take a hit in gas mileage. This is because the shells don’t generally protrude up over the cab as full truck campers do. 

You can even put a roof rack on your camper shell to carry a kayak, bikes, surfboard, or canoe. Okay, that will impact gas mileage a bit.

Some campers, especially those who use their trucks for camping regularly, build a platform for a bed. This allows them to use the area below the platform for storage. Some campers even create long drawers to easily store and access all their gear.

All in all, a camper shell affords you a safe, dry lounging and sleeping area where you can get a good night’s rest before the fish start jumping in the morning.

Truck Bed Tent

Truck bed or tailgate tents are erected in the bed of the truck instead of on the ground. This is an inexpensive way to pitch a tent that will keep you cool (or warm) and dry and off the ground. 

Manufacturers don’t design tents to withstand high winds or highway speeds. So, you’ll need to set-up when you arrive and take down your truck bed tent for transport.

There are truck tents made to fit just about every size and model of truck, and there’s no shortage of options on the market today.

You can place a mattress or one or two camping pads with sleeping bags inside the tent. And many truck bed tents will even fit a cot or a set of bunk bed cots for sleeping.

Most truck bed camping tents are supplied with “windows” that can be zipped open. In addition, many have several pockets for storage of various items inside the tent.

You can also purchase a portable popup shower tent for showering and use as a bathroom.

Under The Stars

Another way to camp in your truck bed is to lay an inflatable mattress in the truck’s bed, get comfortable, and camp out under the stars. This gets you up off the ground and onto a flat surface free of critters. (Folks who camp in the Florida Everglades will make the point that it gets you away from the crocodiles, too!)

The experience of camping under the stars is a beautiful one to be sure, though many who tent camp in the bed of a truck will surely tell you that the tent adds the advantage of bug protection. 

Still, in the right season and location, sleeping under the stars in the comfort of your truck bed is a mystical experience. A symphony of nature with crickets, frogs, loons, and other wildlife singing in the night will lull you right into sleep.

What You Need for Truck Bed Camping

One of the benefits of truck camping is that it doesn’t require much to be comfortable and get a good night’s rest in your temporary home-on-wheels. Let’s take a look at a few of the things that can lend comfort to your truck bed camping experience.

Sleeping Gear

The first criteria for a good night’s sleep in your truck bed involves your sleeping surface and coverings. 

Many campers use an inflatable mattress in the bed of the truck to provide a comfortable sleeping surface. Some inflatable mattresses are made expressly for truck camping with dimensions to match the truck bed.

But there are so many inflatable mattresses on the market in various sizes that almost everyone can pick one up for very little money. So most campers can create a comfortable sleeping surface in the bed of their pickup.

Pro Tip: A good night’s sleep is super important. We recommend this inflatable mattress for truck camping (it comes with an electric air pump).

Another option to enhance your sleeping surface is a sleeping pad made for camping. These do not require inflation as they’re generally self-inflating as you unroll them. Camping pads are available in various thicknesses and are priced anywhere from $20 to the hundreds of dollars.

You’ll also want additional sleeping gear such as sleeping bags, sheets, or blankets, depending on the weather. Still, it’s always a good idea to have a couple of extra blankets available if the night weather turns colder than anticipated while you’re truck bed camping. 

Kitchen Gear

Kitchen gear is easy to pack in plastic tubs or drawers if you decide to build out your truck. The trick with kitchen gear is to ignore the tendency to over-pack! A pot and a good frying pan or cast iron pan cover a lot of ground.

Many campers like the small cooking sets with folding handles that sit nicely inside one another for compact storage. These are generally available for anywhere from $20 to $60, but some are only suited to cooking for one. So if you’re shopping online for camping cookware, be sure to check the dimensions and plan according to whether you’ll be cooking for one, two, or more.

Next on the list is a camping stove.

Some folks prefer to cook over an open fire, and if you’re sure to have a fire ring or pit at your campsite, this is certainly an option. But small camping stoves are relatively inexpensive and compact, so you may wish to consider buying one. They run on either propane or butane, both of which are widely available, though it’s easier to find propane canisters on the road. 

But never mind food! Let’s get to the coffee!  

Coffee can be made using a little camping percolator, a french press, or the pour-over method. The pour-over method leaves less mess to clean up using your precious fresh water reserves, so that’s something to bear in mind. Either way, be sure to pack whatever kitchen gear you need to make a nice hot cup of joe or tea to sip while watching the sunrise over the lake.

Other than plates, cups, and utensils – which could be of the paper variety or otherwise – you don’t need to overpack kitchen gear. A pair of metal tongs and a spatula, some salt and pepper, and you’ll be set.

Refrigeration may fall within the “kitchen gear” category for some, and this can come either in the form of a cooler with ice or a camping refrigerator or electric cooler. The latter two will require power, so be sure to plan for your power needs accordingly.

Speaking of power needs…

Power

There are several ways to power your devices and appliances when camping, most notably using your vehicle’s battery while you’re driving (to charge phones, tablets, and such), and a small inverter to charge your laptop if you absolutely must have it along to do some work.

For power needs such as those related to refrigeration, CPAP machines, and the like, you’ll need to rely on a power pack or “solar generator.” These are widely available in various forms and have a battery you can charge through the 12V port in your vehicle. It’s best to charge these while you’re driving so as not to deplete your engine battery.

Solar generators are spectacular in the sense that they can be charged using energy from the sun! Compact versions of these will fit nicely into your truck’s cab or covered bed, and a portable solar panel set in the sun and connected to the pack will keep it charged for your later use.

A gas generator is another option some campers choose. These are bigger, louder, and create exhaust near your campsite, but some campers do choose to use them. 

Many campers step out into nature to get away from the trappings of constant connection. For them, a small rechargeable battery to keep their phones charged for emergencies is all they need.

But if you may be camping in extreme heat or cold, you may need power to keep yourself safe and warm. And that brings us to climate control.

Climate Control

If you’ll be truck bed camping in the heat of summer, you may want to have a fan or two running for your comfort if the screens on your tent or camper shell aren’t cooling your sleeping space adequately. 

There are many 12V oscillating and non-oscillating fans of various sizes available for campers. There are also battery-operated fans available, though they may not cool as well as those powered by your 12V outlets. Fans can be clipped strategically inside your tent or truck bed camper shell to circulate the air and keep you cool as you sleep.

If you camp in cool or cold weather, there are options available for heating as well. One popular concept is that of the 12V heating blanket. This requires power, so you’d need to rely on one of the power options noted above for this option.

There are also sleeping bags made for extreme cold which are designed to keep you warm even if you are winter camping outdoors.

Another great option that doesn’t require power running through the night is a good old-fashioned hot water bottle. These are made of rubber to hold extremely hot water. You would heat water in a pot or kettle on your camping stove or fire and pour it into the hot water bottle. 

Once tightly closed, you would place the hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag to keep you warm. A key warning is to make certain that you have a tight seal with no leaks before putting boiling water into the sac because hot water can cause serious burns.

And finally, small propane heaters like the Buddy heaters are an option to heat your truck bed camper before you fall asleep. However, always remember to crack a window open in any space where you use a propane heater. This note is so important that we’ll repeat it for the sake of impact — never use a propane heater inside your camping area without cracking a window open, regardless of how cold it may be outside.

Pro Tip: If you prefer a campfire, here’s how to build the perfect flame!

Where Can You Go Truck Bed Camping?

Now that you know your options for truck bed camping, where can you go camping in your truck?

You can go truck bed camping at most campgrounds, on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, overlanding in remote areas where campers are welcome, and of course on private property with permission.

If you have a camper shell, you could even do the truck bed camping thing in parking lots of Walmarts, Cracker Barrells, etc., with permission, though we would not advise pitching a tent in the bed of your truck and sleeping in a parking lot.

Truck Camping for Flexible Adventures

If you have a pickup truck, then with a few enhancements, you’ve got the makings of a great little camper. The great thing is that if you’d like to try truck bed camping to see if it’s for you, you won’t need to make a significant investment. An inexpensive inflatable mattress or sleeping pad, a sleeping bag or two, a little camping stove, and you’re on your way! If you enjoy the experience, you can add further enhancements as your time and budget allow.


Trucks can take us into some tremendous places in nature where folks with large RVs can only dream of going. So pack up your truck and head for the hills and streams! Bring your fly-fishing rig. The fish are jumping!

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