Truck Bed Camping

Whether you’re planning a short family weekend getaway or dreaming of a year-long journey along the Pan-American Highway, truck bed camping offers an excellent, budget-friendly means of travel and exploration.

It’s easy to become absorbed in the exciting world of truck bed camping gear and to fantasize about the ideal truck bed setups and platforms. However, remember that these are just tools to facilitate the real goal – the adventure itself!

This post aims to introduce you to the essentials of truck bed camping, equipping you with all the necessary information to begin your very own truck camping adventure today!

What is Truck Bed Camping?

Truck bed camping involves exactly what the name suggests – camping in the bed of a pickup truck. However, the way you set up your makeshift “truck camper” can vary. You could go simple with just a pad and a sleeping bag, or elevate the experience with high-quality camping gear.

Overall, truck bed camping is a highly minimalist and cost-effective approach to camping without the need to tow a camper. With appropriate gear, it also offers the flexibility to camp in various locations, depending on your truck’s capabilities, and the advantage of not having to sleep on the ground.

This style of camping can range from simply placing an air mattress in the truck bed, setting up a tent within it, or even creating a small recreational vehicle beneath a truck cap. Some truck owners have ingeniously transformed their pickups into impressive DIY RVs, with several even adapting their setups for winter camping in their truck beds.

What Size Truck Do I Need for Camping?

The suitability of your truck for camping largely depends on your size and how you intend to use it. Generally, any size truck can elevate you off the ground for sleeping. However, a longer or larger truck bed typically offers more comfort and more possibilities for converting it into a camper.

If you’re considering buying a truck with the intention of camping, aim for one with a bed that’s not too short. A standard 6.5-foot short bed is often recommended as the minimum for comfortable camping, while mid-size or long bed trucks provide even more space and comfort.

It’s worth noting that a standard twin mattress (whether air or regular) usually fits flat across the wheel wells in both mid-size and full-size pickup trucks. Although you might not need a twin mattress, this gives you a rough idea of the available space. Additionally, there are methods to fit a larger mattress in a pickup truck if needed.

Read More: Camper Trailer

Truck Bed Camping Methods

Although possessing a camper shell or canopy on your pickup truck simplifies the truck camping process, it’s not essential for having a great outdoor experience in your pickup.

Camper Shell

Utilize your existing camper shell or canopy for truck bed camping if you have one. For those considering getting one, we have a comprehensive guide to help you choose the perfect option, as there’s a wide variety available. You don’t need to spend a fortune either; our first fiberglass camper shell was a $40 find on Craigslist, and we later upgraded to a GFC camper for family trips.

We highly recommend this approach for truck bed camping. It offers a secure and weather-protected area that you can customize with a sleeping platform, storage solutions, curtains, lighting, etc., tailoring it to your specific camping needs and ensuring you’re always adventure-ready.

Truck Bed Tent

A truck bed tent, like this one is an affordable and straightforward way to start camping in your truck. This method is accessible due to its low cost and ease, as it doesn’t require significant modifications to your truck. It also provides the advantage of an elevated sleeping area.

However, with a truck bed tent, you can’t install more permanent or customized sleeping platforms in your truck bed. Also, setting up a truck bed tent can be as time-consuming as pitching a regular ground tent.

Ground Tent

Even if you’re not actually sleeping in your truck bed, you can still enjoy truck bed camping. Just pack a top-notch tent and some water-resistant storage containers for your camping gear, load them into your pickup, and you’re all set for your camping trip!

Upon arriving at your campsite, you can easily set up your camp kitchen on the tailgate, pitch your tent, and you’re good to start your outdoor adventure. Moreover, if the weather is pleasant, you might even skip the tent altogether and opt to sleep under the stars right in the bed of your truck!

How to Setup The Truck Camping

Despite appearing similar on the surface, RV and truck camping are distinctly different experiences. Vans, for instance, are typically not built to endure the same level of wear and tear that a vehicle might face, nor are they designed with the specific space constraints of truck living in mind.

Living in any vehicle requires paring down belongings and embracing a minimalist lifestyle, but truck camping is arguably the most extreme form of this minimalism. It demands a more significant reduction in material items and a greater adaptation to limited living space. 

Read Also: How to Shower Without a Shower Camping

How to Setup the Truck Bed Camping

Camping in a truck bed tent elevates the experience of outdoor sleeping and secure camping to new levels. It’s an excellent method for taking your pickup truck into off-road and off-grid locations without the hefty expense of intricate overlanding setups or a costly truck camper.

Truck bed camping offers the convenience of camping right in your truck bed without the need for climbing ladders, enhancing both safety and comfort in the wilderness. Plus, using truck bed tents for wilderness camping is a budget-friendly option that doesn’t break the bank!

Pickup trucks typically come in three standard bed lengths: extended, short, and compact. Full-size pickups are robust cargo-hauling vehicles with spacious truck beds. Compact pickups, while smaller in bed size, offer similar benefits to their full-size counterparts. Their smaller size is gaining renewed popularity thanks to their versatility and ease of maneuvering.

When setting up your truck bed for camping, it’s important to account for wheel wells and any fixed accessories like an auxiliary gas tank or a toolbox. Make sure to measure these areas accurately for a perfect fit.

How to Setup the Truck Canopy Camping

The canopy on your truck is arguably as important, if not more so, than the truck itself. It dictates the amount of space you have, the places you can visit, and your comfort level in terms of staying warm and dry.

Truck canopies vary widely in their design, size, and shape, catering to different needs. Some are geared towards basic storage, while others offer more versatility.

When it comes to materials, fiberglass, and aluminum are the two main types used for truck canopies. Fiberglass options usually fit more snugly to the truck, offering better aerodynamics and reduced wind resistance, which can lead to better fuel efficiency. Aluminum canopies, though they may not be as aerodynamic, offer ease of access and are generally easier to modify if you’re looking to customize your setup.

Truck Bed Camping Sleeping Gear

Truck Bed Camping Sleeping Gear

Securing a restful night’s sleep is crucial for a fulfilling truck bed camping experience, as it keeps you refreshed and ready for the adventures that await the next day.


For truck bed camping, selecting the right mattress is crucial for ensuring a comfortable night’s sleep in the great outdoors. A truck bed camping mattress should be durable, able to withstand varying outdoor conditions, yet comfortable enough to provide a restful sleep after a day of adventure. Options like a high-density foam mattress or a self-inflating camping pad offer a great blend of comfort and support, conforming to the shape of your body while insulating against the hard and often uneven surface of a truck bed.

Additionally, these mattresses are typically lightweight and compact for easy storage, making them ideal for the space constraints of truck bed camping. With the right mattress, your truck bed transforms into a cozy retreat, ensuring you wake up refreshed and ready for another day of exploration.

Sleeping Bag 

If you already own a sleeping bag and aren’t planning to camp in temperatures below 50 degrees, you’re set to start your truck bed camping journey with what you have. However, for camping in colder conditions, investing in a quality sleeping bag is essential to enjoy your experience fully. The ideal sleeping bag for truck bed camping should focus on two key aspects:

Synthetic vs Down Insulation: In the context of truck bed camping, where condensation and moisture are factors, synthetic-fill sleeping bags have an advantage because they maintain their insulating properties better in damp conditions. That said, some down sleeping bags are treated with hydrophobic down, which absorbs less moisture and dries quickly. This can make them a good choice for truck camping, especially if you need a more compact option.

Proper Temperature Rating: Ensure that the temperature rating of your sleeping bag matches the conditions you expect to encounter during your truck bed camping trips. This ensures you stay warm and comfortable throughout the night.

Also Read: How to Shower When Camping

Get a Weighted Blanket

When embarking on a truck bed camping adventure, one item that can significantly enhance your comfort is a weighted blanket. Unlike regular blankets, a weighted blanket offers a unique sensation often likened to a gentle hug, promoting relaxation and a deeper sense of calm. This can be particularly beneficial in the outdoors, where unfamiliar noises and environments might disrupt sleep. 

The added weight helps to maintain a comfortable and stable sleeping temperature throughout the night, making it an ideal companion for those chilly evenings under the stars. Not only does it aid in a more restful night’s sleep, but it also adds a cozy, comforting touch to your truck bed camping setup, ensuring you wake up refreshed and ready to enjoy the day’s adventures.

Truck Bed Cooking & Kitchen

Fortunately, your truck already comes equipped with an essential piece of camping cooking equipment: a tailgate that doubles as a table!

However, the surface of most truck tailgates isn’t flat, which can be challenging for cooking. To solve this, you might consider adding a flat piece of plywood to the inside of your tailgate during your truck bed setup, creating a more suitable cooking surface.

Aside from that, what are the necessities for a well-rounded cooking setup?

  • Camping Stove: For efficient outdoor cooking.
  • Can Opener: An essential tool for canned goods.
  • Silverware: Basic eating utensils.
  • 1-2 Pots/Pans: Ideally titanium for durability and non-stick for ease of cleaning.
  • Cutting Board: A flexible one is more practical.
  • Tin Foil: Versatile for cooking and storing food.
  • Sponges: For cleaning up after meals.
  • Dish Soap: Or consider water-less dish cleaning wipes for convenience.

If you have space for a small cooler for storing meats and cheeses, that’s a bonus. Stackable Tupperware is also a great addition – it’s compact, versatile for various storage needs, and can even be used during cooking.

Other Truck Bed Camping Gear

Makeshift Shower

In a truck bed camper setup, there are several additional accessories that can be quite useful, and you can choose to keep things basic or go for more elaborate options based on the available space.

Water Storage

Access to water is a vital aspect of any camping adventure. The market offers a diverse range of water storage options. When selecting a container, it’s essential to consider three key factors:

Adequate Capacity: It’s important to bring a sufficient amount of water, and it’s often wise to bring more than you anticipate needing.
Container Material: Pay attention to the quality of the material used for the water container, ensuring it’s suitable for storing water.
Full Container Weight: Remember that a gallon of water weighs approximately 8.34 pounds. Based on your capacity to transport weight, opt for water containers in sizes like 3, 4, or 5 gallons. For many, a basic food-grade water jug with a spout will suffice.

Read More: How To Boil Water While Camping

Electrical Setup

If you’re looking to have electrical power during off-grid camping, you’ll need to arrange a power source. Many campers opt for a single battery or a dual battery system, depending on their power requirements. This setup might require an inverter to convert the 12V power from the battery to 120V power, suitable for various devices.

An easier alternative is a compact power station, which can be charged through your truck’s 12V port while driving, or via a portable solar panel. These power stations are excellent for running small 12V compressor fridges and charging several devices while camping.

Makeshift Bathroom/Shower

Consider investing in a small, pop-up shower tent for added privacy at your campsite. These versatile tents can serve as shower stalls, changing rooms, or even a makeshift bathroom. They are designed to fold down into a compact, lightweight circular shape, making them easy to pack and carry in your truck for truck bed camping adventures. For added convenience, you might also bring along a portable toilet and shower.

Camping Chairs and Table

Essential items for any camping trip include comfortable chairs and a sturdy camping table. It’s important not to skimp on these. Camping chairs often wear out quickly, so opting for a reputable brand known for comfort, like a Coleman model, is a good idea. Zero Gravity chairs are gaining popularity, especially for those who plan to spend a lot of time relaxing or have back issues, and might be a worthy investment.

Lights, Safety, and Other Gear

Once night falls, you’ll require a more reliable light source than just your phone’s flashlight. I’m a big fan of small solar-powered lanterns, particularly the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor. It’s impressive because it emits plenty of light, has a long-lasting battery, and can be compressed into a compact size. Just leave it in the sun during the day, and you’ll be assured of ample light at night.

A good quality headlamp is invaluable when camping. It’s perfect for tasks like cooking or navigating the campsite when your hands are occupied. I would always choose a headlamp over a traditional flashlight. Black Diamond is my go-to brand for reliable headlamps.

Venturing beyond cell phone service areas is a matter to consider with care. It means being out of reach for contacting others, as well as being far from emergency rescue services and medical assistance.

Know Kore: The 115 Best Travel Tips for all Travelers

Truck Camping Privacy

When selecting a canopy for your truck bed and designing the interior, privacy should be a key factor. This is not just for a sense of personal security but also vital if you’re engaged in stealth camping in locations where camping might not be openly permitted.

A basic solution like installing curtains for your canopy windows is often enough. They are budget-friendly and straightforward to set up. Additionally, if you intend to use interior lights at night, it’s wise to test their visibility from outside the truck. Do this by turning on the lights in the evening and checking how visible they are from outside before you embark on your journey.

Truck Camping vs. Car Camping

While truck camping and car camping share similarities, their primary distinction lies in the type of vehicle used. Truck camping specifically involves the use of a truck, whereas car camping can be done using a variety of vehicles such as cars, SUVs, or passenger vans.

Trucks, with their enhanced off-roading capabilities and ability to handle rugged terrain, often lead to truck camping being undertaken in more secluded areas. On the other hand, car camping is usually found in more urban or less challenging environments. Regardless of the vehicle you choose, there are numerous wonderful locations to discover.

Another advantage of trucks is their external bed, which can easily be converted into a sleeping space without significant alterations to the vehicle’s interior. For those looking to maximize this space, the internet offers a wealth of inspiration and creative ideas.

Is Truck Camping Legal?

Truck camping, like various other camping methods, is permitted in numerous locations. A key benefit of this style is the flexibility to park your vehicle in many places for a rest. However, be aware that some areas have restrictions against overnight camping or sleeping in vehicles. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the local rules and regulations before settling in.

Many truck campers opt to stay on public lands, which are often managed by entities like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), or state and county parks. Additionally, some private lands and properties may welcome overnight camping, but it’s essential to obtain permission prior to setting up your camp.

You can Read: How to Insulate a Tent for Winter Camping

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide has been useful in helping you determine if truck bed camping suits you. In my opinion, it’s an excellent option for those who already own a truck and are eager to start camping. There’s no need to wait for the ideal camping setup and delay your outdoor experiences.

The discomfort of sleeping on the cold, hard ground amidst bugs is a thing of the past. With truck bed camping, you get the advantage of sleeping off the ground, away from unwelcome critters, and possibly enjoying a better view right from your tent door, all while reducing your environmental impact and saving money. Feel free to share in the comments whether you’re a fan of truck bed camping or if you prefer another type of camping setup!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you camp in the bed of a truck?

Definitely! Equip your truck bed with an air mattress designed for truck beds, such as the Pittman Outdoors AirBedz Truck Air Mattress, which fits neatly around the wheel wells. Pair it with a truck bed tent like the Napier Truck Tents to create a comfortable camping setup, offering protection from insects, rain, and sunlight.

Why are truck bed campers so expensive?

The high cost of truck bed campers is due to their design, which incorporates numerous features into a compact and lightweight structure. If you’re hesitant about the expense, consider a more budget-friendly alternative like a truck bed tent combined with a truck bed air mattress for your camping adventures.

Do I need a special type of truck for truck bed camping?

While no specific type of truck is required, it’s ideal to have a pickup truck with a spacious and durable bed. Features like off-road capability and a weather-resistant bed liner can enhance the experience, but most standard pickup trucks can be adapted for basic truck bed camping.

What are some essential items I should bring for truck bed camping?

Essentials include a mattress, sleeping bag or bedding, a portable stove or grill, water storage containers, a cooler or portable fridge, lighting, and a first-aid kit. Don’t forget personal items like clothing appropriate for the weather and any personal medications.

How can I stay safe while truck bed camping?

Always park in designated camping areas or safe, legal spots. Be aware of your surroundings, secure your belongings, and be prepared for wildlife encounters. Also, make sure to have a first-aid kit and know the location of the nearest medical facility.

Can I camp in cold weather in my truck bed?

Yes, truck bed camping can be done in cold weather, but you’ll need to prepare appropriately. Insulate your truck bed, use a four-season sleeping bag, and consider portable heaters designed for camping. Always prioritize ventilation to avoid condensation and carbon monoxide buildup.