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There are many ways to go about truck camping, from creating a DIY camper shell to investing in a slide-in truck camper. But my experience tells me that two things are certain no matter which method you choose: truck camping requires a minimalistic approach and superior organization.
Camping in the back of a truck requires a creative approach to storage, organization, and everyday life. Comparatively, RVs offer abundant storage and spacious living areas. But most RVs can’t get to where you probably want to take your truck camper.
So, while the major benefit of truck camping is access to off-grid spots that RVers simply can’t reach, the major challenge it presents is creating an efficient lifestyle in a small space. Learn how these folks transitioned from van life to pickup truck camping before you read on through our truck camping tips and ideas for the ultimate trip.
It’s always refreshing to hear from those who have come before you. As a truck camper turned full-time RVer, I have a unique perspective on the pros and cons of these two travel styles. I hope you enjoy the truck camping tips I’ve compiled for you today.
Table of Contents
Truck Camping Tips for Organizing Your Truck Camper
Enjoyable truck camping trips start with knowing you have the right gear and keeping that gear organized. We’ll talk about must-have truck camping gear in the next section, but let’s begin with truck camping tips for storage and organization.
Get Storage Bins
There is nothing less efficient than having loose items in the back of your truck.
Everything should have some sort of storage bin or milk crate. This will keep things from shifting around and also protect them from the elements if they are stored in an open truck bed. I’m personally a fan of these heavy-duty 5-gallon storage bins because they’re easily stackable.
I used to employ the larger varieties, which can be great for bigger gear, but these are easier to stack and reorganize. I also utilize thinner storage containers with wheels for storage underneath the platform in my truck…at least until I can afford a Decked drawer system.
Load From Least-Used To Most-Used
There is no sense in loading the items you use every day into your truck camper first.
Everything you need daily access to should be the final things you organize in your truck camper. Otherwise, you’ll waste time pulling out less-used items to get to what you need. And there’s no shame in regularly reorganizing if you notice your first attempt was inefficient.
As a full-time truck camper, it’s natural to empty, clean, and reorganize at least once a month, especially if you’re traveling with a partner or a furry companion.
Examples of items that can go into your truck camper first include seasonal clothing, inflatable paddleboards, seldom-used tools, and backup camping supplies.
Anything that’s likely to be retrieved once a week or less can easily be organized with more commonly used items in front of them. Some items that I keep accessible include my portable generator and its fuel supply, camp chairs, and golf clubs because we like to stay at golf courses that offer their services via Harvest Hosts.
Avoid Mismatching Gear Shapes
Organizing the bed of your truck is a game of Tetris every time you leave a campsite.
Sure, some folks enjoy this version of Tetris, but mismatched gear shapes create wasted storage space when you’re truck camping. And when you’re already trying to maximize a limited amount of storage space, any amount of waste is too much.
For example, don’t choose a round water reservoir if you’ve already taken my advice to go with square or rectangular storage bins for your camping supplies. Instead, look into a square water container that’ll make your Tetris game much easier. Sticking to similar shapes allows you to pack everything in tightly to maximize your space.
Pad Sensitive Items and Secure Everything
Everything that can move, jostle, or bump around when you’re driving…will do so!
Your biggest enemy when packing your truck camper is excess space. The better you are at that Tetris game we mentioned above, the less your stuff is going to bounce or shift while you’re driving, and this is really important for truck campers.
The reason is that most truck campers like to explore off-grid or attempt to find boondocking areas that other campers can’t access. Those explorations often require navigating rough, unmaintained roads, and the worst-case scenario is getting to one of those beautiful, remote locations and realizing that an essential piece of equipment was broken along the journey.
That’s why tie-downs and bungee cords are your best friend if you have excess space in your truck camper. Even with it tightly packed, consider using towels or extra blankets to pad especially sensitive items. If you have a slide-in truck camper, consider using kitchen linens and drawer liners to pad kitchen essentials and other supplies stored inside.
Must-Have Truck Camping Gear
There’s so much awesome gear for pickup truck camping, but I’ve narrowed this list to five must-haves that I think anyone camping in the back of a truck should have.
If you are looking for more recommendations, check out my list of 20 truck camper accessories!
High-Quality Cooler or Portable Refrigerator
Keeping perishables fresh is really important if you like barbequing when truck bed camping.
I try to keep my perishables to a minimum, but there’s a huge difference between a high-quality cooler and a cheap one.
In other words, there’s a reason why YETI and RTIC coolers cost more than the competition. They are simply better at maintaining cold. My go-to for truck camping trips is this RTIC 45-quart Hard Cooler, but I do wish I had a basket inside to keep sensitive produce elevated and protected.
If you have a larger budget and ample power supply, you may also look into a portable electric refrigerator for pickup truck camping.
Portable Power Bank Or Generator
While you might not quite need something this big, it is nice to keep your electronics fully charged when camping in the back of a pickup truck.
I’m personally a fan of using camping trips to disconnect from technology, but that’s less possible if truck bed camping is your full-time living situation.
As an alternative to a power bank or generator, you could also use a more traditional inverter. You can plug one into your cigarette lighter to charge AC electronics while you are driving.
Your truck will just need to be running for this to work, so it’s not the best solution if you are going to be set up in one spot for days at a time.
Awning Or Shade Structure
I recently returned from a birthday camping trip off-grid in Padre Island National Seashore.
The entire week leading up to leaving, the weather continuously said it was going to be cloudy and overcast for the entire weekend (but warm enough to warrant not canceling).
I neglected to get an additional shade structure for the weekend because of this. I regretted it.
It was sunny all weekend and I didn’t do a good enough job wearing screen and/or covering up. So I upgraded to a rack-mounted ARB awning when I got back.
You don’t have to go to the same lengths as I did to have shade when truck camping. Rack-mounted awnings are nice, though, because they don’t take up any space inside your truck.
Extended Camp Table
Did I mention I like to cook when I’m camping? Well, that requires plenty of space for food prep, cooking, and cleaning. Your standard square camping table just doesn’t supply that kind of space.
That’s why I love my extended Alps Mountaineering Fremont Table. It is six feet long and adjusts to several different heights to suit the terrain.
In nice weather, I set it up at the same height as my tailgate to create an L-shaped kitchen.
Plus, it is tall enough for me to use it as a standing desk when I need to get some work done!
Bet you didn’t expect this one. And sure, it’s less glamorous than the others, but I prefer to cook as much as possible when I’m camping. Doing dishes, however, it’s always the most fun, especially when conserving water is also imperative.
This scraper allows me to scrape the initial layer of food scraps off plates, bowls, utensils, and cookware before using any water to finish cleaning.
Truck Camping Tips for Trip Planning
Even with the right truck camping gear and a good method of organization, there are truck camping tips you can only learn by spending a few months on the road.
But you’re a step ahead of me because you’re reading this article! These lessons might help you avoid some of the early mistakes I made.
Plan in Advance
Don’t count on reliable mobile service!
When we’re at home, we easily forget that mobile connectivity is a convenience that doesn’t exist everywhere. That’s why it’s so important to plan in advance when you’re living on the road.
When you do find a coffee shop or town square where you can connect to Wi-Fi (or just good mobile service), take those opportunities to look ahead and prepare for what’s to come.
This will minimize the number of times you’re stressed about the location of the next gas stop, unsure of where you’ll camp for the evening, or unaware of that pristine dispersed camping site just a few more miles down the road.
Seek Local Knowledge
There’s truly no substitute for asking for local recommendations!
Even though the Internet has made it easier than ever to find information about our favorite camping destinations, only locals and experienced visitors know whether that article on the ‘Best Hikes Near Lake Tahoe’ actually had any credibility.
When you arrive at a new destination, stop into a local gear shop or café to ask locals about the spots you’re thinking of camping that night. See if they have recommendations for restaurants, breweries, dog parks, or whatever you’re looking for!
Sometimes, this requires a strategic approach because some locals will be a bit reticent to give up their secret spots (rightfully so, in many cases).
It’s important to show respect to every new destination that we visit and practicing Leave No Trace camping is always recommended.
But seeking local knowledge can often lead you to stumble across breathtaking campsites you would never find otherwise.
Make Camp Early
There’s nothing worse than rolling into a spot at dusk and finding it full when you’ve been anticipating camping there all day.
It never hurts to have a backup plan, but it’s a good rule of thumb to make camp with 1-2 hours of daylight remaining. Of course, how early you’ll need to make camp will change seasonally, but the principle is one that has helped me avoid many times where I would’ve been setting up camp in the dark.
Rolling into camp early takes a lot of the stress out of whether or not you’re going to find a comfortable campsite for the night. It will also give you several hours before the sun goes down to explore and really enjoy the sites you select when you’re truck camping.
There are certain times of the day when it makes more sense to drive than others, depending on the season and your location.
During the winter, I prefer to get up early and get most of my driving out of the way so I can enjoy the daylight during the warmer afternoon hours. This also means I wake up, start my truck, and climb into the heated cab during those brisk morning hours.
In the summer, I often change my approach so that I’m driving during the hottest part of the day. This allows me to get up and enjoy a sunrise hike or paddle before allowing the A/C in my truck to keep me cool as I move on to my next destination.
Stay (Occasionally) with Friends and/or Family
A warm bed and a hot shower feel like heaven after a few weeks on the road.
This may be easier said than done for some, depending on where your family is located. But going a few hours out of the way to visit family or friends can be the perfect trip reset if you’re feeling a bit lonesome or burnt out.
If you’re traveling near folks you haven’t seen in quite some time, it can also be a perfect opportunity to reconnect. You never know where those connections might lead and, to our earlier point, you better bet those folks you elect to stay with have local recommendations you won’t find online.
Truck Camping Tips for Working Remotely
My best friend calls it “funding the stoke,” but I consider myself very lucky to work remotely from anywhere I get a reliable WiFi connection. Working from home, however, is much different than working while truck camping.
This section features my truck camping tips for any fellow remote workers out there:
Work Offline As Much As Possible
I do most of my writing work in Microsoft Word or use the offline feature in Google Docs as long as I research material downloaded in advance.
This will depend on the nature of your remote work, but it helps me to work offline as much as possible. That means downloading sites and resources for offline use when you don’t have WiFi. This allows me to work from a remote campground even if I have no WiFi or cellular service.
Use A Mobile Hotspot
In some cases, upgrading your phone plan will be the most economical way to work remotely while truck camping.
When I do need to transfer a document, send a quick email, or download additional resources, I hop on my hotspot for a few minutes. If I’m really diligent about this, I use less than 30GB per month even when working remotely full-time.
Of course, the feasibility of this will depend on the nature of your remote work. I would also highly encourage you to reach out to your phone service provider to inquire about unlimited plans and mobile hotspot gigabyte rates.
Piggyback On Campground WiFi
You can also log into campground WiFi every time you decide to make an overnight stop at a developed campground.
In some cases, you may even be able to log into these connections briefly if you are stopping through a park for day use only.
For me, my conscience is always a bit cleaner if I am paying for a campsite and then enjoying ‘free’ WiFi as a ‘perk’. The only issue with campground WiFi is that it is not always the fastest if the campground is full and there are many others using it.
To combat this issue, I purchased a range extender that works in most scenarios. This allows me to extend the existing WiFi for a better signal at my site.
Invest in Starlink Internet
The viability of satellite Internet has increased dramatically in recent years.
I see many more Starlink antennas in developed campgrounds and boondocking sites than I did even two years ago. Something tells me that the trend is set to continue as technology improves and more people gravitate to the freedoms of remote work.
Personally, I don’t have experience with Starlink just yet, but I’m super curious to test it out. Fortunately, Kristin has an excellent article on Starlink’s mobile Internet options if you’d like to learn more.
Make Coffee Shops A Daily Stop
Coffee shops are still a viable option for remote work and a great way to support local businesses wherever you travel.
Coffee shops used to be my daily go-to for remote work, but then March 2020 hit…and later I adopted a dog. Sometimes, I miss hopping from shop to shop during the day, sampling their signature beverages and scrumptious pastries.
But I still frequent coffee shops occasionally. In fact, I utilize all of these strategies from time to time, as the nature of my travels requires.
If you are living and traveling in a truck camper full-time, you will most likely need to use all of these strategies to get work done remotely.
Truck Camping Tips for Personal Hygiene
The lengths you must go to maintain personal hygiene when truck camping will depend on the locations you visit. As you can see from the photo above, some will require more creativity than others.
Let’s talk about truck camping tips for bathing and using the restroom when you’re on the road:
Use Campground Facilities
If you always pull your truck into a developed campground for your overnight stays, life will be much easier. You will be able to use the campground’s restroom facilities.
Still, you may need to bring your own toilet paper (been there, not done that!). Don’t take it for granted that the campground staff has kept things well stocked and clean.
Campground facilities are also great for showers. Even if you pull into a campground once a week for a quick shower, it’s better than nothing. If you don’t stay in developed campgrounds all the time, look for public showers in other locations.
Check out this article detailing 11 ways to find public showers when living in a campervan.
Keep in mind that you might want to use your Chacos or a pair of cheap shower sandals for using public showers or campground facilities. I’ve known a few unfortunate souls who have picked up some pesky foot fungus from public showers at campgrounds or hostels.
Get a Portable Toilet
Portable toilets are great choices for using the bathroom more comfortably when dry camping or boondocking.
There are a variety of portable toilet options out there. Some fold up to really compact packages and others require a bit more storage space.
If you don’t have a lot of space, you will probably want the folding style. I’m just not a huge fan of these because you create plastic waste every time you do your business.
The ‘Porta Potti’-style toilets require more storage space, but they’re more environmentally friendly because they have a waste storage tank that can be emptied regularly (similar to the tank underneath the best small RVs).
These tanks can be emptied into the ground at an RV dump station or even poured right into a pit toilet at your next campground stop.
If you want to learn more about portable camping toilets, check out this article.
If you like boondocking but don’t want to carry your waste out, you can always resort to digging catholes when you need to relieve yourself.
Please practice responsible backcountry restroom principles by digging a hole to the proper depth and packing your toilet paper out.
As a pro tip, I also highly suggest pre-digging your cathole if you know your body likes to go first thing in the morning.
There’s nothing worse than having to spend an extra two minutes digging in tough, high Sierra granite when your body really needs to go.
Moving on from a somewhat dirty topic, let’s talk a bit about how to keep yourself clean when pickup truck camping. Here are a few more ways you can enjoy a comfortable shower while you’re on the road.
Invest In A Portable Solar Shower
I bought a portable solar shower from Advanced Elements before I left my hometown last fall.
It was a great option for a shower at Mahogany Flat Campground in Death Valley National Park. It is essentially a bladder that you fill with water and then place in the sun to warm up.
The problem with these portable showers is that they require a minimum of four hours in direct sunlight to warm up.
That makes things tough for truck campers who move around a lot. It also makes it impossible to get a hot shower during colder or overcast weather. So, let’s talk about an alternative.
Mount A Shower To Your Truck’s Roof Rack
There are also some pretty cool solar showers that mount directly to your truck’s roof rack.
The benefit of these showers is that they are always in the sun so they heat up while you drive. Plus, you don’t have to set them up each time you get into camp.
The RoadShower I purchased even allows you to pressurize an air chamber in the tank so that your water flow is better than just gravity-fed.
Alas, this solar shower still doesn’t solve the issue of getting hot water on cold or sunless days. That’s when you’ll need to…
Install A Portable Water Heater
If you want to take a hot shower whether it’s sunny or not, there’s a solution for that too.
There are portable showers with tankless water heater attachments that use liquid propane to power a heating element.
The best of these showers will provide hot water in a matter of minutes. Plus, they will work for taking a hot shower rain or shine. Check out this recent review we found of an Eccotemp tankless water heater.
Truck Camping: Should You Sleep In Your Truck?
Now that you’ve read through these truck camping tips, let’s address what I believe to be the quintessential question facing all truck campers: Should You Sleep in Your Truck?
It’s become more straightforward for me over the years:
You should only sleep in your truck if you have a slide-in camper, a rooftop tent, or a high-rise camper shell. In the last case, you’ll really only be comfortable if your truck bed is longer than you are tall.
Ultimately, your choice depends on your height, the length of your truck bed, and the amount of gear you’re carrying. With a slide-in truck camper or a rooftop tent, you’ll have more dedicated storage space than if you’re sleeping in a camper shell. In the latter case, clearing enough space for sleeping would require leaving valuables outside and unprotected overnight, which isn’t recommended.
That said, sleeping in the back of your truck can be much more comfortable than setting up a tent on the ground. In nice weather, it can also create an opportunity for stargazing, so long as you’re either a minimalist camper without extra gear or you have a way to secure belongings outside and you don’t mind moving them out to make sleeping space in the bed of your truck.
Types Of Truck Camping
There are several different variations of truck bed camping. Let’s discuss a few of them briefly so that you know all of your options.
Camper Shell Truck Camping
Installing a camper shell over your truck bed is a great option because it vastly improves the amount of covered and protected storage space you can enjoy.
I personally have a shell on the back of my Tacoma and I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about my gear getting soaked in an unexpected rainstorm.
You can also sleep inside your camper shell if your truck bed is long enough. I do highly recommend installing tracks with some kind of roof rack cross bars or cargo baskets for additional storage or living space on top of your camper shell.
Interested in a camper shell? Check out some camper shell inspiration in this post!
Slide-in Truck Camper
Installing a slide-in truck camper eliminates your ability to store gear in your truck bed. That said, it is arguably the most comfortable way to camp in the back of your truck.
Check out our article on the best truck campers to start evaluating your options.
Truck Bed Tent Camping
Believe it or not, they even make tents that are installed in the bed of your truck.
The benefit of this style of truck bed camping is that you don’t have to sleep on the ground. You also will have a guaranteed flat spot to sleep on every time you go camping.
The downside is that you will have to completely unload your truck bed to set up your tent. Plus, you may have to invest in a set of leveling blocks to park on so that you can get your truck bed as level as possible for sleeping.
Aside from looking really good in photos on Instagram, a rooftop tent is great for trucks with a camper shell already installed.
You can enjoy all of the storage space in your camper shell while having a quick-and-easy tent to set up on the roof.
Because of their position, rooftop tents can be susceptible to damage when camping in high winds. You won’t be able to set them up within the windbreak created by your truck (like you would with a regular tent).
Plus, many of them still take as much time to set up as a normal tent.
Your final option is setting up a regular tent on the ground outside of your truck.
This method has the benefit of quick setup and allows you to maximize space on your roof rack for other truck camping accessories.
The downside is not having a sleeping space that’s easier to set up when you get to camp, however. But if you follow my rule of making camp with at least 1-2 hours of daylight remaining, it shouldn’t be a problem.
You may also be interested in The Best Lightweight Pop Up Truck Campers [By Four Wheel Campers]
Conclusion On The Ultimate Guide To Truck Camping
I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this ultimate guide to truck camping.
If you have any recommendations or insights that I haven’t covered in this guide, we would love to hear from you.
Please drop a comment below with gear tips, organization advice, or any other insights you have picked up from your own pickup truck camping experience. Thanks in advance!
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