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Truck Camping: The Ultimate Guide

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Truck camping is the newest rendition of my life on the road. I grew up doing a lot of RV camping, which has given way to owning a couple of RVs of my own.

The benefit of an RV is plenty of extra storage space. Camping in the back of a truck requires a bit more creativity. 

Creating an efficient lifestyle in a small space is imperative to pickup truck camping.

From choosing the right gear to knowing the best ways to practice basic hygiene, we are going to cover everything in this ultimate guide to truck camping. 

Truck Camping: Should You Sleep In Your Truck?

Truck camping site with tent, fire pit, fire wood and camping table around truck
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

One of the biggest things that I have grappled with is whether or not to sleep in the back of my truck.

Of course, your choice will depend on your height, the length of your truck bed, and the amount of gear you typically bring when camping in the back of a truck. 

For me, I have far too much gear stored inside my truck bed and the back seat of my truck for truck bed camping.

Clearing enough space in the bed for sleeping would require leaving valuables outside and unprotected overnight. Plus, I’m about 5’10” tall and my truck bed is only 5’6” long. 

That said, I have slept in the back of my truck a couple of times during nice weather. I left the tailgate open so that my feet could hang out and it was actually quite comfy. 

My feeling is that camping in the back of your truck is best if you are shorter than the length of your truck bed.

Plus, truck bed camping is a better option for minimalist truck campers that won’t have to leave a bunch of gear outside overnight. 

Of course, if you have a way to secure your belongings outside and you don’t mind moving them out to make sleeping space in the bed of your truck, I’d say go for it.

When you are confident the weather is going to be nice and you have your truck parked in one place for several days, camping in the back of your truck is often easier and more comfortable than setting up a tent on the ground.

Types Of Truck Camping

To be fair, 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

Truck camper with camper shell parked on sandy beach
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

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 for truck bed camping. I do highly recommend installing tracks with some kind of roof rack cross bars or cargo basket for additional storage or living space on top of your camper shell. 

Slide-in Truck Camper

Slide in truck camper
Photo Credit: Mike Goad via Pixabay

A slide-in truck camper is a great choice for full-time truck campers. It is also a nice option for extended trips because it basically gives you all of the amenities of an RV in a smaller package. 

Installing a slide in truck camper will eliminate 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

Truck bed tent set up in truck
Photo Credit: Project LM via Flickr

Believe it or not, they even make tents that set up right 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. 

Rooftop Tent

SUV with rooftop tent set up on roof
Photo Credit: Michael Aleo via Unsplash

Aside from looking really good in photos on Instagram, a rooftop tent is great for trucks with a camper shell already installed.

You will be able to enjoy all of the storage space in your camper shell while having a quick-and-easy tent to set up on the roof. 

Now, 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. 

Tent Camping

Tent set up in the snow with dog in foreground
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

Your final option is just to have a normal tent that sets up outside of your truck.

To be honest, this has been my primary truck camping method to date. It has the benefit of quick setup and I am able to maximize space on my roof rack for other truck camping accessories

Sometimes I do regret not having a sleeping space that is easier to set up when I get to camp, however. But if I follow my rule of getting to camp with at least two hours of daylight remaining, it’s never usually a problem. 

You may also be interested in The Best Lightweight Pop Up Truck Campers [By Four Wheel Campers]

Truck Camping: How To Organize Your Truck Camper

Gear setup in the back of a truck camper
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

I have to admit that I suffer from a mild case of OCD when it comes to organizing my truck camper.

I get enjoyment from organizing and reorganizing the bed of my truck and the process is ongoing, but these are a few helpful tips I’ve picked up over the years. 

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. 

Load From Least-Used To Most-Used

There is no sense in loading your camp kitchen gear into the bed of your truck first if you cook daily. I like to load the items that I use least into the back of my truck first so that the items I used most are easily accessible. 

Otherwise, I’ll spend unnecessary time unloading and reloading every time I need something.

Some examples of the items that go into my truck first include my inflatable paddle board and seasonal clothing. Things I like to keep easily accessible include water reservoirs, shovel, and my backpacking stove plus a can of fuel. 

Avoid Mismatching Gear Shapes

Organizing the bed of your truck is a game of Tetris every time you leave a campsite.

Some people (myself included) enjoy Tetris more than others. But the point of the game is to minimize dead space by finding shapes that fit together perfectly. 

When camping in the back of a truck, mismatching gear shapes will create wasted storage space.

For example, if you have storage bins that are mostly square or rectangular, a round water reservoir won’t quite fit in place as snugly as you’d like. So if you stick to similar shapes, you will be able to pack things in tighter to maximize your space. 

Using The Bathroom While Truck Camping

Tarp stretched to create privacy for portable outdoor toilet
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

The lengths you must go to, to relieve yourself comfortably when truck camping will depend on the kinds of locations you like to visit. Here are a couple of examples:

Campground Restrooms

If you always pull your truck into a developed campground for your overnight stays, this will be less of a concern.

You will be able to use the campground’s existing restroom facilities.

You just still may need to bring your own toilet paper (been there, not done that!). 

Portable Toilets

Nowadays, there are a variety of portable toilet options out there. Some fold up to really compact packages and others will require a bit more storage space.

They are great choices for using the bathroom more comfortably when dry camping or boondocking

If you don’t have a lot of space, you will probably want the folding style of a camping toilet. I’m just not a huge fan of these because you will be creating plastic waste every time you do your business. 

The ‘Porta Potti’-style toilets require much more storage space in the back of your truck. They are also 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

Digging Catholes

If you like exploring off-grid camping areas and you don’t want to carry your waste out, you can always resort to digging catholes when you need to relieve yourself.

Just 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 to the bathroom 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. 

Truck Camping Shower Tips

Roof of truck camper with mounted awning
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

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 ways you can enjoy a comfortable shower while you’re on the road. 

Use Campground Facilities

Once again, using campground showers is always an option. Even if you pull into a campground once a week for a quick shower, it’s better than nothing.

This is obviously a more appropriate option for folks that tend to truck camp in developed campgrounds. 

Even if you don’t stay in developed campgrounds all the time, there are also public showers available in many locations.

If you are interested in this option, check out this article detailing 11 ways to find public showers when living in a campervan

Just keep in mind that you might want to use your Chacos or get a pair of cheap shower sandals when using this option.

I’ve known a few unfortunate souls that have picked up some pesky foot fungus from shared campgrounds or hostel showers. 

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 that move around a lot. It also makes it impossible to get a hot shower during colder or overcast weather. 

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 are heating up while you are driving. Plus, you don’t have to take the time to set them up when you get into camp. 

The RoadShower I just 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. 

Portable Water Heaters

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. 

Must-Have Truck Camping Gear

As a self-diagnosed gearhead, diving into a section like this can be dangerous.

There’s just so much awesome gear for pickup truck camping, but I’ve done my best to pick 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

Scraper

Silicone food scraper
Photo Credit: REI

Bet you didn’t expect this one. I prefer to cook as much as possible when I’m camping, but 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. 

Check out this scraper on REI.com

YETI Cooler or Portable Refrigerator

Aqua colored YETI cooler
Photo Credit: REI

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 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.

If you have a larger budget and ample power supply, you may also look into a portable electric refrigerator for pickup truck camping. 

Check out this YETI cooler on REI.com

Portable Power Bank Or Generator

Portable power bank
Photo Credit: REI

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. 

Check out this portable power bank on REI.com

Awning Or Shade Structure

Truck with rooftop mounted awning set up
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

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. 

Check out this ARB awning on Amazon.com

Extended Camp Table

Extendable camping table
Photo Credit: Backcountry

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! 

Check out this Alps Mountaineering Table on Backcountry.com

How To Work Remotely While Truck Camping

Truck camping site with picnic table, cooler, camp stove and other camping accessories
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

As a freelance writer, it is imperative that I find ways to work productively while I am on the road. I’ve done remote work for years, but working from home is different than working while truck camping. 

So here are a few tips I’ve picked up recently: 

Work Offline As Much As Possible

I understand that this will depend on the nature of your remote work, but it is always possible to work offline as much as possible. That means downloading sites and resources for offline use when you don’t have WiFi. 

For me, I can do most of my writing work in Microsoft Word as long as I research material downloaded in advance.

That allows me to work right from a remote campground even if I have no WiFi or cellular service. 

Use A Mobile Hotspot

When I do need to transfer a document from Word to my Drive, send a quick email, or download additional resources, I just 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.

In some cases, upgrading your phone plan will be the most economical way to work remotely while truck camping. 

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. 

Make Coffee Shops A Daily Stop

Before March of 2020, working remotely at coffee shops was a huge part of my regular remote workflow.

Things have changed a lot in the last year, but coffee shops are slowly becoming a viable option for remote work once again. 

Of course, you may find that different states (and even cities) will have different policies in place.

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

Truck camper with desert landscape and blue sky above
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

In addition to refining my setup, there are also a few important lessons that I’ve learned over the first few months of living on the road.

If you’re considering living out of a van, RV, or pickup truck, these lessons might help you avoid some of the early mistakes I made! 

Plan In Advance

Depending on where exactly you’re heading, mobile service may not be reliable enough for you to always have answers at your fingertips.

When we’re at home, we can easily forget that mobile connectivity is a relatively new technological advancement, and it 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 link to Wi-Fi (or just good mobile service), you should always take those opportunities to look ahead a little way and prepare for what’s to come. 

This will help keep you from feeling ill-prepared and winding up having to just pull over and park on the side of the road for the night because you don’t know there’s a campground or dispersed camping site just a few more miles down the road. 

Seek Local Knowledge

Even though the Internet has made it easier than ever to find information about our favorite camping destinations, there’s truly no substitute for asking locals about their opinions on sites you’ve read about online.

This is the same reason why I recommend hiring an experienced guide if you’re new to any outdoor activity. 

But, that’s slightly beside the point. When you roll into a new destination, stopping into a local gear shop or café is a great way to ask locals about the spots you’re thinking of camping that night.

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 that you would never find otherwise. 

Make Camp Early

For me, there’s nothing worse than rolling into a spot at dusk and finding it full when you’ve been anticipating camping there all day.

Because of this, I always try to make camp by about 4 or 5 pm, at the latest. Of course, this changes slightly with the longer summer days, but the idea is still valid. 

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.

And 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. 

Drive Smart

Depending on the season, there are certain times of the day when it makes more sense to drive than others.

For instance, I prefer to get up early and get most of my driving out of the way in the morning during the winter.

This puts me in the comfort of my truck cab while it’s still warming up and often frees me up to explore outdoors during the warmer part of the day. 

During the summer, however, I sometimes flip that schedule 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’m moving on to my next destination.

Conclusion On The Ultimate Guide To Truck Camping

Picture of Tucker Ballister camping
Photo Credit: Tucker Ballister

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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