You don’t need a camper or an RV to have a comfortable camping experience. If you have a truck (or SUV), you’re halfway there. Truck bed camping combines the comfort and convenience of an RV with the adventure of backpacking. Unlike an RV, you can take your truck camping setup almost everywhere.
Truck bed camping is a type of camping that offers both freedom and flexibility. Using this method, you can camp at a favorite national park, local campground, or even go overlanding. Think of it as the DIY version of an RV. Rather than buying a road-ready rig, you customize a vehicle to fit your camping needs.
If you’re new to truck camping, we recommend starting small by doing an overnight at a campground. Once you have a bit of experience and learn what works for you, you can plan bigger adventures! No matter where you’re headed, here’s a rundown of what you’ll need to do to prepare:
- Assess your vehicle and camping needs. Will you be using a pickup truck or an SUV? Either way, measure the area you plan to use for sleeping and storage (including height if your vehicle has a roof). You’ll need these measurements when choosing a truck topper or tent. Also, how many people need to sleep in the vehicle? Are you sure there’s enough space? It’s better to know ahead of time then when you’re at a campsite for the night.
- Choose your own adventure. Where will you camp? Will you be staying at a campground or in the backcountry? Where and how you’ll be camping determines the equipment you’ll need to bring.
- Pick a topper or tent. If you’re using a pickup truck, the two most popular truck bed camping options are a truck topper or a tent that’s specially designed for truck beds. If you’re using an SUV, you can simply remove some seats and sleep inside. (Or if you need more space, you can also use a rooftop tent or tent that attaches to the back door of your SUV.)
- Plan your sleeping setup. No matter if you’re sleeping in your vehicle or in a tent, you’ll need some type of sleeping pads and bedding.
- Prep your camp kitchen. At the very least, you’ll need a camp stove and some basic cookware and utensils.
- Have a storage strategy. Your vehicle can get cluttered quickly when you’re camping. Make sure to have a plan for how you’ll organize your gear.
Many trucks and SUVs can be used for truck bed camping, from classic pickups to Jeep Wranglers to Land Rovers. The great thing about truck bed camping is the opportunity for customization.
Tools are especially important if you plan to take a long-distance road trip, go overlanding, or camp in the backcountry. For these types of adventures, here are some tools you should have:
Full-size spare tire & jack
Tire repair kit
Shovel (for vehicle recovery)
If weather and mosquitoes aren’t a concern, you can sleep in a truck bed without a roof or shelter. (After all, truck camping can be as simple as unrolling a sleeping bag in the back of your pickup.) But if truck camping is something you plan to do regularly, it’s a good idea to get a cap or topper for your pickup. When choosing a topper, consider things like headroom and windows. On warm nights, it’s nice to have the option of sliding windows or screens.
Truck Bed Tent
There are two main tent styles that are used for truck camping. The first is a truck bed tent. We recommend Rightline Gear's truck tents. These streamlined tents come in three sizes: compact, mid-size truck, and full-size truck.
A rooftop tent is an option whether you have a pickup or an SUV. This tent style is designed to be set up on a vehicle’s roof rack and accessed by a ladder. vehicle without leaving the tent.
Whether you use a tent or simply sleep inside your vehicle, a canopy is an easy way to expand your living space—and provide relief from rain or sun.
Unlike backpacking, gear weight isn’t very important when you’re truck camping. Because of that, you have a lot of options when it comes to creating a comfortable sleeping arrangement: sleeping pads, air mattresses, foam pads, even a pile of blankets. If you plan on overlanding or taking a longer trip, you may want to build a sleeping platform that allows for storage underneath. Either way, you’ll need a padded surface for sleeping.
Your camp kitchen can be as fancy or as simple as you want it to be. At the very least, here are some basics you’ll need:
- Folding camping table
- Camp stove
- Cook set
- Kitchen utensil set
- Water storage container
And lastly, with sleeping, storage, and meals happening all in the same place, it helps to keep gear and supplies organized. These storage trunks work well for larger items while this outdoor storage strap will help you keep track of smaller gear.
Ready to hit the road?