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. In the ultimate guide to truck bed camping, we’ll teach you all you need to know about turning your truck or SUV into a camping adventure vehicle.
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
- Jumper cables
- Gas can
- Shovel (for vehicle recovery)
- Tow strap
- Duct tape
- Folding saw
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. Its floorless design means that it fits easily over the truck bed without having to remove equipment from the truck itself. All three sizes sleep up to 2 adults.
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. Thule's Low-Pro Rooftop Tent comes in a 2-person or 3-person size. Their Kukenam Rooftop Tent is a bit larger and can be expanded with an annex that also gives you access to your 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. This canopy from KingCamp adapts to a variety of vehicles and can be attached over the sides or back of a vehicle. Tuff Stuff Overland's Roof Awning is a sturdier option that comes with four support arms and guide ropes for added stability.
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.
Mattresses & Sleeping Pads
For pickups, we recommend the Pittman Outdoors Truck Bed Air Mattress or Rightline Gear's truck bed mattress. A standard camping air mattress will also work if it fits your vehicle. If simple and lightweight is more your style, try this inflatable sleeping pad from Klymit or this sleeping pad from Therm-a-Rest.
Sheets and blankets will work just fine for truck bed camping but sleeping bags take up less space. Here are some of our favorites:
- Kelty Galactic Down Sleeping Bag
- Coleman Silverton Sleeping Bag
- Teton Sports Mummy Sleeping Bag
- Kelty Doublewide Sleeping Bag
- Marmot Trestles Mummy Sleeping Bag
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:
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? Check out our 10 Best National Parks for Camping!