An Introduction to Truck Camping

While it may be a while yet before I get my RV, the truck I bought to tow it with has already come in handy for another use: truck camping. By this I don’t mean buying a camper that slides into the bed of a truck, but rather just sleeping in the bed of the truck as-is. I first attempted this last November when the roomie and I went up to Charlotte, NC for a weekend to attend a renaissance festival. Here are my thoughts on the experience.

First off, I think truck camping could be as simple or complex as you want to make it. I opted for simple, the idea was to save money on hotel costs. The majority of our trip was going to be spent out doing stuff, and we only needed a place to sleep. Staying in our tent wasn’t very viable, the temperature was suppose to get below freezing one of the nights and on the night we drove up, we didn’t arrive in Charlotte until well after dark. Trying to put a tent up in the dark with cold fingers just isn’t fun. Hence, the idea of sleeping in the truck bed.

There isn’t really much you need if you want to try this yourself. Having a cap/cover/camper top/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is important for protection from the elements. If you’ve been considering this form of camping, you likely already have one. If you don’t though, you should seriously think about if this is something you want to be doing before shelling out the money. Depending on size, utility, sturdiness, and complexity, prices can run from a couple hundred to a couple thousand. If this is something you are truely interested in, shop around. A quick google search will reveal several manufacturers who make numerous different models.

My topper seems to be a cut above the standard ones. It slopes up in back for more head room, and has screen windows on the sides that can be opened to provide ventilation (despite the freezing temps I still kept them open a crack for our trip, this kept the condensation from getting too out of control). And the latch in the back locks, which makes the whole experience safer.

Aside from a top, something to sleep on or in is also a good idea. Because it was predicted to be cold, we brought our thin foam backpacking rolls to provide some insulation underneath our sleeping bags, and then we brought pretty much every blanket and comforter we had in our apartment to put on top of them. It worked remarkably well, we stayed quite warm. Because neither of us is very large, there was enough room even with the wheel wells cutting down on space. I have seen pictures where people have built elaborate platforms above the wheel wells to increase the sleeping space, and used the space underneath for storage. One such picture may be found here.

The only other thing I would call a necessity would be something to cover the windows with to provide privacy while sleeping. Our first thought was curtains, but this idea was dismissed on the grounds of being too complex with the way my particular cap curved. What I ended up doing was buying some cheap black fabric and a roll of Velcro. I cut the fabric to fit the windows (there were 6 of them to cover, it took some time) and put Velcro squares on the frame of the windows and the edge of the fabric to stick them in place. It isn’t very elegant, but it works to keep the light and prying eyes out.

The first night, we stayed at a truck stop that allowed overnight parking. It was pretty bright even with our window covers in place, but it worked. The second night we stayed in a Wal-Mart parking lot which was quieter and not as bright. We were not disturbed at either location. For both places we called ahead of time to make sure overnight parking was allowed before showing up.

I considered this first experiment a success, and tomorrow after work the two of us will be doing the same thing again when we travel up to Myrtle Beach for a couple days. I’m really looking forward to getting out of town and traveling again, even if it is just for a weekend.

Have any of you out there ever slept in the back of a truck? What did you think of the experience?

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21 Responses to An Introduction to Truck Camping

  1. Misty January 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    When I was kid my grandparents had a big giant van. All the kids could have seats during the day, then at night we’d fold the seats down and use the big space created to camp in. Much preferable to tent camping. Especially when it rained! πŸ™‚

    If you’re going on a long trip, I suggest doing what my grandmother used to do. She’d pack all of our supplies in rubbermaid bins that she could stow under the vehicle at night. We never had a problem with theft, (probably because people weren’t crawling around on the ground looking for something to steal) but if you’re worried about such things, I imagine you could find a way to make it secure! Bonus: If you’re winter camping, it’s like free refrigeration to keep your perishables fresh and your sodas cold. :>

    • Becky January 5, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

      Your grandparents sound like very sensible people. That’s a clever trick, storing things underneath the vehicle. πŸ™‚ I like tent camping too, they both have their place in my mind. I actually like the sound of rain hitting the top of a tent, as long as I’m not trying to put up/take down the tent in the rain. I’ll never forget our family’s first big tent camping trip, we didn’t realize that the tent needed to be water-proofed before hand, oops.

      As for our trip this weekend, it looks like we’ll be at Wal-Marts both nights, just because that’s what is closest. We’ve already confirmed that both allow overnight parking. The weather looks to be decent too, it’ll actually be warmer than Charlotte was in November.

  2. Danny H January 6, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    Many years ago I had a small Chevy luv truck and went tent camping with a friend. All the camping spots near Arches National Park were full so we went down an old gravel road to camp for the night. There wasn’t any spot for a tent so we figured we would just sleep in the back of the truck. To fit both of us in we had to put most of the stuff stored in the back into the front cab and some tarps, camping chairs and cooking pots were left outside after dinner. As we got into the truck I realized that it was only a 6 foot bed and we were both around 6′ 3″ tall. I thought, no problem, we would just sleep with the tail gate down. It started out as a beautiful clear night, a full moon and great stars. About 1 hour latter a gale wind came through. It lasted a couple of hours and finally calmed down. In the morning we looked at each other and cracked up, as we were covered in dust and looked like a couple of miners coming out of the ground. I went outside and our chairs were down the road. We never did find the tarp. But the memory of that beautiful night made it all worth while.

    • Becky January 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

      Sometimes it’s the things that go wrong that make the best memories, thanks for sharing your story Danny. πŸ™‚ My truck bed is also only 6 feet, but since we’re both under that it wasn’t an issue for us.

  3. Marvin January 6, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    Sounds like you had a great time ! Don’t forget that county parks can be convenient and quiet , and also have shower facilities for longer trips .

    I would not store anything outside of the vehicle , but instead would place items in the cab with a cover over them and locked .

    Cardboard or poster board cut to the shape of the glass with a small piece of duct tape or velcro to hold it in place will darken the interior for privacy and better sleep .

    • Becky January 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Our fabric coverings worked pretty well for keeping the light out. We stayed in Wal-Mart parking lots both nights this time which were darker.

      I gotta say though, having a shower would have been nice. It isn’t too bad this time of year, but if we go during the summer that will be a whole ‘nother story. πŸ˜›

  4. Dave January 6, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    Even though I have a small travel trailer, I still don’t mind tent camping or sleeping in the back of the minivan. Sometimes simpler is better. I really think that the simpler I keep it the more often I will go camping. Just like sailing – the smaller (and easier to rig) your sailboat is the more you will use it.

    • Becky January 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      Ahh sailing. That’s on my list of things to learn how to do someday.

      We worked on the numbers and discovered that the cost of sleeping in the back of my truck was nearly the same as it would have been had we taken her more fuel efficient car and gone tent camping two nights. But when you factor in the convenience of not having to put a tent up and down and the distance between the campground and where we wanted to go, we made the right choice.

  5. Becky January 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Danny, Marvin, and Dave: Sorry I don’t have time to reply individually at the moment, just heading out the door for Myrtle Beach now. Thank you very much for commenting though and I’ll get back to you all (and anyone else who comments) on Monday. πŸ™‚

  6. Brian January 6, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    Hi Becky. I found your website just the other day while reading posts on the Casita Club forum and have enjoyed reading about your adventures. I have a small travel trailer and a truck with an extra tall camper shell. A folding cot works great for me when I camp in the truck, you can use the space under the cot for extra storage. Camp on!!!!!!!!!

    • Becky January 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      Oh that’s a good idea Brian. πŸ™‚ My mother used one when we went tent camping as a family because she had a bad back. Sadly that cot is long gone now. Since my bed is only 6 feet long (I think) I’m not sure lengthwise if one would fit in there or not, but it’s definitely something I’ll think about if I end up truck camping often.

  7. Isherwood Wildwalker January 7, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I love camping in the back of a truck or mini-van.

    I use an inflatable backpacking pad and then one of those two inch memory foam mattresses. More comfortable than any motel, and easily rolls up and out of the way in the morning with a few wraps of rope.

    Isherwood Wildwalker recently posted..A house. Soon to be a home.My Profile

    • Becky January 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

      Probably folds up a lot easier than my ginormo sleeping bag. You can kind of see it in that picture under the blankets, a bit of muddy brown with that horrible red plaid lining inside. It’s definitely not backpacking gear, but warm at least.

      Someday I’ll get nice lightweight gear for camping, after all the RV stuff is taken care of. πŸ˜›

    • George June 10, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

      I use a camping cot in my RV. I actually removed some furniture from my RV so that I have more space in there.

      Sometimes, when there are more of us RVing, I take my inflatable mattress and put in on the ground in the back of my RV. Works super fine.

      • Becky June 10, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

        Thanks for sharing George.

  8. Carolyn Patin January 7, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    I have and enjoyed it. I found it to be a step above tent camping. You are off the ground and when it rains you don’t get wet because of the hard top. πŸ™‚

    • Becky January 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

      My top sadly leaks a little around some of the window seals. It probably wouldn’t be that hard to fix if I bothered to look into it.

      I like the sound of rain on a tent and if you keep up with waterproofing them they won’t leak, but in my mind storms are where truck camping has the definite advantage.

      I still remember clearly when I was younger a camping trip where a storm came up and pulled the awning of our tent up despite being staked down. We found one of the poles that holds the awning up stuck right behind the tent in the ground like a javelin, it missed the back of the tent by maybe an inch.

  9. Mike April 10, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    I fully agree, not having to set up a tent in the rain (or take one down wet in the morning) is a major plus.

    My most memorable night was in Goosenecks State Park in southern Utah. The temperature was perfect, weather was nice, and later during the night wave after wave of intense thunderstorms came thru. I felt quite cozy… and also lucky that I had decided (in case of rain) to camp at Goosenecks on rock instead of Valley of the Gods on dirt – I’d still be stuck there!

    • Becky April 10, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

      That’s quite the story Mike! I’m glad you were parked on high ground.

      I want to get to Gooseneck Stake Park, all the pictures I’ve seen of it looked beautiful. I hope you enjoyed your time out there!

  10. Wendy Cartright December 1, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your experience! Truck camping actually sounds like a lot of fun. My husband and I are talking about doing that this summer for a couple weeks maybe. We just need to get a truck cap.

    • Becky December 1, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

      You’re welcome Wendy! I really enjoyed my weekends truck camping, and I think it would be a comfortable way to travel for a couple weeks as long as you pad the “bed” appropriately. I don’t know about your truck but mine has a ridged liner in it that requires a couple layers of padding to negate. I do like the ridged design though because it traps air between the bed and the metal bed of the truck and is better insulated.

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