Camping in a truck cap (truck bed camping) is an amazing way to experience the freedom of the open road while enjoying nature. With just your pickup truck and camper shell, you can travel anywhere and have a comfortable place to sleep at night.
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know to start truck cap camping, from how to set up your truck to must-have gear and tips for an amazing camping trip. Let’s get started!
Benefits of Camping in a Truck Cap
There are many great reasons to try truck bed camping:
- Affordable – No need to buy an expensive RV or camper. Truck caps are relatively cheap.
- Mobility – Go off the beaten path with the maneuverability of a truck.
- Versatility – Carry camping gear, bikes, kayaks, etc and sleep in the bed.
- Comfort – Get a good night’s sleep off the ground.
- Convenience – Have your bed and gear storage ready to go anytime.
What is a Truck Cap?
A truck cap, also called a camper shell, topper, or canopy, is a removable fiberglass or aluminum shell that mounts over the bed of a pickup truck. Truck caps are designed to protect cargo and also allow you to sleep inside your truck bed, essentially turning it into a mini camper. Brands like Leer and SnugTop are popular fiberglass truck cap manufacturers.
Preparing for Camping in a Truck Cap
Before your first truck bed camping adventure, there are a few things to consider:
- Truck selection – Most truck caps are built for 5-7 foot truck beds. Short bed trucks can work but may be cramped.
- Cap size – Measure truck bed size and find a cap brand that fits properly. Leave access to tie-downs.
- Weight considerations – Caps add weight. Verify your truck’s hauling capacity before loading up gear.
- Additional equipment – A basic cap will need bedding, storage, lighting, etc. Plan your setup.
Setting Up the Truck Cap for Camping
To convert your truck bed into a cozy sleeping space:
Add a Bed / Sleeping Platform
Start with a basic sleeping pad or mattress that fits snugly width-wise. Or build a platform with plywood and storage underneath. Make sure you can sit up comfortably. Consider a memory foam mattress for maximum comfort.
Create Storage for Gear
Storage bins, drawers, duffle bags – get creative with ways to organize cooking supplies, clothes, tools, etc. Attaching a toolbox or storage benches along the truck bed can also add storage efficiency.
Install Camping Amenities
Lighting and ventilation are key for a good truck camping experience. LED string lights, battery powered fans, and reflectix window covers allow you to customize your setup. A camp table and chairs that mount to the truck tailgate are also useful amenities.
Maximize Existing Truck Features
Use built in tie-downs to hang storage bags/baskets. Access the truck cab to charge devices. You can even put a portable camp toilet/shower inside the cab. Utilize all aspects of your pickup for an integrated setup.
3 Truck Bed Camping Methods
There are a few different ways to arrange your bedding in the truck cap space:
Full Truck Bed
The classic setup is laying a mattress or sleeping pad across the entire bed of the truck. This may be tight in smaller truck beds but allows you to stretch out. Store gear around the edges or under the bed.
For a more permanent feeling bed, many choose to build a raised platform with storage underneath. The platform should be sturdy, taking into account wheel wells – made from plywood, 2x4s, etc.
For extra headroom, suspend your mattress or hammock using hooks on the ceiling or truck bed sides. You’ll need good anchoring points and truck suspension upgrades for heavier duty hammocks.
Truck Bed Camping Sleeping Gear
The right sleeping setup is key to getting some solid shut-eye after a full day of adventure. Some truck bed camping sleeping gear essentials include:
- A quality sleeping bag rated for 3 seasons or that you can layer
- An insulated sleeping pad for cushioning and warmth
- Optional – Pillows, sheets, cots, hammock system
- Blackout curtains or reflectix for windows
- Battery or rechargeable operated fans, lanterns
Prioritize warmth, comfort and convenience when selecting and arranging your bedding.
How can I make my truck bed comfortable to sleep on?
The flat, hard surface of a truck bed leaves something to be desired comfort-wise. Here are tips to transform your truck’s bed into a cozy nest:
- Add an inch or two of dense foam padding for cushioning. Self-inflating camping pads also work.
- Top foam pads with soft bedsheets and blankets to feel more like a real mattress.
- Use a memory foam mattress topper for cushioning that molds to your body.
- Suspend a camping cot or hammock to get off the hard truck bed.
- Arrange pillows and padding to provide lumbar support.
- Insulate the truck cap for temperature regulation and sound dampening.
Don’t be afraid to get creative – the more padded and cozy you can make your truck bed sleeping setup, the better you’ll sleep after an active day of truck camping.
5 Best Truck Camping Kitchen Setup Ideas
Whipping up a hot meal is easier with the right camp kitchen gear tailored to your truck. Here are 5 great options:
1. Portable Camp Kitchen
All-in-one portable folding tables like the GCI Outdoor Kitchen provide ample space for meal prep and cooking while packing down small. Typically 24-30 inches wide, they have fold-out legs that can handle the truck tailgate. Built-in burners, griddles, and counters give you everything you need in one compact unit.
Add on a cutlery tub, water jug, and folding side table to round out your cooking space. Portable camp kitchens take up minimal truck bed real estate.
2. Tailgate Kitchen
Truck tailgate kitchens like the Trail Kitchen slide and lock right into your drop-down tailgate, converting it into an outdoor cooktop when parked. Two burners, windscreens, and counter space give you room to cook meals for the whole family. Storage compartments keep cutlery and spices organized.
Easy to install and remove, tailgate kitchens are a simple way to equip your truck for camping without taking up bed space when driving. Add a water tank, paper towel holder and prep table for a complete setup.
3. Slide-Out Kitchen
For truck bed campers wanting an integrated kitchen without sacrificing bed space, slide-out kitchens are a great option. Products like the Aluminess Deluxe Slide Out Kitchen fit snugly against the front wall of the truck bed, sliding out when opened.
This gives you the benefits of an on-board kitchen with stovetop, sink, water storage and prep space while keeping the full bed clear for gear and sleeping when closed. For even more functionality, look for overhead locking cabinets for storage.
4. Cargo Bed Kitchen
Make use of your existing storage bins and gear bags to create a functional cargo bed kitchen. Start with a camp stove and non-breakable containers for kitchen supplies.
Use large plastic tubs or metal ammo cans for dry goods, pans and utensils. Stack mil-spec water bags for the sink and water storage. Unfold a ripstop nylon cargo bag into a prep surface.
You can customize your storage kitchen to precisely fit your truck’s bed. It takes some pre-planning but allows full use of your space.
5. Camp Chef System
For the ultimate truck camping kitchen, Camp Chef makes fully modular systems with storage packs, stoves, sinks and water cans designed specifically for truck bed integration.
Stack and connect the InterLockTM equipment like Legless Sinks, Oversized Utensil Packs and Triple Burners however you like for the perfect cooking setup.
Slide out a Grill Box or griddle for barbecue. The modular gear means you only have to take what you need – customize each trip!
Look for kitchen gear designed specifically for truck camping that provides utility without sacrificing valuable cargo space.
Truck Bed Camping Storage Ideas
One challenge with truck cap camping is keeping gear organized but accessible in the confined space. Take advantage of every square inch with smart storage solutions:
- Soft-sided storage bags secured to tie-downs and truck wall interiors
- Personal duffle bags for clothing and miscellaneous items
- Plastic containers/tubs stacked under platform beds
- Storage benches lining the truck bed walls and footwell
- Cargo nets to hang lightweight items on the cap ceiling
- Jug holders mounted near the truck cab or tailgate
- Collapsible and stackable water containers
- Plumbed sink system with fresh and wastewater tanks
- Portable shower bags hanging from the cap ceiling
- In-bed drawers for dry goods and cooking supplies
- Hard or soft coolers that can slide under the bed when not in use
- Food prep trays and bins that contain utensils, spices, etc.
Get creative with vertical and under-bed storage custom designed for truck bed camping.
Truck Bed Camping Safety and Repair Equipment
In addition to your basic camping gear, equip your truck cap for the unexpected with:
- Spare tire, jack, jumper cables, first aid kit
- Multi-tool, duct tape, zip ties, gloves, headlamp
- Fire extinguisher suited for vehicles
- Tire repair kit, small air compressor
- Traction aids like kitty litter, sand ladders
- Communication devices like satellite messenger, ham radio
- Brackets to securely store loose items while driving
- Spare fluids – oil, transmission, coolant, fuel additive
- An emergency stash of food, water, blankets
Hopefully you’ll never need any of these items but being prepared gives peace of mind for off-grid truck camping adventures.
Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them
As amazing as truck bed camping can be, you’re likely to encounter some challenges during your travels. With foresight and creativity, you can solve most issues:
Bathing – Use solar shower bags and towels that clip to the truck. Get a gym membership for showers. Use baby wipes and dry shampoo to freshen up.
Bathrooms – Keep a portable toilet inside the truck cab. Use RV parks and public restrooms on travel days. Dig catholes outside of campsites.
Weather – Insulate and ventilate the cap. Move to warmer/cooler locations as needed. Have backup shelter like tents or hammocks.
Parking – Get apps to find free overnight parking. Scope out suitable camping locations during the day. Keep valuables out of sight.
Power – Use dual battery systems. Carry extra charged batteries and solar panels. Prioritize 12V gear. Charge via alternator while driving.
Water – Bring collapsible jugs and refill at campgrounds. Use gravity filters. Know where to resupply. Limit dishwashing.
Food – Cook simple meals with non-perishable ingredients. Use coolers and ice. Replenish in towns. Bring shelf-stable snacks/drinks.
Bathing While Truck Bed Camping
One hurdle while living out of your truck is keeping clean on the road. With some creativity, you can bathe almost anywhere:
- Solar shower hung outside on the truck
- Quick sink baths using a basing and privacy tent
- Gym showers with a membership like Planet Fitness
- Bird baths from a bucket with soap, towels and privacy
- River, lake swimming when allowed and accessible
- Truck stop showers if you don’t mind paying
It may take some getting used to at first, but you’ll soon find a bathing routine that works with your truck camping lifestyle.
Using The Bathroom While Truck Bed Camping
Taking care of business on the road means getting creative. Here are common solutions:
- Portable toilets kept in the truck cab, emptied at RV dumps
- Public restrooms at campgrounds, parks, gyms, stores
- Catholes 6-8 inches deep dug 200 feet from water sources
- RV/trailer park hookups just for restroom use if needed
- Composting toilets work great but require more space
For ladies, personal urination devices like the GoGirl make truck life easier. And when all else fails, keep a roll of TP and plastic bags handy. You’ll quickly get over any bashfulness about going au natural.
Dealing With Extreme Temperatures While Truck Bed Camping
One challenge of camping in a truck cap is dealing with cold nights and hot days. But with the right preparation, you can sleep comfortably in any weather:
Winter Truck Bed Camping
- Use a 0 degree F or lower sleeping bag and cold-rated pad
- Fill water bottles with hot water and tuck them inside your sleeping bag
- Insulate the truck cap with Reflectix, foam boards, thermal curtains
- Run a ventless portable propane heater on low overnight
- Winterize the truck engine and plumbing systems
Summer Truck Bed Camping
- Park in shaded spots to avoid direct sun and use reflectix on windows
- Maximize ventilation with open windows, roof vents, and external fans
- Use lightweight, breathable bedding like sheets and linen bags
- Consider adding AC if you’ll be camping in hot climates regularly
- Use battery-powered fans, cooling towels, hydrating misters
With the right gear, you can comfortably truck camp in any season!
Popular Truck Cap Camping Destinations
One of the best parts of having a truck camper is having the freedom to travel anywhere. Here are some top destinations for truck camping adventures:
- National Parks – Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Zion, Yosemite, etc.
- Bureau of Land Management areas in the Southwest US
- Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail
- Pacific Coast Highway and beaches along the West Coast
- Mountain towns like Bishop, CA, Bend, OR, Durango, CO
- Deserts – Mojave, Great Basin, Sonoran
- Rivers – Salmon River, Rogue River, Colorado River
- Lakes – Tahoe, Shasta, Pyramid Lake, Lake Powell
- Anywhere with hiking, climbing, paddling, fishing, off-roading nearby!
To find more destination for your great turck camping experience you can visit National Park Service Website’s.
Tips and Tricks for an Amazing Truck Cap Camping Experience
Taking your basic truck from home to camping trip ready takes some smart preparation. Use these tips and tricks to make your next adventure epic and comfortable:
- Practice setting up your full camp before your trip and identify any issues
- Pack tools for emergency repairs like duct tape, WD-40, zip ties, bungees
- Bring comfortable outdoor footwear as well as camp slippers for inside
- Use magnetic strips and clips to hang tools, lights and accessories
- Seal floor seams and insulate for temperature and sound control
- Pack multiple ways to provide lighting – lanterns, string lights, headlamps
- Use foam tape on edges/seams to prevent rattling while driving
- Ventilate the cap interior to prevent condensation buildup
- Pack dish bins and cleaning supplies to keep your rig tidy
- Label gear containers so you can easily find what you need
The more you travel and camp, the more you’ll refine your mobile setup. Enjoy the learning curve and freedom of truck bed living!
Camping in a truck cap opens up a whole new world of adventure and freedom. With the right truck setup and gear, you can camp in comfort anywhere the road takes you. Use this guide to get started with truck bed camping basics, from storage solutions to dealing with weather and more.
The open road awaits – now get out there and start making memories sleeping under the stars in the bed of your truck! Have you tried truck bed camping before? What tips would you add? Let me know in the comments!
Frequently Asked Questions about Truck Bed Camping
What size truck is best for camping?
For truck bed camping, a full-size truck with a bed length of 6-8 feet works best to have ample interior space. Short bed trucks under 6 feet can work but may be more cramped.
How much does it cost to convert a truck bed to a camper?
The costs can range widely from $500-$5000+ depending on whether you purchase a basic truck cap or invest in amenities like electrical, insulation, bed platform, storage equipment, etc. Start basic and build out over time.
What are the best accessories for truck bed camping?
Must-have accessories include insulation, lighting, tie-down anchors, storage bins, curtains, ventilation fan, and a comfortable sleeping mattress or platform. Nice extras are camp kitchen gear, power inverter, and exterior awning.
Can I stand up in a truck bed camper?
It depends on the cap height – some allow you to stand while others do not. Measure the interior height before purchasing to know if you’ll be able to stand upright inside.
How do I stay warm winter truck bed camping?
To stay warm, insulate the cap, use a 0 degree sleeping bag and pad rated for winter use, add a propane heater, keep water bottles in your bed, and consider winterizing your truck plumbing systems if needed.