Truck Bed Camping:Must-Have List

truck bed camping

Truck bed camping offers a unique and budget-friendly way to embark on family weekends or even year-long journeys along the Pan-American Highway.

It’s tempting to dive deep into the vast array of truck bed camping accessories, and imagining the ideal setups can be a delightful endeavor. However, remember, the essence of the journey is not the equipment but the adventure itself!

This guide will delve into the essentials of truck bed camping, equipping you with the necessary knowledge to launch into your truck camping escapades TODAY!


Truck bed camping essentials

Exploring the great outdoors from the bed of your pickup doesn’t always necessitate a camper shell or canopy, though these additions can simplify your truck camping experience, they are not essential for enjoying the wilderness in your vehicle.

Camper shell

Utilizing a camper shell or canopy if your truck already has one is a smart move. Interested in acquiring one? Our guide offers insights into selecting the perfect option from the myriad available – without necessitating a hefty investment. Our initial camper shell, a pre-owned fiberglass model, was a Craigslist find for just $40. Later, we upgraded to a GFC camper suitable for family outings.

This method is our go-to for truck bed camping, providing a secure, weatherproof area that you can tailor with a sleeping platform, organizational tools, drawers, curtains, lighting, etc., to meet your specific camping requirements, ensuring you’re prepared for any adventure.

Truck bed tent

Opting for a truck bed tent is an affordable entry point into truck camping. Its main advantage lies in its low initial cost and simplicity, eliminating the need for significant modifications to your truck, while offering an elevated sleeping area.

However, this method precludes the installation of more permanent or bespoke sleeping solutions, and setting up a truck bed tent can be as cumbersome as dealing with a traditional ground tent.

Ground tent

Choosing not to sleep in your truck’s bed doesn’t exclude you from the truck bed camping experience. Select a durable tent and some water-resistant containers for your gear, load up your pickup, and set off to your campsite.

Upon arrival, simply establish your camp kitchen on the tailgate, pitch your tent, and you’re all set.

And for those who prefer fair-weather camping, skipping the tent and sleeping under the stars in your truck bed is always an option!

While embarking on your first truck bed camping adventure doesn’t require extensive equipment, there are some basic gear you should bring along.

camping tent


Truck bed camping sleep essentials

Securing a restful night’s sleep is crucial for maximizing your enjoyment of truck bed camping, ensuring you’re refreshed by the adventures that await.


Starting out? We suggest utilizing what’s already in your possession before considering upgrades. Have an old air mattress or a foam pad? Perfect, use that first!

If you’re in need of suggestions, here are our favorites:

Air Mattress


Memory Foam Pad


Sleeping bag

If you have a sleeping bag and don’t anticipate camping in temperatures under 50°F, stick with what you’ve got for now!

However, for those venturing into cooler climates, investing in a high-quality sleeping bag is essential for a comfortable truck bed camping trip. Look for a sleeping bag that offers:

Synthetic vs Down Fill – crucial for truck bed camping as synthetic fill retains insulating properties better in damp conditions compared to traditional down. Yet, some down sleeping bags feature water-resistant down, which absorbs less moisture and dries quicker, making it a viable option for truck camping when space is at a premium.

Appropriate Temperature Rating – ensure the sleeping bag’s temperature rating matches the climate you’ll be camping in.

We recommend the SWTMERRY 3 SEASONS SLEEPING BAG for its versatility. A bag liner enhances warmth on colder nights and can stand alone during summer’s peak heat. Liners also help maintain sleeping bag cleanliness and are easier to wash.

PRO TIP: Don’t leave your home pillow behind. Much time was likely spent selecting the perfect pillow for home use, and those compact, inflatable camping pillows simply can’t compare.


Truck bed camping culinary setup

The culinary setup is a highlight of truck bed camping, with your pickup’s tailgate serving as an ideal prep area. You have the freedom to tailor your camp kitchen according to your culinary preferences, making it as sophisticated or as simple as you wish.

Camping stove

For truck bed camping, a reliable 2-burner stove is essential, and if it fits into your budget, it’s worth investing in a quality model.

camping stove

Propane stoves are the epitome of durability in camping stoves and are built to last through many generations. These stoves come in various configurations to suit your needs. Despite their high cost, we find them invaluable in our camping arsenal.


Selecting kitchenware for truck bed camping doesn’t require extravagance or complexity.

Simply use basic utensils from home or acquire a set from a thrift store for your camp kitchen box. To maintain organization and facilitate quicker camp breakdowns, we suggest dedicating one plastic tote for all your camp kitchen essentials.


Truck bed camping organization

Efficiently organizing your camping essentials, provisions, and beverages is crucial for enhancing your truck bed camping journey, ensuring a smooth experience and minimizing the risk of misplacing important items when packing up.

Storage solutions

Simple solutions suffice for gear organization: a few plastic bins for equipment and a duffel for apparel are adequate when truck bed camping with a camper shell or bed tent. Opt for durable, water-resistant bins if you’re camping in a ground tent.

For tips on orderly storage, explore our Stress-Free Camping Storage Ideas for Gear Organization and consult our guide on Selecting the Ideal Camping Storage Containers for advice on choosing robust bins for your belongings.

As your commitment to truck bed camping grows, you might want to think about integrated storage solutions, like our custom-built drawer system and sleeping platform.

Hydration system

Initially, we relied on the ADIDAS 750 ML (28 OZ) STADIUM REFILLABLE PLASTIC SPORT WATER BOTTLE for our water needs during truck camping, proving to be a cost-effective, refillable, and sturdy option.

Chilled storage

Cooler options are vast and vary in price. We started with traditional ice chests before upgrading to a 12v Camping Fridge in our truck camping setup. Begin with a standard cooler, and consider upgrading later.

PRO TIP: Opt for two smaller coolers rather than one large one to separate drinks from food. This strategy conserves ice, as the smaller volume cools more efficiently and drink access doesn’t affect food storage’s temperature maintenance.

Also, pre-chill food and drinks before packing to extend ice life. Consider freezing the meal for your second night and using frozen water bottles as a cooling source, which can be consumed once melted.

Dry goods storage: For non-perishables, plastic containers and totes are perfect, but if you’re in bear territory, invest in a bear-proof container for food storage and acquaint yourself with the dos and don’ts of food handling in such regions.


Truck bed camping safety and maintenance tips

The allure of truck bed camping lies in reaching those breathtaking, secluded spots off the beaten path, but preparation is key.


Hygiene during truck bed camping

Dive into our comprehensive guide on Hygiene While Wild Camping for insights on maintaining cleanliness. From simple sponge baths to solar-powered pressurized showers, we’ve got you covered, including some inventive DIY shower solutions!


Restroom use during truck bed camping

Certainly, the least appealing aspect of truck bed camping involves nature’s call – but when the need arises, it’s unavoidable.


Truck bed camping energy solutions

Ensuring you have the means to power your smartphone, laptop, and GPS is crucial while enjoying the truck bed camping lifestyle.

The majority of modern gadgets are equipped with 12v charging options, allowing them to be powered directly through your vehicle’s standard 12v sockets. Should your devices lack this capability, acquiring an affordable 12v to 110v power inverter will enable you to use your truck’s energy source just like household power.

It’s important to avoid depleting your vehicle’s starter battery excessively. To safeguard against this, we suggest keeping a portable jump starter on hand, just in case.


Essential gear for truck bed camping

Camp Chairs – Our experience includes HIGH-LOAD FOLDING OUTDOOR CAMPING CHAIR. The main consideration should be a balance between affordability and comfort, to ensure relaxation following an adventurous day.

Hammock – Whether it’s lounging beside a stream or immersing in a great read, a hammock is a quintessential piece for leisure during truck bed camping. We endorse the OUTDOOR LIGHTWEIGHT CAMPING CANOPY HAMMOCK SET. If it aligns with your budget, it’s a valuable addition to your camping toolkit.


Headlamps – The value of hands-free lighting during truck camping cannot be overstated. We’re quite satisfied with the Black Diamond Spot Headlamps*, which are an affordable, waterproof choice.

Tarp – A versatile Sil-Nylon tarp* can serve countless purposes in truck bed camping, acting as an economical substitute for a conventional truck camper awning, providing outdoor shelter in less than ideal weather conditions.

Lantern – The USB rechargeable Black Diamond Remoji Lantern, featuring a built-in collapsible double-hook hanging loop and magnets, offers diverse mounting possibilities. It’s an inexpensive and effective solution for lighting up your campsite, truck bed shell or tent, and camp kitchen at nighttime.

Camp Saw/Axe – Utilize a standard axe and/or bow saw from your home toolshed for wood processing. We’ve recently switched to the Agawa Canyon Boreal Folding Saw* .

Shovel – For extinguishing campfires, disposing of waste while wilderness camping, or freeing your truck from sand or mud, a shovel is incredibly versatile. No need for anything elaborate; one from your shed or a hardware store will do the trick.

Portable Washing Machine – The Scrubba Wash Bag is a remarkably useful item for truck bed camping, especially for extended trips or travel.

Tire Table – The Tailgater Tire Table* offers a unique camp table alternative for truck camping, attaching to your truck’s tire.


Ideal truck bed camping locations


Truly, the magic of truck bed camping, especially in a 4-wheel drive vehicle with ample clearance, is the freedom to venture beyond traditional campgrounds into the wild unknown. This capability allows you to immerse yourself in adventures off the grid!

However, for those new to the experience, we suggest embarking on a few shorter weekend excursions in favorable weather and near your residence. This approach helps you fine-tune your setup and ensures a smoother transition into the world of truck bed camping.



Can I go truck bed camping without a camper shell or tent?
Yes, you can still enjoy truck bed camping without a camper shell or tent. Many adventurers use the bed of their truck as a sleeping platform under the stars. For added comfort, consider using a high-quality, weather-resistant sleeping bag and pad to protect against the elements.

What should I consider when choosing a camp stove for my truck bed camping setup?
When selecting a camp stove, consider the number of burners you need, the type of fuel it uses, and its overall size to ensure it fits within your truck bed camping kitchen setup. Balance your budget with the features you value most, such as durability, ease of use, and portability.

How do I keep my food cold and fresh while truck bed camping?
Starting with a quality cooler is key. Pre-chill your cooler and items before packing, and consider using frozen water bottles as ice packs. For longer trips, explore the option of a 12v camping fridge to keep your food cold without the need for ice.

Are there eco-friendly practices I should follow while truck bed camping?
Absolutely. Practice Leave No Trace principles by disposing of waste properly, using biodegradable soap for washing, minimizing campfire impacts, and respecting wildlife. Always aim to leave your camping spot better than you found it.

What are some safety tips for truck bed camping in remote areas?
Ensure your truck is in good working condition, bring a map and compass or GPS device, inform someone about your travel plans, and carry a first-aid kit. Be prepared for changes in weather and have enough food, water, and fuel. Familiarize yourself with the local wildlife and any potential hazards unique to the area you’re exploring.