Skip to Content

Ready to Roam: How to Create the Perfect Truck Camping Setup

Truck camping is one of the best ways to take your adventures to the next level. However, to have the best experience possible, you want to perfect your truck camping setup. It can make or break your ability to be comfortable and get a solid night’s sleep at the end of the day.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to convert the bed of your truck into a comfortable space, this article is for you. Today, we’re sharing tips for creating the perfect truck camping setup for your epic adventures. 

Let’s get started!

We Renovated A 20 Year-Old Truck Camper Into A Luxury Overland Vehicle

What Is Truck Camping?

Truck camping is when people use their trucks for transportation and shelter while camping. They typically use a camper shell or rooftop tent for protection and as a living space. Unlike truck campers which are entirely separate habitats that slide into the bed of the truck, truck camping is typically done directly in the truck bed.

Depending on the vehicle and the setup, this camping style can be relatively comfortable and convenient. All you really need to get started is a truck, a cap or tent, a mattress, and perhaps some organizers for your gear.

This type of camping has gained tremendous popularity among outdoor enthusiasts. Well-equipped trucks make it easier to explore remote and hard-to-reach locations. Once there, you can set up camp quickly and enjoy privacy and space difficult with traditional camping. Compared to truck campers, costs can be minimal.

If you already own a truck and are looking for an affordable way to fulfill your cravings for adventure, truck camping is an option to consider. With careful planning, you can create a space offering everything you need while exploring and making memories.

truck bed mattress
With the right truck camping setup, you’ll be cozy no matter where you roam.

Like many other camping styles, truck camping is legal in many places. One of the advantages of truck camping is you can park your vehicle almost anywhere for some rest. However, some locations prohibit overnight camping or sleeping inside a vehicle. It’s crucial to check the rules and regulations for an area before getting too comfortable.

Most people who enjoy truck camping will utilize public lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), or state and county parks typically manage them. However, there are some private lands and properties that allow overnight camping. You should always get permission before setting up camp.

Feeling sneaky? Many car campers and van lifers opt for stealth camping.

Truck Camping vs. Car Camping

While truck camping and car camping are relatively similar, the most significant difference is the type of vehicle. Truck camping utilizes a truck, but car camping can include many vehicles. It’s common to see campers using cars, SUVs, or passenger vans for transportation and shelter.

Because trucks are much more capable of off-roading and navigating rough terrain, truck camping typically occurs in more remote areas. Car camping is often in more urban, less rugged environments. However, there are many incredible spots to explore, no matter your vehicle.

Additionally, trucks have an outer truck bed that doubles nicely for a bed without too much change needed to the interior of the vehicle. And fortunately, when it comes to optimizing that space, there are heaps of inspiration and ideas to be found here on the internet!

Truck with camping shell driving through desert
Head out to the great outdoors and go camping in your truck.

How to Create the Perfect Truck Camping Setup

If you want to try truck camping, you must create your setup. Do yourself a favor and take your time during the process. The decisions you make here can help set you up for many successful truck camping trips in the future.

Let’s look at some things you can do to create the perfect truck camping setup!

Pick the Right Truck

Your truck is the most essential and expensive piece in your truck camper setup. You want to consider the truck’s capabilities and ability to get you where you want to go. To reach remote areas, you’ll need a vehicle for off-roading. 

You’ll want a vehicle with beefier tires, suspension upgrades, and maybe even a lift kit. It also isn’t a bad idea to have four-wheel drive to help you conquer rugged and off-road terrain. You don’t want to end up stuck in the middle of nowhere.

In addition to capabilities, you want to consider the truck’s size, especially the bed length. This will determine how much room you have available for designing your space. A longer bed will provide more room for any gear and equipment you want to bring.

It’s also crucial to consider the overall condition of the vehicle. You want a reliable truck to get you to and from each adventure. When shopping, look for potential signs of abnormal wear and tear or mechanical issues.

Pro Tip: Save money at the pump by discovering What Are the Most Fuel Efficient Trucks Available.

Choose Your Covering Wisely

Another crucial decision you’ll need to make is whether to use a camper shell or a truck bed tent. These are the two most popular choices for truck camping. There’s no one-size-fits-all option, as both have positive and negative qualities.

A camper shell is a solid shell covering the truck’s bed. It is typically no taller than the truck’s cab, so there’s limited head space. However, it’s a sturdy option providing some security and protection from the environment. Unfortunately, new ones can be costly and difficult to remove from your truck when you aren’t using them. As another option, however, some people build their own camper shells onto the backs of their trucks.

On the other hand, truck bed tents also fit over the bed of a truck. They use straps and clamps to secure the tent structure to the vehicle. Truck bed tents are substantially cheaper than camper shells and are convenient to take down when you’re not using them.

Which option you choose significantly depends on your budget, your preferred camping style, and the weather conditions where you’ll be camping. Some areas, particularly in bear country, prohibit camping in soft-sided tents or campers. In these areas, a camper shell would be the only option.

Prioritize Sleeping Space

After a day of exciting adventures, you need a comfortable place to sleep. Unfortunately, the hard, uneven metal floor of a truck bed likely won’t cut it. Most people raise platforms above the wheel wells in their truck camping setup. This creates a flat surface, which works well for a bed.

However, sleeping on a flat piece of wood isn’t much better than cold steel. Many campers get foam mattresses or pads that match the dimensions of their space. Foam is manageable to cut to shape and can be incredibly comfortable. You can find soft and firm foams according to your preference.

Another option is an inflatable truck bed mattress. These air mattresses fit around your vehicle’s wheel wells. You can use a portable air pump to inflate them and adjust the firmness according to your needs. Unfortunately, you’ll lose much storage under the bed if you go this route.

Know Before You Go: Before you hit the road in your truck camper, make sure you know if your Truck Camper Needs a Title, Registration, and Insurance.

Truck camping with tent
A truck bed tent versus a camper shell will offer different benefits to your truck camping set up.

Maximize Storage

To have the perfect truck camper setup, you need to maximize storage. This will help you stay organized and make your life much easier. You can find various truck bed storage solutions to use with your space. The more storage space you have, the more gear and equipment you can bring.

One of the primary advantages of using a platform bed is the storage space it creates. You would have most of the area under your platform. We’ve seen many truck campers with pull-out drawers allowing them to access items under the platform.

However, you don’t have to break the bank to handle your storage needs. It means you’ll need to practice with a tape measure and look for storage bins and containers that work with the space you’re creating.

Consider Power Solutions

Just because you’re camping in a remote area doesn’t mean you don’t need access to power. However, there’s not always an electrical socket nearby. It would be best to be as self-sufficient as possible regarding your power needs.

Some campers will utilize complex electrical systems with solar panels, inverters, and battery banks in their truck camping setup. Others might use portable gas-powered generators for their power needs. We personally recommend solar generators, like the Jackery or Bluetti portable power systems, for a truck camping setup due to their simplicity, portability, and silent power generation.

Which you choose is entirely up to you. However, you want to ensure it provides sufficient power based on your needs.

Thinking about solar? Use our Solar Calculator to figure out how much power you need and what system fits you best!

Remember Your Hygiene

While many truck campers have bathrooms and showers, your truck probably doesn’t have this kind of plumbing. But don’t worry; there are many ways to take your bathroom off-grid and outdoors. If your truck camping takes you out and away from the masses, you have options like solar showers and portable toilets that you can set up at your campsite when needed.

If your travels keep you in campgrounds, you will often have access to campground facilities similar to tent camping. And not all campgrounds are vault toilets; some have very nice showers and bathrooms for paying guests to use.

As you get more urban, there are public showers and restrooms available for use. You’ll just have to regulate yourself for appropriate timing.

Don’t Forget About Safety

You can never undervalue your safety when camping. A truck bed tent offers minimal protection from dangerous wildlife and weather elements, particularly wind. If you want the most flexibility in when and where you camp, a hard camper shell is one option.

In addition, you never know what might happen during your truck camping trips. You may be in an unsafe situation and leave in a hurry. If that’s the case, you want to pack up camp and go quickly. You don’t want your truck bed camper’s setup and tear-down process to take a considerable amount of time or effort.

You Get What You Pay for

One of the things we hate to do more than anything is to replenish materials because we tried to save a few bucks. We’ve learned the unfortunate lesson that you typically get what you pay for regarding gear and equipment. While there are some diamonds in the rough, they’re scarce.

Research any gear, equipment, or supplies you want to use for your truck camping setup. Read reviews and talk with others who enjoy truck camping to get their thoughts. While truck camping can be a very affordable way to camp if you stay simple with your gear, you can also end up spending thousands on specialized truck caps, awnings, storage drawers, and more.

Close up of truck camper shell
A truck bed may not be the most comfortable camping option, but it is still possible to travel full-time while living in your truck.

Can You Live in a Truck Bed Camper?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Living in a truck bed camper may be challenging, but it’s possible. Many nomads and adventurous people, like Smitheys, make it work. Is it easy? Absolutely not. However, those dedicated to embracing the lifestyle can make it happen.

Since many of these vehicles don’t come with restrooms and showers, they must plan accordingly. However, staying in campgrounds or near public restrooms can make it straightforward to take care of business when needed.

Living in my F-150 Full time | NEW Camper Shell | Tour Update!

Where Will You Explore With Your Truck Camping Setup?

You can get excited now that you’re ready to build the perfect truck camping setup. Once you finish your design, you can take it on some epic adventures. While we’re partial to views with mountains and wide-open spaces, you might prefer thick forests or next to a lake. Luckily, all of them are possible with the correct truck camping setup. Get out and start exploring!

Where will you go camping with your truck? Tell us in the comments!

Become A Mortons On The Move Insider

Join 15,000+ other adventurers to receive educating, entertaining, and inspiring articles about RV Travel Destinations, RV Gear, and Off-Grid Living to jump-start your adventures today!

Also, join our Mortons on the Move Community discussion over on our Discord Server!

About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

About Us

Sharing is caring!