Complete Guide to Camping in a Truck Bed Tent

Truck with tent

At the core of the camping spirit is the desire to feel the bond between yourself and nature. As we continue to reexamine our relationship with nature in the face of unprecedented climate crises, that bond has never been more important. Much of the modern world is built on barriers between humanity and nature, and camping’s all about tearing those down again and basking in the energizing natural beauty of the Great Outdoors.
Of course, if you’re going to head out into nature, you’d better be prepared. That means having a camping plan, which means having a tent, and for many people that in turn means setting one up on their truck’s bed.
Still, truck bed camping is a science unto itself, which is why you’ll want to follow these tips and tricks for making your next truck bed camping trip a success.

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Know Your Truck Bed Tent

One of the best things about truck bed camping is that it allows you to camp while still sleeping above the ground, which can be important if you’re camping someplace where it’s very rainy or muddy. That said, not all truck tents are created equal. Before we get into how to camp successfully in your truck tent, it’s important to figure out which type you have and what that means for your camping experience. Knowing which type of truck bed tent you have can help you with the rest of the processes below.
Camper shells are just what they sound like, cloth or fiberglass shells that cover the back of your truck. They have strong protection against the elements, offer plenty of space, and are the preferred type of tent for many people.
By contrast, general truck bed tents are just what they sound like, a tent pitched over the back of your truck, and are often far more affordable. If you have a large party, you might consider pitching a ground tent beside the truck bed tent or camper shell to give you extra space.
Roof top tents and hatchbacks are good options for large trucks and SUVs. They are typically attached to the roof racks and come with a ladder to help you get inside. These options also often come with a mattress included, though they are also among the most expensive truck bed camping choices.
Finally, you’ll want to pay attention to the shape of the tent itself. Some are dome-shaped and come with poles, some are umbrella-shaped and have taller entrances, and others are A-shaped like a traditional tent.

What to Pack

Once you’ve chosen the right truck bed tent for you, it’s time to start thinking about what to pack. The size and shape of your tent should give you a good idea of how much you can bring with you.
To begin with, you’ll need to figure out how to pack the truck itself. This is likely to require a bag for the tent as well as any other accoutrements needed to set it up. If you are camping someplace where you expect rain or moisture, be sure that the tent as well as the storage bag is water-resistant.
Speaking of which, water is one of those absolute essentials you should always bring on any camping trip. This can be as simple as packing some water bottles or thermoses, or as complex as bringing jugs that can hold several gallons’ worth of water. Either way, make sure the water containers are durable and secured so they don’t spill or go rolling around everywhere while you drive to the campsite.
You should also pack some food. Even if you’re going fishing or hunting and plan to catch your own meal, you don’t want to go hungry if you have bad luck or you have unexpected difficulties (for example, engine failure leaving you stranded). Look for foodstuffs packed in durable packaging and which won’t spoil easily, and store your food in a cooler or icebox. You might also try pre-cooling your drinks in the fridge at home before putting them into the cooler so they stay colder longer. If you’re camping in an area where bears and other animals easily attracted to food are common, you’ll want to purchase a bear-proof container.
Then there’s the matter of actually cooking and eating your food. We’ll get into this more in-depth below, but for now, suffice it to say you’ll need cutlery, plates, and hot plates or something else with which to cook your food.
A basic toolset is another handy thing to have on hand, in case you need to build or repair something.
The same is true of an emergency kit, which should contain, at minimum:
● A first aid kit
● Matches
● A flashlight
● Water
● Antiseptic
● Bandages
● Batteries
● Firestarter
● Nonperishable food
It’s also a good idea to pack tire pumps, cable jumpers, and other truck repair tools.
External batteries, battery chargers, and other electrical items are also essential, especially with how important phones and other electricity-powered items have become. You should also pack a power inverter, which can allow you to convert your truck’s battery into power you can use for other items. Even if you’re looking to “rough it” and leave modern conveniences alone for a few days, if you have an emergency and need to call help or power other emergency items, you’ll need this power.
Finally, since you probably don’t want to sit or sleep on your truck’s hard back or in the seats inside for hours or days on end, you’ll want to pack things to make the experience more comfy.

Getting Organized

The biggest game changer for getting organized is to invest in things that are naturally space-saving. For example, collapsible chairs are a fantastic investment, since they can afford you some extra comfort while sliding into the back of your truck with ease without taking up too much space. Collapsibility is a big plus in other items as well, such as sinks and tubs.
Fitting things into your truck for a camping trip can feel like a high-stakes game of Tetris. As in Tetris, planning ahead, making sure you know where everything’s going in advance of actually putting it there, and striving for neat even rows are all key.
You can also strive to maximize space with things such as nets that attach to your roof, giving you extra storage space.
Finally, make sure you always put things away when you’re done using them. You might think you’ll “do it later,” but clutter has a way of spiraling out of control, and when it does, it causes spatial camping nightmares.

A Word About Air Mattresses (and Other Options)

One of the most important things to work out when camping is what kind of mattress to bring along. A bad night’s sleep can ruin your whole camping experience. If your mattress is uncomfortable, you’re in for a long night (and potential neck and back pain the next day). At the same time, you also want to make sure your mattress is durable enough to withstand the rigors of camping.
Inflatable mattresses are thus a camping favorite. They tick off all of those perquisites, being easy to pack, durable enough to stay intact, and comfortable enough to give you a decent night’s sleep. The fact that you can deflate and roll them up makes them by far the best option here storage-wise, giving you more space for everything else.
That said, to ensure that they do indeed meet all of these criteria, you’ll want to make sure that they are specifically cleared for camping. Some inflatable mattresses are made from more delicate material than others. The last thing you want is for your inflatable mattress to be punctured, so make sure the mattresses are made from PVC or other sturdy materials. You’ll also want to check their size against that of your truck’s bed and your tent so you aren’t stuck with it poking out of your tent.
One potential downside of inflatable mattresses, however, is that they don’t offer the same insulation properties as a sleeping bag. If you’re camping someplace cold, you want to make sure both your tent and sleeping bag are well-insulated for when temperatures get extra chilly come nighttime. You’ll want to check what insulation material is used (for example, feathers versus synthetic materials) as they offer different degrees of protection against moisture, insulation, and warmth. In addition, you should check the bag’s temperature rating to make sure it’s cleared for the temperature of the area in which you’ll be camping.
Memory foam mattresses are another option. They aren’t a good choice for cold weather truck bed camping, since the chilly weather can cause them to stiffen up. However, if you’re camping in more temperate conditions, memory foam can potentially be the most comfortable option here.

Setting up Your Truck Camping Kitchen

Few mental images of camping have been romanticized as much as a meal around the campfire. Still, whether you aren’t great at starting a fire or just prefer to cook in a more controlled way, it’s a good idea to bring a hot plate or two-burner stove along with you. While some choose to power these via gas, you should look for options that can be electrically-powered via the aforementioned power inverters or external batteries you should be packing.
Make sure you decide ahead of time during your organization phase where you’re going to place your oven, and dedicate the area to that. Don’t crowd your oven with other, especially flammable items.
You’ll also want to make sure you have cookware that goes well with your choice of hot plate or stove. These can include a nonstick pan, skillet, cutting boards, knife set, and a meat thermometer.
Go with paper plates and cups over plastic for maximum environmental friendliness. These are often the least expensive options. Still, if you’re more environmentally-conscious or want a more high-quality long-term investment, there are plenty of travel-friendly plates and utensils made from wood and other eco-friendly materials.

Warm Versus Cold Weather Camping

As indicated by those mattress options, there’s a tangible difference to camping in warm as opposed to cold weather.
Some tips for beating the heat while camping in warm weather include:
● Park near a natural source of shade (for example, a tree)
● Create your own shade via tarps and other overhangs
● Make sure your tent remains well-ventilated; removing the rain fly, investing in bug-proof mesh, opening the windows of your truck and doing whatever you can to improve cross ventilation can all help
● Consider investing in portable fans or sun-blocking curtains
● Plan meals that do not require the use of your hot plates or ovens (and if you don’t plan to eat any hot meals at all, leave these at home to free up extra space)
Some tips for staying warm while camping in cold weather include:
● Opt for electrical heaters rather than propane ones, as propane tanks can have low oxygen shutoff features and moisture condensation issues that can be exacerbated by cold weather
● Make sure you pack and wear plenty of layers of clothing
● Take advantage of cold weather-insulated sleeping options as listed above, especially bags with two-way zippers, which can better control the ventilation versus insulation of the bag
● Invest in a truck-safe portable heater
● Invest in a truck bed tent that is well-insulated

In Conclusion

What is critical to note about truck bed camping is that it’s a highly flexible enterprise. Camping is, by its very nature, a personal adventure you and your family or friends choose to undertake together. As such, you’ll want to consider everyone’s individual wants and needs when planning for a trip.

You know where you’re planning on camping and whether the weather is typically hot or cold there.

You know how many people are coming, how much space your truck affords, and thus how much you can afford to bring.

You know what everyone’s comfort requirements are.

Find truck bed tents, mattresses, and gear that can help maximize all of that by working off what you already know and using that to create a camping experience you’ll never forget.