A man and a women in KUHL clothing enjoying camping in a rooftop tent

KÜHL’s Complete Guide on Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners

By Tom Harrison on January 15, 2024
17 min read

Pickup truck camping is among the best ways to camp for several reasons, but mobility is its greatest pull. Camping in a pickup truck bed means accessing remote terrain that traditional RVs can’t reach. And let’s not forget that a pickup truck camping rig can easily fit in most small campsites. 

If you’re curious about how to start camping out of your Chevy, RAM 1500, Tacoma, or any other capable truck, this post is yours.

Let’s dive into everything you need to know about truck bed camping. We’ll touch on its safety aspect, the gear and equipment necessary when camping in the back of a truck, and the different truck camping setup options you can consider. We’ve also included some creative truck cap camping ideas and tips to spruce up your adventures. 

Key Takeaways

  • Truck camping simply means camping on a full-size or midsize truck bed.  
  • Truck bed camping is becoming so popular because it requires less upfront cost. Also, truck campers are relatively more straightforward to drive, versatile, and economical in terms of insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs. 
  • If adequately prepared, camping in a pickup truck is as safe as other camping methods. 
  • Truck canopy camping is the cheapest route to RV camping, but slide-in campers can’t be matched in comfort and convenience. 
  • A key part of a successful truck camping experience is having the right equipment and gear. 

What is Pickup Truck Camping?

Pickup truck camping is a type of RV camping that involves camping out of the back of a pickup truck. It’s similar to camping off a motorhome or camper van but relying on your pickup truck wholly for protection and dwelling. 

Campers choose pickup vehicles for camping mainly because of their simplicity. If you own a truck, all that’s left is to turn the truck bed into a more livable space. There are several ways to do this, depending on your budget and camping preferences. 

But whether you prefer “glamping” or want a place to crash in after a busy day of nature exploration, there is a truck camping setup for you. We’ll get into the details in a few. For now, let’s answer a question that most beginner truck campers ask. 

Is It Safe?

The off-the-grid solitude that truck camping offers can be a blast. Indeed, most nature lovers go this route to venture into less populated areas, possibly alone. But being miles away from civilization also means that there won’t be anyone else around you in case of an emergency.

Clearly, pickup truck camping is only as safe as you make it. But if you’ve prepared thoroughly and planned efficiently, you won’t be in more danger when truck camping than you would with other types of camping. 

Truck camping safety starts with having a vehicle to handle your planned terrain. Four-wheel drive is optional for truck camping, but you may need it for driving across mountainous terrain and places with lots of snow and sand. However, high ground clearance is crucial as it allows you to overcome off-road obstacles, including uneven surfaces, rocks, and logs. 

When considering an ideal truck bed camping setup and camping equipment, be sure not to exceed your truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Doing this can dramatically affect your truck’s steering, maneuverability, and braking, potentially becoming a safety risk.

At the campsite, always pack in a ready-to-move position. And refrain from drawing too much attention to your camper. Importantly, avoid revealing your current camping location to your social media followers until you’re long gone. 

Types of Pickup Truck Camping Setup 

Options abound when it comes to pickup truck setups, and each has its pros and cons. Let’s cover the four most common. 

Truck Bed Tent

This is the best truck camping setup for beginners just testing the waters. Also, you may want to try this approach if you own a truck but don’t have the budget for a complex rig like a slide-in camper or rooftop tent. 

Truck bed tent camping is a fair alternative to sleeping on the ground in a traditional tent next to your vehicle. That said, an obvious advantage of truck tents is having a flat sleeping platform for your bed or sleep gear. This is particularly crucial when doing dispersed camping because you won’t have to worry about identifying firm, flat ground without rocks or roots. 

Truck bed tents typically cost more than traditional tents. However, they are significantly cheaper than camper shells. They also tend to last longer than ground tents because they avoid sharp sticks and rocks. 

On the downside, truck bed tents typically occupy the entire bed. You have to unload all your gear whenever you want to set up your tent. Secondly, this approach best suits smaller families or camping parties because the tent can only sleep as many people as can fit in the truck bed. Lastly, you have to break down the tent when moving to a new campsite, which may be frustrating if the new site isn’t far away.

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 1
Truck bed tent by: Project LM.

Truck Canopy Camping

Truck canopy camping is another easy and low-cost approach if your truck already has a canopy, a.k.a a pap cap or camper shell.

This setup should be as simple as throwing a camping mattress on the truck bed. But you can also add a bed structure and a shelving unit if you desire higher comfort and better gear organization. 

A truck canopy requires a greater investment if you start with a clean slate. New truck toppers cost $1500 to $2000 on average, but you can get a used one at a lower cost. 

Camper shell camping offers you the same flexibility as a truck bed tent. You can remove the canopy whenever you want to use your truck as a regular pickup. However, a camper shell typically protects better from the elements, meaning better sleep and rest.

Plus, a truck canopy makes camp setup and breakdown easier and hassle-free. You also don’t have to worry about taking down your sleep system when driving to a new destination. 

The biggest disadvantage of truck canopies is that they are usually not waterproof. But you can remedy this by weatherizing the cap before hitting the road. 

Also, removing a truck canopy can be a hassle, especially if you have a heavy sleep and storage build. This won’t be a problem if you convert your pickup truck into a camper for good. But it’s something to consider if you wish to use your truck both as a regular pickup truck and a camper. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 2
Slide-in truck bed camper by: MarekPhotoDesign.Com.

Slide-in Truck Bed Camper

A truck bed camper requires a significantly higher upfront cost than other pickup truck camping options. But it’s also hard to beat in terms of amenities and comforts.

A slide-in camper is a travel trailer installed on your pickup truck bed. The best campers typically have most of the amenities you’d find in most travel trailers and class B RVs, although in smaller sizes. These include a well-thought-out sleep system, a kitchen, a bathroom, air conditioning, gear essentials, and several camping food storage options

Although a slide-in truck bed camper costs a fortune, it will still be cheaper than buying a cargo van or box truck and trying to convert it into an RV. 

Speaking of costs, a slide-in truck bed camper tends to save you money in terms of maintenance. Maintaining a truck bed camper will typically cost less than an RV. Additionally, these rigs tend to hold their value better because there aren’t many of them. 

Switching to the cons, a slide-in bed camper will bring down your gas mileage due to wind resistance. Secondly, finding a slide-in camper that perfectly fits your truck bed can be a project because you have to ensure that it rides safely and comfortably. 

Rooftop Tents

Rooftop tents are increasingly becoming the go-to option for camping for several reasons. Once installed, they are faster to set up and fold than traditional tents. Secondly, rooftop tents are floodproof because they stay high on the vehicle. 

RTTs may be popular among overlanders, particularly SUV campers. But most pickup owners are also adding them to their truck bed camping ideas.

You can mount a rooftop tent right over your Toyota Tacoma’s cab or over the bed itself. Running the RTT on the rooftop may be the best option if you want to haul an ATV on the bed, eliminating the need for a trailer. A RRT right on top of the cab also adds to your winter car kit because it puts you several feet off the ground where it’s likely to be colder. 

Another added advantage of installing the RTT on the roof of the truck is being able to use an annex. 

The truck bed offers the most options for mounting a rooftop tent, including tray racks and platform racks.

Additionally, there’s an option to add a tonneau cover to your truck bed to protect your gear and truck camping essentials underneath while mounting a rooftop track. When buying a tonneau cover, make sure its design allows you to install a rack on top of it. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 3
Rooftop tent by: Tobias Hort-Giess.

How to Start Pickup Truck Camping

A question we come across regularly is, “How do I get into pick truck camping with little camping experience?” It’s a valid question because although truck camping offers an easy route into RVing, it can also be intimidating if you’re a beginner.

Assuming you’re starting from scratch, you first want to get a reliable truck. Mid-sized trucks are the most preferred option for pickup bed camping because they are relatively cheaper than their full-sized cousins, more maneuverable, and have good enough gas mileage.

Consider the truck’s towing capacity or payload, as it directly dictates the camper size and amount of gear you can take on the road. Good ground clearance is also important when navigating rocky, forested, and unpaved terrains where you will likely encounter large obstacles. 

The next step is to determine an ideal camper setup. As mentioned, multiple truck camping setup ideas exist for all budgets and comfort needs. A truck bed tent is the lowest investment you can make in the pickup truck camping world. On the other hand, although expensive, a truck bed camper combines the luxury of a trailer with the mobility of a pickup. 

If you’re considering truck canopy camping, the next step would be to outfit your pickup bed for camping. This will involve adding a comfortable bed platform, storage solutions like drawers and toolboxes, and installing electrical outlets. 

It also pays to customize your camping pickup truck for the great outdoors. This really comes down to personal circumstances. Some camping upgrades you may consider include getting all-terrain tires for better traction, upgrading the suspension system for better clearance, and adding a roof rack for extra gear storage capacity.

Where to Go Pickup Truck Camping

Pickup trucks are go-anywhere vehicles, meaning there’s no limitation regarding where you can take your camping adventures.

There’s joy in having a rig that can fit almost anywhere, whether it be standard non-electric sites, developed RV campgrounds, or backcountry sites.

Pickup Truck Camping Essential Gear and Equipment 

Packaging the necessary gear and equipment is a crucial part of preparing your rig for weekend or multi-day wild camping trips. Of course, what each truck camper packs will vary based on their camping style and intended destination. 

Our truck camping checklist below includes some of the must-have truck camping accessories you’ll need when camping out of your pickup truck. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 5
Inflatable mattresses. Photo by: Roman.

Pickup Truck Camping Sleeping Arrangements

Truck camping sleeping pad or air mattress 

After a day of exploration, your muscles need nothing more than a place to rest and repair. Most full-size truck beds have enough space for a queen mattress. Shorter beds can accommodate most air mattresses. Whatever you bring, make sure it promotes restful nights.  

Sleeping bag

Get a bag that makes sense for your camping needs. It need not be the most expensive. What’s necessary is a comfortable sleeping bag with the ideal temperature rating for the climate you’ll be camping in. 

Comfy camping pillow 

A pillow can make all the difference in your backcountry trips where you need to wake up well-rested. And you don’t necessarily need a travel-size pillow because, well, you’re truck camping. 

Camping fan

When the temperatures soar, a portable fan can cool you off and make your summertime nights more comfortable. AC adapter-powered camping fans are the most preferred because they eliminate the need to recharge or replace batteries. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 6
Photo by. Jack Sloop.

Pickup Truck Camping Storage Essentials 

Being organized is a crucial part of a successful truck camping experience. It makes it easy to access the items you need while maximizing space.

The first step towards successful car camping storage is to organize your stuff by category: sleep and shelter, kitchen, clothes, electronics, and other miscellaneous items. Next, think of storage accessories appropriate for each category. 

Duffel bag

A duffel bag is one of the best solutions for packing your outdoor clothing. If packing everyone’s clothes together is not an option, ensure each person’s bag is easily identifiable. Smaller items like underwear, bras, and socks can be stored in mesh bags inside the larger bag. 

Dirty laundry bag

A mesh laundry or trash bag is an easy solution for dealing with dirty clothes. If you’re in the woods for several days, a plastic bag will better minimize the odors. 

Camping bins 

Camping bins with lids that latch can be used for storing many things, including kitchen materials and food. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 7
The new standard in comfort and performance with Spekter™ Pull Over Hoody and Britta™.

Milk crates

You probably have a few of these lying around your home. Milk crates’ see-through design lets you easily locate your items without tearing through the entire truck bed. Additionally, they are strong and stackable. 

Cargo boxes

Only as much storage space is left inside your truck bed once you outfit a bed. The best thing you can do is to store as much gear as possible outside the truck. This is where cargo boxes come in. Cargo boxes come in all sizes and offer an excellent solution for your bulkier gear, including rain gear, sleeping bags, and camp furniture. 

Hitch racks

A hitch rack provides additional storage space for bulky items like mountain bikes that may not fit inside the vehicle. 

Car seat organizers 

A seat-back organizer is another storage solution every pickup truck camping enthusiast can benefit from. These are great for keeping small items like phones, wallets, and water bottles within reach. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 11
Hitch Bike Rack. Photo by: Tomasz Zajda.

Pickup Truck Camping Tools and Repair Items

A well-stocked tool kit should be a top priority when venturing on less traveled roads. It’s among those things that increase your chances of getting to your camping destination and back home safely.

Having the necessary self-rescue gear is not enough, though; ensure you know how to use it. 

Here are a few pieces of gear that you may want to consider; 

Traction boards

Driving a capable truck doesn’t guarantee easy passage on muddy, sandy, and snowy roads. Traction boards can quickly get you back on the road in case you get yourself in a sticky situation. 

Battery jumpstarter

What if you wake up to a dead battery miles from the nearest town? That’s where a portable jump starter comes in handy. 

A tool kit

Even if you don’t consider yourself an automotive repair expert, a basic set of tools could prove useful when things go wrong. Among other must-haves for your tool kit include combination wrench sets, socket sets, pliers, wire cutters, and zip ties. 

Fire extinguisher

We recommend using multi-purpose fire extinguishers because they can be used on different types of fires, including electrical ones. Make sure that it’s accessible.

Tire repair kit

A tire repair kit could save you the agony of hiking for tens of miles in search of help. Always have one in your gearbox. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 12
Traction boards. Photo by: P.J.Hickox.

Pickup Truck Camping Kitchen Gear


A stove is a great way to enjoy your favorite backcountry camping meals, whether you'll be out for a weekend or several days. Two-burner propane stoves are typically the most preferred because they are generally more portable and have adequate cooking space. 

Propane tank 

An 11-pound propane tank is a good compromise between functionality and size. A tank this size should last 7-10 days, assuming you only use it for cooking. 

Cooler or refrigerator

A cooler will suffice for weekend outdoor trips. However, several days of camping require a small fridge to keep the food cold. 

Cooking pots and pans

Titanium pots and pans are the best for camping because they are lightweight, strong, and have superb heat transfer capabilities. How many pots you bring will depend on the size of the group. But a medium-sized pot and a similar pan should be enough for a couple. 

Coffee maker

Because coffee makes everything better, pack your favorite coffee maker. The Hario V60 Plastic Dripper is a favorite among coffee nerds. If you prefer a rich and full-bodied coffee, you can't go wrong with this titanium French press coffee maker from Bestargot. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 10
Morning rituals hit different while camping. Photo by: Anon.

Pickup Truck Camping Health and Hygiene

Hiking clothes 

Appropriate hiking outfits for summer will come in handy in keeping you comfortable during long treks. We recommend white, tan, and khaki shorts, pants, and shirts as they reflect the sun's rays to keep you cool. Explore Kuhl's best-sellers in women's hiking clothing and men's outdoor wear here. 

First aid kit

Having a first-aid kit with all your basic essentials is always wise. Some must-haves include plasters, bandages, safety pins, antiseptics, anti-diarrhea drugs, and any medications you take. This downloadable first aid checklist suggests some supplies you can adapt to suit your outdoor needs. 

Insect control

Conventional bug sprays and creams are the best way to repel bugs and make camping trips more enjoyable. 

Biodegradable soap 

Biodegradable soaps made with eco-friendly ingredients are safe for your skin and the planet. Of course, this doesn't mean they are safe for use in lakes and rivers.

Unscented baby wipes

These offer easy and effective cleanup when it's too cold for a bath or you just want to save water. 

Pickup Truck Camping for Beginners 13
Experience the new standard in comfort and performance with Aero™ Fleece Jacket and Spekter™ Pull Over Hoody.

Extra Pickup Truck Camping Essentials 


It's nice to have a tool that can take care of several problems instead of reaching for your toolbox. That's what an everyday carry multitool like the Leatherman Free P2 does. 

Travel laptop or tablet

It is necessary if you want to work while camping. You can also load it with movies to keep you entertained at the campsite. 


You can use it to take point-of-view camping videos for your social media fans and followers. 


Affordable, lightweight, and comfortable, a headlamp is an essential piece of gear for hiking and nighttime tasks.

Tips on Planning and Preparing for Your Pickup Truck Camping Trip

  • The key to a successful pickup truck camping experience is proper preparation. And this begins at home.
  • Embrace these truck camping hacks and grow as a pickup truck adventurer! 
  • Begin by choosing the right truck camping setup for your needs. If you're having trouble deciding, camping on different rental rigs can help you narrow down.
  • Get to know how your pickup truck rig works. In case of a problem in the woods, being able to fix it yourself could save your time or even life. 
  • Use checklists to ensure you pack everything you need on your trips. 
  • Use storage bins to keep your gear and essentials organized on the road. 
  • Seek out mentors. It pays to strike friendships with experienced pickup truck campers. They can provide valuable advice on must-have camping gear for your truck and how to navigate challenging routes. 
  • Bring a reliable water purification system for clean drinking water. 
  • Always pack a 3-day survival backpack with all the essentials to keep you alive as you trek for help or wait for rescuers. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, you can't beat having a truck if comfort, versatility, and convenience are at the top of your car camping wish list. Start by investing in a reliable pickup truck (if you don't have one) and a suitable truck camping setup. Next, outfit your rig with all the necessary truck camping essentials and equipment. As you travel the less beaten paths, embrace sustainable camping practices and remember to leave no trace. 

Safe travels and happy pickup truck camping! 


Can I sleep in my truck with it on?

Sleeping in your truck with the engine on is usually not a good idea, as the level of carbon monoxide can rise above the safe threshold. 

How many people can sleep in a truck bed tent?

Most truck tents can only fit 2-3 adults. 

How to safely load a pickup truck?

Consider your truck's payload capacity when loading your camping gear and equipment. Payload capacity is the total weight you can safely put on the truck bed and the curb weight (the truck's weight). 

How much weight can a pickup take?

You can calculate your pickup truck's payload capacity by subtracting the curb weight from its GVWR. 

Why are pickup trucks not level?

Trucks ship with a higher backend to minimize wear and tear on the suspension system when towing. 

How do you secure a truck camper?

The best way to secure a camper on your truck is by using tie-downs and turnbuckles. We also recommend placing a rubber mat on your truck bed to prevent the camper from moving around and scratching the surface.

Tom Harrison
Tom Harrison

Tom Harrison is an intrepid explorer and fervent nature lover. Through his clean writing style, he invites readers to join him on an exhilarating journey into the wilderness.


Get all the news right in your mail