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Truck Bed Camping: Minimalism for Maximum Flexibility

Truck Bed Camping: Minimalism for Maximum Flexibility

That’s right… truck bed camping. It’s a hidden gem of truck ownership!

Everyone knows that a pickup truck is a versatile vehicle, especially for hauling stuff from place to place or for towing. Many RVers use a truck to tow a camper, like a fifth wheel or travel trailer.

But even if you don’t have a camper to tow, if you’ve got a truck, you could still have an RV for your next camping trip!

In this post, we’re talking about a form of RVing that is gaining in popularity, including for adventurous types who like to travel off the beaten path, and camp off-grid.

Let’s take a look at the concept of truck bed camping and what you’d need for a truck bed camping setup.

What Is Truck Bed Camping?

Truck bed camping is exactly what it sounds like… camping in the bed of a pickup truck. But, there are various ways to set up your makeshift “truck camper.”

You can toss in a pad and a sleeping bag and call it good, or you can grab some high-quality camping gear to enhance your truck bed camping experience.

In general, truck bed camping is a super minimal (and budget-friendly) way to get out camping, without towing a camper.

With the right equipment, it also means you’re not as limited on where you can go (based on the capability of your truck), and you’re not sleeping on the ground.

So, truck bed camping can be anything from tossing an air mattress into the bed, to erecting a tent in the bed, to building out a little recreational vehicle of your own under a truck cap.

Some truck owners have devised ways to turn their pickup trucks into some pretty cool DIY RVs! Many even enjoy winter camping using the beds of their trucks as their campers.

What Size Truck Do I Need for Camping?

This really depends on your size and how you want to use your truck for camping.

That said, almost any size truck will suffice to get you up off the ground to sleep. Obviously, though, the longer/larger the truck bed, the more comfortable you’ll be, and the more options you’ll have for creating a camper conversion in your truck.

The bed of a pickup truck

You can use your truck for truck bed camping regardless of the bed size, but the more room you have, the better.

If you’re in the market for a truck and you think you might do some camping in it, then we’d suggest opting for something with a bed that isn’t super short.

The recommendation is usually that a standard 6.5′ short bed is about the minimum for real comfort, and a mid-size or long bed truck will give you more options and comfort.

A note to remember is that a standard twin mattress (air or regular) should fit flat from wheel well to wheel well in mid-size and full-size pickup trucks.

While you may not need or desire a twin-size mattress, at least it gives you an idea of what fits in the space.

Note, also, that there are ways to fit an even larger mattress in a pickup truck. Read on for more information!

What Size Mattress Fits In My Truck?

Whether you use a truck bed tent, a cap, or you choose to sleep in the open air, sleeping well is a concern for most people when determining how they want to build out a truck bed camper.

Knowing what size mattress your truck bed will accommodate is helpful, so let’s start there.

When considering what size mattress will fit your truck, start by measuring the distance between the wheel wells. Again, most truck beds will give you about 48″ from well to well. (Note that this is also the width of a standard sheet of plywood. More on that in a minute.)

Once you’ve measured from wheel well to wheel well, check your measurements against these common mattress sizes.

  • KING: 76″ x 80″
  • QUEEN: 60″ x 80″
  • FULL: 54″ x 75″
  • TWIN: 38″ x 75″

Obviously, the length of your truck bed is a consideration as well. This varies from truck to truck more than width does.

For example, the GMC Sierra will give you a truck bed that’s 98.2″ in length and 71.4″ wide. So, that particular truck would accommodate a queen-sized mattress.

But, because wheel wells do reduce the width of the mattress a truck can handle, you may need to make some adjustments, especially if you’re not traveling solo.

How to Sleep In a Truck Bed

There are several different ways to create a bed for sleeping in the bed of a pickup truck.

Considering the fact that it’s important to get a good night’s sleep when you’re camping, let’s take a look at ways to sleep in a truck bed, (including how to get around the wheel well situation).

Raised Bed Platform

Building a raised sleeping platform above the wheel wells allows you to take advantage of the full width of the bed of your truck.

For some, this will allow the use of a full-size or queen-size mattress.

As a bonus, it’ll also provide storage space underneath the bed platform.

Plywood can be used to create the bed platform, and sections can be hinged or otherwise made to lift for access to under-bed storage.

Cot

A cot (with short legs if you’ve got a cap) is another great way to catch some zzzz’s in the bed of a truck.

The comfort of a standard cot can be improved with a traditional camping mattress/sleeping pad.

Following are some links to cots that could work in a truck bed, but remember that some cots are taller than others when set up. So, note your headroom if you intend to use a truck cap or truck bed tent.

Be sure to also take note of the weight capacity of any camping cot you consider.

Sale
Coleman Trailhead II Camping Cot, Easy-to-Assemble Folding Cot Supports Campers up to 6ft 2in or 300lbs, Great for Camping, Lounging, & Elevated Sleeping
  • ELEVATED COMFORT: Eliminates the discomfort of sleeping on rough or cold ground.ELEVATED COMFORT: Eliminates the discomfort of sleeping on rough or...
  • BUILT TO LAST: Strong cross-bar steel frame

This one is available in twin-size and queen-size. For a queen-sized cot, you’d need to make sure the dimensions accommodate your size and fit between or raise you above the truck’s wheel wells.

Sale
Coleman Camping Cots for Adults with Camping Air Mattress, Folding Air Mattresses Set, Battery-Operated Pump & Side Table for Outdoor Comfort
  • AirTight system is factory-tested to be leak-free
  • ComfortStrong coil system provides better support for all-night comfort

Folding Mattress

Many camper conversions use a fold-up or roll-up mattress that can be tossed into the truck or other vehicle for camping excursions and then easily removed when the vehicle is used for daily driving.

These are easy to use and even fold up (or roll up) for easy storage, but it’s important to note your weight against the size and fullness of a “mattress” such as this. Some people love them, but we’d imagine they might not be all that comfortable for others.

Matrix Cell Memory Foam Camping Mattress Pad, Roll Up Mattress Floor Mattress for Kids, Bed Roll, Camp Folding Sleeping Pad Foam, Cot Mattress Pad, Car Portable Rollaway Bed
  • UNCOMPROMISING COMFORT IN ANY ENVIRONMENT- If you are looking for comfortable memory foam mattresses for home use or camping, the Hazli cot mattress...
  • BEST ROLL UP MATTRESS CAMPING MAT – Made of superior memory foam, beautifully covered by a 100% waterproof machine washable cover, the Hazli floor...
Milliard Tri-Folding Memory Foam Foldable Memory Foam Mattress with Washable Cover, Twin XL Size (78"x38"x6")
  • The Milliard Memory Foam Tri-fold Mattress allows you to get a comfortable night's sleep wherever you go. Simply unfold the foam bed on the floor in...
  • Memory foam is known for the therapeutic qualities and comfortable support. The Milliard tri-fold mattress is ventilated for air flow to help regulate...

Air Mattress

Lots of campers swear by the convenience of a standard air mattress for tent camping or truck camping. (We even set up an air mattress on our RV’s living room floor for guests – see the video below.)

But, full disclosure, there can be a couple of downsides to air mattresses. As long as you’re aware of them, though, you’re less likely to be disappointed.

First, air mattresses tend to be cold to sleep on, so if you’re a cold-weather camper, you might want to skip right past this option. Although adding a fleece blanket or other insulating layer under the sheets works great.

Second, some inflatable mattresses tend to lose air throughout the night. So you could fall asleep all comfy and cozy, then wake up in the middle of the night feeling a bit… deflated.

As always, we recommend checking real-life user reviews of an air mattress prior to investing in one.

Pro tip: If you’re simply interested in just trying out a weekend of truck bed camping on the cheap to see how you like it, twin air mattresses can be had for very little money at your local Walmart, Target, or other big box stores. Maybe this one isn’t the most comfortable mattress option, but it’s hard to beat the price!

aodoer Full Size Air Mattress for Inflatable - Portable Blue Blow Up Mattresses with Flocked top - Double Foldable Air Bed for Tent Camping Home Travel Backpacking
  • 【Superior Materials】Our air cushion is made of 0.7mm extra thick waterproof luxury comfortable flocked vinyl. Our air bed adopts ultrasonic...
  • 【Ergonomic Design】The air coil system inside our air mattress can ensure even force on the head, waist, shoulders and legs, allowing you to truly...

If you decide you really enjoy truck camping, you can invest in a slightly pricier option without having spent a lot of money on your trial mattress.

Here’s another option that’ll likely fit between your wheel wells and has a weight capacity of 300 pounds.

Sale
Intex 64112E Dura-Beam Standard Prestige Air Mattress: Fiber-Tech – Twin Size – Built-in USB Electric Pump – 12in Bed Height – 300lb Weight Capacity
  • ✔ FIBER-TECH BEAM CONSTRUCTION – Comprised of thousands of high-strength polyester fibers that provide enhanced comfort, stability and support;...
  • ✔ DURABILITY – Unlike traditional air beds that tend to sink or dip over time, our 12" Raised Dura-Beam Air Mattresses are designed with bottom...

Make Your Own Mattress

By this we mean that you’d buy your mattress foam and cut it to the perfect size for your personal use.

For example, you could purchase a 4″ or 6″ thick piece of foam, and if it needs to be adjusted to fit your truck bed in the area where you want it to lay, you can simply cut it to size.

Note that you want a fairly firm and thick piece of foam if you choose this route, because they’ll obviously compress under your weight.

Order a Custom-Size Mattress

And finally, you can order a custom-size mattress to your liking. It might be a bit more pricey choice, but it is an option, and they’re super comfortable! (We’ve been sleeping on a MattressInsider mattress ourselves for years.)

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Shelter for Truck Bed Camping

In the way of shelter, there are several different ways you might choose to go when setting up your truck bed camper.

Cap/Shell

If you’ve got a cap or shell for your truck, there’s your shelter.

You can build out a little camper in the bed of your truck and the cap/shell puts a roof over your head. You’re out of the wind and rain, away from bugs, tucked in safe and sound.

If you try truck bed camping and love it and want to buy a truck cap, you’ll probably be looking at anywhere from $1000 to $3500 and up, depending on the truck and the shell you want to buy.

Truck Bed Tent

A truck bed tent is a great way to camp. You get yourself up off the ground, and the tent serves as your shelter from the elements (bugs included).

You could use a rooftop tent or another type of tent.

A rooftop tent shown erected on the roof of a truck.

Some campers really enjoy a rooftop tent, though they’re not for everyone.

You can put a platform made of plywood, rubber, or even carpet over the bed of your truck if you wish, and set up any tent on top of it.

Better yet, you can buy an actual truck bed tent. These are pretty cool and are designed to sit in the bed of a pickup truck to serve as a camping shelter.

Here are a couple of truck bed tent options to give you an idea of how they work:

JoyTutus Pickup Truck Tent 2.0, Waterproof PU2000mm Double Layer for 2 Person, Portable Truck Bed Tent with Rainfly, 5.5'-6' Camping Preferred - Green
  • 【Double-layer Waterproof Material & Rainfly】: JOYTUTUS pickup truck tent made of 150D polyester oxford, with PU2000 water-proof coating, rainproof...
  • 【Easy Installation】: The installation instruction is included for quick and fast assembly.The ends of the main poles feature color-matching...
Sale
Napier Backroadz Truck Bed Camping Tent - Waterproof 2-Person Tent - Easy to Install - Compact Storage Case - Sturdy Camp & Adventure Shelter Truck Accessories - Grey/Green, Compact Short Bed
  • Go-Anywhere Accommodations: Make a list of the gorgeous places you’ve been wanting to explore, then get the truck packed and ready for memorable...
  • Ideal Space for Two: Your spacious new truck tent offers a comfortable interior with ample headroom, fitting two adults perfectly for relaxing and...

Inflatable Cap

For those who want a truck cap but have no place to store it and want to have an open truck bed much of the time, there are actually inflatable truck caps on the market like this one from Flated.

It is a bit pricey, but when deflated and removed from the truck, it stores away in a compact bag in the back of your garage rather than leaving a traditional truck cap sitting somewhere on your property.

Flated logo
Flated - Inflatable Automotive Accessories
Flated provides a series of innovative, inflatable products that are designed to make travel/camping better and more comfortable. Their flagship product, the Air-Topper, is an inflatable topper for...Show More
Flated provides a series of innovative, inflatable products that are designed to make travel/camping better and more comfortable. Their flagship product, the Air-Topper, is an inflatable topper for your truck's bed... allowing you to protect the contents of your tryuck bed when needed, and deflate and fold it for easy storage. Add the Air-Deck, an inflatable platform that fits inside your truck bed, and you've got a comfortable place to spend the night. Or use their Air-Carrier of temporary storage on your car/truck roof. Show Less
FLATED Air-Topper, Inflatable/collapsable Truck Cap for Camping Road Trips and More Ultimate Truck Cap (Full-Size Long for 8' beds(Ford, Ram, GMC, Chevy)
  • Four-Chamber Construction: The FLATED Air-Topper boasts a robust four-chamber construction, ensuring unparalleled stability and reliability.
  • Military-Grade Durability: Crafted from military-grade PVC-coated drop-stitch material, this cap is built to withstand the toughest challenges the...

Other Truck Camping Gear

There are a few additional items that are useful in a truck bed camper setup. You can go as simple or as elaborate as you like, depending on the amount of space you have.

Camp Kitchen

The tailgate of your pickup is the perfect place to set up your camping kitchen.

You can store all of your kitchen gear in a large plastic tote, and set them out on your tailgate or a picnic table for access.

Pack the gear you enjoy cooking with, including your favorite pot, cast iron skillet or other pan, utensils, paper goods, etc., into the tote.

You can cook over a campfire, or you can toss a small gas stove and a few cans of fuel into your tote to cook on your tailgate.

If you’re keeping things compact and a single-burner stove will work for you, consider one like this from Gas One. This is a very popular dual-fuel camping stove that uses either portable propane or butane cylinders.

Gas One GS-3400P Propane or Butane Stove Dual Fuel Stove Portable Camping Stove - Patent Pending - with Carrying Case Great for Emergency Preparedness Kit
  • Duel Fuel - Compatible With Both Butane (Fuel Not Included) And Propane Fuel (Fuel Not Included), Operates On A Single Butane Cartridge 8 Oz Or A...
  • Automatic Piezo Electric Ignition - Piezo-Electric Ignition That Eliminates The Use For Lighter/Matches In Order To Ignite Flame, No Need For Lighters...

If you want something a bit larger and don’t want to cook on your truck’s tailgate, this little camp stove from Camp Chef has detachable legs for easy transport but will set up at your campsite to give you two burners and 30,000 BTUs of heat per burner.

Bear in mind that with a stove like this one, you’ll want to carry a larger propane cylinder which could be a deal-breaker for some. (See our post on propane tank sizes for more information.)

Sale
Camp Chef Explorer Two-Burner Stove - Portable Camping Cooking Stove for Outdoor Cooking - 448 Sq In Cooking Area - 14"
  • Ultimate Camping Stove: This propane camping stove has two 30,000 BTU burners so you can boil water and cook your meals with ease
  • Portable Camping Stove: The Camp Chef Explorer has detachable legs and a three-sided windscreen that make outdoor setup and cooking a breeze

You could also toss a camping griddle into your tote for a nice sizzling breakfast of bacon & eggs in the morning (or “Brekky on the Barbie” as we enjoyed in Australia, Mate!).

Water Storage

On any camping trip, one of the most important things we all need to have access to is water.

There are many different types of water storage containers available on the market. The key things to keep in mind are to carry enough (or more than enough) water, the material from which the water container is made, and the weight of the storage container when full.

A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, so choose 3, 4, or 5-gallon water containers, according to how much weight you’re comfortable carrying.

A simple food-grade water jug with a spout may be all you need.

Sale
WaterStorageCube BPA-Free Collapsible Water Container with Spigot, Food-Grade Camping Water Storage Carrier Jug for Outdoors Hiking Hurricane Emergency, Foldable Portable Water Canteen (2.6 Gal 2-pk)
  • FOOD-GRADE ODORLESS GREAT TASTE: PE plastic made with highest quality USA raw material. Environmentally friendly non-toxic, No BPA PVC or DEHP, No...
  • LIGHT, COMPACT, PORTABLE AND REUSABLE Foldable space saving design store away easily. Remains soft and flexible even when cold yet retains shape and...

You can also buy the traditional round water jugs used with dispensers in various capacities.

A USB-rechargeable dispenser like this one can sit on top of a 3, 4, or 5-gallon round water dispenser, and the charge lasts about a month.

Sale
Cozy BlueWater Dispenser, Portable Water Bottle Pump for Universal 3, 4 and 5 Gallon with USB Electric Charging and Automatic Off Switch (Black)
  • [Easy to Use] Too heavy to lift and flip the water bottle onto the dispense machine. With this elegant water bottle pump, you can enjoy refreshing...
  • [Safe Material &Easy operation] Our gallon water pump made of high density ABS plastic and food grade silicone tube, BPA free, no toxic and no smell....

Alternatively, you could choose to go with something considerably smaller like this 11-liter (2.9 gallon) water storage container from Dometic, accompanied by its own self-priming faucet (sold separately).

Sale
Dometic Go Hydration Water Jug, 11L (Slate)
  • Volume-maximizing design — while many water containers contain 10L, ours goes to 11
  • Spigot and quick-connect fitting for accessory attachment included
Sale
Dometic GO Hydration Water Faucet - One-Touch Operation with LED Light and Magnetic Base - Portable, Self-Powered Water Dispenser for Camping and Outdoors
  • PORTABLE AND SELF-POWERED FAUCET: The Dometic GO Hydration Water Faucet is a perfect solution for those who love to travel and camp. It is portable...
  • EFFICIENT WATER CONSERVATION: This faucet is designed to dispense water in the amount you need, which helps in water conservation. It comes with a...

Electrical Setup

If you want some electrical power while you’re camping off-grid, you’ll need some sort of power supply.

Many campers use a battery or even a dual battery setup, depending on how much power they’ll need. This may involve using an inverter to turn the 12V power from the battery into 120V power for certain devices.

A simpler alternative could be a small power station that’ll charge from a 12V port of your truck as you drive, or with a portable solar panel. (See our post on solar generators for RVs for much more information.)

These are great if you want to power a small 12V compressor fridge and charge a few devices while you’re camping.

We also loved our CarGenerator while traveling for a month in a Black Series off-road camper.

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CarGenerator is a cool new product the size of a backpack that transforms your gas or diesel car or truck into a backup electric generator. Portable, lightweight, and rain/snow weatherproof... you...Show More

CarGenerator is a cool new product the size of a backpack that transforms your gas or diesel car or truck into a backup electric generator. Portable, lightweight, and rain/snow weatherproof... you can take it camping or RV’ing to watch TV, recharge your RV batteries (like you were plugged into grid power), and lots more.

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Makeshift Bathroom/Shower

You can even buy a small pop-up shower tent to give you some privacy at your campsite. These can be used as a shower stall, a changing room, or a bathroom.

They pack down into a lightweight, compact circular package to toss into your truck when you’re ready for some truck bed camping.

Sale
ABCO Pop Up Privacy Tent Instant Portable Outdoor Shower Tent, Camp Toilet, Changing Room, Rain Shelter with Window for Beach Easy Set Up, Foldable with Carry Bag, Lightweight and Sturdy - Pop Up Pod
  • INNOVATIVE POP-UP TENT – The Abco privacy tent offers you instant private space for bathroom and potty use, outdoor showers, changing clothes, and...
  • INSTANT INSTALLATION – Designed for utmost convenience, our popup tent can be set up instantly and is equally easy to fold back into the included...

You could even bring a long a little portable toilet and shower if you wanted.

Reliance Products Luggable Loo Portable 5 Gallon Toilet Gray, 13.5 inch x 13.0 inch x 15.3 inch
  • Compatible with Reliance's standard Double Doodle Bag
  • Weight: 3.00lbs

Truck Bed Camping Necessities

Only you can determine what’s “necessary” to have along on your camping trip in terms of amenities, but the real necessities are food, water, and plenty of fuel in the truck’s tank. Obviously, a comfortable way to sleep is also very important.

Beyond that, your truck bed camping setup can be as minimal or as fancy as you’d like it to be. And plastic totes are great for storing just about everything, including food, clothing, and other camping gear.

Have You Done Any Truck Bed Camping?

If you’ve done some truck bed camping, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the experience.

We’d also like to know if you discovered any tricks, tips, or must-haves for truck bed camping trips.

Drop us a comment below.

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