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How to camp in a pick-up truck bed

Updated April 17, 2017

Falling somewhere between RVs and tent camping, there is truck camping. Using the bed of a truck as a shelter from the elements or to sleep in has gained popularity among many groups. It is an affordable way to implement many amenities into your camping experience, as well as being a convenient and efficient way to camp.

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  1. Install a truck camper shell or a truck bed tent. It is possible to use the bed of your truck to sleep in without a shell or truck tent, such as using tarps. However, it negates the purpose of using your truck as a mini-RV, as a convenient vehicle that you can have set up in minutes.

  2. Build a platform to sleep on. There are a couple of methods to do this. The easiest is to take five to six pieces of 2-by-6 lumber cut to the length of the bed of the truck. These will sit across the top of your bed (on top of where the shell attaches to the truck). Cut 3/8-inch plywood to cover the 2-by-6 lumber.

  3. Create storage under the sleeping platform by installing 3/8-inch plywood turned upright (cut to fit) underneath the sleeping platform. Start with one long piece down the centre to separate gear. This board can be fastened to the main platform if desired with "L" brackets and screws. As personal desires need to be met, so can organisation. If the platform does not need to be removed, it can be made more permanent. Cubbyholes can be cut into the platform to create easy access to the hard-to-reach storage areas.

  4. Install foam, sleeping bags and other bedding onto the sleeping platform. Load camping gear into storage area. Pack the tarp and tent poles if planning to create a rain fly.

  5. Find a relatively level spot to park the truck. If there isn't a level spot available, consider which way your head is going to be facing when you are sleeping and park with that in mind. For the most part, camp is set up. If you have had a long day of driving, climbing, spelunking, hiking, or other adventure, all you have left to do now is crawl into the bed of the truck and close your eyes.

  6. Extend the shelter of the truck by erecting a rain fly. Open the hatch on the shell. Throw the tarp over the shell, ensuring that it covers past the hatch opening. Use the grommet holes in the tarp to tie the tarp to the truck wheel well. Extend the tarp aft and place the adjustable tent poles through the grommets on the corners, stretching the tarp tight. Use the small diameter rope to tie off the tent poles from the top to the ground (using tent stakes) or other stationary object.

  7. Drape netting over the hatch area of the shell if it is going to be left open overnight. Use hook and loop tape to make it removable. If the hatch is going to be closed overnight, install the rain with the hatch closed, and then open the hatch after the fly is erected. The hatch will not extend fully, so watch your head.

  8. Tip

    Install carpet on top of your platform. It will help on those cold nights and is much more comfortable than plywood. Keep a piece of the scraps for your tailgate to sit on and to save your knees when digging around inside the truck. Use waterproof containers to haul gear that can be stored under the truck or in camp while parked. Create a long-hooked tool to reach back into the storage areas of the truck. Install a 12-volt power supply if the installed camper shell does not have one. With this installed, a variety of electronics can be used including lights, DVD players, laptop computers, etc. (see Reference 1).


    Always set the parking brake when camping in your truck.

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Things You'll Need

  • Truck
  • Camper shell or truck bed camping tent
  • 3/8- inch plywood
  • 5 or 6 2-by-6 wooden pieces cut to fit
  • Small diameter rope
  • "L" Brackets (optional)
  • Wood screws (Optional)
  • 8-by10-foot Tarp (Optional)
  • 2 adjustable tent poles (optional)

About the Author

Eric Duncan is a military veteran and a professional in the safety, travel and aviation industries. Duncan has been writing since 2002 for magazines, newspapers, local business literature and on such websites as Singletraks.com. He has earned his Bachelor of Science in professional aeronautics and his Master of Business Administration.

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