How to Outfit Your Truck for the Ideal Camping Adventure

July 12, 2019 by Chris Teague

Having a dedicated RV or overlanding vehicle is out of reach for many enthusiasts. But a whole crop of truck-based tents and accessories make it easier than ever to take your daily driver into the wilderness.

But before you set off into the woods, think about the best ways to setup your truck for camping. Here’s what you need to know to outfit your pickup for the campsite. 

RESEARCH CAMP STYLES

Familiarize yourself with the basic styles of truck camping and what they require. A weekend at a drive-up campsite differs greatly from weeks spent off-grid. Your truck may work for either style, but it’s important to know if you prefer one over the other.

How you camp affects everything from the type of food you bring to how much water you’ll keep stocked. Weekend warrior-type campers need a simple truck setup capable of multi-day support while overlanders require a week or more of self-sufficiency.

The most important items to consider are food and water. Weekend campers are able to throw perishable food into a cooler with a few bags of ice and make it to Sunday. Those spending more time off-grid need food that’s simple to prepare and won’t easily spoil. They’ll also want plenty of water.

Car campers are always able to pack like overlanders but overlanders won’t ever be able to pack like car campers. Understanding the differences between the two impacts the entire planning process.

MAKE CHECKLISTS

Always make a physical checklist of what you want to pack. Do this well ahead of your trip to be able to add things that come to mind. It’s better to have a long list and pare down than to scramble for what to bring the day before you leave.

Your checklist should include all relevant cargo for your trip. This includes food, clothing, water and sleeping essentials. You’ll also want to list gear for any activities and trip-specific items like GPS devices or recovery ropes.

Also consider creating a tentative trip itinerary. You won’t need to perfectly stick to your plan, but it’s smart to have a rough schedule of your trip. Write down cities you might pass as well as fuel, food and bathroom stops.

TRUCK CARGO CAPACITY

You’ll need to understand the limits of your truck’s cargo and payload capacities before installing and loading equipment. Cargo capacity refers to the physical space available in the truck’s bed for gear. Payload capacity is the maximum weight your truck is able to carry, including fluids like fuel in the tank.

Knowing a vehicle’s cargo and payload capacity helps determine what to bring on any given trip. Gear such as rooftop tents or large electric coolers tend to take up much of a truck’s available capacity. Keep in mind that heavier vehicles may also be less fuel efficient.

Refer to a vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific weights and capacities. Searching via a manufacturer’s website should also provide relevant information.

SLEEPING OPTIONS

Truck campers generally have four options for how to sleep: a ground tent, a rooftop tent, a truck bed tent or a travel trailer. Though choosing one over the other may depend on personal preference and budget.

Your locations also may have restrictions exist. For instance, difficult overlanding trails aren’t always well-suited for towing a trailer. Some areas suggest campers sleep off the ground to avoid prowling animals or poisonous insects. Always research your destination before setting out to see what sleep system works best.

It’s important to know how each option affects a vehicle’s payload capacity, as well as its space for additional gear. Truck bed tents require the use of an entire truck bed, so anything stored there would needs to another home. Rooftop tents typically leave the bed of a truck open but can create a ceiling that limits stowed gear.

Travel trailers provide a high level of versatility as many feature spacious sleeping quarters, additional cargo room and space for an outdoor or galley-style kitchen. However, it’s important to know how to operate your truck with a trailer attached. Failure to do so puts you, and other drivers, in danger.

Also consider how much room you’ll need to sleep comfortably and the number of people camping in your group. Truck beds tents are comfortable for two people but become crowded quickly. Larger rooftop tents sleep up to four or five people. But their weight and cost rises as they get bigger.

GEAR YOU MIGHT FORGET

Bringing a sleeping bag, cooler and camp chair is a no-brainer. It’s the gear you don’t think of that goes a long way in elevating your trip. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Hitch-Mounted Accessories: Your truck’s trailer hitch isn’t just for hauling trailers. Gear such as hitch-mounted grills or tables transform the back of your truck into a mobile kitchen. There are also hitch-mounted cargo baskets available that provide additional storage space.
  • Power Accessories: It’s not always a good idea to use the battery in your truck to power electric coolers or charge smartphones. You run the risk of killing your battery. Instead, invest in a portable power station. Many high capacity options can power several small appliances while also keeping your phone, camera or laptop charged. Those in need of high-capacity batteries should look at what GoalZero offers while those who just need a quick smartphone charge may opt for a smaller battery from Anker.
  • Organized Storage: Use several interlocking plastic bins to organize your camp gear. Ideally, you’d use three separate containers: one for food, one for tools and one for gear. Having everything neatly organized increases cargo space in your truck and simplifies packing. 

It’s common to discover gear you wish you had during your actual camp trip. Even the most organized campers still find themselves groaning over something they didn’t bring. Keep a running list and add it to your checklist before your next trip.

Alexander Kalogiannis July 5, 2019
Rooftop vehicle tents are growing in popularity because they provide campsite sleeping quarters above the hard dirt and prowling animals.

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