7 Truck Bed Camping Ideas

Camping in your truck bed can save you loads of time setting and packing up your campsite every night. It’s excellent for short trips and requires minimal effort and equipment.

There are also ample options and accessories to increase your comfort for longer trips. This article will cover some great ideas to improve your truck bed camping experience.

Camper Shells

Camper shells are lightweight extensions that you can add to your truck bed to enhance your protection from the elements, safety, and comfort. They are usually mounted on top of the truck bed and are level or higher than the roof of your truck.

There are loads of models to suit any style, budget, and comfort level. Below is a summary of the main types of camper shells and some advice to consider before purchasing your shell.

There are two main types of camper shells; soft and hard. Both will offer great protection and comfort. There are unique benefits and disadvantages to each.

Softshells

Softshells are often made from fabric or canvas. They will generally fold out like an awning or rooftop tent from the roof of your truck. 

Pros

  • Lightweight construction saves you money on fuel
  • An excellent option for those who want an easy product to attach and detach between trips
  • Less expensive

Cons

  • Are not as good at protecting you from the elements
  • You can’t mount roof wracks or other modifications which may increase your comfort
  • Easier to damage

Hard shells

Hard shells are made from fiberglass, aluminum, or wood. These are more rigid structures and will sit on top of your tailgate.

Pros

  • Offers better elemental protection
  • Offers lockable entrance to decrease the risk of theft
  • Harder to damage
  • You can mount roof wracks and other modifications without issues

Cons

  • Are heavier which decreases fuel economy
  • Require more than one person to detach and attach
  • More expensive

You can buy camper shells in a variety of sizes and styles. Some will hang over the edge of your truck bed giving you extra room to enjoy. Some models also extend over the roof of your truck giving you extra room for bedding or storage. 

No matter which shell you choose it’s important to do your research into the products available before you invest in a product that doesn’t suit your needs. 

  • Try to favor leading brands like Leer and Snug top. 
  • If you are on a tight budget consider finding second-hand options in your area online.  
  • If you tend to get claustrophobic look for options that sit higher than the roof of your truck.
  • Consider how permeant you will want the structure to be as this will influence which style you buy. 
  • Try to avoid the temptation of buying windowless options for security and price as these will dramatically decrease your visibility behind the vehicle.

Truck Canopies

Truck canopies are similar to camper shells. They enclose your truck’s bed to protect anything inside from the external environment. A key difference is that canopies are permanently fixed to the truck bed meaning you cannot install and remove them between camping trips. 

A truck canopy will usually be level with the roof of the truck. They will generally be lighter than a camper shell as they are constructed with the same materials as your trucks.

They are a great addition to your truck if you intend to go camping in the truck bed. You can add roof racks and other modifications and modify the inside of the canopy however you want and will only have to worry about installing the product once.

They are made from highly durable materials ensuring you will get value for money when purchasing this product. Canopies are also one of the most common modifications made to trucks as they ensure constant protection of your belongings from both the elements and theft. 

They are also somewhat stylish compared to the rest of the alternatives on this list. Canopies can be purchased in the same colour as your vehicle and will blend more naturally into the vehicle than tents and campers.

If you are looking for a stylish option this is the best choice for you.

Soft toppers

Soft toppers are very similar to canopies. They are made of softer materials like canvas and synthetic substitutes, hence the name. Again, they fully enclose the truck bed keeping you and your belongings protected from the external environment and weather.

Soft toppers are a much cheaper alternative to canopies which is the main reason for their appeal. If you are working on a tight budget and looking to save money in terms of fuel consumption, soft-toppers offer a cheap lightweight solution to your problems.

You can also detach soft toppers whenever you need. This ensures that your camping does not interfere with the other uses of your truck. It does mean you will need to fit and detach the product in between uses like a camper shell.

Soft toppers do have a series of disadvantages. Firsty, like a soft camper shell,  you cannot install accessories to the roof which prevents you from taking full advantage of your roof space. Soft toppers are also less secure than canopies.

They are made of less durable materials meaning wind and harsh conditions may have more impact on the longevity of the product leading to more frequent replacement. They are also not as secure for your belongings as they are easier to remove. Unlike canopies there is no automatic lock to keep you and your belongings safe and secured inside.

Truck tents

Truck Bed Camping Ideas

Truck tents are canvas tents that fit into the bed of your truck and provide extra room, comfort, and protection from the elements to your truck bed. Generally, they offer less protection than a camper shell however, they are easier to detach and still a great enhancement to sleep in an unprotected truck bed.

They are secured underneath the truck bed and extend over the tailgate to give you as much room as possible. They can comfortably sleep 2-3 people and offer great comfort and convenience to your camping trip. 

They offer a quicker setup than attaching a camper shell and are a much more affordable option for those working on a tight budget. They are also better than a traditional tent because they elevate you off the ground increasing your warmth and decreasing the impact of wet weather.

This option is highly portable and a great option for those looking for a simple, temporary camping option to help them make the most out of their truck.

Some truck beds are also fitted with a frame that lifts them higher off the bed of your truck. This style of the truck tent allows you to store all of your belongings in the truck bed while it is partly protected from the elements but the tent above it.

This ensures you have plenty of room to both sleep and store your belongings and is a great option for those looking for a solution for longer camping trips.

Installing an Awning

You can also protect your truck bed using a premade or DIY awning which will protect you and your belongings from most rain and poor weather.

This is a good option for those looking to camp on a non-regular basis or especially during the summer months. It’s not the best option for those looking to camp in the winter as some water may still be able to come through the sides of the tailgate.

To make sure the awning protects you as you sleep in the truck you will want to fit it in a way that wraps around the back end of your vehicle. This will allow you to keep the tailgate folded out for maximum space within the truck bed.

An awning can also give you extra protection for the elements if you choose to install a camper shell or tent and is a great addition to your truck if you enjoy day trips as it can give you near-instant shade and protection from the elements whenever you need it!

You can even buy awnings that come fitted with walls that transform it into a miniature tent of source. These can help you stay completely protected from the elements from all angles and give you loads of extra room to store your belongings. 

If you are looking to buy an awning try to stick to major brands in the industry. Well-known brands like ARB and i-kamper will have plenty of reviews from those who have already purchased the product to help you settle on a specific product.

These brands will also generally be constructed with better materials, more efficient set-up designs, and in response to the common needs that the clients of the brand often encounter while camping. 

If you don’t have the money to invest in an awning you can easily make your own using a tarp and some spare camping poles and ropes. You will want to draw the tarp over the whole bed of your truck to prevent water from gathering on the roof of your tent.

You will also want to ensure the tent is drawn tight and sloped down in at least one corner to allow the water to run off and prevent sagging which can damage or break the tarp.

Creating a mattress frame

Modifying your truck bed to better support a mattress is a cheap but effective strategy to increase your comfort and storage while camping in your truck bed. This method only requires simple materials and a few DIY skills and is a great enhancement to your existing camping shell or canopy. 

You can construct your frame using plywood beams and planks. When creating your frame have a good idea of how high you will be off the truck bed. The higher you build the frame the more room you will have for storage, however, this may decrease your comfort getting into bed and sleeping overnight.

Most campers who use this product build the frame level to or just below the sides of the original truck bed as this provides ample storage without seriously sacrificing comfort.

You will only need a simple square frame with a beam or two running down the center to ensure it will easily bear your weight. You may not wish to presently mount the frame in your truck bed as this will limit your storage room when you are not camping.

Simply slot a plywood board cut to size on top of this board and you have an excellent base to set up your mattress and sleeping gear. 

If you are using this method you may choose to invest in high-quality memory foam or air mattress. This will make sleeping more comfortable over longer trips and can also be used during other forms of camping making it a great investment. 

If you are worried about lack of space in your cabin or even just looking for a solution that only sleeps one you can make this frame smaller so it only fits a one-person mattress. This will give you greater room to store your belongings. It also provides the opportunity to create an internal kitchen which is great for those who prefer winter camping.

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