During the peak of hunting season, you’ll probably feel like you’re living out of your truck. Of course, if you have a weatherproof topper on your ride, you really can live in the truck.
Truck bed camping, while not as glamorous as a Rocky Mountain tent camp or as comfortable as an RV, allows you to go where the game lives and to stay there on the cheap – and, in some cases, to beat the competition to the best spots.
Some folks take truck bed camping to the extreme with full electrical hookups, air-conditioning (that’s right) and elaborate bedding systems. Others throw down a bedroll and rough it. However advanced you might want to make your stay in the back of the truck, you can’t overcome the fact that you’re combining living space with space normally dedicated to hauling around dirty gear and dead stuff. I learned this on a recent weeklong camping and sharp-tail grouse hunting trip in North Dakota. From my experience, along with advice gleaned from pro anglers who often camp in their trucks at tournament sites, I compiled a four tips that can make camping in the bed of the truck much more comfortable.
1) Keep it clean and sealed
The toughest part of camping in a truck bed is keeping the interior space clean. Rain, muddy boots, blood, feathers, and gravel road dust (the absolute worst in some parts of the country) will find a way in. Do whatever you can to seal up the space to keep dust and moisture out while driving. Tighten up all the hardware that holds the cap to the truck, and replace any worn seals. Stick-on weather stripping can help seal a leaky hatch in a pinch. Make sure sliding windows shut tight too. Keep them closed when cruising gravel or dirt lanes, but crack a window in the evenings for ventilation. While camping, stick muddy boots and other dirty equipment on trash bags. Stash dead game on tarps until you reach camp. Bring a broom or even a battery-powered handheld vacuum, and actually use it each night. During the day, roll and stow your bedding in a sealed bag, then be sure to lock the cap before you head out in order to dissuade two-legged scavengers from helping themselves to your gear.
2) Raise it up
“Floor space” is at a premium when truck bed camping, so consider building some type of sleeping and storage unit. I know a professional bass angler who sleeps in his truck bed while still hauling enough tackle to stock a sporting goods store. He does so by sleeping on top of his tackle on a raised platform made of 2-by-4 lumber and plywood. The platform is about 18 inches tall and fills one-half of the bed. An air mattress on top makes his sleep more comfortable, while open sides allow access to gear stored underneath. On the opposite side, he slides in totes, gear bags and other equipment. In my truck, I opted to build a plywood storage unit that spans from one fender well to the other. On the left side of the storage unit is a full-length divided drawer where I store ammo, roadside emergency equipment, a tool set, gun-cleaning supplies, a first-aid kit and other essentials. The right side is open and is where I slide in gun cases, extra boots and other long tools. In the spaces in front of and behind the fender wells I stash jugs of water, a lantern case, a camp chair and muddy boots. A self-inflating foam mattress pad goes on top. Commercial storage options probably are more convenient, but mine was much cheaper.
3) Organize and weatherproof gear
Camping gear, hunting clothes, cooking equipment and other trip-specific items should be organized in waterproof plastic totes or dry bags and organized by task. That way you only have to pull out the tote that you need for each job. They can be stored outside at night to allow more space for sleeping, then tossed back in during the day. Electronics and other items that should not get wet or dirty can be stored in the cab.
4) Don’t forget essential items
Depending where you camp, you might not have running water. If you don’t, bring along a 6-gallon water can and a couple of aluminum baking pans. Use the pans to wash dishes, your hands and face, and even game. Something that glows in the dark is handy to keep inside at night because headlamps and flashlights attract insects. My headlamp actually has a glow-in-the-dark shroud that is bright enough to help me find my keys or boots in the dark. A portable charging device such as a Weego is also handy for charging GPS units, dog collars, and phones once the truck is shut off. Finally, since your truck is home for the trip, be sure and stash a spare key somewhere on the vehicle.