Hunting whitetails in the backyard is awfully fun, and going to family deer camp is a blast. But my absolute favorite place to return to after a long day of public land hunting is a DIY truck camp. The combination of sleeping quarters, gear storage, and transportatability make this the ultimate public land hunter’s accommodation.
The Benefits of Truck Camping
With the right gear and organization, your truck can make for a comfortable yet versatile basecamp to hunt from. By camping out of your truck, you can venture to and stay in just about any location. There’s never a pull-off too tight or a road too rough, as you might encounter with a trailer. Even better, you can park right on the public lands you want to hunt and sometimes even position yourself for glassing potential hunting spots right from camp.
By sleeping in the back of your truck, you also get the benefit of being able to leave home without a bulky tent and eliminate the added time of setup and teardown. This is especially valuable on rainy or snowy days. Best of all, if things don’t work out at your first stop, you can toss a few items in your vehicle and quickly relocate.
Here’s my take on the perfect truck camping setup for frontcountry hunters. Adjust based off your circumstances and preferences.
Ideal Truck Setup
In my opinion, the best option for a truck camping rig is a full-sized 4WD pickup with a topper on the back. Smaller trucks obviously work too, but I like the extra storage space in a big rig. A SUV or van can suffice for a similar style of camp setup, but I feel the pickup works for a more varied set of uses.
For example, when I get a deer on the ground, I’m much more comfortable throwing a bloody carcass in my truck bed than on a carpeted floor in the interior of a vehicle. A full-sized bed is preferable, providing enough length for most people to sleep comfortably without their feet hitting the tailgate. A short bed can work too—it just might require sleeping at an angle.
When it comes to a truck cap, I’ve used both Leer and ARE, but regardless of brand a couple features seem to be the most important. Ventilation is key for comfortable sleeping, so I’d recommend a cap with either pop-out or sliding, screened windows, or windows that fully open. I also like a carpeted interior, which seems to insulate the cap just a bit better during the colder parts of the year and absorb condensation in the warmer months.
I’d also recommend attaching a roof rack to your cap. These allow you to mount various storage boxes or gear carriers to your truck. I’ve personally used Yakima Skyline Towers, and both round and square bars. For extended trips I almost always use a rooftop box like the Yakima Skybox 16, which holds gear such as camp chairs, backpacks, archery targets, and other miscellaneous large equipment. Bike and canoe carriers can be mounted to a rack like this as well—important tools to access certain areas.
Finally, I strongly suggest utilizing some type of built-in drawer storage. You can build your own or install something like a DECKED system, which is what I use. By having two sturdy pull-out drawers the length of the truck bed I can keep all of my camping and hunting gear neatly organized and easily accessible at all times, while keeping the truck bed clear for sleeping and living space. I’m usually able to fit all of my hunting gear and clothing in one drawer and all of my camping, sleeping, and cooking accessories in the other.
Truck Camping Gear
Making your truck into a comfortable camp starts with your sleeping arrangements. I like to use a high quality inflatable sleeping pad as my mattress, such as the Thermarest NeoAir XLite. These are surprisingly comfortable and can stay laid out and ready to use in the bed of your truck, but can also be quickly rolled down to the size of a Nalgene water bottle when you need more storage space. A comfortable, properly insulated sleeping bag is a must as well. Finally, you need to decide if you want to bring a regular pillow or an inflatable camping variety. I usually have enough space to bring the real deal and can attest it’s a simple comfort that makes a real difference.
My recommended camp kitchen is comprised of a large cooler like a Yeti Tundra 75, a portable grill like the Coleman 2-Burner Grill-Stove combo, a folding camp chair, and a portable camp table like the REI Camp Roll Table. A tiny LED lantern like those from Black Diamond can be a nice addition as well.
If inclement weather is expected, consider bringing a tarp, two adjustable poles, and paracord to create an awning off the back of your truck. With this setup you can grill on the tailgate, sit in your camp chair, or get changed while standing up and staying dry in rainy or snowy conditions.
Truck Camping Hygiene
Whitetail hunters often ask me about how I handle showers and staying scent free on trips like this. My solution is to keep it simple. I just pour a jug of water over my head every few days quickly lather with soap in key areas. On the off days, I’ll wipe down with scent-free wipes and keep my clothing aired out on branches when I’m not hunting. The portable gravity showers on the market that could be an interesting option for those looking to enjoy a slightly more traditional cleaning experience.
In all honesty, none of these solutions are perfect. Playing the wind and thermals is more important than ever when living off the grid in this kind of way, as any elk or mule deer hunter can tell you.
Choose Your Own Adventure
This might not be the exact setup that you’ll want, but this is what has worked for me over the last decade of camping, fishing, and hunting across our nation’s wild public places. Use this as a stepping-off point, customize your truck camping setup as you see fit, and choose your own adventure. The road is beckoning.