The 17 essentials you need to start camping with your truck

  • When outfitting a truck for camping, choose gear that’s light, versatile, and durable enough to stand up to rough terrain.
  • Don’t go overboard on what you bring and remember the less you have, the easier it is to pack up at the end of your trip.
  • We tested gear from brands like Camp Chef, Roofnest, and Yakima to find the best truck camping gear available.

A pickup truck has always been the original adventure rig. Even before the #vanlife movement started taking off, truck camping served as a more rugged alternative to the plush experience of hitting the road in an RV or pull-behind trailer – and one of the main reasons why is that trucks can go almost anywhere.

If you load your truck with enough gear, not only are you able to spend a few days relaxing in the great outdoors, you could take that rig deep into the backcountry and be sufficient for days on end. Put plainly, it’s the most versatile adventure vehicle there is, allowing you to explore on- and off-road routes that turns into a full-on mobile campsite wherever you end up.

How to shop for truck camping gear

You’re only able to fully realize that versatility with the right gear but there’s more to outfitting your truck for a weekend away than just throwing a cooler, sleeping bag, and tent into the bed and hitting the road. 

First, it’s important to make sure your truck is capable of handling the kind of trip you have in mind. Whether you plan on off-roading for several days or just checking out a few local campsites, you’ll want to get a proper tune-up to make sure it runs smoothly. 

And don’t get the wrong idea here, either – you don’t need some fancy new truck to go truck camping. As long as you have something that reliably gets you from Point A to Point B (with however many stops in between), you’re likely set. But again, get your truck inspected first to make sure it’s up to the task. 

From a gear standpoint, one of the basics we’d first recommend is a suitable roof rack. A roof rack provides additional storage space, freeing up valuable cargo room in the bed of the truck, while also allowing for the attachment of something like a rooftop tent. It significantly adds to the versatility of your truck and, ultimately, what all you’re able to tote along. 

For the rest of the gear, consider what it is you plan on doing. If you want to be on the road for several days (or even weeks), a reliable method for cooking and storing food is vital, so you might want to spend more on a premium cooler and some quality cookware. If it’s just a shorter weekend outing, perhaps you don’t need as much gear and can pick and choose what to add to your budding kit.

To help, we’ve compiled the following list of gear that we keep stashed in our truck for almost any camp trip we head out on. Of course, some of what we include can sort of mix and match together depending on the trek but it serves as a great checklist for anyone looking to do more camping in their truck.

Here’s the best gear for camping in your truck:

Best rack system

Yakima HD OutPost

Yakima’s OutPost HD System is a sturdy and durable truck bed rack that boasts an off-road rating of up to 300 lbs., can reliably hold a rooftop tent, and opens up the bed of your truck for even more gear.

Pros: Durable construction, allows for the use of a rooftop tent or other rack-mounted gear, capable of standing up to off-road abuse

Cons: Expensive, needs to HD bar to create the full rack system

If you’ve ever shopped for roof racks before, it’s likely you’ve heard the Yakima name more than once — and for good reason. The brand’s made quality roof racks for years and its OutPost HD System for trucks continues that trend. 

The rack offers a number of tie-down points and mount compatibility, allowing you to add even more gear onto it. Though the HD System doesn’t come with crossbars (it’s just the towers), it is compatible with Yakima’s HD Bar which allows for compatibility with rooftop tents, storage containers, or even bike racks. 

Compatible with a wide range of trucks and truck bed sizes, the Outpost HD system is highly durable and offers an on-road rating of 500 lbs and an off-road rating of 300 lbs. This means that if you do opt for a rooftop tent, you can comfortably sleep up there without worrying about damage being done to your truck or the rack itself. The entire system plus bar setup is spendy ($749 and $249, respectively) but it’s a highly worthwhile investment for anyone planning to spend a lot of time camping with their truck. – Rick Stella. 

Yakima HD Bar

Yakima OutPost HD System

Best rooftop tent

Falcon Roofnest

The Falcon from Roofnest is a hard-shell rooftop tent that’s low-profile, easy to pitch and take down, and provides an incredibly comfortable way to catch some Zs at the end of a long day. 

Pros: Provides a comfortable way to sleep in the backcountry, incredibly low profile when packed down, takes just a few seconds to pitch, ladder can work on either side of the tent

Cons: Expensive, a bit heavy for one person to put on or take off on their own

Even if you enjoy a night spent sleeping in a tent, there’s not always a reliable spot to pitch one in the backcountry. Instead, consider a rooftop tent. Capable of attaching to a roof rack, a rooftop tent provides an above-ground sleeping space that’s stable, comfortable, and (mostly) easy to set up and tear down. 

One of our favorites currently available is the Roofnest Falcon. Though it looks like a reasonable option according to its spec sheet, it wasn’t until I spent a few nights in the Falcon that I was able to see just how impressive it really was. There’s a custom-shaped foam mattress that does well to avoid feeling like I was actually camping, and the fact it pitches in mere seconds made fully setting up camp an absolute breeze.

When packed down (which takes about a few minutes to get fully clamped), the Falcon sits at just 7 inches high. Plenty of rooftop tents feel like mammoths on top of your car, and do a lot to dramatically reduce your gas mileage, but the Falcon’s low profile didn’t seem to produce as much noticeable drag. Even the gas mileage of the Kia Telluride it came attached to wasn’t affected too much.

Once the tent’s pitched, hooks on either side (and the back) allow for access into the tent via an included telescoping ladder. Inside the tent are a few small storage pouches for storing smartphones or a light (which comes in handy getting into the tent at night). Other features include a built-in rainfly that extends out over the rear window, a 650 lb capacity, and a series of accessory channels that allow you to attach on additional gear, freeing up some of the space it takes up by being on the rack. 

Though its sticker price of $3,400 is certainly expensive, you’d have a hard time finding a similar rooftop tent of this quality at a cheaper price. You pay for its quality and the Roofnest Falcon is an excellent investment for anyone looking to get serious about camping with their truck. – Rick Stella

Best camp grill

Camp Chef Versatop Grill

Camping doesn’t mean compromising on great food. With Camp Chef’s Versatop Grill, you get a three-in-one compact and easy-to-transport cooking system.

Pros: Easy to pack, compatible with a range of accessories, delivers 18,000 BTUs

Cons: Doesn’t come with a water-boiling burner  

Camp Chef’s Versatop Grill is an excellent backcountry cook system that runs off a universally available one-pound propane bottle and can be placed on your tailgate or a table. Its grill box houses the burner, the propane attachment, and the auto-ignite button and temperature control knob, while twist-to-adjust rubber foot legs allow you to even out the cooking surface even if your truck (or table) is off-kilter. 

The griddle offers 247 square-inches of non-stick cooking surface, which is plenty for tall stacks of blueberry pancakes, a healthy helping of bacon, or a pile of eggs. The high-heat non-stick surface is hardened steel and, like a cast iron pan, won’t stick — and there’s no coating to damage if you use a metal spatula. The non-stick surface also makes it easy to clean. So, too, does its attached grease trap which funnels excess liquids into a small drawer-like cup at the end of the grill. 

The single Versatop burner put out a respectable 18,000 BTUs, which is significantly hotter than many other portable grills. It ignites with the push of a button and the large heat control knob lets you regulate the flame to slow cook or sear. At the end of the trip, the pieces are able to stack together for easy transport.

Best awning

Yakima Awning

The lightweight Slim Shady from Yakima serves up 42 square feet of sun protection and weather protection, and is incredibly easy to mount to any roof rack using universal hardware — it took me less than 15 minutes to install.

Pros: Light and compact, easy to set up, sun and weatherproof

Cons: Available in just one size, not automatic

Once mounted, this polyurethane-coated nylon awning takes just a couple of minutes to deploy and doesn’t require any tools for operation.

The awning’s poles are tucked inside itself when it’s rolled up and attach easily with Velcro tabs that clip into the ends to give it structure. An included set of guy lines help stabilize the awning (which is particularly important on blustery days) and it’s just as easy to pack right back up when it’s time to break camp. Not only is this awning simple to mount and use, but it’s also one of the most affordable high-quality awnings available. 

Best camp chair

Big Agnes chair

A comfy camp chair makes a world of difference when you’re roughing it and the Mica Basin from Big Agnes is made for serious lounging.

Pros: Self-equalizing so it won’t tip, packs small, holds two drinks

Cons: Heavier than other camp chairs, expensive

This chair is light enough that you won’t think twice about carrying it from your campsite to the side of a lake or into a meadow for the best sunset views. The zip-close stuff sack has an end handle to make it easy to carry and the chair’s aluminum frame and slip-on seat cover made from high tenacity fabric are durable enough to handle years of use. 

One of its best features, however, is how easily it sets up and breaks down, able to be done in less than a minute with ease. Dual cup holders woven into the chair’s arms are big enough to house a bottle, tumbler, or small cup and you’ll never feel off-kilter in the Mica Basin as a self-equalizing center pole levels the chair when you sit down. 

Best cooler

Yeti V Series cooler

When you’re deep in the woods, high in the mountains, or disappeared in the desert, you don’t want to worry about your food spoiling or your drinks getting warm — and the V Series from Yeti is as premium as it gets.

Pros: Eye-catching design, highly durable, superb insulation

Cons: Expensive

Yeti’s V-Series excels at keeping its contents chilled for the long haul. Featuring the tried-and-true functional and durable design Yeti’s been known for, this cooler combines the insulation of the brand’s Rambler drinkware and its Tundra series coolers with an eye-catching stainless-steel exterior. 

Packed with food, beverages, and ice, it keeps contents chilled for roughly a week, even with moderate use (we’d still recommend topping off your ice every few days if you can). The cooler excels thanks to vacuum insulated panels on all sides, including the base and lid. A strong single latch and smooth hinge opens and closes it effortlessly, and when there was ice melted or a spilled drink inside, it was easy to drain via a leak-free plug at the base. 

Yeti says the cooler holds 46 cans of beer and 55 lbs of ice, and when I packed it with enough food and drinks for four for a long weekend, I had plenty of room to spare. It can even be used as a spare seat when friends drop by camp and you’re short a chair.

Best camp table

ALPS table

For eating or cooking, Alps’ collapsible dining table is light, sturdy, and quick to set up, with multiple sizes available. 

Pros: Quickly assembles, durable construction, is a nice height for both eating and cooking on

Cons: Bulky

The Alps Mountaineering Dining Table comes in two parts, the base and the top, in a divided fabric bag that protects them from scratching each other (and making them easy to transport). Once removed for set up, the base of the table scissors open, while a bungied aluminum slat top unrolls and clips to the base to stabilize the surface. This set up takes roughly a minute (as does break down) but does well to deliver a sturdy eating area in the backcountry. 

I opted for the regular size, which has plenty of room to hold my stove and all my cooking gear, as well as a camp light with room for food prep, too. The table is strong enough to support plenty of gear, too, including multiple stoves, plates and silverware, a large jug for water, and whatever else makes its way onto it like headlamps, wayward backpacks, and sunglasses and smartphones.

Best backcountry table

Tire table

Truck tires are unused real estate once you get to camp but the Tail Gater Tire Table turns that blank space into a handy spot to enjoy a meal or an end-of-day drink.  

Pros: Flat when packed, high carry capacity, one size fits all tires

Cons: Takes a few tries to get it perfectly angled and stable

I’ve often tried to set a beer or a plate of food on my truck tire, thinking it’d be fine if only for a few short minutes. As it always turns out, whatever I place there ends up spilled on the ground. Fret now, however, as the Tail Gater Tire Table turns your truck tires into a table support. 

Whereas the table recommended above works well for shorter outings, the Tire Table is a quick and reliable method for backcountry pursuits. This metal mesh table has an extendable frame that snugs around the top of any size truck tire so that the surface extends out from the truck. Three legs telescope and clip to brace against the tire and the ground to stabilize up to 100 pounds of food, drink, or whatever else you want to stash on it. And, when it’s time to break camp, the table folds flat for easy storage and transport. 

There’s no storage bag required either as there are no loose parts to keep track of. The legs and supports cleverly nest inside the flat tabletop for travel making it easy to stash between or on top of other gear.

Best coffee maker

Stanley coffee

Cooking breakfast in camp is often a casual affair and this 48 oz. insulated French Press brews up enough coffee to keep you fueled throughout the process.

Pros: Insulation keeps drinks hot and cold for hours, easy to pour, quickly makes coffee

Cons: You have to remember to stir your grounds before pressing or they’ll end up in your cup

Stanley’s Classic Stay Hot French Press brews a fine cup of coffee in the morning (or whenever you need it) and keeps it hot well beyond the first and second cups. The brand’s classic green stainless-steel pot has an insulated lid with a traditional French press plunger. Once the grounds have been pressed, the lid, which has an angled cutout to make the pour dribble-free, dispenses the brew. 

I especially like that it kept my coffee steaming for up to four hours at a time and when I used it for cold beverages, the pot kept it icy for up to nine hours. This pot can also be super handy for home gatherings when we have a crew to serve. 

Best camp cookset

Stanley cookware set

It’s easy to forget something critical when you’re packing your camp kitchen but this 19-piece set guarantees you have the essentials as soon as you walk out the door.

Pros: Comes with high-quality pans that cook evenly, all pieces pack into one compact package, durable construction

Cons: It’s a puzzle to get the nest just right, even if you’ve done it before

This camp cookset from Stanley comes with an even-cooking, easy-to-clean 3.5-quart pot with lid, a liter-sized fry pan with a locking handle, plates bowls, and sporks for four, and a cutting board and trivet/hot pad. It also has serving utensils like a spoon and spatula, as well as a drying rack to hold plates and bowls. 

My favorite feature of this Full Kitchen Basecamp Cookset is that the entire set packs inside the pot and completely seals inside for easy packing and transport. It took me a few tries to remember how to get all the pieces nested correctly but a picture etched into the lid helps guide you through putting it all back together.

Best camp sink

Camp sink

No matter how many days you spend camping, you’ll dirty a lot of dishes — thankfully, washing up after dinner is a cinch with UST’s sturdy FlexWare Sink 2.0.

Pros: Multi-purpose, easy to clean, durable

Cons: Handles can accidentally unclip

It’s important to keep camp dishes and silverware clean after each meal not just for peace of mind but to avoid annoying cleanup later. With the UST Flexware Sink 2.0, washing dishes is a breeze as this 16L collapsible basin provides ample space for both ample water and plenty of dishes.

A stiff plastic rim and sturdy base keep the sink stable while washing and when finished, dual plastic handles make it easy to dump dirty water away from camp. The sink also acts as a handy basket to carry drinks and snacks or as a sink for a sponge bath. When it wasn’t in use, the basket accordions flat for compact storage

Best camp stove

GSI Stove

One of the most compact and fuel-efficient ways to cook when you’re off-grid is this classic two-burner camp stove from GSI

Pros: Lots of cooking space, easy to clean, separate knobs for each burner

Cons: No grill or griddle cooking surface included

GSI’s propane-fueled Selkirk solves the problems of other two-burner stoves with plenty of space for two 10-inch pots and/or pans. This stove allowed me to easily whip up a feast for four or more without feeling overly crowded. The Selkirk’s powerful dual 10,000 BTU burners boil a liter of water in roughly four minutes but also let me simmer sauces with control. This is thanks to each burner having its own control knob (and the varied control works, too).

Wrap-around windscreens help keep any weather from ruining whatever’s cooking and its removable pot support and stainless-steel cooking surface make clean-up especially easy. The stove folds and locks into itself (and features a molded-on handle) for easy transport, too.

Best sleeping bag

Nemo Jazz Duo

Climbing into this doublewide, synthetic sleeping bag from Nemo feels a lot like getting into bed at home.  

Pros: Washable sleep sheet included, big enough for two to be truly comfortable, packs easily into its own storage bag

Cons: Sleep sheet can get tangled if you pack the system without sleeping pads to give it structure

Nemo’s Jazz Dup synthetic sleeping bag features a warm outer quilt that’s rated to 20°F, making it great for shoulder season camping, or as the bottom layer of a summer bed. The bag features a tapered design to reduce airspace at the head and feet, which helps keep you warm when temperatures drop. There’s even an integrated (and removable) micro-fiber sleep sheet that adds to its comfort and makes it easy to keep the bag fresh between uses.

The Jazz has built-in sleeves to hold either two 25-inch sleeping pads or one large 50-inch one. This comes in handy for anyone who’s tent camping, though the bag is just as comfortable unfurled on top of a rooftop tent mattress. 

The Jazz is one of the only double bags I’ve tested that doesn’t feel restrictive with two occupants, too. I loved its spaciousness, how it features zippers on both sides that let sleepers vent as needed and sleeves that prevent pillows from creeping away during the night. In the morning, the sleeping bag and sheet, as well as any sleeping pads or pillows, rolled and stuffed into the included storage bag, too. This means that the next time I used it, all I had to do was unroll it and I was ready for bed.

Best portable power station

EcoFlow power station

The fastest recharging portable generator you can buy, Ecoflow’s River can power up to nine devices, including cell phones, headlamps, cameras, and portable fridges.

Pros: Compact and powerful, one of the fastest recharging supplemental batteries available

Cons: Bulky

The power of the Ecoflow River 370 is in its versatility, as it’s able to charge a wide range of devices, and has the capacity to plug in a whopping nine devices at once. This ruggedized, 11-pound power station delivers 500W of AC and DC power and is able to work in a wide range of temperatures, from -4°F to 140°F.

When off-grid for an extended period, the River was able to recharge via both my truck’s 12v outlet and the solar panels I brought along — and was still able to power devices while recharging. The RIver has 2 AC outputs, two USB-C ports for laptops, two quick-charge USB ports, two standard charge USB ports, and a 12V carport. Its LCD screen displays input and output watts, battery level, and how much time is left to a full recharge. 

Best water filtration system

Filtration system

Instead of hauling heavy drinking water for the whole trip in the back of your truck, Platypus’ gravity filtration system allows you to filter stream water so it’s safe to drink.

Pros: High volume filtration, no pumping required, filters out 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa from any water source

Cons: Takes a while to dry (and shouldn’t be stored wet)

The Platypus GravityWorks High Capacity Filtration System is an excellent addition to any truck camping kit as it offers a reliable method for always having drinkable water. The system uses two four-liter bags with hanging straps, one for dirty water and one for clean water, with a hollow-fiber filter in between connected by plastic hoses. This allows you to fill the dirty water bag and hang it higher than the clean water bag to activate the filtration run.

As water trickles from the dirty bag to the clean bag, the filter works to remove bacteria and protozoa, including giardia, cryptosporidium, E. coli, salmonella, cholera, and a host of other stuff that makes you sick. It takes roughly two-and-a-half minutes for each bag of dirty water to be filtered, which is hardly any time at all. If I ever wanted clean water before it was done filtering, I could just pinch the shutoff valve above the filter to stem the flow and unscrew the clean water reservoir.

After the water finishes filtering, you’re able to close the clean water bag with an included spare cap so it’s easy to store and have at the ready. The cartridge is designed to filter around 1,500 gallons before needing to be replaced, but you do need to backflush it with clean water periodically to keep it running at full capacity.

Best backcountry navigation

Garmin Overloader

Opt for the road less traveled, and Garmin’s Overlander will help you get to a great campsite via 4×4 roads and trails appropriate for your vehicle. 

Pros: Adds modern functionality to older vehicles, helps you choose routes appropriate to your vehicle

Cons: Expensive, campsite functionality limited where public lands are limited

This GPS/GLONASS/Galileo-enabled navigator from Garmin lets you plan and follow a wide range of backcountry routes and even helps you find a place to camp at the end of the day. On-road, the 7-inch touchscreen window-mounted unit gives turn-by-turn road directions, while also displaying your current speed. Off-road, it shows pitch and roll angles and provides topography maps with public land boundaries and 4×4 roads. 

The Overlander also has a built-in compass, altimeter, and barometer which helps keep your bearings, especially when off-road. But what really helps keep you track is the feature that lets you input your vehicle’s height, length, and weight. After doing this, the Navigator tells you which trails are passable, and which are not. Thanks to that function, I never had to back out of a tight spot or run into any treacherous roads. 

An especially useful feature is the Ultimate Public Campgrounds access that displays well-established, wild, and dispersed campsites — a nice touch at the end of a long day and you just want to pull over and get some rest. The Overlander also syncs with Garmin’s in-Reach satellite communicator (which is sold separately) so you can send for help or send texts when there’s no cell service. 

Other modern features include voice-activated navigation, Bluetooth calling, speed camera warnings, and more. It comes pre-loaded with maps for North and South America and offers downloads of U.S. satellite imagery and USGS quad sheet if needed. It’s expensive at $700 but worth the investment if you spend a lot of time off-road. 

Best camp lantern

Biolite lantern

A lantern that also chargeS two USB devices, Biolite’s flat-pack, dual-sided Baselantern XL is an excellent addition to any truck camping kit.

Pros: Can be used in multiple configurations, bright lumen output able to light up entire camp, has multiple color options

Cons: Heavy and expensive

BioLite outfit the Baselantern XL with a 12000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery that offers up to 500 lumens on its highest setting. That was enough to easily light any campsite I set up, though it also has two dimming settings when I wanted more ambiance than brightness.

A low-energy Bluetooth app allows for wireless control of the lantern with a smartphone, including the ability to pick one-sided or two-sided lighting, change the color of the light, schedule sleep timers, set up motion detection, and check its remaining battery. 

The light is versatile, too, as I could use it either raised off the table, standing on its legs, or placed flat on a surface. Depending on how I was using it — be it cooking, hanging out reading, or just for general ambiance — it was nice to have multiple options. 

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