Camping out of your truck's camper shell is a simple and effective means to enjoy the outdoors without the time consuming task of setting up shelter outside your vehicle, while allowing for an increased level of comfort and security compared to more traditional methods. The truck bed provides an excellent platform for a cot or blow up mattress, and you can sleep all the sounder without the fear of a bear ripping through the walls of a nylon tent. This is especially true when camping off a forest service road or alongside a river in a remote area. And, as opposed to camping out of large RV, you’ll have a much easier time accessing those areas, for often it is there you’ll find the best fishing and hunting opportunities, not to mention some real peace in solitude. For all these reasons, I’ve often found myself settled in the comfort of my truck’s shell throughout the summer or after a long week at work, that is, those times that I’m not looking to set up a back country camp; I’m just looking for a quick escape. Here I will describe what I’ve learned through those experiences knowing there are numerous methods and vehicles that can be used to achieve the same end, and that, moreover, this is the just way that works best for me.
My truck is a 2008 Ford Ranger. The shell is an ARE. There are several truck models and shells that would suffice, and of course, a larger bed will give you more room, but I couldn’t imagine using one any shorter than six feet.
A six foot bed gives you just enough length for most cots. The cot I use is made by Alps Mountaineering. It’s actually just over six feet and prevents me from raising the tailgate while I sleep, but I don’t mind the extra air circulation. Also, at seven inches in height it gives me enough clearance from the top of the shell to prevent feeling claustrophobic, and at two and a half feet in width, it gives me just enough room to squeeze in my camp boxes on the other side.
My sleeping roll is composed of an air mattress, whatever sleeping bag is appropriate for the weather, and bivy sack, which I use even in the shell, because I’m often crawling in and out with wet or dirty clothes, and a wet or dirty sleeping bag is not very accommodating at the end of the day.
The boxes I use are as follows: one small cardboard box with jumper cables, tow cables, rags, and other sundries for the maintenance of my truck, a RubberMaid Action Packer box with everything for my kitchen, and a Gorilla box with every other camp item I should need, not only if I remain near my truck, but also if I get a wild hair and decide I want to backpack and camp further in the mountains. Finally, I should note that, in my bed, I also store extra firewood and water.
In the cab of my truck, I store my food and extra clothes. It is also where my dog sleeps after we’ve arrived and night has fallen. In a Ford Ranger, the area behind the driver and passenger seats provides the perfect space for her to settle in.
If ever I want to relocate, it’s as easy as closing all the doors, tilting my cot up, and closing the bed. Also, I always try to keep my gear ready, and especially so the night before I plan to camp somewhere, so in a matter of minutes, I can pack up and go. All of this induces a feeling of mobility and freedom limited only by the cost of gas, because even if the drive is long, cruising down the road with your favorite band playing as you put all your weekday worries out of your mind is a reward all on its own.
After a week in and around my place, I was starting to feel cooped up, which is a sure signal to make a journey of the day and venture into the woods. So, I packed a daypack and booked it to the Granite Creek trailhead. There’s Nika ahead of me, all ready to go.
For the first time, Nika wore her doggy-pack, the Ruffwear Approach. There was some initial hesitation, but soon, she almost seemed excited by this cool new thing and pranced around with it on, like a bona-fide trail dog. Here she is again striking a characteristic trail pose.
Wildflower season is in full effect, and I felt like it would have been an insult to not admire them, so admire them I did, as well as ID ones I wasn’t familiar with. The top is a woods Rose (which I knew), the bottom a Mariposa Lilly (which I didn’t).
Here is an Aster among Arnica. Arnica, btw, have very tasty stalks if you peel them back, and they are also said to have many curative properties.
Before long the trail enters the Great Bear Wilderness, which was created in 1978 to provide a wildlife corridor between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
The wilderness seems to be doing its job quiet well, because right after entering it, I saw my first fresh bear sign of the season…a big ol’ pile of poopy. Also, some tracks and torn up stumps.
Seeing such sign certainly does elevate the senses. It actually feels good. I found myself almost wanting to see a griz towering over the underbrush. But I didn’t see one and strolled along affably, occasionally letting out a “hey oh,” in the same assertive tone I might use in front of 20 seniors who’ve all decided they’ve got somewhere better to be.
Anyway, beautiful rock formations in this canyon. Granite maybe..?
Six miles down the trail I reached Granite Creek’s confluence with the Middle Fork of the Flathead. Definitely some future camping spots down here.
I turned around at the Flathead, because I wanted to get back before dark. I had a steak to attend to, and I wanted to get in a game of pool at the local bar in East Glacier. It was Friday night afterall. So, I double timed it, and in my haste, accidently interrupted what looked like a courtship between two grouse. But the male grouse was a funny bird and hopped onto a branch in plain view, from which, he tufted himself up and strutted around like a model on display.
I told the grouse incident to my girlfriend and she said, “you found a kindred spirit.” And maybe, that is why we took so well to eachother. I thanked him for his kindness, made it to the trail head, and went along my way, but not before catching this selfie in my truck window, tufted up and feeling much finer after a lovely afternoon.
On Saturday I received a phone call right when I woke up. It was my buddy, Lewis, who said he’d been pounding on my door all morning. I slept in late and didn’t hear a thing. He asked if I want to go camping. I said “heck yea,” and he said, “Okay, I’ll be down in thirty minutes.”
I have all my camping gear ready to go for alarms like these,so I just have to slide down the fire pole and throw it in the engine, that is my Ford Ranger. Sure enough Lewis was down in thirty, and we took off to a place on the reservation I’ve never been, Cooper Lake, with another friend, Juan, and his two kids. The spot was beautiful to say the least.
Here’s Lewis and one tenacious little firebuilder and feeder of Magpies--the girl. A magpie is what's sitting on Lewis's shoulder.
Baby magpies. They poop a lot.
Camp all set up, I decided to scout out the ridgeline and scare off all the grizzlies. I didn’t find any of them, although I did hear a long, lone howl of a mother wolf, probably reminding me that I was visitor there, and I best behave. Then, after that stopped me dead in my tracks in awe, her pups started up, which I was able to catch on my camera. Check it out.
When I got back to camp, I found Lewis had made a real rib-stickin, mountain man meal. It was delicious!
These two sure thought so too.
Then, when the light was good for photos, I took another short walk and snapped this one of our camp in the background and, in the foreground, Jax, who could have responded to his fellows had he accompanied me on my hike earlier, half wolf that he is
That night the wind died down, and I got a great sleep on my cot outside my truck. The stars even made an appearance, the milky way and all, and we all woke almost simultaneously in the middle of the night to admire them. The next morning, Lewis cooked us up another mountain meal, and we struck camp, heading out the same way in which we came.
Here’s Lewis’s salty little Toyota. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do anything with a vehicle like I’ve seen him do in this truck… like stuff on a 30 degree incline and the only way up, driving 100 yards with one tire in a muddy, two-foot rut sloping toward a thousand foot drop, at least. I was hanging out the passenger window the whole time ready to bail away from the drop, until we got stuck. Then, I did bail, because the next thing the crazy man did, after his winch burned out, was gun his motor, rocking back and forth till he shot out of there and to the top like a rocket. But that’s Lewis, and according to him, that little adventure was “nothing to sweat,” and no worries, on this drive, these kids had it easy.
Juan and the magpies. The gate to main road and back home. Thanks for reading!
This outdoor thing I’m trying harder to do on the cheap, so this go around-- as I planned to hike a trail about an hour away from me and wanted to get an early start-- I forewent a 10 dollar campground fee, and instead, chose to camp off a Forest Service road, and I’m glad I did. I just rolled right off there in my truck with a can of Dinty Moore beef stew, a bag of Fritos, a can of bean dip, and my most luxuriant purchase, a six pack of Lewis and Clark Prickly Pear Pale Ale, aka God’s summertime nectar. Also, I had the company of man’s greatest novel, Moby-Dick, which felt even more apt, as 30 mile per hour winds blew in, beating my truck like the Pequod at sea.
But I felt good all tucked in there, and the winds shaped the most phenomenal clouds, and I jumped out and took pictures of them, thinking the whole time, these cloud are going to look even more outstanding when the sun sets, because they were directly to the east. But as the sun started to set, the temp dropped, the Prickly Pears got ahold of me, and I felt like crap after eating all the crap I did, that is the entire can of bean dip and a three portions can of Dinty Moore. So, I was tucked in my sleeping bag, contented to watch the sun set from there, but as it became more brilliant, I realized I would be a bum if I didn’t hop out. So, I hopped out, and I snapped this…
The next morning, I woke up, ate my morning oatmeal, drank my morning coffee, and drove 10 minutes to the trailhead versus the hour it would have otherwise been, and I got a good early start like I planned. I wanted to hike 16 miles that day. First 8 to moose lake, and then 8 back. Instead I made it 3 miles up, then I encountered a river crossing I wasn’t feeling near GI Joe enough to make, especially dragging the dog across too.
I might also chalk my lack of will up to the crap sitting in my gut from the night before. After all there was nothing insurmountable about this obstacle. But if anything, I think it goes to show the importance of holistically embracing the outdoor life, that is, preparing oneself mentally and physically each and every day, so nothing keeps you from reaching your goal when an obstacle does arise.
….Or maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
On a side note: Nika is totally stoked about her new backpack! Can’t you tell?
So, I wanted to get back into the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Lewis and Clark Wilderness. For thousands of years, the Blackfeet have used this area for vision quests and prayers. They believe it is sacred and have protected it, in lengthy court battles, against exploitation from oil and gas companies.
"Overlooking Two Medicine River, 1806" by Z. S. Liang
First, I planned to enter the area through the Blackfeet Reservation. There are many back roads here, and on my map, I noticed a Forest Service trail that began on one of these back roads and went way back into the mountains, near a lake I intended to fish. Before reaching the trail however, I was continually warned about Grizzlies in this area, once from an old fellow who’d been chased on horseback by one, another from a young fellow who’d actually been mauled by one, and finally, on the back road, from an aged hippy who, in the 70’s, had come from California to live with Indians, ended up marrying one and settled there. He just told me they were “bad,” and that I was “going the wrong way.” I never did find the road to lead me where I originally wanted to go, and I suppose, after the three warnings, that was okay with me. I chose a different route.
The second route I chose was just south of East Glacier National Park. It started at a landmark called Summit, but I was too eager to get started to actually read the landmark placard and too lazy after I got back. So, I don’t know what it’s all about. I just know the trail from Summit sucks. On what should have been a relatively easy hike to the Two-Medicine River, I took one non-trail to another, until I gave over my life completely to my Garmin Foretrex and bushwhacked two miles over deadfall to a point I’d previously plotted. The upshot was I saw all kinds of deer and elk signs, and it looked like it’d be a great place to stalk during bow hunting season.
After I hit finally hit the river, I crossed and picked up on a wide and mushy horsetrail, which looped me back around to beautiful meadow, apparently called Sawmill Flats according to a big sign posted there. This was where I was supposed to be!
By the time I arrived it was only around 6’ o’clock and I had plenty of time to set up a nice, little camp. Tent, fire, and all.
…What you don’t see in this photo is a dog in stealth mode. Nika accompanied me on this trip, too, but somehow she managed to evade all my photos.
Cooking rice and chicken. I keep it spartan, just dump the canned stuff into minute rice and stir in lots of Lowry's Seasoning Salt. Salt is important.
My newest piece of kit—a Ruger 10/.22 compact.
Paintbrush and Bear grass.
Wildflowers everywhere! Also, the river
I tried fishing some in the morning but came up empty. I did, however, forage some Camas bulbs and will be cooking them up with my steak tonight.
The hike back was much easier, knowing where I blundered previously. I totaled just over 8 miles.
I just woke up from a 12 hour death like sleep after returning from one of the most strenuous hikes I’ve ever done. My heels are popping and my legs and back are aching to the point I’m damn near immobile. But I consider these the marks of the best kind of time, that is, overcoming a true challenge. Moreover, I witnessed some awesome country and gained invaluable experience along the way.
I took my dog, Nika, with me so there are, needless to say, lots of pictures with her in them. You can spot her in the one below just up the trail. This is right after we went over Swift Dam. The mountains are both awe-inspiring and a little intimidating. After all, that’s the direction you’re hiking toward.
Nika, who is an otherwise sleepy, mopey indoor dog, really comes to life in the woods and is fun to watch. Here she is taking a soak in a pool moments after trying to intimidate the only large fauna I found on the trail, a cow moose. Standing about 25 feet away from us, it casually sized us up and sauntered back into the woods.
I do realize Nika may be a liability when it comes to bears, especially grizzlies. The problem is she could run after one barking until the bear turns on her and she comes running back to me for protection, which even my bear spray or timeliness firing the handgun I carry may not provide. Regardless, I consider her a net benefit on the trail for the companionship and enjoyment added. Although, I already have a doggy backpack queued in Amazon, because next time she is carrying her own damn food—about 5 to 8 pounds of it!
The most rewarding views are the ones you work for. This was after a difficult 1,000 foot climb.
Here’s another. The northernmost edge of Walling Reef, looking south. .
Having hiked 7 miles since noon and being pretty smoked from the climb, I dropped into the canyon and started setting up camp near a creek. I knew a storm was blowing in too and if I wanted a hot meal I’d have to get moving quick. So, first thing, I found some nice shrubby pine to throw my bed roll under.
Lodging taken care of, I fed Nika, cooked myself up some rice and left over chicken, gobbled that down, hung up my bear bag, and that was about all the time I had. The storm set in. I crawled under that pine, Nika next to me, and there we rode it out, 30 mile per hour winds blowing in and all. At one point lighting struck so low and close that I was temporarily blinded. I wouldn’t say that it was the most restful night sleep I ever had, but I survived.
Early the next morning I woke, had some oatmeal and a wonderful, steaming cup of Folger’s instant coffee, and I prepared to move on, but not before taking a picture of my gear. That’s the Bullpak frame, ALICE attached, and a bedroll, Hudson Bay knife, and rope lashed to the outside. The rope would come in very handy later.
Looking north after climbing out of Sheep Creek Canyon.
Some beautiful trail.
So I mentioned the rope. Here’s why. When I was looking at the route before I left, I worried I might encounter one of the river crossings toward the end, and because of the early season run off, not be able to cross, which would leave me in a real bind. I would have to go all the way back! Well, my intuition paid off. This is Post Creek, I believe. It was narrow but thigh-high, and it roared about 25 yards down, off a waterfall into a gorge. One slip and that was it. No bank for either me or the dog to grab hold of.
The drop off.
So here’s what I did. I leashed Nika to a tree, so she wouldn’t try following me into the river. Then, I took out my rope and secured it to another tree along the bank with a bowline knot-- something I conjured up from the ghost of boy scouts past. I ran the rope’s working end through my Bullpak frame and through my belt. I left the Bullpak sitting on the bank with the dog, and I made my way into the water, holding the rope and balancing myself with the tension.
When I got to the other side of the bank, I pulled the line taut and wrapped it around a tree there until it wouldn’t slip. This finished, I made my way back across the river, again balancing myself with the line. Once back, I unleashed Nika, looped the leash around her chest and snapped it to the rope in front of the Bullpak. Then I shouldered the Bullpak and grabbed the leash and waded back into the river, keeping the dog upstream of my legs. This way water pushed her against me and she was better able to swim.
This picture is after we made it.
I had to cross the river two more times to get my rope back and was soaked from the waist down, but it was worth not dying. Now, somewhere just before these river crossings, I had made up my mind that I was going to march my way out that night, head to this place in Dupuyer before it closed, and order an IPA and a fat steak. This mission became, in my mind, sacred.
But, I soon realized it was not to be. There was no way, with each succeeding crossing, me soaked, nighttime coming on and temps dropping, that I was going to make it. So, I was slightly demoralized, that is, until a great thing happened. God offered up a consolation prize… As I was clomping down the trail with my squishy boots, I found this, an unopened bottle of Glacier Freeze Gatorade, and everything was alright.
Right as the sun dipped beneath the mountains, I made the last crossing across Birch Creek. It was wide and fast and perilous, but I was determined to make it, so I didn’t have to get all wet again in the morning. And I did make it. Then, I quickly got a fire going to dry my boots and cooked more rice and beans. Although, it wasn’t an IPA and steak, it was warm and tasted fine, and it was a nice evening besides. I laid my bedroll out under the stars, popped an Aleve, a sleeping pill, and put earplugs in, and I slept until sunrise. That day, I had hiked over twenty miles.
The final day I hike the remaining three miles. The way there, Nika was buoyant, bouncing ahead of me through meadows filled with wildflowers, chasing after every chipmunk. It was a beautiful, sunny day. When we got to my truck though, I opened the jumper seat door and she curled up behind the passenger seat. I collapsed with my gear in the bed and took a breather. Did I have to push the pace like I did and subject myself to such a rigorous experience? No. I could have started earlier the first day and broken up the miles or made it a three day trip. Or I could have dropped some gear from my 50 plus pound pack (though I mostly used it all). Or I could have trained better during the winter, so I was in better shape. Or I could have not gone all at. But I’m glad I did, and I look forward to the next adventure.
I wouldn't say this is the easiest method, but it's definitely very enjoyable, especially on a beautiful evening.
Asparagus, Chicken, and Beans.
Jess is visiting her parents the next couple weeks out of state, so this one got all the leftovers. There's cockle burrs all over her fur from swimming in the swamp near my place. I guess you could say she had a good day.
I wouldn't say this is the easiest method, but it's definitely very enjoyable, especially on a beautiful evening.
Asparagus, Chicken, and Beans. The coals are pine that I burned in the barrel.
The lady is visiting her parents the next couple weeks out of state, so this one got all the leftovers. There's cockle burrs all over her fur from swimming in the swamp near my place. I guess you could say she had a good day.
Three more weeks and summer is here! I’m itching to finish school as much as the students I teach. The beauty of the profession--aside from working daily with inspiring young men and women—is I’ll be afforded two and half months to backpack, camp, and fish, in some of the most pristine wilderness in the lower 48, starting with the Badger-Two medicine and Bob Marshall outside my back door. I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. Four years in the Army, four more attending college and dealing with emergency family issues, and I don’t expect to spend more than a handful of nights inside.
Anyway, posted below is my pack set-up: it’s sort of a composite from my experience pounding ground as an infantryman, working trail crews in my youth, and backpacking for pleasure whenever I’ve gotten the chance. Granted, I’m sure things will change. Gear may be added, and certainly gear will be dropped. This is not a load set-up for speed, rather durability and long-term sustainability in almost all conditions... Bring on the zombies!
1: Bullpac Frame 2: Medium-Size Alice Pack 3: FishPond Fly Fishing Chest Pack 4: Four Piece Fly Rod Case 5: Bed Roll 6: SnugPack Ionsphere one man tent 7: Garmin Foretrex 401 8: Hill People Gear Front Chest Rig 9: Kleen Canteen inside small pouch to keep metal from clinking, both secured to front strap for easy access to water.
1: Condor Hudson Bay Knife
Bed Roll Includes 1: Military Wool Blanket 2: Military Patrol Sleeping Bag 3: Military blow up ground pad 4: Military Bivy Sack
Front Pouch Left 1: Rain Jacket 2: Rain Pants Front … Front Pouch Middle 3: Snugpack Tarp … Front Pouch Right 4: Trail mix/ Jerky ziplock and oatmeal/ tea and coffee ziplock 5: Maxpedition Dump Pouch … Top pouch 1: Camp trowel and baby wipes 2: first aid kit
Contained in main compartment, inside wet weather bag 1: 48 oz Nalgene 2: Bush Pot 3: Trail mix/ jerky bag 4: Whiskey Flask 5: journal and pen 6: Bear bag line 7: Emergency signal and fire kit 8: Clothes bag 9: Wet weather/ Bear bag
Inside pot 1: Spoon and fork 2: Camp suds 3: spices 4: cup 5: hand sanitizer 6: tin foil 7: bandana 8: Primus Gas 9: Stove 10: ziplock (trash bag)
Inside clothes bag 1: Camp/ hunting moccasins 2: Nylon Shirt 3: Nylon shorts 4: Watch cap 5: wool socks 6: wool gloves 7: Nylon and polyester outer shell 8: cold weather bottoms 9: cold weather top 10: fleece pull over
Inside Hill People chest rig 1: Glock .45 2: emergency whistle 3: Military compass 4: cell phone 5: map 6: all weather writing pad and marker 7: small binoculars 8: zippo 9: Aqua tablets, earplugs, and ibuprofen
Worn 1: Nylon Shirt 2: Military bush hat 3: Belleville Combat boots 4: Carhart Lightweight pants 5: Hiking socks 6: leather belt 7: leatherman 8: Buck knife, woodsman 9: Bear Spray
Missing Items: 550 cord, one extra pair socks, hiking undies. I’d like at some point to get .22 rifle or a take-down bow to hunt small game, in addition to fishing for sustenance. I feel like then, I could stay out in most of these areas indefinitely. Barring that, I’ll probably pack some rice and beans for hot meals. Also, polarized lenses… I wear those too.
The other day I revisited Dog Gun Lake to see if I couldn't find any wolf tracks after my initial wolf encounter. I did find some tracks, but they were hard to distinguish from a large dog. Scoping more around a hillside, my attention then turned to these bright purple flowers growing in the shelter of a rock. This area is particularly windswept, so much so that you're hard pressed to find anything standing upright. The pine trees even grow close to the ground, shrub-like, their trunks and branches snaking eastward away from the mountains.
Being a sucker for poetic symbolism, I couldn't help admire the flowers' tenacity. It reminded me of a short poem I like to share with my students, "The Rose that Grew From Concrete," by Tupac. It goes like this:
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
These flowers, to me, represented the rose for this place, surviving and even thriving in a challenging environment like many of the people here. I don't yet know the name of the flower, but I emailed a retired professor and friend of mine who would. When he emails me back, I'll post the update.
Also, here's the track.