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.
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