Winter camping is an amazing way to experience nature in the quiet solitude of some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. Winter truck camping gives you all the beauty of a relaxing camping trip without all the cold and damp.
Read on to learn about the best ways to use a truck as your tent for winter camping!
Why Truck Camp in Winter?
Truck camping in winter, even in the warmer parts of the country, can be one of the most peaceful camping experiences you ever have. Fewer people venture out to enjoy nature during the winter months, either because of shorter days, busy holidays, or bad weather, meaning your favorite sites will be relatively uncrowded.
In addition to fewer people out and about, you’ll also be able to savor the winter landscape from the comfort of your warm, dry truck—that is, when you’re not out with your boots on the ground, hiking, snowshoeing, or looking at wildlife.
You can do all the outdoor activities you want and have the peace of mind that comes with having a comfortable place to bunk at the end of it all!
Special Considerations of Winter Truck Camping
There are some special considerations to remember when you’re winter truck camping. Probably the most often overlooked fact is that daylight hours are shorter in the winter. This means you will want to plan your activities accordingly so you don’t get stuck somewhere in the dark.
Similarly, your day may start a little later than you’re used to on a campout, given the sunrise will be later.
A big concern that most people do consider when winter truck camping, though, is the climate and weather. In many parts of the country, winter is cold and wet.
You will need to prepare for wet, potentially hazardous roads as well as inaccessible hiking trails and other weather-dependent outdoor amenities. You will also need to prepare for any activities you plan to take part in, with the appropriate clothing and gear (more on that in the next section!).
What to Pack for Winter Truck Camping
Start with a general family camping packing list when you’re preparing for winter truck camping, but pay special attention to some specific cold-weather items.
Although you’ll be in a shelter of sorts when winter truck camping, you will need to pack lots of layers and some warm clothing items, both to be safe and comfortable outside the truck, and just in case something goes awry and you’re unable to keep the truck warm overnight.
Work with the basic three-level layering scheme: moisture-wicking base layer, insulating middle layer, and weatherproof outer layer. Check out our article on what to wear when winter camping!
Hygiene and Comfort Items
In addition to clothing, you will also want to pack appropriate hygiene and comfort items for winter truck camping.
Make a basic hygiene kit with things like your toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and soap. Then, consider packing items that will be especially useful in cold weather, like a heavy lotion or skin-repair cream and a good-quality lip balm.
Don’t forget to pack things like a camping chair, sleep pad, and weather-appropriate sleeping bag, as well (more on setting up your truck camp for maximum comfort later).
Meals and cooking supplies
If you plan to eat at your campsite (as opposed to at a restaurant or other brick-and-mortar establishment), be sure to pack the essential cooking tools, as well as your ingredients (we have some excellent camping recipes and meal ideas).
Don’t forget fuel! Whether you plan to cook on a camp stove or over the campfire, make sure you have enough fuel to get the job done. Keep in mind that weather may make some fuel sources—like twigs, branches, and leaves—unusable.
In addition to standard emergency gear (first aid kit, flashlights, pocket knife or multitool), remember to pack some winter-specific items, like hand warmers, an ice ax, and emergency blanket. Pack a traction aid (tire chains, kitty litter, or sand) to help you get out of any tough spots.
Take a look at our complete wilderness survival kit packing list for more ideas on what to bring.
How to Prepare Your Truck
Perhaps one of the most important ways to prepare for winter truck camping is to make sure your truck is properly winterized.
Take it to a shop (or, if you’re handy and have the right tools, do this part yourself) to get the truck a basic once-over inspection. Make sure to check that the following are in good working order:
Repair or replace any damaged or worn components.
Next, think about insulation.
- Identify and seal any gaps or openings with weather stripping, foam tape, or caulk.
- Insulate the truck bed with a thick foam pad, then cover the foam pad with a moisture-resistant barrier to prevent dampness and cold from seeping in.
- Place reflective insulation panels on the inside of your truck windows to reflect heat back into the truck and to keep cold air out.
- Hang thermal blankets or curtains behind the front seats and over the windows. This will help retain heat in the sleeping area.
- Attach insulation to the interior walls and ceiling of the truck bed using strong adhesive or screws. Ensure the entire ceiling area is covered to minimize heat loss through the roof.
- Place additional insulation on the floor of the truck bed to create a thermal barrier between the cold ground and the interior (you can even use foam mats or rugs you have lying around for this).
Portable heaters are a great piece of gear to have along on a winter truck camping trip, too.
Setting up Camp
Remember to start setting up camp earlier during the winter than you would during the summer so that you have enough light to get all set up. There are a few other considerations to remember before you set up, as well.
Choosing a Location
Your first step to choosing a location for winter truck camping is to do your research. Check weather forecasts and trends, and opt for milder conditions, when possible.
Select a site that’s accessible from main roads in case you run into an emergency. Similarly, choose a site that’s accessible to your truck, taking into account that ground conditions may change overnight (for example, become muddier or icier).
Truck tents use the bed of your truck for a floor and have been growing in popularity over recent years. They’re especially nice for winter truck camping, as they help keep the floor of your campsite dry.
Choose a flat, level location for your truck when you’re setting up a truck tent. Try to avoid areas with lots of rocks or branches.
Once you have your location selected, lay out the tent and organize the poles, stakes, and guylines. Using the manufacturer’s instructions, assemble the tent poles, and then position the tent in the truck bed, aligning the entry door with the tailgate.
Secure the tent to the truck bed by attaching straps or clips that came with the tent to the sides or corners of the truck bed. Next, insert the poles into the appropriate places on the tent and, once they’re all in, make sure the tent is fully opened.
If you have a rainfly, set that up next, making sure to cover the entire tent area.
If you’re using a truck camper (a hard-shell that fits over your truck bed) for winter truck camping, you’ll also need to find a level place to park. On top of that, it’s a good idea to have a few truck or RV leveling blocks on hand to make sure you have the most even height possible.
Once you’re parked on a flat surface and leveled, extend side-outs (if you have them) and make sure they’re securely locked. The same goes for any pop-up or pop-out features on your camper. Remember that the more extendable components your camper has, the more branch-free area you’ll want to choose.
Bare Bones Truck Camping
Perhaps you’re taking the bare-bones approach to winter truck camping. Great! This method is especially wonderful if you’re winter camping in someplace with nice weather, as you can forgo an overhead shelter entirely and sleep under the stars.
However, if you’re in a spot with questionable weather, it’s a good idea to install some kind of overhead protection, like a canopy.
Having a level surface on which to park is less important in this kind of winter truck camping, but just remember that you’ll be more comfortable—and your things will stay in place better—with a more level truck bed.
Securing Your Space
Once your shelter is set up, take some time to secure the area by hanging some light sources so you can see potential hazards on the ground and around the truck. Lighting can also help deter wildlife as well as would-be bad actors.
Keep your truck locked when you’re not in it, and keep your keys with you. Store any valuables out of sight. Keep food and waste stored in airtight containers inside the truck cab—just keeping food and food waste inside the vehicle is not enough to keep out a hungry bear.
In addition to common sense safety practices, winter truck camping safety requires you to do some extra planning. Look at weather forecasts and road conditions, before and during your trip. If you’re planning to camp in a campground, call first and make sure the facilities are available.
Tell someone back home where you’re going, for how long, and who to contact in case you don’t return as planned and can’t be reached. Share your itinerary, even if it’s tentative.
Dress properly for the weather to avoid hyperthermia and other exposure injuries. Double and triple check your first aid kit.
Always practice safe driving by being alert, sober, and distraction-free.
Winter Truck Camping Wrap-Up
Winter truck camping is one of the greatest ways to explore and enjoy the outdoors during the “off” season! With proper preparation and packing, a winter trip may become your new favorite way to camp!
Learn more about winter camping on our homepage!
- About the Author
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Ronda Lindsay is a professional writer and editor who has worked in government communications for nearly two decades.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, she fostered her love of nature and the outdoors by exploring the Pacific Northwest’s many natural playgrounds before moving to the Washington, DC, area to see what the eastern side of the country had to offer. She’s also spent plenty of time camping, hiking, and floating around central Texas, where she now lives.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in professional writing, Ronda loves to learn and write about the latest trends in outdoor adventuring and share that information with Beyond the Tent readers.