Advantages of Truck Tents Over Ground Tents
I currently own both a truck tent and a large dome-style, traditional ground tent and can attest that there are some big advantages to truck tents. There are also some downsides, but we'll get to those later.
One of the biggest advantages that I find is being able to set up a roomy, waterproof tent in the back of my pickup truck and get up and away from "creepy crawlies". I enjoy camping in remote places in the West and Southwest, including the 4x4 trails inside of Big Bend National Park. In the desert there are things such as scorpions and rattlesnakes that may find their way inside through the smallest hole in a ground tent. I've even had a family of mice take up residence in my tent after they chewed a small hole in the side and entered while I was off hiking. Being able to get a couple of feet off of the ground can also be nice in terms of air flow, as it may be much cooler in a truck tent than one on the ground.
Another nice advantage of having a tent in the back of my truck is that if I don't like the direction the tent's opening is facing, or if there are changing weather conditions, all I have to do is move my vehicle.
The biggest advantage to the truck tent for me though is that when I'm ready to move to my next campsite, all I have to do is undo the clips securing the edges of the tent to the fender and wheel wells, remove the shock-corded tent poles, let the tent collapse, then roll my trucks' tonneau cover over the whole mess and hit the road. Since my bed cover is fairly waterproof, I even leave my air mattress and sleeping bag inside the tent, ready to go for next time.
When I get to a new campsite, I just roll away the bed cover, insert the tent poles and secure the edges of the tent to the truck's frame, and voilà, I'm all done!
What About Short Bed Trucks?
The truck tent that I camp with is a Napier Backroadz model made specifically for 5.5' short bed trucks. It has a tailgate extension and even tall people will find that it has plenty of room to stretch out in. The footprint of the short bed model is slightly different, but looks very similar to the models made for long bed trucks. I'm able to fit a regular size memory foam mattress or an AirBedz air mattress inside of the tent with no problem. When it's just my wife and I going camping we use the AirBedz air mattress, but when we take our two dogs, we use the memory foam mattress to avoid a possible puncture caused by their nails.
Disadvantages of Truck Tents Over Ground Tents
If you have a dog and choose to have them sleep with you in a truck tent, depending on their size and physical shape you might find yourself having to lift them in and out of the tent, since it's a pretty high jump for most dogs. We have two senior rescue dogs, and we find that this can amount to quite a workout after several days of camping. When we bring our dogs, we usually camp in a ground tent instead of the truck tent.
An obvious disadvantage of truck tents is not being able to set up your tent anywhere except in the back of your pickup truck. They're really not made for anything but use in a truck's bed, so taking them down the trail to a primitive camping site, or even to a more scenic part of your campsite is out of the question. When making reservations for a campsite, you can't always tell what options you're going to have in terms of tent placement. Being limited by the tent being in the back of your vehicle may mean that you end up spending the night closer to other campers than you expected, or far away from a beautiful sunset spot that you could have taken advantage of with a ground tent.
Reasons such as these are why it's always a good idea to carry both kinds of tents when you go camping. On a couple of occasions when we knew we'd be arriving at a campsite after dark, we prepped our truck tent in the back of the truck, with air mattress and bedding already inside. All that we had to do was roll away the bed cover, put up the tent poles and secure the cords to the truck's frame before tucking into bed.
Napier Truck tents range in price from $269 for the 8' bed model down to $179 for the short bed version. By comparison, Dome tents of similar quality and size are available for anywhere from $80 to $150 and up. You'll most likely end up paying a premium for truck tents when compared to similar quality ground tents.
The Bottom Line
Of course there's no perfect tent that fits the needs of every camping situation. I wouldn't use my ultralight, Big Agnes Fly Creek tent, (which is made more for back-country camping), for a family outing, and I probably wouldn't use a truck tent for a multi-day camping trip either. The convenience of being able to walk in and out of a large ground tent, and to not have to lift our older dogs inside each time, makes the ground tent our go-to choice for most camping trips. On the other hand, if we're going on a road trip, and plan on pulling into a campground to sleep for the night instead of staying a motel, then being able to quickly set up our truck tent, (or have it partially set up in the back of the bed beforehand), is a very nice thing.
Also, I find the truck tent to be my first choice when going on a solo fishing trip down to the Gulf Coast. Having the tent up in the truck's bed makes it much easier for me to keep beach sand out of my bedding, and I don't have to worry about any tent stakes coming out of loose sand. If you're a hunter or wildlife photographer, and are planning to camp in an area where you'll be stalking wildlife, having all of your gear inside your truck and being able to cover it with a tarp or tonneau cover offers the big advantage of helping to reduce your human scent footprint.
Each kind of tent has its own inherent advantages and disadvantages. I find that I enjoy the options that a truck tent offers for certain camping situations and for that reason I'll probably always own one. A regular ground tent with enough headroom to stand up in, such as our Yreka 4 person dome tent, will probably always be our main go-to tent for camping trips though.
© 2021 Nolen Hart
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 05, 2021:
I can certainly understand the reasons to have both ground and also truck tents. I did not even know that truck tents existed. Thanks for the education!