Strategies for Living in a Truck as a Couple (with video)

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Two people living in a truck
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In 2014 my wife and I lived in our Toyota Tacoma pickup to reduce costs on a five-month road trip across Canada. Yes, living in a truck bed was crowded for two people but it can be done peacefully; our design worked surprisingly well.

The Hobo Living Room is what we named our truck. We had bought a canopy, and at the last minute we built a sleeping platform in one evening, at a friend’s house, over beers. Later I stumbled upon a blog called Desk to Dirtbag about a climber who outlines his experience outfitting his truck for a similar journey by himself. If you’re considering sleeping in a truck you should check out his post, Truck Camping – Outfitting and Living in the Back of Your Pickup. It’s an excellent resource if you want to know how to live in a pickup truck. Are you curious about the best way two people can live in a truck?

This three minute video shows our essentials for staying organized and comfortable when full time truck camping as a couple. After the video keep reading and discover how we prepared to live in a truck and how we keep our sanity.

Selecting a Truck Canopy to Sleep Under

When living in a truck the canopy (also called a truck cap or topper) is your sleeping space at night, your office in the rain, and your storage during the day. We bought our canopy new and had the option of flat, mid-raise, or high-raise models. Since we were vain about our truck’s appearance we chose the mid-raise cap (a Leer 180) because the high-raise seemed too attention-grabbing. What a mistake. Buy the canopy with the most head room because for one person or two, that extra head room will save your brain. We’ve banged our heads on the canopy while shuffling our gear, getting comfortable at night, and whenever trying to scoot around the second person.

If you buy a canopy new opt to have it carpet lined to absorb moisture. Living in a cold climate – Canada I’m looking at you – our breath fogged up the windows. After an entire night of two people breathing any surface that gets cold – like a plastic box liner – was thick with condensation. Lung-water coating everything (except the carpet) was very ick.

Sleeping under the truck canopy was warmer than a tent, especially when windy, but the air inside got stale. We chose a canopy with screened and sliding windows for ventilation and to keep bugs out. We lived in our truck during spring, summer, and fall; and during the spring the mosquitoes were ferocious. If you plan on camping in a pickup canopy get screens on your windows.

Our truck canopy functioned well as a home but there were a few annoyances:

  • The flip up access door was missing rain gunnels so when flipped up, water collected and dripped inside the entrance of the truck box.
  • In the corners the carpet liner started to sag under the weight of our velcro curtains.
  • The twisting locks were flimsy, plus the keys were fragile.
  • There was no removable screen for the window between the cab and the canopy.

Building a Sleeping Platform for Your Truck

Before trying to truck camp we thought we could sleep in the back without building a sleeping platform. Nope. When we piled our camping gear, electronics, clothing, and food into the back of the truck we realized there wasn’t enough room to sleep two people. Our solution: build the truck version of bunk beds.

The upper bunk was a plywood platform that slid into the box rails of our Toyota Tacoma. The sleeping area was 30 inches wide to match the width of our Thermarest sleeping pads. The upper bunk was cantilevered over three legs and the area underneath used for both gear storage and sleeping space. To keep the lower sleeping space comfortable we bought a BedRug truck mat. It is a padded carpet that doesn’t absorb water and is designed to fit the back of the truck. The BedRug cost about $100 and made crawling in the truck back comfortable for the knees.

Advantages of the Bunk System:

  • I like snuggling my wife but the truck bed was too small to comfortably sleep side-by-side; the two-tiered system gave us personal space.
  • The storage space under the top bunk fit our cooler and plastic containers. We only moved a few items to the cab of the truck before it was ready for sleeping.
  • We could sit cross-legged under the top bunk and use it as a work desk; this was handy when the weather forced us inside.
  • I suspect that having two-tiers reduced the claustrophobic feeling of a raised, full-width sleeping platform.

Disadvantages of the Bunk System:

  • The lower bunk (the floor) collected the dirt brought in on gear, clothing, or shoes.
  • Mosquitoes loved hiding amongst the storage underneath the raised platform.
  • The person sleeping on the upper bunk thumped their head on the ceiling; and the person on the lower bunk banged the underside of the upper bunk.
  • The person on the lower bunk suffered more if the inside of the canopy got wet (don’t forget to close your windows when it rains!).
  • This one only applies to couples: sleeping on separate levels limited the romance already hindered by living in a truck.

Constructing the Sleeping Platform

In high school I convinced a friend to build my shop class projects for me and my carpentry skills have not improved since then. Yet I have learned a few things about building a two-tiered system for a truck bed.

  • Smooth the edges of the plywood bunk because you will bump into it.
  • The positioning of support legs should allow room for storage containers and a cooler.
  • Secure the platform to the truck rails or else it will shake loose while driving. Until we did this we had bad dreams of the bunk tipping over while sleeping.
  • I built a wooden safe under the raised sleeping platform with the idea of locking our electronics up when hiking. Being trusting Canadians we barely used it and took it out.
Rain Shelter for Truck Living

Tips for Living in Your Truck

Tip #1 – Stop Rummaging and Organize Your Gear

One adult or two, if you live in a truck you will have to shuffle gear. Smart organization reduces frustration when looking for items or creating space. Without the carpentry skills needed to build wooden drawers plastic containers were our best storage option. Stiff containers with lids and straight sides allowed us to store more gear than sloping shapes such as deep Rubbermaid bins, and finding things was easier in stacked, shallow containers.

  • Organize your cooking gear by frequency used, and choose a container for the most frequent. In ours we kept two plates, two bowls, utensils, a chopping knife, a cutting board, a small pot, dish soap, a drying cloth, and paper towel. Keeping lesser-used items in a separate container limited frustrating rummaging.
  • Keep a set of cutlery in the dash for easy access. We reduced our “Grab & Go” food spending with an available fork, spoon, and knife in the cab of the truck. Prepared with the right tools, cheap food from the grocery store was easy to eat and we avoided pricey gas station snacks.
  • Separate dry food by fragility. Heavy items like cans, bottles, or potatoes will smash delicate food when kept together. We created an embarrassing amount mangled fruit and squashed bread before learning this lesson. Our food (that wasn’t in the cooler) got sorted by durability and stored in one of two tote bags, which we creatively named the “heavy” and “light” bags.

Tip #2 – Smart Gear Choices Make You Human

Since we’re frugal (cheap) we mostly used the camping gear we already owned even though it wasn’t the best. There was no need to buy new gear, but we did. Why? Because truck camping is an exercise in minimalism. To save space we sometimes improvised. Who needs a hammer when you have the back of a wood-splitting axe? But when most things are only “good enough” the item that does its job well is appreciated.

  • Invest in quality items when they influence your comfort. Our “luxury” purchases were a BedRug liner, YETI brand cooler, synthetic winter sleeping bags, and comfortable (but still portable) camping chairs.

I know you want to know. This is ALL of our gear:

Gear Stored in the Cab:

12V power inverter, rain coats, rain pants, multi-tool knife, paper road maps, two duffle bags of clothing, tote bag of footwear (shower sandals, hiking boots, running shoes), water bottles, travel mugs, small toolkit, booster cables, mosquito repellent, sunblock, toiletries, sewing kit, first aid kit, work gloves, two camping chairs, two small tarpaulins

Electronics:

Laptops, DSLR cameras, compact camera, wireless speaker, smart phone, IPod, e-readers, GPS navi, electric toothbrush (this was our luxury)

Gear Stored with the Sleeping Platform:

YETI cooler, camp stove, axe, tent, disposable propane bottle, cast iron pan, small pot, two bowls, two plates, two forks, two spoons, four knives, cutting board, oven mitt, aluminum foil, paper towel, can opener, wine opener, dish soap, two hiking packs

Sleeping Gear in the Canopy:

Sleeping bags, sleeping pads, yoga mats, pillows, blankets, bear spray, LED light

Gear Shuffled from Canopy to Cab for Sleeping:

Large water jug, small water jug, wash bucket, tote bag of heavy food, tote bag of fragile food

Tip #3 – Don’t Park Just Anywhere

I assume that RV’s and camper vans win the comfort game, but a truck with a canopy has the stealth advantage. Pickup trucks are small enough to fit most parking spaces and do not draw attention when parked overnight. No expensive hotels required when travelling through cities because – like a turtle – your house is on your back.

  • Walmart is overnight friendly. Readers from the U.S. may think this is obvious, but growing up in Canada I never realized Walmart is a free asphalt campground. There’s an entire culture to sleeping at Walmart and – questions about class aside – it’s damn convenient. One night we counted 26 RV’s parked for the night at Walmart; that’s more business than a motel gets!
  • Know where you’re going to sleep. When sleeping in stealth mode, usually in smaller towns without a Walmart, we had poor sleep because of construction, school zones, and active communities. If the legality of our sleeping was questionable we woke up and got out early.
  • Consider your security before parking overnight. We chose sleeping places that discouraged theft; quiet but well-lit, and not isolated. We never wanted to wake up to punks breaking into the cab while we were in the back. To assist our self defense we kept a bottle of bear spray handy in the back of the truck while sleeping (and for hiking, Canada is bear country after all).

Moving from a two-bedroom apartment into a truck, we went through many emotional issues related to our new quality of life:

  • Living in our truck meant we were outside. A lot. The weather, the rain, affected our mood making bad weather a punishment.
  • All the time spent outside taught us a new word: diurnal. That’s what we were: awake with the rise and set of the sun. That is great for hiking, but tough when spending time with friends who like staying up late.
  • Seeing the same person all day and all night means understanding them intimately. This tested our marriage; turns out we are good enough friends that we only occasionally wanted to kill each other.
  • The truck is not a love nest, it’s restrictive, gritty, and humid. If the truck is a rockin’, feel free to come knockin’; we are likely just shuffling our gear.

Living the truck life means you can go someplace new whenever the mood strikes and because you travel equipped, getting lost is something to look forward to. I hope I’ve clarified the realities of two people living in a truck. Doing so allowed my wife and me to see our large and burly country on a small budget and we want to help others. If you want to achieve a similar dream, please let us know in the comments.

A truck bed is a small area to live so choosing the right canopy is important. A high-raise, carpet-lined canopy is the most comfortable. If two people need to sleep in the back consider cushioning the bottom of the truck bed and building a half-width raised platform; one person sleeps on the cushioning and the other on top of the raised platform, and everyone gets personal space. Organize your gear in stack-able plastic containers and store them underneath the raised platform. They will be easy to access and store.

Living the truck life means you can go someplace new whenever the mood strikes and because you travel equipped, getting lost is something to look forward to. I hope I’ve clarified the realities of two people living in a truck. Doing so allowed my wife and me to see our large and burly country on a small budget and we want to help others. If you want to achieve a similar dream, please let us know in the comments.

 

25 COMMENTS

  1. Super comprehensive post! Awesome. I get questions from time to time about two people in the truck camping situation, I usually give some vague answers, but now I know where to direct them. Great tips, guys, thanks for putting together this write up along the video. The bunk bed approach is quite original!

    • Thanks Ryan, your truck outfitting post was our inspiration for writing this. I hope other couples consider truck bed camping together, it saved us a butt load of money and let us afforded road tripping across the country.

  2. Hey Tim & Heather,
    I’ve been actually contemplating a travel rig myself, slightly different requirements though, as it will be for 2 adults & 3 kids, and won’t be for as long of a stretch, but I’m thinking a couple weeks at a time. Plans are still in the infancy stage.

    • Hi Will,
      It’s definitely worth it for the freedom, you won’t be tied down to motels and it saved us a lot of money too. For more than two people I’d recommend a van. Having the extra room in back would allow you to fit more people (as long as your kids are pretty small!) and being able to go from the back to the front without having to hop outside would be a great advantage.
      Good luck!

  3. What if any security devices should you have for your car for a multiple month roadtrip?

    I completed a 5 month road trip in my truck this summer and often sleep at Walmart parking lots when in cities. For security I took: 1) Bear spray (for hiking or for any car thieves that I may disturb while sleeping in my truck) 2) The Club, because my…

    • Hi Kevin, yes showers and toilets were a big challenge, as we didn’t carry those with us in the back of the truck. For showers, we used campground showers (whether we were campers or not). Sometimes we used pay showers at facilities like private trailer-parks too. For toilets, we used campgrounds, Walmart, restaurants, Tim Hortons, and good ol’ mother nature. It took some getting used to, but we were pretty good at it by the end of 5 months!

    • Hi Josh,
      To make our curtains, we bought some big blackout curtains at a fabric store and cut them to fit over the truck box windows. To attach them, we put screws int the truck box and cut eyelets into the curtains to fit over the screws so they hang over the windows. This works really well, and a lot better than our first attempt with was trying to thread the curtains onto a string like a curtain rod so we could pull them back. It was pretty much a total disaster, and didn’t work at all. The screw technique works much better.

  4. My husband and I love long car trips, but it can be uncomfortable to sleep in car seats. Getting a truck cap, so we can use the trunk, is a great idea. I wouldn’t be able to last five months, like you and your wife, but it would be perfect for a weekend camping trip. I’ll be sure to take your advice and look for the model with the most head room.

    • A high-rise cap is indeed the best if you plan to sleep in the back of your truck. The extra few inches of height keeps things comfortable, especially if you’re tall. I’m 6’1″ and bump my head sometimes when sitting up to change.

  5. Hey, how did you attach the bed to the side of the truck so it didn’t go flopping around everywhere? I’m currently planning the back of my truck, so me and a friend can go on road trips. Originally I was thinking of a long box, but a bed with crates underneath may be the most convenient, and it will save weight. What was your building process for this system? Thanks!

    • At first we just had the plywood sheet slid snugly inside the box rails on the side and the front, with the cantilevered edges supported by legs. But it would eventually bounce free of the rails and we’d have to push it back in place.

      To fix this we attached the plywood bed in place using the canopy bolts that secure the canopy to the truck bed. The canopy bolts stick down a little past the rails, so we cut two small pieces of wood and drilled a hole for the canopy bolts. We slid the end of the canopy bolts into the drilled hole, then attached the small pieces of wood to the underside of the plywood bed with screws. To remove the plywood bed from the truck we now need to back out the screws, but it’s fairly quick and worth it to keep the bed from bouncing free of the rails.

      It’s difficult to explain without pictures but I hope this helps.

  6. I’m working on planning a road trip for September from Ohio to Colorade/Wyoming/Montana etc. I’m solo-ing the trip, but the rig will be used for other shorter trips for climbing, etc, so I like the idea of being able to sleep two with gear storage. I have a 2WD Toyota Tacoma. Any thoughts on using PVC to frame the bunk bed rather than a wood frame? With my truck the weight will be important in the end, and I’m concerned with added weight wooden frames may add. Any thoughts or insight are much apprecited!! Really enjoyed the post!

    • Hi Cassie, thanks for reading. I think PVC would work fine for the compression load (and it’d be a lot lighter then wood) but I’m not sure how I’d secure it. Screwing wooden legs to the wooden platform was simple. With PVC legs, the joint to the sleeping platform could be tricky to make. When the truck drives the platform shifts around a little, so you’ll want to make sure the legs can’t fall out. There’s also the concern of hitting the PVC legs in your sleep, or when sliding gear in/out. I’m sure with a little thought you’ll figure out a good way to do it, that works for the setup your creating. Exciting!

  7. Awesome post! I am currently planning to live out of my truck for a couple of months just for the experience. Trying to figure out all the logistics. How did you keep food cool in the cooler and what about washing dishes? What did you use for a mattress? I have a tundra with an 8ft bed and a cab high canopy. I was going to build a 30in wide bed to have the other half of the bed for shelves for a “kitchen” and table for computer. Thanks for any help.

    • Whoa, lots of questions. I like it.
      – Investing in a YETI cooler allowed us to go about 6 or more days without needing ice. The YETI cooler was expensive, but it allowed us to “disappear” for days at a time while still keeping the food cold. If your trip will keep you within a day or two of civilization, I’d save the money and go with a normal cooler instead of a YETI. Just buy ice as you need it (probably every 2 or 3 days).
      – For washing dishes we had a bucket and would use lake/river/public water whenever possible. If that wasn’t available we’d switch to melt water from the cooler. I’ll admit we also did a lot of ‘dry rubbing’ the dishes to “clean” them, and sometimes we cooked the cast-iron pan clean. We tried never to use our drinking water for washing, but it did end up happening a few times.
      – We had an inflatable thermarest mattress, plus our yoga mats. The thermarest was a little long for my 6 foot truck bed, but it was still comfortable even with the end crunched up.

      I hope your trip is a blast. Have fun.

  8. We do the truck bed camping but we have a topper that has a door on it so we did not have to deal with the tailgate or full door from other camper tops. The only thing we wish we had done is purchase a high rise shell,fits me just fine but hubby is taller and he bumps his head. We also have a camping toilet that sits at the end of my bed which makes up part of the bed very convient mostly only use this at night though. We do a lot of off roading and truck bed camping is the way to go.

    • I like the idea of a topper with a door, that would solve some of the difficulties we have getting in and out of the bed. Lucky you!
      Ah, the high rise shell, that’s one of our regrets too. I personally have no problem, but with my husband bumping his head we do with we had chosen a shell that was just a bit taller.
      That’s interesting that you have a camping toilet right in there with you. Sounds convenient for the night time, but I’m not sure we’re ready to go there yet!
      And I totally agree, truck camping *is* the way to go. 🙂

  9. What do you do for internet while on the road? I don’t mean your typical data plan because I was planning on working full time while traveling for a few months. I have been metering my internet usage (using Bandwidth+ on Mac) and I find that I use about 2 GB per day for video conferencing meetings, etc. I have looked at T-mobile and Verizon’s unlimited plans but both have caps after around 28 GB, which is about 14 days, or 3 work weeks. I really need the speed too so having the speed go to 3G isn’t okay for me. Is anyone in the same van (haha) and have heavy data needs while traveling and how do you deal with it?

    • We’re actually pretty skimpy on our data (no video calls or video-watching, really) so we usually rely on public wi-fi that we can “find” at restaurants, sports complexes, coffee shops, or libraries. Yes, we are that cheap (and Canada is that crappy for data plans). I’m not sure what kind of options are available to you regarding pocket wi-fi devices or service providers, so I’m afraid I can’t help you very much. Sorry!

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