Truck Camping under a Canopy: Overlanding the American West
In contrast to the conventional route of installing an actual camper on the back of my pickup, I went with the sleeker and more stealthy truck canopy option.
In January of 2012 I set out on a year long climbing and truck camping adventure across the American West. From the mountains of Colorado to the Deserts of the American Southwest and back up along the coast. I spent many days in nights in all sorts of conditions in the back of that truck… From 100+ degree scorchers in Death Valley to below freezing blizzards in the Canadian Rockies.
Sleeping underneath a canopy certainly does not afford the space luxuries and built-in organization of a truck camper, it does however offer more mobility and more discretion–the ability to camp in areas where it might not otherwise be permissible. Under the nose of residential neighborhoods or in certain commercial areas where a truck camper, trailer, or RV would certainly raise eyebrows, and perhaps even calls to the authorities.
Additionally, the lower clearance, width, and weight all allowed me to venture into remote areas and wild bushwhack-like roads without a care.
Indeed, my 1991 Toyota 4×4 Pickup with a Leer 122 raised canopy on top made for an ideal home for my many months on the road.
I specially outfitted the back of the truck with gear storage areas and sleeping areas. By creating a movable center platform I was able to maximize my options–I could sleep above in the elevated position when I just needed a quick nights rest in a Wal-Mart parking lot, or when I had a place to call ‘home’ for a while, I could move the platform into the lower position and have more room to sit up, move around, and just a generally better quality of life.
Now, living in the back of a truck may sound like a dream come true, at least to my climbing bum friends. But it’s not all scenic vistas and splitter weather. Indeed, there are some downsides.
One must be vigilant and careful about hoping into the back of their truck for a good nights rest, especially when camping in areas where it is not permitted. I would do a double take to make sure no one was around, walking back to their car, or out walking their dog–both in the evenings and mornings.
Sometimes the weather just isn’t playing in your favor. It is difficult when you are unable to escape the blazing heat of the desert. I came down with a cold while in the Owens Valley in California, and I wished for nothing more than a couch in a room with air conditioning and perhaps a Netflix account. While camping in the Canadian Rockies at the cusp of winter I had to battle with virtually everything freezing… From my peanut butter in the jar that would nearly bend my butter knife in half, to swimming trunks that stayed frozen for weeks after a dip in the Banff hot springs.
Some people looked at my like I was crazy for leaving a solid career in the corridors of power in Washington DC to go become a glorified homeless person in the American West. Others, of course, looked on with reverence and wished they could do what I did.
Despite the occasional downsides, it was beyond a doubt an incredible experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade anything for. Those experiences in that truck have continued to shape and define my path in life. Instead of living out of a truck, I’m not living out of a backpack in South America. Man, I do miss my truck though!
For more details about how I outfitted my truck camping rig for life on the road, be sure to check out my post Truck Camping 101
AUTHOR BIO: Ryan is an avid climber, hiker, and outdoorsman. In January 2013 he set out on a year long trip through the American West, living out of his pickup. In 2014, he packed his bag and headed to Colombia where he is exploring a new language, culture, and continuing to avoid a desk. You can follow his adventures at http://www.DeskToDirtbag.com