The Full Story on the Truck Tent

I’ve mentioned my truck tent a lot on this blog, but really haven’t devoted much time to talking about it in detail since I started using it. Today we finally get down to the nitty gritty, pros and cons, and everyone’s favorite: dollar amounts.

To start off with, I have a Napier Truck Bed Tent and an Airbedz Truck Bed Air Mattress. Both were purchased from AutoAnything for about $350 total (fun fact – that site will price match, so do some research!). There are lots of different styles and brands of tents and mattresses… Bobby has a fancier tent with a canopy, for example, and there is a lite version of the heavy duty mattress that I have. Cost wise, my set-up is probably slightly on the higher end of “middle of the road”.

trucktent

The real question is: has it paid off?

Dollars-wise, it definitely has. Last year alone I spent 14 nights at shows in the tent (most of those being at Coconino of course). If we figure that, on average, I’d have been spending $80 per night at a probably semi-questionable hotel, that would have been $1,120 alone in hotel costs.

By the time all was said and done, the air mattress and the tent paid for themselves plus left an extra $770 in my pocket last year alone. That’s a couple more shows worth of entry fees! It has undoubtedly been my best money-saving purchase to date.

You also have to factor in the gas it saves by not having to drive back and forth, considering that at a lot of our venues the closest hotel can easily be 20 miles away. I didn’t pull numbers for that, because it would have purely been a guess, but it would be safe to say you could also toss in a couple hundred more bucks in gas savings.

tentcity

But what about comfort? Usually when people see the truck tent, the first reaction is “That’s so cool”, followed about 3 seconds later by “but I don’t know if I could camp, I like having a bed and a shower”. I get that. Camping isn’t for everyone. To be honest, that was my initial biggest turnoff about the whole setup as well. But over time I’ve come to much prefer the tent for a few reasons:

  1. Hotels are kind of gross. I have a really over-inflated irrational fear of bedbugs and other people’s filth, so usually I spend at least an hour every night in a hotel imagining that things are crawling on me.
  2. I like being close to my horse. Usually I’m able to park within 50′ of his stall, so if he were to get cast or something, I would hear it and be there immediately. I can also easily get up and check on him if need be. It makes me feel a lot more relaxed.
  3. You get to sleep more. Less time driving back and forth equals more time sleeping! I can also stumble out of bed, go feed, and then stumble back to eat/change before heading back up to the barn. It’s definitely a time saver to stay on-site.
  4. The peace and quiet. I usually don’t sleep that well in hotels because of the noise. Cars, slamming doors, people above you that sound like a herd of elephants, people talking on the other side of thin walls… it all keeps me awake. At shows there’s usually very little to no noise after 10pm when everyone else leaves.

trucktent2

I’ve found that as long as I have the appropriate linens/blankets/sleeping bag, I’m quite comfortable. It got down to 40 degrees at night at Coconino and was 85 at night at MeadowCreek, but I slept well at both extremes (especially as I’ve learned how to adjust my blanket and clothing choices based on temperature, which was admittedly a bit of a learning curve). I’ve also learned that if it’s super humid, I’ve got to leave more ventilation open in the tent to prevent condensation. And if there’s a chance of rain, definitely put the rainfly on (it works, but only if you remember to put it on!).

My mattress is a full size queen, so I have plenty of space to spread out and flop around, or it can easily accommodate two people. When we went to Coconino I snagged the memory foam mattress topper from our guest bedroom for extra comfort, since we were camping for so many days in a row. It was SO COMFORTABLE.

coconinotent
our Coconino setup

Ah, but what about a shower?

The great thing is that, for us at least, most of the venues we show at have some kind of shower access. The only place we stayed at last year that didn’t have showers was Coconino. Luckily we had people with living quarter trailers and rental houses that would let us come use their shower. I think next time, if we were spending an extended period of time at a venue with no showers, I would buy a solar shower. But all of our regular venues have a shower, so I just bring a towel with me and I’m good to go. If it’s just one night and the weather isn’t too hot, I’m also not opposed to a “baby wipe shower”. No one is pretty at horse shows, anyway.

The lack of nighttime entertainment hasn’t been an issue either. Usually I socialize until a bit before bedtime, check on the horses, and then read for a while. It’s ridiculously relaxing, and I certainly do not miss having time away from a TV or laptop for a couple days.

bobbystent
Bobby’s tent has a fancy canopy

Food-wise, camping does require a bit more planning. Usually once I’m at the show I don’t leave again, so I have to remember to pack a cooler with whatever food I need to get through the weekend. It would be a PITA to have to take the tent down just so you can drive into town for food. Usually I’m ok at remembering to bring food, although sometimes I forget until the last minute. I’m still adjusting to this part. I personally don’t bother with any kind of heating elements or cooking, so I tend to bring stuff that does not require heating. I’ve found that this actually saves me money too, because I’m not eating out at restaurants anymore while I’m at shows. If you like to indulge in some gourmet eats at shows, it’s probably easier to find a friend to take you and bring you back rather than putting up and taking down your tent repeatedly.

Which, speaking of, doesn’t actually take that long. When I first got it I had to practice putting it all together a couple times at home so that I could learn where everything went and get all the straps adjusted, but now I can put that thing up in less than 10 minutes. It’s pretty simple, just a few clips down each side of the truck bed to keep the tent in place, then 4 tent poles. Trust me, I am an idiot when it comes to things like this (an engineer I am NOT), and even I think it’s easy once you “get it”. My mattress has a battery that you just plug in, turn a dial, and it inflates itself in just a few minutes (deflates itself the same way, too!). Very simple and pretty quick.

The only accessories I’ve added to my truck tent lifestyle are a cool little fan/light combo (an awesome gift from Hillary!) that clips to the roof of the tent, and a cheap bathmat that I put down in my trailer so I have somewhere to stand and change clothes.

There are so many great camping accessories out there now, though, you can have just about anything you want.

I know the truck tent camping life isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s worked out great. The dollars saved, and the convenience of staying on-site, have proven to be really worthwhile.

32 thoughts on “The Full Story on the Truck Tent

  1. Ive seen your ‘tent village’ at Pine Hill and seriously am considering this option. Do you have to pay for an RV site or is it just regular parking? I know you dont plug in to anything RV wise, but wasnt sure if you still had to pay the fee.

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    1. We have not had to pay a fee at any of the venues we’ve been to so far. Greenwood used to charge a “primitive camping fee” that I think was like $15? But they’re gone now. Otherwise, you generally only have to pay for camping if you’re taking up an RV site. They tend to not care about those of us crazy enough to pop up a tent. 😉

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  2. I have always camped at shows. I’m lucky in that my trainer has a living quarters trailer so I have access to shower and kitchen, but I really like being on the grounds. I’m trying to save up for a pop up camper to put on the back of my truck… I feel like it would be a step up from tent camping. I’m definitely going to look into your truck bed tent as it’d be fancy being off of the ground!

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    1. Yeah, you can’t drive with tent in the truck. I mean you could, but that would be bad. 😉 Bobby and I discovered at Coconino that it’s possible to just unhook the tent from the truck bed and slide it out of the bed without having to disassemble the tent itself, but you will need two people to lift it back up into the bed. I try to bring everything with me to shows so that I don’t have to leave. Otherwise, taking the tent down is faster than putting it up… maybe 5 minutes? There are only 4 poles for the tent itself, and then 3 straps with hooks on each side of the bed, and 3 straps with snaps that go around the tailgate. There really isn’t much to it. I definitely recommend a mattress that inflates/deflates itself, though! You do not want to be standing there pumping that thing up forever, or trying to push all the air out.

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      1. Awesome. Thanks! I’m thinking this is a great option for our events where we park on hard ground (like a parking lot rather than a field). Thanks for the post! I looked up the prices and the tent is SUPER affordable

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  3. thanks for posting this!! my concern would be the really hot shows where I NEED a/c to sleep. sometimes it gets way too freakin hot. but for spring/fall shows I’d definitely camp out (in fact… part of the pull of my trailer is I totally intend on camping in the gooseneck)

    but the real park is being near the horses when they’re away from home. AND you could take naps during the show day!!!

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    1. I managed to sleep on the 85 degree night with a fan and it was tolerable. You can get the little overhead fan and they even sell cooling sleep mats, if you’d like. Camping is so damn fancy these days.

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      1. My Tacoma has an outlet in the bed so I run a real fan at night in the tent for white noise and airflow. I just run the truck a bit the next day to juice the battery back up.

        That said Ryobi makes this really neat fan that runs off the ryobi drill batteries. They’re not that expensive and the drill batteries can run one for about 8 hours. I use it in the trailer on the trip there for the horse and then plug in the batteries at the stalls to recharge it and use it at night if I can.

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  4. My sister isn’t a horse person, but they live near Austin TX and do a lot of camping with their truck bed tent. They seem to really like it.

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  5. I have one as well and loved it! I have since gotten a LQ trailer but I still have my truck-tent. I know I should sell it but I keep convincing myself that I might need it again someday. I suck like that. Could be why I still have an extra heavyweight 84″ blanket in my tack room but now live in Texas and have 14h & 15h horses.

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  6. If I did overnight shows that were out of town I would totally truck tent camp…if I also had a truck. I do love any excuse to camp, I really want to do more camping this year.

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  7. I love this set up and wish it would work for me. I enjoy (need) A/C set on frigid to sleep. Plus, I drag Husband with me to shows and he also wants frigid A/C to sleep (thank goodness, I’m pretty sure that’s a relationship deal breaker for both of us). We both sweat profusely, and the only show venue I’ve been to that had showers was at championships 11 hours away, so we’re both quite rank smelling by the end of the day and for our our comfort want a real shower. Sometimes he pitches in for the hotel, which is nice. We absolutely considered this though!

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  8. We looked into these as well when trying to figure out a better solution than regular tent camping on the ground. The reason we didn’t go for it was the loss of the truck bed for storage. I always throw my bales of hay, coolers and things like chairs and a table in the bed. Does your trailer have enough storage for all that? I wish mine did. For now I’m stuck to sleeping in the ground

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    1. Most of what I pack in the bed for ends up unpacked once I get there (tack trunk, hay, feed, cooler, etc). If there’s anything left in the bed I just move it into the horse space of the trailer until it’s time to take the tent down. Chairs and coolers are unpacked from the bed as soon as we arrive anyway, as well. I’ve never needed the bed space to store things in during the show itself.

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  9. I ALWAYS over-night at the showgrounds, but I do have living quarters in my trailer. Coming from the endurance world where EVERYONE sleeps on site, i was so surprised at my first show to see everyone leaving. I don’t worry excessively, but I am not too comfortable leaving my horse in a temporary stall without being able to hear him.

    I like sleeping at the show grounds for all the reasons you mention. I do have a generator though so I can use my laptop for movies if I want (rarely do), and I do have a shower/toilet which makes things super convenient.

    I’ve only stayed in a hotel one time which was for a clinic where it was actually a zillion degrees and my best friend was with me. She has camped in my trailer with me many times, but it was just too hot that weekend (and the room was stupid cheap).

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  10. That’s really neat! I have my vet box in the bed of my truck, so it’s not really an option (plus I’m not sure if I would be able to sleep in the Florida humidity, but I love the idea. I camped in a regular tent at the camp grounds at the Kentucky Horse Park during a show there once and I loved it, every morning I walked in through the xc course, it was really cool.

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  11. This seems like a great option. I have a truck-bed camper and a bumper-pull trailer. It’s way more versatile than a living-quarters trailer, and less expensive too. Perhaps not as stable on really long hauls than a goose-neck rig, but I never have to travel further than a few hours anyway.

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    1. I should say, if I had more than one horse this option would not work, because I feel sketchy about pulling anything bigger than a 2H bumper-pull. I have so far resisted the temptation to complicate my life and dig myself into the financial black hole that is multi-horse ownership. 😛 It’s SUPER nice to be able to get out of the sun at a show, sit under the fan, have some privacy, crack open a COLD beverage from my mini-fridge, or lay down for a bit in between classes. And since I have a baby and she is usually at shows with me, the camper is key for laying her down for naps or getting her out of the sun too.

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