Pickup Truck vs. Van for Camping: Which Is Better?


If roughing it in a tent isn’t your style, but you’d love to explore the great outdoors, you don’t have to compromise anymore. Both pickup trucks and camper vans are good options for camping, but which one is more suited to your taste?

A pickup truck is better if you want greater versatility, the ability to get closer to nature and save some money. However, vans offer more storage, keep all your belongings together, and are a one-time purchase. Both are great alternatives to tenting that offer unique experiences.

This article will take you through the different benefits of choosing both pickup trucks and camping vans. You will also learn the potential disadvantages that come with the two options. Finally, we’ll help you decide which vehicle is perfect for you.

Pros and Cons of Pickup Trucks

A lot of people already drive pickup trucks as their main mode of transportation, so using one for camping presents some obvious benefits, such as not having to purchase another vehicle. However, if you do not already own one or are unsure if it’s the best choice for your camping experience, we’ll take you through some of the upsides and drawbacks of them.

Pros of Pickup Trucks

  • It’s easier to maneuver pickup trucks. There are some places you need a truck to get to, especially if you have remote backcountry camping on the mind. With great off-roading potential, you can practically go wherever your heart desires.
  • If you’re already a truck owner, it’s a relatively cheap and easy addition. It doesn’t have to be too costly to convert your pickup truck into a camping facility if you already own the vehicle. You can still expect to pay anywhere between $5,00 and $60,000 for a new truck camper, but can manage around $2,500 and $30,000 for a used model.
  • Pickup trucks offer greater versatility. There are many different ways to alter your camping experience if you choose a pickup truck. These are perfect for towing truck campers that essentially function as portable RVs.

They can also be used for truck tents that get set up in the bed of your truck instead of on the ground. The Rightline Gear Truck Tent available on Amazon.com has a floorless design, which makes it easier to pitch without worrying about clearing your bed first. It also comes in three different sizes to fit with your vehicle perfectly. To ensure optimal comfort, it’s water-resistant too.

Another option is a bed cap or camper shell. While they’re more frequently used for storage purposes, they were originally designed for camping purposes. While it’s not too luxurious, decking it out with a comfortable mattress and a few necessary accessories makes it a fantastic choice for a lowkey camping experience. Best of all, there’s no on-the-go setup required.

Cons of Pickup Trucks

  • Storage is limited with pickup truck camping. Since the bed of your truck is doubling as your sleeping space, even truck campers offer a finite amount of storage space. You might have to cut down the belongings you pack on your trip.
  • You need to buy a truck and accessories. If you aren’t already a truck owner, you’ll have some investments to make. You can expect to pay a couple of tens of thousands of dollars on the truck alone. Then, you’ll also have to purchase whichever camping additions you’d prefer. It can get quite costly. 
  • The setup might be required when using a pickup truck as your camping vessel. Unlike a van where your sleeping and living areas are permanent fixtures, pickup truck camping sometimes calls for a degree of setup. If you’re choosing to pitch a tent in your bed, prepare to dedicate some time to arranging your sleeping area before hitting the hay.
  • Prepare to spend a pretty penny on fuel. Since trucks are notoriously fuel-inefficient in the first place, adding on the extra weight of a camper is only going to accelerate your fill-up cost. You might only get 10-12 miles per gallon with this arrangement compared to approximately 20 miles per gallon in a loaded camper van.
  • The seating capacity is limited in a truck. If you’re planning a getaway with the whole family, who’s to say you’ll have enough room? Not only is seating capacity limited in some trucks, if you opt for a truck tent or camping shell, you could be very squished.

Pros and Cons of Vans

Camping vans provide the ultimate photo-worthy travel experience. We don’t think you should make your decision just based on that alone, though. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of camping vans.

Pros of Vans

  • Everything stays in one place when using a van. Rather than constantly loading and unloading your camping supplies, you can use your space to store everything you need, even in the off-season. It’s much harder to forget necessary items at home when they live in your van.
  • Camper vans have great storage capacity. Since they are essentially homes on wheels, all of your belongings can stay put. Cupboards can store dishes, drawers can keep clothing, and extra areas can hold bikes. Less clutter makes the overall experience much more relaxing – which is exactly the point of your getaway.
  • It’s easy to live out of your van. Camper vans come complete with most of the things you’ll need while camping. Depending on your configuration, you might have a bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom all in one area. This is great during long trips or camping adventures in poor weather. You have everything you need without even leaving the confines of your vehicle.
  • You only need to make one purchase. As opposed to having to buy a truck and camping equipment and relying on them both to function properly, you just have one thing to worry about. 

Cons of Vans

  • Camping vans need to stay somewhere when not in use. It can be a hassle to find a parking spot for your van when it’s not out in the woods with you. Unless you have a big driveway that it can live on, you might need to rent a storage space during the winter.
  • Getting around is more difficult in a van. Since your vehicle is also your living space, it can be more difficult to drive around with ease. Don’t count on going off-roading or taking many dirt roads in a camping van. They just aren’t as mobile as pickup trucks.
  • The price point of a camping van tends to be higher than a truck. If you’re considering going for a van, be prepared to spend up to $100,000. Of course, you can always buy an older model for cheaper and renovate it yourself, but you’ll have to commit to some DIY work. 
  • Having another vehicle comes with additional problems. Since your van is likely not your main method of transportation when you aren’t camping, having two vehicles means paying twice as much in insurance, maintenance, and registration fees.

Which One Should You Choose?

The better option for you depends on what kind of camping experience you desire – and how you’d like to spend your money. There are a few questions to ask yourself that might help you conclude:

  • How close to nature are you hoping to get? If you’re more into the glamping experience than sleeping under the stars, a camping van will be your preferred option. They still allow for the mobility and freedom of going out into the woods but have a definite barrier that surrounds you from the outdoors. If you want to stay inside the whole time and just admire the pretty views with a cracked window, you absolutely can. 
  • Do you plan on doing backcountry camping? Backcountry experiences are not well suited for vans. A pickup truck is going to be much more dependable and versatile, no matter where you’re headed. 
  • Are you a dedicated camper or a newbie? If you don’t have much camping experience yet, you might not want to dive into the monetary investment that is a van right away. Though it might be an easier adjustment into camping, it is more costly. Financially, it is a big pill to swallow if it ends up not being your thing.
  • How far will you usually travel? Do you plan to go for a quick trip out to the lake or a cross-country road trip? A van will save you a good amount of cash when it comes to gas. Not having to do a big set up in every new location is also much more convenient. 

Conclusion

Whether you decide to take a pickup truck or van with you on your next camping trip, you’re bound to have a great experience. Both choices offer unique advantages and setbacks. The perfect option for you is dependent on a few aspects. 

A camping van is perfect for you if you’re a dedicated camper who is willing to invest some money to improve your experience with a larger space, an all-in-one vehicle, and love the convenience of storing everything in the same area. 

However, a pickup truck is what you need if you see yourself engaging in backcountry camping, want to get closer to nature, and love the versatility of having your vehicle and living space separate.

Hivan Team

As an independent team of travelers, we do share positive and negative observations as we find them and make our best to help and inform other vanlifers around the globe.

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