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by Ben Battles.
Landing somewhere between glamping and rolling yourself up in a tarp on the ground like a burrito is living out of the bed of your truck. Doing it for a while forces you to make smart and minimal alternations to your everyday lifestyle. Needless to say, no flat screen TV, no fully loaded self-contained kitchen, and probably no room for that espresso machine. On the plus side, though, it’s not a tarp.
First and foremost, I’ve always found that (if feasible) sleeping in a vehicle beats pitching a tent any day, hands down. I say this for a few reasons. First, it’s much safer and more secure in predator (or dirtbag) country. Second, it’s night-and-day more impervious to inclement weather and cold temperatures. Finally, it’s mobile and ready to use at a moment’s notice. There are others advantages—like not having to set up a tent in the rain, noise levels, and so on—but those are the biggies.
My own unique requirements for truck-bed living? There are parallels in everyone’s needs here, but in a nutshell, it needs to be reasonably comfortable and completely self-contained for one or two adults for up to a week’s worth of backcountry hunting or, in a lot of cases, just plain camping. All hunting and camping gear, sleeping accommodations, clothing, and food has to be able to fit within the bed of the truck, securely, weather-tight, and well organized. Depending on your own comfort level requirements, mine is actually a very easy recipe to follow—with the right products.
If you need to keep gear safe, secure, and well organized in the bed of truck, we can’t think of many better solutions than the DECKED bed box. Made from super-tough HDPE polymer and stainless steel or coated steel components, the construction is both light-weight and highly durable. While not at all difficult, assembly is somewhat time consuming; we’d recommend setting aside half a day.
Years of camping out of trucks and SUVs both big and small have allowed us to refine our essential ingredient list. We boil it down to the components we feel are the bare necessity to meet the aforementioned requirements and to allow us to call a 6 1/2-foot truck bed our digs for as long as we feel like living like a jobless vagabond. And speaking of jobs, if you happen to be living without one, you’ll likely have to get a bit more creative than this, as neither of these two main products are particularly inexpensive. Everything you see here, however, would be money well spent, is extremely durable, and does, at the end of the day, exactly what we need it to do time and time again without fail.
Assembly time aside, the good news is that no drilling or permanent modifications are needed to your bed in order to install the DECKED system. It is secured using hooked threaded rods that attach to the factory tie-down anchors at all for corners through the “ammo can” storage pockets. Once installed, it can be removed in about 15 minutes if you find yourself needing more bed depth or payload capacity.
Because the DECKED bed box runs over the top of the wheelwells, providing a flat surface across the entire width of the bed, it maximizes bed space and serves very well as a sleeping platform. It’s also lighter than competing all-steel products. With a 2,000-pound payload rating on the top deck (paired with the optional Core Trax tie-down track shown here) you’re not giving up much in cargo-hauling ability. Further attesting to the genius of the design, a bottle opener can be found conveniently between the two drawers.
The drawers of the DECKED unit are bed-length and weatherproof, and roll out with amazingly little effort on hard rubber wheels that ride on steel tracks. Capacity per drawer is 200 pounds. The optional weatherproof D-Box storage boxes feature removable dividers, lock into place between molded-in stops to prevent shifting while underway, and proved very handy when additional gear organization or separation was needed.
Moving on to our truck camping shelter, the cap that fit our needs best was ARE’s CX HD model. Like all of the company’s caps, you are able to custom-build to your own needs and specifications online and have your cap shipped it directly to the ARE dealer of your choice.
ARE’s HD caps—available in the CX (shown) and MX series—feature an internal cage that triples the load capacity of the roof racks (and side toolboxes if you check that box), making it a great option for a rooftop-mounted tent if you need more cargo volume in the bed. The interior carpeting option makes it slightly more insulated from cold weather, and also helps keep the decibel level down when your buddies refuse to call it a night around the campfire.
ARE’s optional Outdoorsman Vented Windoor on either side allows bed access along nearly the entire length of the cap, making it much easier to reach gear closer to the cab. Like the rear hatch, they are also deeply tinted and lockable for security. The center sliding window is screened and offers good cross-ventilation when both are open. To date, we’ve only tested the racks to the tune of two kayaks, but they are capable of holding approximately a dozen (or 550 pounds) if you can figure out how to get that many up there.
The only downside to the height of the DECKED unit is that most adults will not be able to sit up straight without hitting their head on the interior of a cab-height truck cap, but in our minds, that’s a small price to pay for the versatility that comes with this storage solution. Of course, a raised-profile cap would likely fix that problem, but we also wanted to be able to reach anything on the rooftop without a stepladder. Using the optional power strip, we are able to run our ARB fridge-freezer, air mattress inflator, and anything else that comes to life at 12 volts.
With a TJ Unlimited in tow while my family of four ventured from New Hampshire to California last summer to hit the Rubicon Trail, both the ARE cap and DECKED storage unit proved invaluable pieces of equipment for keeping gear, clothes, food, and tools organized, easy to reach, and out of the weather.
Another huge benefit to the ARE cap and its fully lockable and tinted windows is the added security for anything you’re carrying in the bed. Sure, if someone wanted in bad enough, they’re getting in, but in the various seedy areas in which we’ve left the truck parked overnight, the peace of mind that the ARE provided compared to a vulnerable open bed helped everyone sleep a little better.