Truck Set-Up Cost Breakdown

Before starting the trip, we created a budget, anticipating how much money we needed up front to get us on the road. After going through roughly 3-4 different set-up options, we decided to tent camp and stick primarily to traveling around the western U.S. See our blog about why here. Below, you will find our actual costs for the truck set-up. There are likely a few $15 Home Depot trips that accidentally got skipped, which we tried to account for in the final “contingencies” section. In the second column of actual costs, you will see the costs that exceeded expectations are in red and the amount we went over in parenthesis.

Expected Costs

Truck Topper 400
Solar (panel, inverter, battery, misc) 800
Materials (wood, screws, etc. for base in truck bed) 350
Stove & Propane tank 300
Mattress & Tent 200
Cooler 175
Truck work (air bag shocks for back tires, maintenance on truck) 500
Contingencies (life and other unknown costs) 300
TOTAL 3025

Actual Costs

Topper 470 (-70)
Solar 850 (-50)
Materials 466 (-116)
Stove & Propane 272 (+28)
Mattress & Tent 155 (+45) (which we didn’t end up using…)
Cooler 200
Truck work 560 (-60)
Contingencies 1097 (-797)
TOTAL 4070

Topper – $470 ($70 over)

Bought used off Craigslist. We have a 2003 Toyota Tacoma, and the year following Tacoma had a slightly different sized bed, so it ended up being somewhat difficult to find a used truck camper near our area.

Solar – $850 ($50 over)

This figure includes the solar panel (150 watts), a lithium-ion battery (500 watt hours), a charge controller, and an inverter. Honestly, we have way more solar and battery than we need as we are only using the electricity to charge our laptops, phones, and a couple LED lights in the back of the truck. However, we have had a great experience with all of these products and would highly recommend them. Stay tuned for a blog post on the specifics of our solar setup and how much output it has.

Materials – $466 ($116 over)

This includes the birch plywood and screws for the cubbies and drawer on the bed of the truck ($200) as well as three different types of weather-proof, sturdy totes from Home Depot ($165 for 4 small totes, 3 big totes, and 2 medium totes, 9 total). Price also includes a heavy tarp, special pieces, and metal poles for an awning that is attached to the truck ($100). Stay tuned for a blog post on the specifics of our awning and truck set-up.


Stove and Propane – $272 ($28 under)

After much research, we went with a Partner Steel dual-burner camp stove. Many outdoor companies use these because they burn clean, are ridiculously durable, and are well-constructed. After using a gas Coleman stove on a two-month camping/roadtrip a couple of years ago, and enduring the regular frustration of having to scour pans after each use, the fire being unwieldy, and storing gas while on the road, we were ready for an upgrade. We got our stove from Element Outfitters and were really happy with their service and free shipping. We also bought a small, 1 gallon propane tank as the Partner Stove uses so little, and we didn’t have much space.

Mattress and Tent – $155 ($45 under)

We originally bought a 6″ full-size, memory foam mattress for the tent as we would be sleeping on it a lot. Being the bright individuals we are, we assumed the mattress would roll into a significantly smaller size than it did, which resulted in it being too big to fit in the already full truck. In the end, we got rid of the memory foam and settled on a $30 full size air mattress with air compressor from Walmart that (surprisingly) works really well. Typically, when camping, we stay in one place for a few days, limiting the amount of time spent blowing up/taking down the mattress. Plus it takes up very little space!

The tent we got is an older North Face from a local outdoor store that was on clearance for $50 due to stains from some flooding in their storeroom. Who cares about stains though? Obviously we don’t.

Cooler – $200

From Canyon Coolers, a local business on par with Yeti, and normally over $250, we got a cooler with a manufacture defect for about $200 after tax. It is pretty sweet.

Truck Work – $560 ($60 over)

To offset the weight in the back of the truck, we bought Air Lift suspension. We also had to replace the two front tires on the truck, apply brake cleaner, and coat the bed rails to prevent the paint from chipping more.

Contingencies – $1097 ($797 over)

This is what killed us. Small purchases really add up–shocking, I know. This price includes a new hitch to support the bike rack, the bike rack itself, lighting for inside the camper, a shower head, faucet, sink, military grade water tanks (we were sick of leaky, cheap water tanks), heavy tarp for under the tent, electrical odds and ends, and $100 to account for some of those undocumented Home Depot trips. Pesky bastards.

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