The Ultimate Camping Vehicle

Years ago while camping with my daughter in Canada’s Waterton National Park, the wind came howling down the lake driving rain into the tent.  It whipped us all night long.  I was on the windward side and by morning my sleeping bag was soaked.  At the time I thought how nice it would have been to be able to sleep in the back of the truck.  So upon return, I started making a deck for the back of the truck (1996 Mazda B2300).  Here’s the first attempt.


Josephine, 7 at the time, loved the idea and loved climbing up on top.  It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that even in my mid thirties, it was hard for me to get in and out.  Additionally, as an only child, it was more fun for Josephine to bring a friend and a two seat pickup truck didn’t cut it.  I swapped vehicles with the ex when we’d do our summer camping trip and set this idea aside.

Fast forward; the kids are grown and when Steph and I started camping together, we revisited the deck concept with the original set up in the B2300: the deck coming all the way to the tailgate, splitting the bed/canopy in half.  And while it worked, there were several things I didn’t like.

One, the back of the bottom level was hard to access leading to unused space.  Two, larger items block visibility above.  Three, with the cooler under the deck you have to open the tailgate and pull it out, just for a snack.  I use the tailgate as a work space and a place to sit on while at a trail head.  And lastly, many folks design their camping rigs with the mattress/sleeping arrangement permanently set up.  That takes up too much space for my liking.  Plus, I really enjoy the ritual of setting up the campsite and breaking it down, and leaving no trace.  Tents and canopies these days go up quickly.  Steph and I can set up or take down in under 30 minutes, rain or shine.

So, in our new-to-us 2003 Nissan Frontier (check out Club Frontier) here’s what we did.


We built the deck just above the wheel wells and it stops short of the tailgate so that two coolers fit just inside.  We can access them without having to drop the tailgate.  We fit six 10 gallon Rubbermaid containers and the canopy under the deck.  The two farthest back have emergency supplies, so we don’t need to get at them frequently.

The top of the deck has a lot more space, items are more accessible, and they don’t block the rear view mirror to the same degree.  And, we still have room for more, if we need it.  The following is a list of gear and where we store it:

On top of the deck we have:

  • two 2″ foam mattresses, pillows, and our double sleeping bag, loosely packed
  • one 10×10 roomy tent and a back up 7×7 tent for smaller sites
  • two camp chairs, hammock
  • two bins, one for boots, water shoes, and hats and another for day packs
  • dry goods bin, 5 gallon water jug
  • stove, lantern, distribution post and 2.5 gallon propane tank
  • a larger bin with clothing options such as warm jackets, rain gear, etc.

Under the deck we have:

  • back bins; emergency supplies, duck tape, tools, extra batteries, etc.
  • middle bins; wood, kindling, hatchet and dish drainer, picnic table items
  • front bins; pots, pans, kettle, mugs and utensils, dishes, Tang, tea
  • 10×10 canopy, usually set up over the picnic table
  • two coolers in front of the deck

Extra-cab behind our seats:

  • we each have a clothing bag and bathroom bag
  • we each have a sweatshirt or light coat loosely packed
  • a lodge backpack with guidebooks, maps, chargers, etc.
  • jumper cables and med kit

One of the things we did recently was to improve the storage in the extra-cab, behind the seats.  The drive train creates a bump, and Steph’s side has the jump seat.  Between the two her bags would bunch up slide down.  So we built a deck that flattened it out and made the space wider.  We also utilized the gap underneath for easy access to the med kit and jumper cables.