How a Pickup Truck Took My Festival Camping to the Next Level
I enjoy camping, and I love music, so Bonnaroo is one of my favorite music festivals of the year. But car camping loses some of its charm when you're pitching a tent outside of a rental car in a giant field with no shade alongside 65,000 other people. So when I learned that GMC sells specially designed tents and air mattresses that allow you to camp in a pickup truck bed, I decided this was the year to upgrade my car camping experience.
For the past two years, my friend Faith and I have flown to Nashville, rented a compact car, and packed our most minimal camping gear: one-person tents, Thermarests, and headlamps. We buy a cheap cooler bag on the way to the festival, but the ice melts within a few hours; our compact car becomes a disorganized headquarters for our clothes, beauty products, and snacks. While our love for the festival has grown over the years, our tolerance for minimalist camping in the Tennessee heat has diminished with age.
This year — our third time at Bonnaroo — we decided to go all out, with a GMC Sierra Denali 2500 Crew Cab pickup truck and camping kit, complete with a tent and an air mattress. The experience felt like moving from a dorm room into a mansion. Read on to see our #tentlife adventure.
The vehicle, air mattress, and tent were provided for the author by GMC for the purpose of writing this story.
Our Home For the Weekend
We spent three nights sleeping very soundly in the bed of a GMC Sierra Denali 2500 Crew Cab truck, and it was hands down the most comfortable car-camping I've ever experienced. The tent, available on the GMC Accessories site, is designed to fit four GMC trucks, but also fits most other long-bed (8-feet) trucks.
The Sierra Denali has a ton of space in the front seat and a superb sound system (which is obviously very important to us). The dashboard features USB hookups and three power outlets, which solved one of our biggest outdoor music festival headaches: charging our devices. We could charge two phones and our backup batteries all at once (usually while putting on our makeup in the morning). The truck also offers WiFi, which meant we could upload photos without fighting the overcrowded cell coverage on the festival grounds.
This is me, standing in front of the truck after our grocery run. I am 5'2", so that gives you a sense of how big this truck is. The crew cab has a second row of folding seats, which we folded up in order to use the entire rear floor for storage. We were able to fit all of our camping gear, luggage, groceries, and cooler in the rear cab, so the truck bed was empty for the tent.
Tailgating With a Tent
The tent is designed so that the front door opens onto the tailgate, which you leave down when the tent is pitched. To pitch the tent, you start by spreading it out over the bed of the truck; then, you strap it down to the undercarriage.
The side straps come with fabric covers, so as not to scratch the truck's finish. This is a shot of the strap before I pulled the fabric cover down. The straps are supereasy to hook onto the truck and tighten.
This is a shot of the back of the truck, with the tailgate open. The tent has three straps on this end, which you loop through the tailgate and the rear bumper. Once we had tightened all the straps, the tent did not budge all weekend.
The only item we didn't bring but I wish we had is a step stool, because the tailgate is very high off the ground. We used a case of LaCroix cans to boost ourselves up, but those were eventually consumed. I sustained several shin bruises before realizing that "butt first" was the proper way to mount the truck bed.
The Tent Poles
The tent poles are color-coordinated, which makes the instructions very easy to follow. They unfold and snap together like most other tent poles you've encountered; they're just longer and more numerous, since the tent is so damn big.
Inserting the Poles
Inserting the poles is definitely a two-person job, because the tent is so big and high off the ground. Thankfully, the truck has plenty of sidesteps and corner steps that you can stand on when inserting the poles. In this photo, I'm standing on the sidestep.
Ready For Liftoff
This is the tent, viewed from the back, before we inserted the final three poles to form the dome. From start to finish, the process of pitching the tent took about 30 minutes.
Snapping in the Poles
While it's slightly more challenging to pitch a tent that's four feet off the ground, anyone who has pitched a tent before will be comfortable. Once you've inserted the last three poles, you snap the ends into color-coordinated pockets on the sides.
Sleeping on Air
The air mattress was the real game-changer, for several reasons. Not only is the 12-inch mattress about 11-and-a-half inches thicker than a Thermarest but it very comfortably slept two platonic friends with plenty of room. Also, you inflate it in a few minutes, using one of the outlets in the dashboard, by running the cord through the tent and back cab windows.
The final step is installing the tent awning and staking the tent down with ropes. Though we didn't experience any wind or rain that made the stakes or the fly essential, the awning created a nice shady area for hanging out on the tailgate. The tailgate also had some little latches perfect for garbage bags, and the giant door handles served as bandana drying racks.
The tent has two zippered and screened windows on each side and one in the back, so you can get plenty of airflow. We also invested in a ceiling fan and LED light to hang from the top and help with cooling. This is a view of the tent from the inside, which I took while laying on the air mattress, so you can get a sense of how tall it is.
Keeping It Cool
After two years of dealing with warm drinks and nonperishable food items, we decided to invest in a Yeti, aka the Cadillac of coolers. Faith chose the Yeti Hopper Two 30 cooler, which has a hard shell inner lining and soft sides. Unlike hard-side coolers, which can be awkward to travel with, the Yeti doubles as a carry-on bag. More important, it doesn't leak, and it keeps contents cold for days. We bought a 10-pound bag of ice on Friday, and it lasted two days. Even after the ice was melted, the cooler contents were still cold.
Cold Cocktails to Go
Almost as miraculous as the Yeti cooler is the Yeti Rambler Bottle ($30), which kept my "cocktails" cool for hours. We'd mix faderade (Gatorade plus vodka) around noon and it would still be cold by 6 p.m. What's mind-blowing is that the exterior of the bottle never feels cold or gathers condensation, so it's always a pleasant surprise to open it up and find a cold, trashy cocktail. Of course, you can also use a Yeti bottle for water, but I refill my water bottle about five times more often than my cocktail bottle.