For much of the year, I live out of my pickup truck in Northern Alberta. I do it for work, but you could live in a truck as a way to explore the world or just save money on rent. Here's how.
Think of your truck as the ultimate mobile home. Giving you the ability to travel into or through very remote areas while bringing along the comforts of home or, in my case, the tools to do my job. Living out of truck way out in the woods is basically a case of camping, just doing so unsupported over extended periods of time. That means a lot of the preparations and precautions center around keeping your truck mobile and carrying the capability to rescue it from sticky situations.
What Curtis' day-to-day life looks like.
The Truck: If you want to explore — and live in — remote areas, you'll need a tough truck. I won't choose sides, but remember that today's half-ton trucks are not nearly as rugged or as utilitarian as those used by our fathers and grandfathers.
Tires: Combining durability, off-road capability and a reasonable price, I recommend the Mickey Thompson ATZ or its newer cousin, the ATZ P3. They're quiet on the highway and have never once left me stuck in clay, mud, snow, ice or on pit-run gravel.
Suspension: If your budget allows, upgrade to quality shocks and struts. A simple aftermarket heavy duty option will increase longevity and ride quality. For those long, long drives down bumpy dirt roads.
Fuel: I always carry at least 15 gallons of spare fuel when I leave the highway. That's enough to get me back to the nearest town in case of emergency or give me some autonomy to travel around out there without returning to find a service station.
Consumables: Your windshield is going to get awful dirty living out in the backcountry, so I always carry two jugs of bug wash to clean the mud off. That's enough for two weeks of muddin'. I also carry a spare air filter, oil filter and enough oil to perform an oil change. A well-maintained vehicle will save you a lot of hassle in the long run and provides peace of mind when you're a long way out.
Tools: I always carry an extraction kit. Consider it essential if you're crossing rough terrain; there are always ways to escape a tick situation if you're willing to apply a little elbow grease and have the right tools. My kit consists of an axe, an entrenching tool, a spade or grain shovel for winter travel, and 20-feet of high-tensile towline. I've heard enough stories of people being killed by tow chains to be quite uninterested in those. I also carry four ratchet straps and tie-downs in the box of the truck to secure things like quads and motorcycles in the box.
Human Needs: I carry a First Aid Trauma Kit, saline eye wash, fire starting equipment, a decent survival knife and several flashlights. A knife may seem redundant with axes around, but it makes a good backup. I once used mine to cut down enough small trees make a "road" out of one of those buried-to-the-diff-in-mud situations.
Health: I always carry ibuprofen, a few gallons of water and a box of cliff bars or similar emergency rations. On the job site, I'm usually not far from a meal, but bad days do happen. Staying hydrated and fed can make them a lot less bad.
Winter: I add a sleeping bag rated to -30 Celsius, a thick down jacket and heavy wool base layers. I also keep boots meant to work down to -40 in the truck, as well as a balaclava and a few additional mid layers as well. Prepare for the worst anytime you travel through winter conditions and you won't have to die from hypothermia.
Summer: I carry a good, athletic sunscreen that won't rub off when you get hot and sweaty. Deet is also essential when working and living in the boreal forest — it's the only thing that will keep the skeeters off. I also carry a few bottles of Gatorade or a similar sports drink. If you've spent the day buried to your elbows in a compressor or just spent the last two hours digging our quad out of a swamp, you're going to need some electrolytes.
The Ins and Outs: Living in your truck can actually mean sleeping in it, or just setting up a tent alongside it. Still, sleeping in the woods for weeks at a time brings its own problems.
Where To Sleep: If you're actually going to eat, sleep, and live in your truck (instead of out of it, like I do on better days), make sure to consider where you're doing it. Moving safely off of the beaten path can prevent late-night encounters with unsavory drunks and other unpleasant weird types. Or cops. If you're near or in civilization or by a popular tourist destination, they really don't like it when you sleep in your car.
Consider a good sleeping bag, determined by your needs and the climate you'll be sleeping in, with a liner essential equipment. In the winter, consider a serious down filled sleeping bag, mummy style and with a temperature rating into the lows end of what you can encounter. In the summer, go with a lighter bag, and consider mosquito netting for your windos, as you'll want to let some air circulate through the vehicle while you sleep, things can get pretty gross and muggy in a fully sealed vehicle for 8 hours.
If it's nice enough out, you can opt to sleep in the box. Add a piece of plywood to block the ridges and an air matters to the equation and enjoy a starry night.
How To Cook And Clean Up: Food storage and preparation is basically camping-style. Your best bet for storage is a cooler, the highest quality one that you can get your mitts on, like a Coleman Xtreme 70 Quart, and line the bottom with bricks of ice instead of crushed or cubed ice. My family used brick ice extensively while camping in wall tents in the summers, as it lasts longer than cubes and helps keep the most perishable food items safer (ie cold) for longer.
Freezing items that will be cooked later is also a really great way to extend shelf life.
Portable stoves and grills are also an excellent idea. Small grills and stoves make food preparation a snap and keep fire marshals and park rangers off your case, and really, your camping pots and pans will do the trick for simple meal preparation.
Keep a dish basin and biodegradable soap and make sure to cook and clean up well away from where you plan to sleep. A tailgate with bacon grease on it is going to attract the wrong (probably ursine) crowd.
Gotta Go? As far as I'm concerned, a roll of toilet paper and wet wipes are a must-have if you're sleeping rough in your vehicle. Wes has elaborated on the finer points in his How To Poop In The Woods article. The short version: dig a hole with a trowel, have a stable support, do what you need to do and then bury it afterwards. Use biodegradable toilet paper, carry out the wet wipes in something sealable. And for god's sake don't shit where people work. It has happened to me. It is gross.
Personal Hygiene: With limited washing facilities in the middle of nowhere, there are a few viable options. If you can find somewhere with shower facilities, use them first. If you're actually planning to stay in your vehicle, portable showers are available that heat water with sunlight and work pretty well. Or, check out this pressure shower from Nemo which efficiently sprays you clean and can do double duty washing dishes or dogs.
Don't soap-up directly in lakes or streams, that's for assholes. I'll add that wet wipes are an excellent way to freshen up if you've been out in the wilds for a few days without facilities or an abundance of water. It's not glamorous by any stretch, but not smelling like you just spent the last x-number of days sleeping in your vehicle is nice, no?
Have you ever lived out of a truck? Share your tips, trick and stories.
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