We've pitched a few tents in our time, and we're no strangers to camping. Still, when a 2013 Ram 1500 pulled into the driveway with plans to stick around for a month, we realized we'd never tested a truck-bed tent.
We crossed that off the vehicular to-do list this past weekend, when we split our 30 Days of the 2013 Ram 1500 and our Atlanta-to-Little-Rock road trip down the middle with an overnight at Mississippi's John W. Kyle State Park, courtesy the Ram and a Napier Sportz Truck Tent.
The tent line is one of a few designed to turn the bed of a truck into usable camping storage or sleeping space. Our version converted the truck bed itself into an above-ground sleeping platform; other versions leave the tent floor on the ground, and turn the cargo end of an SUV, a wagon, even a hatchback into a dry hold for all the gear you'll inevitably bring along.
In our case, that extra stuff included an iPad, camera equipment, a tripod, a rolling bag with camping extras and a heavy-duty sleeping bag...and possibly a cooler with ice and some other liquid "photo props."
Once we parked at the state park's inexpensive, well-outfitted camp sites, we set up the Ram's rendition of a Mississippi five-star hotel. Retailing for $309.99, and shipped along with a $69.99 full-size air mattress, the Mossy Oak camouflage tent comes in its own storage bag that expands, just in case you can't fold it all back neatly. That wouldn't pose a problem: the tent we camped in to cover Pebble Beach last year is twice as cantankerous and half again as old.
Setup is fairly simple. If you're used to today's casual camping gear, the system of expanding poles, clips, and grommets is exactly the same with the pickup tents. The only difference: Napier's tents have a sewn-in floor that's shaped to fit all the major full-size pickups. Two sizes are designed for Crew Cab and Regular Cab models, but the beds shouldn't be long 8-footers. We laid out ours into the Ram 1500's 5.75-foot bed for a perfect fit--so far.
You can flip through the photos above to see the process from start to finish; that would take more time than it will to explain the process. You simply fasten the tent's floor straps around the fenders and tailgate to hold it in place; expand the color-coded poles, and slide them through the correct sleeves; then flex the poles into grommets or tent pockets to raise the roof to its maximum 5'6" interior height. There's some tightening and loosening of the straps that will help optimize the setup--to get the best fit, the tent should overlap the fenders enough to show off the logo, we found--but otherwise, the few steps only take time when you're doing them single-handed.
The one recommendation we have--and the one flaw we found with the tent--was its directions. The color-coded poles fit only in certain ways, and our tent was sent with a printed set of instructions for another product, one with poles of different colors. Even with that, it didn't take anything smarter than a liberal-arts major to translate our colors to the directions, and the correct instructions were available online--just a few taps away on the iPad thanks to our Ram's Uconnect wireless Internet access. A 45-minute setup on the first try would be less than 30 minutes every time after that.
It also comes with a protective rain fly, has an extended 4x4 awning (which we left rolled over the front opening), and two side windows, as well as one at the truck cab wall that lets you reach into the cab if you need.