Right now is an excellent time to get into car camping. Not only is the trend booming, which means lots of choices when it comes to tents and equipment, but many of the vehicles are ideally suited to spending a little time outdoors. Even better, that vehicle doesn’t need to be massive or expensive. But it does make sense to think about what type of camping is right for you and your family — and what type of vehicle will make that happen.
Want to explore the remote backcountry for a few weeks? You might need a pickup or SUV with true 4-wheel drive and room for gear. Just spending a night or two at a camping spot alongside a dirt road? A car with some ground clearance and perhaps all-wheel drive is probably plenty. Below is a list of new and used trucks, SUVs, and cars you might want to consider.
We also have some friendly advice on features you need to camp outdoors, plus tips on calculating payload and suggestions on engineering options you could need.
Best Trucks for Camping
2021 Ram 2500
Starting Price: $33,895
The Ram 2500 is an excellent outdoors vehicle because of how it stands out from its rivals. The Ram is the only 2500 series (3/4-ton) heavy-duty pickup that has a smooth-riding coil-sprung suspension. Yet it can handle a payload of well over a ton — that’s a lot of camping and off-road gear. The Ram’s 4WD system is stout and includes front and rear solid axles as well as low-range gearing. And you can option the Ram with some great features. The torque-rich Cummins diesel is not only reliable but also delivers an excellent cruising range. This would be a great truck to take on a long-distance adventure. See Ram 2500 models for sale near you
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2021 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Starting Price: $44,395
The Colorado ZR2 is Chevy’s most capable off-road pickup. The ZR2 has a specialized 2-inch taller suspension with increased wheel travel and locking differentials. Translation? It can traverse extreme terrain and get you to that remote camping location without breaking a sweat. The ZR2 can be optioned with a diesel, too, so it delivers a generous supply of torque and returns over 20 mpg on the highway. The ZR2 model does have a reduced payload rating, but at 1,350 pounds there should be ample weight capacity for even a weeklong camping trip. Plus, this is a midsize truck, so it’s very maneuverable on-road or off. And that’s important for exploring. See Chevrolet Colorado models for sale near you
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2021 Ford F-150
Starting Price: $28,940
The F-150 has long been the best-selling full-size pickup truck. To stay on top, Ford innovates. And this year’s F-150 refresh brought a stout hybrid model to the lineup. The hybrid is not only potent (there’s 570 lb-ft of torque) but it delivers a 20% boost in fuel economy. Better still, the Hybrid comes standard with a 2.4 kW onboard generator. A 7.2 kW generator is optional and can power just about every electrical device in your campsite — plus power tools. Generator options are available for other F-150 models, too. A tent (even a good one) is no fun in a big rainstorm. So the F-150’s optional max-recline front seats fold nearly flat to create a comfortable sleep spot right inside the cab. And because this is an F-150, there are plenty of secure attachment points in the bed to lock down all that gear. See Ford F-150 models for sale near you
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2021 Honda Ridgeline
Starting Price: $36,490
The Honda Ridgeline is unique amongst its pickup peers because it rides and handles more like a crossover SUV than a truck. It smooths out rough terrain, has solid fuel economy, and offers a high payload at just over 1,500 pounds. Under that bed, Honda designed a 7.3-cubic-foot storage trunk that can hold extra gear. It can also double as a cooler because there’s a drain plug. Every Ridgeline comes with all-wheel drive, but it doesn’t offer a low range. So, the Ridgeline can’t explore the same rough trail terrain as some other midsize trucks. But unless that’s a real priority, the Ridgeline is an excellent machine. And much of that goodness comes in the base vehicle, so you don’t need to load this machine up with expensive options to get a well-equipped and capable Ridgeline. See Honda Ridgeline models for sale near you
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2021 Jeep Gladiator
Starting Price: $33,565
One great thing about the Jeep Gladiator is that even its lowest-priced Sport model offers an exceptionally high level of off-road capability. And that’s where the most payload (1,700 pounds) comes in, too. The Gladiator drives very much like an old-school truck. But for camping and exploring the outdoors, Jeep makes the experience unlike any other. This is the only pickup that has removable doors, a removable roof, and a fold-down windshield. So you can really experience the outdoors as you hunt for the best place to camp. But be aware, the options and special packages can add up quickly. See Jeep Gladiator models for sale near you
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Best Cars, SUVs, and Vans for Camping
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Starting Price: $34,395
The Jeep Grand Cherokee’s off-road capabilities are well-known. Option one of these vehicles with Jeep’s best off-road kit and you’ll have an SUV that can negotiate some surprisingly difficult terrain. The off-road-specific Trailhawk model is an excellent package. It’s the top Grand Cherokee in terms of dirt prowess. The Grand Cherokee is built on a rugged chassis. Because of that, most models can handle about 1,300 pounds of payload. Fold the rear seat of the Grand Cherokee flat and there’s 63.3 cubic feet of cargo volume. For those who want to bring along a camping trailer, the Jeep’s maximum towing capacity of 7,200 pounds places it in rarified air in terms of hauling ability for its size. And it’s one of the last mainstream SUVs in this class to offer a V8. See Jeep Grand Cherokee models for sale near you
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2021 Ford Bronco Sport
Starting Price: $26,820
The new Bronco Sport is excellent for camping because Ford designed this vehicle for outdoorsy folks. The rear cargo hatch has a smart flip-up glass window and the roof racks are designed to accommodate rooftop tents. There’s a slide-out table that’s part of a cargo management system, and even cargo lights built into the tailgate. Plus, there’s over 65 cubic feet of space with the rear seat folded. There are built-in cargo tie-downs, and the Bronco Sport has a payload capacity of around 1,100 pounds. That’s an impressive combination for such a small SUV. Some models also have a rubberized cargo floor, which should make post-camping cleanup a breeze. And the Sport lives up to the Bronco name in the dirt. All-wheel drive comes standard, and an even more capable (and powerful) Badlands model is available. And every model has easy-to-use terrain modes so that campers can be ready at the twist of a knob to explore sandy, muddy, or snowy trails. See Ford Bronco Sport models for sale near you
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2021 Subaru Outback
Starting Price: $26,795
Since the 1990s, the Subaru Outback has been the ultimate camping car. The Outback is a surprisingly large vehicle, so when you fold that rear seat down there’s 75 cubic feet of space for cargo. And every Outback comes with a stout roof rack. Thanks to its taller ride height and excellent 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback is one SUV alternative that’s at home on a fairly rough bumpy off-road trail. Most Outbacks will come with X-Mode or Dual X-Mode with settings for snow/dirt and deep snow/mud to manage the all-wheel-drive system, which can get you out of some fairly tricky off-road scenarios. Subarus don’t have low-range gearing, so technical four-wheeling is out.
However, the upcoming 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness model comes the closest yet to that capability with 9.5 inches of ground clearance thanks to a lifted suspension. It also has better gearing, improved approach and departure angles, and more aggressive off-road tires. Oh, and Subaru says the Outback Wilderness roof rack can support a static load of 700 pounds. That’s perfect for two sleeping in a rooftop tent. See Subaru Outback models for sale near you
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2021 Toyota 4Runner
Starting Price: $36,590
The Toyota 4Runner might be one of the oldest vehicles in Toyota’s line, but its reputation for reliability, ease of maintenance, and durability make it a great buy for those looking to travel and camp in remote areas. The 4Runner is an old-school body-on-frame SUV, but it rides smoothly in the rough. Plus, it can take on a payload of around 1,500 pounds, more than most in this class. Just about every 4WD 4Runner is exceptionally capable but for camping, we’d probably choose the Trail Special Edition model as it comes with a handy Yakima roof basket and a 40-quart cooler made specifically for Toyota. The 4Runner’s trucky exterior dimensions mean there’s lots of room for stuff inside. There’s almost 48 cubic feet of room behind the back seat and almost 90 when it’s folded down. See Toyota 4Runner models for sale near you
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2021 Volvo V90 Cross Country
Starting Price: $54,900
The Volvo V90 Cross Country is a smart camping choice because despite looking elegant both inside and out, it’s a hard worker. Fold down that rear seat and you’ll have almost 70 cubic feet of hauling space, plus an additional 2.7 cubic feet hidden from view in an under-floor compartment. Volvo’s all-wheel-drive system is very effective and thanks to its generous 8.3 inches of ground clearance and five drive mode settings, the Cross Country can hunt down a remote campsite without scraping up the undercarriage. There’s even a hill descent control function that automatically engages when the off-road mode is selected. Want to tow a small camper? The Volvo can handle a 3,500-pound trailer. That’s impressive. And on the days when it’s not scrambling up a two-track to a campsite, the Cross Country is a luxurious and potent daily driver. See Volvo V90 models for sale near you
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2021 Chrysler Pacifica
Starting Price: $35,045
The list of virtues that embody the humble minivan runs deep. Few vehicles can match them for sheer people (and cargo) hauling ability. Chrysler has always been at the head of the pack with minivan innovation. And when you option the Chrysler Pacifica with Stow ‘n Go seating, the second and third rows fold below deck, making for a completely flat load floor with 140 cubic feet of space. And that’s a perfect spot for two (or more) people to stretch out and snooze. The Pacifica is one of the few vans that offers the option of all-wheel drive. This isn’t an off-road capable system per se. After all, there’s only 5.4 inches of ground clearance. But drive carefully and the system will certainly help the Pacifica scramble up a hilly dirt road much easier than a 2WD model. And these all-wheel-drive vans are surprisingly efficient too, delivering up to 25 mpg on the highway. See Chrysler Pacifica models for sale near you
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Mercedes-Benz Metris Getaway
Starting Price: $62,559
This van might just be the ultimate camping machine because in many ways it’s a modern-day version of the old VW Vanagon Westfalia. Mercedes-Benz’s utilitarian, rear-drive Metris is one very stout small van. It’s one that can handle more than a ton of payload. Mercedes-Benz partnered with upfitter Driverge to create a pop-top camper that seats five, sleeps four, and has some neat options like a fold-out kitchen, 8-foot awning, and even a portable solar panel. Best of all, the van can be closed up and used for the daily commute hauling people or kids, just like any other minivan. It’s very cool. The downside? This van is costly. The Getaway option adds $25,719 to the Metris’ base price of $36,840. But this one vehicle does the job of both a minivan and an RV. Plus it can tow a hefty 5,000 pounds. We want one. See Mercedes-Benz Metris models for sale near you
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10 Best Used Cars and SUVs for Camping
2009-2011 Honda Element
Price Range: $8,400-$10,500
Honda’s Element is a boxy crossover that acts like a tiny van. The Element is tall and spacious inside — perfect for a camping vehicle. Fold the rear seat down and the seats become a bed of sorts. Or you can remove all but the front two and you’ll have minivan levels of cargo space. It’s incredibly versatile. And thanks to those cargo-style doors, loading this microvan is a snap. Shop for one that’s equipped with Honda’s all-wheel-drive system. It’s not a true off-road vehicle because it shares the same basic chassis with the Honda CR-V, but with careful driving an all-wheel-drive Element can take you fairly deep into the bush. For the most driving fun, find one with a manual transmission. The Element has a solid reputation for reliability, so this is one camping machine that should serve for years to come. See Honda Element models for sale near you
2012-2018 Jeep Wrangler
Price Range: $20,000-$30,000
The Wrangler JK is easily the most popular and successful Wrangler of all time. These Jeeps were sold from the 2007 model year up until 2018 when they wore a “JK Wrangler” decal on their fenders and were offered alongside the all-new JL. In the U.S., Jeep moved more than 1.6 million of these machines over that production run. In 2012, Wranglers received an all-new 3.6-liter V6 which, along with the interior upgrade the previous year, transformed the vehicle. Our pick would be a Rubicon model for its sheer off-road capability. No other vehicle offers as much trail traction. But any model Unlimited (4-door) with a hardtop would make a good camping machine as long as the trails are moderate. The Wrangler’s popularity helped cultivate strong aftermarket support. In other words, there’s a whole universe of replacement parts and upgrades available. Just make sure to keep an eye on the weight of all those accessories. See Jeep Wrangler models for sale near you
2016-2020 Toyota Land Cruiser
Price Range: $60,000-$84,000
The Toyota Land Cruiser carries a legendary reputation for capability and reliability. They’re basically bulletproof. These machines were overbuilt and make challenging off-road conditions seem easy. The ride is always smooth and this generation of Land Cruiser used a monstrous 5.7-liter V8 for effortless acceleration and off-road torque. In 2016, they were upgraded with an 8-speed automatic, but fuel economy is still fairly poor at around 14 mpg combined. Land Cruisers are packed with luxury and are so well-made that used ones should result in years of trouble-free service. The Land Cruiser is a full-size SUV, so when you remove the third row of seating, there’s 82.8 cubic feet of space for your gear. And that, combined with the solid 1,300-pound payload and tow capacity of 8,100 pounds, means the Cruiser is a great camping workhorse. See Toyota Land Cruiser models for sale near you
2017-2019 VW Golf Alltrack
Price Range: $18,300-$26,400
Think of the Golf Alltrack as VW’s Subaru Outback. Based on the Golf, the Alltrack is a taller, all-wheel-drive Golf wagon with 1.4 inches more ground clearance (6.9 inches) than the front-drive Sportwagen. And that should be enough room beneath the chassis to traverse a rutted dirt road without doing damage. The all-wheel-drive system can divert up to half the torque to the rear axle, and there’s a hill descent mode for tackling steep dirt hills. The cool thing about a taller AWD wagon like this VW compared to an SUV? Its shorter roof height makes loading stuff up there much easier. And the VW is thrifty at the pump. Its turbocharged engine returns an excellent 30 mpg on the freeway. The Golf is small on the outside but quite roomy inside with 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the 60/40 rear seat folded down. The least expensive S is well equipped, so if luxury touches aren’t important, you can save a few bucks. See Volkswagen Golf Alltrack models for sale near you
2014-2018 Subaru Forester
Price Range: $11,800-$20,700
The Forester is Subaru’s compact crossover and it packs much of the same capability as the company’s legendary Outback. This Forester, which was all-new for 2014, included a more potent 250-horsepower turbocharged XT model — one of the most entertaining SUVs Subaru has ever made. The company’s smart X-Mode debuted in this generation. It uses electronics to fight wheelspin and maintain forward momentum. The system works really well and makes the Forester more capable off-road than one might imagine. Fold those seats down and you’ll have a cavernous 74.7 cubic feet of space to fit your mountain bikes, tents, and coolers. Subaru knows its customers like to load up the roof rack, so it’s designed to take almost 200 pounds when driving or 700 when the vehicle is parked, for rooftop tenting. See Subaru Forester models for sale near you
2018-2020 Buick Regal TourX
Price Range: $18,700-$30,300
For a short time, Buick produced its own, rather convincing take on the Subaru Outback. The Regal TourX is an all-wheel-drive wagon that has a potent 250-horsepower turbocharged engine and 8-speed automatic. It’s a smooth-riding machine. Unlike the Outback, the Buick has just 5.7 inches of clearance. That’s not enough for serious off-roading but plenty for a camping trip down a dirt road. The Regal is cool because it can really swallow a lot of gear — 32.7 cubic feet with all the seats in place or 73.5 with them folded — just slightly more than the Outback. The anchor points in the cargo hold are movable, which is neat, and Buick says the roof rack can handle an impressive 220 pounds. The only real drawback here is the vehicle’s sheer scarcity. See Buick Regal models for sale near you
2016-2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Price Range: $20,400-$25,100
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid launched in 2016 and provided a major boost in fuel economy as well as an innovative electronically managed all-wheel-drive system. That hybrid tech allows this RAV4 to hit 34 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. Even better, the hybrid’s battery pack doesn’t compromise cargo-hauling, because there’s still a solid 71 cubic feet of space when the rear seat is folded. If the notion of a small, fuel-efficient, and roomy camping machine sounds appealing, the RAV4 Hybrid might be one to check out. See Toyota RAV4 Hybrid models for sale near you
2010-2013 Chevrolet Suburban 2500
Price Range: $18,000-$27,500
When you need an SUV that can handle serious work, the Suburban is always a good tool. The most capable of the breed is the 2500 or 3/4-ton variety — a model that equates to a heavy-duty pickup truck in terms of its hauling ability. The 2013 Suburban was the last of this generation, and it came with a hulking 6.0-liter V8. The Suburban 2500 can haul nine passengers, carry around 2,200 pounds, and tow almost 10,000 pounds. This is a great platform to load down with camping gear for the long haul because this Chevy can easily handle the extra weight. And because the Suburban is so long it’s roomy enough for two or more to sleep with lots of space left over. Downsides? Fuel economy is pretty terrible and these 2500 models are rare, so you’ll struggle to find them for sale. See Chevrolet Suburban models for sale near you
2011-2015 Nissan Xterra
Price Range: $9,800-$15,400
One of the coolest Nissan SUVs was the Xterra. The original model launched in 2000 as a bare-bones, budget-friendly 4×4. It sold well. When it hit in 2005, the larger second-generation model used a big 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6. This Xterra offered more room inside and more capability. The 2011 model year brought the highly capable PRO-4X package with larger tires, a locking rear differential, and Bilstein dampers. It was an excellent off-roader, one that was offered in both manual and automatic transmission. The Xterra was like Nissan’s 4Runner, so expect the two to have similar performance on-road and off. Inside, the Xterra is utilitarian and offers about 66 cubic feet of space with the rear seat folded. What’s cool is that every Xterra comes with a roof rack rated to 150 pounds. Some also have a gear basket that can handle 30 pounds on its own. See Nissan XTerra models for sale near you
2008-2014 Chevrolet Express 1500 AWD
Price Range: $10,000-$17,400
Want a camping van with all-wheel traction but don’t want to spend tens of thousands on a new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4? Chevrolet offered an all-wheel-drive option on its 1500 Series full-size Express van from 2003 to 2014. Under the hood? GM’s strong 310-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8. The AWD option allows this van to leave the pavement behind and tackle some mild but adventurous terrain on the way to the campsite. The light-duty 1500 series trucks rode on a 135-inch wheelbase and delivered a maximum cargo capacity of 216.2 cubic feet. That’s enough room to set this rig up nicely for camping adventures. Just keep an eye on the weight of those accommodations, as the van’s near 1,600-pound payload could be used up quickly. We’d add slightly taller all-terrain tires for a bit more ground clearance and have a blast with this truck. See Chevrolet Express models for sale near you
The Features Your Vehicle Needs for Camping
The Case for All-Wheel Drive
Campsites and the roads that lead to them are incredibly varied. Some sites can be accessed from the pavement and have bathrooms nearby, which is quite convenient. But many recreational campers want to tread a little further away from civilization. And that means leaving the paved roads behind. Dirt roads that lead to remote locations tend to become a little less like roads and more like trails the farther you go. If this sounds like a fun adventure, consider choosing a vehicle with all-wheel drive and more ground clearance than a typical car.
To reach truly remote locations, you’ll need to take off-road trails. Go for a vehicle with a classic 4-wheel-drive system that includes low-range gearing. In short, be sure to know the type of terrain you want to explore before buying a vehicle.
The Deeper You Go, the More You Bring
Pack your vehicle for just one overnight, and you will realize just how much stuff is required to camp out. The longer your trip, the more things you’ll need to bring with you. Extra food, water, and clothing take up space and add weight. Venture further into the wild in a 4×4 and you might want some specialized off-road equipment, too. To be well prepared for off-road exploring, stock your vehicle with basic emergency supplies, recovery gear, and perhaps a few tools, too, should something break — and something usually does. Yes, this stuff will add even more weight to your vehicle.
Storage Space and Payload
How much cargo space do you need?
Once you have an idea where you might travel and for how long, you can zero in on the best vehicles for that lifestyle. No surprise, a larger SUV, pickup truck, or van will provide the most space and have the ability to carry more weight. But smaller vehicles are more maneuverable and easier to manage on tight trails.
Many campers strike a balance – they get vehicles that can carry lots of equipment and remain highly maneuverable. That’s why it’s essential to know how many cubic feet (cu-ft) of cargo space is available with the seats up and with them folded. This will provide a standardized number for comparisons, and it will help you figure out if the vehicle you’re eyeing can carry what you will need.
How much cargo weight can your car carry?
You need to know how much weight the vehicle can handle – that is called the payload. This spec can be found on the inside of the driver’s door jamb or in the owner’s manual. Be aware, the total payload weight can add up very quickly. For example, a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has a payload that ranges from around 850 pounds up to 1,300 pounds, depending on how the vehicle is optioned from the factory.
That number doesn’t just count the weight of the cargo on board; it also includes the people. So two 200-pound passengers and their gear could take up a sizable chunk of Wrangler payload. And that’s assuming the Wrangler owner has not bolted on serious off-roading equipment. That electric winch and those heavy-duty steel bumpers add serious weight.
Tents and Rooftop Tents
One way to shave some weight from the camping equation is to forgo the tent option and sleep inside your vehicle. But generally, tents aren’t too heavy unless you opt for the rooftop variety. Rooftop tents are popular, especially for overlanding, which is long-distance off-road camping. They can provide a great sleeping experience because many are roomy, include plush mattresses, and are high off the ground (away from critters).
Plus they save space inside the cargo hatch for other gear. But these tents can be heavy, ranging from around 80 pounds up to 200 pounds. That extra heft eats into your vehicle’s available payload. And because the heavy tent is also up high, it can affect the vehicle’s handling on the road and off.
How much does all your camping gear weigh?
Let’s pack up for a virtual weekend camping trip and find out what kind of weight a typical trip could add to a vehicle. These weights are just an approximation and could vary wildly depending upon what you might want to bring. We are packing for two people on this mock adventure who each weigh 180 pounds, plus a 40-pound dog.
Rooftop tent: 130 pounds
Sleeping bags and pads: 6 pounds
Clothing and toiletries: 15 pounds
Four gallons of water: 32 pounds
Three days of food: 12 pounds
Propane stove and fuel: 20 pounds
Cooking equipment/mess kit: 6 pounds
Two folding camp chairs: 20 pounds
Large cooler: 25 pounds
Shovel and tool kit: 10 pounds
Miscellaneous (soap, trash bags, etc.): 20 pounds
Gear total: 296 pounds
The combined weight of our adventurers and all this gear is 696 pounds. That’s quite a bit of weight. The good news is that plenty of SUVs carry a payload rating right around 1,000 pounds. However, packing for longer camping trips could require more weight capacity.
When shopping for a good camping vehicle, look for intelligent ways that automakers help make gear-hauling easier. Here are a few we have found.
Toyota offers a sliding rear cargo deck for the 4Runner. It is rated at 440 pounds and has two positions, the farthest of which slides out past the bumper and can make loading gear easier. Similarly, Ford offers a cool cargo management system for the new Bronco Sport. It allows you to create shelves and separators in the cargo hold. You can even remove the unit and use it as a camp table.
Chrysler’s Pacifica goes beyond the minivan’s inherent usefulness by offering Stow ‘n Go seating. At the touch of a button, the second- and third-row seats can disappear beneath the floor. That allows for a completely flat platform behind the front seats — a perfect space to sleep.
Ford offers the option of several onboard generators for the F-150, which can help power lots of equipment around a campsite. In addition, this summer, the Ford F-150 will be available with an onboard cargo scale, to make sure your don’t overload your truck with gear. Another upcoming feature, a continuously controlled damping system, smooths out the ride by compensating for gear in the bed or a trailer on the hitch. And Honda offers official tents through its accessory division for both the Pilot and Ridgeline.
The Honda Ridgeline’s underfloor storage can be used as a cooler. This is similar to the available bedside storage in the Ram 1500, Nissan Titan, and Toyota Tundra and Tacoma Trail Editions.