SUV or truck owners with a penchant for camping will no doubt confirm that some vehicles are far better suited to the task than others. We've highlighted some of our favorite used trucks and SUVs to take on a camping trip, whether it's due to their high ground clearance, towing capabilities, aftermarket accessories or unique features designed for recreation. We've also included vehicles for just about every budget so that a variety of shoppers can enjoy a wilderness adventure.
2006 Chevrolet Avalanche
Chevrolet's full-size Avalanche pickup offers all the rugged tools shoppers will need for a long haul camping trip. In addition to hefty ground clearance that can tackle nearly any terrain, the Avalanche boasts four full-size doors and an interior that's large enough to comfortably carry four adventure-seeking adults. The Avalanche also offers a healthy 8,000-lb towing capacity in base-level 1500 trim, or a gargantuan 12,000 lb for the heavy-duty 2500 model--enough to pull just about any camping trailer. Expect to pay around $12,000 for a first-year 2002 model and around $19,000 for a 2006, or $23,000 and up for a redesigned, second-generation 2007 or later Avalanche.
2009 Ford Explorer
While the latest Explorer touts a car-based chassis and a smooth ride, the SUV's previous generation featured a more rugged truck-based platform until its demise after the 2009 model year. A first-year 2006 version of that model is easy to find around $13,000, while a well-equipped late-model example is likely to command up to $22,000 on the used market. In addition to a huge cargo area, the SUV offers available three-row seating, providing more than enough room to take the whole family camping. Best of all, the Explorer boasts a towing capacity as high as 7,300 lb, rendering it capable of carrying small or a midsize camper, just in case the family doesn't warm up to the idea of roughing it in a tent.
2004 Honda Element
Honda's boxy Element may have polarized buyers with its styling, but there was no doubting its versatility. Offered since 2003 and updated for the 2009 model year, the Element includes many novel features campers would likely appreciate. Among them are front and rear seats that fold completely flat, creating a bed for campers without a sleeping bag, and a cargo area that could be hosed down after removing muddy camping gear. Several aftermarket brands also offer large tents designed to extend the Element's generous cargo area, and some that even mount on top of the boxy SUV. Used Elements are also becoming very reasonably priced, with 2003 models easily available for under $10,000, and even revised 2009 models available for around $19,000 or less.
2006 Honda Ridgeline
We think Honda's car-based Ridgeline pickup is an excellent vehicle for occasional campers or serious wilderness junkies. One reason is its impressive ground clearance, which is due to a lifted suspension and large wheels and tires. It also boasts room for four inside and space for loads of gear in back, especially with an aftermarket camper top offered by several companies. But Honda aims our favorite Ridgeline feature at buyers who don't spring for the camper top: a waterproof in-bed storage compartment that functions much like a sedan's trunk. If the Ridgeline sounds like it might be the truck for you, we suggest considering a 2006 model. In addition to styling that mirrors today's Ridgeline, prices have fallen to around $17,000 for even low-mileage, well-maintained examples.
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep's midsize Grand Cherokee boasts robust styling and terrain-tackling ground clearance that renders it supremely capable in just about any situation--but those aren't the only reasons why we recommend it. Instead, our praise is due to a long list of camping accessories from Chrysler's aftermarket Mopar parts supplier. While buyers can get luggage carriers, bike racks and even tents from Mopar, the parts division goes the extra mile by providing buyers with an available Jeep Camper Trailer, which itself is offered with 35-inch mud terrain tires for off-roading. Our recommendation is a 2005 or later Grand Cherokee, which starts around $13,000 for a base-level early model and runs as high as $30,000 for a year-old upscale Limited model. Jeep also offers a high-performance Grand Cherokee SRT8, though we wouldn't recommend it for camping due to its low ground clearance and performance-oriented suspension.
2008 Nissan Pathfinder
Although we wouldn't take most car-based, unibody SUVs on an off-road trek to a camping site, the body-on-frame Pathfinder should have no problem with just about any expedition into the wilderness. Featuring an available V8 with 310 hp and robust torque figures, the Pathfinder boasts available third-row seating so your friends and family can join you away from civilization. The Pathfinder also includes a wide, boxy cargo area that can stow up to 79 cu ft of cargo with the seats folded, which places it among the top SUVs in its midsize segment. While just about any Pathfinder will make for a trail friendly camping vehicle, we specifically recommend the current body style, which debuted with a V6 in 2005. Used prices for that model can range from around $14,000 for a 2005 to around $21,000 for a V8-powered 2008, and can reach well above $35,000 for a well-equipped, lightly used 2011 or 2012 Pathfinder.
2005 Toyota Tacoma
Thanks to a rugged chassis, a reliable engine and a myriad of available body styles, Toyota's midsize Tacoma pickup is among the best vehicles for off-road chores. And with dozens of accessories available, from camper tops to tents and roof racks, it's easy to find camping equipment that will fit nearly any version of the pickup. We especially recommend 2005 and later models, which retain practically the same design as today's version--and we recommend a four-door "Double Cab" for buyers who want space for gear or fellow campers. Thanks to notoriously high Toyota resale values, it's hard to find even the least expensive 2005 model for under $17,000, but we think the truck's impressive capabilities make it worth the relatively high cost.
What it means to you: Whether your budget is large or small, many great SUVs and trucks are available if you're interested in a camping excursion.