Truck Bed Cover Pros and Cons

Should You Cover the Bed of Your Pickup?

Retrax truck bed cover review
The RETRAX cover installed and fully extended. (c) Dale Wickell

Should you leave your truck's bed open, cover it securely with a tonneau, or add a shell? The best solution for your needs depends on how you use your pickup truck.


An open truck bed allows easy access to all areas of the bed, along with the ability to haul tall cargo without removing a cover or pushing it out of the way (which often still prevents at least a portion of the bed from full use). Three downsides of an open truck bed are the lack of weather protection, no security for hauled items, and an increased chance of losing items from the bed as you drive.

Tonneau Type Truck Bed Covers

These are available in many styles and are made from a wide variety of materials. Go shopping and you'll find hard one-piece fiberglass bed covers, canvas tonneau covers, and roll-up and flip-up covers. Rigid, one piece truck bed covers look good and are durable, but they limit the size and shape of cargo that can be hauled without completely removing the cover. They lock securely, allowing you to safely store items in the truck bed.

  • Canvas bed covers can be easily removed and stored, providing full bed access, but they cannot be locked.
  • Roll-up and fold-up bed covers each have benefits and drawbacks, but most lock and can be a good compromise for truck owners who need to cover the truck bed at least part of the time. 
  • One benefit to having some type of tonneau is that they have been shown to improve fuel mileage by as much as a mile per gallon when compared to a truck with an open bed, whether the tailgate is up or down. (That benefit is controversial. Not everyone agrees the studies are accurate.)

Truck Bed Shells

These (usually called camper shells) come in all shapes and sizes and are usually made from aluminum or fiberglass. These shells are (usually) secure and offer excellent weather protection for your cargo. Most have windows and some are designed with a rear door or gate that opens upward and closes against the tailgate. Others shells have a standard door that extends down to the floor (you normally remove the tailgate).

Shell roof heights can vary greatly, depending on your needs, and they can even extend over the truck's cab. If you hunt or go camping, a shell provides a dry, covered sleeping area, and there are many types of bed accessories to make your sleep more comfortable (including the Air Bedz mattress).

The primary drawback to a camper shell is that the entire shell must be removed if you need to carry something that won't fit through the door or is too tall for the shell's height. It takes at least a few people to lift the shell off of the truck and place it into a storage area where it won't be damaged (and more help to get it back on the truck later). An additional drawback is that, if the shell is higher than the cab, it will create wind resistance that can lower fuel mileage.


Companies who manufacture tonneau type truck bed covers include:

  • Lund
  • Retrax
  • Truxedo

Companies who manufacture truck bed shells include:

  • A.R.E
  • Snugtop
  • Leer
  • Century