There’s no way around it, car camping is sleeping in your car. Quarters will be cramped, storage space is a minimum, and you can’t even
shit Number 2 in a bucket if you need to like if you were in a van.
Still, car camping is the lowest barrier of entry as most own or have access to a car or SUV. Most people won’t be moving in fulltime on the road and may just want a weekend adventure, or a backup plan without having to rent an expensive hotel or sketchy Airbnb while traveling.
For some, the idea of throwing on a blanket, reclining their driver seat as far back as it will go, and eating at the local fast food joint comes to mind. There is a better, and much more comfortable way of going about it with some planning. Meet #carcamping.
Your first priority is comfort, a sleeping system. Fold down your rear seats, measure out the available space. Will it be just you? Could a partner or friend be traveling with you on an adventure?
Inspired by Dreamcase (an $800 commercial option for a car camping bed), I went down to my local Home Depot and purchased a sheet of 3/4″ plywood and two 4″ hinges for ~$75. The space available in the rear of my Ford Focus Hatchback fits a Twin size bed perfectly.
I then found a tri-fold memory foam mattress on Amazon for ~$100. 4″ of depth, folds to 25″ sections which will fold and perfectly fit in my rear cargo area when not in use https://amzn.to/2D6yhIB
The result? A ~$175 solution to a $800 problem that is just as comfortable with the added bonus of being self reliant for field repairs and maintenance.
You’ll likely want to stay comfortable in varying temperatures as you won’t be able to run your car constantly for climate control (unless you have a Prius, which has electric heat and A/C, one can dream). Next, you’ll want to figure out blankets, a sleeping bag.
Sleeping bags, the king of thermal efficiency in the cold. These aren’t my first choice as they can take some effort to get out of and can be restrictive. I’ll be carrying one for those really cold nights, but I think that I have a better solution.
Your car has a battery and built in generator while the engine is running. A low wattage heated blanket is a godsend in cold Car Camping weather. Layer this under your comforter and you should be well equipped for colder temperatures, with much comfort.
However, being stranded due to a dead battery is not only an inconvenience, it can also be downright dangerous depending on your location. An automatic battery disconnect is a godsend. The device will cut power to your auxiliary devices before your car’s battery drains to the point where it will no longer start your car.
I won’t go into too much detail, but all sorts of creature comfort items can be added. Such a power inverter to power your laptop, a 12V fridge to keep food cold, phone chargers, battery chargers for your flashlights, and so on.
The more power you’ll be using (such as watching YouTube before falling asleep each night), the more cycling and charging ability you’ll need to keep these devices charged.
Your next step would be a solar panel, charge controller, and a deep cycle car battery. A panel can be had for ~$150, a charge controller (which regulates the power from the panel to the car battery, it’s required) is around ~$30, and a deep cycle battery can be had for $150~$300 depending on quality.
Your car can be restarted to charge the battery if needed, but I’m geeky enough to think that solar is cool and inexpensive enough to be a major benefit. Imagine if you paired solar with a Prius ❤
Now that you have all of this equipment in your car, you may not have space (or never had room, to begin with) for your clothes, food, and needed gear. A rooftop cargo box can add additional space.
These aren’t cheap though. Quality systems for naked roofs are about ~$1,200 from name brands.
That’s about it for me, for now. There’s many other things that one should think of to have an enjoyable, and safe experience. Treat car camping like you are going tent camping deep in the woods, I know I’ll be bringing my backpacking gear with me.
And even if you don’t find yourself going on frequent weekend adventures, you can rest assured that no matter where you are, no matter the weather, you always have a warm, and comfortable place to stay.