Car Camping: A Beginner's Guide

When I say car camping that might conjure up images of sleeping under the fluorescent lights of a Walmart parking lot with foggy windows. Not so! Car camping is a great way to see the country on a budget and have a great time doing so. Here’s what I’ve learned that I think is important for anyone looking to camp in their car to know.

Window Coverings

Window Coverings are something that should be so obvious but is very often overlooked when car camping for your first time. Making sure that you have privacy in your car is essential and might help to give you some peace of mind. As I drive an SUV, I have eight windows to cover: windshield, front l/r, middle l/r, back l/r, and rear. My current system consists of the following: one command hook in the upper l/r corners of the middle, back, and rear windows. I then cut up a large piece of felt I bought, added some holes for the hooks, and hang the sheets when it’s time to hit the hay. I then toss a blanket over the front tow seats to block the view from all the front windows.

“Will I be able to breathe?”

Yes. Cars are not hermetically sealed an as long as you keep your vents open you should be able to breathe quite easily. If you have more than one person in the vehicle or are in a climate that’s somewhere between 64-74 degrees, I’d maybe recommend opening the sunroof a crack or dropping the windows by an inch or so to allow for increased airflow.

Power

Making sure your phone and electronics are always charged is always important. While I’m driving I use and inverter I bought from Lowes for $50 that gives me 300 watts which is perfect for powering my laptop. Otherwise, I have a Yeti 150 battery that can charge from on-board car port, USB 2.0 ports, or even an AC plug. The box says it can provide up to 25 phone charges or 2 full laptop charges. It’s been a life saver for sure!

Storage

Organization is key while camping out of your car. With such a small space, it’s important to have things contained so you have room to sleep. My current system is a collection of stackable plastic totes that I store food, utensils, etc. in that are kept along the passenger-side of the vehicle. It makes it easy to get food when in the back or re-stock food after shopping. I also carry all the items I won’t immediately need in a Yakima on my roof. Of course you don’t need this, but it’s nice to have the extra cabin space. I carry my clothes in a regular luggage case and then place the case on the driver’s seat before I head to bed to give me extra room in the back.

Bedding

If you think sleeping in a car has to be uncomfortable you’re definitely mistaken. I often find myself sleeping longer and better in my car than in my own bed! My setup for my car bedding is a memory foam pad that I place over-top of the stowed seats, an open sleeping bag on-top of that, a down comforter on that which can be removed during summer, and a light blanket on that. It’s a very versatile setup that I’ve used from 20 degree weather in Wyoming to the high desert in Nevada.

Gear

Make sure you bring a headlamp! You don’t want to keep your car lights on before you head to bed and risk running your battery down so I always shut everything off and resort to just using my headlamp when I’m winding down. I also recommend getting a lantern to set/hang somewhere in your vehicle to provide some extra light, especially while eating. There are also a multitude of batter-powered air filters that can keep the car just a bit more fresh-smelling in the mornings which can be handy when staying in your car for weeks on end.

Finding A Spot

Whenever I go car camping, I try to camp at distributed camping locations or parks. I very seldom camp in cities. Not only do I feel more at peace in the wilderness, but the morning views are way better anyway. To find campsites I use a combination of Google Maps, travel blogs, and Pocket Earth. I’ll find a general region I want to stop in, load it in Pocket Earth, and start looking for identified camp sites that would work to pull a vehicle into. Easy!


Camping in your car can be a great way to see the country and travel cheap! I’ve been doing it on-and-off for about a year now and would like to think I’m starting to get the hang of it, but if you have any questions of suggestions, feel free to drop a comment below!