Outdoor adventures sometimes require an early start. If you need more space or time to set up tents, sleeping in your car close to a trailhead is an alternative. You can also protect your rig from the elements by spending the night there.
These are some tips and tricks to make your next car trip more enjoyable, comfortable, and organized. We will discuss where to park, how to pack, and some creative upgrades.
When car camping, be sure to adhere to Leave No Trace principles as well as common sense safety precautions. Never sleep in a vehicle that has its engine running.
Get out of the way, and learn what permits you require
Every car sleeper must first answer the following question: Where do I park? You can find legal places to stay with apps such as AllStays or Hipcamp. You can choose from a range of paid and free locations to set up your night. U.S. U.S. Forest Service roads are generally available for overnight camping and parking. You should follow any temporary or local exceptions and display any permits or passes as required. Dispersed camping can be found in many national forests and the Bureau of Land Management areas.
Get your campsite set up
Once you have secured a parking space that permits overnight camping, place your tent in a shaded area. Avoid crowding other campers staying the night close to your vehicle when it is time for you to unload it. For a complete list of essentials for camping, see our camping checklist. This includes items such as a folding table and camp chairs. A camp stove can help make your trip more comfortable. If you’re new to camping, our Camping Basics article will help you get started.
Lay down with your head towards the front of the car
Although flat places are preferred, they may only be available in some areas or on windy Forest Service roads. If you are positioned at an angle, ensure your head is not below your feet. You will have more elbow space if you sleep with your head towards the front of the vehicle, as most cars have wheel wells at their backs that take up valuable space. Is comfort still lacking? These camping hacks are available to REI Co-op Members and staff.
Prepare with the ten essentials
The 10 Essentials are equally important on a road trip as on a trail.
Keep your electronics charged
It cannot be easy to keep your electronics charged while driving. Even though you can set your devices while the car runs, it won’t work overnight. You can keep your smartphone, tablet, or camera charged with a solar panel or any other portable power source for your trip. Which one is best for you? Find out more about how to choose portable power.
Store food in your car but in a cooler
It takes a few minutes to get hungry when you go car camping. The camp kitchen checklist will help you decide what utensils or food to take on your adventure. It would be best to plan to have all your food in your car while camping. Consider packing a cooler to prevent perishables such as meat, eggs, and milk from spoiling. Pro tip: Before adding food to your cooler, chill it with ice or blocks. Our article Food Storage & Handling for Backpackers has more information about food handling while car camping.
Buy a comfortable bed
The best thing about sleeping in your car is not carrying your bed around. You can spend more on heavy, cushier mats, pillows, or blankets. Either bring a small camping pillow or a large one. You should also remember that it can be just as cold in cars as in tents at night so bring an insulated blanket such as a Rumpl or a temperature-rated sleeping bag. Do you need help determining which sleeping bag or pad is best for car camping? Our experts will help you choose the right sleeping pad for car camping.
Create your drive-in movie
Relax after a long day driving or exploring by watching a movie on your smartphone. Make sure you have downloaded your content before you travel to areas with poor Wi-Fi coverage.
Use a headlamp to lighten the room or hang lanterns
You don’t have to be ready for bed at night just because you are comfortable. Hang lanterns and headlamps off your car handles to brighten your interior, whether you’re reading, organizing, or cuddling with your pup. Another reason to have a headlamp with you on the road is: You can use it to lighten the path when the dark comes in or for hiking at dawn and dusk.
Stay squeaky clean
You may not be able to use a sink or shower if you sleep in your car. You can keep your hygiene high with a fully-stocked, road-ready toiletry kit. This includes items that only require a little water, such as no-rinse shampoo or hand sanitizer.
Open a window to vent
Breathing in a car all night can cause fogging and moisture buildup. Ventilation is essential. Your sunroof should be opened just enough to prevent animals or people from getting in. Cut a piece of cheap mesh about 2 to 3 inches larger than the opening. To keep bugs out, stuff the edges around the door. Voila, no moisture. Before you go to bed, dry as much of your wet clothes as possible. Keep a squeegee handy if you need it to clean your windows the following day.
Shine and rise (when you wish to)
Although cars are great for moving around, they could be better at blocking out light or sound. Cordage or bungees can create privacy and block out the sun. You can hang curtains behind the front seats and on the windows. This will give you a bedroom feel. You can bring earplugs to prevent late arrivals, early risers, or other sleep disturbances. This is especially important if your vehicle is parked in an area that is not very private.