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Car camping 101: beginner's guide to sleeping in your car
by Canvas • December 18, 2018


Looking for an adventurous AND economical way to take a vacation? Why not camp out in the comfort of your car. Real car camping does not entail sleeping upright in your compact VW Bug. Instead, it means turning your vehicle into a comfortable place to stay overnight and a well-stocked headquarters for your trip. It’s also a great activity for those who enjoy an organizational challenge. Though numerous guides for car camping exist, we’re sharing our top tips for beginners!

Design a comfortable sleeping space

First things first - make sure that you’ve invested in a decent foam or air mattress for your sleeping space. If you have an SUV, you will be able to fit one in the back fairly easily when you fold down the second row (or third row) of seats. In a compact vehicle, you may have to get a bit more creative. Still, you should be able to fit in a comfortable sleeping pad, bag or air mattress along with a cushy pillow. Unlike other camping situations, you won’t have to carry your bedding on your back or worry about packing and unpacking it each day. You can roll it up or leave as is and be on your way.

Pick the right parking spot

Car camping often means you can avoid camping fees and park wherever you are legally allowed. You do need to be careful and not park in an isolated area where you are unprotected. Some churches and retail stores will let you park in their lots, although you should always ask permission before doing so.

You may also car camp for free outside of designated camping areas in national forests. Called “disperse camping,” this practice is only allowed when you are at least a mile away from designated campsites and may involve being parked far from other campers. For safety’s sake, disperse camping should be done in a group and not alone. Also, remember not to start a campfire away from an approved area, and when you leave your camping spot, leave no trace behind.

You can also check out websites that list free car camping areas. Just make sure to double check that the entry dates are not outdated before heading to your camping destination.

Pack only the necessities

When it comes to packing for your car camping trip - more is definitely not more. Trust us on this one: the last thing you’ll want to endure during your car camping adventure is tons of clutter overcrowding your space. Your camping checklist might include these essentials:

  • Navigation gear

  • First Aid Kit

  • Headlamp and extra batteries

  • Chargers for your phones and other devices

  • Extra food and potable water - at least a day’s more than you think you’ll need.

  • Several changes of clothing.

  • A good-quality cooler.

Obviously, you might want to customize this list to fit your needs! But remember, being in a cramped vehicle for days is pretty unpleasant. Don’t drown yourself in stuff.

Hygiene measures

Some people can comfortably camp for several days and use only wet wipes and deodorant to stay fresh. If daily bathing is important to you, plan ahead and locate places that offer free or low-priced showers. Some campgrounds allow the public to use their showers. The YMCA is still a good place to go to clean up. You can also locate truck stops on your route that charge a nominal fee to shower. If you’re feeling pretty crafty, you can construct a DIY rudimentary shower and take it with you on the road.

Staying warm in the winter

It is definitely possible to comfortably car camp in cold weather, but you will need to bring few additional supplies. You can place reflective foam insulation on your windows to keep heat inside your vehicle. Simply buy some at a local home improvement store and cut it to fit your windows. Tape will keep it in place at night.

Also, you’ll want to sleep fully dressed in several layers. You should bring a winter sleeping bag or a number of heavy blankets. Although portable car heaters are available, they can pose a co2 danger. They should only be used while you are awake and with a window cracked to get the car interior warm. Then, your window insulation should help keep that warmth inside of the car for some time, allowing you to sleep comfortably.

Canvas cars

If you don’t have a vehicle or your current model is not a good choice for camping, you should check out a Canvas car subscription. From SUVs to trucks, there are tons of great cars to choose from. Simply pick your vehicle, your mileage package, and your subscription length. Comprehensive insurance, warranty, maintenance and roadside assistance are all included.

Once you have mastered car camping, you may never go near a tent or hotel again. This form of camping makes travel affordable and flexible, allowing you to enjoy your fresh air adventure (without breaking the bank). You can go where you want when you want with little planning. Feel free to hit the beach, head for the forest, hike the great outdoors or mountain bike some scenic paths. The options are endless!