A Beginner’s Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep While Car Camping


Table of Contents


1. Space Needs While Sleeping in Your Car

2. Setting Up Your Bed

3. Pillow, Mattress, and Comforter

4. Window Coverings for Car Camping

5. Car Placement

 

You have decided that you want to go car camping to explore, travel or just to get outside and go. Making sure that you get a good night's sleep is a high priority or else that fun trip you’ve been planning will turn into a nightmare.

As you think about sleeping in your car, the first thing to consider is how you sleep at home. Do you spread out like a starfish, sleep like a mummy, or do you twirl like a ballet dancer? Liza sleeps like a starfish and I’m a ballerina mummy! Once you know how you sleep, you can plan for it.

Space Needs While Sleeping in Your Car

The next thing to figure out is the amount of space available in your car. For us, we drive a Honda CRV. To measure the potential space in the rear, we pushed the front seats up and bent them forward as far as they would go. This measurement is 84 inches by 50 inches, which is a good amount of space since I’m 68 inches tall (5’8”) and Liza is shorter.


Two giraffes

However, when you think about the total space, you need to factor in some other things. First, your standing height is not your sleeping height because your feet relax and extend forward. Additionally, you only use the bottom half of your pillow. My 68 inches is another six inches when factoring in both of those components, so I need around 74 inches in length for my sleeping space while car camping.

Setting Up Your Bed

Another thing to consider is how you will set up your bed when you camp in your car. Some vehicles are designed to have a completely flat surface from front to back. If your car is like that, that’s good news depending upon how much stuff you have to store and how much room you have to put those things. If you’re flying solo, one possibility is to fold your passenger seat down for your bed and keep the other side for your things. Because Liza and I are both in the car together, we took out our rear seats and built a platform bed. Underneath the platform, we put containers to hold all our belongings. If you’re considering building a platform bed for when you camp in your car and need some guidance, send us a direct message on Instagram @onthemovewithlizaandstephen.

Because we push our seats forward, it means that we cannot drive with a made bed. We must make our bed at night and take it down in the morning. When arriving at the campsite, try to get there before dark to set up your bed for the night. Setting up your bed at the end of the night when it’s dark and you’re sleepy can be miserable. We do hang USB lights that attach to the ceiling to make it easier to see and maneuver around but arriving while it’s still light out is preferable.

Pillow, Mattress, and Comforter

We highly recommend that you don’t sacrifice your comfort while sleeping in your car with a mediocre pillow. The good news is you don’t have to just take the one from your bed; or purchasing a similar one just for when you camp in your car can make you more comfortable in that sleep situation. We also suggest bringing an extra pillowcase because you may want to change it faster than you can do laundry.

Two sleeping bags

For your mattress, one possibility is to buy a blow-up that fits your make and model. While we didn’t try that ourselves, we did opt for two trifold mattresses that fit our car perfectly both from a length and width perspective. Having separate mattresses takes care of not waking up Liza with my ballerina spinning.

You have a couple of options when it comes to your covering. One way is a comforter or a blanket to sleep underneath; another possibility is to put yourself into a sleeping bag. They are both good options depending on what fits your sleeping style. For us, we chose a sleeping quilt – it’s the best of both worlds. It can be closed with buttons like a sleeping bag or completely open like a comforter. Because we drive around in our car long-term, we needed to have both options. If you like this option, make sure you look at the temperature rating. At night, it can get cold, so we opted for a 20-degree rating and it works perfectly.

One last choice as a standalone in warm temperature or as an add-on is a silk liner for that nice feel on your skin. Liza swears by it, but I don’t use one.

Window Coverings for Car Camping

Blackout windows are necessary for both privacy and to get a good night's sleep. There are YouTube videos that explain how to create your blackout windows. All you need is black duct tape, a pen, scissors, and a roll of Reflectix that you cut to fit your window. Additionally, we also keep an eye mask and earplugs close, which are great especially if you are a light sleeper. Depending upon your campsite, you could be right next to another vehicle.

On days that it's hot, we use a window net covering that still protects your privacy but allows for airflow and keeps the bugs out. Also, having a USB fan to hang in your car is a terrific way to keep the air moving when you camp in your car as well. We attach our fan to our windshield visors.

Car Placement

The placement of your car is critical when you are car camping. When picking a place to park, you will want to be on a flat surface, especially if you are two people. If you are on a hill, you’ll end up in that direction and it can be uncomfortable. There are inexpensive leveling systems you can use to ensure that you are flat. It could be as easy as stacking wood but be careful.


Rocks on beach

One of the biggest suggestions we can offer after considering the above is to do a test run, even if it's in your backyard. Getting a good night's sleep is critical when sleeping in your car for more than just a couple of nights, and you don’t want to go long distances without trying out your bed. Our bed became so comfortable that we’d forgotten that we’re even in our car. Moreover, when we went to a hotel, we wanted to be back in our car. We made the transition, and our car became our home.

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