How To Make Car Camping Comfortable

Whether you’re camping in your car to save money or for convenience, you’re going to want to be comfortable. Fortunately I have several tips and tricks that will let you rest easy on four wheels and get the most out of your car camping experience.

There are many things you can do to make car camping as comfortable as possible. These simple steps will go a long way toward making your camping trip more enjoyable.

  • Pack your gear in containers so it’s easy to move and organize.
  • Use layering of blankets to let you adjust to temperature swings.
  • Choose sleeping pads that pack small but cover the whole sleeping area.
  • Bring fabric or cardboard to block out the windows for shade and sleeping.
  • Pack air freshener and window screen to reduce odors and allow airflow without inviting the bugs inside.

My wife and I took a spontaneous road trip to Indianapolis from Georgia and tried camping out in our 2002 Expedition – with absolutely no preparation. Those were some of the most uncomfortable nights we have spent anywhere!

The tips shared below will spare your next car camping trip from the painful discomfort we endured.

Camping in car

Organizing Your Gear

Part of the appeal of camping in your car is the convenience, but it’s only truly convenient if you get organized first. When your gear and stuff gets tossed all over the back of your car you’re going to spend more time putting all it back in place than if you had just organized it to begin with.

Since the goal of car camping is to go from sleeping to driving as quickly and easily as possible, these storage hacks are going to make it easier than you ever thought it could be.

Pack In Clear Bins

To start, you’re going to want some clear plastic bins. These are great for getting everything in one place and keeping it there, and you can see what’s in each of them without having to dig through every bin you have.

Bonus points if they’re stackable like theses 12qt boxes with locking lids. Add in some cardboard to create dividers that allow you to compartmentalize each one. This will make finding your gear even easier.

Sturdy stackable boxes can also be used for tables and work surfaces inside and outside of the car too, making them dual purpose.

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Hanging Pockets

Another helpful way to keep everything contained is to hang a shoe organizer from your backseat grab bar or headrest. You can organize everything from food to toiletries to clothes in its various pouches, sorting by days or just by item. If you’re having trouble finding one short enough to fit well, you can always trim off the last couple of rows on a longer one.

Using Cargo Netting

Last but not least, you can put a mesh bungee against the roof of the car, securing it to the grab bars. This will let you lay out jackets and other bulky clothes items that don’t like to stay in a bin, while still having them be reasonably accessible.

Roof Top Storage

Taking advantage of a roof top storage box is a great way to keep your gear from crowding your sleeping area. Anything that you don’t need access to at night or regularly while you’re in the car can easily be locked in a roof top storage box.

Storage boxes like the SportRack Vista XL attach to the roof rack or rails that exist on many cars and can be added for a reasonably low cost. They provide water tight storage and usually have place to install a pad lock or combination lock for security.

If your vehicle doesn’t have a rack you can add one or opt for a roof top storage bag instead. They function similarly to a solid box but can be mounted and strapped down directly on the roof surface. Bags tend to be a little more difficult to load and unload than rigid box but they are a bit more flexible in size and shape. Whichever you choose, bringing a collapsible step along will help with accessing your gear.

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By being creative you can get a lot more space for sleeping in you vehicle than you’d think. Creating spaces to store your gear out of the way will help you stretch out for a comfortable sleep. Don’t overpack but don’t leave behind the pieces you’ll need for your trip either. For a full list of what to bring camping have a look at our list of Essential Gear To Bring Camping

Space To Stretch

While there are many reasons that our Expedition was so bad to sleep in, it did have one main thing going for it: leg room. Size does matter in this case, and the more room you have to stretch out the better it’s going to be for you.

Be Creative With Your Space

While you may immediately think that large SUVs and vans are the only way to go, that’s not the case at all. You can convert your truck bed into sleeping space by adding a truck camper, or you can put a topper on the bed. 

Size Matters

If you have a Honda CR-V, a Subaru Forester, or a Toyota RAV-4 you’re in luck – these are the compact SUVs with the most trunk space, and therefore the most space to spread out. Hatchbacks will give you more space than a sedan, but with those you risk not having enough room to lie flat.

The size of your vehicle is going to do a lot to determine how comfortable you are, but even if you’re trying to rough it in a smart car there are still ways to get a good night’s rest.

Consider An Alternate

Hammocks are always an option if you’re going to be camping in wooded areas, or anywhere with two trees close enough to string one up. You can make your base camp in almost any car and still have minimal setup when you get to where you want to camp, with all the leg room you could want.


Almost everyone has been in that awkward situation of having to change in your car where other people can see, now imagine having to do that every day on your trip that there isn’t a bathroom nearby. 

If you’re like me and you’d rather not strip down to your skivvies in front of whoever else may be camping with you, there are several options to give you a little bit more privacy.

Block Out The Light

You can get adjustable car window curtains that hook right into the window tracks, or ones that attach above the windows and hang down. Not all curtains are created equal – some only block light while others are rated for UV protection and cooling as well. 

Proactive Security

Curtains and other shades will not only get you some much needed privacy for yourself, they will keep prying eyes away from your gear as well. While you would hope no one is window shopping your car, I like to play it safe.

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Bedding Options

You’ve got your gear all put up in bins and other organizers, you’ve got your curtains up and ready to close, and it’s about time to get some sleep. Now what? 

Arguably the most important part of sleeping in a car is making sure that you’ve got the right bedding. What works best for you will depend on your preferences, but there are multiple options to consider when deciding what to lay your head down on.

Layer Your Covers

Unfortunately, sleeping bags are not so great in warm weather. You’ll probably end up just sleeping on top of it. Having a few lighter sheets will allow you to adjust your coverings to the temperature of the car. It’s likely that you’ll need an extra layer at night and want to loose it in the morning.

Inflatable Mattress

You can find inflatable mattresses in all sizes from those that go across your backseat to those that take up your whole trunk. These deflate for relatively easy storage, but come with one main downside: if you get a leak you’re in trouble. You may be able to find the hole and tape over it, but odds are you’ll find yourself sleeping on a couple of layers of flat plastic.

Foam Mattress

One other option you can consider is a foam topper. This is a seriously comfortable chunk of foam that you lay down in your trunk, and it’s probably the best night’s sleep you’ll get. You can find foam toppers from one inch thick to five, and all you would have to do is throw a sheet on top. If I could go back and do my Indianapolis trip again, this is definitely the way I’d go.

Foam provides better insulation against the cold than an inflatable mattress does making it more comfortable on colder nights. Foam will also contour around seatbelts and wheel wells better too, it can even be cut to the shape of your car interior.

Self Inflating Mattresses

Foam doesn’t compress well for storage and inflatable mattresses tend to leak and are a pain to inflate and deflate every day. This is exactly why self inflating mattresses like the KingCamp Triple Zone are perfect for car camping.

Just roll it out and open the valves and the foam will expand inside drawing in air to create a perfectly padded surface for sleeping. The compression straps help the mattress to pack down better for storage and along with the included pillows the it packs away easily in it’s own storage bag.

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Pillow Talk

No matter what you choose to make a bed out of you’ll also want a nice pillow. There are several compressible and inflatable pillows out there that will help maximize your space while traveling, or you can go for your favorite one from home. 

Indoor Climate

Running your car to regulate the temperature is always an option, but it’s not usually the most practical one. Instead, try one of these solutions to regulate your temperature

Warming Up Your Space

If you need to stay warm you can try boiling water, bottling it, and putting them in your sleeping bag or under the covers.

You can also warm rocks in a fire, then carefully put them on top of other cold rocks on your floorboards. There are portable heaters that you can bring as well, but I’d personally be wary of using them while I was asleep. 

Cooling down your space

If you’re needing to cool down, make sure you’re parked in shade if at all possible. You’ll also want to go for linen sheets – they stay cooler than jersey sheets and other heavy fabrics.

Battery powered fans can help keep air circulating inside, and you’ll want to have a window or two cracked to let the hot air out. Moisture buildup is always a concern, keeping the air moving and having a window cracked will help keep the humidity down.

Keeping The Bugs Out

Cracked windows mean an inlet for bugs, but fortunately you can prevent the creepy crawlies from climbing into bed with you. There are magnetic bug screens that go on the outside of your windows, and spraying the outside of your car with certain essential oils like peppermint can also be a deterrent.

Closing Thoughts

Car camping can be a comfortable experience, and getting yourself organized will prevent a cramped neck and sore back. Picking the right bedding, preparing for the weather, and putting up some curtains will make camping in your car feel a little more like home.


Beau is an electrical engineer with a knack for DIY repair and construction. When he's not tinkering with his projects he's on the road travelling and enjoying an exciting lifestyle with his young family.

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