For many people, camping is a sacred retreat into nature, the unifier of all things. As our body changes in our 30s and onward, sleeping on the ground becomes less and less appealing. Even if you’re hard as nails in your 50s, inclement weather and the short seasonal camping window is drastically limiting. That’s unless you find a way to create a warm dry place to find reprieve. Car camping not only provides this, but also delivers a way to “unpack” once and travel to many campgrounds and trailheads unencumbered by camp assembly and breakdown. Here are some tips for turning your once normal SUV into the ultimate adventuremobile.
No matter how beautiful your natural setting is, if you can’t sleep then you’ll be miserable. Air mattresses are notorious for leaking and causing backaches, but also I found that I wake up freezing when I sleep on one. Think about it… the air inside becomes the ambient temperature, so when the low is in the 40s the air below your body is as well. No wonder it’s hard to sleep. If you don’t have a place to store an extra twin mattress then consider either a 3–4’’ thick rollable memory foam cushion or a small cot.
Two things to keep in mind is ceiling clearance and length of your cargo area with all of your seats folded down. You can trim memory foam, so if you need to make alterations to your twin mattress in order to achieve a good fit, that’s not a problem. Simply use a box cutter and cut a few inches deep at a time. Also, make sure your seats fold completely flat. If they don’t, I’d recommend bolstering the lower section to create a flat sleeping surface.
I prefer to make my bed the same way I do in my home, by using a fitted sheet, flat sheet, comforter, and additional blankets as needed. If you prefer a sleeping bag or anticipate freezing conditions make sure to bring a bag rated for low temperatures.
Winter car camping tip: Before bed, boil some water and pour it into 1–2 Nalgene bottles and store inside your sleeping bag. This will warm your bag and will keep the water from freezing so you’ll have drinking water come morning.
One common complaint about car camping is that if a weirdo wanted to sit and stare at you sleep he/she could do so effortlessly. This situation is easily resolved at about $20 and 30 minutes of your time. Simply purchase a roll of Reach Barrier Air Reflective Insulation Roll (or something similar). Roll out enough insulation to cover one window, trim, and place against the window. With your fingers, compress the ends of the window in order to make an outline you will use to cut the insulation to shape. Err on the side of too big, that way you can push the pieces in place and they should hold without tape.
Once completed for all windows (except the windshield) pop them all in and bask in your newfound privacy and blackout conditions! This reflex technology not only provides you with blackout privacy (no one can see if you’re in there with a light on) but it also provides much-needed insulation from the elements. For extra stealth, spraypaint the side facing out black so it looks like a dark tint. For the windshield, you can use a simple reflective sun cover unless you’re really worried about insulation.
Where do you go when you need to go? This depends on a few things. How long are you going to be camping for? What environment will you be in? Most people who are urban camping opt to do their business while they’re still out and about in “civilization” stopping at a gas station, Walmart, or another facility before they tuck in for the night. However, when nature calls it’s not always convenient. If you’re camping in the wilderness you can relieve yourself in nature and dig a hole for your solids or you can pack in a camping compostable toilet. Some folks even opt for a popup tent to create a mobile outhouse for their elimination pleasure.
Urban campers may opt to eat out most meals but I believe there’s nothing better than a hot meal cooked over the fire after a long hike. Plus, the point of camping for many is to get away from modern conveniences like restaurants. A simple backpacking stove, cook set, and water jug or spigot is all you really need. There are countless camping friendly recipes out there. You can also reconstitute ready-made dehydrated meals.