How to Car Camp

Guide to Sleeping in your Car

For every epic road trip there is always that big question, where are we going to sleep? Hotels are expensive and campgrounds are getting pricey as well. So why not just crash in the car? This is a guide to tell you how and where to car camp.

How to Sleep

Car Camping can be extremely uncomfortable if you don’t do it right. The trick to sleeping in your car is to find enough space in your car for all your gear and to lay down comfortably. There are many ways to do this but it all depends on the size of your car. This guide will be split into 3 types of vehicles.

  • Cars, Sedans
  • SUVs and Hatchbacks
  • Vans

Car Camping

Cars

Sedans and small cars will be the hardest type of vehicle to get comfy in. Space will be at a premium. The first trick is, if you don’t need it, don’t bring it. For a bouldering trip, crashpads may get in the way if you don’t pack properly. You will need to do one of two things if you plan to sedan car camp.

The first option is to sleep in the front seat. The benefit of this is that you can utilize the trunk space for gear while you snooze. The downside of this method is you might be crammed into the front seat if you are tall. For a quick nap, it will be just fine, but it might be rough for a whole night.

The second option will be to lay down partially in the trunk and the back seat. This will only work in some cars that allow you to access the trunk from inside the car by folding down the back seats. If your car has this option it will be more comfortable than the front seat but you will have less space to put your gear.

SUVs and Hatchbacks

An SUV is definitely the best option for the average weekend warrior. SUVs get better gas mileage than Vans and RVs and have a ton more storage than a sedan. You can easily fit 3 crashpads and sleep 2 people comfortably in a midsize SUV.

Sleeping in an SUV is easy, especially when the back seats lay down flat. All you need to do is create a flat space to lay down and you’re good to go. Grabbing a sleeping pad will help with comfort.

For more detailed info visit SUV RVing. The author of this blog literally wrote the book on this stuff. This is easily the best online resource for SUV camping. Grab his book if you really want all the secrets, it’s worth it.

Check out this video below, this guy is a pro!

Vans

For the average person, a van is impracticable. You get reduced gas mileage, poor handling on bad roads, and they can be difficult to drive around town. Doing a commute to an office job in a Sprinter would be unpleasant, to say the least. If somehow you can afford a secondary car for around town driving then a van for a weekend trip machine would be sick, but most of us can’t do that.

Now if you want to live in your vehicle full time, a van is a great option. You can save tons of money on rent and live anywhere. If you want to do this you will have to sink a lot of cash into your van if you want it to be nice. A blueprint on how to convert a van to a camper can be found at The Vanual.

Van Life

Where to stay

So you have your car all set up and ready to sleep in. Now you need to figure out where to park the car and camp for the night. There are really an endless amount of options but these are the best.

  • Highway Rest Areas
  • Walmart Parking Lots
  • Residential Streets
  • Campgrounds

While all these work at times they all have their pros and cons.

Highway Rest Stop

Car Camping at rest stops may be one of the safest ways to sleep in the car. Rest stops are often lit at night and filled with people doing the same thing as you, crashing for a bit before hitting the road again. You will also find bathrooms at rest stops which are a nice little amenity.

Rest Stop

When you arrive at the rest stop you may see signs that say something like “2 hours parking only.” Generally, a sign like this can be ignored. In this situation, if anyone tries to give you a hard time you can just say “I was too tired to keep driving so I decided to pull over before I fell asleep at the wheel.” This should stop them from bothering you, although the chances of someone actually saying something to you is very, very unlikely.

You will want to avoid doing any cooking or loitering outside the car while at a rest stop. That is a good way to raise some eyebrows, which is the last thing we want in this situation. Try to park far away from the spot you are going to camp at if you are going to get out of the car and rearrange stuff. Then, once everything is ready, drive to the spot you are spending the night and stay in the car.

Rest Stop

Walmart Park Lots

With Walmart parking lots the first thing that always comes up: is it illegal to sleep in your car at Walmart. The thing is sleeping in a Walmart parking lot is generally considered to be acceptable. That being said you need to keep stealth at an absolute max.

Many people think that Walmart parking lots are unsafe to sleep at and this is simply not true. Walmart parking lots are actually fairly safe if you are in a decent part of town (and if you are in a bad part of town drive to another one). Security cameras and the occasional rent-a-cop keep the parking lots safe for all of us car campers.

Car Camping Walmart

In general, the best Walmarts to camp at are the ones near the highway. These are more likely to be filled with campers and RVs when you get there. The extra camper will help you feel more comfortable and less likely to be singled out.

Sometimes the Walmart you are trying to car camp at is nowhere near the highway. In this case, you need to proceed with caution. Remember, stealth is your friend, 99 percent of people walking or driving by will not even glance at your car if you aren’t being blatantly obvious. So, you can sleep in a Walmart parking lot if you follow the guidelines above.

Make sure you go in to buy something if you are planning to sleep in a Walmart parking lot. Being a customer is the least you can do for a free nights stay, and a receipt can come in handy if someone gives you a hard time.

So, you can sleep in a Walmart parking lot if you follow the guidelines above. Also, check out this link if you are looking for a Walmart near you.

Walmart Parking Lot

Residential Street

Car Camping on a residential street is definitely the most secluded option for staying overnight. The issue with parking on the street is you run the risk of a homeowner calling the police. This is something you want to avoid at all costs. If you pick this option you have to be 100 percent stealth.

How to park on the street is a case by case basis. General rules are to:

  • Park in between 2 property lines
  • Park near other cars
  • Get there late
  • Leave early
  • Make sure your car isn’t too memorable

Although this may be a comfortable and quiet way to camp it is very risky. Make sure you know what you are doing before trying this method.

Street parking

Campground

If you can score a free (or really cheap) campground than its a no brainer, do it! At a campground, you won’t have to worry about something bothering in the middle of the night so it’ easy, just set up and sleep. This will also be the safest option by far. When staying at a campground you don’t need to be stealthy at all, so just sit back and relax!

Now get out there and have an adventure of your own!

If you found this helpful or see something that you would like to add leave a comment below!

 

Owner and Operator of Every Last Rock. He is dedicated to spreading the Stoke about all things climbing. Often found Bouldering around the US and obsessively training.

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