Packs are packed, Camelbaks are filled, maps are folded, and everything is perfectly loaded into the car for the trip you have been meticulously planning for days. Then, the one problem you haven’t solved hits you: where am I going to sleep? At this point, you have three options:

  1. Wake up at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m. (Really, though, does life exist at such an hour!?)
  2. Get a hotel room (Who has the money for that?)
  3. Somehow attempt to catch a decent night’s rest in your car at the trailhead

If you are anything like my boyfriend and I are, you will go with the third option, but boy, can it make for an interesting evening! Luckily, as the years have gone on, we have experimented with sleeping in everything from an SUV, sedan, or coupe to a minivan or station wagon, with a camper or two thrown in. This array of vehicles has enabled us to develop some tricks that not only make car camping really fun, but also leave you waking refreshed and rested for your big day ahead!

Car camping is an art. From the position of your seats to how the blankets are organized to even how you sleep, all of these factors determine how well you wake up the following morning. However, I want to break down a few of the do’s and don’ts learned over my years of car camping, and hopefully, your next backpacking trip will begin rested and refreshed!

[Credit: Liz Bonacci]
[Credit: Liz Bonacci]
DO: Lay your back seats flat. If you are worried about ruining the seat, don’t be! They are far more durable than most realize. Not only will this give you more room to stretch out, but if someone happens to look into your car window at night, you will be a little less conspicuous.

DON’T: Attempt to lie across your back seat. Really…just don’t. The same rule applies to the front seats of your car. No one enjoys waking up with a seatbelt buckle imprint on his or her back.

DO: Take the time to find a lightweight fabric to use as curtains. Yes, I did say curtains. Personally, I tend to sleep better when I feel secure, and parking my car in the middle of a forest or on a deserted road does not normally seem as such. I have accumulated a nice collection of sheets best for rolling their ends into the back window. Sure, a part of the sheet hangs out, but at least it won’t be going anywhere.

The front windows I tend not to worry about, as, first, the front seats block you, and, second, I throw another blanket up over them to give a backboard feel to my new sleeping area. With another sheet inserted into the trunk doors’ top hinge, the back window is covered once you slam the trunk closed.

DON’T: Attempt to just bury your head under blankets. Eventually, you are not going to be able to breathe!

DO: Leave a sunroof or front window slightly cracked open. This makes it easier to breathe, and if you’re camping with someone, won’t subject you to the smell of each and every breath he or she takes. Plus, it helps avoid condensation building up all over the windows.

DON’T: Leave the windows fully open! No one likes surprise midnight visitors!

DO: Layer, layer, layer! This is the MOST important “do” of car camping. The first step to adequately layer your vehicle for a peaceful night’s slumber is adding towels. Make sure they cover the entirety of the area you will be sleeping on. They serve as not only your first layer, but also help keep the rest of your sleeping paraphernalia clean.

Next, throw down a comforter or something similar. I use this because it tends to be fluffier and bigger than most blankets.

Then comes the sleeping pads. These will be your primary bed layer and also the one that will give you the best night’s rest. Your muscles will thank you the following morning.

Finally, here comes the best part: Add as many blankets and pillows as your heart desires! The more added, the comfier you will be!

DO: Remember to have fun! Car camping is like a grownup slumber party. Hopefully, with some of these suggestions, your next time out will result in one of the best night’s nights of sleep you’ve gotten on the road!

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