Camp in your car? Here’s how!

Stealth camping, car camping, makeshift campervanning…call it what you will, there’s huge interest in keeping camping simple, cheap and spontaneous. So, follow our guide to turning your car (or small van) into a part-time camper and start exploring!

Let’s camp…just over there.

Why camp in a car?

It’s cheap

At its most basic, a duvet or sleeping bag is all you need. You won’t be all that comfy, but it’s fine for a night or two. Make a few affordable additions to your kit, though, and you’ll have a mini campervan for not much money.

It gives you freedom

When your car can become a tiny campervan at the drop of a hat, you’re free to set off and explore.

You can stealth camp

No-one notices a car (unless you’ve kitted it out with fairylights, of course). You can park up almost anywhere (more on that later) or disappear into remote spots for some wild camping.

It’s multi-functional

It’s your go-to-work car during the week; at weekends, it’s your funmobile (did I really write that word!). Why have an expensive, rarely used campervan or motorhome on the driveway when you can convert your car in the twinkling of an eye?

It’s an adventure

Find yourself in new places, be amazed at how well you can manage on very little, enjoy the satisfaction of designing your own space.

But…here’s why you SHOULDN’T camp in a car

You might not want to squeeze a family of four and a Great Dane into your Ford Fiesta.

In fact, if you have a very small car, you might struggle. Having said that, we know of people who’ve had a good night’s sleep and woken up to views of lochs and mountains through the windows of a Renault Clio. Almost anything’s possible with a little ingenuity.

Fancy waking up to this view?

Sleeping in your car in comfort

Get it right and sleeping in your car or van can be a lot more comfortable than in a tent. You’re protected from the wind and rain, it’s more soundproofed and you’re off the ground.

Beds and space

The ideal is a car with removable backseats and a more-or-less flat floor. Here’s how we did that in a Berlingo, but the Kangoo was another option. 

Cars with big hatchbacks are much more suited to camping than those with a basic boot. Even in a ‘normal’ car, though, a backseat bed like these can be the answer. Prices are between £20 (for the one that simply fills the gap in the rear footwell) to £90 for a full and comfy mattress. Click on any picture to find out more.

In a car or van where you can empty out the back (or fold the seats flat), you have lots of options for sleeping – from the storage box method described in our article on Berlingo camping to building a basic bed base, to simply rolling out a standard sleeping mattress on the floor.

A base of storage boxes

We love the storage box option for under mattresses because it’s configurable in so many ways, it gives you space for all your stuff and it’s easy to turn your car-camper back to car when you need to carry passengers. Ikea boxes are good, though test for sturdiness. For ultimate strength and the biggest range of sizes, Really Useful Boxes are…really useful. Make sure they’re see-through so you’re not hunting for lost gear.

 Four storage boxes with air mattresses on top. Very comfy too.

Duvets and mattresses

There’s no need for sleeping bags. A duvet will keep you warm and let you move around more. 

Sleeping bag hybrids like the Vaude Navajo, though, are a good multipurpose option, but you might need to add an insulated Jungle blanket for winter camping. 

There are some other hybrids in our sleeping bag guide, by the way.

The Vaude Navajo sleeping bag – very versatile because you can use it as a blanket too. See the feature on sleeping bags for more.

Self-inflating mats

Because your floor will no doubt have a few lumps and bumps, go for a decent mattress that will even things out. During the day, you can let a bit of air out and fold it up to make a chair.

Our favourites are the Sea to Summit and Expeds, but they’re not cheap. Just opt for the thickest you can afford.  Get single rather than double for ease of storage and versatility. 

Mattress toppers

A mattress topper is another option, but check you can fold it up as some can be bulky. We’ve had a couple of readers recommend the 3″-deep Hypnia to us.


Get yourself a couple of packable, but super-comfy memory foam travel pillows. Gorgeous – especially our favourite breathable bamboo-cover ones.

Sleeping pods

We’ve also come across sleeping pods recently and these could be very cosy in your car-camper. This Skandika Vegas is superwarm.

Heating, ventilation and pests


If you seal yourself up snuggly in your car, you’ll find a lot of condensation in the morning. If you have a sunroof, open it up a little. You can make a mosquito/fly screen with a bit of mesh fabric and some magnets if you’re worried about insects getting in.


No sunroof? Leave a window open a bit. Here’s a great tip for insect screening when it’s hot – make a pillowslip of netting with the slit on the long side. Slip it over the open door so that it covers the window. You’ll still be able to close the door, but you can also open the window for air. There are readymade versions of these ‘sunsock’ window covers too.

If you’re in a secure spot and the weather’s good, you can also fix a standard mosquito net over the open hatchback.

Cold weather

If you’re planning on camping in cold weather, take thermos flasks (we like Isosteel best) of hot water for quick cuppas and to fill hot water bottles. Layer clothes and don’t wait to get cold before you add layers or get under the duvet…it’s harder to warm up again. 

Find a nearby pub with a log fire and, if you’re somewhere private where the noise won’t annoy anyone, start the engine to warm up the car just before you get into bed.

We like these seat heaters! Simon (who wrote to us) swears by his Silentnight Comfort Control electric blanket running on a 150Wh powerbank.

Read our article on cold weather camping and our guide to campervan heaters.

Light, dark, privacy

The best kind of camping lighting we’ve found is LED and can be recharged (or left running) from a USB adaptor in the 12V socket.

There are lots of options to choose from – from fairylights that will give you atmosphere to bright reading lights.

We’ve been using the Luminoodle recently – it’s a light rope that folds into its bag to create a lantern. It’s bright, has magnets and clips to fix anywhere and is really versatile.

We also like this foldable LED lamp, which we use at home as well as on the road. It has three brightness settings and is touch sensitive, all in a neat, adjustable package for around a fiver.

If you don’t want to be woken at dawn, you’ll need to create some dark (and privacy). Those folding silver sunshades work well on the front and back windscreens, and some come in packs with side blinds too. You can make yourself some blackout blinds or curtains for side windows using fabric and suction pads. If you have a small unlined van or car doors with metal surrounds, magnets can work too.

Thanks to Dave Gray for his suggestion of using tailored sunshades with a cut-out sheet of Proplex or Correx held behind for total darkness.

Eye masks and earplugs take up no space and will give you a more peaceful night!

Keeping clean…and going to the loo

If you’re on a campsite (and remember that not all campsites will allow car camping, see below) then you’ll obviously have showers and toilets.

Wild toilets

bog in a bag camping toilet

The Bog in a Bag camping toilet has to be the neatest for storing. It’s a stool with a cover that removes to reveal a hole. Fit a bag over the top and you have a toilet. It’s not a large hole, so some positioning is required!

Going to the toilet in the wild, though, requires some work – you need to be 50 metres away from water and you need to dig a 15cm-deep (or more) hole with a trowel. You must cover your doings completely with earth and must put toilet roll or wipes into your rubbish bag. If you’re wild camping, have a look at our article on the the best options for camping toilets (including some that fit in a pocket!).


We never mention toilets without a mention of the £4 Happy Going – our long-time favourite bit of kit…because it’s both useful and hilarious. It’s a waterproof, hanging toilet roll cover with built-in lights (and a flashing mode!!)

For a couple of days, biodegradable and all-natural Aqua Wipes or Nilaqua waterless wash will be enough for a makeshift clean-up. 

Water supplies

Take a portable water carrier like the four-litre Source Liquitainer or new favourite, the Sea-to-Summit 10-litre Packtap and refill whenever you get the chance. For longer trips, intersperse campsite stays or use the facilities in pubs, leisure centres and the like.

We have lots of other recommended water storage and dispensing options in our water carrying feature too. All BPA-free.

On our last trip, we ran out of water and had to refill from a VERY clean-looking river. We did have some water purifying tablets in our kit too, though.

Showers? Really?

There are a few portable showers out there, and some homemade options, but you’d need to be somewhere quite warm to make these bearable. We’ve also found the trickle you get from them is just not worth the bother.

We’ve tested them all and the Colapz camping shower is brilliant. Fill a bucket with warm water from your kettle, drop the pump inside and get a decent shower with real pressure! Great for washing dogs too.

A note on shoes!

When you’re living in a small space, and especially in bad weather, it can be hard to keep everything clean and dry. Have some easy-on/off footwear like Crocs or better still these cheap neoprene Dirt Boot shoes (3-12 sizes). Leave muddy boots and shoes in the driver or passenger footwell. 

Creating car camping space – storage, awnings and more

For quick and stealthy trips, you really won’t want to make yourself obvious with anything outside the car or van. In these cases, being well-organised inside is key.  

It takes trial and error to discover how best to pack (and what to leave out), but it’s an interesting challenge. We’re always changing how we do things as we learn more and it’s fun to find a more efficient bit of kit or way of doing something. Hunting for just the right size storage box that’ll fit between the seats, maybe, or stick-on hooks for the ceiling.

If you need more? Well…try a couple of nights and see whether simplicity trumps luxury! 

From hanging toilet bags (we like the Reisenthel best)…

…to shoe organisers and storage nets that can be strung up for easy access to often-needed kit.

This storage net simply velcros onto a carpeted wall. Two in a pack for less than a tenner too.

There are some good seatback organisers that hang over the front seats (some even with minitables). Ikea is a wonderland of storage ideas too.

Tarps, awnings and shelters

If you’re on a campsite or in a private spot for a few days or more, then it’s time to extend outwards!

Here’s where a simple tarp can become a rain shelter, an outside dining room, a camp kitchen or a sunshade. Fix it from the boot or the side doors, suspend it from nearby trees (and don’t forget to use bungee cord to save your tarp in a wind!). We love the versatility of a tarp and you can read more in our tarp article.

Awnings give space…and take up room

An awning is another option, but the problem here is that, when they’re folded away, they take up too much room inside your already limited space. If you’re going somewhere where you know you’ll spend most of your time outside, then have a look at our recommendations for small and lightweight awnings.

The bivvy option

It’s good to have options. So, we always take a couple of bivvy tents or hammocks with us. These pack away to nothing and mean we can head off into the trees or stretch out on the ground if the place is right and the weather amenable.

Truck tents

If you have a flatpack or pick-up, how about one of these truck tents…

Utility tents for versatility

Our preference, after a tarp, though, would be a pop-up utility tent with a porch that can be fixed to the side of the car with magnets or rope.

Tailgate awnings

And there are a few decent tailgate tents out there too, including rear awnings by Reimo for small campervans and cars.

Again, not cheap, but the Kampa Travel Pod Tailgater Air is pretty versatile.

Khyam offers the quick-erect XL – another costly one, but you might be won over by the super-quick set-up.

Outdoor Revolution has three models, including an inflatable, but they’re big. Have a look at the Movelite, the Momentum Cayman and the Movelite T1 (air).

Instant event shelter

Consider a standalone tent with a sun canopy. These tend to be cheaper and more adaptable. You’ll find some options in our multipurpose shelter article and more awnings in our feature on…awnings.

Camping food and outdoor cooking

Except in an absolute emergency, you probably won’t want to cook inside the car. 


Camping in good weather is easy – you’ll simply use your stove or barbecue outside. In bad weather, it’s a choice between using the protection of a tarp, going to a pub or restaurant to eat or taking a supply of meals that can be prepared using just hot water.

Lots of the stuff sold as camping food is pretty awful, so be warned! Have a look at our recommendations for readymeals that are fast and easy, and actually delicious (plus fairly healthy).


Cadac Safari ChefCompact cooking stoves

You’ll no doubt have your favourite camping stove and kit already. If not, you’ll need to balance the storage space available with the sort of cooking you want to do. We take a Campingaz Bivouac for fast-boiling a kettle of water or a pan of soup. It’s tiny but super-efficient. If we have more space, it’s the Cadac Safari Chef, which gives us lots of cooking options (from a griddle to a wok) but still isn’t too big. Remember that there’s both a low and a high pressure gas version (see the Cadac review for more info)

Make cooking easy

Taking a lot of provisions with you isn’t easy – partly because you’re limited for space and partly because the more you have, the harder it is to find anything! We tend to buy as we need things, but take a basic kit of herbs and spices, a few tins and other essentials.

Make it easy for yourself. Cook when you can and you want to, but don’t feel it’s cheating to pop into a café or open a packet of Firepot (we’ve used them a few times and they’ve always been like real food!). See other readymeal recommendations too.

Remember to keep a bag on the go for rubbish. We do try to recycle when we’re camping. It might mean carrying a few bottles and cans around till you find a recycling spot, but it seems wrong to chuck everything away when pleasant camping depends on caring for the environment.

Fridges and coolboxes

Waeco CFX35 compressor fridge

Waeco CDF25 in car

What do you do about keeping milk, butter and other things cool? The ideal option is a 12V compressor fridge. There are tiny ones that are ideal for basics and will fit easily into a car. These aren’t cheap, but they stay at the right temperature even if it’s +30 outside. Coolboxes are OK, but you’ll need to change icepacks constantly and they can be bulky. Have a look at our guide to choosing a cooler.

Some campsites, like this one in the South of France, have fridges you can borrow or hire. Alternatively, use small cartons of UHT milk or non-dairy, use olive oil instead of butter and learn to go fridgeless!

Where can I camp in my car?

As mentioned above, there are some campsites that don’t allow car or van camping.

Some are especially unhappy if you turn up in a small van with the name of a company on the side. I guess they’re equating small vehicle camping with riff-raff – ie, people they think can’t afford a tent or are a bit too ‘alternative’ to be trusted around immaculate hedges and clean caravans.

Keep quiet!

If you have an awning or utility tent, then there’s no need to tell anyone that you’ll actually be sleeping in the car or van; they’ll just assume the tent is your sleeping area. If that’s a bit too risky for you, then it’s either a question of showing the owner or warden your set-up, so that they can see it’s legit, or moving on to somewhere else.

Wild camping

As for wild camping, there are some fantastic apps and websites that help you find places to stay. Facebook is full of these too, but is also absolutely rubbish when it comes to tracking down information beyond the ‘just-posted’. Everyone asks the same questions, gets recommendations and then they’re lost in the flurry of subsequent posts. The apps and websites in our guide are much easier to use.

As a rule of thumb, you can’t generally wild camp in England or Wales, but you can in Scotland (restrictions in some tourist hotspots like Loch Lomond). In France, Spain and Portugal are super for wild camping. There are restrictions in Scandinavia and Germany but, in compensation, there are far more places set up for overnight stops or for wild-ish camping.

Somewhere wildish in the Lakes.

Don’t be afraid to ask!

We recently spent the night in the (rather picturesque) car park of a farmshop. We checked with the owner, promised to have breakfast in her café and slept well. The same goes for many pubs. We’ve also slept in the forecourts of closed campsites (after checking with the wardens), in remote country parks and hidden away on forestry roads.

A few ideas…and don’t forget to share your own in our competition below! 

Enter our competition and win a camping prize


We’ve only scratched the surface of the fascinating world of car and small vehicle camping. There are people out there doing amazing things, having great adventures and finding simple or ingenious ways to make their vehicles comfortable.

We’re offering monthly prizes for suggestions, photos, workarounds and tips that we can add to this evolving article. 

Just send us an email with a few details. It doesn’t have to be a journey across the Himalayas – we’re just as interested in the best folding kettle or a new way to fasten a tarp in place.

Meanwhile, happy car-camping!


Camping gear must-haves – our 60 best finds

When we find a new piece of camping or outdoor equipment that we love and that really works, it’s here. Everything you see – from barbecues to mosquito repellent – has been tried and tested by a member of the Campfire team and is now one of their actual camping essentials …
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  1. Lots of helpful information here. I bought the small ventlock but haven’t used it yet. My solution for the moment is “cool shades” in the side windows + deflectors against the rain.

  2. Last week I completed a month touring around Europe camping in my car, I was a bit unsure when planning (more a random idea I thought of when I was made redundant a couple months ago) but your article spurred me on massively and showed it can be done. Plus I used a lot of the advice and items you mentioned either as basis of what to buy or buying them, bearing in mind I didn’t want to spend much.
    I have a BMW E46 320d Touring so I could fit a SI mat and only partially had to fold it for driving.
    In the end I completed 4787 miles in this camper going through 12 countries.I didn’t have a single problem with camping anywhere and mostly used the app park4night which was incredibly useful.

    So yeah, thanks massively for this article – it probably would have stalled as an idea had I not found this. ED: What an amazing story and so heartening to hear that we helped. Thanks, Dave…let’s hope we can feature your travels (we’ve contacted you!) and inspire others to follow your lead.

  3. Owen BALDWIN

    Sam, I have a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso, all the rear seats fold flat, so with the front seat pushed forward, I can get my 6’2″ in straight as a die. Plenty of room for my wife and I. I have a 6′ x 4′ memory foam mattress that just fits in neatly. I made some black sided cardboard blackouts to fit on the inside. Jobs a goodun and very private and un-noticeable….. good luck

  4. Colin Churcher

    Great article, I want to do some car camping on fishing trips, I have older version Hyundai Tuscon massive inside, problem I have is how do I disengage the alarm when I lock myself in car, have tried taking fuse out but that didn’t work, any ideas much appreciated.ED: Campervans usually have an option to set the alarm for the locked doors, but to disengage it for movement inside. I suspect some passenger cars will be the same, or how do you lock a child (temporarily!) or pet inside? All we can find in the Hyundai manual, though, is this: “If any door (or tailgate) or engine hood remains open, the hazard warning lights and the chime will not operate and the theft-alarm will not arm. If all doors (and tailgate) and engine hood are closed after the lock button is pressed, the hazard warning lights blink once.” ~So, you could try leaving the hood open a tad? Or you could try leaving a door open, setting the alarm and then closing the door from the inside. No guarantees!

  5. tommy graham

    what a totally ace site,god iv looked for a site like this for yonks,,i myself is disabled,you wouldn’t know it looking at me,,its the big C…don’t worry it has lived with me for 4yrs…not me living with it..well!! I am an ex para…the reason I go camping [in my car] is mobility,i cant go down or get up so easily now,so I sleep in the car,,i have the outside blinds front and rear..and the sock type blinds for the sides,a single mattress,,and guess what I use for sleeping in,,,my wooly housecoat..cozy as an argies armpit…keep up the good work…x

  6. Sue Fawcett

    A company called R.E.D Campers in Berwick on Tweed do great car camper pods which fit in the boot and they do most sensible cars. I had one for my Ford Tourneo then when I change to a Skoda Yetti they adjusted it for me.

  7. I’ve done a bit of camping in my Toyota Starlet. Tested myself to be as cheap as possible. Passenger seat removed etc. Free futon thingy on free plastic boxes on wood blocks to even out floor. Pillows and foam to make it as comfortable as possible.
    Many drawbacks and I can do a week maximum until cabin fever sets in and back pain etc. The starlet is just too small really. And there’s no getting Away from frailties such as no shower or kitchen facilities. Its a fine balance between freedom and adventure to just paying for a hotel and having some pleasure. Mind you it’s cost me very little apart from fuel. And im sure it can be made palatable by spending some money on a better car and innards.

  8. Jason Gledhill

    I have a Ford Grand Tourneo Connect which is an excellent drive and the heated windscreen is an excellent bit of kit all vehicles should have it I have had mine converted into a Micro Camper with a double bed, mains electric, 12v system, fridge and stove.

  9. Thanks to Dave Gray for this useful tip:

    I was recently trying to solve the window/curtain/blackout/privacy issue in the back of my Mondeo estate. I decided to try buying some car widow shades from These fit snugly into the windows using clips and are very quick and easy to remove/put back in place once installed. Whilst I found them to be pretty good for privacy, they are not a total blackout. So I’m combining them with pieces of black Proplex plastic board (normally used for temporary floor protection during building work), which I have cut to shape. These are cheap, lightweight, durable and easily cut using my car shades as templates. When I want to use them I can simply slip them behind the car shades which clip back into place and hold them firmly in position. From the outside, this just looks like tinted windows.

  10. Contrary to what you have written here, you cannot legally wild camp in Scotland with a vehicle.
    The right to wild camp enshrined in the land access legislation is only applicable to walkers, cyclists, kayakers, and other similar non motorised modes of transport.
    ED: Thanks for the comment, Rob. In fact, the Access Code says: “Access rights extend to wild camping. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply, but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting. If you wish to camp close to a house or building, seek the owner’s permission. Leave no trace by taking away all your litter; removing all traces of your tent pitch and of any open fire (follow the guidance for lighting fires), and not causing any pollution. Byelaws restrict camping in some areas. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park – From 1st March 2017, seasonal byelaws come into effect in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park which mean that camping in certain areas of the National Park is only permitted within campsites or with a camping permit.”

    Vehicles are not specifically excluded and we would argue that a small campervan or car would be allowed providing all the other stipulations were met. The law is there to stop long-term, disruptive or antisocial camping not to stop someone enjoying a quiet spot for a night!

  11. I’m looking to buy myself a car that will fit my 5’11” frame for summer fishing camping weekends in the coming year.

    One really handy resource if you’re choosing your next car is the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers database for car measurements, that they produce for people with specific mobility needs. other things, it gives the length of various car boots with rear seats folded (can be hard to find otherwise) It hasn’t got every car (only goes back about 8-10 years) but you can even search on minimum boot length across all the cars they’ve measured, i.e. put in minimum 72 inches and all sorts of vehicles come up. ED: What a brilliant bit of information! Thanks so much for that. Hope you find just the car you need.

  12. Gert… I think you need a car camping trip… great for stress busting…!

  13. thank you for all the useful Amazon affiliate links, its like a normal article and doesnt look like you are trying to get us to visit amazon at all, very well done.ED: Do we detect a note of sarcasm?! We use affiliate links to help pay for running the site. However, we only suggest or link to things that we can personally and wholeheartedly recommend. And, of course, no-one is made to click on a link…they’re there if you’d like to quickly see a product and there to ignore if you’d just prefer to read the article.

  14. Thanks for this fab article. So useful. I’ve now got all the kit I need to turn my Skoda Octavia into a cool car camper whenever I need it!

    I’m planning a winter trip to the Kielder Forest in a couple of weeks go get some star gazing in.. I’ll send you some pics of the set up when I come back..

  15. Great article

    Car camping is set to get huge globally as more and more people live the minimalist lifestyle and or because for single people being paid the minimum wage of £7.50 an hour etc and the cost of renting a room is getting to be almost out of their price range or taking up a large portion of their wages which reduces their spending ability etc

    in the uk with pubs closing at a rapid rate etc closed down pubs are missing a trick in as much as a closed down pubs most valuable asset is it car park

    Why don’t the owners of closed down pubs rent out the car park spaces at £2.50 per car park space per night

    all the closed down pubs car park spaces would be full with people from the paying to park their car on that pub car park and provide a shower that people would pay £2.50? to use?

    Mind you it’s quite funny as I have the perfect tech venture concept for free car parks parking globally and I own the self explanatory 3 keyword. com website address to make it possible but I haven’t got a clue how to generate the ad £”s it would need to be viable lol

  16. Haven’t car camped other than in an emergency when I haven’t made it to my planned destination, but I have a device called a Ventlock which might be useful to regular car campers. It comes in a variety of lengths and allows you to keep the tailgate open by a desired amount and lock the car. They are sold at dog shows and online, for people who want to be able to thoroughly ventilate their vehicle while keeping it secure.

    Editor: There are quite a few versions of these. A great idea. The Cool Dog tailgate locks seem to be popular and come in two sizes. The cheapest (but still well thought-of) are the Karlie boot ventilation locks – around £5.Cool dog boot spacerKarlie boot ventilator

  17. Me and my family have car camped in our Subaru and found that would have made it much easier would be a door latch for the rear door. Mosquito netting that would work on the rear door when open would also be great.

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