Camp In Your Car? Here’s how! (Our Guide to Car Sleeping)

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!

Latest update: October 2021

All our reviews at Campfire Magazine are independent and honest.

Table of Contents

In a hurry? If you don’t have much time using the links below to quickly find our favourite must haves for car camping. You can be assured we only choose the best products…

Why camp in a car?

It’s cheap

At its most basic, a duvet or sleeping bag, your own supply of water and a simple portable toilet 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

Let’s camp…just over there.

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 .

But…It goes without saying that your freedom shouldn’t impinge on anyone else’s – so respect the areas you camp in and the people who live there.

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

Fancy waking up to this view?

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.

Sleeping in your car in comfort

Backseat beds and more

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.

The ideal is a car with removable backseats and a more-or-less flat floor. Read how we did that in a Berlingo.

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 those below 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. 

Here’s a Skoda Yeti with the seats folded. They come out too. Why oh why did Skoda stop making this car?

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.

Multi-use Backseat Bed

Car Air Bed Comfortable Travel Inflatable Back Seat Cushion Air Mattress For Kids (Beige)

This airbed can work on the backseat or lengthwise into the boot with seats folded. It comes with a pump, pillows and a section to hold up the bed in the rear footwell.

Boot Backseat Bed

LABABE SUV Mattress Air bed Portable Car Bed for Outdoor Traveling Air Bed Travel Inflation Mattress Back Seat Free Electric Air Pump

A more expensive mattress for the boot of the car, but it has side bumpers to cover the wheel-arches.

 It comes with a 12V pump and stows away to just 25 x 22 x 10cm.

Esplic Car Automatic Air Mattress - Portable SUV Car Back Seat Trunk Travel Inflatable Air Bed - Universal Outdoor Camping AirBed

This boot mattress has two advantages – it’s self-inflating (though you might need to top it up with a bit of breath) and the fabric is more comfortable than some.

You can fold it lengthways for a rather sumptuous mattress for one, or roll it out for a fully wide bed. Packs small.

Bridge the footwell gap

Gorgebuy Car Mattress Inflatable Back Seat Gap Pad Air Bed Cushion for Car Travel Camping

With this inflatable cushion, you can bridge the gap in the rear footwell and use a standard mattress to sleep on.

You’ll need a good thick mattress to even out the bumps. Have a look at our favourites in our camping mats guide.

A bed base made of storage boxes

If you have a car (or van) with a more-or-less flat floor in the back, then the storage box option is fantastic.

The boxes give you space for all your stuff and form a base for your mattress. 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, 64-litre Really Useful Boxes are what we’ve used…really useful. The 84-litre boxes are also perfect in the Berlingo.

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.

We do like sleeping bag hybrids, though, because they give you lots of options.

Andes Grande 4 Season Convertible Quad Layer 700g Envelope Camping Sleeping Bag, Single

A bargain for warmth, this cosy bag comes as a double or single. The double can be turned into two single bags. Both work as a flat duvet.

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

Sleeping pods

We’ve also come across sleeping pods recently and these could be lovely in your car-camper. This  Skandika Vegas is superwarm. The Highlander pod is slightly cheaper and cosy too.

Skandika Vegas Mummy Sleeping Bag with Left Zip, Warm 300 gsm, Filling and Breathable for Camping, Hiking and Trekking, Orange/Grey, 220 x 110 cm/Large
XL Sleeping Bag by Highlander – Extra Large Pod Design perfect for Camping, Sleepovers and Festivals – Lightweight Single Bags suitable for Adults & Juniors -The Sleephaven, Azure, Black & Grape Juice

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 Klymit Static V Luxe, but for more softness, go for something like the Vango Comfort, which is a good balance at 10cm thick and under £60. I’d choose single rather than double for ease of storage and versatility.

Reader Tomazs told us that the usual double mattresses wouldn’t fit in his Honda, so he recommends the 120cm Decathlon airbed. A perfect fit.

Blowing up an airbed in a car isn’t our favourite camping job. Go for self-inflating if you can.

Lots more comfy camping mats in our guide too.

Good All round Mat

For comfort, the best choice from the Klymit range is the Static V Luxe. There’s also an expensive Static V insulated version. They’re super light and the V-shaped baffles keep air in place for a more restful sleep. These are around 7.5cm deep. They’re not self-inflating, but the company promise it’ll take just 10-20 breaths!

There are lighter weight and double versions available too. Best of all? No crinkly crunchy noise when you roll over!

  • Size: 193cm x 76cm
  • Packed size: 14cm x 25cm
  • Weight: 992g (non-insulated)

Mattress Toppers

Latex Plus By Yanis 5cm Dunlop Latex Mattress Topper - Single 90x190cm

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 a Latex Plus By Yanis 5cm Dunlop Latex Mattress Topper to us. It’s little more expensive  but has the advantage of a cover.  There are plenty of sizes to choose from in unbranded memory mattresses that you could then cover with a sheet.

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