Last summer, I went up to rural Maine to visit my married friends. I loaded up a tent and gear into my Nissan Sentra and made the drive up. They have a large amount of wooded land and often invite me and our other friends up for camping. While there, the wife of the couple told me about how she would do hiking trips when she was in college. She would drive out to the state forest, sleep in her car overnight, then hike in the morning. As soon as I heard this, I thought it was brilliant.
I was reminded of a video I had seen years ago (even before I had a car) of a guy just showing off his Honda Civic living situation. Now, of course, my friend just meant she’d bum it overnight in the driver’s seat, but I was determined then to get a sick setup going.
After getting back home, I made quick work in getting the back seats out of my car. From there, the rest is fun and awesome history. Through trial and error, I managed to get an awesome car camping setup going. In 2021, I went on two extended camping trips and countless overnight park-and-hike trips. To raise the stakes, at the beginning of this year, I went on a three-week cross-country road trip living out of my car. Getting things together has been a work in progress. However, the setup I have now is comfortable, efficient, and most importantly for a broke college student, inexpensive.
Bugging Out of My Car Camping Setup
The first iteration of my car setup was rough. I already had a 3-inch foam sleeping pad which I was able to augment with a memory foam mattress pad and a mattress protector. I slapped a piece of plywood down in the back and I was ready to go. However, I anticipated that the summer nights would bring countless insects, and there was no way I’d be able to roll out in that humid New England weather with the windows rolled up. My first solution was to cut window screening and tape it to my windows. While that worked well, it was a horrendous sight to behold.
After hitting the duct tape residue with some Goo-Gone, I settled on a different solution. A $12 pair of polyester window screens does a great job. Not only do they keep the bugs out and allow you to keep the back windows rolled down, but they can also be put on and removed at a moment’s notice.
Powering My Car Camping Setup
I found very early on in my trips that powering my electronic devices would be an issue. My car doesn’t allow for charging off the battery when the car is off. And even if it did, I wouldn’t want to drain the battery. The small battery packs that I tried out only lasted me a day or two, so I found that I needed a better solution. I settled on getting a Jackery Explorer 240. It meets and exceeds my minimum power requirements. I can charge my phone, kindle, and smart watch dozens of times each. It’s even capable of running my laptop for a short period. (Although if you wanted a battery pack that could reliably run a laptop for several hours on end, I’d recommend getting a higher capacity battery).
Initially, I had wanted to get the Jackery Explorer 300 due to its integrated USB-C support and slightly larger capacity, but I wasn’t able to get it in time for my three-week trip. Despite that, the Explorer 240 has served me well, and at a very reasonable price for the quality. While I’d consider upgrading if my power needs changed, the Explorer 240 is enough for most casual applications.
Should You Give Compact Car Camping a Try?
When I got back into camping last spring, I found a lot of the traditional aspects of camping to be frustrating. While tents may be fun, when you’re going on bi-weekly excursions, sometimes you want something more convenient. My car camping setup has been incredibly helpful, and has allowed me to do things that I wouldn’t otherwise do. I’ve worked mostly with materials I already had, and augmented that with small purchases. This has allowed me to keep the costs down, while also maximizing fun and convenience. If you feel like taking the back seats out of your sedan, something like this may be a fun and interesting way to spice up your adventures.