Car Camping 101
Whether you're car camping to make the most of a tiny calendar window for a microadventure, or because you love the thought of the #vanlife, but can't stomach the cost, it's a great way to maximise your time outdoors.
Having seen ambassador Anna Blackwell making the most of her boot space on many an occasion, we asked if we could share her top tips on car camping. So here they are!
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably prone to pouring over #vanlife Instagram accounts, drooling over van conversions on the regular. Unfortunately for a lot of us, buying a van just isn’t an option, but I’ve decided to not let that stop me from hitting the road on my own mini adventures. Forget #vanlife, it’s all about #carlife now!
To make life that bit easier for anyone considering their first foray into the world of car-camping, I’ve put together my top tips and recommendations.
Work with what you’ve got
Context: at 5’11” I’m pretty tall, but I have a VW Golf – not the most spacious car in the world. I haven’t let that stop me, however. I’ve even managed to sleep in the back of a VW Polo with someone even taller than me, it just sometimes requires a little creative thinking.
My solution: Slide and roll the front seats as far forward as they’ll go, you’ll be amazed at how much extra space this will give you in the back while still leaving storage space on the front seats and in the footwells.
Level out the boot
Unless you’re lucky enough to have one of the rare cars with back seats that fold down level with the boot, you’re going to need to find a way of creating a platform in the boot. Personally, I didn’t want anything too bulky or permanent. Ideally it was something I could pop in and out easily between adventures.
My solution: place little wooden boxes that are the same depth as the along the edges of the boot. On top of these I’ve put a piece of wood, cut to size. I have the option of using one or two pieces of wood depending on whether there’s one or two of us sleeping in the car.
Fill the space behind the front seats
You’ll discover there’s quite a large gap between the headrests of the folded-down back seats and the backs of the front seats. If you’re short enough and have a long car then you may be able to get away with this, but I definitely couldn’t!
My solution: I simply found an extra piece of wood that I could place over the headrests. Once there, I wind back the front seats until they wedge the wood in place. It’s a quick fix and I can’t put too much weight on this area, but it tends to only be my pillow and head there so it hasn’t caused an issue yet.
One of the biggest tips I have is to use Thermawrap insulation in the windows. Thermawrap is only about a centimetre thick and has reflective foil on both sides. This serves two purposes: insulation and privacy.
It’s a bit fiddly, but it’s possible to cut the insulation to the shape of each individual window. If done well, the insulation can be tucked into the windows without much fuss.
Use sticky-back magnets for keeping the insulation in place on the inside of the windscreen and rear-view window. You could also use them for the windows if you’re struggling to fit the Thermawrap into them. I stuck them around the perimeter of the insulation and matched them up on the inside of the windows, making sure to keep them as close to the edge as possible so they don’t distract me when I’m driving.
As Thermawrap is made of a very shiny silver foil, which reflects in car headlights and draws attention to the fact that there’s likely someone inside the car. So, if you want to park up and camp in ultimate stealth mode, then it’s worth painting the outside of the insulation black. I’ve found a can or two of black spray paint are the easiest way to do this. Note: only do one side of each piece of window insulation. You want to keep the inside silver so it can do its job of reflecting heat back into the car, thus keeping it warmer inside.
I’m pretty sure it’s a universally accepted fact that fairylights make everything that bit cosier and more atmospheric. The back of your car is no exception to this!
In addition to making it a nicer environment, they also mean you don’t need to drain your car battery keeping a light on inside the car when it gets dark, and you don’t need to use a headtorch either.
Keep the parcel shelf in
The shelf in the boot of the car – if a rigid one – is really useful storage space for when you’re tucked up inside the car. It provides a perfect place to pop those things you don’t want to lose during the night: car keys, phone, toothbrush… And also makes a great stand to put a laptop on if you’re watching a film in bed!
What to sleep on/in
Originally, I used a mattress topper, but this filled the whole of the back of the car even when I wasn’t parked up and I decided I wanted to be able to pack everything back into the boot in case I needed the backseats for extra passengers, or for when I was parked in a town or city.
Instead, I now use my camping mat and a sleeping bag. Much more compact, and still really comfy! For added comfort, you could add a simple foam mat underneath as well.
Water container: worth picking up a squashable 10-15L water container so you don’t need to worry about filling up water too often.
If you want that extra bit of luxury, how about a table for your kitchen? I constructed one using half of a wallpaper pasting table, the legs trimmed down a bit so it was the right height for one end of the table could rest on the edge of the boot.
If you’re able to open your boot from inside the car, it’s worth attaching a strip of material or piece of rope dangles down when the boot is open. You can then close the boot again without having to leave the comfort of your sleeping bag, by pulling the material!
Before setting off on your adventure, scout Google Maps first on satellite view. Keep an eye out for car parks that are away from the main road or laybys (*not to be confused with passing points*), ideally close to somewhere you may get a good view.
When you park, try to find a level area so you’re not sleeping at an angle. There’s nothing worse than spending the night constantly shuffling back up the car!
Got any questions or suggestions for a better car camping set-up? Get in touch with me online:
Website – annablackwell.co.uk
Insta - @annablackwell
Facebook – Anna Blackwell – Adventurer
Twitter - @_annablackwell