Winter Guide to Car Camping: 7 Tips to Stay Warm and Comfortable While Sleeping in Your Car
Sleeping your car in winter is about as exciting as it sounds...
Yeah. However, it will save you a ton of money and once you've done it once it's nice to know you've unlocked that life skill. Here's my comprehensive guide to making sleeping in your car comfortable and safe.
1. Black out your windows
There are many reasons why you should black out your windows for the night and many methods of doing so. You can buy black sheets of insulation from any hardware store just measure and cut them to the size of your windows, use duck tape for the edges so bits of foam dont go everywhere then tape or use sticky putty to adhere to the inside of your windows. This will not only make it look like no one is even in the car but will provide that little bit of extra insulation; and in winter every little bit helps!
If you're like me and wait until the last minute (when all the hardware stores were closed) to decide to camp for the night you can go to any Walmart or Target and pick up large black poster-boards-you know the kind you get in the stationary/craft section that kids use for school projects. This wont help keep the heat in but it will provide privacy.
Alternatively, you can string some bungee cords or string around the inside of the car to hang a privacy sheet while you sleep (make sure it is a solid color, preferably dark). Which ever you decide, I highly recommend that you put up something, nothing worse than getting that 4am knock on the window from a police officer or park ranger asking you to move your car.
*Pro-tip, black out all the windows with your DIY insulation and use a yoga mat for the front dashboard so you dont have to get a giant insulation sheet for that you wont be able to store easily come daytime.
Most roadtrippers, #vanlifers, or overlanders already have a lot of gear and don't want to add a mass of bedding to that. Pretty much the minimum amount of bedding you can get away with is using your clothes...rolling up a jacket for a pillow, wearing layers, and some large sweatshirt for a blanket, but this is more of a summer option. Depending on where you are, in winter, this probably won't be enough. You have the option to buy one "cold-weather" sleeping bag or two neutral weather sleeping bags which doubled-up may in fact provide you with more warmth than the more expensive one-but will take up more space. You can find both at Walmart, the more expensive will run around $20-24 and the cheaper ones are about $10. I got the more insulated $24 option then added a bed comforter on top and was pretty toasty.
Unfortunately there are no battery powered heaters on the market currently, you could invest in a propane portable heater which is great for vans or trucks but I wouldn't suggest using that in a car and you should NEVER sleep with it on. It's technically "safe," But it's still a propane appliance, and it's just not good practice to sleep with an open flame in any room or small space. If you have an portable travel kettle or stop at your nearest gas station, you can fill a water bottle or full of hot water and keep it in your sleeping bag!
*Protip: Right before you're ready to go to sleep you can turn on your car heater and crank it on full blast for a few minutes then turn it off right before you go to sleep. Also, One benefit of waking up in your car is that you can do the same thing right when you wake up!
3. Rug up!
Now for what to wear. You need to wear a lot of layers so that you're warm but not too many that you sweat in your sleep and your sweat freezes. A tank top, thermal long sleeve top, and a puffer jacket works well for me. For the bottoms I wear fleece-lined leggings and sweat pants on top of that combined with fuzzy socks and a beanie.
*Protip: keep your water bottle in your sleeping bag so it wont freeze overnight
and once it warms up it will keep you warm too!
You may think your car seats are comfortable enough to get by without any added cushions but after your first night of sleeping on them- I'm sure you will think differently! An inflatable car mattress is an inexpensive alternative that will actually provide comfort. You can find this inexpensive version on Amazon. It has a pump that you can plug into your car's cigarette lighter and fills up in minutes and is actually pretty comfortable! What I like about it is that is has cushions that fill the gap between the back and front seats so the mattress lays flat and you have more room.
Rest stops are the easiest place to sleep overnight, for a slightly quieter slumber, park on the side away from the bathrooms closer to the highway. There will be more highway noise but less slamming car doors and beeps from cars locking and unlocking. There are always 24 hr bathrooms and some have showers and even Wi-Fi! For a hot shower you can cheekily ask for a day trial at a gym and use theirs and most travel gas stations have showers you can pay to use. They can run anywhere from $5-15 per person. If you ask me that's a bit steep for running hot water in a dingy overused bathroom. Depending where you are travelling, You can find some cafes for travellers (Usually close to state or national parks) that offer showers, sauna, hot tubs and have espresso! They run about the same cost but are a much nicer and cleaner environment.
6. How to get the best sleep possible in a vehicle not made for sleeping.
Actually sleeping is the easy part, its all the other stuff that makes this tricky and annoying: changing in your car, arranging all of your luggage and trying to keep everything organized, etc. Sleep with your head elevated. Doing so keeps you from getting sick and helps you get an overall better quality of sleep. If you are sleeping in your car on a hill, turn your head to the highest part of the vehicle
Crack the windows a tiny bit. When going to sleep, roll down a window enough to breathe but high enough to keep hands out of your car. If you’re trying to keep bugs out, you can drape a piece of clothing over the opening or bring a piece of mesh to block the passageway. If it starts to rain or snow you can put a the top lid of a large Tupperware container on top of the window crack, provided your car has a rack on its hood, otherwise you can drape a piece of plastic over the crack.
Wear a sleeping mask and ear plugs. If you’re in the city, you may have streetlights shining in your window all night, if you're by the highway, the in and out of cars (especially trucks) and doors slamming will be annoying. The morning sun can also be a nuisance, especially if you want to sleep in-a sleeping mask can help block out that unwanted light.
Safety as a #solofemaletraveler is key. I actually feel that car camping is safer than regular camping when you are alone because if anything happens you can hop into the front seat and drive off, whereas if you are set up with a campsite and have to run you will be leaving all your belongings behind. Make sure to stay vigilant and stock up on supplies. Do a quick survey of the area you plan to park in, first drive around and check it out and then check it out on foot. Always pay attention to who is around you and trusts your instincts, if you get a weird feeling from a person or place it's your gut telling you something is off! Always make sure you have something to defend yourself with whether its a self-defense keychain, a taser, pepper spray- or preferably all three. I also take a tire lug wrench and place it in the passenger seat back pocket; if I'm sleeping in the back this allows easy access as well as if I'm in the front seat i can easily reach for it. Additionally always sleep with your keys in your pocket or basically right next to your face. If someone attempts to bother you, simply setting off the car alarm is usually enough to make them run off.
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