Car Camping Essentials

I’ve heard a lot of terms tossed around for “car camping,” but let’s fix any confusion before I dive in. By car camping, I mean sleeping/camping inside your car. Like #VanLife, but in your car!

You don’t even need to have the typical 4x4 outdoorsy vehicle to do so! I have a Mazda3 and car camp in my car. So if you have a Honda Civic, a Subaru Outback, or a Jeep Wrangler, you can car camp!

Typically when I travel solo and when the weather cools, I trade in my tent for my car. I even do it at the trailheads before starting on a big hike.

While car camping, make sure to follow Leave No Trace principles and common-sense safety practices; never sleep in a vehicle with the engine running.

My tips below will cover ways to make sleeping in your car more comfortable and cozy, including the list of the essentials that I bring.

car camping essentials

Essentials that I bring

Sleeping pad or mattress

You want to be comfy and wake up rested! I use my NEMO backpacking/tent camping sleeping pad as the mattress. If you have an SUV or a bigger car, you can even build a platform and put a thinner mattress on the platform.

Don’t forget to pull down the seats, even in a sedan.

Fuzzy blanket

I bring a fuzzy blanket and put it on top of my sleeping pad/mattress like a sheet. Nothing fancy, it just adds a little comfort.

Sleeping bag

I bring my NEMO sleeping bag car camping too. I typically use it more like a blanket in the car though. I have the fuzzy blanket over my pad and a sleeping bag as a blanket.

car camping


When backpacking or tent camping, I bring an inflatable ultralight pillow. But when car camping, since I spare no comfort, so I bring a pillow from my bed.


I hang up twinkly lights around the inside of the car. Not only does it serve a practical purpose, but it also adds some ambiance to the car. I use MPOWERD’s Luci Solar String Lights.

Know where you can and can’t park

In some national parks, you can’t sleep on the side of the road. Like in Yosemite, and rangers check. But often in National Forests and on BML land you can car camp off the road. Just make sure you aren’t blocking the road, and display any required passes or permits as indicated.

When planning your trip, make sure you know the rules and know where you can and can’t car camp

Sleep with your head towards your feet

I typically do that because that’s where the windows are. But also if you’re on a hill, you want your head to be above your feet.

Set up lighting

I don’t keep the car lights running inside for very long after I turn the engine off. I’m scared of the car battery dying and being stuck. Especially while solo. So I string the MPOWERD Luci String Lights on the inside, and they’re solar charged!

Get cozy and have fun

This is the best part! I bring my laptop to watch a movie or bring a book to read before falling asleep. If you’re car camping with someone else, it’s like a slumber party. Just have fun and watch shooting stars from your window.

More Blog Posts