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Car Camping: A Gear Guide to Sleeping In Your Car

Car Camping: A Gear Guide to Sleeping In Your Car

Posted by Dan Goodman on 9th Jul 2020

Car camping has taken on a new meaning these days with many campers choosing the comforts of their own cars over spending the night in a stuffy tent. While we’d all love a fully built out Sprinter van, complete with heated floors and indoor plumbing, for many of us, that’s just not in the budget. If you find yourself having to go without, but still want to avoid the hassle of pitching a tent every time you go camping, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re in a hatchback, SUV, truck, or van, here are a few essential pieces of gear you’ll need to enjoy life at camp when you’re sleeping in your car.

Camper cooking food outside of his van while car camping.

Sleep System

What, you thought sleeping in your car meant you could leave the sleeping bag and pad at home? 

Sleeping Pad

Perhaps the most important piece of gear you’ll need for sleeping in your car is a thick sleeping pad. Mattress toppers work, but they generally won’t keep you from feeling a hard surface underneath, especially if you sleep on your side. Fortunately, sleeping pad manufacturers caught on to the camping in your car craze and made cushy, self-inflating mattresses that fit perfectly inside your car, like the  Exped MegaMat and NEMO Roamer. Whatever you choose, be sure to measure the dimensions of your car to figure out the best fit, and make sure your pad is plenty thick to keep you from waking up with a sore back.

Exped MegaMat Max 15 Sleeping Pad with a shop now button.


NEMO Roamer Sleeping Pad with a shop now button.


Exped MegaMat Duo 10 Sleeping Pad with a shop now button.


Sleeping Bag

Think luxury. There’s no reason not to be cozy when all you have to do is pull out your sleeping bag and throw it into the back of your car. It’s important to remember that cars don’t provide much more insulation than your tent would so get a sleeping bag with a lower temperature rating than the ambient nighttime temperature outside.

For more detailed information on picking the right sleeping bag, check out our full post How to Choose a Sleeping Bag.

NEMO Tempo 20 Women's Sleeping Bag


Big Agnes Diamond Park Sleeping Bag

Big Agnes Dream Island Doublewide Sleeping Bag

Camp Pillow

As much fun as resting your head directly on the plastic panels of the car can be, we think you’ll enjoy the creature comforts of a camp pillow. Before you ask, yes, a regular old pillow will do the trick, but in case you don’t want to dirty the pillows you use at home, or don’t have a lot of extra space, here are a few of our favorite, plush camping pillows that will cradle your cranium while you count sheep.

NEMO FIllo King camping pillow with a shop now button.

NEMO Fillo Luxury camp pillow with a shop now button.

Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe camping pillow with a shop now button.


Just because you wanted to escape the bugs outside, doesn’t mean it’s time for bed. At the same time, headlamps inside the car are a good way to spend a few hours blinding your camp partner while you read a book or map out the next day’s hike.

This leaves you with the option of draining your car battery by using the interior car lights and risk needing a jump by morning or investing in the  Big Agnes mtnGLO Camp Lights. Doubling as string lights that you can wrap around your car or as a lantern in the included carry case, these give off enough ambient light to play cards by, without ruining your night vision. 

Big Agnes mtnGLO camping lights with a shop now button.


Camp Table

Sure, you can cook in the back of the car, but do you really want to go to sleep smelling fish fillets all night long? Plus, cooking on a table outside means you don’t have to risk any build-up of fumes in the car, which you don’t want to be breathing in all night.

Big Agnes Woodchuck camp table with a shop now button.

Big Agnes Soul Kitchen camp table with a shop now button.

Camp Stove

Jetboil’s backpacking stoves are all the rage these days and for good reason. But, when you need a reliable camp stove that you don’t have to carry on your back, there is no reason to make it anything less than a 2-burner system. Even better, doubling your cooking surface doesn’t necessarily mean doubling the price, which is something both your stomach and your wallet will appreciate.

Jetboil Genesis camp stove with a shop now button.

Eureka! Ignite camp stove with a shop now button.

Eureka! Ignite Plus camp stove with a shop now button.

Camp Chair

Have we mentioned that comfort is king? You might think that you’ll find a comfortable log or rock to sit on around the campfire, but more often than not, that’s not the case. You could also use your backpacking stool, but the chances are that after a long day of hiking, fishing, climbing, and all-around outdoor adventure, you’re going to want a chair that supports you completely.

Big Agnes Mica Basin Arcmchair with a shop now button.

Big Agnes Big Six camp chair with a shop now button.

NEMO Stargaze Recline Luxury camp chair with a shop now button.


If you’re sleeping in your car, you probably don’t have access to running water, making it difficult to keep clean and to do the dishes. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and that way is the camp shower. Pressurized showers give you a way to rinse off in case you want to stay squeaky clean while camping, or in case you find some poison ivy on the trail, and they double as an easy way to wash off your hands and rinse the dishes. Plus, with the added option of a shower tent, you can find yourself some privacy, even at crowded campsites.

NEMO Helio pressure shower with a shop now button.

NEMO Helio LX pressure shower with a shop now button.

NEMO Heliopolis shower tent with a shop now button.


Seasoned campers may have a lot of their gear dialed, but unless you’ve been camping out of your car for years, you could probably make some improvements to your setup. The most important thing to remember is that by maximizing your space, and by choosing plush camping gear over ultralight options, sleeping in your car can be just as comfortable as a night at home in bed. Plus, in case you decide to start tent camping in the future, you’ll already have everything you need for a pleasant night spent under the stars.

About Campman

Campman is an outdoor retail store located in Salt Lake City, Utah that specializes in gear and equipment for camping, skiing, backpacking, climbing, and everything in between. We understand that the difference between a bad memory and the adventure of a lifetime can come down to the gear you take with you when you head outdoors, and we want our customers to have the best experiences possible. When it comes to getting outside, we get it, and we’ll get you the gear you need to get there.

Questions? Feel free to contact us by phone at (801) 999-8117 or by email at

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