15 Best Car Camping Hacks for Living in Your SUV

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Craving the convenience and adventure of car camping but not sure how to live in such a small space? Whether you’re a seasoned road warrior or a first-time camper, transforming your SUV into a comfortable living space is a key factor in ensuring a memorable and enjoyable journey. From optimizing sleep setups to crafting ingenious storage solutions, this article is your guide to unlocking the full potential of your vehicle for a cozy and hassle-free car camping experience.

With the right tools, car camping essentials and the best SUV car camping setup, you’ll be on your way to a comfortable and cozy home away from home in no time. These top car camping hacks for living in an SUV will give you plenty of insight on how to enjoy the freedom of the open road and keep you coming back for more. 

Create a Level Bed Platform

A few simple tricks can go a long way when sleeping in your car for long periods of time, having a level bed platform is one of them. 

The first thing I made when I decided to embark on my first cross country road trip, was a purpose-built sleeping platform designed for my specific SUV. I knew trying to sleep on an incline was not an ideal sleeping set up for me. While pillows create a slight incline, I wanted my bed base to be level for more consistency in sleeping conditions. 

A flat and stable bed platform in a car contributes to better sleep quality by minimizing disturbances from uneven terrain or shifting positions. It reduces the likelihood of blood circulation issues, promoting proper flow to extremities and lowering the risk of numbness. The level surface also facilitates ease of movement, crucial for comfort during extended sleep in confined spaces like cars and helps create a more restful and rejuvenating car camping experience.

A raised sleeping platform also allows for additional storage space underneath which comes in very handy when living in a small space! I store shoes and hats underneath my bed platform.

Use a Comfortable Mattress

I really can’t say enough about how important your car camping sleeping setup is. It is really the one big thing that can make or break your car camping experience. 

Besides a level sleeping platform, feather pillows and bedding that is fit for the temperature, a comfortable mattress or sleeping pad is key to providing comfort and quality to your overall car camping experience. 

A good mattress can help insulate you from the cold ground and improve overall sleeping quality. It cushions against the hardness of the car’s interior, enhances sleep quality, and helps regulate temperature. A portable mattress ensures a more restful experience, making it easier to adapt to varying terrains while enjoying the flexibility and convenience of sleeping in your vehicle during outdoor adventures.

I use a foldable memory foam mattress that provides comfort with additional storage space in the removable mattress cover. I do not like having to blow up and deflate a mattress daily or want to risk puncturing it so the foldable memory foam mattress has been my perfect companion. 

Choose the Right Cooler

I use the Yeti Roadie 24 and the IceMule backpack cooler for all my road trips and car camping adventures. An insulated cooler helps keep perishable food items fresh for a longer time by maintaining a lower temperature than the surrounding environment. With proper insulation, a cooler can extend the storage time for ice, allowing you to keep food and beverages chilled throughout your road trip without constantly restocking on ice. A cooler makes it easier to eat healthy and gives you the flexibility to explore remote or less developed areas where food options may be limited.

For optimal convenience, place your cooler in a convenient location so you can easily reach into it while at a red light or a rest stop. I place my Yeti Roadie 24 behind my passenger’s seat. The soft handle allows it to easily fit with the front passenger seat moved all the way forward which allows for easy access from the driver’s seat and helps eliminate the need to stop frequently for refreshments or snacks. 

Organize Your Space

Proper car camping organization is essential for efficient use of limited room, ensuring easy access to essentials, reducing stress, and enhancing safety. A tidy environment promotes a stress-free atmosphere, while proper storage prevents hazards and minimizes risks of accidents. Well-organized spaces designated for daily uses like sleeping, cooking and relaxation, facilitate quick setup and breakdown, contributing to a more enjoyable outdoor experience. 

Use storage containers or organizers to keep your gear and supplies neatly arranged in your car. This will not only help you find things easily but also create more space for sleeping. Consider investing in collapsible storage solutions to maximize space when not in use.

Use a mesh seat organizer for toiletries

While you can keep anything in these seat organizers, this one works so well for toiletries. It takes up minimal space and keeps personal items easily accessible, minimizing clutter, leading to efficient packing and stress-free journeys.

Pack clothing or supplies in a clear storage container

This is one of the best car camping hacks for staying organized. It makes finding what you need so easy. I use a 66 qt or 95 qt Sterilite Clear Plastic Latch box for all my clothing, depending on how long I’ll be gone. I use smaller clear containers for kitchen supplies and snacks. The large latch container fits comfortably next to my bed in the trunk of my car and acts as a nightstand, perfect for my mini fan on warm nights.  

Keep the driver’s seat and floor area clear

Don’t store anything around the driver’s area, especially at night when you may want to make a sudden exit in case of an emergency. Maintaining an uncluttered driver’s area is vital for safety, visibility, and comfort. Loose items can interfere with driving, hinder visibility, and pose risks during emergencies. 

Also, overnight bathroom emergencies are easier if you have a dedicated area to squat. While you might not want to use the restroom in your car, if you are living in your car for an extended time it’s quite possible to become a reality. 

Bring a Few W.A.G. Bags

You never know when you may have to go- and if it’s in the middle of the night with no available toilets and you’re sleeping in your SUV in a public parking lot, you may have no other option but to squat in your front seat and use a W.A.G Bag or disposable commode liner + absorbent pad.

The W.A.G bag toilet kits have cleanwaste technology with NASA gelling poo powder and odor control with a super absorbent design that breaks down liquid and solid waste. WAG is an acronym for Waste Alleviating Gel. These bags are used frequently in wilderness areas where packing out human waste is required like in desert landscapes. 

The disposable commode liners + absorbent pads are just for #1s. The absorbent pad has a gelling feature to help trap liquids while preventing splashes and reducing odor from liquid waste. Going to the bathroom in a bag in your car or SUV might not be preferred but having some kind of emergency bathroom system is important when living in your SUV. 

Stick to Full Size Toiletries

This one is totally personal preference but I always bring full size toiletries on car camping road trips. The mesh car seat organizer keeps them organized and I don’t have to worry about running out while living in my car. With the extra space allotted in  a car, you don’t have to pick and choose what liquids to bring, making it easy to pack all of your essentials. I love not sacrificing my skincare and haircare routine which provides a sense of comfort and consistency while on the road.

Some people love the travel size hotel toiletries, but hotel quality toiletries dry my skin and hair out so badly. Sticking to my normal a.m and p.m routines when on the road helps improve my overall experience when sleeping in my car on long road trips.  I’ve been using Ethique shampoo and conditioner bars for a few years now and have loved the healthy change in my skin and scalp. 

Use Blackout Window Covers

To enhance privacy when sleeping in your SUV in public spaces, use blackout window covers. Window covers create a darker sleeping environment by blocking out external light, whether from streetlights or the sun, and can also help regulate the temperature inside your car contributing to a good night’s sleep.

Blackout window covers were the 2nd thing I DIY-ed prior to my first car camping road trip. They are a practical car camping hack that ensures a more restful and enjoyable experience for different car camping scenarios.

Bring a Rinse Kit

As one of my top car camping essentials, a Rinse Kit is the easiest way to feel refreshed after a long day in nature. A rinse kit stands out as a top car camping hack offering a convenient on-the-go pressurized water solution, it ensures campers can stay fresh and hygienic in remote locations. Its multi-functional design extends beyond personal use, allowing for efficient cleaning of dishes, gear, or pets while prioritizing water consumption with its variety of spray nozzles.

I could never live in my SUV without a Rinse Kit. I use the mist spray option when washing my face and brushing my teeth to conserve water and keep me happy in the backcountry for weeks. 

Invest in a Jackery 

Another car camping hack I could not live in my car without, is a Jackery power station. Using a Jackery power station during car camping provides a reliable and portable source of electricity. 

It’s best to avoid frequent engine starts, (which may contribute to wear on the starter and the ignition system over time) to charge electronics or camping supplies for long periods. It is more efficient and environmentally friendly to use a portable power station to charge your electronics without relying on the vehicle’s engine.

With built-in AC outlets, USB ports, and a rechargeable battery, the Jackery powers various devices like phones, laptops, and camping gear in a compact design making it an essential tool, offering off-grid energy for extended trips, ensuring you stay connected, powered, and able to enjoy electronic comforts while car camping. 

I’ve been using the Jackery 500 for a few years and love how easy it is to charge while driving. 

RainX is the Best

This hack is as simple as it gets. Rain-X is a great idea when traveling in your car, especially on long road trips. It creates a hydrophobic surface, causing rainwater to bead up and roll off the windshield more easily. It enhances visibility, reduces the need for constant windshield wiper use and makes driving in the rain safer. I always keep a small bottle in my glove compartment along with a microfiber cloth to apply it to my windshield. Make sure to read the instructions for proper application and how to avoid streaks.

Downloads!

Pre-downloading a road trip playlist, audiobooks, podcasts and offline maps are a great way to enhance your car camping experience. Having available downloads ensures entertainment without relying on an internet connection or good cell reception. You won’t have to worry about getting lost with offline maps or getting bored while on the road

You will have uninterrupted enjoyment of music, stories, or informative content during remote camping or when weather may prevent you from exploring outdoors. 

Remembering to download in advance conserves data and battery life!

Create a DIY Ventilation System

Improve airflow in your car by cracking windows slightly or using small battery-powered fans. This can help prevent condensation inside the vehicle and maintain a comfortable temperature. I use these mesh window and sunroof covers to prevent bugs and debris from getting into my car. They work great! Just make sure you check the weather and don’t use the sunroof cover in a rainstorm. Being mindful of ventilation ensures a fresh and breathable sleeping environment.

Lighting Solutions

Bring portable, battery-operated lights or a headlamp to illuminate your car’s interior during the night. This will be handy for tasks like finding items, reading, or getting in and out of your sleeping area or using the restroom at night. Twinkle lights are very popular amongst car campers and add a nice atmosphere to your car camping setup. They also look great in photos. I don’t have any twinkle lights yet but always travel with a hands free headlamp.

Portable Travel Kettle

My newest favorite car camping hack is the portable travel kettle for heating water. This kettle cuts cooking time in half and makes preparing dehydrated meals super simple. I have a portable camp stove and a Jetboil but both require a flat surface, external fuel and take much longer to boil water than an electric kettle. There is no set up with an electric kettle and saves so much time. It works great with the Jackery 500

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Sam wearing backpack and hat walking through town.

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