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One thing I do not go car camping without are my black-out window shades. Car camping window coverings are the best thing to use for complete privacy while you sleep in your car. They block out light and are said to keep the interior cooler or warmer, depending on what side of the window shades face in. They are also great at hiding what is inside your car when parked in public parking lots for extended amounts of time.
There are several ways to make privacy shades. Some car campers prefer shaded window screens, blackout curtains, or removable blackout shades made from a piece of reflectix, cardboard, or foam board. There are pros and cons with each method and materials used. I favor removable blackout shades made from reflectix because they are easy to make, easy to store, and easy to install.
Weather Tech makes custom made windshield sunshades for any car. A complete set is around $200 but prices vary depending on the vehicle.
If you are looking to save money, there are a few different ways you can DIY your own window shades for under $35.00.
The hardest part of DIY window shades is tracing the inside of the windows to get the correct size pattern, which is not that hard. DIY window shades are easy to make, do not take a ton of time but do require a little bit of patience.
In this post, I’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to DIY your own car window covers with all the supplies you need so you can have reusable privacy window covers for all your car camping adventures.
Tips for DIY car camping window shades
For the front window, you can purchase a pre-made front windshield sun shade which is the simplest solution. Font windshields are typically wider than the rolled insulation. The insulation also does not fold well, so having one large piece may be hard to store in your car. All other windows will need a custom shade to fit its unique shape.
You only need enough pattern paper to draw a pattern for one side of the car’s windows. Aside from the front window and back window, the passenger windows are mirror images so you can just flip the pattern to make two shades, one for each side.
It is best to paint, tape or use black fabric to cover one side of the reflective material. The reflective side will help block out sun during the day, and the black side helps trap heat at night if camping in cold weather.
Spray paint is the quickest solution to cover one side of the reflective window covering but the spray paint flakes off with use.
It is important to note you should not drive with the reflective shades facing the outside of the car as a courtesy to other drivers. The sun may catch the reflective material and send a blinding ray to other drivers while on the road.
I’ve learned that reflectix insulation comes in not only different widths and lengths but also thicknesses. The thicker option is best for securing the shades in the window pane without having to use duct tape. However, I’ve found it difficult to tell what roll is thick per the label. In the photo above on the right you can see the difference between the two thicknesses. Home Depot usually only has the thinner option, while my local Ace Hardware store always has the thicker version.
Supplies to make car camping window covers
- Dark-colored marker or felt tip pen to trace the window frame
- A pair of scissors to cut your pattern and the window coverings
- Newspaper, kraft paper, or tissue paper for tracing your window patterns
- Scotch tape to tape pieces of paper together to create a large single sheet of tracing paper and to attach tracing paper to the windshield when tracing (optional)
- Rolled Reflectix Bubble Pack Insulation
- Black spray paint or black fabric and spray adhesive
- Black duct tape (optional)
- You don’t need a sewing machine or cardboard pieces for these window covers.
Follow these six simple steps to make your car camping window covers
First Step: Tracing the window pattern
The first step is tracing the pattern of windows on one side of the car.
You can use any kind of paper to make your pattern including newspaper, packing paper, kraft paper, three-ply tissue paper, packaging paper, or even construction paper. The best kind of paper to use is as wide as your pattern needs to be, meaning a single sheet of tracing paper should be bigger than the size of the windows to be traced.
Kraft paper is my favorite to use because it is more durable and easier to work with when tracing car windows. It is also the only paper I found to be wide enough as a car window. However, kraft paper can be hard to get and expensive if you buy it just to make window shades. It comes in heavy rolls, and the smallest roll is typically way more paper than you need to make a set of car window shade patterns.
With that said newspaper and tissue is a great option as well. Honestly, anything you have, even a brown paper bag, can be cut open to create tracing paper. Use scotch tape to piece together multiple pieces of paper to create a large piece of tracing paper that will exceed the size of each car window to be traced.
Use a felt tip marker to trace a pattern from the inside of the window. Of course, you can use whatever you want to trace the window pattern, but the felt tip marker shows up easily, glides easily, and helps not to rip the tracing paper. It is much easier than using a sharper pen or pencil. You must push the paper inside the window frame for a good trace. Do not worry if the trace is not perfect; it is best to make the pattern a little larger than the window and shave it down rather than cutting the pattern too small to begin with.
Second Step: Cut out the initial window pattern
Once you have the paper template, it is time to cut it out. Make your initial cut outside of the traced line on your pattern paper; that way, you have some room for error if the pattern isn’t perfect.
Third Step: Re-measure the pattern
Double-check that the cut pattern fits inside the car’s windows and is not too small or too big. If there is any excess material, shave it off with your scissors. If the pattern is too small, mentally add length or width when tracing onto the insulation or retrace the pattern. Cut the paper pattern to fit snugly inside each window frame; you should not see the window’s glass.
Fourth Step: Trace the pattern onto the insulation
Once you cut out the paper patterns, place them on top of the reflectix Insulation material. Because the roll of reflectix is rolled, it won’t lay flat when you unroll it to trace your patterns. Use something heavy like a book, a can of paint, or a shoe to help the reflectix lay flat. With your marker, trace around each window pattern onto the reflectix insulation. I use the dash tracing method (see photo below).
To save some time, since the car’s windows are mirror images of each other, you only have to make one pattern. You do not have to make a separate pattern for each window. Just flip the pattern over and trace two window shapes that are mirror images of each other.
Fifth Step: Cut the window shades out
Cut the pattern out on the outside of the traced line so the window shade is a bit bigger than the window, it is ok if the shade is not the exact size of the window. You want the shade to fit snugly in the window frame to help it stay in place on its own. Re-measure the shade and trim down if needed.
Sixth Step: Darken one side of the reflectix
Once your shades are cut to the correct measurements, it’s a good idea to paint or attach pieces of fabric to one side of the shade. Some people skip this step, but I think it is best to have one side black to help the shades blend into the car as if it’s window tinting.
Make sure the glue or spray paint bonds to the plastic and leave it for 24 hours to completely dry or cure.
That is it!
If you use fabric on your window shades, apply the glue to the reflectix insulation and then lay the insulation on top of the fabric until the glue cures. Then cut out the fabric around the glued down shade for a cleaner finish.
Additional Tips for DIY Window Covers
I’ve made two sets of window coverings over the past few years and used black spray paint both times to make one side black. The drawback with spray paint is that with use, the paint flakes off of the reflective material, and little tiny specks of paint get all over the car. You can see in the photo below what the specks of spray paint look like when flaking off the window covers. It can be annoying.
Another option is to use blackout fabric that can absorb the sun’s rays. You can attach the fabric to one side of the window shade using spray adhesive or a good fabric/plastic glue. Gorilla Glue makes a fabric glue, but the best fabric-to-plastic glue I’ve used is Loctite Vinyl glue.
The best fabric to use holds up in the heat and doesn’t fray when cut. Felt is a good option, but it usually comes in small sheets and can be more difficult to apply. A thin lining fabric made out of polyester is a good option. This fabric does fray when cut, so make sure the edges of the fabric are glued down to prevent over-fraying.
Using fabric comes at an additional cost but provides a cleaner look to your vehicle’s windows and helps the shades last longer.
I hope these instructions are easy to follow and help you create DIY car camping window covers. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below. Blackout window shades are the perfect solution for a good night’s sleep and added privacy when sleeping in your car. I could not car camp without them!