We just got a new car! Our decision was in part because our other one, which we loved, was getting too small. We were trying to fit four people, two of them in car seats, a dog, AND gear in a SUB-COMPACT. Lots of people and stuff, itty bitty car. It was a conduit for parental stress, children kicking the backs of seats, and a hard time getting a car seat out.

The other deciding factor was that we could SLEEP in it. That’s right, move over tent! We’re sleeping in the back of our car now. I know, it seems a little crazy, but it was our way of going “camping” this summer.

Why would you do such a thing?!?, you ask us

You may be aware, we’re camping fanatics. Like, lived in a hotel but camped on weekends for three straight months last year type fanatics. But this year was different – we couldn’t camp at high elevation (which is like half of Colorado) because of the baby, and we couldn’t sleep in a tent because we live in bear country. Bear country + breastfeeding = recipe for us to become bear snacks.

So we were getting hotels, which is expensive, to say the least. Half the reason we camp is because you can do it for free. (Don’t believe me? I plan on writing an entire post on it.) We kind of needed a change.

Though we did it (mostly) for the money, the there are a couple of other benefits. The first is the convenience. You can park anywhere. If you’ve ever leaned back a driver’s seat in a Walmart parking lot, you know what I mean. Second, you don’t actually have to get out of the car. We managed to set up everything and get to sleep without getting wet even though it was pouring one night.

We woke up to this, literally

Okay, so it’s not all sunshine and rainbows…

That said, there is setup, unlike an RV (and some camper trailers), which can be tricky if you have lots of gear. There’s also the downside of having to tear down and set up every night. Which, if you’re on the move and only spending one night in each location, you’d have to do that anyway.

And you still have to find bathrooms (or be okay with catholes). There’s no privacy and space is tight when it comes to changing clothes… or because there’s four of us and the dog Though if you’ve ever gone backpacking, it’s pretty much the same deal. One major benefit – if you have a moonroof, its great for stargazing in the cold or mosquito invasion. So basically, it’s camping (which, if you’re new to it, here’s a guide to get you out there).

Whatever, you think, you still want to give it a try

To get started, here’s what you need:

  • A mattress
  • Camping gear
  • A car (duh), preferably a big one

Wait, I need a mattress?

Let’s talk more about that last one. You need a mattress for your car. Why? Because the back of a car is kind of uncomfortable. Just trust me on that. What kind of mattress you need depends on you and your car. If you have a truck, you can just throw a regular mattress in the bed like we did back in the good ol’ days. Otherwise, you’ll need an air mattress.

What kind of air mattress you need varies. There are three main types: regular, camping, and car. You know the kind of air mattress you get in the store for when your extended family members come to visit? That’s what I mean by regular. It might sound like a good way to save money, since they’re cheap, but other than single level twin mattresses, it’s unlikely that a regular one will fit in your car. Sure, you can blow it up only part way, but I guess it’s up to you.

Camping mattresses are the kind you find for backpacking and sometimes plain old tent camping and are really super thin. They’re usually only in single level, so they’re not great for families or cuddling. (You can find doubles, though, like this one). This is a good option if you already have them and don’t feel like investing in more. Plus, they’re great space savers!

There are two kinds of car mattresses: backseat and hatchback. If you have an SUV or crossover where the back seats fold all the way down, you can (and probably should) use the kind for hatchbacks. If your seats don’t fold down or your sleeping in a sedan, get the kind for the backseat, which have pieces that fit down in the foot area. These kinds of mattresses are designed to better fit in cars and tend to be thinner than regular air mattresses so you have more room. We own this one and it’s pretty great.

The rainbows actually showed up before it started pouring, just because they wanted to be ironic

I still need camping gear? This isn’t camping!

Moving down that list, you need camping gear. If you’re like us and plan on camping with your kids in the back of an SUV, keep in mind that you’ll need to move all your gear into the front seats of the car. That means that the gear has to fit in the front seat of the car. Because we’re used to having an itty bitty car, when we invested in our camping stuff, we specifically purchased gear made for backpacking. Definitely worth it, since now we can fit everything in the front seats. Otherwise, you really just need ordinary camping gear. You can see a list of what you need (and why) here.

But what about the car?

Kind of a necessity to camp in the car, you need a car! We have a Subaru Ascent (seven passenger). We like it a lot. While we could put the mattress in without moving the middle seats, it wouldn’t fit the 6’2” tall Dad very comfortably. So we have to move our car seats out of the middle row to fold them down. However, It’s big enough that the night it rained, I could move all of the stuff without any of us leaving the car. It was a little bit Tetris-y, but it worked.

Just a head’s up – never ever ever put a baby on an air mattress. While I’ll grant that there’s some gray area about sleeping with baby generally, DO NOT PUT THE BABY ON THE AIR MATTRESS. But wait, you’re thinking, how did you sleep in the car with the Baby if the car seat was covered in stuff and all the way in the front seat and the back had an air mattress?!?!?! Fear not, my novice! We have a special travel bed with a hard bottom and sides that we put on top of the air mattress. He had his own space. I recommend you find something similar (I’d link you what we use, but it was a hand-me-down and I’m not sure they make it anymore – but here’s what else you’ll need).

Additionally, I sat up to feed him (just in case). We also did not let the Kid sleep next to the baby; I was the only person next to him. The other note – make sure your baby is sleeping perpendicular to any slope you’re on. We had two setups – one the short way, and the other the long way. The short way involved heads and feet on window sides, with each of us laying parallel. The long way was where Mom, Dad, and the Baby were parallel, but the Kid was perpendicular to us and next to the hatch. While the long way is a little more intuitive for our heights and definitely more comfortable, our decision was based solely on whether the Baby would roll.

So that’s it! Happy (car) camping!

Leave a Reply