How to Sleep Comfortably in a Car While Car-Camping?

Here’s a question that will come up a lot in the car-camping world: “How do I sleep in my car when I’m camping?” While there are many ways to sleep comfortably in a car, the following techniques are the ones I use.


Travel Camping Sleeping Bags

Depending on how much you travel, you may be able to make your sleeping bag. Even if you don’t, you may have a sleeping bag that can double as a travel bag. I have a simple design (see pictures at right). It takes about 2 hours to make a bag and should be about 1 lb. which is about what a day pack weighs. It has a rectangular bottom, a rectangular side, and a round top. I’ve included drawings of the basic bag design so you can make one yourself if you don’t already have one.

A sleeping bag weighs about a pound and is made of two pieces, with the body about 10″x24″, and the foot pouch about 12″x15″. I cut the top of the sleeping bag (which is where you sleep) down about 4″ wide and 6″ tall to make room for my feet, which I sleep on. I cut the side to be 6″ tall and about 10″ long and I made a drawstring at each side to keep the bag from coming undone when I get up in the middle of the night.

(You can buy just a piece of the sleeping bag fabric and have it delivered to you.) The sack-type of sleeping bag you see in stores is called a zippered bottom and is easier to use for packing and carrying around. You do need the zipper, which is the black tape you see in the photo. The fabric for the bag is thick enough that you can pack clothing in it without having to worry about it coming out and ruining your sleeping bag.

The bag I have has a small storage pocket on each side that I use as a clothes shelf. There are many variations on the idea of a zippered bottom sleeping bag that I won’t go into here. Some people use a sweat-soaker-type sleeping bag. Others use a heavy-down sleeping bag. One of the major problems I have with a water-resistant down sleeping bag is that if you get a lot of rain and the bag gets damp, your down insulation feels cold and is difficult to sleep in. I find a lightweight synthetic sleeping bag is much more comfortable.

Adjustable Bunk Bed

If you use a tent, you can get an adjustable bunk bed for a little more than $10. I found that a couple of inches of water provides good support for my feet. (The picture at right shows my modified sleeping bag). You’ll need some kind of support system (I have a foam pad for support) and some kind of pegs to attach the support bar to the top of the bed. I use an aluminum frame that has holes drilled in the frame. The holes are large enough that I can poke the pegs through them, but not so large that it will be a nuisance to do so. This frame is about a foot wide and I have to roll it up to bring it into the car.

The frame comes apart so it can be rolled up into a backpack. You’ll also need some cheap foam or air mattress to use as a base for the bunk bed. I have an adjustable foam mattress with a place where I can make a semi-circle hole that I put on the top of the bed. (I used a bedspring and stuff sack to make it somewhat stiff and it’s worked out pretty well.) To use it, you need to push it slightly into the hole (be careful, it’s pretty lightweight and won’t support itself) and then put a sleeping bag, blanket, or thin sleeping pad on top of it. This mattress pad helps make the bed more comfortable when you roll up into it. If you don’t have a foam pad or a sleeping bag you can buy one for around $10.

Sleeping Bag Rucksack

The next thing I make is a sleeping bag rucksack that I use for camping. It’s made out of a standard sleeping bag that you can buy for around $40. When I make it I always buy a 10″x20″ sleeping bag because that’s about the length I usually need for short camping trips. I cut out the whole back of the bag (the part with the hood), the bottom of the sleeping bag (the part with the foot pocket and air pocket), and the zipper. The zipper is the most difficult to cut out so I usually start with it and cut the feet off the other sides. After you cut out the bottom, you put the bag on a surface and go around in a circle at the edges and cut it out on the inside. You can use two people to carry the rucksack because it is a lightweight piece of gear.

Once you have the bottom cut out you have to decide what kind of support you want for the bag. I normally have the bag about 6-7” off the ground and the opening for the zipper is about 10-12”. You want the opening big enough that it’s easy to pull the bag up if you get too cold but not so big that you can’t move it around. I’ve even gotten in the habit of using a hanging baggie to keep the wind off my feet when I sleep. The bag is also large enough that I can carry it around in my car if I don’t need it for the night.

When I’m carrying the bag it usually rides on the top of the Jeep-like the removable side storage box. I’ve found this to be a good arrangement because it’s easy to hold on to. If you don’t have a rucksack or don’t want to carry a bag, a sleeping bag jacket can be made from a sleeping bag and a couple of pieces of fabric. Make sure that the bag has a minimum length of 14” and that the zipper is long enough to be able to easily put in and take out the bag. It helps to have a taller sleeping pad to put on the jacket so it doesn’t slide down your sleeping pad.


The last thing I make is a canopy for my tent. A lot of people will have a smaller tent that doesn’t have enough room to attach a regular tarp to it. If that’s you I can’t recommend enough using a tarp that you can hang from a tree. Most tarp is only 4’x6’, but when you add the length of the canvas and waterproof layer you have enough to make a great 5’x10’ shelter. Many times you can just cut holes in the bottom of the tarp (I like to cut around 2 or 3 inches off the bottom of the tarp) and stick some plastic sheeting over the holes to make a really small tent that will add some extra rain protection. I’ve found that it’s difficult to cook inside the tarp. You can put a couple of chairs, a propane stove, a couple of plates, a bowl, and a cup into the tarp and use it as an outdoor table. It’s also a lot easier to cook outside when it’s raining. I usually take the canopy off my Jeep and put it up when I go camping.

Down pillow

I started looking for a sleeping bag pillow that would be light, warm, and comfortable after searching the internet. I couldn’t find anything that would fit all of my criteria so I went and bought one at Target. I love this sleeping bag pillow. It’s thick enough that it feels like I’m sleeping on a sleeping bag but it’s so light that it’s not bothersome at all. It has the same dimensions as the sleeping bag so it fits perfectly into the bag. It even stays compressed when you fold the zipper away.

I’ve used the sleeping bag pillow for years and find it to be the most comfortable thing I’ve ever slept on. I’m not sure what the exact density is, but it’s something around 7 pounds per square inch. I typically sleep with my feet in the bag and it helps keep my feet warm. The first night I bought the pillow I slept in a sleeping bag with a real sleeping bag liner. The pillow felt soft but I didn’t think it would be comfortable at all. I was wrong. I put the pillow in the sleeping bag and felt like I was sleeping on a foam mattress. It’s a super comfortable sleeping bag pillow.

Even though I only use the sleeping bag pillow when I go camping I’m going to buy one of the other options on this list because they also work well.


In addition to the sleeping bag pillow, I also have a hammock. I have been using this hammock since my first camping trip with my first Jeep. I like this hammock and have some problems with it. It doesn’t have enough room for a tarp or the hood. It’s a little more difficult to maneuver than I would like because there is no center rope.

Despite those few complaints I love this hammock. It helps keep you off of the ground when you are camping. If you want a tarp or a rainfly for the hammock you can attach it to the hood so you won’t even need to worry about a tent when you are in the woods.

I also put a storage net on the back of the hammock so I can hang a cooler or pack my tent while I’m camping. The net is attached with Velcro and is easy to set up.

A rainfly

Another option for a tent or shelter is a rainfly. You need to buy this first and then you can use the backpack tarp and the hammock. There are a ton of different rainfly on the market that you can buy for cheap. All you need to do is buy a cheap 5-gallon raincoat spray bottle, mix your dirt to waterproof it, and spray it on the rainfly.

After a rainstorm, you can just hang it up on a tree and the dirt will keep it dry. I like my cheap Walmart raincoat rainfly because it’s a lot cheaper than one of the other ones and it can be used for several years.


A lot of times I take a cooler. My Jeep has a console and I can carry all my stuff there so I don’t have to carry everything out to my campsite. I usually bring a pack-and-play. It fits perfectly in the glove box of my Jeep and I leave it there so it’s always ready to go. I’ll leave a few toys and books for my little guy to play with while he’s camping with us.

Once we’re all settled in we can make lunch and it won’t take long to eat. Even though I try to make meals that I can eat on the go like sandwiches, burgers, and pasta salads I also like to bring some snacks for the day like nuts, granola bars, and chocolate.


When you think of camping you probably think about sleeping under the stars and out in nature. But sometimes it’s fun to just sit around and watch movies or get a shower in a “real” bathroom. Having a bag that you can use for all of these uses makes your trip more enjoyable. I’ve tried to stay consistent with this routine over the last year and a half and I haven’t missed a single night that I didn’t sleep in my Jeep.

For more information on the gear that I use and some suggestions on some other tips for enjoying the outdoors, you can check out my blog here.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.


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