We’ve all seen the Instagram account of the guy with the tricked out Sprinter, complete with custom solar panels, multi-sport racks and off-roading wheels. But you don’t need a decked out camper van to sleep in your car. In fact, with the right planning and proper gear, you can rest well in virtually any vehicle. Whether your goal is to road trip around the country, camp out the night before Black Friday, or simply to beat the other weekend warriors to the trailhead on Friday night, these tips, hacks and techno gadgets will help you get quality sleep in four wheels wherever you go.
Give yourself some privacy
Even at a remote trailhead, chances are you’ve got fellow adventurers somewhere in your midst. And if you’re gearing up for a big day of adventure, the last thing you need is strangers peering in your windows. The solution? Simple window curtains. You’ll be amazed how far these will go to create a sense of privacy and make you feel at ease. Not only that, the curtains comes with extra perks: they enhance security and help regulate the car temperature—the shade will keep you cooler in summertime and the added insulation will keep you warmer in the winter.
If you prefer something pre-made, Shade Sox makes a universal window fitting for about $20. The shades are made out of flexible 40D Nylon mesh and meant to fit any vehicle. All you have to do is pull them over the window and close the door.
There are also plenty of cheap DIY options:
- Cut out cardboard into the shape of your windows
- Rig a bungee cord by the ceiling and cut sheets for curtains
- Buy rare earth magnets and attach them to the corners of a pillowcase
- Get some Reflectix insulation and custom-shape it for your vehicle
Block out the noise
Although we’d like to think that every excursion into the wilderness will find us alone in nature, silent except for the rushing river, the reality is sometimes less pristine. You might instead find yourself at a truck stop or highway rest area where the ambiance consists of diesel pushers and florescent lights. This is when a quality set of ear plugs will become your best friend.
If you’re on a budget, you can pick up a set of disposable foam or silicone ear plugs for a few bucks. However, if you can afford to splurge a little, check out DUBS. These high-tech “acoustic filters” use a 17-piece filtration system and “Dynamic Attenuation” to reduce the volume around you without distorting or muffling sound. They match the ear’s sound sensitivity and offer 12 dB of noise reduction using a combination of stainless steel, polymer foams, silicone and durable plastics. The result is you’ll be able to chat comfortably with your activity partner while filtering out the excessive noise. (And as a bonus, they look cooler than those orange foam bullets).
Another strategy is to opt for a pair of high-tech noise canceling headphones. Those will allow you to tune out the noise with happier sounds of music or your favorite podcast. Even better.
You can also add an eye mask since there’s bound to be some light creeping into your rig—even with your privacy curtains. The added darkness will keep your melatonin cranking and increase your chances of better shuteye.
Keep yourself warm
Whether it’s winter, summer, or somewhere in between, sleeping in your car gets cold. You’ll be surprised how frigid that scorching desert can get once the sun goes down. For that reason, warm sleeping provisions are essential for a night in your vehicle.
The surest way to stay warm is with a zero-degree sleeping bag. Pick one with real goose down for maximum durability and compressibility. Western Mountaineering’s Kodiak MF 0 Degree Down features MicroLite XP, taffeta lining and 850-fill down.
If a zero-degree bag is too bulky, or out of your price range, consider going with one with a higher temp rating and adding an electric blanket. You’re in your car, so you can. Try something like the Klymit KSB 20 or the NEMO Moonwalk and pair them with a plug-in blanket made just for your vehicle. Trademark Tools makes one from 100 percent polyester fleece that has 8 feet of cord and connects to your 12V cigarette lighter socket.
You can also try a Super Fleece hoodie for added warmth.
Dial in your topo
Don’t underestimate the power of flat, even ground to help you get a restful night of sleep. There are tons of ways to do this but the easiest is to take advantage of technology with Google Map’s Terrain and Satellite features. Here’s how:
Pull up your current location. Scroll for green plots of Forest Service or BLM land and look for roads labeled “NF” (for “National Forest.”)
Hover over the Menu in the top left and select “Terrain.” This will change the view to dark green topographic maps. From there, you can zoom in and out to find the flattest, most ideal spot nearby. Look for areas near streams if you want to be near water. Typically, when National Forest (NF) roads cross rivers, there will be an access road on one side—artifacts from the bridge construction.
For extra scouting options, switch to the “Satellite” view to get a better idea of what the area will look like. Zip around your map, toggling between views to find the perfect spot.
Once you arrive, hang a small weight from your rearview mirror to use as an improvised level. If it’s not even, you’re on a slight slope. Drive around until you find the most even spot to park for the night.