Sleeping In Your Car During Winter: If you are anything like me then you absolutely hate winter because it means you cannot go car camping as much as you can in other times of the year. But those dedicated enough, enjoy camping in all seasons and it is completely doable even in winter. I have done it many times and I have compiled a list of things you should bring along and a number of things you have to be aware of. Sleeping in the car during winter can be fun and exciting. Sleeping in when there is absolutely freezing outside, getting cozy with some hot tea and a book is just what you need sometimes during the winter to escape the everyday routine. Here is how to sleep in your car during winter without feeling uncomfortable and miserable!
Can you sleep in your car during the winter?
Of course, you can, many people have done it safely and without misery, including me! To camp comfortably during the winter, you will need to make some additional adjustments and it is going to take some work. But once you figure it out, winter car camping is a breeze. The key is to stay warm and comfortable. This means that you should do the following thing that we will cover in detail going forward:
- Winterize your car. Sleeping in your car during winter is nothing like it is during the summer. A car is generally well-insulated but its weak points are the windows.
- Choose suitable clothing. Dress like an onion, several layers of warm clothing is essential.
- Bring the right gear. A sleeping pad and a sleeping bag are essential.
- Consider bringing a safe-to-use heater. An additional source of heat is a blessing once the sun goes down.
- Find a suitable parking space or camping grounds. You do not want to be trespassing, winter car camping is difficult enough.
- Keep an eye on the temperatures. If you are too cold, do not try and be a hero. Pack it up and leave.
- Make room to sleep. Do the best you can within your car to allow for the maximum sleeping space.
Sleeping in your car during winter without freezing and trespassing
We will break this down with several important aspects of car camping in cold weather. It is not just about bringing as many blankets as you can, there are several things you must consider, lets’s dive in!
Winter camping in a car or a tent?
If your car is simply too small for you or both you and your partner than camping and sleeping in a tent is your only option. However, we do recommend that you do choose to stay in your car if there is a possibility. A car is much more insulated, safer if it is snowing or if there are harsh winds. If you do choose to winter camp in a tent, make sure that you isolate yourself from the cold grounds. There is nothing worse than sleeping on a cold surface. If you choose a car for your winter camping adventure, you should do some preparations at home. Fold-down your seats, make your bed at home, find a suitable place for a portable heater and so on. Winter camping starts at home!
Finding secure parking or camping grounds
Because car camping in cold weather is difficult enough as it is, you do not want to be bothered by landowners, police or criminals. Find a suitable parking spot, preferably with a toilet nearby. Your best bet is to find dedicated camping grounds with warm toilets and showers. If you live in Europe, this will not be a problem as there are many campgrounds open throughout the winter. Having peace of mind and feeling secure is an important factor when camping.
Staying warm while winter car camping
Winterize your car
The metal chassis of your car is an excellent heat conductor but all cars have a common weak point, the windows. It is in your best interest to try and insulate the majority of your car’s windows. Do not assume that your car is going to be magically warmer than the outside temperatures, so always check the outside temperatures of your destination.
How to insulate car windows for winter camping
The best and the cheapest way to insulate your windows is by buying a roll of reflective double-sided insulation like Reflectix. You can then make exact cuttings from the roll of the insulating material to exactly fit your car’s windows. You can then fixate them on your windows by buying a set of vacuum cups and you are all done. Reflective materials like the sun visors of Reflectix will retain heat and absorb a decent amount of condensation. Some experienced campers also attach a layer of wool felt to the reflective insulating material. This will absorb any additional condensation and moisture. This is an incredible solution that provides awesome results. Not to mention it is incredibly cheap!
Make room for sleeping, think ahead
Sleeping in your car during winter demands a certain level of preparation. Setting up room for sleeping is much easier done at home, in a garage than it is on the spot. If you have the possibility to sleep in your trunk (big SUVs and wagons are the best) then make sure you fully prepare your bed before heading out. If you do not have any space for sleeping in the car, a tent might be a better idea, especially with a heater present.
Keep an eye on the temperatures
Brining a thermometer is crucial if you want to go winter camping. Keep an eye on the temperatures and observe how you are feeling. If you feel like you can’t go through the night with freezing temperatures, don’t be brave, just pack it up and leave. Or if you do not have a heater on you, just turn on the car and let it heat up. If you are winter camping in a tent with no source of additional heat, do not risk your well-being.
Avoid inflatable beds and pillows
Inflatable accessories like beds and pillows are great for camping in the summer. They pack up into small bags and they provide decent comfort for the price. However, they are the worst thing you can choose when winter car camping. The air on the inside of the inflatable mattress or pillows will be cold and you will feel that cold right through to your bones. For winter camping, you want to use materials like memory foam with a wool liner or something similar that retains heat. Do not assume that the bottom of your car’s trunk is insulated all that much.
If you want to be sleeping in your car during winter, you have to be dressed accordingly. I already mentioned that you should be dressed like an onion. Make sure you have several layers of clothing on you. You can then lose the upper layers if you are warm enough or keep them on if you feel cold and unpleasant. The key here is to buy the right type of thermal underlayers which we will cover as we continue.
Pack the right gear – Sleeping bags, blankets, socks, etc.
You should bring more gear than you think will be needed. There is no harm in bringing an extra blanket and a pair of super warm socks. I always pack too much when I go winter camping and I always end up with just the right amount. Funny right? Never underestimate the cold.
Sleeping bag temperature rating
A high-quality sleeping bag is a must-have when winter car camping. Keep in mind that all sleeping bags (at least modern ones) should have a temperature rating attached. The temperature ratings tell you for which temperatures the sleeping bag is suited for. To learn more about the temperature ratings of sleeping bags read this in-depth article here.
Using portable heaters for additional warmth
Do NOT ever use open flame heaters inside your vehicle. All heaters that work by burning fuel pose a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. You should only use gas heaters if you know what you are doing and you have a carbon monoxide sensor in your car!
The best way to go about heating your car is using an electrical heater which you can plug into your 12V outlet of the car or by using the electricity provided by the campgrounds you are staying at. Portable 12V car heaters can only be used when you turn on the engine which is why you can only use them periodically and not throughout the night.
Even with electrical car heaters there is still a risk of fire so place them somewhere safe and secure. You should also keep one of the windows open to let is fresh air.
Getting rid of moisture and condensation
We all like to praise car insulation as the most important thing when car camping in freezing temperatures. But the reality is, you need fresh air and you need a way to release the excess moisture. If you fail to do that, you can expect to wake up next to frozen windows. The best way to do that is by keeping at least one window slightly cracked open to keep the air circulating. This way, the moisture has space to escape and fresh air has a way of getting in your car. If you keep all the windows shut and isolated, you will wake up feeling wet and the air inside the car will be horrific.
Remember, always open the window that is not directly beside your face and never forget to open a window if you are using an additional space heater. Sleeping in your car during winter can be dangerous so educate yourself before using any method of heating.
Packing for winter car camping: The complete list
- A high-quality cold temperature sleeping bag and camp bedding
Brining some blankets you have at home for padding will also serve you well. But do not forget to buy or bring a high-quality sleeping bag like these ones here!
- A heat-insulated camping mattress or pad
As we have mentioned before, try and avoid using inflatable mattresses when camping in the cold. We recommend that you use only insulated foam mattresses.
- Layered clothing set
Your wardrobe for a winter camping trip should include a bottom base thermal layer (avoid using cotton, go for synthetic materials that are superior in absorbing sweat), a middle warm layer (wool or fleece works best and keeps you warm) and a waterproof top layer (you don’t need this for sleeping but you do need it throughout the whole trip). Do not forget about warm socks, gloves and a hat as well!
- Reflective isolation
Reflective isolation material like Reflectix is the best for insulating car windows and keeping that heat where it should be, on the inside. We recommend that you buy a roll of insulating material and cut out the window shapes on your own. A fun little project.
- Camping lantern
You do not want to rely on your car’s battery for light, in fact, the car battery should not be used at all. Your car’s battery drains even faster in cold weather so only use it when the engine is running. To light up your campsite, buy a nice camping lantern that will last you for years.
- Foldable shovel and tools
I have camped in the snow before and trust me, you do not want to wake up on a snowy morning without a sturdy shovel. A foldable shovel is a lifesaver when you want to clean up the exit route from your campsite. Buy one, it will last you forever.
- Electric blanket
If you have access to electricity in the camping facilities, an electric blanket is a safe and sure way to keep warm. It will not only keep your body warm but also the space in your car. A great product to own.
- Electric heater
As we mentioned before, having an electric outlet in your car is a game-changer. You plug a tiny electric space heater and sleep in warmth, just like you would during the summer.
- Anything else you feel is going to come useful, take it with you. Trust us!
Do not forget about all the other camping gear like a stove, utensils, thermos, clothing, first aid kit, water bottles, plenty of food and water…
Do not let our guide scare you, winter car camping is a lot of fun if you do it right. However, if you don’t do it right, you are in for a wild and miserable trip. If we summarize, do the following:
- Get ready at home, pack carefully and prepare your sleeping arrangements.
- Isolate the windows of your car.
- Wear base layers, mid-layers and waterproof outer layers of clothing.
- Make sure you don’t exhaust your car’s battery, only use your car’s power when the engine is turned on.
- Make sure you have an inlet for fresh air, especially if you are using some sort of additional heating.
If you are new to car camping, make sure you check our ultimate guide to car camping!