Getting Started…Keep it Simple
The first consideration when car camping is your vehicle. Whether you begin with what you have or are buying something different. I have a 2001 Toyota 4Runner; I’m a huge fan of this generation of SUV! This is my second 4Runner I’ve been road tripping & camping in. When the first one (a 2002) hit 300,000 miles, I began my search for another. I still have the original 4Runner as my daily driver, but the ’01 is affectionately known as Camper (I get zero points for name-creativity.) I’ve seen all kinds of car campers. If you’re starting with something you already have, just Google your type of car & “camping” & see what comes up. Someone will have done it first & you can get ideas from them. You’d be surprised at all the different vehicles that can be made into a camper.
The second thing to think about is your bed. It will take up the most space & it’s really important it’s comfortable. Mine covers 1/2 of the back side of the SUV & is always behind my drivers seat. It’s pretty much a twin size. Some people will choose to do a build out making some type of frame, usually with storage underneath & a mattress on top. A build out, while taking time to figure out, money to buy materials & more space from floor to ceiling, wasn’t going to work for me.
I chose the easiest & cheapest way & I love it!
Janine calls it the “Princess & the Pea” bed. I love to sit up in bed at night & read, so I wanted to be able to do that in Camper. I needed the headroom above rather than storage underneath. I just started piling things one on top of the other & over the years have perfected my bed. I can easily remove my backseats…4 bolts & they’re gone & I feel like it gives me a lot more front-to-back space as well as floor space. I started with a couple of air mattresses I already had; one is for backpacking & the other a 3” camping mattress, all self inflating. A friend gave me a memory foam mattress & I bought a duvet cover for it at a Goodwill for $3 (that’s what’s in the green-leaf covered fabric). Then I have a king size down comforter (in the burgundy cover) that I use on my bed, at home, in the winter. I fold it in half when I use it in Camper. Then I have a down sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees. On top of that I made my own version of a Kantha quilt using scraps I had. I wanted to top the bed with something colorful & lightweight. I use this when I just need a little something over me at night or when I want to change clothes discreetly inside during daylight.
Here’s a view from the side door.
I also made a couple of pillow cases that I only use for Camper. The other (floral) pillow is a new addition this year & it’s worked great. I should note here: I’m super picky about what items I add to my camping gear. Usually if something new comes in, something old or worn, gets pulled out. I made this big square pillow using fabric I already had & added a long zipper at the bottom. Inside is my Rumpl blanket…a specific blanket made for camping & it’s so awesome! You can throw it on top of you at night or sit with it around the campfire. It’s the perfect size, weight & warmth. And, it makes my pillow soft & cushy when I don’t need the blanket. (The pillow also contains a secret, which will be revealed in my “Safety” article.) When it’s warm, I stay on top of the bed. But when it’s cold (& I’ve camped in 20 degree weather), I just go deeper into the bed, covering with the layers until I’m nice & warm. It’s perfect!
Under the foot of the bed, I store my camp table & a fold flat camp chair. It gets them out of the way, but it’s really convenient to get them out fast when I’m ready to use them.
I’ve had this old Pendleton wool blanket for years that I also bought used. It has all kinds of uses, but I mainly use it to cover up my bed when I need the space to throw in firewood or damp or muddy things, so my bed stays clean & pretty.
And, finally, my bed also doubles as the “Lounge”. If I’m camping & it’s sprinkling or the direct sun is super hot, I’ll put up my hatch (for shade & cover), pull out my fold flat camp chair & sit on the end of the bed…I can even ‘rock’ sitting in this chair! I still feel like I’m outside but beating the weather elements. It’s a great way to read.
If you’re just getting started, your set up will probably change & morph over the years. Just make it great for you!