How to Get a Great Night’s Sleep While Car Camping

car camping
Nick Dunlap / Unsplash

My husband calls me the CEO of sleeping because I can doze off anywhere, from a king size hotel bed to the middle of the woods. But my best nights of sleep by far have been while car camping in our converted ProMaster camper van. It’s a testament to just how cozy we made our sleeping arrangements inside the van’s 60-square-foot space.



When planning our build, we decided to make the lofted bed a permanent fixture. We splurged on a few luxuries—a memory foam topper and night lights—that guarantee ultimate comfort while living on the road. Forget roughing it: Unless I’m hauling my gear on a hike into the backcountry, I’m definitely bringing down-feather pillows to the campground.

Here, I’ve rounded up the products that help me catch some z’s and feel rested enough to take on whatever adventure we have planned the next day. These vetted items will work in any type of vehicle, whether you’re spending the night in a tricked-out camper van, a truck bed, or a hatchback.

Car camping essentials

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The Best Gear for a Great Night’s Sleep While Car Camping

Hest Pillow car camping
Hest Pillow Courtesy Image

Hest Pillow

Not everyone wants to risk dirtying their nice pillows from home. In that case, consider Hest’s memory foam pillow. The soft, dirt-resistant cover is removable and washable, so you can keep that campfire smell from sticking around. It’s also a great option when space is tight: You can pack it down to the size of a bread loaf. And no matter how many times I’ve stowed it away, it’s just as lofty as the day I bought it.


Kelty Galactic Down Blanket
Kelty Galactic Down Blanket Courtesy Image

Kelty Galactic Down Blanket

As someone who likes to spread out, I tend to feel restricted in sleeping bags. Kelty’s oversized 550-fill down blanket keeps me toasty warm and is great for cuddling up in the car. The 50-denier polyester shell and lining is silky smooth, but it’s also tough enough to withstand accidental snags. When compressed into a stuff sack, it’s about the size of a rugby ball.


Luno Air Mattress 2.0
Luno Air Mattress 2.0 Courtesy Image

Luno Air Mattress 2.0

If your weekend whip is also your daily commuter, it likely doesn’t have a built-in bed. Luno’s inflatable double air mattress is the perfect car camping solution—check out MJ’s full review on it here. It’s perfectly sized for the back of more than 1,800 different car models, and it comes with two inflatable cubes that you can stuff behind the front seats to create an even, flat sleeping surface. It works for solo camping, too: Deflate one of the air chambers to turn it into a single mattress.


NiteIze Radiant Rechargeable Micro Lantern car camping
NiteIze Radiant Rechargeable Micro Lantern Courtesy Image

NiteIze Radiant Rechargeable Micro Lantern

When I have to get up in the middle of the night, I don’t like stumbling to find my way. This rechargeable lantern has been a godsend—it’s just bright enough to guide me without waking up my husband. It has excellent battery life (I’ve only had to charge it once since getting it last spring), and if you don’t have ceiling hooks in your vehicle, it’s small enough to store in a cup holder or sweatshirt pocket.


Teva Ember Moc
Teva Ember Moc Courtesy Image

Teva Ember Moc

Are you even a vanlifer if you don’t own these slippers? Seriously though, my husband and I have matching pairs. Once the sun goes down and it gets chilly, I slip these on to protect my feet from the van’s cold vinyl floor. The rubber outsole provides good traction in the dirt, and the quilted ripstop exterior and microfiber upper are super plush. They’re also easy to throw in the wash when they get too dusty or start to stink.


Ignik Heated Pad Cover
Ignik Heated Pad Cover Courtesy Image

Ignik Heated Pad Cover

We spent the night in Jackson Hole one February when temperatures dropped into the negatives, and I dreamt about having something like this. When connected to a 12-volt power supply, it heats up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit; place it on top of your sleeping pad or mattress for an instant burst of warmth. There’s a short version and a long version for $10 more.

[From $80;]

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station Courtesy Image

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station

An external power bank is a great way to keep your devices charged while car camping (they’ll keep you from draining your car’s battery). There are many to choose from, but I especially like GoalZero’s products. At 12 pounds, the Yeti 150 is the smallest in the line, but it still has enough juice to power tablets, small laptops, and even the Ignik pad cover above. It’s also compatible with the brand’s other accessories, such as solar panels and LED lights. Just make sure you charge it at home before you head to camp.


Reflective Window Shades car camping
Material for Reflective Window Shades Courtesy Image

Reflective Window Shades

For a pretty penny, you can find companies making window shades perfectly shaped to fit in your vehicle—or you can be scrappy and cut your own. I recommend the scrappy route. It’s easy: Just trace your window on butcher paper, transfer that shape to the reflective insulation, and cut it out. These panels will block the sun and repel heat when it’s hot, and when it’s cold, they help trap warmth inside your vehicle. They also create a sense of privacy. We have two for our van: one for the windshield and one for the back window.

[$20 for a 24-inch by 10-foot roll;]

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