I lived in a van for five years, which is quite a long time. In fact, I lived in that thing for longer than I’ve lived in any other place since leaving my childhood home. Strangely, I found moving out of a van to be more stressful than moving into one. I was afraid I was going to miss the freedom that comes with having everything travel-ready in my own little turtle shell. The moment I got a normal-person car, I got to work figuring out how to be able to use it as a mini camper-van.
Now, we’re not talking about doing a full, permanent conversion here. I was moving to LA, and my car’s primary duty would be getting me around the city. But I wanted to develop a system that would make it killer for road trips and backcountry camping—a vehicle that, like my van, I could just park, pull up my shades, and go to sleep. In fact, I was hoping that it would be able to take me places my van couldn’t get to. It turns out there are many products out there for that exact purpose. There’s a ton to choose from, so I went deep down the research rabbit hole and have been testing gear.
If you want to hit the road this summer, I have some rock-solid recommendations for you, and a few tips and tricks along the way, too.
The Gear You Need for Your Car
You do not need to run out and get a new car for this. It’s entirely possible that the car you already own will work pretty well for this purpose. The one big thing you’re going to want is back seats that fold down as flat as possible, because that’s going to be your bed. Aside from that, more space generally means more comfort, but really the most important question is: What kind of camping to you want to do? Breaking that down a little, you need to think about the places you want to be able to go, and the type of climate and roads you’re likely to encounter.
For me, I knew that I wanted to be able to do some winter camping, ideally near ski resorts, so I had to have something with all-wheel drive. I wanted to be able to get out on dirt trails, but because it’s my day-in-day out car I didn’t want something that’s difficult to park in cities, or that was super lifted or with gigantic tires that would kill my MPG. I went with a Honda CR-V. It checked all of my boxes. I wouldn’t be able to go rock-crawling on the Rubicon Trail or anything, but it has all-wheel drive so it should pretty well cover me for most of the dirt roads I want to take on. Critically, the back seat folds down extremely flat. For most people looking for