SUV Camping: using your SUV as a tent on wheels

Owning a sport utility vehicle gives you access to a wide range of outdoor activities. It’s no secret that SUVs can go places ordinary vehicles can’t, but little attention has been paid to proper equipment and methods for camping in SUVs. That’s right, we’re talking about sleeping right there in the back of your SUV.

The first consideration, of course, is whether your particular vehicle model has enough room to stretch out and sleep. I am five foot four and have no problem sleeping in the back of my Nissan XTerra. The best way to know if you fit in is to crawl and lie down! I found that sleeping in your own vehicle has advantages. The main one is the safety of being in a vehicle during a storm or bad weather. Also, while I am not averse to camping in old tents, I find the vehicle to be much warmer than cold ground. Another plus is that I don’t turn around at night to find a tree root stuck in my back. Some great solutions for getting a good night’s sleep in the back of your SUV may be in your closet or basement right now. One of the best is a one size futon pad. These roll up nicely for transport and provide not only comfort but also insulation on colder nights. Some campers like to use inflatable mattresses of various sizes, including the small inflatable models that are sold for hikers in most clothing stores. Personally, I use a pad from a daybed on my back deck. It folds up well and is sturdy enough for rough use. Additionally, the SUV makes an excellent base camp for day trips or fishing expeditions. When using the SUV as a tent, there is no need to carry a restrictive mummy bag if you don’t want to. Get out the cotton sheets and sleep comfortably!

Another consideration is ventilation. Sleeping in your SUV with the windows closed can be uncomfortable, especially in hot weather. Not only do the windows fog up, but the entire interior of the vehicle can get wet on the exhale and be quite stuffy. Leaving windows open is a solution that works fine as long as there are no bugs flying around. However, add a few mosquitoes or other buzzing critters and the night can get very uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are a couple of solutions ready for this problem. The first, and most expensive, is buying a truck tent system for your SUV. There are many models designed to fit the tailgate of many common models. Some are smaller and just create a little more space with the door open. Others create an entire room in the rear of the vehicle with screened windows and space for the family. This choice is a matter of personal taste, budget, and intention. Another solution, which can complement a truck tent or be used alone is a product called “Magna Screen”. These allow you to sleep with the windows open and provide a barrier against insects. Basically, a Magna screen is a screen that magnetically fits on the outside of your side window. They are inexpensive, durable, and solve the problem very well.

Reaching the interior of the country should not be a problem. The best thing you can have is a detailed map of your local forest or national park. Make sure you have a map that details all accessible fire trails in the area and check local conditions to make sure motorized vehicles are allowed where you plan to camp. High-end dashboard GPS units, such as Garmin, will also have access road details. Once you use a GPS unit, you may never buy a map again, and with a good GPS system you can mark all your favorite fishing and camping spots to come back again and again with laser precision. So there you have it, your SUV can do even more for you if you’re willing to try something new. Sleeping in your SUV may seem strange at first to some, but once you experience the freedom it affords you on country rides, it will be sold. Remember, always respect your surroundings and always practice “leave no trace” tactics when enjoying the outdoors.

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