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How to DIY an Insta-Worthy Car Camper

Skip the van and make a cozy retreat in your own backseat

Nena Farrell
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Camper Goals

We’ve all seen the glamorous takes on #vanlife on social media. But if you don’t have a camper van, never fear: you can still put together a fun set-up for your overnight or weekend excursions with the vehicle you have. Especially if you’re trying it in a Tesla, like we did. Tesla owners have been spreading the word about the car’s “camper mode” hack—the EV can have climate control quietly running to keep you nice and warm the whole night through, while still leaving battery power to spare for the trip home. Plus, if you’re in a Model X, the window designs on the ceiling mean you’ll wake up to a personal view of the sky and trees, and the front truck makes for the perfect spot to stash dirty gear. Even if you’re not driving this particular model, we’ve rounded up the best tips and tricks to transform your car into DIY camper.
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Get Cozy

Mattresses like Winterial SUV Inflatable Mattress ($99.99) are designed to fit into compact SUVs, and you can look around online for what could fit your own car. Or, grab a sleeping pad or two like the Thermarest Luxury Map (from $110) to arrange in your space (bonus: it can also be used when camping in a tent). If you’re using two Thermarests, pair it with their Down Coupler (from $99) to secure them together like a mattress. Once the mattress base is ready, it’s time to layer up. You could bring your trusty sleeping bag, of course, but the fun of (literally) car camping is turning your backseat into an epic layered bed. Grab a striped throwbed like the one pictured from Elsie Green ($375) for extra cushion on top of your base mattress, and then throw some beautiful, cozy blankets on top like the Yuma Star (from $159) or Chief Joseph (from $249) from Pendleton. Bring a favorite pillow for the adventure, with the added assurance that it won’t be getting dirty on the ground.
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Bring Some Power

Just because you’re in the car doesn’t mean you should be using it to charge your phone, play music, or shine a light on your campsite—that’s a fast way to burn through your gas or car battery (especially if it’s an EV!), and making your departure time potentially risky. Bring a large battery pack like AdventureUltra ($129) that can power small devices for hours, or a generator like Goal Zero’s Yeti 150 ($199.95). Hook it up to Goal Zero’s solar panels like the Nomad 7 Plus ($199.95) for extra juice during the trip, but charge it in advance at home.
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Let There Be Light

Don’t forget lights, especially if you’re angling for aesthetic. Add a few spotlights to your DIY camper set-up with little tabletop numbers from Snowpeak. The Mini Hozuki Lanterns ($42) glow like powerful tea candles, and can be handy beside the fire and inside your cozy car. Pack Goal Zero’s Torch 250 Flashlight ($79.95) to use as a flashlight or tabletop torch, with multiple light options and even a hand crank to keep it powered up on your trip. Or, use those battery packs to power classic string lights, like these LED copper ones ($10).
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Play a Little Music

Like we said, don’t be tempted to use those car speakers. Bring a JBL Trip ($90) bluetooth speaker that attaches to the car’s visor to play tunes inside the car, especially if you’ve got an older model with a struggling sound system. Or, pack the Coleman 360° Sound and Light Lantern ($60), which doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, to bring the tunes without packing extra gear.
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Spread Out

Sleeping in the car doesn’t mean you can’t still build out the rest of your campsite. We’re fans of this waxed outdoor blanket ($200) for its army green shade and easy bundling straps. Pack handy but minimalist folding chairs from Kermit ($159) that have discrete built-in handles to make setting up camp a breeze.
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Create Your Kitchen

Thanks to easy access to the car, go for the full suite without needing to drag anything up to a campsite. Grab a cooler, like a Yeti Roadie 20 ($199), and fill it with ice, groceries, and prepped items for your favorite camping meals, like one-pot mac and cheese. Make sure to pack it accordingly for the best use of your cooler space. Treat yourself by bringing your favorite beer in a growler, like Coleman’s insulated stainless version ($40), and even bring along a standing roadtrip grill ($210) in case your overnight spot doesn’t come equipped with a table. Branch out from spotted camp dishware with Unison Home’s simple black and white enamelware (prep set from $99), and don’t forget a dutch oven like the (pictured) cast-iron model ($300) for cooking up all your favorite camping recipes.
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