How to Camp in Your Car in Winter
Learn to camp in your car in winter, and you’ll be putting in first tracks all season long.
This year at Bluebird Backcountry, we’re excited to announce that we’re allowing slopeside camping in our parking lot for just $25 per night. (Season passes come with five nights free.)
Camping in your car in winter can be a great way to save money and eliminate your mountain commute. However, you’ll need a vehicle outfitted for four-season camping to do it. Here are our tips for ensuring a safe and cozy night.
- All you need to camp in your car in winter is the right setup and a little fourth-season savvy.
Safety Considerations for Sleeping in Your Car
At Bluebird Backcountry, we’re all about safety. We can’t spend all day raving about beacon checks and helmets and then leave you out in the cold without a little risk-management talk.
So, before you camp in your car in winter, ask yourself these questions.
How Cold is Too Cold to Sleep in My Car?
This depends on your gear and your setup, but here’s some conventional wisdom to prevent sleepless nights (and hypothermia).
Trucks and SUVs
Think of your car like you would a tent. If you have a 15°F sleeping bag, your lower limit for sleeping in a car in winter should be around 15°F.
A well-insulated van without a heater is generally comfortable down to around 0°F with a good mattress, a large down comforter, and one person. With two people (twice the body heat) it’s usually comfortable to around -10°F.
Campers and RVs
Vans and campers with propane or electric heaters can be comfortable in any weather. (If you don’t have your own four-season camper, you can rent one from Native Campervans or Escape Campervans in Denver, or A-Lodge in Boulder.)
Do I Have a Backup Plan?
Even die-hard ski bums have to call in a favor when the nights get really cold. If you’re new to camping in your car in winter, have a backup plan. We recommend keeping in mind a nearby hotel you know is open late. It’s also smart to have a space blanket, extra warm layers, and a full gas tank—that way you can run the car heater for a few minutes if you wake up cold.
Of course, the best way to ensure a cozy evening is to prepare your car the right way.
- An RV or camper trailer with built-in heating is a great way to ensure four-season comfort.
Outfit Your Car for Winter Camping
Everyone has a different setup, but these basics will get you cozy in no time.
1. Fold down your back seats.
Make sure your seats fold down fully and lay flat enough to sleep on.
2. Add insulation.
Cars lose most of their heat through their windows. Trap warmth by putting a thick reflective sun shield in your front windshield, and cutting insets out of Reflectix wrap (available at most hardware stores) for your other windows. Push the insets into the windows before getting ready for bed.
- Window insulation is a must to camp in your car in winter. (Twinkle lights are a close second.)
3. Throw in a mattress.
Car seats aren’t great insulators. For camping in your car, we recommend a 6- to 8-inch-thick memory foam mattress, which you can cut down to size with a bread knife. They’re also easy to fold up for storage. A sleeping pad rated for winter camping will also work. (Pro tip: Stack a foam sleeping pad on top of an inflatable to up the insulation value.)
4. Build your bedding.
Grab your pillows and choose the right blankets. We recommend using a sleeping bag rated to at least 0°F, or colder if you want to brave below-zero temps. A few thick down comforters can also work for temperatures around 0°F.
- A warm sleeping bag and a little pop-up organization go a long way. Photo: Miki Yoshihito
5. Pick the right pajamas.
Your skiing baselayers make great winter PJs. Most of us who frequently sleep in a car also wear a hat and thick, loose socks. (Snug-fitting ski socks can reduce your circulation while you sleep, leaving you with cold toes.)
6. Heat it up.
Before bed, blast the car’s heater so you can crawl into warm blankets. While you wait, we recommend eating a bedtime snack and brushing your teeth. Maybe even floss. (We’re all about that dental hygiene.) Be sure to turn off the car before sleep.
7. Crack your windows.
Cars can get stuffy, even in winter. We recommend cracking your front windows just an inch or so to promote air flow.
8. Dream of fresh pow.
And in the morning, shred.
- Car-camping gives you front-row seats to classic Colorado powder days.