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Car Camping in my MINI Cooper

Updated: Jun 17

For the last few years I've been searching for a way to enjoy the freedom of car-camping and I finally found a solution that works for my MINI Cooper that i'm excited to share! Sleeping in your car enables you to explore further destinations and take spontaneous detours. Beyond the initial preparation and setup, it doesn't take a lot of work to start your adventures on the road. Most of us can't afford to buy a van or RV, so sleeping in your car is the next best option.


Why MINI Coopers?

When I was living in Colorado it seemed like everyone owned some kind of Subaru or truck. Most of the solutions I saw for car camping were made for the popular "adventure cars", but many everyday cars can serve as an adventure car. I have been a longtime MINI owner: I love the inclusive community, the responsive handling, overall more luxurious driving experience, the compact size (allowing for easier urban travel), and of course the cute style and design of them. I wanted a car that could reflect my personality; small, bubbly and fun, but also very capable and versatile. It's the best car and I love proving others wrong when they doubt how capable it is. I've made it up some dirt roads in Colorado that jeeps struggled with, and i've driven in a blizzard where large 4x4 trucks spun out. Of course there are limitations, but you can do a lot with your car if you're careful and try.


MINIs are wonderful little adventure cars that are not only easy to spot in a sea of Subarus when you're at REI or a ski resort, but handle quite well. Make sure you have all-weather/season tires and drive slow if the roads are uneasy. I bought the Pirelli Cinturato tires, but they didn't last that long, so I am switching to Bridgestone next from Costco. The Pirellis were great tires for off-roading though, I never had issues with the backroads in Colorado and I even drove in blizzards in Colorado and never spun out or slid, so reliability was great, they just wore out after a couple of years.


The clearance on the Countryman is similar to Subarus as well. People always under-estimate my MINI but I often get to trailheads quicker and

more efficiently. Having the seats be able to fold all the way down is also an advantage.


I currently am driving the blue 2020 MINI Cooper S Countryman which is an AWD car, but before this car I owned the Cooper S convertible. I've had the countryman for about 4 years now. I've driven almost 60,000 miles across the US and I've never had any issues. I will say i'm really good about getting maintenance done when needed and always get an oil change before a long roadtrip. Tire rotations should be done every ~5000 miles as well.




MINI Cooper Camping Setup & Products

When preparing for your first car camping trip, make sure to include all the right items for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Below I have a list of items I have that make up my sleeping arrangements in my MINI!


1. Car Window Covers: I purchased these on amazon and they've been amazing; i've used them in the rain as well. Amazon has a feature called "confirmed fit" where you can put in your car model and it'll verify whether the product will work for your the dimensions of your car. These are great for privacy and ventilation while you're sleeping (you need ventilation to balance oxygen with your CO2 otherwise you can have Carbon Dioxide buildup can occur which can be dangerous!). I like to unzip them partially to let oxygen in during the night. I've found that I don't need them for the front seat windows since the mattresses I have fold up against the front carseats, so they provide privacy that way. You can also purchase a rear window cover for additional privacy. You can crack open opposite windows to create a cross breeze and prevent moisture buildup.


2. HEST Foamy Mattresses: I use 2 non-wide foamy mattresses (these are memory foam and not air mattresses). They roll up for storage, but make sure you have room for storing them. They also fit inside my yakima cargo box, so that's a bonus for traveling. These mattresses are insanely comfortable - ask anyone who has used one before. I have tried all kinds of air-based mattresses or sleeping pads and have never found a solution that doesn't hurt my back or allow me to enjoy sleeping on my side like these do. They are absolutely worth the investment; you can get away with just one to start with, but 2 is great for when you have friends or partners joining for your adventures. I also have the sheet covers they provide to make them easy to clean. HEST now offers the short foamy mattresses, i think you should get these since the longer ones have to be folded in my MINI.


3. HEST Camping Pillows: These aren't necessary, but they compress really nicely and are also super comfortable, so if you're looking for camping pillows for tent or car camping, then it's worth picking these up as well.


4. Sleeping bag + Blanket: I use the rumpl down blanket along with my pendelton (they both function as tent camping blankets too). I also have a down sleeping bag for when temperatures are colder (i keep my windows open slightly, I crack the sunroof and close the cover since it still allows for air!) That sleeping bag is pricey, but it feels like a cloud and it's very warm/safe if you're tent camping in colder temperatures. If you are less interested in a versatile and high-quality sleeping bag, you can try this one from amazon that I used before I got into more tent camping in the backcountry!


5. Dog Sleeping bag: I use the dog sleeping bag from Wilderdog, but I linked a nice one from amazon as well for convenience. These are useful if you need to put your dog in the front seat to sleep. I do this when I have someone else in the car with me so that we can all comfortably fit. You can also use a crate if you have one mattress. I use the Diggs inflatable crate for travel.


7. Rechargeable Lantern: I use this for camping as well, but it's nice and small so you can hang it from the sides to provide some light at night without having to turn your car on.


8. Portable Female Urination Device (FUDs): So this is a weird one, but I absolutely hate getting out of the car when it's dark out to go pee before I sleep, but I hydrate a lot so i always end up needing to go. You can use these and easily pee in a throwaway water bottle.


9. Cross Bars + Cargo roof box: this is essential in my opinion. I have the yakima skybox 16 and it has been a lifesaver on moves. These are less likely to get broken into than a window (super important if you're passing through some of the west coast cities with homeless problems). I bought it initially for my move across country and I was going to return it after, but it ended up being so helpful that i decided I had to keep it. I like to store my clothes, hiking gear, paddleboard, ski gear, cooking stuff all up top and that keeps my sleeping space more clean and organized. It's great for storing food and other things too. Make sure you also have crossbars; I have these lockable cross bars from amazon. Also is it me or does the box just make the MINI look way more adventurous? I love how it looks on my car!


10. Other Camping Accessories: I recommend having some kind of stovetop to make meals easily. This just elevates your car camping experience and helps you save money since the whole point of car camping is to save on accommodations. I love the camp chef stove and freeze dried meals.


Why Sleep in your MINI Cooper?


Ease of Travel

The main reason I wanted to start sleeping in my car is convenience and cost. Airbnbs have declined in quality and risen in price. I've come to realize my car is just as comfortable now with my HEST mattresses and I can park near trailheads to wake up early and hike somewhere that's too far for a day trip. There's a time and place for hotels/airbnbs, but many of the things I like to do with my dog are in remote areas with little to no accommodations. A few months ago I was taking my dog to a FastCat dog competition down in Oregon and I didn't want to spend money on a hotel, but the race started at 8 am, so to avoid having to drive 2.5 hours in the morning, I just drove down the evening beforehand, found a cheap $20 spot on HipCamp and woke up early to get going.

a dog sleeping inside trunk of mini cooper car

Convenience

Your bed is also always ready to go! Sora loves when we car camp + roadtrip because she can rest between adventures on something super comfortable during the long legs of the drive. I also feel better if I have to leave her in the car while I go into a non dog-friendly store or restaurant because I can keep the windows open with some ventilation and shade from the sun. She loves the comfort of the beds and blankets and I have space for her food and water as well.


Safety

As a female solo adventurer and traveler, I feel way more safe sleeping in my car than in my tent by myself. Nothing compares to being able to lock my door at night and have a real barrier between me and a potential perpetrator. You'll also be safe from the weather elements when using your car instead. You should also keep some kind of personal protection and/or weapon secured safely and nearby in the case of an emergency. I have bear spray and a conceal carry permit and bring my rose gold pistol and gun lock.


Finding Places to Sleep in your Car

This can be tricky at first, but most national forest roads and public lands you should be allowed to sleep and camp for free. Look for information on dispersed camping when researching and make sure you don't need some kind of permit. If you want to place it safe, you can reserve campsites ahead of time through recreation.gov or hipcamp.com or dyrt.com.

mini cooper countryman with cargo box parked at trailhead

You can also try sleeping at rest-stops or retail stores (just call the store beforehand or talk to them when you arrive to make sure it's alright). Some places that could allow car camping are Walmart, Casinos, Cracker Barrel, Cabelas, 24-hour grocery stores, etc. I get nervous as a female travelers, but to each their own.


If you have friends or know people in a specific region, you can ask if you can park in their driveway or street. I have had a few instagram friends use my driveway for car or van camping along their trip; I love being able to help ensure the safety of other solo female travelers (and that means they'll likely offer the same for you if they can!).


Be sure to look up local regulations and restrictions before you go and be mindful and when choosing to sleep in your car.



Tips!

  • I like to setup my bed situation before I leave for a trip because then I don't risk getting anything dirty. I went for a car camping trip once where i didn't set up the mattresses until I got there, but it was very muddy and i ended up dropping a pillow in the mud which was less than ideal.

shikoku dog sticking its head out car window
  • Use a cargo box on your car for additional storage. When car camping, you have a lot less space for your hiking bag, clothes etc. I like to place the items ill need frequent access to on the floor in the backseat and any other things up in the top storage. This can also keep your sleeping space clean by putting any dirty items away from your sleeping area (like muddy shoes or dog towels, etc.)

  • Bring a portable solar charger so you don't have to always rely on your car battery for charging.

  • Keep your water bottle nearby and bring a portable tumblrs for a little wine before bed. I'll usually put on a movie on my ipad to help fall asleep.

  • Keep slippers or sandals by the door to easily pop out if need be. I like my Birkenstocks or rainbows for quickly getting out of the car. I also have my vessi stormburst hiking shoes for easy slip-on in more muddy or wet environments.

  • To make your car seem occupied by a man, you can thrift large, old mens hiking boots and place them outside of your vehicle. This can give the illusion of a man sleeping in the car. Many crimes are about opportunity, so it's safe practice to appear low-profile and dissuade criminals if you can.

  • Spray bug spray around your car exterior (not on parts it can damage though) so you can attract less mosquitoes and pests that will try to get in at night.

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Hi! I'm Jackie and my dog is Sora. I work remote as an engineer, but I love to spend my free time in nature and by traveling to new places. I take my camera wherever I go, and sometimes my drone.

Somewhere With Sora is a Seattle-based lifestyle and travel blog that provides helpful travel and adventure tips for all kinds of trips, with or without the dogs.

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