Long story short, over the New Year I ended up car camping with friends and my doggo in my 2001 Land Rover Discovery II. It went mostly OK, but did require more work than anticipated.
Note: There are a lot of product links in this post. I didn’t get paid by anyone, least of all Amazon. I’m just sharing links to stuff I like/ found useful.
First off, with the back seats folded up the Disco is not big enough to accommodate a full sized human. I don’t remember the exact measurement, but I think it was well under 5 feet.
This meant the back seats had to come out.
Luckily, each side is only held in by four torx bolts, so about 20 minutes of work and both were sitting on my living room floor. They were surprisingly light!
That said, even with the back seats out, the Landy’s rear cargo area was still too small for 6' 1" me! Luckily the front seats have an almost inappropriate about of travel, so moving the passenger seat up about 6" was enough to give me about 6' 3" from cargo door to back of seat.
So, tl;dr, with the back seats removed, the 3rd row folded, and the front passenger seat moved forward, there was enough room to sleep in the car.
Next up was figuring out how to make the car comfortable and warm. The Land Rover is seemingly well insulated, but with temperatures expected in the teens... the more padding and insulation the better off me and my furry companion will be. However, I was wanting to do this on the cheap so I only used stuff I already owned, which worked.... OK.
First off I needed to fill in the rear footwells to make a level surface. My plan was so sleep with my head against the front passenger seat and my feet against the rear door. Also, with a doggo in tow, he needs a flat space so hang while we’re driving. So under the sleeping side I put stuff that I wasn’t expected to need. This is stuff like socket sets, tow straps, air compressor, etc. With some random blankets to fill in the gaps, this made the about half the footwell even. The rest was filled in with pillows, radio chargers, whiskey, and other stuff.
In the end, the footwell was full of stuff and mostly level. Hooray!
So... warm stuff. Well, again, using what I had around I started with a base layer of a mylar blanket. I’ve never had noticeable luck using them in this fashion, but they’re cheap and seem like they’d work in concept anyway. So yeah, baselayer of mylar, then a twin sized foam egg-crate (that I had around for sound insulation when working on video narration) for some padding. Lastly, I put on a 4x sheepskin I had around for the dogs to sleep on. It is big and fluffy and seems like it would be warm. All of that would serve as a platform for my Coleman 0 degree mummy bag, with my backup 20 degree bag for the doggo.
So tl;dr: Fill in the footwells with junk, then mylar + egg crate + sheepskin + sleeping bags.
So yeah, everything didn’t fit in the footwell, unsurprisingly. All the camping stuff got crammed into two small plastic totes, which could be permanently arranged in the rear (heyo) and wouldn’t need to be moved for sleeping. Those and a bucket made a stuff wall on the driver’s side on which all the soft stuff (camera bag, laptop bag, clothes, laundry, etc) can be stacked for sleeping.
Sorry, that is all a boring way of saying: Soft stuff on the left, hard stuff on the right, stack it up when sleeping.
The hard totes also made for a great bedside table during the night.
I had a catalytic heater that... well has never really served a purpose and I don’t understand the point of. Which is to say all the warnings say stuff like “use in a well ventilated area” and “don’t use while sleeping” and “don’t use in an enclosed area” seem to negate the usefulness of a low BTU heater? ANYWAY, I went ahead and used it to pre-warm the car before sleeping, but didn’t run it while we (doggo and I) were in the car. This got the car mid-50s before sleeping, which I choose to believe was helpful. It at least made changing into night clothes and loading in to the sleeping bag more tolerable.
I did go ahead and spring for a CO detector and a temperature monitor for this trip. The former to make sure we didn’t die and the latter to quantify my misery. An oxygen monitor (is that even a thing?) seemed like it would also have made sense, but heh.
We also bought some Hot Hands and Zippo hand warmers after freezing out butts off the first night. Both worked very well, if very differently.
The Hot Hands got surprisingly warm and didn’t require any filling or fussing around, but didn’t really seem to warm my body.
The Zippo ran for a shocking amount of time and gave off a generous amount of heat over a large surface area, but the filling process means something is going to end up smelling like lighter fluid.
Of the two, I’m probably more into the Zippo, but both work well.
Also, I made the somewhat (apparently) controversial decision to bring along a pee bottle. Yes, a bottle for peeing. With low temps and bright dome lights, I decided that if nature called in the night I was going to take care of it in comfort of my car. My friends were weirdly squeamish about this, but it worked well and kept me warm so...
Speaking of bodily excretions, I also sprung for a $15 bucket toilet. Essentially a toilet seat that clips onto a 5 gallon bucket, it comes with bags to line the bucket and bags to put the used liners in. Gross, but if one or more of us needed to do our morning movements before reaching civilization, packing out is generally better for the environment than the alternatives. I also brought along kitty litter to make everything less... gross, as recommended by people on Amazon. I’m happy to report we didn’t need to use the bucket, but I was glad to have it as an option.
Lastly I brought along my LED wrenching flashlights and, frankly, they were the stars of the show. With three brightness settings, a red mode, magnetic base, and a hanging hook these were used extensively for cooking, climbing, ambient light, and light painting. Excellent piece of kit and I 100% recommend them.
Overall, the setup worked really well. I had plenty of space, the bedside table was awesome, and I was mostly warm. Space was good, with plenty of headroom to move around, change, sit and drink, whatever in the back of the car. We didn’t end up doing it, but we considered hanging out in the back of the Disco to escape the cold. There was definitely sitting room for three plus dog.
Overall I think this setup was better than tent camping. With outside temperatures in the teens, I wasn’t wanting for warmth the first night and was actually too hot the second. (Though all the booze may have had something to do with that....)
My padding was a little inadequate, which is unfortunate. Specifically I woke up the first night with lower back pain, because apparently I’m an old. I solved this the next night by putting a folded fleece blanket in my lower back.
Doggo was comfortable and warm. He even got to be love his little bed in the car.
Actually really just padding. Not sure if a new pad is the solution here, or maybe just a lumbar pillow.
Everything else worked out pretty well. Comfortable, warm, and convenient, this was an excellent proof of concept. I think the Disco worked well for one and might have even been OK for two in different circumstances, though it would have been better if I were shorter. Also if mine didn’t have the 3rd row.
If I was working with more of a budget I think I would have invested in more robust insulation, though between the three layers I’m not sure what else I could have used without dipping into specialized camping pads, which are stupidly expensive.
I ended up with slightly more stuff than anticipated due to a packing mix up, so something to better organize the smaller bits and pieces would have been nice. Also I used paper grocery bags for my snacks and doggo supplies and neither bag made it to the end of the trip. I think reusable bags would have been a better call.
On the topic of storage, I’ve noticed some car campers end up suspending stuff overhead. With the abundance of head room in the tall Discovery, I think this is something I’ll be exploring in the future.
Again, overall I’m really happy with how this worked. Definitely prefer it to tent camping for comfort and convenience. On a longer trip or with more than one person per car, space would become more of an issue but for how we roll (each in their own car) it worked very well.