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  1. Default 45 days car camping, crazy or doable?

    I'm planning a 6-8 week trip with my 40lb dog around the western half of the US (all states west of the North Dakota/Texas line) where temperatures may dip below 0 degrees at night. I am working on a photography portfolio trying to get winter photos of the western national parks, as well as night sky photos.

    I originally planned to leave much earlier, but a number of things came up, leaving me with the choice to abandon this trip altogether since I will have an assignment abroad come February, or, find a way to make this work before then. Given the planning I have already put into it, I would prefer to go, but also don't want to put either of us at risk.

    I will mostly be sleeping/hot showering at truck stops and have a 0 degree sleeping bag for dog but only a 23 degree sleeping bag for myself. I have a pile of extra blankets and have several packs of small and large hand warmers to give a boost of heat; I never use the car's (Honda CRV) heating system while sleeping but will probably need to blast the hot air and use the seat warmers before we sleep. While I have done a bit of car sleeping in cold temperatures and both of us were quite toasty even without the added blast of hot air with night temperatures around 20 degrees, I have never tried to tackle temperatures below zero.

    I also have a battery (not petrol) powered generator for jumpstarts and cooking should I be out in a park working overnight. Our current sleeping set up: I sleep in the front seat reclined all the way back, and dog is in her hammock in the back seat, though she usually ends up half sleeping on my head. I'm traveling with basic foodstuffs for the duration of the trip, so the back of the car will be filled dog/people food.

    *The CRV has AWD and when I took it in for maintenance they said I didn't need dedicated snow tires, but I am seriously questioning this, even if I will only be on major highways the majority of the time.

    Is this trip doable if car camping for the duration? What can I do to make this doable safely? What else should I be concerned about?

    Thanks in advance for your help!
    Last edited by Traveling Formosan; 12-07-2016 at 08:30 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    I think if this were me, I'd definitely be looking at a bag rated down to 0 for me, as well. There are synthetic bags that are very warm, or you could get down if that suits you better (and you have the budget for it). I also question how much actual sleep you will get if you are cold, the car is cold, and your dog is trying to share your already cramped seat with you. In times when I have tried to even take a short nap in my car, it wasn't a great sleep, which you need if you are going to be driving for distances every day.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Not recommended.

    Sleeping at truck stops in a vehicle which is not set up for sleeping is not likely to give you the sleep you need to drive safely. Especially not, when you are talking about an extended period.. Doable, possibly, as to weather. Is it safe, you may like to read this article and take note..

    Your temperatures quoted, I am assuming are Celsius. If that is the case, your sleeping bag is going to leave you a long way short of warm during the night, especially once you get to the higher altitudes where most of the national parks in the west are.

    Is it possible that you can cut back the time and use budget hotels? Or set the car up with a flat surface on which you can put a foam mattress, and get a good four season sleeping bag? I have seen vehicles where they set up the passenger side, front and back with a frame over the folded down seats, and made a bed out of it. Blankets on top of a sleeping bag, almost negate the benefit of the sleeping bag. Use the blankets inside the sleeping bag.

    As one who sleeps in my van mostly at truck stops, I would not recommend that you do it in a vehicle not set up for sleeping.


  4. Default

    Thanks! I'm thinking about getting a secondary bag to fit my dri-down bag into, which I was hoping would take care of the cold. I'm not too concerned about my dog on my head, it's never woken me up before (strangely enough- I just wake up with her encroaching on my space!). I'm not really prepared to spend a lot of money on a new 0 rated bag (unless there is one under $20) because I won't likely use again and I have to foot the bill for moving abroad. So, I'm hoping that a secondary cheap bag will be good enough. Any input or best guesses as to where to find a cheap 4 season bag? Thanks again for the help!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Lots of places where you could get a used sleeping bag, but it takes time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Traveling Formosan View Post
    Any input or best guesses as to where to find a cheap 4 season bag? Thanks again for the help!
    It was back in 2004 when I was looking for a sleeping bag. I was in Boston, and looked on Craig's list. Looked at all places within a 100 mile radius. There was one advertised - 20 years old, hardly used, duck down and four season rated. $40. It was in as new condition.

    I still have it, and use it every trip. It is a case of looking around, not necessarily only in your own area, but surrounding areas as well,and places through which you may be travelling soon. You never know what you can pick up.... but expecting something reasonable for $20 is unrealistic. Set your limit at $50 - much more realistic. Of course you can always put on a wanted add, in several places. But from my experience winter equipment is best bought at the end of winter, and into spring or summer.

    Any second hand place, such as charity shops, Goodwill, Value Village, Salvation Army, etc. I have seen them in these stores at regular intervals, but of course you can never be sure that there is one just when you want it. It takes time, but just go around and call into all of them, at least once a week. I would not waste money on a $20 new sleeping bag, it won't be half as good as a few woollen blankets.


  6. Default


    Temperatures are quoted in Fahrenheit, but I am still concerned about myself (not so much dog since she has the one that is rated appropriately and also has a thermal blanket).

    Unfortunately, unless you can advise on hotels that would allow my dog and are under $15 a night, it would be impossible for me to afford it at this point. Where I'm going is cash economy only, so I am in a tight spot there. I might be able to share the back with my dog, but I will likely still be squished and furry in the morning. I've happily slept in the front seat on long trips, but I'm wondering if the cold makes a difference as to comfort level?

    Also, I'm really curious about sleeping positions since you seem to indicate that it's best to lie flat particularly at truck stops. Is there something about truck stops that makes it better/necessary to sleep flat (i.e., security/privacy concerns)? I have mostly tent camped or just slept in the front seat, so I haven't really experienced the benefits of lying flat!

    I am thinking I might be able to shift some of the things in the back of the car and put the back seat down so it forms a more bed-like area. It will take a lot of re-arranging but I should be able to clear the passenger's side, but whether or not I'll actually be able to fully lie flat I won't know until I clear it out and get in. I will certainly see if I can make it work since you seem to indicate it's pretty crucial. How much does it matter if I am able to fully fit on on the fold down? Is this also crucial?

    Thanks again!

  7. Default

    That's exactly what I was concerned about, which is why I figured a pile of blankets in my 23 degree sleeping bag would probably be better. I found Columbia's Thermal Coil blanket, which seems to be a good option to keep heat in, especially if used inside a sleeping bag. If anyone has any experience with that sort of thermal blanket, I would appreciate the input!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default This needs a rethink.

    To be honest I don't think this trip is doable when considering sleeping in a car that's not designed for sleep in the first place, especially not for 45 days back to back when the temperatures could be well below freezing. If you are leaving before February for your next assignment then you will be in places where temps will fall well below freezing and if your budget is such you are thinking that spending more than $20 on a proper sleeping bag is too much of an expense then you really need to rethink. Sleeping and eating out of a car that's not designed for it is not recommended, trying to do so in winter with poor equipment and basic rations over a long period of time is not worth the risks involved, which also includes fatigue which is also a danger to those that share the road with you. I don't wish to sound harsh but this really is a bad idea. Why not go for a shorter period of time and cover less States and the money you save use budget rooms that include a hearty breakfast.
    Also, sleeping in truck stops could leave you miles and miles from the very National parks you want to visit that will be very slow going in poor conditions while adding to fuel cost.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Something I completely overlooked.

    Quote Originally Posted by Southwest Dave View Post
    Also, sleeping in truck stops could leave you miles and miles from the very National parks you want to visit that will be very slow going in poor conditions while adding to fuel cost.
    Dave is right. I overlooked it. But truck stops are not anywhere near national parks. In those places you would need to use state park campgrounds, which are most likely closed at that time of year. or dispersed camping on BLM lands. The latter would not have any facilities, or just have primitive pit toilets. I shiver at the thought of how cold it would be first thing in the morning to get out of the car. neither are these places convenient to where you can get a quick meal, let alone a shower.

    Your best option may be hostels, which for a single individual can be quite cheap, (around $25 - 30) allow you to make your own meals, often serve free brakfasts and usually have free coffee or tea available 24 hours. There are several hostels near national parks. Ones that come to mind are in Flagstaff and Moab. Check for others here.

    The more I think about it, the more I agree with Dave.


  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default Red Flags all over the place

    I've got to say, much like Dave, I just see lots and lots of warning signs of a miserable, miserable - perhaps even dangerous - experience for you and your dog.

    Cold weather camping can be done, with the right gear, but you've already said you don't have the budget to get the proper gear. Not only is a 20 degree sleeping bag going to frequently leave you cold and sleepless, I'm not even confident that a zero degree bag would be sufficient for the conditions you will encounter in the mountains and northern plains in January, where temperatures are likely to drop 20 degrees or more below zero. Add in the fact that you'll be in an uninsulated metal can, where wind is going to quickly wick away any heat you are generating, and I'd actually be concerned about safety for both you and your dog. You'd actually be much better off in a winter camping tent, where more of your own heat would be trapped inside your sleeping environment.

    But of course, all of those things cost money, and if $20 is too much for you to spend on a sleeping bag, or $15 a night for a place to sleep is too much (which is less than the cost of many public campgrounds), then I don't see how you make this trip a reality. If you try to go forward on the cheap, you could likely end up having to spend much more money being treated in the ER for frostbite and/or hypothermia.

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