Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

The Bed -- Updated April 2015

When the front passenger seat of my '04 Prius is laid back flat, someone over 7' tall could sleep in it. If you'd like to view my bed with the front seat back, then click here.

There's enough length for an 8' tall person to sleep in my '04 Prius.  Jan 2011  

But, I'm only 5'2", so I now keep my front passenger seat upright and use that space for storage when I travel solo.

The head of my bed up against the front passenger seat.  April 2015  

I get lots of questions about how I set up my bed.  So, I hope these photos and explanations help to answer some of those questions.

When living out of a mid-size car like the Prius, every bit of storage space is garnered and cherished.  For example, directly under my bed I store my Therm-A-Rest Seat and my silicone cutting board under the mattress because they are thin and flat they take up almost no room in this location.  Also, under those items is a compartment for emergency items (spare tire, extra fluids, jumper cables, tools, first-aid kit, etc.).

Using one of my trekking poles to hold up my mattress, you can see
that I put thin, flat items here for storage.  April 2015  
Since I had a lot of camping gear when I started living out of my Prius, I simply tried to use what I had.  I chose to put wool fleece at the bottom for it's insulating properties, then a Therm-A-Rest pad for both comfort and insulation.  A couple of years ago I replaced an old foam cot mattress combined with a 1" Therm-A-Rest pad, with just a 3.5" REI inflatable foam pad.


My "mattress" is made of several layers.  From bottom up: fitted sheet, 1"
deflated Therm-A-Rest pad
(for storage), 75% inflated 3.5" REI inflatable
foam pad
(like a Therm-A-Rest), flat sheet.  April 2015  

These 3 layers get encapsulated in sheets.  I first wrap all with a flat sheet from the top, then cover everything with a fitted sheet from the bottom.


All of my mattress layers get wrapped up in a sheet burrito.  April 2015  
I bring 4 sets of sheets with me.  One set is used to wrap the mattress layers as shown above.  When clean, the other 3 are put on the bed for easy storage.  On my mattress is a fitted sheet, flat sheet, fitted sheet, flat sheet, fitted sheet and flat sheet.  On laundry day, I strip off the top fitted and flat sheets to wash.  At that point, the clean sheets must be stored until it's time to make the bed up again.

My mattress with 4 sets of sheets on it.  April 2015  
For warmth on top, I use a king-size down comforter covered in a duvet.  To fit the bed, the comforter is folded into thirds.  If it's real cold, I cover myself in all 3 layers.  If it's not too cold, I unfold it at the head of the bed and sleep under only one layer.  My feet, which tend to be the coldest, are always under 3 layers.  

A king-size comforter is folded into thirds.
 It fits the mattress perfectly.  April 2015  
Every once in a while I need to stealth camp.  That is, I park someplace like a truck stop, rest area or Walmart to sleep for the night before I head out the next morning.  I cover my comforter with a black twin flat sheet because it makes the bed look less obvious.  Plus, if it's a warm night, I'll just sleep under the sheet.

A black twin flat sheet makes the bed less obvious to anyone who
might look into the car.  April 2015  
Next I cover the foot of the bed with a waterproof polyester fleece lap blanket.  This serves several purposes:  1) protects the bed from accidental spills when I'm using the hatch area as a galley, 2) more warmth for my feet, 3) fleece absorbs the light better than the poly/cotton sheet making the bed even less obvious to onlookers, 4) its large enough to cover the contents on the driver's side of the hatch, and 5) it becomes a curtain by clipping its top edge to the bungee cord stretched across by the hinge of the hatch.


I cover the foot of the bed with a waterproof fleece lap blanket,
stretching across to cover the contents on the driver's side as well.    April 2015  

Usually I take a heavy coat when I travel because even the desert can get very cold.  But, it takes up a lot of room.  So, I often just spread it out in the back as an extra layer of warmth at the foot of my bed.


Storing a heavy coat by laying it over the foot of the bed.  April 2015  

Please note that these photos were taken while staying in Arizona during the winter and spring.  If I were wintering in a damp chilly location like Seattle, WA, then I would would stay away from cotton and down.  Instead I would use synthetic materials as they will keep you warm even when damp.

28 comments:

  1. The latest techology for backpacking sleep systems is perfect in my Prius. Called a sleeping bag quilt. I use mine with a thermarest neotherm mattress.
    Enlightened equipment is one manufacture that makes them.

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    1. Interesting idea. How easy is it to keep your sleeping bag quilt clean?

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  2. Hi Suanne, I love your set-up. I was wondering what the length is up to the passenger seat? I'd like to keep the passenger up in its normal like you have here. I am 5'11" - would I be able to lie straight?

    Also, may I ask why you prefer to use camping mats/mattresses rather than a standard single spring mattress that you would find in a bedroom?

    Thanks very much!

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    1. The mattress I'm using now is 28"wide x 78"long and it fits just fine. If I move the front passenger seat forward a little bit, it gives me about 80" in length under the hatch. I use a camping pad because I find it very comfortable. The one I'm using now is 3.5" think and made by REI. I could put a regular 36" wide twin mattress under the hatch; but, then I'd loose my seating area. Hope that helps.

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  3. Hi Suanne,
    I like to sit up in bed and read. How many inches is it from the mattress to the headliner? I have a 4" foam pad that works fine as a mattress. I might have to put a piece of plywood under the mattress if there are bumps or valleys in the floor. Thanks so much for all the info. As some others have said, pictures of your curtains would be helpful also.
    Thanks,
    Scottie

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    1. Hi Scottie, I read and watch movies in bed, but can't sit straight up. Rather, I lounge using my pillow to support my back and the back of the front-passenger headrest for my head. It works for me and at least one other (taller) Prius dweller that I'm aware of. When I measure, I'll post the inches in another reply. The car-seat latches do make bumps, but the padding and mattress are enough so that I don't feel them when on the bed. You might find the same for your vehicle without plywood. Hopefully, at some point, I'll figure out the lighting to take readable photos of mat black curtains on black bungie cords. In the meantime, safe travels.

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    2. Hi again,
      I had pretty much every thing figured out to camp in my 2012 Prius v (the larger "wagon" Prius). And I was starting to go through my camping gear to get set up for some camping this month. Then, woe is me, I was in a bad accident! I was T-boned in my driver door. My injuries are relatively minor, whiplash and bruises but no broken bones. I may have had a concussion too although I didn't lose consciousness. My car was totaled. But I believe my car saved my life. I went back to look at the safety ratings and they're very strong for that type of collision.

      Which brings me to yet another question. I had asked you about the height from the top of your mattress to the top of the car. I haven't decided whether to get another Prius v or a regular Prius but I like to prop the pillows and read in bed so that's an issue for me if there's not enough head room. I will of course climb into any Prius I'm thinking of buying it and try it out but it's a bit awkward with my aches and pains right now. I'm kind of leaning towards the regular Prius because it's less expensive, gets better gas mileage, and the seats fold flatter so I don't have to remove one to create my bed. Also I could get one of those Habitents. I've discovered a lot of YouTube videos about making the Prius into an RV. You're still my model and inspiration but it's great to know there are other ideas for adaptations.

      Thanks as always,
      Scottie

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    3. Oh my Scottie; I'm so sorry for the accident and the loss of your Prius V. I hope you are healing up well. In my Prius I can't sit up in bed, only lounge. So, if sitting up is important to you, you may want to stay with a V. I'm sorry I forgot to get that measurement for you. I'll see if I can get that for you sometime today.

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    4. From the head of the mattress to the ceiling is 24", measured at the middle of the mattress width (where my head would be). Because the ceiling is a dome shape, there's 26.5" from the edge of the mattress at the middle point in the car. My mattress is 3.5", so when I'm sitting or laying on it I'm sure it compresses to give me a bit more room than these measurements. Keep in mind, my Prius is an '04. I'd expect the measurements to be the same through '09, and slightly different for later models.

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    5. Thank you for the quick reply, it really helps. I measured myself slouching in bed like I do when I read and I definitely need more than 24 inches so I guess I'll look for another Prius V. They are harder to find and more expensive but I love the car, especially since I'm now well-acquainted with the safety features. My brother-in-law had already made me a seat replacement bed slash storage device so if I buy a V with the same vintage I should be all set. I won't get my settlement check for at least a week but I'm excited now that the sun is shining and the grass is green here in Michigan. Lots of great areas to camp in my beautiful state. Be well!

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  4. I watched the video about your set-up on YouTube, and noticed your window screens are on the inside of the window. How do you attach the screens, especially at the bottom? And I noticed that one screen flopped down near the end of the video. How do you keep the screens in place when you open the doors? Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for checking out that video and my blog. When I installed the screens 6 years ago, I used velcro because I expected to remove them when I wasn't traveling/camping. I secured the velcro on the door with gorilla glue (just below the window and the top & sides in the door jam. After 3 years the glue began to fail. I began tacking it up with small pieces of black gorilla tape. During the video, it was a piece of that tape that failed. So, just after the video, I re-secured around the door jams using a solid length of black gorilla tape. It is holding well and doesn't look too bad either. Lately, the gorilla glue that secures the velcro below the window has been failing. I intend to re-secure it with gorilla tape as well.

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  5. Suanne: I am going to be sixty years old and retire soon. I plan to travel and sleep in a car, not in a van or whatever, so I like your set up very much. I am only 61 inch tall and 105 lb, do you think I can sleep at the back of the driver seat, then I can have more living room. I want to use my exercise mat as my sleep pad, standard size pillow, and my sleeping bag as my whole sleeping system. I have a few plastic drawer style containers for all my personal stuff. I have Snow Peak titanium cookware. Do you think I am good to go? I don't want to buy anything else for the trip.

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    1. Hi Mei, Thanks for reading my blog. We are about the same age and height, but you weigh much less than I do. If you are asking if you'd fit on the driver's side of a 04-09 (Gen2) Prius, then I would guess that you would. But, I would strongly suggest that you take at least one test run to see if you find it comfortable. Even if you just sleep in your driveway. Your sleep system sounds like it would work good as well. But, again, test it out first. The cookware sounds great. What about a stove, utensils, emergency gear, first aid supplies, electronics like a cell phone or laptop? Please take some trial runs. That is the best way to find out what you need and what will work for you. Just like folks who live in conventional houses, people who live out of their vehicles each require different levels of comfort and amenities to make themselves happy. In the end, only you can say what's best for you.

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  6. Thanks a lot for your prompt reply and good advises. I'll do a test run at some close (can commute in a day) provincial parks. May I ask you one more question, can I have a small (24 qr) fridge and electric kettle in a car, I mean the electricity can power the appliances? I am now driving Toyota Corolla only, I don't want to drive big cars. I used to go solo camping in a hammock and tarp, but I am a little bit scared now because there are so many crazy people out there, sleeping in a car is a good choice. I can assess the driver seat. Anyway, I look forward to my retirement, I am very excited.

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    1. Hi again Mei! A small 110v fridge and an electric kettle would not work well in a Corolla while camping without hookups. You could get a 12v compressor fridge to use with a small solar panel/battery system, but that's very expensive. But, it's possible. Unfortunately, those electric kettles use way too much power unless you are in a campground that provides electricity. I use a small butane stove when I camp. I too like the extra security of sleeping in my steel tent (car). But, I also remind myself that it's much safer from the "crazy people" in the back country than in town.

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  7. Hi Suanne, I'm going to be stealth sleeping in Cincinnati for my job. I'd like to know how I could warm up coffee to drink when I wake up so I can sit in my car and be at peace before driving in to work. Is there a device you know if that will heat up water for a cup of coffee that is small and doesn't involve propane?

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    1. Here is a couple of ideas for you to consider. First, get a 12v water heater or a 12v mug. You can find them online or at truck stops. The other idea is to get a thermos and put hot water in it the night before from a convenience store. I do this and use instant coffee the next morning. Hope one of these ideas work for you. PS: Sorry for responding so late; I've been without Internet access since the 31st. The best to you!

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  8. First saw your story on Enigmatic Nomadics. Thanks for sharing your info. My hopes were to retire soon and travel with my son who lived with me due to a disability. He died a few months back. My heart is broken. Maybe traveling to all the places we wanted to see would bring some healing, but I don't know if I can do it alone. Your story gives me hope. Thanks for sharing your travel stories with all of us. Happy trails and God Bless.

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    1. Thanks Helen! I'm so sorry for the loss of your son. My heart goes out to you. I found that being in nature helped me grieve and heal from the death of my daughter. Perhaps you will find the same is true for you. Safe travels. Suanne

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  9. Hey, Just wanted to say I've learned a TON about camping in a Prius and that I am super appreciative that you have put yourself out there. Its been a tremendous help to my SO and me, thanks for all that you do. Keep up the awesome work!

    P.S. totally putting your curtain idea to use this coming Thursday!

    Peter from Duluth MN

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    1. I'm so glad to know that you've found my blog useful. That does my heart good. Many safe and happy trails to you and your SO!

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  10. Your passenger seat goes flat? Hmmm. I've never been able to get mine to do that, but I don't need the extra length.

    Thanks for everything!

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    1. As far as I know it's only the 2nd generation Prius that will lay down flat like that, 2004-09. But, like you, I don't need the extra length either; so, now I don't lay my front seat down either. Prius On!

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  11. Hello Suanne,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and amazing wealth of knowledge re: car camping.

    I am semi-retired and plan to outfit the only car I have, a 2013 Hyundai Elantra. It has a hatchback and gets good mileage-up to 39 miles per.

    I am 5'10" so I will most likely have to remove the front passenger seat to create a bed or, maybe, put it on a swivel. I will definitely have to modify the car for camping. Unfortunately, the seats don't behave as nicely (laying flat) as those in your Prius.

    Anyway, thanks again. I haven't found any info online for modifying a Hyundai, so I really appreciate what I can glean from yours.
    All the best,
    Beverly

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    1. Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm glad you've found it somewhat helpful. The best to you as you figure out how to utilize your vehicle. Suanne

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  12. Hi Suanne!
    Thank you so much for sharing your Prius camping living. Its very informative and I now am start looking for a Prius myself instead of a class B or high top van. I guess the mpg. and the hybrid function of running your ac/heater automatically is very useful and is more important for me than space because I like to travel accross USA & Canada & Alaska as well. The only thing I am not so sure is the limit off-road of a low Prius and its not an all wheel drives.
    I guess we win some then lose some.
    Again, thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for checking out my blog Tran. It seems that one big trade-off for high MPG is lower ground clearance. That said, I've got into a lot of back country by just taking it slow and picking my way carefully. Many are surprised at the roads I've successfully negotiated. The best to you in your search for your right vehicle.

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