car camping2 - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

This website is supported by our visitors. I sometimes earn affiliate commissions when you click through the links to affiliate partners and products, that I have selected manually and would or have bought myself – at no cost to you.

So you have decided to try it out? Enjoy the freedom of microcamping? Well done you! Now just that little detail of what car is best to convert into your microcamper and back to a normal car when you need it*. This post will give you a set of criteria to help you narrow your search + a summary of the best cars for car camping with their dimensions, comfort, consumption data and ranking.

*(Yep, because I think that’s one of the best features of a microcamper – you’re not stuck with a camper, you have both – a car for the whole family or bunch of friends when needed, and a camper when you feel like it).

Which are the best cars for camping conversions and sleeping in?

Hey – before you continue

This post goes into more detail about my top picks for car camping. I have also built a bigger database of the best everyday cars for camping that’s
very easy to filter by boot length, width, consumption and more…

My personal top car for camping: VW Sharan (or Seat Alhambra)

Obviously! I put my money where my mouth is as I have bought this one in 2020 and thoroughly slept in it throughout Europe – road trips, holidays in camping spots, and local escapes to nature. I was deciding between a VW Caddy Maxi Life and a Sharan, but eventually found a Sharan sooner and really enjoyed the good balance between space and comfort.

The Sharan is a very comfortable car to drive, so I’d recommend it if you do long trips like me – Slovakia to France, Spain and back. It offers a very good size boot too – comfortably sleeps two people + a dog (labrador size). On long trips like this, my overall consumption is 5.8l/km (diesel, automatic). Maintenance costs are normal – the usual stuff you’d expect.

Sharan and Seat Alhambra are basically the same car, so if you like the Sharan, but happen to find an Alhambra, go for it.

Benefits
  • it is very spaciouslong and tall, easy to sit in even when converted to a camping car at the back – it’s the biggest small car you can find out there if you want size, but not a van
  • tailgate (why is this important)
  • easy to maintain, no expensive or hard to get parts
  • good level of comfort for long journeys, well equipped
  • good price on models up to 10 years old (they still drive very well at an affordable price + will last for years to come)
  • sliding middle doors
  • 7 seater is easy – just fold all the seats and your flat surface for a car bed is ready
Disadvantages
  • the 5 seat version needs additional work to prepare the flat surface for a car bed – see how I did that easily under 106€
  • not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much
  • you might hear some people complaining that they don’t see the front of the car when driving – leaving them feeling a bit uneasy about where exactly does the car end, especially navigating tight spaces. But 2010+ models have parking sensors that should alleviate that

Other great cars for sleeping in and camping

XBUS Camper (to be released in 2023)

The Xbus brings a new take on a small camper bus/people carrier. Its main competitor is the VW ID Buzz, albeit the Xbus leads with its modular base and configurable components
The Xbus is not for everyone – it is being developed with environmental and economic credentials as the brands’ main priority, therefore some compromises in terms of how many people it can carry or top speed need to be made. But I am sure it will find its place in many people’s hearts. I am definitely looking forward to it! The company behind the XBUS (ElectricBrands) has hired 13 new employees in 2022 with the work on Xbus underway, albeit with possible delays because of the unprovoked attack on Ukraine by Russia. BTW, the Xbus Camper is the most sought-after variant of the Xbus (in the private sector). Campers know what’s good, especially nimble campers! 😉 That’s also the reason, why the company has decided to build the camper as their next test vehicle that they will take to shows and exhibitions to collect feedback.

The XBUS is one of the top cars in our 35+ cars for car camping database.

Fiat Doblò camper

doblo combi maxi xl high roof - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions
Fiat Doblo Combi XL High roof

If you’re thinking of Fiat Doblo for camping, then think of the Maxi XL High Roof version. It is the tallest MPV out there – overtakes the leading VW Caddy by a whopping 25cm, giving you much more headroom or storage space (actually both!).
It’s about 8cm shorter than the Caddy, but still one of the longest cars out there with 217cm boot length. The rear seats can be folded (backrests) or lifted up & tilted forward, or easily removed – even more flexibility (see how in this video). Combined with good consumption, the Fiat Doblo Maxi High Roof makes an amazing camping car.

Fiat Doblò High Roof is one of the top cars in our 35+ cars for car camping database.

VW Caddy Maxi Life

The VW Caddy Maxi Life is the second biggest MPV out there (as of 2021) and probably the best small camper van option out there. If boot size is your primary criteria – you can’t go wrong with a Caddy. The car drives good too. Where it lacks a bit is comfort – it takes after its van origins and offers a more basic interior. But it makes up for it in storage – it really has a lot of compartments all over the place. It’s not the best car to take off the road completely – but you can take it down a good enough mud road without any big problems. A very good car camping / microcamping conversion candidate, unless you are planning to drive through forests and very much offroad – or you prefer a higher class interior comfort.
VW Caddy Maxi Life is one of the top cars in our 35+ cars for car camping database.

PROs
  • big above head storage on top of other standard compartments
  • it is very spaciouslong and tall, easy to sit in even when converted to a camping car at the back – it’s the biggest small car you can find out there if you want size, but not a van
  • flat boot door floor (loading area – easier to put a camping box / boot jump in and out)
  • easy to maintain, no expensive or hard to get parts
  • Volkswagen quality standard & reliability
  • good price on models up to 10 years old (they still drive very well at an affordable price + will last for years to come)
  • sliding middle doors
  • tailgate (why is this important)
  • middle seats can be lifted up or removed
  • you can fold the middle row of seats and keep the rear ones up – and put your feet up (or use the middle row as a table)
CONs
  • more van-like – lower interior comfort
  • louder at higher speeds
  • not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much
  • 3rd row rear seats have to be removed, can’t be folded like in a 7 seater Sharan. On the plus side – the car is so long you might not need to remove them as there’s additional storage space behind the 3rd row of seats

These might come in handy...

...and you'll help keep this website going too - thanks! 🙂

The best budget car tent you can find:
ARPENAZ BASE M tent

Confirmed to fit: Sharan, Touran, Berlingo, Caddy, Partner, Kangoo, Combo
At around 100 GBP - 120 GBP, it's a bargain that does the job of a 300+ GBP tent

See my full review + video here arpenaz base m car tent BUY NOW
at Decathlon UK
Or see my full review here
pressure solar camping shower 10 litres 600x600 1 - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

Pressure solar camping shower (pumped) – 10l
£49.99

This camping shower is easy to transfer and doesn’t need to hang in the air – it has a built-in pump that lets you pressurise the chamber and shower or use it in the sink anywhere. It’s black, so the longer you leave it in the sun, the warmer the water will be (or just leave it in a hot closed car in the summer).

  • Lightweight: 870 g including the bag
  • 10 litre capacity | On/off button on the handle to prevent waste
PORTABLE CHEMICAL TOILETS FOR CAMPING - 20L

4.2/5 stars
- Clean water tank up to 50 uses - tank capacity: 16 litres - a seat with antibacterial coating, a lid and a tank that prevents odours and mould

portable toilet £89.99 - BUY NOW
at Decathlon UK
[azonpress limit="2" template="widget" type="bestseller" keyword="Jackery"]
cshow - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions
Small, foldable and sits 4 with plenty of space for food preparation
foldable camping table and chairs BUY NOW
at Decathlon UK

Nissan NV200

The Nissan NV200 is a very spacious car for its size. It is one of the tallest and offers a lot of headroom for a DIY camping conversion. Where it lacks behind is drive and interior comfort. It’s not a vehicle you would choose for long journeys – but of course, if you are not used to the comfort of higher class MPVs like a Sharan or your previous car, this won’t be a problem. It will get you there and you’ll be happily camping in its big boot, especially if you want to do your own DIY camper conversion or buy a camping box. For a simple conversion (not putting many storage options in) it doesn’t offer many built-in storage compartments in the back, you better come up with some good solutions yourself.
Nissan NV200 camper still ranks quite high in our 35+ cars for car camping database – mainly because of its boot height.

PROs
  • it is very spaciouslong and tall, easy to sit in even when converted to a camping car at the back – it’s one of the biggest small cars you can find out there if you want size
  • the boot floor is flat + lower than most MPVs
  • good price on models from 2016 – around 13,000 GBP
  • sliding middle doors + tailgate (some models) (why is this important)
  • front passenger backrest can be folded down horizontally to form a table
  • 7-seater offers many seat configurations – you can either take them all or fold them individually (good for temporary camping or 1 person)
  • good for DIY conversions (doesn’t come with too many built-in compartments, therefore offers more room for your own, without having to take the original ones out)

CONs
  • not as comfortable for long journeys, motorways (louder, cheaper interior)
  • limited built-in storage options at the back
  • not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much
  • many reviews mention good consumption, but actual reports on fuelly.com report worse actual consumption than other MPVs Caddy, Berlingo or Sharan. I have found other claims of 40+ MPG (UK) from some users and or HonestJohn.co.uk, so there’s some mixed info out there.

Citroen Berlingo (Peugeot Partner) – Long / XL version

- Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

“The Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Partner/Rifter are almost identical panel vans and leisure activity vehicles produced by PSA Peugeot Citroën since 1996”

Wikipedia

The Berlingo is one of the most often converted cars for camping, Peugeot Partner is close behind it. Despite both not being the biggest – very likely because of their affordability and availability. The Berlingo (and its similar cousins) is a good car for car camping, but not as good for general driving & comfort during long journeys. It’s not the biggest MPV out there (Sharan or Caddy are bigger) but offers very good mileage and low maintenance costs. It’s also very well priced – there are plenty of used van or MPV versions out there. It’s best suited to fill the role of your second car that you can rebuild for camping. If you want it as your main car, it’s good if your budget is low, but otherwise, you’re better off with a more comfy and reliable Sharan or Caddy. The upgraded Peugeot Rifter (that replaces Peugeot Partner) might be a better option too – higher comfort and better features, but it’s only available since 2019 so don’t expect to find cheap used ones until a few years from now. It’s not an offroad car so don’t expect a thrilling offroad ride, yet still, you can take it down a not too steep/rough dirt track or through a meadow.
Because of its shorter boot length and lower interior & drive comfort, the Berlingo is lower in our 35+ cars for car camping database.

PROs
  • one of the cheapest cars with good camping capabilities on the market
  • easy to maintain, no expensive or hard to get parts
  • sliding middle doors
  • front passenger backrest can be folded down horizontally to form a table
  • roof window (some models)
  • roof shelf (some models)
  • tailgate (why is this important)
  • split tailgate opening (some models – open just the window or the entire tailgate – see demonstration here)
  • front seat folds down to form a table if needed
  • flat tailgate (boot) loading area
CONs
  • boot length is only 180cm in the long model – meaning you have to push the front seats forward each time you have the bed extended, which reduces storage space.
  • lower level of interior comfort – lower-quality materials
  • not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much (some 4×4 models are available as used too)

6 person inflatable camping shelter air seconds base connect 11 - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions
6-person inflatable camping shelter – air seconds base connect – £299.99

Don’t like fiddling around with poles? This inflatable car tent might be the right choice for you. The sheet + poles make joining it to your car even more flexible. It has two large openings on opposite ends, giving you a choice of which side you’ll attach to the vehicle. It fits most MPVs – tailgate or side-door, you can connect it from two ends

  • Height: 2.25 m (opening for tailgate 1.75m) | Floor area: 6.25 m2 (2.5×2.5m) | Comfortable for 6 people
  • Openings on 4 sides (2 suitable for a car) | but only 1 mosquito net
  • Weight 13kg
  • Easy installation: Rapid pitching thanks to its all-in-one inflatable structure (requires a separate pump though)
  • The fabric filters UV rays with a UPF of 50+, Waterproof, good quality – tested in long rain and strong winds, it holds up pretty well (relatively to the price)
Inflatable luxury for 6 people (3 bedrooms)
+ 170cm opening for any tailgate

Fits MPVs, SUVs, Bedrooms:140x210 cm | Stand-up living room:7,1 sqm with zipped basin groundsheet
Fresh fabric: reduces heat inside your tent in the sun

6 person inflatable tent £549.99 - BUY NOW
at Decathlon UK
dometic 1 - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

Dometic HUB Air Modular Shelter
£624.99

This car/suv tent offers very cool design and I love the versatility – fits SUVs, MPVs and campervans. You can pitch it freestanding on the beach, on-site with your camper or as valuable shelter when off-roading with your 4×4. Best feature is the ability to REMOVE (unzip) ALL 4 WALLS – making it an awning + tent in one!

  • Width:230cm, Depth:230cm
  • Attachment Heigtht: 180-210cm (fits tailgate as well as side door, MPV, SUV, Multivan)
  • Windows have mosquito nets
  • Weight: 13.8kg

Find more everyday campers, their dimensions and rating in our database:

The database keeps expanding every month – find the best car for your camping trip, whether you are looking for size, comfort, low consumption or versatility.

Frequently asked questions

You can sleep in pretty much any car – it all depends on your creativity. See our camping conversions category for inspiration on how to sleep in any car – small 3-door cars, medium/estate type cars, big MPVs.

SUVs generally have a bigger boot that should allow for 2 people to sleep in. See our SUV campers category for dimensions of various popular SUVs to sleep in.

Many cars do, but not all – check individual cars manually before purchasing, or have a look at our 35+ cars database which includes images of their seats folded for sleeping.

Generally yes – you’re higher off the ground, the car is much sturdier and won’t fold on you in strong rain or winds, and it’s hard for anyone to get in once it’s locked. And in a worst-case scenario, you can jump into the front of the car and drive off.

It is generally recommended to do so for ventilation. The hotter it is, the more you want to open your windows. But with that comes the issue of insects and/or rain. You can find car window nets and window deflectors that will eliminate these problems.

In the majority of cases, yes, you can. Whether you sleep in your car, or in a tent next to it, it doesn’t matter – you get a spot, with or without electricity and you’re free to do whatever you want there, within the rules of the campsite. I’ve only had one experience in Italy, where I was told I can’t sleep in my car at a campsite – I need a tent or a caravan.

Generally, a car is better insulated (thicker walls), unless you have a high-performance tent. The weakest point of every car is its windows, but you can always add more insulation using various foam sheets or foil covers that are easy to cut to each window size. Although for most camping trips this isn’t necessary – unless you sleep in the car in 5 degrees celsius or less.

Other things to think about

To make sure you pick the best car for your needs, think about these points:

  • do you need a 4×4 – SUV type? You do if you plan to go offroad properly
  • do you want a car for long journeys – are you going to spend a lot of time driving as well as camping? Then pick a car with higher comfort rating. If not, you should be good with a lower comfort rating, but better other attributes like boot size
  • in terms of storage – if you plan to carry a lot of stuff, think about getting a roof box / cargo carrier
  • if you’re a single person – you might have more fun with a 4×4, there’s plenty of room for one person (as seen in this Subaru Outback camping conversion)
  • there are shorter cars (boot under 170cm) that aren’t in our table – you can still fit a 180cm person in them if you push the front seats all the way to the front + tilt the backrests. Not ideal, but if you find a car that you love with a boot like this – go for it
  • for most of car camping, you don’t need a proper 4×4 offroad vehicle – there’s a good enough road going to so many places nowadays + a standard car can handle quite a bit of rough terrain too 🙂

I’ve looked at many camping car candidates out there and did a lot of research before I bought my microcamper. During that search, I relied on simple criteria to ensure I get the most for my buck.

What is car camping all about? What’s a microcamper?

For our purposes, it is literally camping and sleeping in your car. I don’t mean just driving in your car, pulling into a campsite and/or sleeping in a tent. It is taking your car – driving to a nice spot and sleeping in your car on that spot. As simple a definition as it gets :). You might have also heard the phrases “estate car camping”, “suv camping”, “boondocking”, “dry camping” or “wild camping” associated with car camping. They are all a specific version of car camping, each with its own characteristics. A microcamper is either a small car you can camp in or a small trailer, see the difference here.

nimblecamper hero 1 1024x576 1 - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

Car camping / microcamper criteria – How to select the best car for camping

(I was looking for a microcamper – an everyday car I can also use for camping. You might want to change these criteria if you are looking for a camping van or anything bigger than a VW Caddy (one of the biggest small cars out there).

1. Car boot length – for a comfortable sleep (with your legs stretched out)

Have you ever tried to sleep in a car? It’s not the most comfortable of experiences if you don’t have the right equipment and your car isn’t prepared for it – meaning you sleep in the front or back seat. That’s not what you want to be doing whilst car camping. What we are going to focus on is comfortable sleeping in your car – so that you can travel, explore > rest > continue exploring. And comfortable means the ability to stretch your legs when you lie down in the back, without bumping your head into the front seats. A general rule of thumb – you’ll need about 170cm (5.57ft) boot length with rear seats folded down. I’ll allow some buffer as you can always move the front seats forward and easily gain about 20cm. That should give enough comfortable space for the average man (~175cm / 5.74ft) and woman (~163cm / 5.34ft). The best camping cars are ones with at least 200cm long boot or more.

Look, there’s plenty room at the back – and that’s just a tiny sample of all the cars and SUVs available:

Toyota RAV4 image: Reddit

2. Car boot height – the higher, the more headroom you’ll have, the more comfortable it is

No one likes to feel claustrophobic – even if you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, you probably don’t like to have to crawl into your bed or crawl out at night when you need the loo. Bumping your head into the roof (although padded) isn’t your aim in the morning either. The higher the car, the more comfortable your car camping trip will be. Aim for at least 90cm from the boot floor to the roof, the more, the better. You really want to be able to sit inside, on the bed, without having to crouch or bend your head. The best cars are of course the tallest ones – MPVs, vans or custom roof extensions.

This also depends on your camping style of course – if you are into stealth camping, you might want to have a small and inconspicuous car. But if you are after comfort – you want a tall and long car.

3. Good storage options

The more bare the interior of a car, the harder it will be to live inside. If you have plenty of compartments, hooks, holders, lights, 12V sockets – it’s easy to keep your day-to-day things handy. If you only have some small compartments in the front (not in the back, where you’ll spend most of the time car camping), you’ll either have to create your own storage compartments or have to settle with things lying on the bed all the time. The best cars will have plenty of small compartments, especially in the boot, where you will spend most of your car camping time.



Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.