There is no lack of options in the world of small, everyday campers – many sizes, lengths and types of cars are available to sleep in, each with its own set of features. How do you choose the right camper for you? This post will help you with that.
I will list some of the top features that will make camping and sleeping in an everyday car easier for you. You should then decide whether you agree with them, plus also add your own preferences on top of these. Maybe you really want a certain brand or a feature, which will mean compromising on some of the below-listed ones. That is ok – you will use the car and it should cater to your needs. But it helps to know where to start if this is your first small camper.
Top features of a small camper (you should go for):
(This post mentions some features that were voted top by a community of small car campers (read more about them here) + I’ve added other features that have been mentioned in various groups and discussions).
These are the top 5 features voted by small car campers:
- Boot length – comfortable sleep, more room for storage, your furry friend etc.
- Everyday use – reversibility from a camper to a normal car – so that you can use 1 car instead of having to pay for and maintain two.
- Boot height – comfortable camping, more headroom for sitting in the car, more room for overhead storage
- Tailgate – as opposed to a barn-door (double door) style boot door. A tailgate doesn’t get in the way when you walk around the vehicle + acts as a roof & shade + you can attach a car/suv tent to it easily.
- Sliding doors – the last thing you want to be doing when camping in your car is always walking around the open side doors. It seems trivial, but believe me, it does get in a way a lot.
And some additional features that will make your camping life easier
Flat boot door (sill)
If you’re putting a camping box into the boot, a flat “loading area” of the boot will make it much easier to slide out your drawers. Some cars (like a Sharan 5-seater) have the boot floor lower than the boot sill. In my case, it was useful, but for a camping box, you want a flat sill.
Most MPVs and 7-seaters will have a flat boot sill, and many SUVs or estate (combi) style cars will have a raised boot sill.
It is very handy to be able to just reach up and get the things you need when camping – lying down or sitting in the boot of your car. Some cars offer more overhead storage compartments in the back than others. Berlingo and Caddy offer good overhead storage compartments. Although these might not be the easiest to open when inside the car (especially Berlingo’s rear storage shelf).
But you can always add a roof net for simple storage. I hooked my one to the handlebars, you can DIY one yourself or buy one.
Openable tailgate window
This seems to be the domain of the Berlingo – but other car makers might get inspired. Useful for ventilation (likely during rain too) or if you just want to grab something without opening the entire tailgate.
Run-flat tyres = no spare in the boot
As you will be putting your entire bed + storage into the boot, you don’t really want a car with a spare inside the boot – underneath all your things. Plus they take up space you could use for storage too.
Nowadays many cars have run-flat tyres – meaning you don’t need a spare wheel, you can drive on a flat tyre at a lower speed to get to the car service.
Most MPV spares are attached to the bottom of the car, which is also ok – but I prefer a run-flat than having to replace any tyres. On the other hand, run-flats are a bit more expensive.
Sedan / Estate (Combi) or some SUVs tend to have their spares in the boot.
These are the top features that I’d look out for in my future small camper. You might not get all of them in the same car, but this list will help you prioritise. Choosing a car for camping isn’t the same as choosing a car for everyday use. It gets even more complicated if you’re choosing a car for both! At the end of the day – it should be a car you feel comfortable in and that appeals to both – the camper and the driver in you.