Prius Camping Update

September 26, 2013  •  6 Comments

During recent photography trips, I find myself camping in my Prius more frequently. In fact, during my most recent road trip from Chicago to the Pacific Coast and back, I camped in my Prius for 27 consecutive nights. Prius camping offers several benefits (most of which I documented in a previous blog entry):

  • Convenience of camping close to the locations of my photo shoots
  • Flexibility of being able to make travel itinerary changes on the fly without having to make reservations
  • Comfort of sleeping in "my own bed"
  • Control of the cabin temperature (ability to set thermostat for the night)
  • Very low cost of travel (the total lodging cost of this 27 night trip was $257!)

Quite often, I get questions from readers about my Prius camping experiences. Hopefully, this blog article will address some of those questions. Here are a few of the more common ones:


When considering where to park (camp) for the night, I consider two things about the location. Is the location safe? And, is it legal to park in the location? Generally, most public (state and national parks) and private campgrounds meet those requirements. On occasion (when the campgrounds are full), I will park behind a lodge or visitor center inside of a national park. Also, many Walmart stores offer free overnight parking for recreational vehicles. Here's a picture (iPhone) of my Prius camped in Port Angeles, Washington--just north of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

I will share more information about my Walmart camping experiences in a blog article in the near future.


Almost all of the campgrounds provide restroom and shower facilities. Obviously, Walmart stores do not. However, public showers are available for a fee inside or near most state and national parks. During this last trip, there were several state parks in Washington and Oregon that provided a shower for just $2.00.


As you can see from the photo that I shared above, sunshades are applied to every window on the Prius to provide privacy and to darken the interior of the cabin. With just a little practice, I can snap all of these shades in place in just a couple of minutes. They attach to the window with suction cups. When I first purchased the sunshades, it never dawned on me that it would also be useful to have one for the hatchback. I added the hatchback one for this last trip and that extra shade blocked a significant amount of annoying overhead lighting.


People wonder how there is enough room in the Prius for someone as tall as me (6'3") to sleep comfortably. With nearly 9 feet from the rear of the interior to the dash, there is more than enough room! I can stretch my arms as far as possible over my head and still not reach the front of the car. Here's a view of the interior. Note how I use only the passenger half of the car for sleeping. This makes the process of setting up the car for sleeping very convenient--and less than a five minute process.


I get this question quite often. It's probably easiest to show how this is done through pictures. First, the front seat on the passenger side is moved all the way forward toward the dashboard. Then the front passenger seat is reclined all the way back until it's flat against the rear seat. This requires removing the headrest from the seat.

The rear passenger seat is dropped forward until it connects with the top of the front passenger seat. Again, this requires removing the headrest from the rear seat as well.

At this point, the rear passenger seat rests about 18 inches higher than the front passenger seat. So, something must be placed on the front passenger seat to level the sleeping surface. I use two floor throw pillows.

Then, a mattress (I use a Thermarest) and sleeping bag will lay perfectly flat over the length of the interior.


In a prior article, I shared some information about my purchase of a customized tent for the Prius. During my last trip, I only used it for 2 of the 27 nights. It was good having it for the two nights I camped at a KOA in Salt Lake City. Those were warm nights--and the tent allowed for a nice breeze to enter the vehicle. Most nights were cool enough that I preferred to close the hatchback rather than use the tent. And, the tent wasn't practical for security reasons when the Prius was parked at Walmarts or other comparable locations.

Overall, I find that the Prius offers many benefits to the traveling photographer. After sleeping in the Prius for over 60 nights during the past two years, I would have a hard time buying anything other than a Prius for my next car.


Some other products that recently came to my attention from Altegra. Click here to visit the Altegra website to view the compact canopies that can make the Prius camping experience even more enjoyable.


Can you please tell me where you found the sunshade kit? Are they all HeatShield brand?
Azzam Aziz(non-registered)
I cannot for the life of me find sunshades to fit the prius like the ones you have.

Any possibility on telling me where I can find them?
Sean McCloy(non-registered)
I own 2 Prius one I plan to take a trip with I have taken out the LARGE side of the rear seating and I have some huge luggage I plan to take up that space with. The only reason I have not taken out all the rear seats is my daughter travels with us sometimes so I need that jump seat. Part of me wants to take out the front seat instead but it is too much of a change to do. I have a tow hitch on that car and I also have an inverter that puts out 800 watts. Yet to test with a microwave oven but it will power a portable sauna. I think folks might scratch their heads if they see me sitting beside the road in a portable sauna sweating it out in the snow? Could happen I can get a cargo box that would contain the sauna on the rear. So far when I use the platform on the rear of the car it cost me maybe 2 mpg economy not a bad trade off? I have towed a trailer with the car that dropped my 45 mpg down to 20 mpg. I could easily outfit that trailer with everything to make it a nice apartment tow a folding boat on the roof if I were so inclined IDK if I want to do all that? What would be nice is if I would drop trailer and seek out all an area has to offer then hook up tow down the road and do the same all over again? That set would be ideal for a person chasing history with a metal detector and a camera. I should make a video of my car and the trailer but just have not been so motivated to do so. I originally got the trailer to tow for hurricane preparedness I really should outfit it with solar and a ladder rack I can put the folding boat on? Thing is if you can dream it odds are you can do it.
Sean McCloy(non-registered)
As a former trucker I want to add that you can shower without a shower. Jail birds call it a bird bath but I was a trucker I would use a 6 gallon container to shower I used 2 gallons of water with my short hair. If you have long hair it will cost more water. I wore swim trunks to shower also wore a pair of on piece water shoes to protect my feet. I washed my head first or last depending how cold it was. Thing is you can get very clean this way. I did not heat the water in the truck because the box under the sleeper is always over 100 degrees I would get a great shower with 100 degree water. I dried off with an absorber, key to carry a little bleach and soap to clean the absorber when it gets fonky. You have to smell test everything. Helps to carry a bucket too to wash clothes and wash your absorber. I have a video on you tube " truck driver carry your own shower"
Gary Airboatusa(non-registered)
Excellent in all ways. Great story, great photography too.

I'm on my first Prius camping trip. So far, so good other than one blogger stated that he uses standby mode, not sure what that is.

In put a trailer hitch on and use an aluminum rack. This has not changed my mileage and is working great for added space.

More to follow:
Camplite stove
Nuwav hotplate
12 volt appliances
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