Thirty degrees outside and not much warmer in my car, I drew the blanket up to my chin. The few places where my makeshift canopy let in light from passing cars quickly dimmed as the windows fogged from the inside. A day of wading in the cold followed by a heavy meal makes falling asleep in even the most awkward positions easy. Curled up in a sleeping bag in the back of a Subaru is certainly an awkward position. But it wasn’t even 8:30, and I sure fell asleep easily.
Being in my mid-30’s, I can’t say how many more nights like that I’ll have in my life. Lord willing, they’ll only happen if I plan them. Moreover, I’ll physically be able to not only endure them buy enjoy them.
Sleeping in the car while on fishing trips has been a part of my life as long as I’ve been fly fishing. At first, it was out of necessity. In high school and college, I couldn’t afford a hotel room. My friends and I started off bringing tents, but then opted for quick and easy over slightly more comfortable. Simply reclining the front seats was much more attractive than playing camp when we were really there for the fishing.
Once Alan’s Jeep Cherokee entered the picture, the back allowed for spacious, king-sized slumber. Enough sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows transform the most uncomfortable contours into a plush landing spot. Again, a day of wading followed by a heavy meal really assists in the process.
After graduating college, it became a proposition that was equal parts financial and adventure. With a real job I could afford a modest room somewhere… but I was still pretty used to squatting in the car. Plus now, with a job, time on the water was a little more valuable. I like camping, but when I’m fishing I want to be fishing. Sleep is important enough that I’d rather have that extra hour than the alternative of waking up early to break down a tent. This was also the time in my life where the Subaru Forester came into the fold. Being of not-so-great stature, the folded-down backseat and hatchback makes for a passable surface.
Right around thirty, I started shelling out cash for hotels more frequently. Especially in the wintertime, that money felt well spent. However, every now and again the thought crosses my mind that I could really do a lot with an extra hundred bucks. In situations where I’m solo and just paying to walk in, sleep, and walk out, I’ll opt for the car. I don’t always get to take the family’s minivan, but the times I’ve been able to do so have felt like being in five-star accommodations.
I also like vehicular lodging because it means I get to travel light. Everything stays in one place, and I get to cut out the superfluous stops. For one or two nights, it can be a quick and basically free option. Furthermore, you’re often closer to the water than any hotel could be.
That recent, below-freezing night wasn’t awful. I got a full night’s sleep. It also wasn’t so cozy that I wasn’t looking forward to getting going, getting coffee, and getting to the river.
Can it be uncomfortable? Can it be cramped? Sometimes it is. I can’t imagine I’ll be doing it in my 60’s. But isn’t that what pop-up campers are for? Until that day when I’m independently wealthy or physically unable to do so, I’ll spend a few nights in the car while on fishing trips.
Here are some common-sense tips for a better night’s sleep in a vehicle:
- Park safely and park legally. Getting bright flashlight shine or a knock in the middle of the night is not great for rest or the nerves.
- If you’re laying in the bed or a reclined backseat/trunk, make sure your head is above your feet. This is the number one thing for easy comfort.
- Layer more sleeping bags, blankets, and cushions that you think you’d need so you’ll be as comfortable as possible. There is no such thing as going overboard. Especially in the winter, you’ll be happy in your cocoon.
- Make sure you have a pathway to your keys and front seat. In a worst-case scenario, you don’t want gear filling up the driver’s seat or your keys to be MIA.
- Pack wisely. Keep you fishing gear stored well and out of your way.
- Crack a window or two. Your breath and your wet waders will fog up your car super fast. If it is bug season, a few dollars’ worth of mesh will be the difference between a sauna and a comfortable night.
- Night number two is always better than night number one. This is because you will be even more tired from your first night’s sleep and another day of wading.