Even if you aren’t living in a car, you need to read these terrific survival tips!

This very long and informative comment was left on an old blog post, “12 Tips for living out of your car.” There were so many  useful tips, even if you don’t live in car that I wanted to post the comment for everyone to read. Thanks,  Survivor Mama, for taking the time to share truly useful information with us!

Having spent the better part of 5 years “adventuring”, including during graduate school at a very prestigious University,  I have mastered year round hammock camping as well as living in (1) a van, and (2) a subcompact car. Vans are preferable. Honda Civics are more challenging.

image by mikepetrucci

image by mikepetrucci

Having a storage place (I have a shed at a family member’s property) is also helpful. While Walmart dry camping or in a corner parking lot with a car cover are options, finding a private place to set up a mini-campground is a great addition to either vehicular living option.

Here are a few tips:

1.  Organize, organize, organize! Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place. In addition to your sleeping items, you will need a carry-on style suitcase for clothes, a laundry bag for clothes pending a trip to the laundry (with air freshener), a “chuck box” (your car camping kitchen supplies), water storage container and a cup/water bottle, a tool box, a briefcase organizer for paperwork, a box with your camping supplies, a toiletry case (with towel, washcloths, shampoo, soap/shower gel, hairbrush, other hygiene supplies), flashlight/LED lamp and candles.

2.  Keep toiletries and a plastic mirror in a separate bag or small backpack for convenience and discretion. If you add a collapsible basin you can fill it with hot water and go into a large bathroom stall to clean up and change. Remember to keep a separate plastic bag for wet items.

3.  If you find a place to set up a base camp of sorts (esp in an out of the way wooded area) you can be semipermanent.  Private property will provide legal security. In this case, you can set up a tarp/hammock (super comfortable), and rig up some more homelike comforts (potty/shower stall, etc).

4.  Making a mini-rocket stove and having a shelter makes cooking easier, provides a way to heat water for cleaning up (a copper coil heater in a large bucket can heat while one is cooking or making a campfire to warm up for the evening.

image by jurvetson

image by jurvetson

5.   A folding, hanging shower stall and a shower bag with nozzle makes for a hot shower even in freezing cold, and one can get dry and re-dressed before even feeling cold. For a floor, a baby inflatable 1-ring mini pool makes a perfect showerpan floor and warmly cleans your feet as you shower. Otherwise, use something else to keep your feet off the ground.

6.  If you really do decide to build yourself a camp, Home depot always has free 4′ wooden pallet supports that you can combine to make floor decking, a table/shower/kitchen setup, frames or bench. Lowe’s usually doesn’t keep things long enough for you to get them.

7.  Water:  A tarp canopy can be set up to double as a water cachement system. You can secure potable water other ways. When in a store/cafe one can also put a collapsible water container in a backpack and fill it with hot water in a restroom for use after you leave.

8.  Cooking: Oatmeal, dehydrated meals, fresh vegetables, soups and small cuts of meat are easy to cook w ith just hot water and a pot. We are fortunate to have access to dollar stores for a lot of cost-effective variety and options. Note: Large reclosable Monster cans are the easiest for quickly bringing 3 cups of water to a boil, and can last weeks before giving out.

9. Always use window shades in your car for privacy. It also helps minimize some radiant cold.

10. Whenever possible, secure reasonable supplies of paper-goods. Newspaper is a good insulator (e.g., nest to the drafty door panel at night or under your sleeping bag if you are using a hammock) and super fire tinder. Cardboard box pieces can be cut into strips and coiled up into a can for a good sterno-substitution (esp if you pour melted candle wax over the coil). Even used cups can be turned into fire starters, and tissues, paper towels/ TP are multipurpose.

11.  A solar charger for cell phone/computer is a real lifesaver for times when you do not have access or choose to not go to a cafe.

12.  I have a canopy area over my brick fire pit/rocket stove (got them free on CL as well as materials for a solar oven and parabolic cooker) that also

image by alexindigo

image by alexindigo

serves as a carport (and water cachement system that drains via water chain into a large bucket) .

13. Temperature control:  Staying warm and eating a warm meal morning and evening make all the difference in colder climate winters. Summer heat, on the other hand, is best handled by well ventilated sleeping, cool baths/showers, and good hydration.

There are plenty of places to stay cool during the day. In very cold weather you can preheat your sleeping bag with a bottle of hot water. By the time you need a drink, it will have cooled.

In warm weather, raise your tarp sides to allow more ventilation and funnel breezes. The colder it is the more you want the tarp to morph into a cocoon shape, closing ends to stop wind or blowing precipitation. Lowering the tarp sides forms an acute angle that minimizes precipitation build-up on your tarp walls (and less chance for damage by heavy rain/sleet/hail).  In a blizzard or heavy snow, you will wake up surprisingly warm as you end up with a lovely insulated igloo effect with natural snow walls on the lower half (at least) of your tarp cocoon. Below your hammock will be pristine ground. In the event of torrential rain, any water will be on the ground and not in your sleeping bag as you would have with tent and ground camping.

I once awoke with 12″ of water under me. My feet got wet walking out but I was well above the flash flood water line and awoke dry — just rolled up the pant legs and carried my dry shoes out with me. I keep them in a zipped homemade gear-bag that hangs on the ridge line of my tarp.

When car camping, secure a car cover or tarp over you in really bad weather. In addition to insulating and giving better privacy, the covering keeps your car snow/ice free and prepped for rapid travel if needed.

14. Sleeping Options:  Keep windows open a little bit when your car is covered. While no car is actually airtight you will feel better with more air circulation, and will minimize condensation.

Whenever outside, I sleep in my hammock (it has a tarp covering around it, too), otherwise, in the car with my favorite pillow and sleeping bag. I have slept in both my car and more so my hammock through hurricanes, blizzards, tornadic cells (oops, that was a surprise), 106 degree heat, and 5 degree cold plus 50 mph winds. There are different hammock/tarp configurations for as many weather patterns. I have honestly never been wet or cold. Sometimes it has been uncomfortably warm yet bug-free thanks to the integrated no-seeum netting on my hammock.

Insulate under your sleeping bag (thick newspaper or foam pad/thin air mattress)  and hang a separate layer under your hammock as a waterproofer and insulator. In  cooler weather, always keep woolen socks, hat (buff, beanie or balaclava) and gloves in your sleeping bag as well as thermal pants and a sweatshirt to sleep in. Never go to bed dirty.

15.  Lighting:  Candles have come into disfavor as a safety hazard. Presuming you are an adult, use your best judgment. For the past 20 years I have had a hanging candle lantern with an added rear reflector that I adore. It adds safety and light…The melted wax is added to coiled cardboard in pop cans for quick fire starters. Energy efficient LED lights are an excellent and inexpensive option to candles. For people choosing to park in a Walmart or other lot, you will generally be trying to KEEP OUT the light at night.

Why the alternative lifestyle?  I have been homeless for financial reasons in the past and came to learn that I actually enjoy self-sufficiency. I get excited when the hardware store gives me 100 8′ 2x4s they were going to throw out, and I use them to make things for my “retreat”. I recently built a wooden deck floor and fire reflector short wall, a bench, and a separate full shower stall/potty/changing room (wood framed with tarp walls and tented top secured to a tree branch) next to my tarp shelter and ‘carport’ area.

I am an otherwise mainstream healthcare professional. No one associated with work knows how or where I live. Divorced from my ex-husband, my money ultimately gets invested in my now-adult children. They seem to have many more needs than I.  Once in a while, when I can get a great deal (less than 50% rate) on a discounting site for my favorite hotel, I treat myself to a few days of a king sized bed, thermostatic heat, hot water on demand, free breakfast buffet and all the other accouterments. That is when I do the extra things like deep condition my hair, do my nails, iron my lab coats and dress shirts, work out until I am a sweaty mess :)  then go shower and do my hair, etc.

It is important that people who live in their vehicles stay organized, maintain excellent hygiene, and maintain a positive attitude. Appreciating what we have is a great blessing.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

© Copyright 2013 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

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  1. says

    I loved the original article. So thank you for posting this great story. Will share with my Survival for Blonde folks. And archive on a few Pinterest boards. If we don’t have a bug-out location, we all need to be ready to do this. Kudos!!

  2. Stealth Spaniel says

    I saw this on Dual Survival, and then had a chance to try it out. You know the silver, mylar space blankets that are the bane of, but required for, preppers? Well, if you open it up, then use the blanket as a reflector from the fire, you will be incredibly warm! Put the silver blanket behind you, but reflecting the fire/heat source-we strung ours up like a tarp and even with camping in the cold mountains, we were amazingly cozy. I have car camped-it is far easier in a large van than a car. Be sure to park somewhere safe:we had to move 3 times to avoid weird kooky-lous and creeps. It can be dangerous. These tips were so great-thank you!!

    • says

      The mylar blankets are fragile and dangerous. Invest about $15 and get a real quilted Space Blanket with grommets in the corners. This will last a long time and you can use it more than once.

  3. kelliinkc says

    Loved this! I was afraid that I was not going to get a hotel room last summer while travelling with my daughter and then thought, well, we have a van and we can sleep in it if we have to. Thanks for all the tips on this. Would like to see some pics of how you set up your hammock and tent shelters though…… best of luck to you.

  4. Sierra Dave says

    There’s more to this lifestyle than discussed.

    How do you deal with nosy LEO? All you need is to get taken in and your vehicle impounded where it will get stripped of anything of value at the tow yard.

    What about security? Do you string some fishing line around your camp at night and have it hooked to some bells or something? Do you have a gun? Baseball bat? Knife? Slingshot? Bow? Air horn?

    IMHO, it’s not a lifestyle that’s enviable. There’s a reason most of us live in solid buildings. But something you might have to do once or more in your life.

    I have a brother who is an ex druggy. He has told me a little about the homeless. He says if they get the chance, they will loot anything and everything you have.

  5. charley says

    I have a question about keeping food items in your vehicle either because it’s your primary residence or stocked as a bug out vehicle. Since it can get pretty hot inside a car and any food storage recomendations suggest cooler temps, what would be the best foods to keep? Little to no prep needed and can take being stored in hotter temps?

  6. says

    Have you ever heard of a Roof Top Tent? It will turn any Minivan, SUV, wagon or pickup truck into a livable family getaway. Have a queen size bed, privacy and room for kids. Very quick set up and tear down. They are designed to last for years in even the harshest climates. People in Australia have been living and camping in the units for decades but is just now beginning to emerge into the American market. The greatest thing about it is you can practice your skills by just loading up the family and going camping. See it here https://www.3dogcampingusa.com/roof-top-tents/
    here is a great chuck box https://www.3dogcampingusa.com/drifta-car-back-kitchen-grub-box/

  7. says

    Stopped by to get some information. Right now I’m planning to move to another city (Midland, TX) to look for a better paying job but the rent is much higher.

  8. Ann says

    I don’t get it. You say that your adult children needs come before your own comfort and safety. I love my children but if I was a single person there is no way I would live like this. I hope one day your children invite you to live with them.

  9. tzaih says

    To the one who made the comment about solid walls being better e.g. a house, perhaps you haven’t noticed they also have large glass areas called windows, not very secure either, a sheet of contact over that, a tap with something hard & they are coming in without much noise.

    I would have hoped survivalists were aware that a modern house is not secure.

  10. says

    This article is outstanding. For those who tend to categorize and stigmatize the homeless, here is an example of a professional whose IQ is probably twice mine and yours. Sounds like she might be a scientist. Maybe she travels to exotic places like Antarctica, and living this way prepares her for the expedition. Let’s refrain from judgment. We may all have to live without the benefits most of us now take for granted. I have known homeless who had tons of money, but couldn’t stand the confinement of living indoors. One such lady had lost her children and her husband in a housefire. Personally I find this condition tragic, but who am I to judge? It is a minor point but I would like to say that once a person finds a location on private property where they can set up house as she described, although she’s sleeping in a van or on a hammock outside, I don’t consider this homelessness, strictly speaking. If in a wooded location on private property, she could be, and I hope for her sake she is, perfectly safe. On the other hand, sleeping on the street or in a parking lot is a scary and dangerous experience for most people. In a house you are much safer, with glass windows. If windows scare you, iron bars are a popular option in high crime areas along with big ferocious dogs and tiny dogs that bark every time someone is in the vicinity.

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