Best cars to sleep in for travel photography

There’s something about the famous photo of Ansel Adams standing on his Ford Woodie station wagon.

This photo tells the story that our daily commuter car isn’t just for work. It can be a tool to see nature from a new perspective.

Vanlife has inspired so many millennials, youtubers, and minimalists that the American dream isn’t a big house anymore. It’s living with less and experiencing more that life has to offer.

Youtube might show you how epic Vanlife can be, but it also tells you the challenges and stress that comes with it.

For me, I’m more interested in weekend or extended weekend experience of camping. That means taking off Friday after work for a quick photography adventure.

Now these quick trips don’t necessarily mean you will need a van to reach your destination. Instead you might rather use a minivan, SUV, compact SUV or car.

So what are the best cars, crossovers, SUVs, and vans to sleep in for a quick travel trip?

My top picks are the Toyota Prius, Jeep Wrangler, or RAV4 prime. Continue reading to learn what other vehicles stack up and why these are my top picks.

Best cars for camping listed by size

First, let’s compare the best vehicles for car camping listed by cubic feet.

Vehicle Year Cargo Space (cubic feet)
Toyota Prius 2013-2019~67.3 ft
Honda Element2002-201174.6 ft
Subaru Forester2013-present68.3-74.3 ft
Toyota Rav4 2018-present69.8 ft
Toyota Rav4 hybrid2017-Present~70 ft
Toyota Rav4 Prime2020-present63.2 ft
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited2007-202170-72 ft
Jeep Wrangler 4xe 2021-present67.4 ft
Subaru Outback2020-present75.7 ft
Toyota 4runner2010-present89.7 ft
Toyota Highlander hybrid2008-201394.1 ft
Toyota Highlander2014-present83.7 ft
Mercedes Sprinter532 ft
Dodge Grand Caravan143 ft

Best car to sleep in for a weekend trip?

Toyota Prius 2004-present

67.3 cubic feet

The Toyota Prius is one of the best camping vehicles, because of the large cargo space and ability to heat and cool the vehicle when sleeping.

It’s also one of the best budget picks for car camping.

If you opt for the Prius with the solar roof you can attach a battery to the vents to increase airflow to reduce condensation and fogged windows.

The Prius is matched by few vehicles that offer a large space to sleep, and the hatchback makes the Prius easier to enter and exit than using the side doors.

Best crossover SUV for camping

1 – Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (4 door)

70-72 cubic feet

There are great photographs to be captured by the roadside, but having the ability to travel in the back country is much more liberating.

The Jeep Wrangler unlimited wins number one for the best crossover for camping, because it can go anywhere. The newer Jeep wranglers offer 72 cubic feet of cargo space.

With the seats down, the sleeping area is almost flat and can be corrected with some slight modification.

The base model Wrangler offers four wheel drive and depart angles that you won’t find in any other compact SUV.

Add a 2 inch lift and 34 inch tires and the Jeep Wrangler will take you anywhere off the beaten path.

I’m convinced if Ansel Adams was alive today, this is the car he would drive.

Toyota Rav4

2 – Toyota Rav 4

69.8 cubic feet

Almost any Rav 4 is great for camping, but the 2018 and newer models look so much better. The Rav4 also offers all wheel drive, and the rear seats almost lay flat.

The 2013-2017 models are also great and add an extra 3 cubic feet of cargo space. They’re one of the most reliable cars you can buy, and the 2017 and older models are extremely affordable.

Read more to find out why the Rav4 hybrid is even better.

3 – Honda Element

74.6 cubic feet

Although the Honda Element is a bit older and is now discontinued, it’s one of the best midsize SUVs for camping, because the cargo area is completely flat.

You may need to remove the seats, but Honda is one of the few vehicles that offer an interior flatbed. It also has a rubber floor that is easy to clean. Keep a broom in the cargo space and just sweep the dirt out.

If you live in California, these cars sell for much more than they are worth, because of the popularity of car camping.

It’s incredible that this tiny car offers similar cargo space as the 2021 Subaru Forester.

Best hybrid car for backcountry camping

Jeep Wrangler 4xe
Jeep Wrangler 4xe

The reason I think hybrids are the best car for camping is because the engine can be on while sleeping and allow for heat or air conditioning. You should definitely do a carbon monoxide test first, but most models like the Prius barely use the engine when the car is idle.

1 – Jeep Wrangler 4xe

67.4 cubic feet

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is a plug-in hybrid that will go 25 miles on electric-only and 400 miles with gas and electric combined.

Why the Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the best all around car?

Although it’s in the $50,000 price range it’s really the perfect all around car. It’s the perfect commute car, because you can use the all electric engine to go to and from work.

With an EPA estimated rating of 49mpge, this car will crawl over your Toyota Prius. It’s an incredible vehicle for long trips, and it will take you up Moab and through the Sierra.

The full system makes 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque which is more hp and torque than the Jeep Wrangler diesel. It also has Jeeps all new suspension that drives more like a luxury crossover.

The new wrangler 4xe is expensive, but if you live in the U.S you can qualify for the $7500 tax credit. Additional credits may be available based on your state.

The only downside to the 4xe is the cargo space. The all electric Jeep wrangler keeps the same cubic space as other models, but it has a battery hump under the back seats.

Watch the camping video setup here.

How to sleep in the Jeep Wrangler 4xe

Although the battery hump is frustrating, it’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of modifications that would allow you to build a custom platform to make the floor level. Most Jeep campers usually add pullout drawers to sleep on top, and this would definitely be an option.

Just like the Prius, jeep’s hybrid system should also have a camp mode to help you sleep with air conditioning or heat. Jeep also has an EV only mode that should let you use the battery for heat or AC. This should help prevent the car from using the gas engine when you’re sleeping.

Just like other Jeep wranglers, the Jeep 4xe will tow 3500 lbs. That means you can get great mpg and tow a small camp trailer to sleep in with your family or friends.

2 – Toyota Rav4 hybrid

70 cubic feet

If you don’t have the money for the Jeep or the battery bump is too much of a dealbreaker, the Toyota Rav 4 hybrid is another great option. It gets 40 mpg combined city and highway and comes standard with AWD.

3 –Toyota Rav 4 Prime

63 cubic feet

You can’t talk about hybrids without talking about the Rav 4 prime. I like the prime, because it’s a great do everything, all-in-one vehicle. It’s faster than all the other vehicles mentioned, and for a camping vehicle, there’s a good amount of room, and the seats can lay close to flat.

The only cons for the Rav4 prime: It’s expensive, it doesn’t have AWD, and the cargo space is less than the Toyota Prius.

The Rav4 prime also comes with the $7500 tax incentive if you live in the U.S. If you can get the $7500 tax credit, it may be worth it over the hybrid.

3 – Toyota highlander hybrid

93 cubic feet

If you don’t need the the off road capabilities of the wrangler, but still want to tow, look for a Toyota Highlander hybrid. The Toyota Highlander isn’t just a great hybrid and AWD vehicle. It’s also a great towing vehicle. Some models will tow up to 5,000 lbs.

If you’d rather go for stealth camping, the back seats can fold flat depending on the model with plenty of head and leg room. The Toyota Highlander isn’t the best looking vehicle, but it’s one of most reliable vehicles you can buy.

Best adventure vans for photographers

This wouldn’t be a proper car camping guide if I didn’t mention vans.

It seems that the dream of every serious travel or landscape photographer is to find the perfect vehicle to get to their destination. I can’t help but be inspired by many YouTube videos that share this dream.

Instead of explaining what van is best, I’ll list my favorite with a link to a video.

1 – The sprinter Van

The sprinter van is one of the most popular vans for van life. In the video below, Chris Burkard, shares his dream of the ultimate photography travel vehicle.

Check the video here.

2 – Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Pacifica

The Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica is my second choice, because they have the sto-and-go seats.

These seats fold completely flat, so you don’t have to remove them. It’s really the perfect option if you are traveling with a family because you can utilize the rear seats and fold them flat when you’re ready to sleep.

The rental company, Juicy, has built their travel van based on this idea.

See how the seats lay flat here.

3 – Mitsubishi Delica

The Delica is one of the most difficult to find vans in the U.S, but if you can find one you better hold on to it.

The Delica is one of the few 4wd vans you can buy. Thomas Heaton has a great video on the one he’s building here.


Camp vans are awesome but they’re also hideous. I’d rather have the all-in-one do everything crossover. If I had to choose a vehicle to sleep in, these would be my top 3.

  1. Jeep Wrangler 4xe
  2. Toyota Rav4 hybrid
  3. Toyota Prius

All these vehicles offer a type of camp mode to keep you cool or warm during the night while using the battery, and both the wrangler and Rav 4 offer off road capabilities.

I hope this was helpful.

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