Car Camping

Camping in a Car? That is crazy?! Well not really! Stay with me! ๐Ÿ˜Š

I first got into it by accident. I was on a long road trip in my Gypsy YOSSARIAN from Mumbai to Powalgarh in Uttaranchal for a Tiger Census and sleeping in the car was a way to save money. That was the initial idea but that idea has since grown on me! Park beside a Dhaba restaurant at 6pm after a hard days drive, have drink and a meal at the Dhaba, sleep in the car and then start moving by 4am for another long day of driving! I later camped out in the Powalgarh Jungle 3 days later and by then I was completely hooked on the idea!

The Gypsy Camper was an incremental project – Learn from each ride and implement the changes to make it better for the next one! Sharing the evolution of my build so it can help you with your Car-Camper!

Yossarian in Powalgarh

Camper v1.0

Decided to take Yossarian for the 2008 annual Himalayan Odyssey. Setup for this trip was basic. Sold off the rear side-facing seats to get a bare rear platform. Kept bags and boxes for food and supplies here during the day. At night, pulled the driver seat all the way forward, moved all the stuff into the front seats and folded out the mattress on the floor in the rear to sleep! Only had a pathetic DC powered Car Kettle so Food on this trip was Cereals/Oats for Breakfast and MTR ready to eat meal packets for the evening. Basic, but it Worked!

Took the Spiti Route to Ladakh in 2008. Night halts in Chittorgarh and Ropar were at a Dhaba. But in the hills, I was camping beside a Fresh water source like a River or stream (dangerous in Ladakh I know!). Camped out in the car for 23 of the 30 days on this trip. The only place I stayed in a Hotel was in Leh Town. Ton of fun and saved a lot of money!

Learned a lot too! It got really stuffy inside the cabin at night! Cracking the window helped improve the circulation but created other problems. It was way too hot in the plains (dry heat) and way too cold in the mountains. Plus it got really dusty inside the poorly sealed hard top of the Gypsy!

Camper v2.0

Version 2.0 was the biggest upgrade! Completely upgraded Electrical with Dual Battery, Inverter and Vent Fans, Improved comfort for Sleeping etc. Did not do Ladakh in 2009 so had 2 years to get the setup right!

Wanted to get those Vent Fan things to run through the night. However Vent Fan would require cutting a 12×12 inch hole in the roof which I was hesitant to do. M came up with the idea of using Electric fans used in Gaming Computer builds. These are not regular Computer Fans – Gaming Fans have a high CFM value of 90+ and are really silent! They also have 3 pins so theoretically can be controlled by an Arduino based controller. I didn’t do the controller and connected the fans directly but it is Possible to do it! Much more expensive though – regular computer fans come for 30-60 Rupees. Good Gaming Computer Fans start from Rs.2500! EACH! I bought 4 of them and fitted them in between the Fiber sandwich walls of the Hard Top – 2 in the rear and 2 on the B-pillar. While fitting the fans, also sealed up the cabin to the best of my ability! M helped – a little!

How do you run the Fans through the night and avoid draining the battery? Dual Battery Setup – one primary battery and a secondary camping battery. Sourced an Isolator Fuse from the US which allows the Secondary Battery to charge while the car is being driven but isolates the Primary Battery completely. All Electrical equipment in the rear cabin was powered via the Secondary Battery through a Secondary Fusebox (borrowed from a Maruti 800). Powered the Vent Fans and Cabin Lamp – no LED back then so borrowed one from Ambassador car, and a 240V inverter. Also upgraded the batteries to 90AH and the alternator to a bigger one sourced from the Suzuki Baleno.

The original idea was to use an inverter battery for the secondary. However I got a really good deal on the Car Batteries – So both Primary and Secondary were regular “Amaron Green” brand 90ah batteries. I measured the voltages both when settling down in the evening and waking up. The secondary battery worked perfectly and did not lose charge even with the Vent Fans running for 8 hours+! The secondary battery would get fully charged within 3 hours of driving! You don’t really need Solar Panels (They don’t work!) if you are driving 100kms everyday!

For breakfast used another trick suggested by M – Dry Poha! Make dry poha like usual but without onions and carry this in an airtight box. Take a bowl of this stuff, pour a little hot water, cover the bowl and 3 minutes later you have HOT poha! Healthy, nutritious and cheap! The MTR packets were only backup on this trip. Drinking water was from a 20L Can replenished at intervals on the way.

Bought a cheap Cement “gamla” of the kind used by construction workers and used that as a makeshift BBQ. Would buy Chicken on the way and marinate it in a sealed plastic bag. In the evenings, lit up a bit of charcoal in the gamla to BBQ the meat. Went somewhat ok with Rum except for the Petrol smell! ๐Ÿ˜Š

In 2008, the Cardboard boxes with Groceries broke up by the time I reached Leh. So for v2 bought 6 nos of faux “Sintex” brand Ice coolers I got from Karol Bagh in Delhi. These boxes also doubled up as a base for my mattress. Surprisingly good! I sold these 10 years later for more than what I had paid for it – they were still as good as new! Kept food insulated but also more importantly – everything was free of Dust! It gets REALLY dusty driving in the Himalayas!

Overall the v2 setup was a HUGE upgrade! Everything worked perfectly including the “Vent Fans”. Only problem was the BBQ setup – Kinda worked but setting it up and getting a fire going in the Himalayas was quite a challenge! And the meat had a distinct petrol stink.

I originally thought it would be nice to sit outside the Gyp, do the BBQ and have my Rum+Meat watching the night sky! Good idea in theory, not so much in Practice! Realized this the 1st time I tried to do this between Nako and Tabo in Spiti Valley. It gets freezing cold after 6pm, the freaky winds don’t help either! That didn’t quite work. So typically, I would park the Gyp and get into camping mode by turning the Gyp rear into my bedroom, prepare my drink and food and have it inside on the “Bed”.

PS: Another important thing to remember. When parking the car at the Camping place, ensure it is level and well secured. It should not place any undue stress on the gear box while parked. Learnt this lesson the Hard way! This can be more of a challenge in practice than it seems! But you got to be careful.

Camper v3.0

v3 was more of an incremental upgrade to get real food on camping trips. Bought a 2 burner propane Gas Stove (Everest make). The stove was an impulse purchase on a US trip and M built a Chuck Box to house it! The Chuck box was custom built in M’s garage to perfectly fit the stove and fit exactly on the rear tailgate of the Gypsy. When folded down, it served as one end of my bed. Had to cook with the Tailgate open. Bought a Frying pan and the smallest Pressure Cooker I could find and sourced a propane cartridge from Gurgaon. Another important learning – At altitudes above 8000ft ASL, it takes 15-20 minutes to just get water to a boil to make tea! So you absolutely need a pressure cooker to cook in the Himalayas!

Worked PERFECTLY! Now I had real food! Omelettes and Sourdough Toast for breakfast. Chicken Pulao or usually just Khichdi for dinner! Supplies last in the mountains without refrigeration. Atleast I didn’t face that problem. I bought Sourdough loaves in Simla and Leh Town and they lasted for 3/4 days without any problem. Eggs have to be stored carefully as the roads get pretty rough.

This v3 setup stayed for 8 years till the Gypsy was sold – 4 trips to Ladakh and a dozen weekend trips to Masinagudi, Kutta etc.

What would I change if I had to do it again?

Camper 4.0 – Gypsy to Ford Bronco

Gypsy is not an option in North America! And I wouldn’t advise anyone buying Gypsy or Jimny again even if it was available! There are much better options out there! For North America, I would do this with a Ford Bronco or Honda Passport as a platform.

Other upgrades?

– Roof Top Tent – Used this on my last car-camping trip in the US and loved the idea! Not very expensive, very well built and very compact when folded down. Only con is the road noise at higher speeds.

– Chuck box idea in v3.0 was a stroke of genius! Worked perfectly! But this time, Instead of making one large chuck box sized to fit the rear tailgate, I think I would make it as 2 smaller “half” boxes. Makes it easier to carry down to the car when going for solo weekend camping! One challenge was, that we have to cook with the rear tailgate open. This can be a challenge when camping in windy conditions above 10K feet like in Debring.

– 240V Inverter was never used. Orig idea behind fitting it was to be able to work while travelling. In practice it was NEVER used! Not once! And only added to the complexity of the wiring harness we built!

– Need to devise some better solution for Drinking Water management.

In Closing – Car Camping is a great fun idea! Just remember to be safe doing this in India. When in the plains, stick to car camping beside Dhabas. Parking anywhere else at night could attract unwanted attention! In the mountains, It is a good idea to park next to a fresh water source so you dont have to use your drinking water supply to wash up. However, be very careful about doing this in the Himalayas. Water bodies can suddenly change course in the Himalayas without warning! Had a bad experience in Lhosar once – get scarred for life with that! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Drinking Water management has been one of the biggest challenges when car-camping for long duration like on a Ladakh Trip. Might not seem so, but it is harder than it looks! Something to fix in v4.0!

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