Camping in a BMW X3 SUV

Disclosure: At times I may include affiliate links to useful products that I believe to be beneficial. It doesn't cost you anything and I generate some revenue from it. Learm More
Friday, November 16, 2018

Why Camp in an X3

The majority of my hiking is done at a local park. It has great views and some challenging parts and has a fairly extensive trail system and I can walk to it but it's nice to explore other trails in the New Jersey which is one of the reasons I like to go camping.

My normal car camping set up is pretty involved. I have a pop up canopy, large tent that can comfortably fit a queen sized air mattress with plenty of room to move around, hammock and extensive cooking gear plus other odds and ends. In addition I bring a lot of food for a 2 or 3 night trip. That all takes a lot of time to get out of storage, setup, pack up, clean out then store. I usually don't have all my gear back in storage for up to 3 days after a trip as I slowly take care of it here and there.

If I'm in the mood to change up my hiking trails or just need a break to be closer to nature, do a quick overnight trip to hit some new trails early in the morning, I wanted a quicker way to camp. If I'm camping by myself just for a night or two then I can significantly reduce what I bring.

BMW X3 Car Camping Gear

My goal is to only have to bring enough gear that I can fit it in the cargo area of my BMW X3 SUV without having to fold down the rear seats. On my first attempt I was able to do just that.

I could pair down my kit if I removed some items but if I just want to grab and go I brought some totes I use for tent camping. What I brought when sleeping in my car was:
  • Camping Chair
  • Intex Inflatable Air Mattress (good size when it's just me)
  • Sleeping Bag and Pillow
  • Sun Shades (used as bug screens for rear windows)
  • Cooking tote (2 burner stove, plates, utensils, pots, pans, etc.)
  • Camping tote (hammock, shovel, knife, bear spray rain gear rope, stakes, bug repellent, lanterns, etc.)
  • Cooler (I can bring a smaller cooler next time) Water Jug
  • A small bag for food that doesn't need to be refrigerated.
  • Charcoal and chimney starter. See my post on why I use charcoal when camping.
  • Rain Fly Poles made out of EMT Conduit. (details coming soon)
  • Clothes and toiletry bag
The only major difference between my tent camping set up is I leave my queen air mattress and pump home and replace it with a smaller air mattress in the camping tote, my tent, tarp for under the tent and 10' x 10' popup canopy also stay home. The Canopy takes up a lot of space. The tent and ground cloth takes up a lot of time to setup, clean, break down then air out when I get home.

I can pare things down even more if I bring less charcoal or none at all but using charcoal saves me a lot of time (and cleanup) when cooking in the fire ring. I should also split up one of my camping totes into two totes, one I can leave behind when it's just me.

Setting Up A BMW X3 for Sleeping

Air Mattress

I'm a little over 6' tall but I just barely fit. I move the passenger seat all the way forward. In case the seat motor dies I don't want to be stuck having to drive back with my chest in the steering wheel. Both rear seats get folded down so I have room for some gear behind the driver seat and me on the passenger side. The Intex Inflatable Air Mattress gets inflated and put on the passenger side where I'm going to sleep. It's not very thick but it was more comfortable than a something like a self inflating sleeping pad. It looks like a large inflatable pool float but has the type of soft covering that an inflatable mattress has on top.

My initial plan was to sleep with my head towards the back but the way I parked I had to sleep with my head towards the front. It's more comfortable to sleep with your head above your feet than it is the other way around. My head was also closer to the windows which was important because it was very hot. (This trip was back in August but I haven't had time to finish this post.)

Window Screens

I found these Sun Shades on Amazon that worked great as bug screening. They're like a giant mesh sock that that fits over the door and covers the area where the window is. That way I was able to keep the windows open to get some cooling and fresh air.

The X3 has a giant panoramic sunroof. I'm hoping to figure out a way to get some bug screen to cover that too for some additional ventilation. There is a mode where it will keep the visor in place except for a small opening and tilt the sunroof up but I didn't think to try that.


Luckily I had most of my gear in my totes, including this cool battery powered tent fan I picked up really cheap at Aldi.

I was hoping to get the fan set up by a window to blow outside air in but I couldn't get it stable. Will keep trying to figure it out but I found a decent solution for now. A little length of rope between two ceiling grab handles and I was able to position the fan over the passenger headrest so that it was blowing directly on me. Without it I don't think I would have been able to fall asleep.

Before I went to sleep I used the keyless entry remote to lock the doors then after a second clicked the lock button again. That disables the motion and tilt sensor so I can keep the car doors locked but don't have to worry about the car alarm going off if I move around.

There is a little bit of a gap between the top of the rear seat folded down and the front passenger seat. I was worried it would be too floppy to be comfortable but the air mattress was able to support the weight of my head. (Some people might find that hard to believe.) Just in case I did put my bag of clothes and some other items in the rear passenger footwell for additional support.

The next day I was able to keep the air mattress inflated I didn't need to make much of an adjustment and drive to the lake for some sun and swimming, other than to reorganize some of the gear.

Dining Fly

Even though it wasn't going to rain I did want to test setting up a rain fly. my 10'x10' popup canopy is great it's big and heavy and takes up a lot of space in my car. I store it in a loft in my garage and it's a hassle to get it in and out of there so I wanted to try setting up a rain fly.

I had a small rain fly for my hammock and I used some poles I made out of 1/2" EMT conduit but it didn't work out that great. The fly was small and didn't have enough grommets to secure it in a way that would also support the poles properly. I also needed to make the poles taller to account for the sag factor. I'll probably also make some poles for the corners. Had it rained I would have been okay but I'm glad it didn't.

I bought this larger tarp I plan to use as a rain fly but I haven't had a chance to test it yet. I'm very optimistic because it's beg enough and it has grommets in the center that will help keep the poles straight.

How It Turned Out

I slept very comfortably in the back of my BMW X3. The only issue was the heat and that would have been a problem in the tent as well. It wasn't too hard getting in and out of the car. The X3's rear hatch isn't easy to open from the inside. An automatic tailgate would have been nice but an expensive item to add now. 

The view from the panoramic sunroof was very nice to wake up to.

I was able to keep my setup intact when I drove to the lake and the trail head. There was plenty of room for me and my gear but I did leave one of the totes outside by the canopy. I kept the food in the car with me. If I was hiking in an area with more bear activity I would have kept the cooler outside and I would have a better, bear-proof cooler.

Since it's just me I should be bringing a smaller cooler since I'm bringing less food.

I can probably bring a smaller gear tote if I split the current tote into two different totes. My cooking tote is pretty big but I like to cook and eat well on trips so I don't see that getting smaller. I like using my propane stove for breakfast.

I cook on charcoals in the fire ring at night. Then throw some logs over the coals when I'm done cooking to relax by the fire.

There isn't enough room to put a sleeping platform like I've seen some people do. It would be too tight to the ceiling for my tastes but with a few refinements I think I can make this work if I want to take a quick trip on my own.

I got a lot of hiking in on those two days and got to explore the White trail which I've never been on. I also got some nice shots, including 2 nice ones near the lake and wetlands around sunset.

When I got home I didn't have to spend nearly as much time putting my gear away as I normally do. Threw some items in the dishwasher, hand washed a few things. Then once dried packed away.


  1. Thanks for the tips on the window vents and the fan. I'm picking up those items for myself!!

  2. Very helpful for prospective bmw/camping enthusiast! Thank you!

  3. Thanks that was a good read a d vey informative.



Recent Post

How To Rebuild Credit Score For Free

 A few years ago I went through some rough times and used cash for everything which caused my credit score to drop dramatically. Things star...

Sproxno on Instagram

Follow Sproxno on Instagram

My latest Instagram posts:

Most Reading