My Subaru-Sleeping Gear Shakedown Sufferfest

I have yet to experience life as a thru-hiker (less than 60 days to go!) but I expect one could draw several parallels between thru-hiking and sleeping in a car.

Sleeping in your car certainly isn’t glamorous. It’s usually uncomfortable and slightly stressful, but you get a strange sense of independence and satisfaction from it. Depending on your circumstances, you might have a decent sleep in your car (there’s usually a correlation between how tired you are and how good your sleep is) or it can be less than ideal.

Several years ago I spent a few nights in the passenger seat of a Toyota Camry while on a road trip. My friend and I would occasionally forgo a $30 evening in a campground for a fairly lousy (but free) sleep at a pullout or in a parking lot. We would wake up every few hours, try to get comfortable, hope that nobody would bother us, and wake up in the morning agreeing that $30 is a perfectly acceptable amount to pay the next night. However, I usually forgot the rough times and ended up doing the same thing I swore I wouldn’t do again. The fact that spending $30 isn’t the end of the world was also reinforced when we got the Camry stuck on a beach in Port Orford, Ore., because we wanted to camp on the beach for free. Anyway, I digress.

Fast forward to the present. I drive a Subaru Forester. I also have a job at a ski area, working a late-evening shift one day followed by an 8 a.m. shift the next morning.

The hour of driving required to go home and then back up in less than 12 hours gave me the idea to try sleeping in my car at the mountain for the night. I also thought this would also be a great opportunity to test the lower temperature limit of my new Enlightened Equipment Revelation 10 degree (Fahrenheit) quilt that I’ll be using on the PCT.

Clear nights make for chilly nights.

So this week, I packed up my gear, organized two days worth of food, and headed to work. When I finished my evening shift, my thermometer read -8 degrees Celsius and the temperature was dropping. I found a parking spot near some skiers who were staying in their campers and I settled in for the night. I was finally snuggled in and ready to go to sleep when I realized that I was on a serious tilt to the left.

I was finally warm and everything was in its place, so I decided to just go to sleep and try to ignore the tilt. Mistake number one – the tilt could not be ignored.

I slept for just over an hour before I woke up having to go the bathroom. At this point it was definitely colder than -10 degrees C and it felt like I just fell asleep – because I basically did. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time to unlock the side door manually instead of using my clicker, since the clicker causes the lights to flash and I didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to myself.

You know what draws attention to yourself more than your car lights flashing? Having the lights flash repeatedly while the alarm goes off because you forgot that the clicker disarms the security system. Mistake number two.

The upside of having to leave the car was that the full moon was nice, and I got to observe it several times over the course of the evening since my body was doing all it could to conserve heat.

The main issue with my setup was how the folded-down seats were too short for me to stretch out. This normally would have been fine because I could just rest my feet against the back hatch. However, when it’s the middle of winter, the door is a giant metal and plastic Popsicle that will freeze anything that touches it.

I didn’t bring my down booties and I couldn’t feel my toes from approximately 3 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Mistake number three.

The whole situation was comical. Every time I woke up in the night I remained optimistic that I could find a comfortable position despite being on a tilt and having to bring my legs up to avoid freezing my feet – which would happen as soon as I fell asleep anyway.

To add to my series of wins, while I tossed and turned, my overnight oats made their way from the warmth of my quilt to a cold place far far away. Mistake number four.

I can’t say I’ve had frozen overnight oats before. They had the consistency of a lumpy sorbet mixed with fish eggs. I somehow managed to eat all of it although I forgot to put honey in and I didn’t have bananas – which are normally the two best ingredients. Managing to finish my frozen oats while sitting on my feet so my seat heater would restore feeling to my little piggies was a small victory.  

My actual sleeping setup worked great – my NeoAir X-Lite and 10 degree F Revelation kept me warmer than I expected. My numb feet were the only drawback, which was due to the cold hatch rather than the quilt not being warm enough. I am confident that my sleeping setup and Tarptent ProTrail I’ll be using on the PCT will be luxurious compared to this experience.

My positive takeaways from this experience include: surprising myself with my ability to eat the nastiest of overnight oats, gaining a deeper understanding of how my car alarm works, being stoked about my new quilt, and seeing the beautiful full moon during my several trips outside (I also saw it out the sunroof before the windows iced up). Oh, and I saved $8 in gas.

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Comments 2

  • Eric : Mar 19th

    I get headaches, am stiff and sore and cold and tired just reading your story, and laughing about the $8 🙂

  • Tristan : Apr 19th

    The lodge! You were supposed to sleep in the lodge!


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