Camping in Florida in a Prius

By  Mike Miller January 18, 2016

Camping in a Prius is okay when you are traveling light and are all alone or have a small partner.  

It worked for me for a couple of years.  I used my 2008 model to range all over the State of Florida gathering information and taking photographs for my websites and books.

2008 Toyota Prius2008 Toyota Prius

Even though I'm 6'5 and 230 lbs it seemed possible to make a little camper out of my Prius.  I achieved it for a total expense of $77, not including sheets and pillows.

First, I did a lot of measuring. I decided that the best way for me to sleep would be in conventional bed mode. Measurements showed I could slide the front seats forward and fold the rear seats down and end up with a pretty good sized space.

The Prius measures about 80 inches from the rear deck at the bottom of the closed hatch to the back of the front seats. Since I am 77 inches, this was encouraging.  Maybe camping in a Prius was possible after all.

One problem, however, is that the center console sticks back into the rear seating area and reduces the available space. The top of the console is about 21" high above the floor.

Another problem is that there is 18 inches between the flattened rear seat back and the front seat back that has to be bridged.

2008 Toyota Prius with hatch open and seats in normal positionPrius with hatch open and seats in normal position

I measured the well behind each front seat when they were extended forward and decided I could fit a box in each well that would be about 21 inches high, 18 inches deep, and 13 inches wide.

I could then place these boxes in the wells, span them with a board of some kind, and put an air mattress on the resulting 36" by 80" rectangular area.

I couldn't find a single box that fit the bill, so I bought 6 smaller boxes at Bed Bath and Beyond for a bit less than $10 each. Each box is 11-7/8" wide x 17-7/16 long x 7-1/8" high and contains a drawer.

Three boxes fit in the well behind each front seat. During my Florida camping in a Prius travel mode, they fit in the luggage area behind the rear seats and contained underwear, socks, shirts, pants, coffee maker, air mattress, pump, cereal and coffee.

Since most of my camping was in Florida and not too far from my home, these six boxes provided plenty of room for what I needed.

Prius rear cargo area with 6 storage boxes and a folded cardboard box.Boxes and cardboard in cargo area for traveling mode.

I bought a cardboard box from Home Depot for $2 that when folded measures 42 x 18 x 1 inches. This spans over the boxes and provides support for the air mattress.  

Walmart sold me the air mattress for $15. The mattress is 75" long x 39' wide x 8" thick.

Rear passenger seats with headrests removed tilted all the way forward.Rear passenger seats, headrests removed & tilted forward. Front seats pushed forward all the way.

When sleeping in the Prius, I typically kept the car running in Park with the air conditioning/heater set at about 78 degrees.

I estimated this overnight battery and engine use only ate up about 0.4 of a gallon, just about a dollar in terms of today's gas prices.

The air conditioning made camping viable even in the hot humid Florida summers. Sleeping with the windows closed kept the mosquitoes out.

Boxes behind each front passenger seat to bridge the gap.Boxes in the 18 inch space between the seats.

The air conditioning/heater runs on the car battery. When the battery gets low, the gas engine kicks in.

I set the parking brake when sleeping because when the gas engine kicks in it lurches the car forward a tiny bit unless the brake is set. It takes a little time to get used to the lurching.

Cardboard on top of boxes to smooth things out.Cardboard on top of boxes to smooth things out.

Florida camping in a Prius reminds me of my days living in tight quarters aboard my boats, or my days in the Navy aboard a destroyer.

A lot of my Florida traveling is solo, so I have to caution that Prius camping may not work as well for couples as it did for me.  Maybe a small couple could pull it off.  Like Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb.

I usually stayed at Florida State Parks, camping in tent sites that have electricity and water. I needed that for blowing up the mattress at night, plugging in my laptop, and heating coffee and cereal in the morning.

39 inch wide air mattress with pump39 inch wide air mattress with pump

Florida campsites cost between $10 and $50 per night, but with my senior discount it cost me about half that. This is a whole lot less than all but the cheapest Florida motels.

Unlike a big RV, Prius camping can use a tent site. In Florida State Parks, camping in these sites is fun because they are usually surrounded by palmettos and other vegetation and are very private.

Air mattress in sleeping positionAir mattress in sleeping position

The restroom/shower facilities at Florida State Parks are usually clean and comfortable.

My Prius also offers additional privacy by having tinted windows as an optional extra. 

Front seats moved all the way forwardFront seats moved all the way forward

Conclusions About Camping In A Prius

Camping in a Prius is not too bad, but I'd prefer a thinner mattress, maybe a dense foam one that could be rolled up when not in use.  

The 8" thick air mattress I use makes it a bit tougher to climb up in and go to bed.

I still haven't tried sleeping with Mrs. Tom Thumb. Larger couples may have a bit of a problem camping in a Prius. 

Other people have tried camping in their Prius.  Click here for the Prius Chat Forum.

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