Tesla camping

A worthwhile experiment.

I realized some time ago that my Tesla Model Y might offer new opportunities (and challenges) for car camping. So I was determined to give it a go! I camped one night at the Lobster Buoy Campsites (described in the prior post) and, overall, it was a worthwhile experience – and I learned some lessons for the future. Read on.

A mattress inside the Model Y, made up with pillow, sheets, and blanket.

Keeping in mind that I only spent one night out, and only in one particular set of conditions, here are some observations:

  • Putting the Tesla in ‘camp mode’ runs the ventilation system all night, heating and cooling as needed to maintain the desired temperature.
    • The fan noise is mild and actually helps mask outside noises, if desired.
  • The all-glass roof makes for wonderful stargazing. However, the car’s interior is never fully dark:
    • The screen goes dark but not off – and thus casts a slight glow.
    • The open-door buttons on each door glow – although useful if you want to leave the car, these buttons reflect off the glass roof and spoil the view.
  • Unlike most tents, the Tesla is all glass! I purchased a set of privacy shades, from Tescamp, that cover the front, rear, and side windows. In this location, I only felt need for the front window, because my site was surrounded on three sides by dense brush.
    • I had also purchased a Tesla Model Y Sunshade to cover the roof – lest anyone might peer in at me from above, but removed it so I could view the stars! It is, however, helpful in keeping the car cooler when parked in the sun.
  • Sleeping in the Tesla is surprisingly comfortable. However,
    • I used a HEST Foamy Sleeping Pad, from REI, and found it very comfortable!
    • I had considered a Tesla Model Y Foam Mattress, from Tesmanian, but decided I wanted something more versatile (that could also be used in a tent), and didn’t need the two-person capacity.
    • I moved the front seats forward to give me a bit more room.
    • The mattress (and I) are a little long for the space; I had to place the mattress on a diagonal and my head and pillow hung off the lowered back seat, a bit. Lesson: try sleeping with my head at the rear of the car, or try propping the head of the mattress somehow.
  • It’s a little tricky to get in and out, through the rear passenger doors.
  • I was plugged into a “Level 1” outlet (that is, a routine household outlet, providing 20A at 120V). The Tesla limited itself to pulling 12A.
    • This allowed the Tesla to charge (slowly) while also supporting Camp Mode.
    • Sometimes the voltage would waver, likely due to other loads sharing the circuit, and the Tesla would stop charging.
    • Overnight, the car managed to stay in Camp Mode and even charged the battery a few percent; far better than I expected! On the other hand, I set the temperature at 68º and the exterior temps range from 73º at bedtime to 55º at wake time. As a result, the car had to do little to maintain temperature.

Just like sleeping in a backpackers’ tent,

  • When the doors are open, mosquitos move inside… and then share the space with you.
  • It is barely possible to sit up, and changing clothes is a bit tricky.
  • It’s important to wipe your feet and stow your shoes carefully inside.

Unlike setting up a tent at a campsite,

  • Your entire camp kit goes with you if, for example, you drive out for a hike or for dinner.
    • While that may be convenient, it also means you need to disassemble some of the camp whenever you leave (e.g., to remove all the shades from the windows) and you have no place to store items you would normally leave behind inside the tent.

When I try this again,

  • I will ask for a proper RV site, which should have 30-50A service and would require a NEMA adapter for charging. At this campground I noticed they had plugs for NEMA 10-30 or 14-50.
  • I’ll buy a 12V tea kettle so I need not bring my gas-powered cook stove.
  • I’ll be interested to see how Camp Mode works when the temperature is much lower or higher than desired.
  • I’ll be interested to see how it feels to camp in the rain.

More photos:

My campsite at Lobster Buoy Campsites, Maine.
Tesla charger plugged in to a conventional outlet; Lobster Buoy Campsites, Maine.
Tesla “Camp” mode displays a video of a crackling fire at a tentsite.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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