Ever found yourself getting odd looks because you’re brushing your teeth in a public restroom? Or cooking up dinner on your car bumper? We do funny things when we’re trying get more of the outdoor adventures we love—whether it’s climbing, mountain biking or just getting away from things. We sleep in our cars to be near our favorite crag and spend days on end without showering just to spend more time out on the trail. But the dirtbag lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean you have to smell like a dumpster—even if you choose to eat out of one on occasion. Whether or not scavenging is your style, here are 10 ideas that will make life easier—and maybe a little less smelly—while sleeping in your car and making the most of your days outside.
1. Make a car kitchen kit that always lives in your vehicle
One of the biggest headaches of preparing for a weekend of camping is planning meals. Take some stress off by building a mini kitchen for your car, so you’ll never worry about forgetting something. Think basics: a knife, cutting board, can opener, a couple dishes and utensils, and a stove, fuel and pot. If you often cook in your car, keeping a small bottle of olive oil and a small stock of basics can really come in handy, like a couple bags of Tasty Bite and boxes of macaroni and cheese.
2. Tape a lighter to a string, and tape the string to your stove
This might seem basic, but it’s so imperative it deserves its own place on the list. Digging for a lighter when you’re starving sucks. It’s a hassle you don’t need to deal with, and a minute of effort on the front end can save countless I’m-so-hungry-I’m-about-to-eat-this-macaroni-raw minutes in the future.
3. Take some time to figure out the best sleep situation in your car
Whether you’re in a Sprinter or an Accord, a little creativity goes a long way toward making the most of your car’s living space. Sometimes, what everybody else is doing isn’t the right thing for your rig. For example, lots of people with pickup trucks automatically build sleeping platforms to store gear underneath in the truck bed. But many people—climbing superstar Steph Davis included—find it works much better to install one shelf across the bed near the cab for storage instead, leaving the bed area much more livable instead of pushing your sleeping space within a couple feet of the roof.
4. Always scope out Free Boxes. Always
Especially when one sport season is ending. Craigslist works, too. But in towns like Telluride, Colo., the difference between forking over big bucks for ski boots at retail and a pair that costs you zero duckets might just be a visit to the free box at the end of ski season. Hand-me-downs are truly a dirtbag’s best friend.
5. Remember: organization is next to godliness
The key to being able to relax and sleep in your vehicle, wherever it’s parked, is keeping it organized and somewhat clean. Racking up for a climb shouldn’t take all day, and neither should clearing off your bed to sleep in. Whether you use bins, dry bags or stuff sacks, sort your gear by sport and return it to the same place every time, just like you would in your house or apartment. This = sanity.
6. Save money by using a cooler
Who doesn’t like a cold beer? Or a fresh grilled cheese? The only problem is, unless you’ve got the means to chill your cheese, you’ll be paying extra to buy them at a restaurant. A small cooler for a few key, fresh ingredients will keep you healthier—salad, anyone?—and your wallet fatter in the long run.
7. Keep a “dirtbag shower kit.”
As previously mentioned, just because you’d rather be mountain biking than doing your hair doesn’t mean you have to embrace an ever-present body odor. A small kit with either wet wipes or reusable wash cloths and a little biodegradable soap for a quick wipe-down, deodorant and some dry shampoo can go a long way in keeping you from feeling like you’re homeless instead of simply at home on the road.
8. Learn to love the library
Sure, the coffee shop has tasty lattés, and maybe even a cute barista. But at the library, you can check your e-mail, upload all the photos from your adventures, and even put in a whole day of office work if you can work remotely. Plus, it’s free and you won’t get crusty looks from other patrons who would like the table you’ve been occupying for the last three hours.