Sleepable, non-pickup truck vehicle?

Any suggestions for a good gas mileage canoe vehicle – in which one can carry all solo paddling and camping gear, and in which one can sleep on a mattress? I highly prefer car camping in a vehicle without having to tent.

I have a full size 97 van for that purpose, but the gas mileage on the big V8 engine is so horrible that I don’t go on long canoe trips in it any more.

I also rule out pickup trucks with caps. I like to be able to access the front seat area from the cargo area.

One thing that’s necessary is for the rear seats all to fold to a smooth, flat surface. I can’t do that in my old (99) Honda CRV, the cargo are of which is also a little too small. I slept in a friend’s Honda Pilot last summer, but it was sort of truck-like and I didn’t think the gas mileage was that great.

I was behind a Honda Element in my 95 Mustang convertible this afternoon and began thinking about this subject, as I am not familiar with the Element . . . or hardly any 21st century cars.


– Last Updated: Jun-21-14 6:21 PM EST –

I rented a top of the line Chrysler Town&Country for a 1000 mile trip to take 2 big dogs back to their owner last summer. Owning 12 higher end paddlecraft, I thought that this might be one of the ultimate vehicles for just what you're asking about. Never researched rack options for it , but as far as sort of living out of it for short periods(or longer) the sto and go seating left a virtually flat floor area that would accomodate nice sleeping quarters and storage.... It also got 27 mpg driving 70mph with a very responsive engine. I keep telling my wife I'm going to buy one......You know, it's the modern psycadelic(?) love van...

used hammer

If I was in the market,…
I’d go with a Ford Transit Connect Wagon. Seats fold completely flat to give an area about 8’x4’.


– Last Updated: Jun-20-14 9:48 PM EST –

The Element makes a great canoe camping vehicle (although they've been discontinued so you'd have to be content with used.) The seats do fold back flat, and they were marketed for sleeping, but I'm never really want to do that except maybe for a short nap. The back area is about six feet long so you'd have to be able to fit. It's front wheel drive. I get 28 mpg highway if I keep it at 60 mph. And—-it's a Honda.

When my Element wears out, I'll almost certainly be looking at the Ford Transit.

Chrysler minivans are perfect
Bought a 1989 Caravan in 1991 and drove it all over the rockies, car camping on MANY canoe trips. After 225,000 miles in 1999 I bought a 1996 Grand Voyager and did the same all over the pacific northwest until it had 190,000 miles. Then moved to SC in 2005 and bought a 2000 Grand Caravan which has been EVERYWHERE TWICE and has 375,000 miles and still going strong. They are awesome multipurpose vehicles with a large flat floor for sleeping or ?, a great, lengthy roofline for using thule or yakima roofracks. I get 24mpg in the powerful 3.8 pushrod V6. I have probably slept over 100 nights in the back of my "van down by the river"and use it as an excellent tow vehicle where I tow automobiles on dollies, sometimes for hundreds of miles.

I use a minivan for the same purpose. It used to be my daily driver but now I just keep it around for traveling and camping. The newer ones have rear seats that fold into the floor but in mine I just have them all removed and sleep on a cot. On top of the cot are sleeping pads to make it more comfy. I don’t know if you can easily remove the seats on the newer ones that fold into the floor but if you could I’d think that would add considerable storage space (where the seats would normally fold into).

There’s room for storage under the cot as well as room for backpacks, other camping/paddling gear, cooler, and a dog. I’ve lived out of mine for a couple months at a crack but usually I’m just out for a couple weeks at a time.

There’s not a ton of room to move around but I have no complaints. No comfortable place to sit in back but I can just climb into a front seat if I want to sit up and read. Dual sliding doors are great for ventilation and gear access. The lowish height makes it easy enough to load boats on the roof. Ground clearance could be a little better but I think that might actually be a positive as it keeps me honest. I have taken it a lot of places that most people would have thought impossible for a little minivan and the undercarriage has the scars to prove it. You just need to take it slow and easy.

I’d love to have a full size van but can’t justify the poor mileage. I also feel like the minivan is a bit less conspicuous. There are plenty of times when I’ve been traveling where I just need a place to park and spend the night and the only option is in some town. I figure no one is going to bat an eye at a white minivan parked along a residential street.


My choice
I bought a used 2007 Ford Focus wagon. Room to sleep, millage mid 30s,long span roof racks, nice driver. I’m real happy with it. The only problem is Ford, in it’s infinite wisdom stopped making Focus wagons in 07. There are a lot of good low millage used ones around though due to many older people having them.


depends on your height
Hard to go wrong with the minivan. I know someone with a honda oddysey with fold flat seats, and the thing just keeps running.

I had an '02 outback in which I could cram an inflatable twin mattress. I couldn’t sleep all sprawled out as usual but I fit comfortably. Mazda6 wagon also has lots of room and fold-flat seats.

But if any vehicle were made for sleeping inside it would have to be the minivan.

my thoughts
depending on how far you go, how often, and the condition of you big van, you can buy a lot of gas for the amount of a car payment.

Gotta vote for a minivan
Drove Dodge ones for 20 years and then bought a Toyota. Toyota is much better riding and driving. Third seat folds flat but second row has to be removed. Factory racks allow lots of space between add on racks like Yakima. Mileage is about as good as you can do with plenty of room for sleeping gear. A little mosquito netting to drape over partially open window at night and you’re good to go. Been doing it for 25+ years.

caravans and outbacks
If you can find an older manual transmission standard shift 4 cylinder Dodge Caravan those are great. I had an ‘89 and used to regularly get 31 to 33 mpg in it. The automatic 4-bangers are slugs and can’t get out of their own way, but the 5 speed was peppy. I could easily sleep 2 people in in comfortably with all our gear around us. Mine did not have the rear seat and I had removed the middle seat. One of the best and most useful vehicles I ever owned. Almost hard to adjust to any other vehicle once you get used to the convenience of these. I sold it when my employer gave me a company truck, but still miss it.

Currently I have an older Subaru Outback, and unlike many newer SUVs and crossovers, the back folds completely flat and has room for someone under 6’ to sleep. Mileage is OK, not great, due to the 4WD. Average about 25 to 26 highway.

That’s been my philosophy for years
And it may continue to prevail. However, gas has skyrocketed so much, and old vehicles need so many repairs, that I’m considering a new philosophy. Money is a big issue in any alternative.

Chevy HHR
I use an HHR (you would have to buy used). Back seats fold forward as does right front seat (which goes just a bit shy of flat). I get 35 mpg at 45-55 mph with a boat on top. I had to have a custom rack installer fit the vehicle to carry boats. The roof is not all that robust, so I would only take this option of vehicle, if your canoe is relatively light weight.

Sleeping bed length
On my Focus Wagon, I do remove the rear seat bottom(2 bolts) for extra length when I plan to sleep in it because when folded it shortens the bed. Another thing I like, is that the boat loading height it lowish. Mine is also a standard which helps millage. She handles 2 solos fine.


Adding to the length of sleep-able floor

– Last Updated: Jun-22-14 4:02 PM EST –

I think it was Willowleaf who mentioned being able to sleep in the back of a Subaru if under six feet tall. I actually had a Subaru in the days when they were much smaller than what such cars have been in a long time, and you'd need to be well under six feet to sleep in the back of one. It was still possible for a tall person to sleep in the back of that car if the rear seats were folded flat and one of front seats was slid forward all the way. This basically resulted in "a hole in the floor" for about the first 1.3 feet behind the front seat, but a little platform with legs could be placed there, giving more than enough total floor length for a tall person to sleep.

Small station wagons are rare now, but this idea could be applied to any similar vehicle in which the back seats fold down flat, but where the distance between the back end of the car and the back of the front seats is just a bit too short.

I know you can fit in a Subie Forester. The real issue is the hassle of moving back seat and back compartment stuff.

If you are on a long paddling tour you will have to move luggage. There is a gal from Maine that regularly sleeps in hers in Florida. But some of her stuff has to live outside for the night.

A minivan makes more sense to me. I do have a friend with a Scion… and it has a permanent bed. He is six three. It however only holds one person when used as a car. Just the driver!

Ford Transit Connect
I have a friend who has one set up like a nifty mini camper. He also hauls his bike inside and canoe on top.

Much more luxurious than my Focus. He sleeps in it a lot while I sleep in mine rarely-so trade offs are proportional. It can be a bear in crosswinds, doesn’t get super millage, and it’s a long lift to the roof, but it’s he is happy overall with it.


VW Eurovan
I have a 97 VW Eurovan camper that’s just what your looking for: live out of vehicle that drives like a car but is super comfortable for camping/living. I get about 20mph at 62mph. Problem is that they are very hard to find and cost a fair bit; good news is that the platform is a VW delivery van (will run forever and the VR6 is still a standard engine). The conversion was done by Winnegabo and sites like Go Westy make repairs on the conversion set up reasonably straightforward. If nothing else, it’d give you and idea of what’s possible…

Used Honda Element

– Last Updated: Jun-23-14 10:00 AM EST –

We owned a 2004 from '04-'11, 7 years. We regret every day that we traded it in. Ours was "Real time 4WD," which meant, unlike AWD, it would convert to 4WD with any "Slippage" that it sensed. We live at the end of a bad gravel road on a farm. Never got the Element stuck, as I recall, driving on a lot of snow, ice, mud, and gravel bars.

The Element was not as "Economical" as most Honda's. With the 4WD model, we probably got 21-22 mpg most of the time. BUT, that's lots of hills and bad gravel road driving. Driving flat land, 50 mph you could stretch it to 24-25 mpg. In extreme winds out west with boats on the roof we once got about 16-17 mpg. One of my only complaints was that the engine sometimes felt a bit under powered?

The seats, floorboards, and rear were a rubberized and very easy to clean. I thought that seat material was PERFECT? Here it is, 10 years later and I STILL haven't seen another vehicle with a comparable fabric and can't figure out why? it was comfortable, easy to clean, and difficult to stain. Perfect interior for dogs, paddling, and throwing crap in at the farm. My next door neighbor once sold a miniature donkey to an older couple who picked it up in their Honda Element. I would venture to say, that was not the only instance someone pressed the Element into a livestock hauler?

As for sleeping in the Element, we probably spent 100 nights or more in it over the 7 years we had it? It was a bit tight for two, perfect for one. If you're much taller than me (6'1") it may be a little tight, but I was always comfortable. You could either sleep with rear seats down and put a sleeping pad on them (or not) for a little more room, or with seats up and out of the way. I'll show a few pics of both.

After we traded our Element in at a local dealer, they sold it to a mom & pop car lot about a year or two later. We knew it was ours, as they left two of the Thule "Feet" on it and we knew every little dent and scratch. For a year or so it sat on that lot and we would go by and look at it and I'd try to talk my wife into letting me buy it back. It finally went away, and now she too wishes we had bought it back!

Oh, BTW, as for the "Rack spread." it was a little smaller than my liking, and couldn't really be moved further back due to the moon roof. That said, I have put 17 and 18' canoes on the roof with a Thule rack and NEVER had an issue until we had an accident. One of the welds tore after my wife hit a tree with our canoe rack and tore the front rack off. That was one of the reasons we thought about trading it in. We bought one of those Yakima bars through foam contraptions that Oak Orchard sells. We could have just bolted through the roof, probably with better results?

Oh, and the moon roof was difficult to mess with, and we both disliked it. Unfortunately, it came with the 4WD version and so we didn't have a choice. That said, I would be happy with the front wheel drive model too, as the traction just in FWD was great most of the time.

Had I been given the reigns on "Tweaking" the design I have no doubt they'd still be on the market; I would have designed the "Perfect" paddling vehicle with a few minor changes. An economical diesel engine, a foot or so more length, more rack spread, and a bit of a softening of the "Box" shape would have made for the perfect paddler, hiker, hunter, dog owner, etc vehicle! Here are a few pics for illustration.