If you don’t mind getting your feet wet and enjoy road trips, car camping may be the perfect activity for you. Car camping has a lot of benefits, too, which is why it’s great for beginners and popular among experts.
This post will explain what car camping is and give tips on how to make your trip a success.
Car Camping vs Backpacking
Car camping, or drive-up camping, is exactly as it sounds. Backpacking involves setting up a tent, hauling a camper, or bunking up in a cabin. Car camping, on the other hand, means driving up to your campsite and sleeping in your vehicle. You can also choose to set up camp and use your vehicle as storage.
You can either camp in a national forest, in designated sites in campgrounds, or walk-in plots in state parks. Do your research before going to have enough time to apply for any permits or make reservations at designated campgrounds.
The main benefit of car camping is it lets you have more room to bring all your other things along. You can bring the stuff you normally won’t bring when backpacking, like your pillows, gadgets, and electronics.
Moreover, wherever you decide to sleep, you can do anything you want to stay warm and comfortable. If your car or tent doesn’t have enough room, you can always look for some van or RV rentals.
Tips When Going Car Camping
Observe Safety Practices
Even when car camping, don’t forget to follow the Leave No Trace principles and always use your common sense. Also, never sleep in your car while the engine is still running.
Aim for a Comfortable Night
Look for a flat surface where you can park your car or pitch your tent. There’s nothing worse than waking up irritated because you didn’t have a good night’s sleep.
Bring a comfortable air pad and choose a sleeping bag depending on the climate. You’ll also want to pack a sleeping bag made for lower temperatures in case things don’t turn out as expected.
Create a Suitable Sleeping Ambiance
If you’re not a morning person, find a shady area where you can park under. This is after you check if the tree branches above are safe, of course. If there’s no shady area around, you can use blankets or clothes to create curtains to darken your windows.
Just remember to leave a small crack for ventilation. Perspiration in a car is the same as in tents, so keep the air circulating and moisture evaporating.
Protect Your Car Camping Food
Learn how to store your food properly, whether you’re sleeping in the car or setting up a tent. Whether it’s in a cooler or bear box, this guarantees that you’re not inviting unwanted guests unintentionally.
Bring Good Energy
Charging your gadgets is tricky even while car camping. To ensure that your gadgets won’t run out of juice, consider investing in solar or portable power sources. Put small solar panels on the dash of your car and they will absorb energy to charge your phone or tablet.
Buy Good Camping Furniture
Quality camping furniture is a worthwhile investment. There are many styles and options to choose from. So, take some time researching the best items out there to make your trip as comfortable as possible.
Sure, things can get a little dirty when camping. But, it’s not an excuse to set your hygiene aside.
If water is scarce, face and hand wipes help ensure that you can freshen up throughout the day. Bring enough small and large trash bags with you to dispose of any waste. Finally, visit your local outdoor store to purchase biodegradable and environmentally friendly toiletry options.
Car Camping Essentials
Car camping is for you if you love the outdoors but don’t call yourself a real outdoorsman yet. Here are some of the essentials to help you be prepared for a fun-filled adventure:
First Aid Kit
This is a must for any car travel and outdoor adventure. Buy some cotton balls, medicines, gauzes, bandages, alcohol, and iodine and put them in a small waterproof bag. Make sure to bring any prescription drugs as well, so your trip won’t be cut short because of an emergency.
If you plan to sleep outside your car, ensure that your tent has no holes, broken zippers, and missing poles. However, if you’re buying a new one, take some time to look for a tent that matches your needs and requirements.
A quality tent doesn’t have to break the bank. Many brands offer outlet and closeout options where you can end up with a brand new tent without spending that much.
Car Camping Air Bed or Pad
You don’t have to feel cold and uncomfortable the entire night. Air bed and pad technologies have greatly improved since the first models hit the market.
Larger tents have space for a bed while you can technically put any kind of air pad in your car. Measure your bed or pad’s dimensions to ensure that your tent/car is big enough to accommodate it. You can also bring your home pillow or blanket if you want.
There’s a sleeping bag made for any temperature and each type of sleeper. Therefore, when choosing sleeping bags, determine if you like synthetic or down and the size of the bag.
A bag that’s too small can hinder insulation while bags that are too big can leave cold spots. Be prepared and always choose a sleeping bag designed for low temperatures in case the weather suddenly changes.
Warm Clothes and Socks
Since there’s enough room in your car, pack thermal layers to help keep you dry, warm, and comfortable. Bring wool socks and wear them before bedtime so they’re nice and warm once it’s time to snuggle in.
If your feet are super cold, try boiling some water and pouring it into an insulated water bottle. You can then slip it into the foot of your sleeping bag to help you stay comfortable the whole night.
Camp Kitchen and Stoves
Cooking is perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of car camping. The good news is, the market is filled with many equipment and devices to make cooking while camping a breeze.
With that, don’t forget to bring enough fuel that can last the entire trip. Keep lighters and matches in a waterproof container so you won’t get stranded without a fire-starting method. Additionally, consider packing small tubs as dish sinks. Add hot water and camp soap to one tub to wash and cold water to the other to rinse.
Car Camping Cooler
Invest in good coolers where you can store perishables and other beverages you’re planning to bring. Educate yourself on how to store food properly. This will help prevent getting the attention of unwanted visitors that may be lingering around.
From rope lights to headlamps to lanterns, you can certainly light a car or campsite without blinding other campers. You can choose either a small or big light source depending on the type of activity you wish to do.
Some lights can be solar charged, too, which come in handy on hot, summer days. You can also choose the color, intensity level, and attachments of the light you’re planning to buy.
How to Choose a Car Camping Tent
Here are a few things to consider before heading out on your next road adventure:
Most tents for SUVs and hatchback cars attach to the rear of the car. Therefore, by having the trunk open, you can easily pass through to get into the car’s interior. This also means doubling the amount of room! The sleeves lock onto the cargo storage area to let you crawl into the car if the tent section becomes too cold at night.
Meanwhile, rooftop tent models turn the roof of your car into the “ground” where your tent will be on. These models usually come with a ladder for easy access. Just make sure that your car can support the weight. The “sleeve,” or opening that connects to the car, should also be large enough to fit the make and model.
Car Camping Tent Size
If you’re only camping with a friend, a small tent usually has enough room to fit two people. But, if you have a larger group, consider buying a 10×10-foot tent or more to accommodate all campers.
Polyurethane and polyethylene can usually hold up to drizzles and light winds. However, go for water-resistant fabrics if camping after a rainy night.
Then, for poles, fiberglass is rust-resistant and has the right balance between sturdiness and flexibility to form a curved roof. Steel is even stronger and is another great choice.
A tarp or covering may look simple but it’s a good thing to have when a sudden downpour strikes. Its “bathtub” style base also helps keep the bugs away.
You’ll also want to look for several windows, skylights, and exits to make it easier to get in or out. Pockets let you keep essential supplies within reach while an awning allows you to enjoy the outdoors in the shade.
Car camping can be a great outdoor activity for first-time campers. Make sure to bear these tips and the essentials in mind to ensure your trip goes smoothly and perfectly.
Happy shopping and be safe outdoors!