Car Camping 101: 12 Basics To Know Before You Head Out
A cheap, easy, and fun way to see your favorite spots across the country. Learn the basics about car camping here, then hit the road!
While there’s nothing like finding the perfect place to camp after a long day of backpacking, sometimes we just don’t have the time. Enter car camping. Ideal for a weekend warrior or someone looking to take a cross-country road trip.
Car camping 101
Why would I want to car camp?
Lots of reasons, including:
- You’re short on time.
- You’d rather spend a cheap night in nature than an expensive night in a hotel.
- You don’t want to haul all your camping gear on your body.
- You’re new to camping.
- Your car is super comfortable and spacious (wishful thinking).
How does car camping work?
However you’d like it to. Some people sleep in their cars at campsites, some setup tents on or near their vehicles, some like a more primitive experience via dispersed camping, and some people end up in parking lots of big retailers. The beauty of car camping is it can work for whatever adventure you’re seeking.
Car camping essentials
Like with any outdoor adventure, there are basic items you’ll want to make sure are included on your packing checklist, as well as basic situations to be prepared for. Below is a highlight of items and situations to keep in mind. If you’re looking for an in-depth list, learn how to pack like F.I.N.I.S.H.E.R.S.
- Water: Bring twice as much as you think you may need. People often forget to factor in the water they’ll use for brushing teeth, cleaning dishes, etc. This is especially true if you’re car camping away from society, far from a convenience store.
- First aid kit: Adapt it to the environment you will be camping in.
- Clear storage bins: Trust us, an organized car makes for a better car camping experience. Clear, labeled bins make it easier to find what you’re looking for, even in a rush. Dedicate one for kitchen items, one for old clothes, one for camping gear…you get the idea!
- Stove: If you’re worried about all your food being prepared over an open fire, consider packing a two-burner stove. This can make mealtime a little easier if starting fires stresses you out.
- Waterproof jacket: Even if rain isn’t in the forecast, it’s always a good idea to bring along a jacket made for anything that nature may send your way.
- Hammock: If you’re at a car camping site for a few days and the weather’s feeling right, you may find the hammock is a more desirable spot to sleep, nap, and relax than the car or tent.
- Less is more: This applies to almost everything except the aforementioned water supply. While you have more room in your vehicle than you would in your pack, still be mindful of how much room you’re leaving yourself. Space is precious.
- Protect your food: Car camping may leave you feeling more secure, but your vehicle isn’t bear proof. Look for “bear boxes” to safely secure any food or hang your food pack from a tree.
- Go with a plan. Some sites can’t be reserved in advance, but you should still plan to research your intended area and know your different options for sleeping overnight. This is especially true if you plan to car camp during a road trip: you don’t want to wake up to a parking ticket or police officer telling you to move. Also, never park alongside a highway as this can pose a danger to other drivers.
- Crack a window: If you’re sleeping in your car overnight, let some air flow in. Cracking a window will help your car dry out and let you sleep with cooler temperatures. Note: Make sure your cracked window isn’t open enough for a hand and wrist to fit through.
- Games: If you’re used to backpacking to your campsites, board games probably never make the packing cut. But when car camping, they can. Bring along your favorite games and prepare for a fun time in the wild.
- Give back: Dispersed camping often means free camping. Bring along an empty bag and help pick up any litter or trash in your area as a thank you to the environment.