Your Complete Guide To Car Camping
Camping is an excellent way to escape the buzz and hustle of your day to day life. You get to explore new places and disconnect from the pressure of the world. More importantly, you can form special memories with your family, friends, and loved ones. If you are a beginner in the camping world, car camping is among the easiest ways of getting started with this fun activity.
What is Car Camping?
If you have heard of car camping, you might interpret it literally where you pull into a campsite and sleep in your car. This makes perfect sense but it doesn’t sound that fun really. However, as far as car camping is concerned, you will sleep in a camper or tent, and not necessarily in your car.
When you speak of car camping, you will be loading up your car with all the gear you need for your trip, pull into a campsite then set your tent up on the tent pad. This activity is also known as base camping with your car just nearby.
With car camping, there is no backpacking or hiking involved just so you can get to your campsite. This means that your gear’s weight and how much you are going to pack is not a serious concern as long as everything fits inside your car. You don’t need to deprive yourself of the luxuries you need to have an unforgettable and comfortable weekend.
Car camping is usually done at local and state parks, or you could also find your campsite in places where dispersed camping is allowed. There are also privately owned campgrounds. These campgrounds often offer different kinds of sites which depend on the amount of roughing you plan to do. You can find RV sites equipped with running water and electrical breakers, tent sites with water and electricity, and primitive sites where you can only find a picnic table and a fire ring. Pick the one you find most comfortable but remember that when you want more frills, you will also be paying more.
Why People Love Car Camping
- It is cheap – A sleeping bag or duvet is basically the only thing you need. It might not be super comfy but it will do for one to two nights. You can then add some affordable items to your kit and you can have your personal mini campervan without breaking the bank.
- You can indulge in freedom – Once you turned your car to a mini campervan, you can have the freedom to go and explore anywhere and everywhere you want.
- It is multi-functional – The car you use when going to work on weekdays can become your best partner during the weekends. Why get a rarely used motorhome or campervan gathering dust in the garage when you can transform your car in a blink of an eye?
- You can stealth camp – People rarely notice cars unless yours is an attention-getter. You could park almost everywhere or venture into remote areas for a wild camping experience.
- It is a genuine adventure – You get discover new places and be amazed with the fact that you can manage even if you have very little. You can simply bask in the satisfaction of creating your own space.
Car Camping Gear
Before you embark on your car camping adventure, it is a must to ensure that you don’t end up packing so much to the point that you don’t have enough room for sleeping. On the other hand, you also have to check that you pack enough supplies for your camping trip to be relatively comfortable.
One of the things that make car camping very appealing is that not like tent camping; only a few items are considered as essentials and chances are you already own most of them.
The first thing you have to include on your car camping checklist is a camping pad or air mattress followed by blankets and a pillow or a sleeping bag. Not getting a good night’s rest in your car means that you will never get to continue much less enjoy car camping.
Essentials for Car Camping
- Camp stove
- Dishes and cooking utensils
- Portable fridge or a small cooler
- A headlamp, lantern, or flashlight for lighting
- An Atlas
- Bins for organizing
Things to Buy
- Power inverter for charging your laptop and phone or camera when required
- An air mattress, warm blanket, pillow, or a sleeping bag
- Bins to organize your gear
Things to Borrow When Needed
- Camp stove and utensils and cooking supplies
- Portable jump starter if your battery gets drained
- A vehicle. Obviously, if you want to go car camping but your existing transportation is not practical, it is best to rent a vehicle or a few until you get to find one which works well for you and can meet all of your needs when sleeping inside a car
When preparing for your first car camping trip, remember that you don’t have to spend a lot just so you can be sufficiently outfitted. Although you can invest in some key items, you could also incorporate those that are already found around your house.
Tent – Choose a tent (Read our post on Best Extreme Cold Weather Tents) which can offer adequate elbow room instead of a cramped and small shelter. It will give you enough space to store your clothes and other extras, not to mention that you can also be more comfortable if you ever need to stay inside the tent for some time when heavy rains start pouring down. Tents of cabin style are perfect for families with smaller children. For those with older kids, you can provide them their own tents of modest size for privacy and space.
Sleeping Systems – See to it that the sleeping bags you choose can handle the coldest temperatures you might encounter. If you are not prepared to invest in sleeping bags, you can also rent them. Pack inflatable or foam sleeping pads to keep you protected from the chilly and hard ground. To experience the highest level of comfort, pack some extra blankets or an inflatable air mattress. You can also pack your very own pillow since you will have enough room in your car.
Camp Kitchen – You can save money when you use your existing kitchen supplies for your first car camping trip. If you have finished planning your menu, put necessary items inside a plastic storage container such as cook pots, skillet, plastic bowls, pasta strainer, cutlery and plates, a sheathed kitchen knife for food preparation, measuring cup, insulated mugs for your hot drinks, and a spatula. Since kitchen items can get dinged up during camping, you will eventually want to purchase extra pots, skillets, and others so you will not damage the things you use at home.
First Aid Kit – While you could create your own first aid kit from store-brought products, the pre-assembled ones are often cheaper and some even include helpful guides which explain the ways of using the contents. When choosing the right first aid kit, you have to consider how long your outing will be, the number of people who will be using the kit, and the specific needs of the people who are part of the group. Many outdoor stores offer various kits from beefy kits for families to extra lightweight pouches for the solo travelers.
Lanterns and Headlamps – Invest in a headlamp for every camper so everyone can have their hands free when moving around in the dark. Many headlamps today perform well for general use around the camp. When you go car camping, it is helpful to opt for a lantern powered by batteries for the tent’s interior and common eating areas. Through the soft glow coming from the lantern, you will be able to eat, locate items, and play games with no need to drain headlamp batteries or blind your tent mates.
Toiletries and Extras – For your bathhouse, pack shower shoes, washcloth, towels, personal hygiene products, and extra toilet paper.
Toolbox – Bring a plastic container or toolbox with utility items like a rubber hammer for driving in tent stakes, a mattress pump, repair kits for sleeping pads and tents, and extra tent stakes.
What is a Car Camping Tent?
As mentioned earlier, car camping is a type of camping which involves driving instead of walking to the campsite. It means campers don’t have to compromise on the weight and size of the tent since they will not be carrying it.
Car camping tents come in two types. The first type is budget-friendly and meant for quick jaunts in the weekend with the family or a drunken festival out in the woods. The next type is a more expensive one, which is better constructed and ideal for cross-country trips where you will be camping in everything from torrential rains to scorching heat.
But, you must always consider the type of vehicle you will be driving before you invest in a car camping tent. Aside from that, you have to focus on choosing a tent which can be a comfortable home for a few days.
Car Tent Camping Tips
Below are some of the handy tips that will surely make car tent camping more enjoyable and comfortable:
- Invest in a Tent with Enough Space
The excitement of sleeping in a tent will easily fade if it’s cramped with a lot of things. Invest in roomy tents in accordance to the number of individuals who will stay with you. Invest in roomy tents that would stand upright and will give you enough space to spend the entire night with peace. Consider buying a tent with vestibule around its door. It provides added protection against sun and rain and provides you added space for muddy shoes and gear.
- Stay Clear from the Fuel
Campers might be forced to make hasty decisions when stressed by outdoor elements. But, you must not resort to using fuel or any type of fuel that’s intended for cars uses to start fire. Using gasoline for starting fire may result to dangerous accidents and not worth the reward. If you’ve run out of resources while car camping, it’s best to pack up and drive home.
- Look for the Best Camping Spot
Majority of free campgrounds work on first-come and first serve basis. But, if you appear at end before sunset, you will risk looking for a campground that’s packed already with fellow campers. Navigate the right spot and get there quickly before someone else does or you might be forced to leave the campsite even before starting your camping trip.
- Setting Up Tent
If you don’t have much experience in setting up campsites, there are several steps you should take for consideration. First and foremost, regardless of what type of tent you’re setting up, you’ll need a mallet and stakes. You might like to bring metal rake to clear the ground where you’ll lay your tent, but also you may just kick rocks away using your feet. Then, you’ll lay out tent, loop in every pole, and extend or click into place if they’re pre-assembled. After that, clear out and rake the area so you’re not sleeping on several stray rocks and sharp twigs. Hammer in stakes very well so that the tent does not slid around and fly into the space if the wind picks up. Lastly, slide or click poles into place, then you can now use your tent. Also read our post on best extreme cold weather tents.
Is It Illegal To Sleep In Your Car?
Sleeping in your own car on the properties owned by the cities is typically illegal. In cities where wealth gap grows, it seems that some government agencies crack down harder on those who live in their cars. A place that is good to sleep is the rest areas. People can park overnight and enjoy sleeping in rest stops for about eight hours.
Where Can I Sleep In My Car Legally?
There are numerous places to go car camping. Some avoid private campgrounds as these are frequently oriented towards RVs and people are more into part camping. Typically, such places are frequently on the costly side as well. Aside from that, such places are located rarely in an outdoor attraction. The usual places where you can enjoy car camping:
- USFS/BLM Land – These typically have lesser restrictions in place. Oftentimes, you can just simply look for a spot by the roads. Have free spots to call home for nights.
- BLM/USFS Campground – Smaller and a bit more out of the way compared to other locations. A great option when it comes to such campgrounds is at or next to the trailheads and enables easy access to any outdoor activities.
- National Park, State Campground or Monument – Such places should be avoided during peak season because they can be crowded. Normally, these places don’t have scenic or intimate sites. There are several exceptions, though. But, in off or late season, once the right spot is picked, place might seem secluded.
Best Car for Camping
There is a variety of ways to go car camping. Below are the best cars for camping and each of these has its own pros and cons:
- Station Wagon, Sedan, SUV, and Minivan
If you have these cars with seats that are laid down, car camping is never impossible. But, remember pillows and blankets are a must. Remember that the desert environments can be extremely hot during the day, yet freezing during night time. If you’re bothered by the bugs that kept going inside your car because of your open windows for fresh air, you can purchase insect screens suited for your car.
- Passenger Cars
Heading off on long road trips and getting into your car have an intrinsic appeal in terms of simplicity. When compared to bigger cars, you’re probably familiar with driving your vehicle and know some of its limitations. For serious car camping, passenger car’s limitations are many. Trying to sleep in parked cars seldom result in restful night sleep. If you are planning to carry a tent and camp out, ensure you’re camping somewhere that’s legal and safe to do so. Setting up tents on private properties or in a particular town may quickly attract unwanted attention. It only means that using your vehicle is a good way to take road trips, yet not in camping.
- Camper Vans
Watch Eli Peterson build a Camper Van from scratch
A lot of people also consider converting usual vans to camper vans. Such vans are set up with the basic camping necessities. A storage, lights, and bed can be added. They also have enough space for car campers.
- Car Campers
It’s a new concept where cars have storage space under fabricated bed frame in its rear luggage compartment. It has made up double bed with an access through the lift up lids to its storage beneath. It also contains equipment that is necessary to travel and camp in the bush or in campgrounds.
- Camping Trailers
Different options exist if you’re willing to tow your campers, which range from lightweight tent campers to much durable trailers. You’ll require a trailer hitch and car that can tow. Any area that sells such camping trailers would be glad to explain the car’s capabilities and will install enough hitch.
- Pickup Trucks with Truck Tops
These truck tops are referred to as camper tops, which are hard shells that snugly fit over the bed of pickup trucks. They’re inexpensive and could be perfect for car camping. One or 2 persons can sleep in the pickup truck beds easily and can enjoy protection from elements and make most of privacy. You may camp everywhere you can and majority of pickup trucks can handle the dirt roads or some rough conditions that might present where you like to camp. Usually, truck tops are made to your truck’s specific model and available from most after-market truck retailers.
- Class C Motorhomes
These are mid-sized RVs, which have an appealing cab design that will host either additional entertainment centers or sleeping quarters. These can accommodate up to 8 persons. Such motorhomes have LPG, water systems, and electrical systems. They can be outfitted nicely like most recreational vehicles or motorhomes. Due to their size, it’s possible to a small offroad camping in them when compared to bigger class A motorhomes. Majority of the latest class C motorhomes have slide-outs that increase their sleeping and living space. Some are also equipped with cook tops, microwave ovens, and fridges.
- Class B Motorhomes
These are also known as conversion vans. Generally, these are passenger vans that were converted for camping or some uses. They’re available both from GM and Ford dealers. Volkswagen has also a van referred to as T5 California that is equipped with a fridge, sink, and gas cooker. Oftentimes, vans can be found in after-market companies that convert vans. Several people like being able to design their own conversion vans, even going to make it luxurious as well as complete with the video systems. Other conversion vans have some RV amenities like kitchens, showers or toilets, yet are much compact in terms of design. The cost is in the usual range like basic RVs. The primary benefit of owning class B RVs is that these drive like passenger cars and much easier to navigate on the city streets. Others have 4-wheel drive that makes it attractive for everyone who requires this kind of feature.
- Class A Motorhomes
These are based on a truck or bus chassis. These can be either diesel or gasoline powered. These are also considered as the biggest available RV. The most expensive models in this category may cost over $1M and rival the price and luxury of brick and mortar homes. Simple models exist as well and feature a water system, LPG, electrical system, and water system.
Car camping doesn’t have to be challenging. It should give you fun and enjoyment you deserve. So, always keep those things mentioned above and experience the difference.