Car camping is the perfect compromise between tent camping and living the #vanlife. Some people would love to spend time in nature but are not quite ready to go all in yet. Indeed, it takes a lot of careful thinking to sleep in a tent at a secluded campsite away from modern civilization..
Camping in your car is also a great option if you want a weekend escape in the backcountry, but didn’t have enough time to plan for it.. Just pack the essentials, fill your car with gas and you’ll be good to go!
So whether you’re just in for an epic road trip for a couple of days or you want to park and enjoy camping out in the woods for a while, you can make sure that your trip is as smooth-sailing as possible by following these 10 awesome car camping tips for beginners!
Choose where to stay
The biggest question is “Where will you park?” When choosing where to stay for the night, don’t limit yourself to paid campsites. You can check out helpful apps like Hipcamp and AllStays to find both free and paid parking locations in your route. You can also look into US Forest Service roads which allow camping and overnight parking.
Just be sure to call ahead or do some research to secure any required passes or permits beforehand. Don’t forget to look into your chosen site’s alcohol and fire restrictions if you’re planning to drink or build a campfire!
Get your car and your stuff ready
Start your trip with a full tank of gas. Sure, it sounds obvious, but it’s one of the most important things to NOT forget if you’re going car camping. If you run low on gas en route to your campsite, use the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest locations to fill up.
When it comes to packing, bring the essentials – clothing and personal items, sleeping gear, cooking gear, enough food and water, entertainment and emergency items. Don’t forget to charge your electronics and to bring jumper cables in case your car battery dies!
Capitalize on the lack of space or weight constraints – you have the luxury to bring the comfort you need.
Set up your home for the night
When you arrive at your campsite, set up camp in a flat, shaded spot if possible. If you’re staying for more than a few days, consider creating a “porch” by securing a tarp to your car using bungee cords then boosting it up with 2 poles.
This will be extremely helpful in protecting you from heat or from rain. You’ll also have somewhere to cook, eat and chill.
Make bed time comfortable
You won’t have to carry your bed on your back, so you have the comfort and convenience of bringing the sleeping gear of your choice. You can go for a good quality plush air mattress, a compact (but comfortable) pillow and an insulated blanket/temperature rated sleeping bag in case it gets cooler at night. Don’t skimp on luxury!
Don’t forget your lantern!
You don’t want to rely on your car’s indoor light throughout the night - you’ll have your car battery dead in no time! A portable source of light would be extremely helpful once the sun goes down, especially if you’re on a secluded part of the woods. And just because it’s dark doesn’t mean you’ll hit the sack right away.
Have a good quality lantern ready for reading, watching a movie on your phone or playing cards. You’ll need a good light for a little night exploring or doing your business, too!
Add a layer of privacy
Make use of window screens – not only will they add an extra layer of privacy when you’re inside your vehicle, but you can avoid a stuffy environment by rolling down your windows to let the breeze in without being too exposed. It keeps the bugs and mosquitoes away, too!
If you park in a not-so-secluded area, you might want to hang light blankets on your windows and behind the front seats using cords to help block out the morning sun as well as noise from other campers. This way, your sleep will be less disturbed!
Consider building a customized table
Sure, you can always bring small, foldable tables to use for cooking and eating, but many car campers highly recommend having a customized table or platform in your car. You can build it on your own or have it customized specifically for your car.
You can use it as a bed, use the space below for storage, then pull it out in the morning to cook and eat! Such convenience!
Keep food and cooking gear inside your car
Always aim to keep your car and your campsite squeaky clean. Keep food in tight, sealed containers or inside your cooler to avoid spoilage and to minimize the stink factor. This also keeps the critters and wildlife away from your site
Never leave any garbage at your campsite. As per Leave No Trace, you should pack out all your garbage and dispose of them properly. If you pass by visitor centers or trail heads, dispose of your trash there at the designated waste bins.
Get your shower supplies ready
Unless you’re staying in a campsite with complete facilities (aka shower and bathroom access), you should be ready to bring your own supplies. You can make a DIY camp shower or simply bring a portable shower head.
In case shower access is limited, be sure to have some hygiene items ready to keep yourself clean. Pack some water wipes, dry shampoo and hand sanitizer.
Invest in car camping accessories
If you think you’ll be car camping very often, it’s ideal to invest in some accessories that will make your future trips a breeze. A roof storage, a portable car awning and a rooftop car tent are some accessories you could look into.
When you’re car camping, you get the best of both worlds – you get to sleep comfortably while enjoying the outdoors while not worrying about limitations on weight and space. Happy camping!
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