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Car Camping 101 - Essentials and Tips for a Worry-free Adventure

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Camping as an activity is a terrific method of getting away from the regular, mundane hustle of your daily life, disconnect from technology and social media and create actual lifelong memories with nature and friends or family. And with all of this comes the added advantage of health benefits that this outdoorsy activity brings along with it. A kind of detoxing of your cluttered life. If you’re not a seasoned pro, haven’t memorized the best camping tips or aren’t completely taken by the idea of going from civilized to completely rustic, then car camping is your best bet.

Car camping makes the whole process of ‘camping’ out a whole lot simpler. You don’t need a ton of specialized gear, you need not plan the whole weekend trip extensively, and you might not even necessarily need a tent! Car camping can most certainly be an adventurous experience and may lead to many more similar experiences, but faces the challenge of replacing homely comforts with mobile alternatives. Find out how to face these challenges easily and enjoy the activity.

Table of Contents

What is Car Camping

So to answer the question – what is car camping?

Well, most of the time it isn’t in direct reference to sleeping inside your car. Generically it means being able to drive your vehicle to a campground or a campsite or a park without the necessity of hiking to a campsite while lugging all your camping supplies and essentials. Mostly national parks, private campgrounds, and state parks are built for such type of camping. While some sticklers of the rules and die-hard campers would disagree with the style of camping, it certainly does manage to get your outdoors, all the while reducing the stress levels of planning everything, giving you a chance to just enjoy the trip into nature, relax and rejuvenate.

There are a few perks of this style of camping namely: 

  • Choosing your level of comfort. Most developed campgrounds are built to provide for needs such as toilets, showers, electric outlets, water supply, camp store etc. Primitive campsites have the basic picnic tables, fire grills, and pit toilets. 
  • Carry all the stuff you want. Limited only by the size of your car, you can bring as much stuff as you want – a cooler with cold drinks, wine bottles, camp chairs, party lights! 
  • Kid friendly. A step up from the regular pitching a tent in the backyard, car camping is easier on the little fellas and more comfortable for the adults who have to take care of them too. 
  • Quick Exit strategy. Should a storm roll in or temperatures hit the digits way too high, you can easily throw everything back into the car and drive towards the closest motel or inn. 

An RV or a camper would probably make for the best car for camping since they are way roomier than other models and are built to of course accommodate such an activity. However, the lack of owning or renting one shouldn’t deter you from embarking on such an experience. Know how to make your current vehicle work – pack in an organized manner, and make sure the roads are easily accessible, and of course, having a four-wheel drive is only helpful in the long run. If you’re looking to take a car camp, but don’t know where to start, here are a camping tricks you should consider to make that camping experience a success. 

car camping
Car Camping Essentials (source)

Preliminary Preparations

This puts the choice of location into perspective. While it’s easy to call in on Thursday to book your campsite for the weekend, many of the popular grounds tend to book out quite fast – especially those long holiday weekends. Sunday and weekdays are a good time to consider if you’re looking to be less crowded. Tougher luck if the campground works on a ‘first come, first serve basis’ in which case reservation anyways isn’t a possibility. You can also consider car camping sites based on the level of comfort you’re seeking for on this trip. After fixing your location, you might want to get the route sorted – the quickest and easiest way to reach, feeding it into the GPS etc. 
Another one of camping basics is to look up the weather predictions of the days you’ll be outdoors. A handy piece of advice is to study the pattern of the past few days to see what the weather graph has been like so that you’re well prepared for any sudden weather changes too. 

  • Shelter

Of course, the great question of how to camp in your car can be largely answered by fixing the shelter issue. Now, there is the option of setting up a tent. In that case, you’re going to purchase or borrow one that’s large enough for you, (if solo) and family (if you’re out with your family), plus be able to store some of your car camping gear – going back and forth for supplies won’t last very long! It’s also a good idea for car camping tents to have kind of a small screened porch – great place to keep out muddy shoes. Also carry your rain-flap, despite what the weather predictions might tell you. It’s better to be dry than having your tent flooded. Before setting out, set it up in your yard to test run your tent – check if all the parts are there if the rain flap is efficiently performing, etc. 

Another option, of course, is just shacking up in your car itself. This would, of course, depend on how many co-campers are there with you and the size of your car. An easy way to make a cosy and comfortable set-up is to prop some tarp between your car and some poles. A good DIY car camping tent. This makes for a dry work-space, neat to set up a couple of camp chairs, and keeps everything in the car at an arm’s distance too. 

car camping shelter
Car camping shelther (source)
  • Sleeping Situation

Again multiple variables at play here. You have the choice of cosying up in the car itself. The size and the number of people it can fit will determine the cramp factor. Although for a solo camper the backseat is possibly all he needs. Throw in an air mattress at the back, and you’re good to go for a bit more comfort. Sleeping in your car though could get stuffy, and open car doors and windows are an invitation to all the possible bugs in the vicinity. If you’re crashing in your car, screens on the window are one of those awesome car camping ideas that keep the air circulation going and keeps the bugs out. You can even customize your own with some fabric gauze and heavyweight magnets that will fit along the outside of your car windows. An alternative is to throw the boot open at the back and cover it with a mosquito net. 

If you’re going with sleeping in a tent, sleeping bags are mostly the go-to option. However, air mattresses are great too, since they make for a way more comfortable sleep than sleeping bags on a hard campground. One thing to remember about air mattresses is that they provide almost nil insulation, so in colder temperatures, they might not be a viable option – or you might want to throw a couple of blankets over them. 

car camping
Sleeping in the car (source)
  • Food and Water 

With the advantage of not having to lug everything to a campsite and just unloading it from a car means you can cater to gourmet meals while outside. There are high chances of you being able to pack a huge grill or a 3 piece cooking set all because…you can! While most car camping sites are equipped with basic fire grills or maybe more advanced cooking equipment, you can easily bring along your portable camping kitchen for your own comfort, and relish in the preparation of the many recipes you’ve seen on camping blogs and are dying to try out. In all of this excitement don’t forget to keep a few ready snacks and food on hand. You never know when the rains might hit, or you can’t find dry wood to light a fire. In such a case, some pre-made sandwiches, trail mix, biscuits are good ways of calming that growl in the stomach.

Remember: a hungry camper is a cranky camper!

We believe the same could be said for bears. In case you’re car camping in a bear-infested area, it’s a good idea to hang up all your food at night. Bad idea to store it in your tent with you or even your car because that isn’t going to stop the bear from going at it. It’s always good to invest in bear-proof canisters to reduce the enormity of this problem. Another option is to find out if the campground provides bear lockers, which many of them do. 

Part and parcel of car camping essentials is water. While we generally account for the amount of water we’d need for consumption, what we don’t take into consideration is the amount of water needed for washing up, in case of emergency or for first aid, car issues etc. Camping tips and tricks tell us that a simple rule of thumb to follow is always carry double the amount of water that you think you’re going to need. 

  • Fuelling up the Fire 

Know and understand the different types of campfire you can build and which one works for you. 

  • Tepee fire is the logs just stood up against one another in a conical type formation, which is good for sitting around, as it gives out a lot of heat and light – but is fast burning.
  • The Swedish Torch is a segmented log which uses less fuel, emits barely any light and only a little heat. If you aren’t into chainsawing to come up with this, six pre-cut logs tied together would serve the same purpose. 
  • Criss-Cross Fire is logs laid out in alternating layers and is great for cooking over. It emits a steady heat and burns longer than a tepee fire. 
  • A keyhole fire pit is a fire pit made of stones, a tepee fire in the middle and coals raked up and around it.   

While it’s great to know what type of fire you’re going to be building, or the best car camping stove at hand, the source of building the fire is equally important.  One of the things your car camping gear should have is multiple fire starters kept in different places. This way if one lot is dampened or lost, there are others to save the day. Another great one of the camping tricks is to bring along some dry kindling in case you get stuck with damp wood at the campsite. 

building campfire
Different types of campfire
  • First Aid Kit 

This pretty much goes without saying. It’s a must to carry your first aid kit with all the essentials in it. Even if your car is equipped with one of the small first aid kits, make sure, you’re carrying a well-outfitted camping first aid kit. Most importantly remember to check if the supplies have been replenished after the last trip and that the expiry dates are safe. 

Get, Set and Drive!

Car camping 101 surely teaches us that having a vehicle at your disposal when camping is advantageous for many reasons. The luxury of a car itself at the very campsite is possibly comforting. Car camping essentials can cover all of these and many more supplementary things that hold similar to regular camping. No matter if you’re experienced campers or a novice at it, hopefully, these pointers have made ‘camping’ life much simpler for you.  

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