Car Camping For Beginners

Spring is around the corner, which means that a car camping trip you have been dreaming about can be finally checked off from your to-do list.

When we talk about “car camping,” a lot of people take the term quite literally, as in “pulling into a campground and sleeping in your car.” But that’s not how it’s done. You do not sleep in your car, and instead in a camper or a tent. In addition to that, it typically means that you will be setting up your tent no more than 10 to 20 feet away from your car.

When car camping, there is no backpacking or hiking involved in getting to your site and is normally recommended for those who have little to no camping experience. And contrary to hiking, car camping enables you to carry far more diverse gear in a safer and less challenging way. Nevertheless, just as with backpacking, planning a detailed car camping checklist earlier is a must if you are to have a hassle-free and safe trip.

Why Go Car Camping?

If you are unsure of whether to go on a traditional camping trip or a car camping endeavor, here are X reasons that might tip your judgment in favor of the latter.

  1. Mistakes can be dealt with easily If you were hiking deep in the woods and something were to go wrong, you would have to deal with all that mess on your own. While some people enjoy that, others simply feel like it’s too much work. On the other hand, if you make a mistake while car camping (let’s say you forgot to pack your tent or burnt your food), you can easily drive down in your vehicle and fix that mistake pretty easily.
  2. More comfortable and safer Since car camping allows you to pack more items, it ensures that you have a safer and more enjoyable trip. For example, you can pack cots and large inflatable car mattresses in your car and sleep peacefully, as opposed to sleeping on a thin pad during conventional camping (hiking, backpacking).
  3. Gives you more options Your campground can act as a home base for all kinds of day trips. In the majority of state parks, you will have access to biking trails and hiking or streams and lakes. For entertainment during the daytime, you can take a walk in the woods, ride a mountain bike, or go paddleboarding.
  4. Not physically taxing Carrying a ton of weight up a hill may not sound like the best thing in the world to some campers. With car camping, you can forget about taxing yourself physically since your vehicle does all the work. Since this option calls for minimal physical stress, you do not have to be super buff or strong to enjoy it properly, and small children can enjoy it as well.

What to Take Car Camping?

When preparing for your very first car camping trip, remember that you don’t have to break the bank to be properly outfitted (and you can rent certain things also). While you should invest in a few important items, you can also bring along things that you already have in the house.

  1. Tent Choose a tent that offers good elbow room, instead of a shelter that is small and congested. This will give people enough room to store clothing and a couple of extras, plus you will be cozier in case you get stuck in the tent for a long time, let’s say during a storm.
  2. A Warm Sleeping Bag Especially if you will be sleeping in a tent in cooler temperatures. Make sure to buy a sleeping bag that is designed especially for winters and can provide you an added layer of heat, and is preferably one that will be rated for the expected temperature.
  3. First Aid Kit Cuts, scratches, bumps or burns are something that should be highly anticipated, especially if you are a newbie or clumsy. When you are completely exposed to nature, taking a first-aid kit is one of the smartest things you can do.
  4. Campsite tools Having some basic campsite tools will allow you to take care of any issues that might spring up. A hammer is good for setting and pulling stakes. A saw and ax can make cutting firewood easier. And a good knife comes in handy in more than one situation. In addition to that, bring along a big box of matches and a couple of lighters to keep your fire source always ignited.
  5. A warm coat or jacket With the right sleeping bag and camping tent. You will be warm while sleeping, but to stay warm when you are standing around and indulging in different campsite activities, you will need a thick coat or jacket to keep you toasty throughout. The idea is to go for something that is big enough to fit all of your clothing layers properly.
  6. Lighting Car camping normally coincides with sitting by the crackling fire, enjoying beverages, and watching the stars. To navigate your way between your car and the tent, you will need some good lighting. Flashlights and headlamps make excellent options, but inflatable solar lanterns are also something to think about. You can attach them anywhere, and they will add some ambiance to your campsite.
    To ensure that your lighting does not give up on you when you least expect it, use lithium batteries. The reason behind this is that alkaline batteries tend to malfunction in cool temperatures since they are made with a water-based electrolyte solution. On the contrary, lithium batteries are way more powerful and strong regarding performance, which means they will be able to withstand the campsite’s cool temperature, especially at night.
  7. Kitchen equipment While you are exhausting yourself with different camping activities, you will want to replenish your energy levels by eating something yummy. And what you bring for a camping kitchen will depend on the extent of the meals you wish to cook. It can be as simple as a can opener and a spoon, to open a can of stew, heat it right on the fire, and consume it right from the can. Or you could carry in a complete camping kitchen and prepare that stew from scratch in your Dutch Oven. A lot of people prefer to bring a basic mess kit per person with a plate, bowl, cup, and some silverware. You can buy a matching set, or just bring old stuff from your kitchen at home.
  8. Cooler A cooler is the epicenter of your camping foundation. Go for one that can withstand a lot of abuse and keep the items cold for a long time. When buying a cooler, get the biggest one that you can afford that will easily fit in your car. This will help you double it as a cook preparation stand and also a camp chair, plus you will never run out of beer.
  9. Plastic bins Plastic bins are another key item that should be on your car camping checklist. The secret to camping is keeping your gear accessible and organized. And you can easily do that by purchasing plastic bins with handles that latch. You can then keep all your miscellaneous items organized in those bins and access them without wasting time when you need them.
  10. Maps and a Compass Before you head out on your first car camping trip, keep in mind that the majority of camping sites do not support GPS connection, which is why having a reliable navigation source is important. A compass and map are reliable sources, so make sure to put them in your camping bag.

Car Camping Etiquette Tips

Just because you are a car camping newbie doesn’t mean you should announce that to everyone with your actions. Listed below are X quick tips that will help you come off as a seasoned camper than a novice.

  1. Quiet hours A lot of campsites follow quiet hours, so be a good sport and respect these rules. In some campsites, some people watch TVs and play music, but you should probably avoid making a racket with unnecessary noise.
  2. Maintain campsite cleanliness Keep your trash in containers and steer clear of leaving food in your campsite, unless you are looking to invite animals, ants, and bugs.
  3. Pet etiquette If you have a pet and wish to bring them along on your car camping trip, make sure to check beforehand if the campsite allows pets. In most instances, a dog is expected to be on a leash.

Numerous state parks offer a wide range of car camping sites, whether you are looking for a place near a stream, a lake, a mountain, or the ocean. Make sure to do your research first and book a place that you and your family can enjoy.


I have been camping and going outdoors for over 15 years! My first experience was when I joined the scouts. There I learned a lot. From building a campfire to set up a really big tent. Then I know this is awesome. Around 2005 I also started Geocaching. This is a lot of fun. And every time we go camping we look at the map to see if there are some nice caches around.

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