A Beginner’s Guide to Car Camping in the Great Outdoors

Photo: Getty Images/Jordan Siemens
Camping can be a great activity that lets you get in touch with nature and enjoy the great outdoors.Yet, while backpacking never gets old, there’s a new style to camping that is also fun and worth exploring—car camping.

Car camping basically means driving up to a campsite with all your gear packed inside your trunk. “Compared to backpacking, you can bring a lot more stuff, since you have enough room to pack everything you need to spend time outdoors comfortably,” says Mike Miller, the editor-in-chief of Wilderness Times. “The last time I went car camping with my family, we brought our portable table tennis set and organized a mini tournament in the will—it was a blast.”

Experts In This Article
  • John Holdmeier, John Holdmeier is a camping expert and brand manager of Ust.
  • Mike Miller, Mike Miller is the editor-in-chief of Wilderness Times.

But not having to haul your gear on your back is only one benefit of car camping. The other? You’ll have the option to sleep in your vehicle, meaning you can explore and stay in places where pitching a tent may not be possible. Plus, it’s a beginner-friendly way to overnight outside. “Anybody can car camp…all you need to do is find the right spot and make sure you have the correct supplies,” says John Holdmeier, camping expert and brand manager of Ust.

If you are ready to make some memories on a car camping trip with friends and family or simply want to get away and enjoy the great outdoors for a longer duration, here’s what to keep in mind before hitting the open road.

Sleep smart

“One thing I always advise first-time car campers to do is to pack the pillow you sleep on at home,” says Miller. He also suggests that you opt for sleeping pads in lieu of an air mattress—especially when it’s chilly out. “The air inside the mattress takes on the temperature that’s outside, so you’ll freeze during colder nights,” he says.

Bring a burner (or two)

While cooking over an open flame feels like a quintessential camping experience. In reality, it’s a lot of work that you don’t need to do if you pack a portable  camping stove. “Even if your campsite allows campfires, I’d always recommend bringing a stove, since not only does it have a way smaller environmental impact, but it also can be used in different weather conditions,” says Miller. Here are some camping meal ideas for inspo.

Take tools and a repair kit

Be prepared isn’t just a motto for Boy Scouts. “You never know when your car may break down, leaving you stuck in the middle of nowhere searching for phone reception,” says Miller. “From screwdrivers to ratchets, it’s always good to have a set of tools in your car for emergency situations and the same goes for a first-aid kit,” he says.

Organize and pack in advance

“Make sure you know where everything is and that each piece of gear has a specific place so it’s easy to find,” says Holdmeier. The more organized you can be, the smoother things will go while camping.

Plus, familiarize yourself with your gear before you get to your campsite. There’s nothing worse than showing up to camp late and trying to “learn as you go” while setting up your tent and cooking dinner. “Give yourself the luxury of a few practice runs at home ahead of time,” Holdmeier suggests.

Scout out your spot

“Research the regulations and rules on any area before you go and don’t leave anything behind,” says Holdmeier.

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