If you’ve never gone car camping, the time is right to try it. Car camping is welcome at most campgrounds with or without a tent. Car camping allows you to get in the backcountry and sleep under the stars without lugging all that camping gear on your back. Apps like Hipcamp and Allstays help pinpoint where you can stay legally, and in the United States, car camping is allowed on US Forest Service roads.
Whether you’re looking for an unforgettable outdoor adventure or want to save money on accommodations between destinations, car camping is an excellent choice. Here’s how to make the most of car camping when traveling.
Consider Your Camping Space and Sleeping Options
You can go car camping in almost any vehicle. A small hatchback or compact car is the most economical, but you’ll have less room for sleeping space, and the amount of gear you bring along will be limited. SUVs and vans will give you much more space, and a pickup truck with a bed will allow you to sleep under the stars. And no matter what type of vehicle you have, you can always pack a tent for sleeping outside the car. This will give you more room for storage.
Did you know that you can even sleep in a Tesla? With the back seats folded down, you can create a comfortable sleeping space for one night or beyond. And every Tesla Model comes with Tesla Camp Mode, a feature that makes sleeping in the car more comfortable by controlling interior lighting, airflow and cabin temperature, a device charger, and even music.
For more posh sleeping arrangements, invest in a good camping mattress. These mattresses can be used in the car or inside a tent under your sleeping bag for more comfort. Most of them are inexpensive and come with an air pump that uses the car’s cigarette lighter. Don’t hit the road without one.
Pick the Right Camping Spot
Campgrounds have an array of amenities from water and electricity to primitive camping with no amenities. Some offer picnic tables, campfire pits, electrical outlets, restrooms, and showers. If you have the right vehicle, you can head off the beaten path and enjoy dispersed camping, but it’s advisable to have some car camping experience under your belt before trying it.
State and national parks are good choices for car camping and offer scenic drives. KOA campgrounds are also great for car camping plus they’re usually located near cities and interstates.
The site or app iOverlander is helpful for finding a campsite. They’re listed along your route in map format, often have photos and descriptions, and include reviews from a community of users.
Pack the Essentials
Food first. Pack meals and snacks that are non-perishable. You don’t want to keep perishable foods in your vehicle for very long and a large cooler takes up too much space, especially if you drive a smaller car. Pack a smaller cooler with ice for cold beverages. Good food choices are hot dogs for the campfire, freeze-dried meals especially for campers, and trail mixes.
Next, the essentials. A Seattle-based group called the Mountaineers came up with the original Ten Essentials list. It includes a map, compass, or navigation equipment, fire starter and matches, first aid supplies, sunglasses and sunscreen, a headlamp or flashlight, a knife, and extra food.
Cars aren’t the best thing for blocking out light and sound. And privacy will be particularly important in less secluded places like parks and crowded campgrounds. Create some privacy by using bungees or cordage to hang simple curtains on all the windows. This will give you a cozy bedroom feel and privacy as well as block out the morning sun. If you’re in a really crowded campground, a set of earplugs will keep out the noise of late arrivals or early risers. They also come in handy if you have a snoring partner!
Get Good Ventilation
Don’t wake up and feel like you’re in a fishbowl. Breathing all night will fog up windows and cause moisture to build up inside your vehicle. Avoid this by opening a window or the sunroof just wide enough to keep out small animals. Cut a strip of mesh two to three inches wider than the opening and stuff it in the space to keep out bugs and moisture. You can also place a product called DampRid under the seats. If you’re parked in an especially humid area, keep a squeegee in your vehicle to wipe down the windows.