October 13, 2022 5 min read

Car camping tent

If taking a tent and hiking to a remote location sounds like too much effort, there’s a great alternative for you - car camping.

This guide explains what it is and gives you all the essential information to get started.

What Is Car Camping?

Car camping is an outdoor activity during which you drive a vehicle loaded with gear to a campsite and stay there for some time.

It doesn’t necessarily entail sleeping in a car. Although it’s an option, many campers prefer using a tent.

Car Camping Advantages

More and more travelers choose car camping over its traditional counterpart. This is largely due to a variety of advantages it has, including:

  • Absence of need to carry the weight of the gear
  • Lesser concern about the amount of supplies you take
  • Comfort and longer distance coverage
  • Easier travel for people with kids and pets

The list goes on! In fact, every camper is sure to find something to love about setting out for a car camping trip, so it’s definitely worth a try.

Car Camping Essentials

The set of items you need to pack for your trip will depend on whether you will be camping in your car, in a tent beside it, or a vehicle tent.

Yet, there are some equipment categories that are fundamental to every car camping experience. Here is their brief overview with examples:

  • Sleep and shelter: tent, rooftop tent, or hammock, sleeping pad or bag, air mattress.
  • Water and food:camp stove, knife, lighter, water and filter, food, utensils, trash bags, cast iron skillet.
  • Safety and tools:first aid kit, whistle, bungee cords, duct tape.
  • Clothing:rain gear, warm layer, clothes for activities, nightwear.
  • Hygiene: toilet paper, trowel, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sunscreen.

These are just some items that you might need on your trip. For a complete guide on what to pack, take a look at the detailed checklist of car camping essentials we’ve prepared.


Before You Hit the Road: 7 Practical Packing Tips

Here, we will focus on ensuring that you master the art of “Car Tetris” or, in other words, learn how to use the space wisely when packing, regardless of your vehicle’s size.

You can get ready for your camping trip efficiently by following these simple steps:

1.   Lay Out the Items You Need Next to the Car

Laying out all the items you intend to bring with you near the car guarantees a smooth packing process.

This way you will be able to visualize and plan the arrangement better. Besides, you are sure to notice if you forgot any camping essentials before you leave home.

2.   Big Items First

Start loading your car with heavy and bulky items, such as:

  • Tents
  • Sleeping bags, pads, or mattresses
  • Camp stove
  • Tool kit

Remember that it is essential to distribute the weight as evenly as possible when packing.

3.   Ensure Easy Access to Wet Weather Gear

If it happens to be raining when you set out for your camping trip, the first things you will have to take out from the trunk are rubber boots and raincoats. Make sure that they are at hand!

4.   Make Sure Sleeping Bags are Easy to Reach

It is highly recommended to pack your sleeping bags or mattresses in a way that they are easy to grab right after you place the tent. This way, you will be able to set the camp easily as soon as you arrive, without having to unload all of the items from the trunk.

5.   Fill the Gaps with Clothes

Clothes are typically the easiest to fit in, especially if you are traveling during the warm season.

Depending on the size of your camping car, you can either pack clothing into a bag or backpack or simply fill the gaps with them as soon as other essential items are arranged.

6.   Use Footwell Space

If the trunk doesn’t seem to be fitting all the equipment you are willing to bring, you can use rear footwells with little to no effect on your passengers’ comfort.

For instance, cooking appliances, gas stoves, and a coolbox can be easily distributed and placed under the front seats, saving space for bulkier items in the back.

7.   Leave Unnecessary Extras for Last

You probably have some things in mind that you would love to take but don’t necessarily need to, like camping tables and chairs. Don’t pack them until all the essentials have their spot.

Car Camp Set-Up

Car camping in a forest area

In this section, you’ll find expert tips on getting settled during your first-time camping experience based on your sleeping place preference.

1.   How to Camp with Your Car

This type of car camping will be a piece of cake for those who have done traditional camping or backpacking.

All you have to do is load your camping equipment into the car and drive to your destination. At the spot, you will have several options of tent placement to choose from:

  • Car roof.There are plenty of benefits that come with rooftop tents, including comfort, sleeping off ground level, convenience, durability, better insulation, and more. Check out our top-quality selection of rooftop tents.
  • Next to the vehicle. Simply pitch your tent anywhere you find convenient, just like you would do during traditional camping.
  • Back of the car.Rear or tailgate tents are excellent for SUV camping, as they extend floor space and provide extra ventilation, headroom, and storage opportunities. They are also perfect for sun, rain, and mosquito protection.

2.   How to Sleep in a Car When Camping

If you decide not to set up tents of any kind, you can opt for sleeping in a car when camping. However, while it may seem like an easier choice at first glance, you will have a lot of preparations to make and are likely to sacrifice the comfort provided by options like rooftop tents.

Here is how to get the vehicle ready for the night:

  1. Free up the space where you will sleep.
  2. Fold the back seats down and spread out your sleeping bag, pad, or mattress.
  3. If you don’t have either of those, you can settle for less comfortable options, such as reclining the passenger’s seat all the way back or simply sleeping on the back row.
  4. Add camping pillows and blankets if available.
  5. Put up window coverings for privacy.

If you own a pickup truck, one great idea is to get a camper shell. This way, you will have a specially dedicated sleeping place always available.

Besides, some travelers use a specialized car hammock to spend the night in their vehicle.

Top Car Camping Destinations in the US

Car camping with a lake view

When it comes to car camping destinations, nothing compares to national parks. Here are five top spots we would recommend visiting:

  • For vast forest lands:Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
  • For incredible night sky views: Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • For stunning alpine scenery: Glacier National Park, Montana
  • For the impressive hydrothermal system: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
  • For untouched desert beauty: Joshua Tree National Park, California

Find even more car camping trip inspiration here!

Other Useful Car Camping Tips

Now, you have all the essential information to go on your first car camping trip. However, we have some additional quick tips that are sure to make your experience unforgettable:

  • Bring a solar charger to power up cell phones and other electronic devices.
  • Use car window screens to avoid insects while having enough ventilation.
  • Take some dry bags with you to pack wet things on the way home in case it rains while you camp out.
  • Hang lanterns or headlamps on the car handles - it’s extremely convenient for nighttime.
  • Invest in a rooftop cargo carrier for additional storage space.

Keep in mind that it is crucial to invest in high-quality equipment to ensure your trip goes smoothly. Get ready for your next car camping adventure with CVT to make the most of your experience!

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