Remember those trips your parents took you on that they called “car camping”? You packed a vehicle full of gear, drove to a campsite, unloaded it all, set up camp, and then broke it all down again. Today’s car camping, however, cuts out the middle bit and turns your vehicle into a cozy place to “rough it” in the great outdoors.
Why bother with set up and breakdown, with tents and gear coated in dirt (or even worse, mud), with loading and unloading? If you have the right vehicle (truck, SUV, or crossover), camping in your car can offer a comfortable, easy way to spend less time setting up a camp and more time enjoying your natural surroundings.
So whether you’re just camping at a trail head before the big hike or you want to turn your vehicle into a mobile command center, here are some tips for transforming your ride into a cozy camper.
You can car camp anywhere there are tent sites available that have parking. The best choice is to find a site with back-in vehicle spots. The advantage here is that you’ll have amenities such as power, water sources, and bathrooms available.
But a lesser known fact is that most National Forests allow dispersed camping at primitive sites (those not in established campgrounds) and that Forest Service Roads also allow overnight camping. Just be sure you have required permits and that you don’t block the road for traffic.
Because you don’t have to carry everything in with you when you car camp, you can make yourself more comfortable with a few extra amenities. You can buy blackout fabric to DIY some car window curtains with reusable suction cups attached to the back. They can then adhere directly to the windows to create a dark space in the back of your vehicle.
Bring along a pillow and even an inflatable mattress (some are especially designed for use in vehicles), and be sure you have lots of warm blankets as cars can get as cold as tents. You can even create a super warm blanket yourself with a nice low bulk fabric, such as Polartec 200 Blanket Width Fleece.
You’ll want to bring flashlights or hanging lanterns that can be hung from car handles or seats so that you can enjoy reading or other activities after dark. And because you don’t want to run down the charge on your car, you’ll probably want to invest in a solar powered portable batteries.
Solar powered portable batteries can charge up during the day while you drive, so that they’re ready to use at night when you want to watch a movie on your phone.
You should, of course, have plenty of food and water on hand, preferably stored in a cooler. If you plan to cook, be aware that some remote areas won’t allow fires so you’ll need to bring a camping stove (never use it in your car).
When mealtime finally arrives, a car tray table can be an invaluable amenity. These tables clip directly to your steering wheel so you can comfortably sit and enjoy a meal without having to seek out a picnic area or bring a folding table.
Because sleeping in an unventilated car causes moisture (and smell) to build in the car overnight, you should also bring along some mesh material so that you can crack windows and stuff the mesh in the opening to allow air in but keep bugs out.
Keep It Clean
Because you may be in remote areas bring lots of garbage bags along as you will need to carry refuse out to the nearest garbage bin. And speaking of cleanliness, you’ll need a toiletry kit with a minimum of wet wipes, a trowel, and toilet paper.
If a sponge off doesn’t sound adequate for your camping experience, you can buy a solar shower bag that can be hung in a tree for a true wilderness bathing experience.
Be sure to follow common sense safety rules. Basics such as keeping someone aware of where you will be and for how long as well as keeping your vehicle locked while you sleep, should be second nature.
You should also know the area you’re in and prepare accordingly. If, for example, you are in bear country, you may need bear safe containers for food (don’t assume a car will stop a hungry bear). Finally, always have a first aid kit and a back up kit with extra food, a bottle of water, some spare batteries, a multi-tool, and even a little money.