No matter where your outdoor adventures take you in the United States, chances are there's going to be a bit of a road trip involved. Unless you're backpacking in backcountry, there's no reason you shouldn't consider your vehicle another useful item in your collection of camping gear. Along with first aid kits, camping tents, and other essentials, a car is sort of like a giant pocket knife that can support a bunch of convenient additions, from chargers to rooftop tents.
Unlike backpackers, car campers don't have to worry about how much they're carrying in. Whether you're staying overnight in established public lands like state parks, or boondocking off of remote forest service roads overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, you'll be able to take a lot more with you when driving. If it's your first time car camping, or you're just looking for some fresh ideas, we hope the following guide makes your next car camping trip an adventure for the books!
Car Camping Essentials Checklist
Before heading out, be sure to form a checklist and go over every item twice to guarantee its actually there. This is something they teach even the youngest of boy scouts. Only once you're sure you have everything should you start bungee cording it down to your car's roof rack.
Car Camping Gear
Larger Items: Car campers can enjoy unwieldy conveniences that backpackers can't. These include, but are not limited to, things like collapsible picnic tables, luxurious camp chairs, portable fire pits, packable toilets, and much more.
An Entire Camp Kitchen: Given all the space you have to work with, there's no reason you can't treat yourself to a five-star dining experience while "roughing it" in a national park. Rather than tiny canisters of white gas, feel free to pack things like propane tanks, 2-burner camp stoves, and large ice chests full of your favorite foods and beverages.
Superior Sleep Situation: When it comes down to it, camping is all a matter of sleep, and how many sheep you count can either make or break your trip. While sleeping bags and sleeping pads are good enough to get by, you might consider upgrades like an air mattress and travel hammocks with their own frames.
Car Tents: There are a range of tents that are designed to attach to vehicles. These include models like tailgate and rooftop tents that complement trucks and SUVs, as well as a range of lean-to style tents that can link up with all kinds of cars.
Basic Camping Supplies: When enjoying the decadent wonders of car camping, it's easy to forget the basics. Just so, be sure to remember camping essentials that everyone needs such as water bottles, toilet paper, flashlights/headlamps, and of course, toiletries like toothpaste and soap.
While you can save money buying everything you need to have a successful car camping trip from Amazon or Walmart, there are some premium items you might consider purchasing elsewhere to heighten your camp's comfort and ambiance. From solar panels and light strands, to throw rugs and and poufs, there are hundreds of ways to customize your car camping experience. Furthermore, services like Hipcamp and Airbnb can help place you in premium locations that are naturally glamorous.
Car Camping Rental
Just because you don't own your own car doesn't mean you can't car camp with the best of them. Your options include app-based services like Zipcar, more formal rental agencies like Enterprise, and other avenues like borrowing. However, if you don't drive often, remember to attend to all those car maintenance basics, like checking oil levels and tire pressure, not to mention filling up at gas stations regularly if you're in a remote area.
Final Pro Tips
Bear Bags: If you're car camping on some far off tract of BLM land overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, there's a good chance you're in bear country. Due to bears, raccoons, and other furry neighbors, you should consider storing all food, toothpaste, and anything else with a serious scent in a bear bag dangling from a tree branch high overhead. Believe us: You'd rather wake up to a ripped up bag than a torn up tent or a claw-marked car door.
Leave No Trace: Whether you're in a car, on foot, or in a submarine, please leave the outdoors how you found it for whoever comes next. Better yet, if you can manage to, leave it better than you found it. This is the one and only way that one becomes a professional camper.
How do you car camp? Your tips and tricks can help others on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!
Enjoy reading about the open road?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.