Car Camping Essentials | A Nomad’s Dream

Knowing how to go camping in car is key

Tired of tent camping?

Craving a camping adventure but don’t want to deal with the hassle of setting up a tent?

Car camping might be the perfect solution for you.

With the freedom to travel to wherever the road takes you and the convenience of your vehicle at hand, car camping offers a unique and enjoyable outdoor experience.

Picking the Perfect Ride

Car camping lets you experience nature without lugging around a ton of heavy gear.

But you have to choose the perfect ride, or your trip could be a total bust. Let’s break down all the rides and tips to make your car camping adventures epic.


Setup a cozy sleeping space at the back of your SUV so you can easily travel to different campsites
Setup a cozy sleeping space at the back of your SUV so you can easily travel to different campsites

When it comes to car camping, SUVs are often the top choice. And it’s easy to see why.

They have tons of cargo space for all your stuff, and lots of them let you fold down the back seats to create a cushy sleeping platform. Epic, right?

Smaller Cars

Don't belittle small cars - you can have a great time camping on these
Don’t belittle small cars – you can have a great time camping on these

Don’t stress if you’re rocking a small compact car; you can still make car camping happen.

It’s all about maximizing the cargo area and being smart about what you pack. Roof racks or hitch cargo boxes can give you bonus storage too.

Choosing the Right Spot and Permits

One of the cool parts about car camping is scouting out the perfect campsite and ensuring that you have all the necessary permits.

Here’s two quick tips you should keep in mind:

Park Out of the Way

Parking out of the way without any hassle

When parking for the night, choose a safe and secluded location away from main roads and highly populated areas. Always be respectful of private property and any posted regulations.

Normally, some campsites offer a parking lot exclusively for car campers, where you can meet other people. Downside? You won’t be alone, so don’t choose these if that’s what you want.

Know What Permits You Need

Knowing what permits you need save you from fines or penalties

Always remember to research the specific area you plan to camp in and find out if any permits or passes are required. Complying with any regulations will ensure that you have no troubles during your trip; not complying will ruin it.

It’s definitely not worth it risking not complying with local regulations and thinking you’ll get away with it; you’ll just feel stressed during the whole trip and won’t be able to relax.

Setting Up Your Campsite

Never underestimate the impact of the location where you'll set up your car camping tent
Never underestimate the impact of the location where you’ll set up your car camping tent

Once you’ve found a good parking spot, you need to set up your tent within the confines of your car (normally on top).

When doing so, you should think of the following:

Maximize Space

This should be a priority.

You should be efficient when organizing your camping gear within your vehicle to maximize space since you don’t have the luxury of bringing a huge tent when you go car camping. Sure, it can be heavy and made of durable materials, but it won’t have three different rooms.

To help you with this, consider using storage containers or car organizers; these are great for keeping things tidy.

Comfortable Seating

Don’t forget to bring along foldable chairs or comfortable cushions for lounging around your spot. Having a comfortable place to sit can make a huge difference during your downtime.

With comfortable seating, you can rest, read, or even watch birds – few things are as enjoyable as these!

Sleeping Arrangements

Your vehicle as a sleeping space brings comfort and restful nights under the stars

We have never met anyone who enjoys going camping and doesn’t prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. And there’s no reason you should be different—sleeping well is essential for your car camping experience.

Here’s how to do it:

Sleep with Your Head Toward the Front

When preparing your sleeping area, you should position yourself with your head towards the front of the car. This not only provides more space but also allows for better airflow.

Invest in a Comfortable Bed

A comfortable sleeping mattress is priceless in a car camping trip
A comfortable sleeping mattress is priceless in a car camping trip

Don’t be cheap. Consider investing in a high-quality car camping mattress or sleeping pad. Your comfort is crucial and trust us: a good mattress will make all the difference.

The Ultimate Car Camping List You Can’t Ignore

To make sure you don’t forget anything important, we put together this epic car camping checklist.

It covers all the bases, from sleeping gear to cooking essentials and more.

Sleep setup

  • Sleeping bags and pads (air mattress if you’re boujee)

  • Pillows

  • Blankets

  • Sleeping platform/mattress for the back


  • Tent or hammock (for those who want to sleep under the stars)

  • Camp chairs to lounge

  • Camping table

  • Lanterns and headlamps to keep it lit

  • Camp kick like sandals or crocs

Cooking and food

  • Camp stove and fuel

  • Pots, pans, utensils for your gourmet camp meals

  • Cooler for keeping drinks and grub fresh

  • Water bottles or hydration packs

  • Non-perishable snacks and food

  • Portable camp kitchen or prep surface

Hygiene and essentials

  • Biodegradable soap and washcloths

  • First-aid kit

  • Sunscreen and bug spray

  • Toiletries and hygiene items

  • Trash bags (pack it in, pack it out)

Safety gear

  • Flashlights and headlamps

  • Firestarters and matches

  • Emergency blankets

  • Jumper cables (dead battery = massive buzz kill)

  • Spare tire and jack

  • Roadside emergency kit

This list covers the basics, but you might need to add or remove stuff depending on your specific trip.

Having these essentials on hand can make a significant difference in case of emergencies or unexpected situations during your trip.

It doesn’t cost much money or time to bring them, and you’ll find them priceless if you need them.

Tips for Epic Car Camping Trips

While spontaneous road trips are fun, it’s smart to plan your route, bring car camping essentials, and book any needed campsites ahead of time. That way, you get a spot to park each night without sacrificing comfort or convenience.

Here’s more tips to keep in mind when car camping:

Pack Smart and Light

Car camping means you can bring more gear than backpacking. But that doesn’t mean you should go overboard.

Stick to the essentials and look for multi-use items to save space.

Organization > (Almost) Everything

Keeping your gear organized makes car camping way easier. Use bins, camping organizers, or your vehicle’s built-in storage to keep things tidy.

Keep Your Electronics Charged

Always take a portable charger with you
Always take a portable charger with you

In today’s world, staying connected and having access to electronics is often a necessity. You may want to share your experience with your social network, stay in touch with your children (if car camping with your partner) or may even need to use the phone to call for help.

Always ensure you have a reliable power source, such as a portable charger, to keep your devices charged.

Keep Food in the Car, Ideally in a Cooler

While car camping allows you to enjoy the convenience of your vehicle, it’s crucial to store your food properly.

Keep perishables in a cooler to prevent spoilage, and store non-perishable items in a designated food container or storage box. This not only keeps your food fresh but also helps you stay organized.

Have Your Own Drive-In Movie

One of the perks of car camping is the ability to enjoy your own outdoor movie night
One of the perks of car camping is the ability to enjoy your own outdoor movie night

Bring along a portable projector and screen, and you can have your very own drive-in movie experience under the stars. Bring your partner, and you have a great romantic plan post-dinner.

Just don’t forget your favorite movies and snacks!

Bring a Headlamp or Hang Lanterns

Proper lighting is essential when camping, even in your car. A headlamp or hanging lantern can provide ample illumination for cooking, reading, or simply finding your way around the campsite at night. Plus, they free up your hands for other tasks.

Stay Squeaky Clean

Maintaining personal hygiene is crucial, even when camping in your car.

Pack a portable camping shower or use a nearby water source (if allowed) to freshen up. Don’t forget essentials like biodegradable soap, a towel, and a washcloth.

Open a Window Enough to Ventilate

Ventilation is key to a comfortable and safe car camping experience. Crack open a window or two to allow for proper airflow, which can help reduce condensation inside the car and keep the interior fresh.

If you’re camping in a tent set up on top of your car and don’t have any windows, you can leave the zipper slightly open.

Build Your Shower

For extended car camping trips, consider setting up a DIY shower system
For extended car camping trips, consider setting up a DIY shower system

All you need is a water container, a hose, and a showerhead attachment. Hang the container from a tree or your car’s roof rack, and you’ll have a refreshing outdoor shower experience.

Leave No Trace

Just like any outdoor adventure, leaving no trace is a must!

Pick out all your trash, respect wildlife, and minimize your impact as much as possible.

Final Words

Car camping offers the freedom and comfort of exploring the outdoors without having to invest a lot of money into a fancy tent.

With the right preparations, you can plan memorable road trips for your family or friends. Pack your bags, hit the road, and make the most of your car camping adventure NOW!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Some Essential Items to Include in a Car Camping Essentials List?

A comprehensive car camping essentials list should include a tent (for those who prefer a tent alongside their car, normally placed on top of it), a comfortable sleeping bag, camp chairs, a cooler, cooking utensils, a portable stove, headlamps or lanterns, navigation tools, first-aid supplies, and a reliable power source for electronics.

What Are Some Land Management Guidelines to Follow When Car Camping?

When car camping, always respect land management rules and regulations. Research the specific area you plan to visit and comply with parking, camping, and permit requirements. But don’t forget to abide by generally known camping principles such as the “leave no trace”, and the “pack it in, pack it out”. Although these sometimes are not strictly expressed by the campsites, you should respect them.

What Are Some Tips to Save Money on a Car Camping Trip?

To save money while car camping consider options like camping in national forests or Bureau of Land Management areas, which often offer lower fees than traditional campgrounds. Additionally, cook your meals, plan budget-friendly activities, and share expenses with fellow car campers.

Are There Any Special Considerations for Car Camping in National Parks?

When car camping in national parks, be aware of park-specific regulations and camping restrictions. Some parks require you make reservations in advance, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Research each park’s guidelines before your visit them.

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