Anyone Can Go Car Camping - Here's How

how to go car camping - gear recommendations and planning a trip

Imagine this, you're feeling the need to get out and spend some time in nature so you decide do pack up the car, find a spot to set up for the night, and do some good ol' fashion camping. Sounds simple right? Well it really is and the best part is, camping is for everyone. You don't need a fancy rig and you don't need to go very far. All you need is yourself, a couple of items, and your vehicle or a tent. Keep reading to learn about what car camping is, how you can find camp spots, and what gear you should pack with.

what is car camping and how can you do it?

Car camping is exactly what you make it! The general gist is you camp wherever you can take your vehicle and find a spot to set up for the night. You can either sleep in your vehicle back seats fold down and there's enough room to lay down, sleep in the bed of a truck that has a topper, or you can set up a tent nearby and use your car as home base.

My personal favorite is setting up a cozy space in the back of my Subaru Forester for the main reason that it's warmer (I really dislike waking up cold and dewey in cool Montana mornings). My husband, who is 6'1" and I (5'4") have spent many nights in there comfortably. I will say I definitely prefer tent camping when I'm in warmer climates. 

where to find camping, planning, and navigating

 There are a few ways you can go about navigating and planning your trip. You could go the classic route and reserve a spot at a designated camp ground area such as a KOA or use Hipcamp to reserve unique campsites. If you wanna try going the free route, there is an abundance of public land access across the country. The four main types of public lands are National Forest, BLM (block management), State, and Local. And on our public lands you can do something that's called dispersed camping. A slight caveat of public lands is that not all are accessible by vehicle, some may have black out dates, and some campgrounds that are on national forest land are actually paid camp sites because of their popularity. will tell you what campsites have a fee schedule.

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Depending on where you live, you might have more or less access to dispersed camping. Generally, there is much more open access in the Western US compared to the Eastern US. The beauty of dispersed camping is where ever you can take your vehicle is where you can call home for the night as long as you're following the proper rules and regulations. Be aware of stay restrictions, Leave No Trace, any fire bans, and bear safety.

To find public access areas we rely heavily on OnX Maps and Google Earth. If you plan to do a lot of camping/backpacking I can't recommend enough how worthwhile OnX is. You can see public and private land boundaries, download maps for offline use when you're not in service, see hiking/offroad trailheads and trails, topography, drop pins, and scout out potential camping areas. Google Earth is helpful as it has some slightly different satellite imagery and acts as a second pair of eyes. 

recommended gear list for packing
→ Vehicle or tent
→ Sleeping accommodations - sleeping bag and/or blankets, sleeping pad or surface like a mattress, and pillows
→ Flashlight and Headlamp
 String lights - I love to hang string lights in my car for warm light ambiance
 Multi tool or small tool kit
→ Cooking system (burner or Jet Boil)
→ Water bottle and water storage
→ Portable seating - light weight option or lawn chair style
 Portable table
→ Cooler - for food and snacks and can also act as a table 
→ Table cloth - put it over your cooler or whatever surface for a homey touch
 Dinnerware and cookware/cast iron skillet if using a burner
→ Insulated coffee mugs
→ Collapsible cups
→ Instant coffee (or your preferred brewing method)
→ Navigation/offline maps
→ TP/trowel/wet wipes
→ Satellite communicator - highly recommend Zoleo or Garmin and if you don't have one of these, make sure to tell someone where you're going and what time you expect to be back. 
→ Camp games like cribbage, Yahtzee, etc or a show downloaded on your device
→ Portable charging - charging stationpower bank, solar charger bank
 First aid kit
→ Sunscreen/chapstick
→ Camera
→ Bluetooth speaker for music (be cognizant if you have neighbors nearby)
→ Toiletries 
→ Clothing appropriate for the weather (think long johns, hats, gloves, layers)


      Remember, this gear recommendation list is not an absolute must, it's more of a suggestion and a resource. Don't let not having a certain item come between you going out camping or staying home! I hope this information is useful to you and appreciate you taking the time to read. Happy adventuring!

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