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What is car camping?

One of the first camping experiences for most people is a “car camping” experience. We often speak of car camping and can tell that phrase is confusing to some. 

So, what is car camping? What advice do we have for people just starting to get into camping? How do you make sure you have a positive car camping experience? For that and more, read on!


What is car camping?

There are two generally accepted definitions of car camping. The more widely accepted definition of car camping is to camp at a location where you can drive your car. 

Some people think car camping literally means sleeping in your car. A common misconception is that sleeping in your car will be more comfortable and safe than sleeping in a tent. What people don’t realize is that a quality tent will be waterproof and tolerate a moderate to heavy rain. A quality sleeping bag and pad are more comfortable than sleeping in your car and can offer warmth down to 0℉.

When you car camp, you load up all of your gear for the trip in your car, pull into your campsite, and set up your tent in a designated area. Some also refer to car camping as "base camping" or “tent camping”. The beauty of car camping is the accessibility of your tent site. Since your tent site is so close to your vehicle, there’s no reason to skimp on “luxury” items that make your camping experience enjoyable. 

If you’re backpacking to a campsite, you probably don’t want to carry in a cast iron dutch oven, propane stove and a 10lb tent. When you’re car camping, all of those options are on the table and can make the experience more enjoyable for novice campers. 


How can I get started car camping?

Getting started with car camping can be as simple as gathering your camping gear and hitting a local state park campground. Here’s our car camping checklistto help you get started. Generally we’d recommend going with a more experienced camper for your first time out. A more experienced camper can help show you the ropes and provide camping gear to make your experience more enjoyable. They’ll also help you more quickly learn the etiquette of camping so you’re not “that guy”.


What’s our advice for car camping?

Car camping can provide an unwarranted sense of safety. Since you have your car, it might be easy to have a false sense of security. Follow the following steps to make sure you have an enjoyable and safe car camping trip.  

1- Be prepared

Having the right food, shelter and clothing can make all the difference in the world. If you’re prepared to deal with typical weather conditions for your car camping trip, you’re well on your way to having a great camping experience. When car camping you aren’t restricted by weight but only by the size of your vehicles, so overpack to cover any weather situation. Over time you will learn what you need and what you don’t.

Food - Know what food you’re going to cook and what cookware you’ll need. Cooking over a campfire or camp stove is not like cooking in your home kitchen so be prepared to spend extra time preparing and cleaning up your meals.

Shelter - make sure your tent is complete enough stakes and guyline to secure your tent and rain fly. You may not need the extra guylines, but it’s better to have them in case of high winds.

Clothing - Watch the weather and make sure you have appropriate camping gear for the time of year and anticipated weather conditions. Merino wool and synthetic based clothing items are excellent pieces of clothing that can be worn year round. A waterproof shell is a great outerwear piece that can keep you dry and block the wind. Mix in clothing items you have for your mid layers so you don’t have to break the bank to outfit yourself for a weekend camping trip. 

2- Test out your gear before you get to the campground

Don’t wait to get to the campground to try out your camping gear. If you’re borrowing gear from friends/family, have them show you how to use the gear AND set it up at home before you get to the campground.

For example, you don’t want to get to the campground and realize you don’t have a hammer to drive your stakes into hard soil. Sure, you’re car camping so you could drive to a local retailer to pick up gear. Though, that’s hardly how you’d want to spend your time on a camping trip

3- Get to the campground early

Setting up camp is significantly easier in the light of day. Your headlamp and lantern only provide so much light. Setting up in the dark could cause you to set up in a less than optimal location and orientation.

Try to find the most level area of the site.  Don’t set your camp up under a tree. Falling limbs, nuts, fruit, and sap will ruin your night’s sleep. If you’re in an established campsite, it is usually easy to spot the best tent spot since other people will have packed the area down.

Clear your tent space of rocks, sticks or any other debri that might damage your tent footprint or tent. 

Position your tent door(s) and privacy wall appropriately. Orienting a privacy tent wall towards and your door away from other campers gives you more privacy. 

If you’re on uneven ground, set up your tent/sleeping bags where your head is elevated from your feet. If you set up your sleeping bags parallel to the slope, you’ll roll down hill when you roll over and one person will inevitably get squished. If you set up your head below your feet, you may get a headache. 

Check out ourcar camping checklist to see if you’ve got everything. If you have any questions, stop by the store, give us a call or drop us a line on Facebook.


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