What you’ll find here – The car camping essentials you’ll want to know for sleeping in your car or near it with a camping tent. Rolling up to a beautiful campsite and car camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. There is some car camping gear you’ll want to own for your adventures. Below you can find a recap of what to consider for car camping. To learn more, see our camping skills guide and car camping checklist.
Car Camping Essentials
Car camping is essentially just like camping in a developed campground except sometimes you will not have access to bathrooms or running water. Because you will have access to your car you can bring large water containers and other such heavy items that would would not normally take out on a backpacking trip. You should also consider that you when you car camp, many times you’ll be going out on fire roads and more rugged driving terrain. Essentially you car is going camping too. Make sure you have some car essentials like a spare tire and a dead battery booster with you. You can find more car essentials in our car camping checklist.
Sleeping in your car vs a tent
If you’re going to be sleeping in a tent with your car nearby, check out our essential camping skills guide as it will cover most of the skills you want to know for car camping. If you plan on sleeping in your car, try to use a car where the back seats fold down or a truck where you can sleep in the truck bed area. A lot of people will go suv camping or subaru outback camping as these types of cars usually have room in the back of the vehicle to sleep. In some cars and trucks the back area where you will be sleeping will not be completely flat. Consider bringing an air mattress or a sleeping pad to help out with this. For those that are going to be sleeping in their car or truck, here are a few tips:
Where to park
U.S. Forest Service roads are open to sleeping in your car overnight. Make sure you are not blocking the way for other or in case emergency vehicles need to get through. If the area requires a pass make sure you display it as needed. You can also park you car on some BLM land and usually in designated campsite site areas (if you have a campsite there).
Pulling up to camp
When sleeping in the car be sure to park on a flat area. When arriving at camp, if can find a flat area, point the nose of the car uphill because you’ll most likely be sleeping with your head near the front of the car. Try to pick an area where you car can be in the shade as it can get hot during the day. Try to park your car away from other people so you have more privacy and you can avoid other people making noises during the night while you try to sleep.
Food – Keep food in your car if not in bear country so you don’t get small animals trying to get at it. If you are in bear country, we suggest using a bear resistant cooler to store you food and keep it away from where you are sleeping.
Gear – Car camping is similar to tent camping and you’ll want most of the same gear. Having a headlamp or lantern for the car is great in the evening and can be used for when you have to use the restroom at night.
Air – Open up a car window to ventilate. Breathing inside your car will have moisture condensate on the windows and it’s nice to get the some of that fresh outdoor air while you sleep. Slide your window or sunroof just open enough so that an animal or person can’t get in. If you’re concerned about bugs you can cut up some mesh and attach it to the open window area to keep the bugs out.
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Page last updated: November, 2020
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