Car Camping Essentials
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Planning to camp in your car? You’ll need essential supplies for sleeping, eating, and hygiene. Jerry has compiled this guide to car camping, which includes time-tested suggestions for essential gear, storage, and safety tips.
Of course, whether you’re driving only or driving and sleeping in your car, you still need insurance to protect you. Don’t leave home without making sure you’ve got the right coverage.
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Here is everything you need to know about car camping. Happy travels!
Getting ready to camp in your car
Car camping is not a casual activity, like a spontaneous pickup game of soccer. It’s more like an intramural sport where you show up with all your carefully prepared equipment and then hope for the best. In other words, car camping requires equal parts preparation and flexibility.
Essential equipment, you say? At a bare minimum, you will need supplies for sleeping, eating, and hygiene. If you plan to travel through cold weather or to off-the-grid destinations, then you will need to acquire additional items.
Whether you’re a weekend adventurer or a long-term #vanlifer, you must ensure that you can car camp safely.
This means an alarm system, a paper map in case you lose cell service, and car insurance in case your vehicle gets broken into while you’re out adventuring.
You’re not going to have a good road trip if you aren’t getting quality sleep.
Padding: No matter the configuration of your vehicle, you’ll need padding and insulation to sleep comfortably. People who have insulated their vehicles for long-term adventuring may require less insulation. However, it’s still a wise idea to carry extra blankets just in case.
You can use foam padding, an inflatable camping pad, blankets, or a thick yoga mat to buffer you from the floor of your vehicle. Sleeping bags are a good choice for very cold destinations as they retain body heat better. Make sure you get one that is rated for the nighttime temperatures at your destination, as sleeping in a metal box with no insulation can get chilly.
Pillows: A pillow may seem like a luxury for car camping but without one, you will quickly get uncomfortable. To save room, use a pillowcase and stuff it with your sweatshirt.
Key Takeaway Good preparation can solve the majority—but not all—of your problems while car camping.
Change of clothes
Car camping doesn’t mean you have to be grimy! Bring a few changes of clothes—but not so many that your clothing takes up too much room in your rig.
A few fresh pairs of socks and undergarments are the bare minimum. Bring at least two short and long-sleeved shirts so you always have something clean to change into. This will be a lifesaver when you’re mud-spattered after a hike but you need to look presentable for a trip into town for supplies.
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Eating and drinking
This is the area that most people neglect when they are preparing their car camping essentials. But without a way to store and prepare your own food, you will quickly get tired of car camping simply because you’re hungry.
Don’t let hunger and poor preparation cut your car camping adventure short!
Food storage: Your first task is to sort out food storage. You will need this whether it’s an overnight trip or a month-long trip. Plastic tubs with lids are animal-proof and a great way to store snacks like power bars or loose oatmeal. Set aside space in your vehicle to safely store nonperishable foods like canned beans. You don’t want anything rolling around while you’re driving!
A thermos and a cooler are storage essentials, too. They can go a long way toward keeping your coffee hot and vegetables cold, even off the grid.
Food-prep items: Now, you need a way to prepare your food. A travel-size camp stove and a folding pot are a great solution. Make sure you always cook outdoors or with ventilation. Cooking over a fire may seem exciting but in reality, it takes a long time to thoroughly heat a meal over flames.
Don’t forget water: You’ll need a large canister for drinking water so you can fill up several day’s worth at once. If you plan to explore the backcountry, you may want to look for a water filtration system or grab a LifeStraw.
Light and electricity
Light after dark is easy to take for granted… that is, until you’re stuck in a pitch-black van in the middle of the woods with your phone screen as your only light source.
Battery powered lights: When you’re car camping, you can’t just flick a switch on the wall to turn on the lights. You will need battery-powered lighting if you hope to do anything after the sun goes down. Grab some puck lights and stick them to the ceiling of your vehicle. You can also string some tiny LED lights for a gentler look.
Solar-powered lanterns: are a great solution for lighting your campsite. Hang them from a tree or clip them to the trunk when it’s popped to light your cooking area. Just throw them on your dashboard during the day while you’re driving and they’ll be ready to go at night.
Make sure you carry extra batteries. Long-time adventurers tend to own a backup, hand-cranked light source in case of emergencies.
Blackout curtains: If you will be car camping in a city and you want to be incognito, make sure you get blackout curtains to cover your windows so no one can see the light inside your vehicle.
Adapters: For people who need electricity to charge laptops or other devices, look for an adapter that plugs into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter. There are also battery setups that can attach to solar panels if you really need power when your vehicle is turned off.
Don’t forget entertainment! Road trips often have their fair share of downtime.
Hiking and lounging gear: A hammock and hiking gear are car camping essentials for long-term adventurers. They’re great for keeping dirt out of the car and enjoying a break from the cramped conditions inside.
Board games: Pack some books and card games and you’ll always have something to do, rain or shine. You may even make friends at a campsite and you’ll be happy to have a game on hand.
Key Takeaway Food and bright lights are easy to find in the city, but you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to enjoy these amenities while car camping.
Worried about cleanliness while car camping? There are some essential things (you may have overlooked) that you should take with you.
Wet Wipes: Bring a pack of wet wipes so you can at least wipe your face and armpits when you can’t shower. You’d be surprised how long you can go without a proper rinse if you have dry shampoo and wipes!
Garbage can with a lid: A designated place for waste (with a lid) is essential while car camping. Why? Car campers need to be mindful of their waste, which sometimes means sleeping next to your garbage until you can find an appropriate dump spot. A sealable container will keep you sane until you can empty the trash.
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Staying safe while car camping is the foundation of a good adventure, so make sure you take care of these car camping essentials before you head out.
Window coverings: We know we mentioned blackout curtains earlier but they can be dual purpose. Not only do they let you sleep peacefully past sunrise, they can provide some privacy and keep the daylight (and prying eyes) out. Netted fabric with a tight knit allows you to keep windows open for ventilation while stopping bugs from entering. In mosquito-laden areas, this is a real boon.
First aid kit: Make sure you also have a first aid kit and car repair kit on board. If you prepare properly, you don’t have to let a flat tire or a knee scrape interfere with your adventure.
Anti-theft devices: Finally, anti-theft devices are a wise idea for car campers.
Install a car alarm if you don’t already have one and get a steering wheel lock to ward away thieves. It’s unlikely you’ll suffer an attempted car theft, but you will sleep easier knowing that you’ve made it more difficult for someone to drive off while you snooze in the backseat.
Overpreparation is not always the best strategy for car camping. You can always pick up additional supplies on the road.
Car insurance, on the other hand, is something you have to purchase before you hit the road.
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How do you sleep in your car while camping?
In vehicles with foldable seats, you can create a bed at night and then pop the seats back up during the day. Long-term car campers often install permanent beds with wooden frames and thin mattresses.
Either way, make sure you secure your sleeping area so it doesn’t slide around while you drive. Bring plenty of padding and blankets to keep warm at night and keep the windows cracked for ventilation.
What is the best vehicle for car camping?
While any vehicle can theoretically be used for car camping, a van like the Honda Odyssey is a great choice for car camping. Vans offer plenty of room for gear as well as stretching out in the back, especially if your model has Magic Slide seats.
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